Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius
Here is a letter written by the apostle John to his beloved son in the faith, Gaius. Gaius was not a pastor, preacher, or elder. He was a man whom God had saved, a believer, a member of a local church, which had been visited by some missionaries. These missionaries were traveling about, preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. In their journeys they stopped at the town where Gaius lived to visit the brethren there. So Gaius took them into his house, fed them, entertained them, and lodged them for several days, perhaps for several weeks. When they left, he gave them some traveling money to help with their expenses.
When they got back to the church of which John was the pastor, these traveling evangelists, these missionaries, could not stop talking about Gaius. They told John about him. They told their friends about him. They told the whole church about Gaius. When John heard these men talking about his spiritual son, his heart bubbled up with joy and gratitude. He wrote this letter, by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, to commend Gaius. And he does commend him! He tells us that Gaius loved the gospel (vv. 3-4), that he was faithful in all things (v. 5), and that he was generous, charitable, and hospitable to his brethren, even to those who were total strangers (vv. 5-6). Like Abraham, Gaius entertained strangers who came to him in the name of Christ, and in so doing he entertained angels unawares (Gen. 18:3; Heb. 13:2).
2nd John was written to the elect lady, whom John loved in the truth. This epistle is addressed to a man named “Gaius”, “whom,” John also says, “I love in the truth.” Truth and love are companions, twin graces that can never be separated. This epistle commends truth and love displayed in Gaius’ deeds. It is written, “faith worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6).
In this epistle we have a clear contrast of three men, Gaius, a very gracious man, to whom the epistle is addressed, and Diotrephes, who was a proud deceiver, and Demetrius, who was a man of good report. God the Holy Spirit directed John’s heart and pen to write this brief epistle for our learning and admonition. He has preserved it for us in the Sacred Volume.
“The elder unto the well beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth” (v. 1). — We see the name “Gaius” four other times in the New Testament (Acts 19:29; 20:4; Rom. 16:23; 1 Cor. 1:14). Each time it refers to different men. This man’s name was as common in the Roman Empire as the name “John Smith” is today. The Gaius to whom this epistle is addressed was a beloved brother, who was converted under John’s ministry, one of his children in the faith and dearly beloved (v. 4). Not only did John love him, he was a man “well-beloved” — beloved of God and chosen unto eternal salvation in Christ (Jer. 31:3; Eph. 1:3-6; 2 Thess 2:13), and beloved of his brethren.
Gaius was beloved of those saints who knew him because he was a man of great faith, integrity, and generosity. He had experienced the grace of God; and that made him gracious. He was sound in doctrine and sound in heart. Gaius was a loving and lovable man.
“Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (v. 2). — The word “above” would be better translated “in.” That is obvious in the context in which the word is used. John would not desire prosperity in temporal things above Gaius’ prosperity in spiritual and eternal things. Yet, his love for Gaius and his desires for him included temporal things. What he is saying here is — “I wish that you may have a prosperous journey through this world and be in good health, even as your soul prospers. I pray that the Lord will grant his continual, manifest blessings upon you.” The Amplified Bible interprets verse 2 this way. — “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in every way and [that your body] may keep well, even as [I know] your soul keeps well and prospers.”
Physical health is a great blessing and is altogether the gift of God’s providential goodness. Among the countless promises of God to his people, there are many that relate to temporal things (Deut. 28:1-14). The Scriptures teach us that, with regard to all who are called of God by the effectual, irresistible grace and power of God the Holy Spirit to life and faith in Christ, everything for time and eternity prospers and is the blessing of God upon us (Rom. 8:28). He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, will with him freely give us all things (Rom. 8:32).
God’s saints in this world are given liberty to use all things temporal as we live to serve and honor God our Savior. It is written, “all things are yours…and ye are Christ’s” (1 Cor. 3:21-23). If the Lord causes us to abound in earthly goods and/or in good health, he accompanies those blessings with grace sufficient to make them prosperous to our souls. When that is the case, let us, like Gaius, use such blessings of providence “faithfully in whatsoever” we do (v. 5), both in connection with our brethren in the church and kingdom of God, and in connection with the world, doing good to all men, and especially to them who are of the household of faith.
If the Lord sends adversity he takes out all the bitterness of it, still his grace is sufficient. He assures us that this, too, is his blessing, the very best thing for us. So that, though the fig-tree does not blossom and fruit is not found in the vine, though the labor of the olive fail and the fields yield no meat, though the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herds in the stall, yet, the child of God can, and will say, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation (Hab. 3:17, 18).
As in temporal things, so, too, in spiritual things, the child of God is always blessed and prospers. It is written,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him: In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3-6)
We are blessed, in time and to all eternity, with the Father’s love, the Savior’s redemption, and the Holy Spirit’s grace. All the blessings of grace, so boundlessly bestowed upon us from eternity in Christ, are gifts of God which shall not be taken away neither in this world nor in the world to come (Rom. 11:29). Our God has given us peace and pardon through the blood of the cross. He gives us continual manifestations of his boundless love. The Lord Jesus comes to bless, comfort, and encourage us, and to make himself known to us in ways with which he does not deal with the world (John 14:18-23). “Who shall describe,” asked Robert Hawker, “the outpourings of divine love, or the incomings of divine grace, the child of God is continually receiving from the Lord, who is blessing him with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus?”
Regarding eternal blessings, our God has not only given us the promise of the life that now is, but of that which is to come. Indeed, eternal life is ours now. It is already begun in our souls. “He that hath the Son of God hath life.” He enjoys it now by faith. — “For faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). And faith in Christ is the earnest given by the Spirit of glory to come.
“For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth” (v. 3). — Some brethren came to John from the place where Gaius lived and told him that Gaius was a man who believed the truth of the gospel and that he was a man of a truly gracious spirit. He walked before God and men in such a way that he was known by God’s saints as one who lived for the glory of God. His life was a life that adorned the doctrine of God our Savior in all things (Tit. 2:10). The report of these men concerning Gaius filled the old pastor with joy (v. 4).
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (v. 4). — Nothing makes a faithful gospel preacher happier than to hear that those to whom he has preached the gospel, and for whom he has been the means God used to bring them to the knowledge of Christ, believe and walk in the truth. We can bestow no greater gift upon our friends, and no greater inheritance upon our families than the gospel of Christ. And they can bring no greater joy and satisfaction to our hearts than to receive the truth and walk therein (Acts 3:2-6; Phile. 20-21).
“Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers” (v. 5). — The Holy Spirit teaches us to give honor to whom honor is due (Rev. 13:7). We are not to flatter men, but it is altogether proper to honor and commend one another. Here John commends Gaius for his hospitality and charity to God’s saints and to strangers who crossed his path. He was a kind and generous man, who cared for and ministered to the needs of others. Both his heart and his home were open to men. He used that which God had given him for the benefit of others. Thus, he both blessed the lives of many and was blessed of God in his own life (Heb. 13:1-2).
Gaius did “faithfully” that which he did. He did not do things in a hypocritical and pretentious way to be seen of men and gain their applause. But he did what he did because he loved Christ and his people (Matt. 6:1-4).
“Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well” (v. 6). — This 6th verse makes it clear that the “strangers” referred to in verse 5 were traveling preachers, evangelists (missionaries), who were strangers to Gaius before they came to his town. They testified before the church at Ephesus of his love, friendship, and care of them. They were greatly moved by his spirit of grace and love and gave thanks to God for the grace of God in him.
Notice what John tells us here about the support of gospel preachers, particularly about the support of missionaries. — “Whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well.” In 2nd John, he warned us not to support those false teachers and preachers who come preaching “another gospel” (2 John 10-11). Here he tells us that we do well to aid God’s children and to help make their journey through this world to be more pleasant — especially those who are traveling missionaries (Matt. 10:42; 2 Kings 4:8-10).
In verses 7 and 8 he tells us why we do well in supporting those brethren who go forth in the name of Christ preaching the gospel. Such men have gone out from home and family for Christ’s sake. They are not supported by the heathen to whom they preach, taking nothing from them, lest the gospel be reproached. Freely we have received and freely we give. We ought to support and provide for such men. In doing so we are fellow-laborers and fellow-helpers to the truth. It is a great privilege to preach the gospel and an equal privilege and blessing to provide for those who preach it, for in doing so we also serve the cause of the gospel.
The only proper reason for the existence of any local church in this world is the furtherance of the gospel. The church exists on earth only for the preaching of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church of God is a sounding board for the gospel. It is our responsibility to use every means at our disposal to proclaim the gospel of Christ as fully and universally as we possibly can to the generation in which we live. We have no other commission (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-48; Acts 1:8). One of the most effective means we have of preaching the gospel in any age is gospel missions, sending out missionaries to preach the good news of redemption and grace in Christ around the world.
Missionaries are men called and gifted of God to establish churches, train pastors, and help establish those pastors and churches in the gospel of the grace of God, so that they might carry on the work of the gospel for the years to come. Medical missionaries, educational missionaries, and cultural missionaries are not true missionaries, and should not be supported by local churches. Missionaries are men who have a mission from God, and their mission is to preach the gospel of Christ.
With these things in mind, I want us to examine what the Spirit of God teaches in these verses of 3rd John about the church’s responsibility to missionaries. After highly commending this man, Gaius, for all that he had done, John urged him to do even more. Realizing that God’s servants are to be supported entirely by the generous, free, voluntary gifts of his people, John gave Gaius, and us, four reasons why we should support missionaries.
1. It is pleasing to God for us to do so.
John told Gaius that when God’s servants come to town, we are not only to care for them while they are with us, but we are to “bring (them) forward on their journey after a godly sort” (v. 6). It is the responsibility of local churches to provide all those things that God’s servants need to carry on their work. Missionaries have all the earthly needs that the rest of us have and many that we do not have. They must have homes, food and clothing for their families. They must provide health care for their households. They have to educate their children, and they have to have some means of transportation, just like we do. In addition to these things, every expense for the work on the field comes out of the missionary’s pocket! Whatever it takes to keep faithful men free of earthly care, so that they may give themselves whole-heartedly to the work of the ministry, we must do!
John tells us that this is a “godly sort” of work. The marginal translation of these words is: This is a work “worthy of God”. It is a work becoming to those who serve God. If we do this, if we support God’s servants in the work of the gospel, we do well. This is a work pleasing to God. God delights to see those who love Christ showing their love by generosity towards his servants (2 Cor. 9:7).
2. We should give “for his name’s sake.”
“For his name’s sake they went forth” (v.7). — And “for his name’s sake” we must supply their needs. There is only one thing that compels the true servant of God to take his wife and children to a remote, far distant country to preach the gospel, leaving behind the comforts of his homeland, the company of his friends, and the warmth of his family: He is motivated by a burning jealousy for the name of Christ (Rom. 1:5, 16-17).
That same burning jealousy for Christ’s name inspires God’s saints to give of their means to supply those men with the support they need. Every believer wants all men and women to hear the gospel of Christ, so that our great Savior may be known, trusted, worshipped, and glorified throughout the world. The best means we have of accomplishing that great goal is giving of our means to support faithful gospel-preaching missionaries.
Our Lord is so highly honored by the service of those whom he sends out to preach the gospel that he counts anything we do for them as having been done for him (Matt. 10:40-42), and indeed it is. God’s servants are his ambassadors. Those men who faithfully preach the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ (the gospel of his electing love, accomplished redemption, effectual grace, and saving fulness) are God’s representatives and spokesmen in this world (2 Cor. 5:18-21). Anything we do to one of God’s ambassadors, we do to him. Anything done for God’s ambassador is done for him; and anything done against God’s ambassador is done against him.
3. Faithful men have no other means of support.
“Because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles” (v. 7). — These men preached to the Gentiles freely, refusing to seek, or even take financial support from unbelievers. Because they are faithful to Christ, the gospel of his grace, and the souls of men, they have no means of support other than the generosity of God’s people. There are three things we need to know about God’s servants.
4. By our loving, free generous support of God’s faithful servants, we become “fellow-helpers to the truth” (v. 8).
When we supply a man’s needs, so that he can preach the gospel of Christ freely to others, we become allies with him in the work of preaching the gospel. What a privilege! The work of the ministry is God’s work; but God does his work through the labors of faithful men, through the preaching of the gospel. And these men do their work by the generosity of faithful men and women, who work hard and freely give of their means, so that the gospel may be preached freely around the world.
God’s church is one, and we are one with those missionaries we are privileged to support. Their cause is our cause; their work is our work, and their reward is our reward. The next time we have the opportunity to show hospitality to, entertain, give to, or do anything for one of God’s servants, let us remember these things: — This is a work that is pleasing to God. — This is a work that is done by faith in and for the honor of Christ’s name. — This is a work done for worthy men, men who have forsaken all to preach the gospel. They are worthy to live by the gospel. — By these things we are “fellow-helpers to the truth.”
“I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not” (v. 9). — John wrote a letter to the church of which Gaius was a member. It was a letter of instruction, counsel, and apostolic orders. But Diotrephes, who was evidently an officer in the church (perhaps the pastor), refused to accept his instruction and counsel, because he loved to have preeminence. He wanted people to honor and follow him. He craved recognition. Pastor Henry Mahan wrote, “Everything in a church ought to be done by pastor and people in love, meekness and with mutual consent, with each seeking the glory of Christ and the good of all (Phil. 2:3-8; Rom. 12:3, 10:1; 1 Cor. 4:6,7).” Diotrephes did what he did for the glory of Diotrephes! He was one of those wolves in sheep’s clothing Paul told the church at Ephesus would arise from their midst “speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30).
“Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (v. 10). — John was determined, when he next visited the church, to expose this wicked man to the church and reprove him for his deeds (Gal. 2:11). He describes Diotrephes as one who spoke prating (empty) things against him and other faithful servants of God.
How common Diotrephes’ behavior is to this day among self-serving preachers! True servants of God, true preachers of the gospel are prated against, not only by men of the world, but also by professors of religion. That which is spoken against them is just “prating,” silly, idle, and empty slanders. Such slanders take up any little matter and rail against faithful men in order to hurt their character, spoil their usefulness, and render their labors ineffective. But all their railing and prating is only to exalt themselves in the eyes of the people (1 Tim. 5:19; 2 Cor. 10:10).
Diotrephes was not satisfied with speaking against John and his ministry. He refused to receive the preachers and missionaries sent by John. He threatened to cast those who received them out of the church.
“Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God” (v. 11). — The apostle here tells Gaius and us not to follow Diotrephes’ wickedness. Such pride, ambition, love of preeminence, and self-exaltation is to be rebuked; and those who engage in it are to be rejected as evil men (Titus 3:1,2; James 4:11; Eph. 4:31, 32). He who manifests the grace and spirit of Christ in attitude and action is of God, and he who does not has evidently not experienced the grace of God and does not know God at all (1 John 4:6-8, 20-21).
“Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true” (v. 12). — Demetrius was a man whose character, like Gaius’, was exactly opposite to that of Diotrephes. His was an example to be followed. Demetrius was kind, considerate, and gracious. He had a good reputation and report. He was loved and respected by all who knew him.
It is sad, but terribly common, that trouble makers and those of a critical spirit find many followers. Let those who are wise mark the man of a Christ-like attitude and a loving spirit and follow his example. John bore record to the character of Demetrius, and we know that his word is true and dependable.”
Diotrephes and Demetrius are known to us only by name. Robert Hawker wrote of them, “How different their characters were! How opposed while they lived! How differently regarded when they died. How opposite in the esteem of the church, through all ages! And how everlastingly opposite, if dying as they are here said to have lived, through all the eternal world? How blessed to have a good report of all men; yea, and of the truth itself, which is Christ (John 14:6). Oh! For the whisper of Jesus, in a dying hour, to confirm his grace in the soul, as manifested in a living hour; that both in life and in death the soul be found in him (Isa. 43:1-4).”
The tenderhearted Apostle concludes his epistle with these words. — “I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee: But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name” (vv. 13-14).
I cannot conclude this study of 3rd John in a more edifying way than by giving you Robert Hawker’s reflections upon these fourteen verses of Inspiration.
“What a beautiful view is here afforded, of the beloved Apostle in his pastoral office, addressing the faithful Gaius, beloved in the Lord. To behold the venerable saint of God, amidst all the infirmities of declining years, thus blessing God, and blessing the servant of God, in his wishes both for spiritual and temporal prosperity.
But while we look at John, who justly commands our veneration and our love, let us look infinitely above John, and behold John’s Lord still blessing all his church; and every Gaius of his redeemed family below, with blessings in himself.
Precious, precious Jesus! We desire to praise thee for all that is lovely, in the disciple whom Jesus loved; for all that is lovely in John, was, and is derived from thee! Lord! Hasten on thy blessed purposes, and bring on thy glorious day when thou wilt come to be glorified in thy saints, and to be admired in all that believe! To thee, Lord, it belongs, to keep thy Church from falling, and to present it faultless before the presence of thy glory with exceeding joy. In the blessed hope of thy appearing, may all thy Church in thee, and through thee, daily ascribe to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Israel’s God in covenant, endless praises. Amen.”