3 John is a very brief book found at the end of the New Testament that gives us a glimpse into the everyday conflict that early Christians dealt with in their churches. Like followers of Jesus today, they were not perfect, and disputes flared up all the time. These ancient letters are so beneficial because they provide timeless examples of how to resolve relational problems and conflicts in a way that honors God.
3 John, along with 1 and 2 John, were written by the apostle John. John was a disciple of Jesus who also wrote the gospel of John. Though the epistle itself does not include the author’s name, it has been historically attributed to John.
3 John is a brief letter written by John to his friend Gaius, a leader in a local church. Gaius is dealing with some relational conflict in the church, and John wrote this letter to remind his friend that he has John’s support, and the support of other leaders. John also reminds Gaius to honor God in dealing with the situation.
Tips for Reading
A trick you can use while reading letters like this is to make a quick outline. Greek letters often have a uniform structure that looks something like this:
1. Greetings and well-wishes
3. The main point/argument
4. Concluding remarks
5. Final greetings and instructions
In English writing, we tend to emphasize our main point in a thesis statement at the beginning of a paper. Ancient writers emphasized their main point in the middle. It’s certainly not that simple all the time, but this structure is a good to have in mind when you’re reading them. 3 John follows this pattern pretty closely as you’ll see.
1. Greeting (v. 1-4)
John addresses the recipient of his letter, a church leader named Gaius with a word of prayer and encouragement. This is a very common feature of New Testament letters and a staple of Greek letter writing.
2. Endorsement of Gaius (v. 5-8)
It seems that Gaius is hosting a group of travelling missionaries. John is pleased with this show of hospitality and encourages Gaius to send the missionaries on their way with everything they need so that they can continue their work.
3. The Troublemaker (v. 9-10)
John has written another letter to the whole church, but he is concerned about a church leader named Diotrephes. It appears that he has been spreading lies and rumors about John and Gaius. He is also refusing to show hospitality to the traveling missionaries. When members of the church follow John’s instruction to show hospitality to the missionaries, Diotrephes kicks them out of the church. John assures Gaius that, when he visits, he will personally bring the other letter and sit down with Diotrephes to confront him.
4. The Instruction (v. 11)
John’s personal instruction to his friend Gaius in verse 11 is a lesson we can all learn from. The teaching point of 3 John is incredibly simple: Imitate Jesus by refusing to repay evil with evil.
5. John’s Endorsement of the Letter (v. 12-14)
Since there was no mail service, people in the ancient world relied on mail carriers. This was a very important job, and you would need to trust the letter carrier. New Testament letters often include a word of endorsement from the author at the end speaking to the trustworthiness of the letter carrier. Demetrius was probably the carrier of 3 John. John wrote this section to assure Gaius that Demetrius is to be trusted, that the contents of his letter have not been altered, and that that the letter is from John himself.
6. Final Greetings (v. 15)
John plans to visit soon. This had to be reassuring for Gaius – he had an ally in John and would not have to put up with Diotrephes alone.
How do you usually deal with conflicts in your relationships?
What are some ways we can be tempted to “imitate evil” in our conflicts with other people? How can we “imitate good?”
Read Romans 12:17-21 (written by Paul) and 1 Peter 3:9-14 (written by Peter). What do these verses say about conflict? How are they similar to John’s instruction in verse 11?
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