Finally, we come to the incredibly short letter of 3 John. We see through the study of these letters that John has a group of disciples he is sending out to do teaching among the churches. Some scholars have even suggested that it’s these disciples who pen the three letters of John. I disagree with this assessment, but it does provide some explanation as to why the author of 2 and 3 John calls himself “the elder.” Of course, this title would be more fitting for John himself, but I digress.
To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
Penning the letter from Ephesus, John writes about how his disciples have returned (or other believers have visited) and told of the love and hospitality they received from Gaius. John encourages him to continue walking in this truth. Note again how the idea of truth is attached to the idea of loving others; without loving others, there is no truth, only falsehood. Love is what makes the truth — well, the truth.
Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.
Notice the use of the phrase “for the sake of the Name.” Back in our study of David we spoke of the phrase in rabbinic Judaism, rendered in the Hebrew as kiddush HaShem or “to hallow/sanctify the Name.” This idea continues to live into the New Testament where John tells Gaius to continue in his ways of love and hospitality, because it is here where we’ll find a life that truly does kiddush HaShem.
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.
However, not everybody is practicing hospitality. There’s a member of the community there refusing to welcome others (particularly John’s disciples). In this he is acting like the pagans mentioned above. This is the defining characteristic that sets believers apart from the pagans — hospitality. It’s interesting to note that Diotrephes means “loved by Jupiter” in the Greek. Could it be that he’s having a hard time letting go of his pagan ways?
Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.
I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.
But Gaius is not alone. Those who follow God rarely are. Demetrius is also a fellow worker who has a reputation of generosity, love, and hospitality.
The letter of 3 John always serves as a reminder to me of a couple realities. First, there have always been and always will be people who oppose the work of the gospel and our call to be people of love in the world. For whatever reason (and there are often many), there are those who stand opposed to work that would kiddush HaShem. But second, this letter reminds me, yet again, that the way of truth is not truth because some abstract, absolute truth exists. The way of truth is truth because it is the way of love.
I know it’s very popular to say that “truth without love isn’t truth and love without truth isn’t love.” That may be true, but the Bible does not teach this idea directly. Yet the idea is undeniably evident, especially in the writings of John, that love is the foundational element, and you will find truth within love. Love always has truth in it.