One Chapter Books in the Bible

Two Lessons from Gaius

3 John 1-15

Teaching t23003


We are doing a series on the one-chapter letters of the Bible: Philemon, Jude, 2 John, 3 John, and Obadiah. Because of their brevity, these letters are seldom read or pondered – but they are a wealth of spiritual insight. This morning we look at 3 John (read 1:1).

The author is “the elder.” As we saw last week, this person is John of Zebedee, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, and author of the gospel of John, 1-3 John, and Revelation.

The recipient is Gaius, who is evidently one of the leaders of a local church or a group of churches over which John has a shepherding role. We can learn two valuable lessons from what John says about Gaius...

Godly vs. ungodly church leaders

Most of this brief letter is a contrast between Gaius – who is a godly Christian leader whom John extols, and Diotrephes—who is not a false teacher, but rather an ungodly Christian leader whom John criticizes. Church leadership is a big deal in the New Testament – especially getting the right kind of people into leadership, and discerning and not following ungodly leaders. Let’s read John’s description of Gaius and Diotrephes and distill key differences between godly vs. ungodly church leaders (read 1:3-10)...

One key difference is the role that God’s Word plays in their leadership:

BIBLE-CENTERED: John is very glad to hear that Gaius “walks in the truth” (1:3,4). The truth here refers to the truth of God’s Word, the Bible, and especially to the message of Christianity given through Jesus’ apostles (of which John was one). The point is that Gaius is a Bible-centered leader—he teaches and applies the Bible. Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that he taught them “the whole counsel of God” (Acts20:28). He insists that Christian leaders must be able to exhort people in sound doctrine (read Titus 1:9). He tells Timothy to preach and the Word (read 2Tim.4:1-3). This is solid spiritual food that leads people to faith in Christ and nourishes Christians to grow. Notice Paul’s concern that ungodly church leaders may arise and teach something else...

DOCTRINAL TANGENTS: John criticizes Diotrephes because he does not “accept” (welcome; receive) what “we” (the apostles) say (1:9). This doesn’t necessarily mean that Diotrephes teaches heresy; it probably means that his teaching is not Bible-centered. He probably focuses on his own favorite topics (e.g., END-TIMES SPECULATION), or on topics that the people are interested in (e.g., TOPICAL SERIES ONLY.). This may not be spiritual poison (like false teaching), but it is spiritual junk-food which will produce spiritual sickness and imbalance rather than health and maturity.

Another key difference is how they relate to other Christian leaders in their church:

TEAM-PLAYER: John is glad to hear that Gaius loves other Christians (1:6a), and that he is a “fellow-worker” (1:8). In other words, Gaius is a team-player; he likes working with other workers and leaders. The local church is to be a community of people who work together as a team—so church leadership is to be a team (PLURAL LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLE) who truly love each other, who seek God’s will together, who appreciate each other’s strengths, who defer to one another, etc. Godly leaders prefer working in a team, and they draw other leaders to work with them.

LONE-WOLF: John criticizes Diotrephes because he is not a team-player. Why? Because he “loves to be first among them” (1:9a) – he insists on being the top-dog, on saying “It’s my way or the highway!” He abuses his authority to marginalize people who simply disagree with his personal opinion or agenda (1:10b), rather than taking a stand on essential doctrinal or ethical matters.

Another key difference is how they relate to Christian ministries that are not part of their church:

EXTRA-LOCAL PARTNER: John praises Gaius for actively supporting itinerate Christian preachers (1:5,7,8a). Such workers played a vital role in the early church, which still had little access to written Bibles. They served the local churches with great financial sacrifice—not raising or accepting money from non-Christian friends or family-members. They depended on the hospitality of the local Christians they were serving. Gaius modeled this support of other Christian workers, and (implicitly) of the work they were doing beyond his own church. He did this because he cared about the growth and welfare of the whole Christian church—not just for the church he led. Godly church leaders should model interest in and financial support of authentic Christian ministries and missions beyond their churches.

SECTARIAN: John criticizes Diotrephes because he not only doesn’t support such workers; he actively discourages it in others. Diotrephes is a kingdom-builder. He views the financial resources of the church as his, under his control, to be used for his local empire. He is evidently threatened by these other gifted preachers. It is possible that he is personally enriching himself from the church’s contributions. This is a common mark of ungodly church leadership—an unhealthy focus on their own ministry, an unwillingness to encourage and help Christian workers outside their groups, and (often) financially enriching themselves rather than setting the example of living simply in order to be generous.

These are not the only differences between godly and ungodly church leadership—but they are some of the most important ones! Many of you have flourished spiritually under godly leadership, and some of you may have suffered greatly under ungodly leadership. The heart of our church is home groups, and the heart of our home groups is the team of home group leaders. In general, our church has a very high quality of home group leadership. Let’s keep it that way! Those of us who are leading home groups should work hard at being godly leaders. And you who are being led well should aspire to become godly leaders, so that others can benefit the way you have benefitted!

Profile of a prospering soul

Now let’s take a look at Gaius from a different perspective—this time not as a picture of a godly leader, but as a profile of a prospering soul. Read 1:2. Some health-and-wealth preachers misuse this passage to say that unless you are financially wealthy and physically healthy, you lack faith and/or are out of God’s will. John does pray for Gaius’ general prosperity and health (imagine if he said he prayed for his poverty and sickness!). But his main point is to affirm that God is prospering (passive voice) Gaius’ soul—i.e., that Gaius’ spiritual life is healthy and growing. The Bible says this is God’s will for all of us, and that we can have it regardless of our income or physical health. How do we get this? Notice the word “for” in 1:3—John is linking his statement about Gaius’ prospering soul with a description of how Gaius lives. God prospers our souls as we follow Him in certain ways. Let’s take a lookat these ways ...

First, they live in the environment of God’s Word (1:3,4). As we saw earlier, the truth refers to God’s Word, the Bible. To walk in the truth means to “live in the environment of the Bible”—that you make it your home, trust it over other messages coming at you, nourish your soul by it regularly, and let it guide you in your behavior and decisions.

The first step in doing this is choosing to receive Christ. Jesus is the Truth (Jn.14:6); choosing to follow Him is what brings you into the realm of the truth (Jn.8:12). Have you chosen to believe in as your Lord and Savior, and to ask Him to forgive you and begin to lead your life?

Then it involves cultivating a “Word-rich” lifestyle (Col.3:16) that interfaces with the Bible in a variety of ways, reading it, listening to teachings from it, studying and discussing it with other Christians, memorizing and meditating on it (quote Ps.1:2,3), teaching it to others, etc.

Second, they embrace a lifestyle of serving others (1:5,6a). Gaius’ soul prospered because he coupled walking in the truth with actively and creatively and consistently serving his brothers and sisters.

Some Christians think that just taking in more Bible will cause them to prosper. But the Bible itself says that this is not true! Jesus said that the way to fullness of His joy is through loving one another as He loved us (quote Jn.15:11,12).

Some Christians view Christianity primarily as a self-help spirituality—as only for their healing, for solving their problems, etc. But ironically, the way to lasting healing and spiritual prosperity lies through focusing more on helping others toward health than focusing on their own health (quote Lk.6:38)!

Some of you have puny, impoverished souls because you have not yet decided to embrace a self-giving life. Tell Jesus that you want to follow Him down this path, and ask Him to show you the ways He wants you regularly serve the people He has put into your life.

Third, they imitate other prosperous souls (read 1:11,12). John urges Gaius to imitate (mimeomai) Demetrius—probably the courier of John’s letter and one of John’s colleagues. John is saying: “Take advantage of this opportunity. Hang out with him, observe his way of life, pick his brain about how to live the Christian life, be inspired by his love for Christ and other people, etc.” Paul urges the Philippian Christians to do the same thing in Phil.3:17.

Do you want your soul to prosper? Then find people who already have prosperous souls and imitate them! Not their personality, or how they dress, etc.—but their love for Jesus and their way of life (1Cor.11:1). Don’t wait for them to come to you and ask you to meet regularly with them—take initiative! Go be where they are, join their home group, initiate time with them, ask them questions about how to follow Jesus, watch how they pray, how they relate to their spouse and children, how they use their time, etc. They will deepen your attraction to a spiritually prosperous life, and they will help you toward it!

SUMMARIZE these steps toward a prospering soul.


“In 3 Jn. 2: περὶ πάντων εὔξομαί σε εὐοδοῦσθαι καὶ ὑγιαίνειν, καθὼς εὐοδοῦταί σου ἡ ψυξή, we see the obvious influence of a wish for health which is very common in the letters of antiquity, though this is the only instance in the NT The basic form of this wish is (πρὸ μὲν πάντων) εὔξομαί σε ὑιαίνειν. But the wish is used here in a very distinctive way. The ὑγιαίνειν is retained, but it is given second place after εὐοδοῦσθαι, and this, not the ὑγιαίειν, is taken up again in the καθώς clause... Without this presupposition the clause would seriously trivialise the position of Gaius as a believer (that he walks in the truth, v. 3 f). With this presupposition, however, both writer and recipient are united in thanksgiving to God for the spiritual gifts which God has given Gaius in and since his conversion.” Vol. 5: Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (114). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.