3 John 1 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

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Imitating Truth

Because Gaius is walking in the truth (v. 4), he is worthy of imitation. By contrast, Diotrephes serves as an exam ple that ought not to be imitated. The epistle provides only the barest of hints about who Diotrephes was and what he was doing. Several charges are raised against him: he loves to be first; he will have nothing to do with the Elder and gossips maliciously about him; and he refuses to welcome the brothers. Diotrephes has failed to provide hospitality and, even more, financial assistance and other kinds of support for itinerating Christian preachers in his area. The charge that he will have nothing to do with the Elder suggests that the Christians whom he will not support are emissaries from the Elder, who have come to help the church in various ways.

But why does Diotrephes refuse to welcome these Christians? Because the Elder raises no charges against Diotrephes' orthodoxy or beliefs, the issue between them is not doctrinal. Diotrephes is not one of the false teachers or prophets referred to in 1 and 2 John (1 Jn 2:18; 4:1). The Elder does not brand him as antichrist. Neither is Diotrephes one of the secessionists. He has not left the community to start his own fellowship. He has remained within the greater Johannine community. And yet he has refused to welcome other Christians from that community, and pre cisely because they come from the Elder.

Evidently the Elder and Diotrephes are engaged in a struggle for au thority in the congregation to which Diotrephes belongs. That the Elder believes he has the right to challenge Diotrephes' power suggests that this congregation was founded by the Elder's efforts, either directly or indirectly. But it is not clear what Diotrephes' official role is in the local congregation. He may, for example, be the designated or official leader of one house church. Or perhaps he is an influential lay-leader within that house church or among several house churches. He has sufficient power to prevent the church as a whole from welcoming the traveling missionaries. The charge that he loves to be first suggests that he has power and, from the Elder's point of view, delights in throwing his weight around. But it is not clear from the letter whether he has gained this power legitimately or has usurped it. Whatever his role, Diotrephes rejects the Elder's assertion of responsibility for the congregation, ignor ing his letters and rejecting his messengers.

The author's words about Diotrephes may seem harsh, especially when it is not clear that Diotrephes has done anything other than oppose the Elder and his messengers. And yet we must note that the Elder does not speak of Diotrephes as antichrist, as a false prophet or as failing to abide in the congregation or to hold to the truth, all of which were accusations leveled against the secessionists of 1 and 2 John. It is pos sible that 3 John is an example of the Elder's response and warning to one whom he does not regard as in the darkness, and yet whose actions need to be conformed more closely to the sphere of light. Certainly the Elder does not approve of Diotrephes' actions. For Diotrephes' failure to support the Elder is not just a personal affront; it is an assault against the unity of Christian fellowship. That the Elder attacks such schismatic tendencies with the same vigor that he warns against doctrinal error surely has a message of warning for independent-minded Christians today.

Gaius is urged to steer clear of Diotrephes' influence and shun his example. Instead, Gaius is to imitate what is good. Good here is not a general category of "good things," but specifically the good that comes from God, that is in harmony with God's character and in keeping with God's actions. Above all, that good is the good of love modeled and inspired by God. "Let us love one another, for love is of God" (1 Jn 4:7; 3:10; 4:20). Love for others demonstrates both love for God and the indwelling love of God flowing through that person. The call to imitate what is good, what is from God, will be heeded only by those who are also from God. For those who have not come into fellowship with God cannot live out the good.

The statement anyone who does what is evil has not seen God calls to mind 1 John 4:20, where the Elder stated that love for an unseen God demands love for the very visible fellow believer. Here, then, John means that failure to do right, to love one's fellow Christian, manifests a lack of understanding of and fellowship with the God who is love. And if Diotrephes is an example to avoid, Demetrius is well spoken of by every one, a translation that is perhaps too weak. The Greek conveys the sense that Demetrius has faithful and true witnesses who will attest to his character. Even the truth itself joins in this testimony. The truth that he professed and adhered to was embodied in him in such a way that he needed no further witnesses. And yet both other Christians and the Elder himself are willing to speak on his behalf.

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Working Together with the Truth

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Closing Greetings

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