Studies in his Life and Writings
By W. H. Griffith Thomas
THE THIRD EPISTLE
There is no doubt that this Epistle is addressed to an individual, although we do not know anything more of Gains than is here found. The Epistle gives' a vivid picture of some of the aspects, bright and dark, of those early days, and in his emphasis on the Christian,' life we are enabled to see the features that he thought most important. He was anxious to obtain help for Christians as they traveled from place to place, but there had been a difficulty through the overbearing action of one member (v. 9), and it was this in particular that made it necessary for the Apostle to write with unusual plainness. It is suggested that here, too, a knowledge of the First' Epistle is implied (v. 11).
I. The Character (vs. 1-2)
1. The Name. Calling himself merely "a presbyter," he addresses himself to his "beloved Gains." Ten times in the Epistles of John is this word "beloved" found, and it is significant and carries its own lesson to contrast the greeting to the lady in the Second Epistle with this to a man. We are reminded of the equally significant counsel of Paul to his young friend Timothy (1 Tim. 5:1, 2). This expression "beloved" shows the beautiful oneness in Christ between the Apostle and Gains. Well might Tertullian, a century or so after, refer to the heathen astonishment as they said, "See how these Christians love one another."
2. The Feeling. "Whom I love in truth." Let us mark the two aspects here, the esteem and its limit. While the Apostle was tender he was also true. There was fellowship and faithfulness, love and truth in perfect balance and proportion.
3. The Prayer. He wishes for Gains to be as well physically as he is spiritually, a striking contrast to what may be regarded as the usual experience. The Bible has not a little to say about "prosperity," though the words in the Hebrew and the Greek invariably indicate progress, "having a good journey" (Rom. 1:10; 1 Cor. 16:2). He actually prays that Gains may have as much bodily strength' as he has spiritual power. We are accustomed to think the very opposite, but here is the remarkable experience of a soul prosperous and a body weak, and the spiritual health is to be the standard of the bodily vigor. It would be well if we could pray in this way for our friends. We have only to think of the marks of bodily strength and health to see what is meant by spiritual prosperity. When we think of appetite we may ponder whether we enjoy our Bible. When we think of bodily rest we may inquire whether we know anything of the rest of faith. When we think of physical work we may inquire what we are doing for Christ.
II. The Conduct (vs. 3-4)
1. The Fact. The Apostle speaks of Gains as a man who possessed faith and proved it in his life. "The truth, even as thou walkest in truth." The man's conduct was genuine, strong, and constantly progressive. No wonder it could be described as prosperity of soul (V. 2).
2. The Record. This reality was seen by the brethren when they went to the home of Gains, and on their return they testified to it. This is the real life, one that is not only enjoyed but expressed. Our Lord said that our light was to shine that others might see (Matt. 5:13-16).
3. The Result. All this gave the Apostle great joy, and he says that he had no higher joy than this, for when he heard that his spiritual children were "walking in the truth," enjoying and manifesting prosperity in the spiritual life, the faithful Apostle found his joy full.
There is still no greater satisfaction in the Christian life than the consciousness that those whom we have led to Christ are living consistently and earnestly for the Master's glory.
III. The Communion (vs. 5-6)
1. The Action. Now the Apostle remind? Gaius of the work that he was doing to Christian brethren from other places. Hospitality is clear in the New Testament as a duty incumbent on Christians, and in those days when brethren traveled from place to place it is easy to see its necessity and value as one of the marks of true fellowship (Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 5:10; Tit. 1:8; Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 4:9).
2. The Character. This work is described by the one and yet sufficient word "faithful." It was a work that sprang from faith and was in every way genuine and true, because of these brethren who came from other places and who would have had no satisfactory hospitality if it had not been provided by the Christians where they visited.
3. The Recognition. The work not only elicited the approval of the Apostle, but the people who enjoyed the hospitality bore witness before the whole Church to the love of Gaius. This testimony was a beautiful evidence of the Master's love and of the spirit of true fellowship that actuated him. Christ was, indeed, a reality to one who could show this love.
IV. The Counsel (vs. 6-8)
1. The Need. The work that Gaius had been doing was necessary because of the circumstances, and the Apostle tells him that he will still do well if he continues this fellowship of hospitality. These traveling Christians were thus to be "set forward on their journey worthily of God." It is a striking thing to think of their traveling and the hospitality they were to receive as something "worthy of God." Nothing could be higher than this in the Apostle's eyes.
2. The Cause. He was able to speak in this way because these Christians went forth on their spiritual enterprise without receiving any help from people outside and were actuated only by devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 8).
3. The Motive. This constitutes the reason why Christians should welcome such and give them all possible sympathy, for in so doing they would become "fellow workers for the truth." Thus the Apostle strikes another high keynote. This work was to be done "worthily of God" and "for the truth."
As we review these verses we cannot help seeing the intensity of the Apostle's love and the strength of his devotion to Christ as he rejoices in the marks of true Christianity shown in "Gaius the beloved." Love, truth, joy, faithfulness, service, dominate his thought and reveal both in him and in Gaius the splendid reality of their Christian experience and love. If only we "love in truth" (v. 1) and "walk in truth" (v. 3), we cannot help becoming "fellow workers for the truth" (v. 8).
Side by side with the delightful description of the faithful worker referred to in the earlier verses is this darker picture of one who did the exact opposite. Then follow two other pictures of the early Church, recording once more some of the best elements of Christian character. We must now look at these three aspects of Christian life.
I. Faithlessness (vs. 9-10)
This is seen in Diotrephes, of whom nothing is known beyond this brief reference, though his character is here set out very clearly in a few words.
1. Faithlessness Described. He is seen to be marked by exclusiveness, being unwilling to receive even an Apostle. Not only so, but his speech against John was marked by evil, and not content with saying wrong things, his actions were equally deplorable, for he would not welcome the brethren by showing hospitality, and also actually repelled and cast out of the Church those who were willing to show this kindness. It is almost incredible that any professing Christian man could have taken such a harsh attitude.
2. Faithlessness Explained. When we endeavor to discover why he acted in this way we see at once that it was due to pride, self -pleasing, and the consequent dethronement of Christ. He loved to have the preeminence, thus showing marked contrast to the true life in which Christ is to be first in everything (Col. 1:18). These two are the only places where the word "pre-eminence" occurs in the New Testament, and the contrast is deeply significant. It will always be either self or Christ.
Let us try to imagine this man, who evidently loved power, and, so far from endeavoring to show Christian kindness, was ready to cause other people to suffer if they would not do as he desired. He was particularly concerned about any lessening of his own authority. People might think it (and he might be self -deceived in considering it) loyalty, but in reality he was solely concerned about his own place and importance. As some one has said, "he is the father of a long line of sons." There are men today with an intense zeal for place and power, but it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to distinguish between love for the Church and love for their own place in it. When a man wants to hold office for the purpose of service, there is danger of degeneration into holding the office for its own sake, and this inevitably leads to the cause of the Church becoming identified with our own cause. Any church which has an officer of this kind, however effective he may be, and however much he may have done for the community, will undoubtedly find its spiritual life weakened, prevented from advancing, and perhaps involved in disaster. If anyone should tell him of this, his hyper-sensitiveness leads him to attribute to his informers animosity and malice, and if he should become displaced he either loses interest in the church or does his best to oppose those who have succeeded him. The explanation of it all, if men would only be honest with themselves, is pride of place, and this means the inability to put Christ and his Church in the foremost position.
II. Fidelity (vs. 11-12)
This is seen in Demetrius, a striking contrast to Diotrephes.
1. Fidelity Counseled (v. 11). The Apostle, using his favorite term "beloved" for the fourth time in this brief Epistle, refers to the nature of that which every Christian man should be occupied with, "that which is good," as contrasted with "that which is evil." The method of fidelity is seen in the suggestion of imitation, and, inasmuch as all good comes from God, this advice to imitate means really to imitate none ether than God himself because "he that doeth good is of God; he that doeth evil hath not seen God."
2. Fidelity Exemplified (v. 12). Demetrius is shown to have carried out this very counsel, and there are no fewer than three separate yet connected testimonies to this blessed reality. He had the testimony of all men, and it is worth while remembering that the New Testament gives great prominence to the impression made upon non-Christians by the life of believers. It is one of the best recommendations of the Gospel that a follower of Christ impresses and attracts those around by his reality of life. When the Seven were appointed, one recommendation was that they should be "men of honest report," that is, men of good reputation (Acts 6:3). This feature is often noted in the New Testament (Acts 10:22; 16:2; 22:12; Eph. 5:15; Col. 4:5; 1 Thess. 4:12; 1 Tim. 3:7). This is exactly what is said of our Lord himself as a youth, for he was in "favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52). Another testimony was that of the truth itself, for it was evident that the life of Demetrius exactly harmonized with the teaching of Christ. Not least of all, but in some respects greatest, the Apostle himself bore the same testimony, and he appeals to Gaius in support of the truth of his own witness. It is splendid when the life of any Christian can have this complete witness, for there is simply nothing beyond it.
III. Fellowship (vs. 13-14)
This is seen in the Apostle John himself, and in the closing words of this, as of the former Epistle, we have a new and beautiful picture of the "Apostle of love."
1. Fellowship Realised. The Apostle had many things to write out of the fulness of his heart towards Gaius. and perhaps they were too sacred to be put on paper, since he was for some reason unwilling to write them, but there was the satisfaction that he would shortly see his friend and they would enjoy "face-to- face" intercourse. It was this that the Apostle felt gave him the fulness of joy (2 John 12).
2. Fellowship Expressed. Meanwhile the spirit of the man is shown in his prayer that peace might be with Gains, and the breadth of his interest and sympathy is shown by the salutation he sends from the friends and to the friends. Not only so, but there is a beautiful, personal, individual touch as he asks Gains to salute the friends "by name."
Thus we see in marked contrast the three characters in that little community: the man who was proud, the man who was humble, and the man who was loving. Be it ours to avoid the sinfulness of the first and to follow the sincerity of the other two.