Discipleship Bible Study on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John

8. Walking in Love (2 and 3 John)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (41:07)

Piero della Francesca (c. 1415-1492), detail of St. John the Evangelist (c. 1454-1469)
Piero della Francesca (c. 1415-1492), "St. John the Evangelist" (c. 1454-1469), tempera on poplar panel (133.99 cm x 62.23 cm), The Frick Collection, New York. Full length. Panel of the Sant'Agostino altarpiece.

As you study 1 John you became acutely aware of the battle being fought in Ephesus and the surrounding churches between the orthodox Christian faith taught by the Apostle John and the spiritualized, corrupted teaching of John's opponents. They denied that the human Jesus was Christ, the Son of God. They refused to obey Jesus'commandments carefully, especially his command to love.

As you recall from the Introduction, 1 John isn't really a letter. Rather it is a sermon or tract designed to explain true teaching about Christ to the churches in Asia Minor and contrast it with the false teaching being spread. But 2 and 3 John actually are letters -- epistles from the hand of John the Apostle to a congregation and a church leader -- designed to give specific guidance in the face of the false teaching.

Both letters refer to the teaching that John spelled out in detail in First John, so I'll refer you there rather than repeating all the details. This lesson, however, is primarily concerned with hospitality to visiting teachers  -- refusing to welcome false teachers and assisting true teachers.

Letter Templates in the First Century

Personal letters in the first century Mediterranean area followed a similar pattern, with variations:

Letter Opening

Letter Body

Letter Closing

Here are typical parts of a letter opening: sender to recipient. It began with greetings and a wish for the recipient's health (or, in Christian letters, a "grace and peace" benediction). Then joy upon receiving a letter or hearing about the recipient, a thanksgiving for good health and deliverance from disaster, and a prayer for recipients or mention that they are remembered.

The letter body usually had three parts. A body opening establishes common ground and a purpose. The body middle develops the element(s) introduced in the body opening. Finally, the body closing reiterates the main points, urges the recipient to be attentive, and lays the groundwork for further communication, such as a future visit.

The letter closing would include greetings, a health wish, and/or words of farewell. In a Christian letter this may be a doxology or benediction.1

Letter Openings in 2 and 3 John

 

2 John

3 John

Sender

The elder (1a)

The elder (1a)

Recipient

To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth ... (1b-2)

To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth. (1b)

Sender and Recipients

Sender. As I argued in the Introduction, I believe that an excellent case can be made for the Apostle John as author of all three of the epistles attributed to him. In 2 and 3 John, the apostle identifies himself not by name, but with a title: "The elder" (presbyteros). The word could describe the age of the writer; old age began at about 40 years. But since both Jews and Greeks recognized that older, experienced men made good leaders, "elder" became a designation for officials. (The Roman senator derives from the adjective senex, "old.")2John refers to himself as "The elder" without his name; they all knew who he was.

Recipient. The recipient in 3 John is a person, Gaius. Easy. But the recipient in 2 John is a bit more difficult, almost like a kind of code. Why, we're not sure. The "chosen lady" (NIV) or "elect lady" (NRSV, KJV) is most probably a way of referring to a church. The feminine used of a group of God's people is well established: Israel is referred to variously in the Bible as a virgin, the Daughter of Zion, a mother, and a widow. The Church is the "bride of Christ." A church in Rome is referred to by Peter cryptically as "she who is in Babylon, chosen together with you" (1 Peter 5:13). "Chosen" or "elect" (eklektos) refers to God's sovereign choice of the church. "Her children" are, no doubt, the members of the congregation.

Greetings

 

2 John

3 John

Greeting

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, will be with us in truth and love. (3)

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. (2)

The greeting in 2 John is a familiar Christian greeting, similar to something you'd find in one of Paul's letters. Notice, however, that John is careful to speak of "Jesus Christ, the Father's Son," since the heretics denied Jesus'divinity.

The greeting in 3 John sounds very much like what you'd expect in a Greek letter: a wish for the recipient's health and the hope that his situation is going well. Notice that John's wish for his friend is not only for his physical health and general circumstances. He also prays that Gaius might be as healthy as his "soul" (psuchē), a reference to his spiritual life. I am disappointed that some people have used this verse as support for the doctrines of prosperity and physical healing. Compare the KJV with the NRSV, an clearer translation for our times:

"Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." (KJV)

"Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul." (NRSV)

Prosperity Teaching?

Does 3 John 2 teach that financial prosperity3and good health4are our birthright as spiritually healthy believers? Not at all! Dear friends, this is similar to a stock greeting used in thousands of letters of the period -- a wish for good health. In our culture, we might say, "I hope you and your family are well." Not to have said something like this would have been a breach of letter-writing etiquette.

There are promises in the Scripture that relate to prospering and having good health. But this is not one of them. If John had meant this as a "teaching," he would have put it in the body of the letter and supported it carefully. The verb "pray" (NIV, NRSV), "wish" (euchomai) was common in greeting formulas of the time.5

Joy upon Hearing

Both 2 and 3 John contain a common letter formula of expressing joy of hearing good things about the recipient.

 

2 John

3 John

Joy upon hearing

"It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us." (4)

 

"It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." (3-4)

If you're going to make a request of someone, it's considered polite to acknowledge them positively in some way if you can. This isn't just "buttering them up," it is good etiquette.

Notice that "walking in the truth" is John's point of joy. What he means is that he has seen and heard that members of the recipient church (2 John) and Gaius himself (3 John) are following the apostolic teaching about who Christ is, how to live righteously, and how to love one another, rather than the false teaching circulating through the region. He sounds just like a proud parent:

"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." (3 John 4)

The Body of the Letters

John has finished the preliminaries. Now he begins to discuss the reasons for which he is writing. We'll look at each of these separately. Probably 1, 2, and 3 John were written around the same period of time. We don't know in what order they were written.

The Message of 2 John

The message has three parts:

  1. Love. John reminds the church of the command to walk in love.
  2. Deceivers. John warns the church of the false teachers.
  3. Hospitality. John commands the church not to host or welcome the false teachers.

This is a short letter, so John is trying to be concise.

The Command of Love (5-6)

"5 And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. 6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love." (2 John 5-6)

John gives the bare bones of the command of love in this letter. The reason he begins here is to contrast the real believers with the false teachers, who have proved to be an unloving lot. We've already explored this in Lesson 2 at 1 John 2:7-8.

Warnings about the False Teachers (2 John 7-9)

Now he comes to the central theme of the letter. To prevent the influence of the false teachers from worming their way into the congregation, he writes:

"Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist." (2 John 7)

John doesn't mince words. He calls the false teachers "deceivers" and "the antichrist." "Deceiver" is planos. The original idea was "wandering." We get our word "planet" from this root, since the planets were originally thought to be wandering stars. Here, the adjective is used as a noun, "deceiver, imposter,"6that is, one who deliberately leads someone astray and causes them to wander.

We looked at the word "antichrist" in Lesson 2 at 2:18, 22. The word means "opponent of Christ." In verse 7, the false teacher isn't just termed "an antichrist," but "the antichrist," as we might say about a person, "He's the very devil himself!" Of course, the main antichrist of the Last Times is still to come. But John uses the words "the deceiver and the antichrist" to shock his readers into taking the warning.

"Watch out7that you do not lose what you8have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully." (2 John 8)

John isn't talking about their salvation, which is a gift. He is talking about the work the apostles had done there (see Galatians 4:11; Philippians 2:16) -- and later, what the members have accomplished to develop a good, healthy church. It could all be ruined if the false teachers get in and corrupt the church with their heresy. John wants the members to "receive a full reward" (KJV, NRSV). "Reward" is misthos, which has the basic meaning, "remuneration for work done, pay, wages."9Here it seems to refer to the reward they will receive at the final judgment for their faithful work.10

The Danger of Running Ahead (2 John 9)

Now John pinpoints the essence of the false teachers'error:

"Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son." (2 John 9)

"Runs ahead" (NIV), "goes beyond" (NRSV), "transgresseth" (KJV) is proagō, "to move ahead or in front of, go before, lead the way, precede."11The choice is clear: Either

  • Go beyond the teaching of Christ, OR
  • Continue in the teaching of Christ

The false teachers had begun with the Christian gospel, but had gone beyond it. They had tried to combine truth with the prevailing Hellenistic spirit of the age and had ended up distorting the Gospel. Syncretism had taken a bitter toll. As we discussed in the Introduction, these false teachers no longer saw Jesus as the Christ (they "do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh"), but saw him as a pious human being. They believed that Jesus the human had died on the cross, not the divine Christ.

We're faced with a similar struggle in our own day. Those who don't take the apostolic teaching as authoritative are free to make up any theology that sounds good to them at the time. They look down on those who believe in the authority of the scripture as "traditionalists," while they see themselves as "progressives." But too easily they go beyond the Gospel into error. We are called to abide in Christ and his teaching.

If you were an apostle, as John was, faced with false teachers ravaging the church, you would write strong letters to stem the tide. Consider other apostolic exhortations -- the first to the Ephesian elders, some of whom may have been the very people John now must oppose so firmly:

"I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!" (Acts 20:29-31a)

"For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." (2 Timothy 4:3)

"I felt I had to write and urge you to contend12 for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints." (Jude 3)

Q1. (2 John 9) What is the danger of "running ahead" of Christ's teachings to "deeper truths"? What is the danger of "running ahead" of Christ's guidance for our lives? What does it mean to "abide" or "continue" in Christ and his teachings? Why is this so important?
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Hospitality in the Early Church

Before we continue, we need to examine the practice of hospitality in the early church, since it bears on the message of both 2 John and 3 John. There were no such things as our modern hotel. Inns were often little more than houses of ill repute. The infamous character of inn-keepers was often noted in Roman laws. So it was natural for Christian people on their travels to be given hospitality by members of local churches. Showing hospitality was considered both a Jewish obligation (Deuteronomy 10:18-19; Isaiah 58:7) and a Christian virtue (Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2; 5:10; Titus 1:8; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9).

But such hospitality was open to abuse. What about obvious free-loaders? What about those who claimed to be prophets, but were false? This issue was so important that it occupies considerable space in a very early Christian document known as the Didache, a first-century church manual, perhaps written in the same decade as the Letters of John.

In 2 and 3 John the issue of showing hospitality is prominent. In 2 John we are given insight into when showing hospitality would be wrong. In 3 John we see both a positive example of Gaius showing hospitality and a negative example of Diotrephes refusing hospitality.

Do Not Welcome the False Teachers (2 John 10-11)

John has explained why the false teachers are so dangerous. Now he takes another step, issuing an apostolic command to protect the church against this heresy:

"10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. 11 Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work." (10-11)

At first glance, this kind of inhospitable command seems harsh and unloving. Those of us who live in a pluralistic society have learned that we must tolerate and love people who don't believe as we do.

But look more closely. John is saying, "Don't take him into your house" (singular). He is not exhorting individuals not to invite13a false teacher into their homes (plural). He is exhorting the church not to invite a false teacher to enter its "house," the place where it gathers for Christian worship and teaching. This is not harsh; it is self protection. John saw these false teachers as "the deceiver" and "the antichrist." Don't let them worship with you. Don't let them speak in your assemblies. Don't let them spread their vicious heresy.

To give the false teachers any encouragement at all -- even a cordial greeting14-- says John, is to become a participant15in their error-spreading mission. If John's instructions seem unloving, consider the wisdom you exercise to protect your own family. You don't ask a person with a contagious disease to come to dinner with your family. Neither do you invite a known pedophile to be an overnight guest in your home.

The false teachers are not Christians of a different denomination to whom we should be charitable and tolerant. Rather, they have forsaken allegiance to Jesus Christ and are now dedicated propagandists, going from one house-church to the next, spreading their false doctrine. Raymond Brown puts it this way:

"The inhospitality urged by verses 10-11 is part of the warfare between Christ and Antichrist, between the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Deceit, between the people who belong to God and the people who belong to the world, between God's children and the devil's children."16

John has said what he could -- as clearly and forcefully as possible -- to protect this congregation from the contagion of false and deceptive teachers. Now he concludes his letter quickly, as we'll see below.

Q2. (2 John 10-11) Why does the Apostle John tell his readers to refuse hospitality to the false teachers? What would refusing hospitality mean for a congregation (as opposed to an individual)? What is the border between tolerance and stupidity, when it comes to false teachers? Do the divisions of denominationalism find justification in this verse? Why or why not?
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The Message of 3 John

Now let's examine John's Third Letter. There are three characters:

  • Gaius -- the recipient of the letter, who has been showing hospitality to visiting Christian missionaries.
  • Diotrephes -- a house-church leader who has refused to show hospitality to these missionaries and excommunicates anyone who does.
  • Demetrius -- a Christian, perhaps a missionary himself, and perhaps the bearer of this letter of introduction.

The purpose of Third John, then, is to influence Gaius to continue to show hospitality to visiting Christian missionaries, in particular, we think, Demetrius.

The letter gives us three character examples to learn from, two positive, one negative, plus a rationale for supporting Christian missionaries.

Gaius (3 John 3-6)

We don't know anything about Gaius except what can be deduced from this letter. The name Gaius is perhaps the most common of all given names in the Roman Empire at the time. The three other people named Gaius in the New Testament are almost certainly different people. Here's how John addresses Gaius. Note the virtues he exhibits:

"3 It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 5 Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. 6 They have told the church about your love." (3 John 3-6a)

Gaius could be:

  • An attender of the house-church over which Diotrephes exercised leadership (9), OR
  • Either a leader or member of another house-church in the same general region.

Here's what we can deduce about him. He is:

  • Greatly loved by John ("beloved" is used three times, 1, 5)
  • John's convert, perhaps ("my children," 4b)
  • Doctrinally sound ("Your faithfulness to the truth," 3a)
  • Living out his faith consistently ("You continue to walk in the truth," 3b)
  • Showing loving hospitality to visiting Christian missionaries ("Faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you," 5)
  • Under pressure from evil influence ("Imitate ... what is good," 11)

Helping Christian Missionaries (3 John 5-8)

The next section provides a rationale for supporting Christian missions:

"5 Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. 6 They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. 8 We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth."

Gaius has been faithfully caring for "strangers" (xenos)17in verse 5. In verse 8, "show hospitality" (NIV), "support" (NRSV), "receive" (KJV) is hypolambanō, "to take someone under one's care, receive as a guest, support, protect."18In secular Greek, the word is used of caring for exiles, admitting a visitor, and, of a doctor who would take in hand or treat a patient.19Gaius has been "taking in hand" the visiting missionaries, leaving them free to do their work of teaching the Word.

 This passage teaches us several things about supporting missions and missionaries:

  1. Missionaries go forth deliberately to serve Christ. The phrase "went out" (NIV), "began their journey" (NRSV), "went forth" (KJV) is exerchomai, with an indication of goal "(get up and) go out, get ready."20This is the same word used of the false teachers going on their mission (1 John 2:19; 4:1; 2 John 7). It depicts deliberately going out on a missionary journey (Acts 15:40).
  2. Missionaries go out "for the sake of the Name," that is, in Jesus'name. It is the most compelling of all their motives, to serve Christ (Romans 1:5; Acts 5:40-41). But since they go in Christ's name, they go on his behalf. Therefore, those that help them are actually serving Christ. Jesus said:

    "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.... And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward." (Matthew 10:40, 42)
    In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus taught:

    "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
    The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25:37-40)
  3. Missionaries don't seek funds from non-believers, primarily, but from believers. Since they are on Christ's mission, doing the work Christ has called his Church to do, their fellow Christians have an obligation to support them as they are able. Christian ministers and teachers have a right to be supported by those who benefit by their service (1 Corinthians 11:1-18; Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17-18).
  4. Helping missionaries makes us "co-workers" (NRSV) or "fellow-helpers" (KJV). An important military principle established by King David was that those who stay with the gear are just as worthy of reward as those who are on the front lines fighting the battle (1 Samuel 30:24). To the Philippians, who contributed financially to his missions, Paul used the word "partnership" (NIV, koinōnia, Philippians 1:5). Here the word is synergos, "pertaining to working together with, helping," in the New Testament: "helper, fellow-worker." As you assist in the mission enterprise, you take your place beside the fellow workers of Bible fame -- Priscilla and Aquila, Timothy, Titus, and many others. As fellow workers in God's work, we will receive a reward, even if we help in a small way.

Q3. (3 John 5-8) What are the reasons given in these verses for supporting Christian workers in their ministry? What reward comes with becoming a "co-worker," by assisting Christian workers? How effective can Christian workers be without those who support them?
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Diotrephes, the Domineering Leader (3 John 9-10)

Now we come to the primary purpose of the letter. Gaius has been providing hospitality to visiting Christian missionaries, but Diotrephes strongly opposes any outside influence. John is calling upon Gaius to resist Diotrephes and, apparently, welcome Demetrius who is likely the Christian missionary who bears this letter from John.

As you read verse 9-10, try to recall if you've ever met this kind of person in your church or in a church in your area:

"9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. 10 So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church." (3 John 9-10)

The only thing we know about Diotrephes is what we read in these two verses. His name is a rare one. It means, "nourished by Zeus, or foster-child of Zeus," though Diotrephes is a now a Christian. Here is what we learn:

Diotrephes is self-centered. Leaders need self-confidence to be able to lead well. But Diotrephes is driven by the need to "be first" (NIV), "put himself first" (NRSV), "have the preeminence" (KJV). Philoprōteuō means, "to have a special interest in being in the leading position, wish to be first, like to be leader."21He is insecure in the presence of anyone who might be perceived as on a par with him.

Diotrephes wants to be the exclusive authority, so he neither recognizes John's apostolic authority nor wants Christian missionaries working in his area. He can't afford to have others challenge him, particularly an apostle! He has an independent spirit that will submit to no one.

Diotrephes is domineering and controlling. Not only does he express his opinion, but also suppresses others'opinions, coerces them by using threats, and acts preemptively to get rid of anyone who challenges his authority. If need be he will excommunicate22them from the church he leads.

Diotrephes is a mean-spirited slanderer. "Gossiping maliciously about us" (NIV), "spreading false charges against us" (NRSV), "prating against us with malicious words" (KJV), literally "with malicious words talking nonsense about us." "Malicious" or "false" is ponēros, an adjective "pertaining to being morally or socially worthless, wicked, evil, bad, base, vicious, degenerate."23"Prating" (KJV) is phlyareō, "to indulge in utterance that makes no sense, talk nonsense (about), disparage."24The English definition of slander is: "the utterance of false charges or misrepresentations which defame and damage another's reputation." That fits Diotrephes exactly. Unfortunately, slander or malicious gossip is the way too many leaders in churches undermine threats to their power. A study of the Bible puts unrepentant slanderers in jeopardy of hell itself (1 Corinthians 5:11).25

Diotrephes is the poster-child for an unloving Christian. He is selfish, manipulative, and domineering. He does not love as does Gaius.

A.T. Robertson, a well-known scholar of the early twentieth century, said:

"Some forty years ago I wrote an article on Diotrephes for a denominational paper. The editor told me that twenty-five deacons stopped the paper to show their resentment against being personally attacked in the paper."26

Dear friends, some of our churches have people like Diotrephes, either as pastors or as key leaders. Of course, nearly all top leaders struggle with pride; it's an occupational hazard. To keep their souls healthy, they learn to humble themselves (1 Peter 5:5-6). But when leaders no longer seek to humble themselves, but rather to exalt themselves, they injure the church. They stifle the church's potential, because they tend to compete with and be threatened by the gifted people whom God raises up. When these people are forced out of the congregation, the insecure leader feels more secure, but the church is depleted. The entire church is held hostage to the immature leader's need to be first.

I don't know any easy answer for a church afflicted with a Diotrephes. So long as such a person retains power, the church is hurt. But the battle that ensures when you attempt to remove such a person from power can be terribly injurious to a congregation. The best answer is prayer -- prayer that God will either heal the leader or remove him or her for the sake of the body.

Q4. (3 John 9-10) What character flaws does Diotrephes exhibit? Can a person be a strong pastoral leader without developing these traits? If you have tendencies in yourself towards pride and a controlling spirit, how can you fight against them?
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An Exhortation to Gaius (3 John 11)

In light of Diotrephes'threat to excommunicate people who provide hospitality to the missionaries, John exhorts Gaius directly:

"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." (2 John 11)

John addresses Gaius as "dear friend" (NIV) or "beloved" (NRSV, KJV) in this personal appeal. Gaius is now under pressure from John to continue his hospitality and under pressure from Diotrephes to stop. John's counsel to Gaius centers on whom he should imitate. "Imitate" (NIV, NRSV), "follow" (KJV) is mimeomai, "to use as a model, imitate, emulate, follow."27Each of us is an imitator. That's how we learn. But we must select our role models carefully.

John is saying, Gaius, you must choose. Either model your actions after one who is evil (Diotrephes), or model your actions after one who is good (probably Demetrius, praised in the next verse, or perhaps John himself). Ultimately, John calls Gaius to choose not on the basis of personalities or power, but on the grounds of righteousness and unrighteousness. John almost says that Diotrephes just hasn't seen God (11b) -- at least that his character and actions seem to indicate this.

Demetrius (3 John 12)

Finally, John introduces Demetrius who seems to be the real reason the letter was written at this time.

"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." (3 John 12)

Demetrius is a rather common Greek name. He is probably not the pagan silversmith Demetrius who had opposed Paul in Ephesus 30 or 40 years previously (Acts 19:21-41), nor is he likely to be Demas (a shortened form of the name), who had been for a time Paul's co-worker (Philemon 1:24; Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:10).

Demetrius comes with a three-fold recommendation:

  1. The recommendation of other Christians ("is well spoken of by everyone").
  2. The recommendation is self-evident in his way of living ("even by the truth itself").
  3. The recommendation of the apostle himself ("we also speak well of him").

Since John doesn't spell things out in the letter, we are left to deduce what we can:

  1. Demetrius is known by reputation by Gaius, but not personally.
  2. Demetrius is well known to John, well enough to warrant this strong personal recommendation.
  3. Demetrius is coming to the area and will need hospitality. Otherwise, why would John compliment Gaius on his hospitality (5) and show concern about Diotrephes'lack of hospitality (10b)?

Whether Demetrius is the bearer of this letter or is coming soon, we just don't know. It may be that Demetrius is coming to challenge Diotrephes'firm grip on power. What is clear is that John is urging Gaius to receive Demetrius and assist him -- to choose righteousness over evil -- even if it puts Gaius in jeopardy from Diotrephes. There comes a time to stand up against evil, even if going along is much less costly.

God doesn't call us all to rail against evil in high places -- and be instantly crushed or persecuted. We must be wise. But there is a time to stand up for what is right when we can make a difference. Remember Mordecai's words to Queen Esther when the Jewish exiles were threatened with genocide: "Who knows? Perhaps you have come to the throne for just such a time as this" (Esther 4:14, New Jerusalem Bible).

The body of the letter has conveyed John's message to Gauis:

  1. You are to be commended for your hospitality to visiting Christian missionaries (5-8).
  2. Diotrephes is clearly unrighteous in his attempt to keep Christian missionaries from working in the area (9-10).
  3. Therefore, please do the right thing and help Demetrius when he comes. He is worthy (11-12).

Now John moves to close the letter.

Closing Words

The lengths of both 2 and 3 John are quite similar -- for a reason. Both approximate the number of words that can be written on a single sheet of papyrus. John's final words are brief, so he can fit them on the page.

The closing words of both 2 and 3 John are quite similar as well. They follow the typical letter template we examined above: lay the groundwork for further communication, such as a future visit, offer greetings, a health wish, and/or words of farewell.

 

2 John

3 John

Final Greetings

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. 13 The children of your chosen sister send their greetings. (12-13)

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. (13-14)

Second and Third John are not teaching letters. They are written to deal with specific problems. But if you recall some of the very practical letters Paul wrote to churches undergoing crises -- 1 and 2 Corinthians come to mind -- these letters can be very instructive for us who read them twenty centuries later.

  • 2 John is written to prevent false teachers from continuing to destroy churches with their false doctrines.
  • 3 John is written to pave the way for a Christian missionary to minister in a region dominated by an insecure and unrighteous pastor.
Discipleship Lessons from John's Letters, e-book or paperback book
The study is available as a free e-mail Bible study, or as an e-book or paperback book at a modest cost.

Along the way we learn about love, hospitality, Christian virtue, furthering the cause of missions, and the importance of standing for what is right -- valuable lessons as we mature as believers.

Culture and technology have changed, but the same human weaknesses and temptations remain to cause similar problems. And the gospel of Jesus Christ is still present to provide the solutions.

Prayer

Father, we thank you for our Christian forebears who have sacrificed in order to preserve the true gospel of love that we enjoy today. Give us faith, give us love, and give us courage in face of those who oppose the Gospel. Help us to stand amidst the struggles of our own day in a way that is pleasing to you. In Jesus'name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son." (2 John 9)

"We ought to support such people, so that we may become co-workers with the truth." (3 John 8, NRSV)

"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." (3 John 11)

Notes

1. Donald F. Watson, "Letter, Letter Form," DLNT, pp. 650-651. See also, Peter T. O'Brien, "Letters, Letter Forms," Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (editors) (InterVarsity Press, 1993), pp. 550-553.

2. Brown, Epistles of John, p. 648.

3. "Prosper" (KJV), "go well with" (NRSV, NIV) is euodoō, which means literally, "to be led along a good road." In the New Testament it is used more generally, "have things turn out well, prosper, succeed" (BDAG 410.).3]

4. "Be in (good) health" is hygiainō (from which we get the English word "hygiene"), "to be in good physical health, be healthy." The same word is used of "sound doctrine" or "healthy teaching" in the Pastoral Epistles (BDAG 102, 1).

5. Euchomai, BDAG 412, 2.

6. Planos, BDAG 822, b.

7. "Watch out" (NIV), "be on your guard" (NRSV), "look to yourselves" (KJV) is blepō, "to see," here, "be ready to learn about something that is needed or is hazardous, watch, look to, beware of" (BDAG 179).

8. "We" (NRSV, KJV) is judged more likely (despite weaker manuscript support) on transcriptional grounds, since it best explains the origin of other readings, and is more likely to be due to the author than to copyists. The Committee gives the text as given in the NRSV and KJV a {C} rating, "considerable degree of doubt" (Metzger, Textual Commentary, p. 721).

9. Misthos, BDAG 653, 2b.

10. The Apostle Paul referring to the founding of the Corinthian church, said: "If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames" (1 Corinthians 3:14-15).

11. Proagō, BDAG 864, 2a.

12. Epagōnizomai, "to exert intense effort on behalf of something, contend" (BDAG 356).

13. "Take" (NIV), "receive" (NRSV, KJV) is lambanō, which can carry the idea of receive someone in the sense of recognizing the other's authority (John 1:12; 5:43; 13:20), or receive into one's home to care for them (John 19:27). (BDAG 584, 5).

14. "Welcome" (NIV, NRSV), "bid God speed" (KJV) consists of two words in Greek, "speak" (legō) and "greetings" (chairō) is something like, "welcome, good day, hail (to you), I am glad to see you" (BDAG 1075, 2a).

15. "Shares in" (NIV), "to participate in" (NRSV), "is partaker" (KJV) is koinōneō (from which we get our word "Koinonia"), which means "to share, have a share" (BDAG 552, 2bβ).

16. Brown, Epistles of John, pp. 690-691.

17. The usual term "hospitality" (philoxenia) in the New Testament, though it is not used in John's Letters. It means literally, "love (philos) of strangers (xenos). The word root is used in Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8.

18. Hypolambanō, BDAG 1038, 2.

19. Liddell-Scott, II.1.

20. Exerchomai, BDAG 348,1aα, Gimel.

21. Philoprōteuō, BDAG 105.

22. "Puts out" (NIV), "expels" (NRSV), "casteth out" (KJV) is ekballō, "force to leave, drive out, expel." (BDAG 299, 1).

23. Ponēros, BDAD 853, 1aβ.

24. Phlyareō, BDAG 1060.

25. For more, see my article, "Coming To Grips With Gossip," Joyfulheart.com. www.joyfulheart.com/maturity/gossip.htm

26. Robertson, Word Pictures, in loc.

27. Mimeomai, BDAG 653.

Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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