3 John 1:1
The elder to the well beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
It has been said that in the drama of life the scenery shifts and the draperies change, but the plot is the same and the characters the same. This is true; and because of this the most ancient history is in its essentials the story of to-day. Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius are ancient names, but modern characters; dead men, but living spirits.
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The elder unto the wellbeloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.