Does Your Life Bring Praise to the Name of Jesus? Four Men and Their Reputations


3 John

Does Your Life Bring Praise to the Name of Jesus? Four Men and Their Reputations

163Does Your Life Bring Praise to the Name of Jesus?
Four Men and Their Reputations

3 John 1-14

Main Idea: As followers of Jesus, our lives and reputations ought to reflect His love, affection, and hospitality toward one another.

  1. Gaius: A Man with the Right Balance (1-8).
    1. Live spiritually (1-2).
    2. Walk truthfully (3-4).
    3. Serve faithfully (5-6).
    4. Minister generously (7-8).
  2. Diotrephes: A Man with a Harmful Agenda (9-10).
    1. Do not be driven by prideful ambition (9).
    2. Do not display pompous arrogance (9).
    3. Do not deliver perverse accusations (10).
    4. Do not dominate with profane activity (10).
  3. Demetrius: A Man with a Good Testimony (11-12).
    1. Pursue a godly example (11).
    2. Possess a good testimony (12).
  4. John: A Man with a Pastor's Heart (13-14).
    1. Desire the presence of fellow believers (13).
    2. Desire peace for fellow believers (14).

All of us share an invaluable possession. It goes with us wherever we go, but amazingly, it also goes where we do not go. Furthermore, what you think of this prized possession is not necessarily what others think of it. I speak of our reputation. Your reputation is the estimation or evaluation others have of your character, integrity, and standing as a person. It may be good or bad, positive or negative. But be assured of this: We all have a reputation. People will watch you and talk about you. (Count on it!) You cannot escape or lose your reputation. It precedes you, goes with you, and follows you all of your life and beyond.

Charles Spurgeon knew the importance of a reputation, especially for the Christian:

164The eagle-eyed world acts as a policeman for the church.... [It] becomes a watch-dog over the sheep, barking furiously as soon as one goes astray....

Be careful, be careful of your private lives ... and I believe your public lives will be sure to be right. Remember that it is upon your public life that the verdict of the world will very much depend. ("The Parent's and Pastor's Joy")

With that in mind let me raise three important questions for all of us to think about: First, what do you think of yourself? Second, what do you believe others think about you? Third, what does God think about you? The shortest book in the Bible, the letter of 3 John is very helpful in assisting us to reflect on these three questions. Just over 200 words, this postcard epistle has been too often neglected to the detriment of the church. Like 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, it is written to an individual, a man named Gaius. Written by John between ad 80 and 95, Eusebius, the ancient church historian, says it was penned after John was released from the rock quarry island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. If this is correct, 3 John may have been the last book written in the New Testament.

The book is similar in length and style to its twin, 2 John, yet there are some important differences as well. Third John revolves around four key men and their reputations, whereas 2 John mentions no one by name. In 2 John the problem was showing hospitality to the wrong visitors. In 3 John the problem is not showing hospitality to the right visitors. In 2 John the major concern was truth. In 3 John the major concern is love.

It is easy to outline the book biographically around the four men of the letter. As we look at each one of them, continue to examine yourself and see if anyone here looks something like you. Ask yourself a very important question: Does my life bring praise to the name of Jesus? Do I live out Matthew 5:16?

In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Gaius: A Man with the Right Balance

Gaius: A Man with the Right Balance

3 John 1-8

This letter begins in the same way as 2 John, identifying the author as "the Elder" (Gk presbuteros). The word originally meant an older man but165 came to convey ideas of respect, authenticity, and integrity. An elder is a man of courage, commitment, and conviction. He is a man of authority rooted in his spiritual maturity. John was such a man, and because he had a tender relationship with "the elect lady" (2 John) and Gaius (3 John), there was no need to assert his apostleship. John commends Gaius in four areas of his life. These are areas in which we also should seek to excel, having come into a saving relationship with Christ.

Live Spiritually (3 John 1-2)

Four times John will address Gaius, the recipient of this letter, as "dear friend." It expresses deep, heartfelt love for this man. John loved this man and he told him. He also knew his spiritual life was in good health, and he told him this as well.

Gaius was a common name in that day, and several men by that name appear in the New Testament: Gaius of Corinth (Rom 16:23), Macedonia (Acts 19:29), and Derbe (Acts 20:4). Gaius of 3 John is probably none of those. All we know of this Gaius we learn from this short letter, and what we learn is outstanding.

John's love for Gaius is genuine; it is accompanied by truth (used seven times). There is nothing false or superficial here. He loves this man truly. The "I" in verse 1 is emphatic: "I [myself] love you in the truth." John is praying (continually) for Gaius to prosper (continually) in every way (a phrase that is fronted in the Greek to add emphasis) and to be "in good health physically just as you are spiritually" (v. 2). "Prosper" conveys the idea of having a good journey. His prayer for "health" is similar to our idea of hygiene. Gaius had a clean bill of health spiritually. Perhaps he was suffering some physical difficulty, but his soul was "ship shape," in top condition.

A good point of application naturally arises from this prayer. What if I were to pray for you and ask God to bless you physically to the same degree you are healthy spiritually, and what if He answered my prayer? What would happen?! Would you be fit, sick in bed, or nearly dead? Would we need to rush you to the emergency room and have you ushered into the ICU or CCU? Gaius was "soul healthy." The life of Christ was vibrant and alive in Him. That same life is ours as we enjoy the blessings and benefits we have in Christ.

Walk Truthfully (3 John 3-4)


Living spiritually is intimately connected to walking truthfully. John could be "very glad" (v. 3) and "have no greater joy" (v. 4) because of what others were telling him about Gaius. The truth was in him, and he lived what he believed. In doctrine and deed, Gaius was commendable, praiseworthy, and a joy to his brothers and sisters in Christ. There was no contradiction between his profession (talk) and practice (walk).

"My children" may indicate that John had led Gaius to Christ. John was fathering spiritual children into the kingdom of God, and Gaius was a child of his in whom he took great delight. Spurgeon knew the importance of this calling for every child of God, but especially those called to the ministry:

You may view, dear Friends, the text as specifying the PASTOR'S greatest reward. "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the Truth of God." The minister who is sent of God has spiritual children. They are as much his children as if they had literally been born in his house, for to their immortal Nature he stands under God in the relationship of father....

No minister ought to be at rest unless he sees that his ministry brings forth fruit, and men and women are born unto God by the preaching of the Word.

To this end we are sent to you, not to help you to spend your Sundays respectably, nor to quiet your conscience by conducting worship on your behalf. No, Sirs, ministers are sent into the world for a higher purpose! And if your souls are not saved, we have labored in vain as far as you are concerned. If in the hands of God we are not made the means of your new birth, our sermons and instructions have been a mere waste of effort and your hearing has been a mere waste of time to you, if not something worse. To see children born unto God—that is the grand thing! Therefore every preacher longs to be able to talk about his spiritual sons and daughters. ("The Parent's and Pastor's Joy"; emphasis in original)

However, Spurgeon was not satisfied to challenge ministers only in light of this text. He also walked into the home and looked parents straight in the eyes, challenging them in their failure to make spiritual children in their own families.

167It is very grievous to see how some professedly Christian parents are satisfied so long as their children display cleverness in learning, or sharpness in business, although they show no signs of a renewed Nature. If they pass their examinations with credit and promise to be well-fitted for the world's battle, their parents forget that there is a superior calling, involving a higher crown, for which the child will need to be fitted by Divine Grace and armed with the whole armor of God....

Many who ought to know better think themselves superlatively blessed in their children if they become rich, if they marry wealth, if they strike out into profitable enterprises in trade, or if they attain eminence in the profession which they have espoused. Their parents will go to their beds rejoicing and awake perfectly satisfied, though their boys are hastening down to Hell, if they are also making money by the bushel. They have no greater joy than that their children are having their portion in this life and laying up treasure where rust corrupts it. Though neither their sons nor daughters show any signs of the new birth, give no evidence of being rich towards God, manifest no traces of electing love or redeeming Grace or the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, yet there are parents who are content with their condition.

Now I can only say of such professing parents that they have need to question whether they are Christians, and if they will not question it themselves, they must give some of us leave to hold it in serious debate. When a man's heart is really right with God and he, himself, has been saved from the wrath to come and is living in the light of his heavenly Father's countenance, it is certain that he is anxious about his children's souls, prizes their immortal natures and feels that nothing could give him greater joy than to hear that his children walk in the Truth of God. Judge yourselves, then, Beloved, this morning, by the gentle but searching test of the text.

If you are professing Christians, but cannot say that you have no greater joy than the conversion of your children, you have reason to question whether you ought to have made such a profession at all! (Ibid.; emphasis in original)

168People cannot see your heart, but they can see your life. Walk, live out, day by day, the gospel truth that is in you by virtue of your union with Christ. Abide in Christ and bear much fruit (cf. John 15).

Serve Faithfully (3 John 5-6)

John commends Gaius, "Dear friend, you are showing faithfulness." What was he doing? It seems he was showing hospitality and entertaining brothers, traveling missionaries for Jesus sent from John. These were strangers, persons he did not know. John knew of Gaius's service because on their return to John "they testified" of his love "in front of the church." John responds by encouraging him to "just keep on doing what you are doing" (paraphrase of v. 6). "Please keep up the good work" is the idea. In providing lodging, food, money, encouragement, and prayer, and in standing with them even though they were "strangers," Gaius had honored God, the gospel, and John. Sensitive to the hospitality expectations of the ancient Near Eastern world, Gaius had received these traveling teachers into his home and honored the Lord and the apostle who sent them. His faithful service stands in striking contrast to the inhospitable Diotrephes, whom we meet in verses 9-10.

Minister Generously (3 John 7-8)

These verses provide three reasons we should help those whom God has called and sent out. First, they "set out for the sake of the Name" (i.e., the name of Jesus; cf. 1 John 2:12; Acts 4:12; 5:40-41; 9:16; 15:26; 21:13; Phil 2:9). This is the only mention of the Lord Jesus in 3 John. It is His Name we take to the nations. It is His gospel we proclaim. There is no other. Second, they were "accepting nothing from pagans," that is, unbelievers (Jew and Gentile alike). They did not attempt to finance God's work with the world's money. They depended, and rightly so, on the generosity and gifts of the church. In so doing they avoided the scandal of other traveling teachers who prided themselves in fleecing the countryside. Third, John wrote that "we ought to support such men so that we can be coworkers with the truth." We may not physically go where they go, but we can go with them anyway by our support. All pray. All give support. Some are sent. All are essential as we cooperate together in the work of God. It is well said, "There is no limit to how much good you can do if you do not care who gets the credit." God, multiply the sent. God, multiply the supporters.

Diotrephes: A Man with a Harmful Agenda


Diotrephes: A Man with a Harmful Agenda

3 John 9-10

Third John now takes a surprising and unexpected turn. If Gaius had the right balance, a man by the name of Diotrephes did not. He was basically Gaius's alter-ego at every turn, a man with a harmful and destructive agenda. The bottom line for Diotrephes was that he wanted to be the "boss" in the church. He loved himself and not others. With perverted ambition and a dominating spirit, he opposed the apostle John and set himself up as lord in the church. If anyone took exception to his actions, that person was censured and dismissed from the congregation. Carnality personified, Diotrephes is mirrored today by many in the church who exhibit a similar lust for power. They are leaders who have a messiah complex. They have taken their eyes off of Jesus and forgotten that He, and He alone, is Lord and Savior.

Just as John commended Gaius in four areas, he condemned Diotrephes in four areas. His stern rebukes are instructive for us all.

Do Not Be Driven by Prideful Ambition (3 John 9)

John wrote a letter that is now lost to us (v. 9). It was probably a letter of commendation for the missionaries. Its reception met a problem in the person of Diotrephes, who is mentioned only here in the New Testament. He "loves to have first place among them." The issue here was not a doctrinal problem but personal pride. He loved being first, number one, the captain of the ship, the CEO, the center of attention, and the main attraction. Colossians 1:18 says only Jesus is "to have first place in everything." Amazingly, Diotrephes took for himself the position only Jesus should hold. Tragically, many today take for themselves the position only Jesus should hold. It may be a pastor, minister of worship or students, a deacon, a prominent layman, or a powerful and influential family. We do not know who Diotrephes was. We do know he was driven by prideful ambition.

Do Not Display Pompous Arrogance (3 John 9)

Diotrephes would not "receive" John and his missionaries. Incredibly he felt the apostle had nothing to offer, nothing he or the church needed. John was old news. It was time for him to retire and move off the scene. Such arrogance would have been culturally shameful. It is spiritually shocking. Imagine you had a chance today to hear the apostle John. 170Would you say, "We don't need to hear anything he has to say!"? Of course not! But here the older, wiser apostle was being "kicked to the curb." The arrogance of this behavior takes your breath away.

Do Not Deliver Perverse Accusations (3 John 10)

John did not fear personal and public confrontation when a situation demanded it (v. 10). If he comes, and the implication is he will (v. 14), he will confront Diotrephes, beginning with his perverse accusations (cf. 1 Tim 5:20). Diotrephes was "slandering ... with malicious words." He was talking trash, "gossiping maliciously" (NIV). With vicious and wicked intent, Diotrephes had lied about John and slandered him. Trying to stack the deck and win the day, he would stop at nothing to get his way, even if it meant lying and acting with a heavy hand.

Do Not Dominate with Profane Activity (3 John 10)

There is a sick, sad digression to Diotrephes' behavior. Do you see it? Ambition led to arrogance, which then led to accusations, culminating in actions. He acted exactly the opposite of Gaius, but then he went further. He slandered John, gave a cold shoulder to these missionaries from John, stopped others who would have received them, and kicked out of the church anyone who attempted to help them—all because he loved himself and loved his agenda, and he had to have his own way no matter what (v. 10b).

In a somewhat funny but all too tragic comment, the great Greek scholar A. T. Robertson wrote, "some ... years ago I wrote an article on Diotrephes for a denominational paper. The editor told me that 25 deacons stopped the paper to show their resentment against being personally attacked in the paper" (Word Pictures, vol. 6, 263). Of course Robertson had mentioned no one by name!

Prideful ambition, pompous arrogance, perverse accusations, and profane activity are all very real dangers for Christians and church leaders. Therefore, we must watch our motives, watch our decisions, watch our tongues, and watch our actions.

Demetrius: A Man with a Good Testimony

Demetrius: A Man with a Good Testimony

3 John 11-12

In a wise rhetorical strategy, John sandwiches evil Diotrephes between godly Gaius and a good man named Demetrius. A man like Diotrephes 171can be impressive, build a following, and gather supporters who admire or even idolize him. John was aware of this. He knew we all imitate someone. Be careful whom you admire. Make sure it is someone like Gaius or someone like Demetrius (v. 12).

Pursue a Godly Example (3 John 11)

After calling Gaius "dear friend" for a fourth time. John says in verse 11, "Do not imitate what is evil, but what is good." This command is a present imperative. It is a word calling for continuous action. The word "imitate" is related to our word "mimic." Why imitate or mimic one ("the good") and not the other ("the bad")? Simply put, it gives evidence to whom you belong. You see, "the one who does good is of God" (v. 11). He gives tangible evidence that he belongs to God. In contrast, the one whose life is characterized by evil gives evidence that he is lost, that he "has not seen God." B. F. Wescott said, "He who does good proves by his action that his life springs from God" (The Epistles of St. John, 241).

Ultimately we should imitate Jesus (1 Cor 11:1). He is our supreme example who will never fail us (Heb 12:2-3). However, we need earthly, everyday examples to imitate as well. We need men and women to whom we can point our sons and daughters, our boys and girls, and say, "Go and live like him; go and be like her." We should strive to be such examples. So, be careful whom you watch, and be mindful of who watches you!

Possess a Good Testimony (3 John 12)

Demetrius probably brought this letter to Gaius. The letter would also serve as his recommendation from John. A threefold witness is put forward to commend him (v. 12; cf. Deut 17:6; 19:15). He has a good testimony (or witness) from everyone, from the truth itself, and from John and his community.

Over time, people have watched this man Demetrius and found him to be a man of integrity and godliness. Like Gaius, what he believed and lived were beautifully balanced. It is doubtful everyone agreed with Demetrius's commitment to Christ and Christian truth, but his life was above reproach and beyond question. He walked with God, studied His Word, loved Jesus, and loved people—both saved and lost. Here was a man I could point my sons to and say, "Be like him." Could I also point them to you? Could you point your children to me?

John: A Man with a Pastor's Heart


John: A Man with a Pastor's Heart

3 John 13-14

Throughout this letter John, through positive and negative examples, has painted a portrait of good, godly leadership. He has shown us the balance of belief and behavior that is necessary if we are to be faithful witnesses for King Jesus. He has revealed his pastor's heart. As he brings this letter to a close, that heart of love and compassion continues to shine brightly.

Desire the Presence of Fellow Believers (3 John 13)

With a full and burdened heart, John longs to come and visit Gaius and his friends. He will embrace Gaius, and he will confront Diotrephes. Pen and ink are nice, but they are not enough. John wanted to see them. Similarly in our own day, talk of online cyber churches sounds intriguing, but they can never be a substitute for a personal touch.

Desire Peace for Fellow Believers (3 John 14)

John hoped to see them soon. He could hardly wait until later. He wanted a face-to-face (literally, a "mouth to mouth"), up-close and personal time together. A letter, e-mail, or text message is a poor substitute for personal interaction.

He closed with an expression of "peace" (cf. Rom 5:1; Phil 4:7), something the Diotrephes affair had robbed them of. To accentuate that blessing, John told Gaius that "the friends send you greetings." They knew the situation with Diotrephes and they stood with John. This is the only place in the New Testament that believers are called friends, perhaps reflecting John 15:13 where Jesus says, "No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends."

Finally, John asked Gaius to say hello to everyone, one by one, name by name. Like John, who reflected the heart of the God who saves us one by one, we too should love and care in the same manner: one by one. To do so is to cultivate a good reputation. To do so is to live a life that brings praise to the name of Jesus.

Reflect and Discuss


Reflect and Discuss

  1. Which of these men do you identify with? Which provides the most needed corrective for your life?
  2. Why is reputation important for the Christian? What are some dangers of becoming too concerned with reputation?
  3. What would happen if God blessed you physically to the same degree as your spiritual health? What areas of concern could you identify?
  4. Why is John so joyful in Gaius's faithfulness? What is the source of your joy? Is it connected to the spiritual fruitfulness of other Christians?
  5. How can you invest in others so that you might see their spiritual fruit and find joy in them? Who has God placed in your life for you to invest in as a spiritual child?
  6. How do you show the love of Christ to strangers? Why is it more difficult to love people we don't know?
  7. How can you work to support faithful ministers of the gospel? Who are you partnering with for the spread of Jesus' name?
  8. Why is pride such a danger in the Christian life? Why is it especially hard for church leaders? How can you work to combat pride in your life and ministry?
  9. How can those who aren't pastors imitate John's pastoral heart? What in his character is commendable to all?
  10. Why is being physically present with other believers important to John? How might this desire translate to the church in the digital age?

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