As we continue studying the ancient letter of 3rd John, we read at the end of verse 6 that John writes his friend Gaius encouraging him to send some fellow Christians on their way in a manner worthy of God. In other words, he is saying to Gaius, “keep doing what you’re doing in supporting these guys.” But who were they?
In verses 7-8 John says that they were people who went out for the sake of the Name, receiving no help from the pagans, and therefore Christians ought to be hospitable to them, showing that they are unified in the mission of God’s kingdom.
The people John is talking about were missionaries, essentially. Traveling preachers who had gone on mission trips in the Name of Jesus, for the mission of God’s Kingdom. Gaius had taken some of them in, supporting them, caring for them, probably providing food and shelter, while the missionaries proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom. John describes what Gaius’ support of these missionaries as an example of “walking in the truth.” So Gaius clearly has a gift of hospitality, and he used it to advance the mission of Jesus. That is Gaius demonstrating how to walk in truth.
Then in verse 9, John introduces a problem. He says that he wrote to the church, presumably to ask for them to also help the traveling missionaries, but there was a guy in the church named Diotrophes who blocked John’s attempt. When you think about how John has already described Gaius as walking in the truth, now look at verses 9-10 and see how differently he describes Diotrophes. Let’s just list out the words and phrases John uses:
Diotrophes loves to be first. He will have nothing to do with John. He is gossiping maliciously. He refuses to welcome the brothers. He even stops those who try to help, and he puts them out of the church.
This is the exact opposite of walking in the truth! Where Gaius was seeking to live like Jesus lived, Diotrophes is not. Diotrophes is living an inconsistent life, in the church, but opposing the mission of the church. Gaius, however, is walking in truth, and Diotrophes, even though he is part of a church, is walking in evil.
And that is why John says in verse 11, “Do not imitate what is evil, but what is good.” In other words, walk in truth, imitate the way of Jesus, follow Jesus, let him be your example. Do not imitate Diotrophes. Keep Jesus as your focus.
John’s conclusion is that those people who do what is good are from God, and those who do what is evil have not seen God. In other words, Diotrophes is not a true Christian, and he shows that clearly by his behavior. We have seen this time and time again in these short letters. True Christianity is shown by how you live. By what comes out of your mouth, by how you spend your money, by how you behave. You show what is truly inside you by the choices you make. What was inside Diotrophes was not God. But the truth, Jesus, was truly within Gaius, as that was flowing out. Gaius walked in truth. Diotrophes walked in evil.
In verse 12 John then introduces us to another person, Demetrius, and John says that Demetrius is a great guy. John is vouching for him. Some scholars believe that Demetrius was one of the traveling missionaries that Diotrophes put out of the church, and John is saying to Gaius, “Please care for Demetrius like you did for the others.”
So this letter is basically a reference letter. John is writing Gaius, with a reference for Demetrius. It’s like an interview process when candidates list references, and you call them up, asking basically, “Tell me honestly about this girl. Is she a good worker? Can I trust her?” John is saying to Gaius, “You can trust Demetrius.”
It could be that Diotrophes was really calling Demetrius into question, and John is saying, “Don’t believe Diotrophes. He is not walking in the truth. Just look at how he lives. Don’t trust the word of a guy who shows by his actions that he clearly doesn’t know God.” In other words, John is saying to Gaius, and to all of us: your personal life matters. Just being part of a church, and saying that you believe in Jesus is not what it means to be a Christian. What matters is how you live. Because Jesus is truth, that means we strive to live like Jesus lived. That, of course, is a truthful life. A truthful life is a consistent life. How you act shows what you truly believe.