For the past several weeks, we have, during our Sunday morning messages, been on a journey through the New Testament letters of John, who had been an apostle of Jesus. Having been an apostle, John had had the privilege of hearing, seeing, and touching Jesus. A privilege that gave him the authority to teach his readers about the Lord.
It was an authority John took seriously, including as he worked to keep his fellow Christians safe from false teachers who were making the rounds of Christian congregations, but an authority John did not abuse. Over and over again in his first two letters, John reminded those to whom he wrote that he loved them, which means his purpose was not to berate or scold, but to encourage his readers in their Christian faith so they would be more likely to reject false teachings in favor of staying loyal to Jesus.
To promote their encouragement, John, in his first letter, taught his readers, among other things, that Jesus is the advocate for Christians, defending them if a sin is committed. That love for fellow Christians is a very important way of proving love for God. That when we love God, we can have confidence that our Christian faith is true and strong, paying benefits now by way of the Lord’s blessings and the future glory of Heaven. All of which gives us the wonder of not having to fear God, despite His awesome strength and wisdom.
Also to promote spiritual encouragement, John, in his second letter, taught his Christian readers, among other things, that those who believe in Jesus have grace, mercy, and peace. What great gifts those things are. And that appreciation for those gifts is to be shown by loving others, following God’s commandments, and avoiding anyone who teaches anything contrary to the Bible.
I have been helped to grow spiritually during our journey through the letters of John. I hope the messages have been helpful for you as well. I hope we have gained a deeper understanding of our faith - the benefits and the challenges - or at least been reminded of what those things are.
Today, the final stage of our journey as we consider the third of John’s three letters, this one written to an individual. A letter that introduces us to two types of people and gives us a summary of how we are to live as Christians. The message will also, toward the end, include a time of prayer. Prayers that we will not only remember, but do what John taught in all three of his letters.
III John. We will start with the first two words of III John, where John identified himself as “the elder,” which, we will remember, is how he began his second letter.
As mentioned last Sunday, there are a couple possibilities about the meaning of the word “elder.”
It might have referred to a position of authority, but in the context of III John, it seems more likely the word was John reminding the one to whom he wrote that he - John - had been with Jesus. In that way he was an elder, older physically, as in years of age, older spiritually in his acceptance of Jesus, older as being the one with the longer history of being associated with Jesus.
John using the words “the elder” was a reminder he did have the authority to write. The authority to teach and challenge others about how to live as a Christian.
To whom did John, the elder, write? To “the beloved Gaius.”
Beloved. Yet another expression of love from John, this time one of spiritual connection to a fellow Christian.
Who was Gaius?
There are a few other mentions of a Gaius in the New Testament. I could find nothing definitive whether all the mentions are of the same person, but in I Corinthians there is a Gaius who was baptized by the apostle Paul, which would indicate Gaius was a fellow Christian of John.
Twice in the Book of Acts a Gaius is mentioned as being a traveling companion of Paul, which would also make Gaius a fellow minister of John.
In the first mention in Acts, Gaius was assaulted in the city of Ephesus. Many of the citizens of Ephesus were upset with Paul’s preaching. They could not get to Paul, so they attacked two of his companions, one of whom was Gaius. There is no report of what happened to Gaius, other than he was dragged away, but I assume he was beaten.
It appears Gaius was a Christian and a minister. At the time of John’s third letter, Gaius was at least an important part of a congregation. If not the pastor of the church, at least a very influential voice in it.
The beloved Gaius, whom John the elder loved “in the truth.” John really did love Gaius. It was a love based on their common belief in Jesus.
Look at verse 2. What a comprehensive description of what we should want for those we love. I am sure we do want these things, including for fellow Christians, but it is worth being reminded what John wrote.
He wanted for Gaius that “all may go well with” him, which would include - what - maybe that he would have enough food to be satisfied, a good enough house to be warm and comfortable, maybe enough money to pay his bills and his taxes, perhaps that he would have some friends, and that his church work would be effective. Things like that.
John also wanted for Gaius good “health.” That is a nice thought. We of course know it is easier to keep doing what needs to be done, including spiritually, when we feel well physically. That is what John wanted for Gaius.
John also wished Gaius spiritual health. John wrote he knew it was “well with [Gaius’] soul. The mention of that was acknowledgment of the importance of not only physical, but also spiritual health. It was also at least a hint John would be praying for the continuation of Gaius’ spiritual health.
In verse 3 the idea of spiritual health continued as John complimented Gaius by writing that good spiritual reports had reached him about his beloved Gaius. That Gaius was known as a man who not only knew, but obeyed, the truth and the teachings about Jesus.
According to verses 5 and 6, some of the reports reaching John had come from those who had appeared at the church where Gaius was. Those who had appeared as “strangers” who had been welcomed by Gaius. Strangers referring to traveling missionaries, sometimes referred to as prophets.
At the time of John, there were three kinds of ministers.
There were apostles like John who had heard, seen, and touched Jesus. Actually, at least most of them, other than John, had died - they had been martyred - by the time of John’s letters. But John was still around.
There were officials of specific congregations. Pastors is what we call them. They were responsible for the life and health of individual groups of Christians. As mentioned earlier, Gaius might have been such a person.
And there were wandering preachers. Those who went from congregation to congregation telling about Jesus.
Of course the only wandering preachers who should have been accepted to speak at a church were those who really and truly were preaching about Jesus according to what we know about Jesus from the Bible. Of course false preachers were not to be accepted.
Gaius was apparently well-tuned to the truth of Jesus. That is how spiritually healthy he was. It was reported to John that Gaius welcomed true preachers to his congregation.
In addition to that, when the wanderers were ready to move on, Gaius sent them on their way as, it is written, “befitted God’s service.” Could that mean, maybe, that he gave them some food for their journey? Maybe an offering to help them on their way? Probably praying for their safety and effectiveness.
* * * * *
It seems Gaius was doing great spiritual work in his congregation. That is made clear in the first half of III John. But then a negative tone is introduced. It comes with the mention of someone else in the congregation. Someone who was also perhaps a leader. At least someone who spoke his mind in a strong way.
That someone was Diotrephes. Listen to what John wrote about him.
He liked to “put himself first,” which indicates a lack of humility. A sense of arrogance. It seems OK to be confident in one’s abilities, but the feeling I get about Diotrephes is that he thought his ideas and opinions and ways were the only ones worth being heard and pursued.
He was so arrogant, he did “not acknowledge” the authority of John. As mentioned over and over again in his letters, John had heard and seen and touched Jesus, which gave him authority, but Diotrephes did not care.
And he did not ignore John, but spoke against him, doing so with “evil words.” Evil as in demeaning. Evil as in false.
Also because of his arrogance, Diotrephes “refused to welcome” any wandering preachers.
In addition, he did what he could to stop others in the congregation from welcoming prophets, going so far as to demand the welcomers be “put out of the church.”
Get the problem? Gaius, who did welcome prophets - who had a reputation of being a welcomer - was one of those Diotrephes was fighting against.
John knew the situation. Being aware, he continued to encourage the beloved Gaius. Verse 11. “Do not imitate evil.” In this specific situation, do not do as Diotrephes did. In fact, do not be intimidated by Diotrephes. That had to be a difficult concept, but, John wrote to not imitate evil. Instead, “imitate good,” including by continuing to welcome wandering preachers who spoke the truth about Jesus.
* * * * *
In a moment, a time of prayer that we will remember and fulfill the teachings of John in all three of his New Testament letters. But first, a challenge I found while preparing for this message.
Consider the goodness of Gaius. By the way, in verse 12 a Demetrius is mentioned. He, too, was commended by John. But consider the goodness of Gaius, who was a very good representative of what Christians should be. Being beloved, Gaius was most likely a friendly man. Loved, not just by John, but by many others, so he was no doubt willing to help other people, including traveling ministers, and had a desire to see spiritual growth in others, along with a willingness to give the traveling prophets an opportunity to lead if that would help others.
The suggestion - the hope - is that we try to be like Gaius. Friendly, helpful, supportive, willing to do whatever we can to promote spiritual growth in our fellow Christians.
Let’s also consider the badness of Diotrephes, who was a terrible example. One who exhibited improper behaviors, including arrogance. Someone who did what he could, not to help others, but to get all the attention on himself. Going so far as to kick people out of the congregation if they disagreed with his way of doing things.
That type of person can ruin the testimony of a church, so the suggestion - the challenge and hope - is that each of us will pray that we will not be such a person.
That will be part of our prayer time, which will happen, but again before that, here is an example of being an encourager. This is told by a minister who, with his family, arrived at a church. Here is his report. I will tell it in first person, which is how it was shared.
Moving to a new church 12 years ago was hard for my wife. I was eager to jump into a new ministry, while she was left dealing with our two kids while getting used to a different house, a new community, and lots of friendly people who were not yet her friends. At the same time, her father was ill with cancer, and she was carrying our third child.
I thank God for two young moms in our new church who invited Connie to every social event they could think of. They were not overbearing, but they made sure Connie did not have to be alone if she did not want to be. They rescued her from loneliness while her clueless husband was happily doing the Lord’s work. The two moms were patiently persistent and absolutely accepting of her. They were heroically hospitable.
The report ends with a question and a prayer. How can you show hospitality to others? Dear God, we want others to know You are a God of deep grace and warm embrace. Show us someone who is standing alone, and make us into heroes of hospitality. Amen.
Let’s have a prayer time, concentrating on just some of the points John made in his three letters. Not every point will be included, but let’s pray about some of the challenges in John’s letters. I will have a comment, then pause for each of us to pray on our own. That will be repeated a few times.
Lord, the world can be a very dark place, but it does not have to be dark for us, at least spiritually, because You are light. Thank You for being the light. PRAY.
Lord, we ask for Your help to not sin, but thank You for the promise that if we do sin, You are our advocate before God. We have to accept You and Your defense, but when we do, Your promise is real and effective. Thank You. PRAY.
Lord, help us to keep loving one another here and other Christians elsewhere. That is not always easy, but it is what You want. Make us and keep us a loving people. PRAY.
Lord, help us to keep loving You. Not just saying it, but showing it by our obedience to Your commandments. Help us to know them and then obey them. PRAY.
Lord, thinking of today’s message, help us - each of us - to be like Gaius, as in friendly, loving, helpful, encouraging. PRAY.
In the final verse of the final letter of John, he wished Gaius - since the letter is in the Bible, the wish also goes to other Christians who have, do, and will read it, including us - peace, defined as tranquility of spirit and conscience that will keep us in harmony with God, with others, and with ourselves.
With that, our closing song is going to be the chorus of the hymn Wonderful Peace. We are going to sing the chorus. We will do that after I share some of the words of the verses.
Far away in the depths of our spirits today
Rolls a melody sweeter than psalm;
It is peace.
In Heavenly strains it endlessly falls
Over our souls like an infinite calm.
What a treasure we have in this wonderful peace,
Buried deep in the heart of our souls,
It is so secure no power can take it away
While the years of eternity roll
Peace is wonderful now,
But I also think of when I will rise to Heaven,
Where Jesus, the author of peace, I will see.
There that strain of the song I still will sing,
The strain of the wonderful peace from God.
And now a challenge for anyone who is not yet a Christian.
Are you here today without comfort or rest,
Just marching down the rough pathway of time?
Make the Savior your friend.
Accept His sweet peace that is so sublime.
Peace! Peace! Wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above,
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray,
In fathomless billows of love.
Lord, thank You for giving us the letters of John, so rich with love and challenges. Challenges we can meet because of Your strength. Help us to remember Your commandments. Help us to obey them. And help us to be like Gaius in today’s letter so we will not be alone in our spiritual growth, but bring others with us to You. Amen.