Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius
3 John 1:1-14
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). — 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. He 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.
“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)).
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 in it (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).
He 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).
Verse 6 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.
Gaius was a humble man who served others. Diotrephes was a proud, self-serving man, who loved “to have the preeminence” (v. 9). He felt threatened by those preachers Gaius honored and refused to receive them. John wrote a letter to the church of which Gaius was a member. It was a letter of instructions, counsel, and apostolic orders. But Diotrephes, who was evidently an officer in the church (perhaps the pastor), refused to accept his instructions 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).
John was determined (v. 10), 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 troublemakers 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? Reader! 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).”