The letter of 3 John presents the stark difference between the so-called “man of God” and those who sincerely bear the fruit of God’s truth. In contrast with these “men of God,” John encourages us to imitate leaders and other believers who clearly demonstrate gospel fruit, who walk in love and truth (3 John 11). While Gaius in 3 John showed hospitality to the brothers, Diotrephes put himself first. The latter resembles the “man of God” today. For in many pulpits and churches we will find leaders like Diotrephes. But in many others we can observe Christians like Gaius, displaying Christian maturity and sincere concern for others. Thus 3 John directs us concerning who we should and shouldn’t imitate in the faith.
Diotrephes and The “Men of God”
The first example we can learn from when reading 3 John is Diotrephes. John describes him as someone who put himself first (3 John 9). And it seems like everything else flowed from this characteristic. Because Diotrephes liked to put himself first, he didn’t accept the apostles; he didn’t receive the Christian brothers; and he persecuted those who did.
The ‘men of God’ make themselves out to be first. Their churches bear their names.
Diotrephes’ example reminds me of the many “men of God” of our day. For these leaders also make themselves out to be first. Their churches and ministries bear their names. I even remember one Christian leader in Ethiopia saying, ‘If anyone opposes my teaching he has no place in my church’. This was followed by calls to marginalise and even threaten ‘enemies’ of this “man of God”. Diotrephes demonstrates at least two traits that are very common among Africa’s “men of God”.
1. An Inflated View of Self and a Low View of Scripture
Firstly, Diotrephes doesn’t accept the word of the apostles. The apostles had authority as they were sent out by Jesus. But Diotrephes didn’t receive their authority, rejecting their words. As John writes: this is seen in him not accepting the apostles’ letter to the church (3 John 9). Rather, Diotrephes spoke against them (3 John 10). Similarly, today, the so-called “men of God” in Ethiopia don’t value the word of God. Their preaching indicates little to no respect for the Bible. Instead, they claim that doctrine makes believers dry, separating the scriptures from the Spirit.
Many ‘men of God’ separate the scriptures from the Spirit.
Therefore they rely on what they think or on what they believe people would consider spiritual. Thus they focus on false healings, tongues, and prophecies. Being driven by their own desires and inclinations they do not submit to the word of God. This is apparent from the the low value they place on theological education and training. In the end these teachers resemble motivational speakers more than they do the apostles. They teach what pleases people and elevates themselves.
2. Selfishly Self-Seeking Rather Than Selflessly Serving
Secondly, Diotrephes didn’t accept the brothers. In short, he didn’t act in love and truth. By refusing to love the brothers, he revealed a lack of truth (1 John 3:18). While Gaius lovingly walked in the truth, Diotrephes persecuted those who did. He stood against the truth by refusing to demonstrate practical love. This was, as we saw above, in order to put himself ahead of others. He desired to be first.
Diotrephes stood against the truth by refusing to demonstrate practical love.
Similarly, the so-called “men of God” in Ethiopia don’t have any place for hospitality. Rather, they gather income for themselves by promising wealth and miracles. Since they are those who are focused on amassing wealth for themselves, they can’t give to anyone else. Congregations grow poorer by the day, while those lording over them become wealthier.
Love Must Flow From the Truth
The second person that John mentions and to whom 3 John is directed is Gaius, who walked in truth (3 John 3). In many ways he is a contrast to Diotrephes as well as the “men of God”. So how did he walk in truth? How can we resemble him in walking in truth?
John writes to Gaius, “Although they were strangers, you do faithfully in all that you do for the brothers” (3 John 5). He walked in truth by showing hospitality. This is what John is saying: ‘Listen Gaius, this is how you are walking in truth. Yes, they are strangers. But, you did not treat them as strangers. Rather, you showed them love by receiving them into your home. And, you have been faithful in this. So, they witnessed to your love for them’. In essence, walking in truth is walking in love.
If we walk in the truth it ought to be seen in our love.
But Gaius did more than merely welcome the brothers. He didn’t just act; he acted in love. There’s a saying in Ethiopia, ‘More than the food, the face’. This expression shows that more importantly than serving food, is the face—smiling or frowning. True hospitality, that which Gaius demonstrated, issues in love. From this we learn that if we walk in the truth it ought to be seen in our love; in our selfless hospitality towards others. And this love should not be limited to those we know. I praise God for the many brothers and sisters who’ve showed me this kind love.
The Historical Significance of Gaius’ Actions
3 John 7 shows the importance of what Gaius did. His environment was a time when people supported others according to whatever ‘school of thought’ they belonged to. People moved around getting financial support from others based on their teaching. Evident in the persecution at the time, Christianity did not have much support. Supporting Christians, back then, meant not only supporting them but also the truth that they taught. This is why John says showing love for those brothers meant working together for the truth (3 John 8).
Supporting Christians, back then, meant not only supporting them but also the truth that they taught.
There are many true churches that are suffering in Ethiopia because they don’t preach what tickles the ears, contrasted with the almost countlessly successful “men of God” (2 Timothy 4:3). They don’t do motivational speeches. Rather, they preach the eternal and inspired truth. So they struggle financially and with other resources. But Christ is their head. His gospel remains their call. Thus they don’t hoard wealth or refuse love, even when it is sacrificial and costly. These are servant leaders in the mould of Gaius. These are the kinds of Christians that we ought to imitate for this is the kind of faith that God celebrates.
Gaius: A Faith to Imitate
John responds to Gaius’ example with exceeding joy at his clear Christian fruit (3 John 4). He also encourages Gaius to keep on with his work of love, as this is done for the Lord. On the other hand, John exposes Diotrephes, by telling Gaius to rather imitate Demetrius (3 John 11). So, how can we imitate Gaius and Demetrius rather than Diotrephes? In conclusion I will suggest four ways.
1. Give to Ministry and Missions
As I mentioned earlier, true biblical teaching at this time—in Ethiopia and elsewhere on the continent— does not fare well. True churches and missionaries often lack financial support and other necessary resources. Therefore, we should support them however we can. This, of course, starts with our local church. But it should definitely extend outwards, into our cities and the broader mission field. By doing this, as John says, we express the truth in love.
2. Encourage Believers and Celebrate Faith
We must celebrate the gospel maturity of believers. We should be joyous at their fruit and faith, encouraging them to keep doing good. This responsibility falls on all of us. Furthermore, we should imitate those who walk in truth, like Gaius and Demetrius in 3 John. When we demonstrate this sort of gospel love we also witness to the gospel truth. When we do not delight in gospel growth it raises questions over that same truth in our own lives.
3. Be Humble Before God
Last, but not least, we must fight against pride. We must work hard to constantly rely on God’s grace in Christ. Diotrephes endeavoured to put himself first. This resulted in him rejecting the apostles, not receiving the brothers, and even persecuting those who believed the gospel. If we put ourselves first, we should not be surprised if similar results occur in our lives.
4. Beware Leaders Who Put Themselves First
The “men of God” are often not very different from Diotrephes. These leaders may or may not be Christians. But I nevertheless recommend that believers remove themselves from their congregations and ministries. As Christ emptied himself, we should always put others before us. Therefore we should be wary of Christian leaders who embody something else entirely. The Christian faith leaves no room for pride. In humility, Christ put himself before others. Surely those who lead his church should do the same.