Ronald Sauer


Author. That this letter is from the same hand that penned 1 and 2 John seems certain, for all three missives are written in the same Greek style and grammar, employing the same basic vocabulary. The same themes, such as truth and love, appear in them.

Recipient. This letter’s addressee is Gaius, a congregant in a Johannine church. In that assembly he has a thriving ministry of extending hospitality to traveling missionaries. But these missionaries reported to John that Gaius is being hindered by the prominent church leader, Diotrephes. In the NT, he is mentioned only in 3 John, and secular history fails to mention him. Diotrephes was forbidding assistance be given to itinerate evangelists, so as to prevent any external influence. This practice better enabled him to control his church.

Purpose and Theme. The key word is "truth" (1, 3, 4, 8, 12). And the "truth" advocates Christians supporting Christian causes. So, arguing that believers have the duty and privilege to support the gospel’s mission work, John wrote to encourage Gaius to continue his hospitable service to the saints. This focus establishes the missive’s theme as that of Christian hospitality. Though Diotrephes rejected John’s authority, the apostle would appropriately deal with him in a coming visit.


I. Introduction (1–2)

II. Commendation of Gaius (3–8)

III. Condemnation of Diotrephes (9–10)

IV. Confirmation of Demetrius (11–12)

V. Conclusion (13–14)


I. Introduction (1–2)

1–2. John the elder wrote to his beloved Gaius. (Gaius was a common name in the Roman world, so it is unsurprising that there was a Gaius of Corinth [Rm 16:23] and a Gaius of Derbe [Ac 19:29]. Probably the Gaius of 3Jn is different from those two.) As in 2Jn 1, so here the author called himself the elder. This term speaks of age, dignity, and office, and it pictures John giving instructions like a loving father. Unlike Diotrephes, the author did love Gaius in the realm of truth, meaning in light of Christian revelation: "we love, because He first loved us" (1Jn 4:19). Accordingly, in 2 Gaius is addressed as beloved. This term assured him that he was the recipient of God’s love, and of John’s as well. Gaius was prospering spiritually, but John prayed that he may prosperin all respects, especially in good physical health, a sterling example of godly well-wishing and prayer for a friend.

II. Commendation of Gaius (3–8)

3–4. The initial verse in this section furnishes the basis for the writer’s conviction in 2 that his recipient is prospering. That basis lay in John’s having received reports from brethren returning from mission work. They informed John of the recipient’s good state. He was very glad that Gaius’s behavior sprang from his faithfulness to the truth, and specifically his spiritual lifestyle (walking in the truth). John’s greatest gladness came from hearing that his spiritual children were walking in the truth, meaning they were conforming their character and conduct to Christian truth (4). My children is a typical expression of John for those over whom he had supervision and fatherly care (1Jn 2:1).

5–8. Likely because Gaius had been criticized (by Diotrephes?), John now encouraged him by noting that he was acting faithfully in services rendered for the brethren and even for strangers, who were itinerant missionaries (5). Others testified speaking highly before the church of his love. Gaius showed brotherly affection for these strangers in practical, hospitable ways by serving them. John encouraged Gaius to continue helping these traveling evangelists. The clause send them on their way likely was a technical term for early missions, including with it financial support (cf. Ac 15:3; Rm 15:24; 1Co 16:6; 16:11; Ti 3:13). These missionaries went out on mission trips for the sake of spreading the Name of Jesus, never asking for and rarely receiving material support from the Gentiles (7). Therefore (because these missionaries are appropriately selective regarding those from whom they receive support) John concluded we believers ought to support such who leave home to preach. The purpose of supporting missionaries today is the same as then: to do so is to be fellow workers with them in spreading the truth.

III. Condemnation of Diotrephes (9–10)

Having commended Gaius for his generosity in receiving the traveling missionaries, John next cited Diotrephes, in contrast, as one who rejected the apostle and as such, rejected those sent by him.

9. Saying that he wrote to Gaius’s church previously, John was not referring to the present letter since Diotrephes had already rejected it. Neither was this a reference to 1 or 2 John, since the issue in those letters was doctrinal error. Likely this referred to a lost letter urging them to assist traveling evangelists; that letter had been rejected and suppressed by Diotrephes. Thus, John could say that Diotrephes did not accept him. The reason that Diotrophes rejected John was not a doctrinal error but an inflated ego. Rather than Christ having first place among them, Diotrephes love[d] to be first himself. Therefore he did not accept the apostle’s authority.

10. In 9 John dealt with the problem of Diotrephes’ character (pride), but here he would address his actions. John would certainly make a future visit (not as in the NASB "If I come," indicating a hypothetical circumstance, but rather "when I come"; the Gk. word ean can be translated "whenever," the only uncertainty being the time of the visit, not its eventuality; cf. 4). Then he would expose Diotrephes’ deeds, consisting of (1) accusing (or babbling about) John with wicked words; (2) being inhospitable to traveling brethren, thereby challenging John’s authority; (3) hindering those in the church who desire to display hospitality, even to the point of casting them out of the church.

Diotrephes’ offense appears to have entailed several things. He prohibited the church from complying with John’s earlier correspondence, in which the apostle urged the congregation to support traveling missionaries. And he was a self-promoted demagogue rather than an elder or pastor. Diotrephes sought to isolate the assembly from outside influences, like John’s, so he could better control church affairs and ministry. Last, he allowed no teaching and leadership but his own. Periodically the modern church will encounter such people in its ranks. Beware of those who usurp authority and try to make disciples of self rather than disciples of Christ.

IV. Confirmation of Demetrius (11–12)

11–12. Gaius was not to imitate Diotrephes’ evil example of rebelliousness and inhospitality, but rather the good one of Demetrius. The reason for this exhortation is that he who habitually does good gives evidence being a child of God. The opposite is true as well: he who persists in doing evil has not seen God, i.e., been saved (see 1Jn 3:5, 9–10; 5:18). In this verse, the participles (the one who does good or does evil) refer to customary or characteristic behavior, indicating that those who consistently do good identify themselves as true believers who have experienced salvation, while those who consistently practice evil show themselves to be unregenerate, never having experienced God in their lives.

In 11 John made a general request to receive traveling missionaries, but in 12 he specified Demetrius as the one to be received and commended to Gaius for three reasons: (1) He enjoyed a good testimony from everyone. (2) The truth commended him; truth being personified, meaning that if the truth could speak, it too would testify that Demetrius’ life was in accord with its own standards. (3) John personally attested to his good character.

V. Conclusion (13–14)

13. John had many other things to mention, but too numerous to do so with pen and ink (a similar phrase to "paper and ink" in 2Jn 12).

14. He planned to see Gaius shortly, when the apostle would rebuke Diotrephes (see 10) but also speak face to face with Gaius about those items he chose not to disclose in this letter (13). John bid Gaius farewell with the Hebraism peace be to you, a phrase Jesus used with His disciples (Jn 20:19). Friends with John send Gaius their greetings, thereby associating themselves with John’s request to Gaius. And he wanted Gaius to greet his friends by name, showing that there were in that church people who supported John, despite Diotrephes’ opposition.

This brief and personal letter is a great reminder today for the continuing need to support and show hospitality to missionaries who bring the gospel around the world, as a trait of true Christian virtue.


Akin, Daniel L. 1, 2, 3 John. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001.

Bruce, F. F. The Epistles of John. London: Pickering & Inglis, 1970.

Burdick, Donald W. The Letters of John the Apostle: An In-depth Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1985.

Law, R. L. The Test of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1909.

MacArthur, John. 1–3 John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 2007.

Marshall, I. H. The Epistles of John. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964.

Stott, John R. W. The Epistles of John: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964.

Yarbrough, R. W. 1-3 John. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2008.


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