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Last week we closed out John’s second letter to the church. He had so much to write to the church, but he wanted to see them face to face. Too much more to say in that letter. John wanted their joy to be full and the only way to do that was to see them in person. Now John writes a third time. Is this another letter to the church? If so, why again? Didn’t they get it the first two times? What are the circumstances surrounding this letter? Let’s find out the answers to these questions and many more as we dig into John’s third letter.
I encourage you to all of 3 John to get a feeling for its context.
So who is this letter written by? As he did in his previous letter, the author calls himself the Elder. His reader knows who it is. Maybe he recognizes the handwriting. Maybe the person delivering it tells the reader who it’s from. He calls himself the elder and that title carries the idea of authority and leadership, of someone that is an example of Christian character and maturity. Peter told his readers that elders are examples to the flock in 1 Pet. 5:3. Based on writing style and content, the author is most likely the Apostle John. This letter is another short one just like 2 John. Just 15 verses, but these 15 are unique; contain unique instructions, contain unique warnings.
For the first time in his writing, John writes to an individual. We see from v. 1 that this letter is written to someone named Gaius. Writing to an individual is not unheard of. Paul wrote personal letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Who is Gaius and what is his relationship to John? In the N.T. there are three men named Gaius. There is the Gaius from Macedonia in Acts 19:29; the Gaius from Derbe in Acts 20:4; and the Gaius from Corinth in Rom. 16:23. Is this the same Gaius? Probably not; Gaius was a common name at the time John wrote. So what do we know about this Gaius? In v. 1 John described him as beloved. Beloved comes from the agape root word. It really means more than beloved. It means dear friend, prized friend, friend like none other. John goes even further than saying beloved. He personalizes it by saying, “Whom I love in truth.” Remember for John, truth is a major theme. In this short letter, he mentions truth seven times. For John, love and truth cannot be separated. They go together, hand in hand. Without love, truth becomes harsh. Without truth, love is an undefined emotion. For John and for us, truth and love should be a fundamental way of life. John sums up his feeling for truth back in 1 Jo. 5:20 when he says, “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” Truth is wrapped up in the package that is found in Jesus Christ who described Himself as, “The way, the truth, and the life” in Jo. 14:6.
In v. 2 John provides a good pattern for prayer. “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” It was common in John’s day to offer prayers for a person’s health. Preventive medical care was scarce. First century people did not go running to the doctor or the emergency room when they had the sniffles. These people were tough. No phones, no lights, no motor cars, it was as primitive as could be. There was no running water, no electricity, no refrigeration, no Walmart. Living was difficult. John says he wants Gaius to prosper. It means to flourish or go well with you. It’s an overall, “Hey, I hope everything is all good.” John also offers a prayer for Gaius’ health. Was he sick? Did he suffer from some unwritten ailment? We don’t know.
John says, “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” I don’t want you to miss this. What we do know is that John wanted him to prosper and be in good health and the comparison is to Gaius’ spiritual health. John’s prayer is that Gaius’ physical health matches his spiritual health. There seems to be no issue with Gaius’ health spiritually. What if we put as much effort into our spiritual health as we do our physical health? We live in a physical world in a physical body. We have to be careful to avoid extremes in the spiritual sense. Over the years in an effort to avoid the world, we’ve been told that we can’t go to the movies or to the beach; we can’t listen to certain kinds of music; we can’t dance or play cards; our hair has to be cut a certain way; men can’t wear shorts and women can’t wear pants. If we participate or do any of these, we risk being labeled liberal and that translates into legalism. Paul gives us insight into this way of thinking in Col. 2:20-23. Avoiding such things of the world looks right. It seems to be Christian. The reality is that following a set of rules for behavior is just religion. Of course the other extreme is license. Since salvation is by grace through faith and not of works, some would conclude that what is done in the body has no bearing on the spirit. As we saw in 1 John, that notion is clearly not true.
John’s prayer is that Gaius, “may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” Christians are not guaranteed good health and success. We are in the body and are subject to the fleshly limitations. Physical health is not a reflection of spiritual health. Compare your physical health with your spiritual health. The word order of this phrase is important. The standard of measurement is spiritual. What was John’s main concern? Gaius’ spiritual health. That’s not to say that physical health is not important, but comparatively, spiritual health is far more important. There is no question about that. Gaius had it going on – he was spiritually healthy. His, “soul prospers” – notice the present tense. How do we know? Because of John’s praise.
John offers a quick, but very defining report on Gaius’ spiritual health. Look at v. 3. John was not just glad, he was, “very glad.” Glad means well pleased, it means happy. When you throw in the adverb very, it gives you a sense of the immense happiness John had concerning the spiritual life of Gaius. There was evidence in Gaius’ life that exemplified his relationship with Christ. He didn’t just talk the talk, he walked the walk of an authentic relationship with the Messiah. John tells Gaius that, “brethren came and testified to your truth.” Who exactly are these brethren? We’ll see more clearly next week, but they were Christians that had the pleasure of observing Gaius in his daily life. These brethren thought enough of Gaius’ to report back to John that he was the real deal. What was so special about Gaius? The, “brethren came and testified to your truth, that is how you are walking in truth.” Gaius walked in the truth – present tense. This wasn’t something he used to do; not something he was going to start doing; not something he promised to do; not something he thought about doing. The truth was what Gaius was all about. In Ps 25:5 David wrote, “Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day.” Ps. 86:11, “Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name.” Ps. 145:18, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.” “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (Jo. 17:17) As we have seen in John’s writings, truth mattered. Gaius was walking in truth.
John’s greatest joy is seen in v. 4. There is no greater joy. Even if his favorite team won the national championship, the Super Bowl, the NBA finals, the world series, the world cup, or the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Nothing makes John jump for joy more than hearing his children are, “walking in the truth.” Not past or future tense – present tense. Was John concerned that people wouldn’t follow the truth? Of course, remember there were deceivers and false teachers undermining the truth found in God’s Word. The same is true for today. I want our people to walk in truth because I know that’s the only thing that matters. John 1:17, “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”
Walking in truth is important and nothing makes John happier t hear that his children, people of faith are actively pursuing an authentic relationship with Christ. The same is true for me.