The Apostle John, the last surviving disciple of Jesus, is the “elder” who wrote this little epistle (it is the shortest book of the Bible by word-count). It is a personal letter, addressed to an individual, but preserved in Scripture for all Christians everywhere. John mentions three men by name in his letter, and they were evidently all affiliated with one of the churches under John’s supervision. John’s purpose for writing was to commend two of the men and to rebuke one of them. When I read this letter I can’t help but wonder if there are people like these three in every church.
Gaius, the man to whom the letter is addressed, must have been a close friend of the Apostle. John greeted him warmly, saying that he loved him. Gaius had a consistent testimony for Christ (v.3-4). John was impressed that he not only knew the truth, he lived it. Some people are all talk and no walk; they have everything in the showroom and nothing in the warehouse. As one country preacher quipped, “Some people preach cream but live skim milk”! Not Gaius — He “walked” in the truth (v.3). As evidence of that, he had a generous heart (v.5-6), giving support to the various teachers and evangelists who were dispatched by John and traveled to (or through) Gaius’s city. One of the signs that Jesus is on the throne of a person’s heart is that they love to invest in gospel causes, financially or otherwise.
At the end of the letter, John mentioned another good brother, Demetrius (v.11-12). He was the kind of Christian who had a good testimony — and everybody knew it. He was a truthful, trustworthy man, an example of a real Christianity and positive churchmanship. God, give us more church members like Demetrius, who had a good testimony, and like Gaius, who lived out his faith in tangible ways!
In stark contrast to these men was Diotrephes (v.9). This man may have been an elder, a deacon, or even the pastor of the church, but he was a real stinker. He was a bully with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. It was not a case of a well-meaning person with poor relational skills — Diotrephes was a self-promoting blowhard who loved to boss people around. When John said, “He likes to put himself first” (v.9), he used a unique word (in the original language) that literally means “holding first place”. That word is only found in one other place in the Bible, Colossians 1:18, where it is translated “preeminent” and refers to the position only Christ should hold in the church. If Diotrephes was a believer at all, he was a living contradiction, for he had an anti-Christ attitude. A church leader who really loves Jesus says with John the Baptist, “Jesus must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). (Note: even as I am writing this I realize that in the flesh I would probably develop the attitude of Diotrephes. I’d better humble myself, stay close to Jesus, and surrender to the control of the Holy Spirit. Amen?)
The arrogance of Diotrephes is mind-blowing: he actually refused the authority of John (v.9). Can you imagine the audacity of a church leader refusing to fellowship and receive counsel from the only surviving disciple of Jesus? Think of what Diotrephes could have learned from John (as a pastor myself, I know a few questions I would ask him!). Not content to ignore John, Diotrephes slandered the name of the Apostle, “talking wicked nonsense” about him behind his back (v.10).
I love John’s statement in verse 11, “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good.” In other words, “Be like Demetrius and Gaius, NOT like Diotrephes.” God, give us the grace to be truth-walkers like Gaius and to have solid testimonies like Demetrius. Save us from ourselves. Deliver us from arrogance. Cleanse our mouths from wicked nonsense. And may Christ alone have preeminence in the church. Amen.