The elder, To the beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth:
them, for there are songs of prisoners in those inspired prophetic rolls. And let Timothy remember that St. Paul wants to see his face again.
I. HERE IS ABSENCE OF MURMURING. We may and ought to learn what the gospel can achieve. Here is Paul prevented from preaching, with arrest laid on all his missionary work. In a dreary Roman dungeon he is "persecuted, but not forsaken;" "struck down, but not destroyed." Yet mark this - he never suffered one murmuring word to pass his lips.
II. HERE IS PRESENCE OF GREETING. He would cheer Timothy, and sends him various greetings, from the Roman saints, as we may see by their names - Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren - send greeting. What sublime self-abnegation there was in St. Paul! Forgetful always of himself! How like the Master! In the hour of expected dissolution he is thinking only of others. - W.M.S.
I. LET US SEE WHETHER, WITHOUT PASSING OVER THE BOUNDS OF HISTORICAL PROBABILITY, WE CAN FILL UP THIS BARE OUTLINE WITH SOME COLOURING OF CIRCUMSTANCE.
The elder unto the well-beloved Gaius.
I. GAIUS, OR THE CHRISTIAN IN COMPLETE ARMOUR. Of his position in the Church, of his personal history, we know nothing. The light falls on him only for a moment; but in that moment we can see clearly that he was a full-orbed, symmetrical Christian.
1. His soul prospered — i.e., his inner life of prayer and fellowship with the Father was going on so well — the man was making such manifest progress in spiritual life — that St. John could form no higher wish for him than that he might prosper in all things and be in health, as his soul was prospering.
2. But his spirituality did not evaporate in feeling. There was nothing flabby or weak about the man. He was strong in the Lord. "I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and bare witness to thy truth." We do not know all that lies beneath this sentence. Evidently truth had been attacked, and Gaius had stood up in defence.
3. And as he prayed and spoke, so he lived: "even as thou walkest in the truth." The true defenders of the faith, the invincible champions of truth, are all the souls that do the truth. Holiness is an unanswerable argument.
4. He was an active Christian (vers. 5-7). Here we catch just a glimpse of the evangelising activity of the early Church. Error was busy. Many deceivers had gone forth into the world. But truth was busy also. She had taken the field. Christian men had "gone forth" "for the sake of the Name." Gaius probably could not "go forth," but he could help those who did. He could give them a home, could secure for them a favourable hearing, and send them on their way rejoicing. And he did so, thoroughly. He did this, as he did everything else, as unto the Lord. Gains did this, and so became "a fellow-worker with the truth." People often speak of "the workers" in the Church as if they were a small and easily defined class. But who are the workers? Those who preach, and teach, and visit, and sing, and organise? Yes; but not these only. Those who can only give small gifts from their poverty those who pray for us in secret, who smile on our efforts, who wish us well, who love us — behold, these too are workers, fellow-workers with the truth! Thank God for quiet people, kind people, hopeful people! What could the "workers" do without the fellow-workers?
II. DIOTREPHES REPRESENTS OFFICIALISM OUT AND OUT. I am sorry to say that there is little doubt that he was the minister of the Church in which Gaius was a member — a minister in name — in fact, a tyrant, a slanderer, a bad man.
1. "He loveth to have the pre-eminence among them." He did not call it by that name. He called it "principle," or "conscience," or "high sense of duty," for if you want to find the worst things you must not look for them under the words "crime," or "despotism," or "sin," but under "conscience," "duty," "patriotism," and "principle." But fine words notwithstanding, the core of this man's character was love of power and pride of place.
2. "If I come," says the apostle, "I will bring to remembrance his works which he doeth, prating against us with wicked words." Yes, "if I come," Diotrephes will find that John was not called the son of thunder for nothing. It ought not to be left to St. John to bring Diotrephes to book. The Church ought to have done this, The Church was partly guilty of this tyrant. "I know mother'll give it me if I scream," said a child. Ay, ay, that is the policy of most agitators. "I believe in screaming" is the one article of Diotrephes' creed in every age. Weak mothers, weak nations, weak Churches alike surrender to the scream. We owe it to Diotrephes to tell him the truth. Whether St. John come or not, slander should be condemned and tyranny opposed.
3. But the real danger to the Church lay, not in this man's despotic action, but in the infectious nature of his tyranny. There is a little Diotrephes in all men — all love to lead; and there was a danger lest this outside Diotrephes should stir up and call out the Diotrephes inside other members — lest opposing him they should still imitate him. Therefore St. John implores even Gaius, "Beloved, imitate not that which is evil, but that which is good."
4. "He that doeth good is of God: he that doeth evil hath not seen God." Let who will be bad, be you good. Though the very angels fall, do you stand. "By Allah," said Mahomet, when he was tempted, "if they placed the sun on my right hand and the moon on my left to persuade me, yet while God bids me I will go on." Yes! heed not the sun or moon. Hear God. Though even Diotrephes turn tyrant, let Gaius be Gaius still. "A single man with God is the majority."
III. DEMETRIUS STANDS FOR THE INSPIRING CHRISTIAN. He was a man whose life was such that John felt he had only to name him in order to inspire Gaius with courage. Yes, we all know names that for us are charged with inspiration. To see them or hear them makes us stronger, braver, better. We need not be rich, nor famous, nor learned in order to inspire men — only to be good, and honest, and loving, and pure. We too, by faith in Christ and by God's grace, may live in such a way that even our names may be to some few souls words of inspiration and means of grace.
(J. M. Gibbon.)
2. Demetrius is, of course, a name redolent of the worship of Demeter, the Earth-Mother, and of Ephesian surroundings. No reader of the New Testament needs to be reminded of the riot at Ephesus, which is told at such length in Acts 19. The conjecture that the agitator of the turbulent guild of silver smiths who made silver shrines of Diana may have become the Demetrius, the object of St. John's lofty commendation, is by no means improbable. The very words of Demetrius about Paul evince that uneasy sense of the powers of fascination possessed by the apostle which is often the first timid witness of reluctant conviction.
II. WE MAY NOW ADVERT TO THE CONTENTS AND GENERAL STYLE OF THIS LETTER.
1. As to its contents.(1) It supplies us with a valuable test of Christian life, in what may be called the Christian instinct of missionary affection, possessed in such full measure by Caius.(2) The Church is beset with different dangers from very different quarters. As the second Epistle warns the Church of peril from speculative ambition, so the third Epistle marks a danger from personal ambition, arrogating to itself undue authority within the Church.(3) This brief Epistle contains one of those apparently mere spiritual truisms, which make St. John the most powerful and comprehensive of all spiritual teachers. He had suggested a warning to Caius, which serves as the link to connect the example of Diotrephes which he has denounced, with that of Demetrius which he is about to commend. "Beloved!" he cries, "imitate not that which is evil, but that which is good." A glorious little "Imitation of Christ," a compression of his own Gospel, the record of the Great Example in three words.
2. The style of the Epistle is certainly that of an old man. It is reserved in language and in doctrine. Religious language should be deep and real, rather than demonstrative. It is not safe to play with sacred names. To pronounce them at random for the purpose of being effective and impressive is to take them in vain. What a wealth of reverential love there is in that — "for the sake of the Name!" This letter says nothing of rapture, or prophecy, of miracle. It lies in the atmosphere of the Church, as we find it even now. It has a word for friendship. It seeks to individualise its benediction. A hush of evening rests upon the note. May such an evening close upon our old age!
(Abp. Wm. Alexander.)
The Weekly Pulpit.I. THE IDEAL CHRISTIAN.
1. A renewed heart.
2. A loving deportment.
II. THE HIGHEST AFFINITY. The Christian character draws to itself —
1. Our esteem.
2. Our kindness.
3. Our fellowship.
(The Weekly Pulpit.)
I. THE TRUE CHARACTERISTIC OF A BELIEVER IN JESUS CHRIST — "Beloved." This term is applied both to the Son of God and to the saints, and frequently used by the apostles. It is a term of endearment, and implies a relationship and an affinity of the highest order.
1. Loved. One with a renewed heart, one of tenderness and sympathy instead of hardness, ill-feeling, and cruelty.
2. Loving. The love of God in his heart was not a stagnant pool, but a running rill. Take the Christian life in its composite character, and it will be seen that love permeates the whole. As to the inner resources of thought and desire, there is in them a sweetness which reveals the well of love in the heart. In the life of Gaius, St. John saw the reflection of the greater love which laid down its life for its friends.
3. Lovable. It is almost unnecessary to state that the object of God's love will have attractions for all pure minds.
II. THE RECIPROCAL AFFINITY — "Whom I love in truth." The remembrance of the beloved Gaius awakens the love of the beloved John.
1. Whom I love by the power of truth. The gospel reveals in us the force of love, and in our fellow-Christians the worthy object of that force. The Christian character draws to itself our esteem.
2. Whom I love for the sake of truth. No effect has a greater influence on the Christian heart than the saving influence of the gospel. A more effective spectacle to win the affection of an apostle could not be found.
3. Whom I love in furtherance of truth. Tell the Christian worker that you honour him and love him for his work's sake, and you will strengthen his hands and rejoice his heart.
(T. Davies, M. A.)
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