At just 219 words, 3 John is the shortest book in the entire Bible. The size and them of 3 John is like 2 John. Both letters were written by the apostle John who is called “the elder” (v. 3). The sense of appreciation for their “children walking in truth” (vv. 3-4) also resonates in both letters. And, of course, both letters include warnings against church leaders who would deceive and abuse the church members.
Just like 2 John, this letter has all the attributes of a typical letter of its time. It is very personal in its tone and feel, yet it challenges its readers to stand up for the truth and follow the example of those who are exemplifying Christlikeness. The problem the church is dealing with was leaders who are using the church to gain power and control over others.
The purpose of 3 John is clearly to advise a dear friend and fellow Christian leader about how to deal with a troublemaker named “Diotrephes.” He was trying to gain and retrain power over the church by limiting their expose to other preachers and teachers.
3 John was written to man named “Gaius” and dealt with the specific problems in the church. The date for the letter seems to be like 2 John which is around AD 90. At its heart, 3 John gives us a contrast between two church leaders and their hearts. The first is “Gaius” (vv. 1-8), who is the main recipient of the letter. In 3 John, John elevates the leadership and ministry of Gaius as faithful. He even said that Gaius was deserving of a good reputation in the church.
The other leader “Diotrephes”, who longed for first place in the church, was standing against him and his ministry. Instead of welcoming traveling preachers and supporting them in their work he wanted to isolate the church members from anyone who would teach them something else. He worked against Gaius but also anyone in the church who tried to do what was right. John insinuated that he would deal with Diotrephes personally if and when he came to visit them.
Two themes stand out in 3 John. First is the lesson on practicing hospitality to those doing the Lord’s word. The two men stand in contrast here set an example of what to do and what to avoid. Gaius made it a habit of welcoming these people and meeting theirs needs. Diotrephes, on the other hand, worked against them and anyone who wanted to support and encourage them. In his misguided attempts to gain power and influence, John rebukes his actions and warns him of coming judgment.
Second, John points out the example of Gaius as a true leader worthy of being followed while Diotrephes was to be avoided. Interestingly, John praises both men for their service in the church. This echoes the lessons Jesus taught about true greatness was found in humility and service to others.
Let me encourage you to read this great little book again and consider for yourself how it applies to your life.