In the short space of this letter, John gives us a vital tutorial in the contrast between friends & enemies of the Gospel. Many modern Christians have no category for what Jesus meant when He commanded us to love our enemies. Broadly speaking, we have no clue we have enemies, we fail to recognize those enemies, and we have no clue that loving them requires us to confront their errors (Cf. Eph. 5:11, 2 Jn. 11).
1 The elder unto the wellbeloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth. 2 Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. 3 For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. 5 Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers; 6 Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: 7 Because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles. 8 We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth. 9 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. 10 Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. 11 Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God. 12 Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true. 13 I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee: 14 But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
John’s greeting tells us that this is a personal letter to a beloved saint, Gaius (v1). This well loved friend was, from what is hinted in this letter, a wealthy man; he was able to host the gathering of the saints in his home. Gaius was robustly healthy spiritually, but much of the hospitality burden had fallen to him (due to the inhospitable actions of others). Accordingly, John wishes earthly prosperity & health to him, that he might continue to generously care for the traveling missionaries & saints (v2). This letter is a response to news which John received regarding how Gaius took to heart John’s earlier epistle; steadfast faith in the Gospel, and obedience to the commandments is a true source of joy for Christian leaders (vv3-4).
Gaius had been a joyful & generous host to an earlier delegation; likely the missionaries who had brought John’s earlier epistles (v5). Down to our own day, this charity is a witness of the godly generosity & hospitality of Gaius (v6). John requests that Gaius once more provide for these missionaries, who were tasked with delivering the current letter (v6b); this delegation were undertaking their ministry for “the name’s sake,” so they were not seeking financial/material support from the Gentiles to whom they were sent to evangelize (v7). John underscores a striking glory of Christian hospitality: by welcoming such saints with the sort of overflowing hospitality which Gaius had shown, we partake of their evangelistic ministry (v8).
The same could not be said of Diotrephes. He had shut his doors to John’s messengers, out of personal arrogance as well as affinity for Cerinthius’ teaching (v9). John assures the faithful saints that he will, if given the opportunity, come and confront Diotrophes for all his sins. These included his hostility to the truth which the Apostles taught, the inhospitable attitude he showed towards faithful ministers, and his power-play to forbid others to show hospitality under threat of expulsion from the church (v10). This, John explains, is evil and not good; and so sternly reminds Gaius and all who would read this letter, that our actions of good or evil are evidence of whether or not we have seen God (v11). In other words, you will know them by their fruit.
By contrast, Demetrius (presumably, the leader of the delegation John is sending) is commended for maintaining a good report of all men, and most importantly, Demetrius’ testimony holds up when measured against the truth. John adds his own amen to this testimony of Demitrius’ faithfulness, commending him to Gaius as a trustworthy ally (v12). The farewell once more indicates that while distance learning is better than nothing, it is inferior to face to face fellowship and teaching (vv13-14). After all, we are the ecclesia, the gathered. Where Diotrephes was stirring up contention, John blesses Gaius with an exclamation of Gospel peace. Friendships, old & new, are fostered and fortified. And, it might be observed, John reminds us that we should try to remember people’s names (v14).
HOSPITALITY & HOSTILITY
There’s a curious contrast between 2 John & 3 John. In 2 John, we find John commanding the Elect Lady to not show hospitality to false teachers, while in this letter he sternly rebukes Diotrephes for not showing hospitality, but commends Gaius for being a wonderful example of hospitality. Put this all together and you have a matrix for how to understand the duty of hospitality. Christians must not welcome false teachers into their homes/churches, but they ought to show hospitality to faithful saints. Those who maliciously close their doors to faithful Christians in need, while getting cozy with false teachers, are in need of sharp–even public–rebuke.
So then, it becomes evident that hospitality needs a backbone. It needs to be able to refuse hospitality to evil-doers & false teachers. Charity must not be blackmailed by manipulators. Hospitality isn’t an unqualified “yes” to anyone who comes knocking. Even in the OT we have this duty of welcoming the stranger, orphan, and widow, while giving no quarter to idolaters.
Gaius had manfully shouldered the burden of caring for faithful missionaries, while enduring Diotrephes’ mocking, manipulation, arrogance, and compromise. His doors were open to those who were living “for the Name’s sake”. While Diotrephes closed his doors, because he was concerned for his own name. This becomes a helpful litmus test for measuring someone’s character. Whose name is being exalted?
DWELLING WITH GOD, HIS SPIRIT INDWELLING WITH YOU
One of the central melodies of John’s writings is how Jesus the Son made it possible for you to dwell with God the Father, because God the Spirit dwells in You. Put simply, abiding in the doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9) assures the believer of their union with the Father. If Jesus was not the Son of God come in the flesh, then you don’t have union with the Father. God the Father gave us His Son, and in giving us His Son (who was fully God and fully man) He gives us Himself, and He gives us a new covenant head of humanity. This is the Divine Hospitality. If you trust in the Incarnate Christ, God draws you in. But if you deny the Son, you will face the Divine Hostility. Once more, John confronts us with a fork in the road: what of Jesus?
Now, this doctrine of fellowship with God is born out in our actions. Do we walk in paths of wickedness, or paths of righteousness? John brackets the evil deeds of Diotrephes with the virtuous example of Gaius & Demitrius. Dwelling in God, and God indwelling you, is only possible by Christ. Evildoers will be found railing against Christ, attempting to thwart others from obeying Christ, and welcoming those who reject Christ. This is the central evil of evil. Enmity to God and His Christ, and thus blaspheming His Spirit. But faithful saints, like the Elect Lady, Gaius, and Demitrius demonstrate what it is to abide in Christ and bear the good fruit of hospitality to what is good, and hostility to that which is evil.
HAVE YOU SEEN GOD?
Here, as in all of Scripture, we have the glory of the Gospel. It isn’t our good works that reward us with a sight of God. Rather, if you’ve seen God you will bear good fruit. So, that raises the question, how does one see God? First, God must open your eyes and show Himself to you. He did this by giving us His Son. Jesus asserted this Himself when he told Philip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father (Jn. 14:9)” Faith looks to Jesus. If you look to Jesus what do you see? There is all your righteousness. There is the one who suffered in your stead. There is glory. There is your eternal joy. There is your only way to the Father.