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Gaius and Diotrephes

Third John is the shortest book of the Bible, but it delivers a substantial lesson in Christian conduct. This lesson is presented in a contrast between the beloved Gaius and the prideful Diotrephes. These two men were real persons in the first century church, but they have become figures representing two attitudes that can exist among those who profess Christ in any generation. Let us consider them carefully so that we may imitate the approved conduct of Gaius and refrain from the evil deeds of Diotrephes.

Gaius was the original recipient of John's letter, and he was praised for his practice of genuine love and concern for the brethren. John counted Gaius as his own child in the faith and referred to him as "beloved” four times in this brief epistle. Having received a good report about Gaius, John rejoiced, saying, "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (v. 4). Specifically, John praised Gaius for his reception and support of the brethren who "went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles” (v. 7). By whatever means Gaius had used, his help of his fellow Christians was reckoned by John and others as faithfulness and love, making Gaius a fellow worker with the truth (v. 8).

On the other hand, Diotrephes was singled out by John as a great hindrance to the brethren due to his excessive pride. His identifying characteristic was that he loved to be first among the brethren (v. 9). This proud disposition caused Diotrephes to make himself the authority and judge over others in the church. He rejected the words of the apostle John, thus placing his opinions above the inspired words of Christ's own chosen ambassador. Moreover, he turned against John and those sent by him, accusing them by wicked words of offenses not disclosed to us by John. Unlike Gaius, Diotrephes refused to give aid to those who "went out for the sake of the Name,” and he even prohibited others who wanted to help them. In fact, he assumed the power to excommunicate Christians who violated his presumptive rules, exercising authority that he had no right to command.

Although this letter is a very personal message from John to Gaius, it no doubt has been preserved for us by providence so that we may learn from the faithfulness of Gaius and the treachery of Diotrephes. Beginning with Gaius, we learn that those who walk in the truth express their faithfulness by supporting and participating in the work of the truth. In other words, Christians demonstrate that they are true and trustworthy by their involvement in working for the Lord. This means that they use their time and resources to supply their fellow workers, serve their fellow Christians, and spread the gospel to others. Certainly, there are other ways that one can and should manifest his commitment to Christ, including worship and study. However, it was Gaius' actions toward his fellow Christians, even those who were strangers, that John praised as a witness to his love before the church (v. 5).

Unlike Gaius, Diotrephes represents those who seek to assert themselves and validate their opinions as religious mandates. Such men attempt to turn the Lord's church into their own personal domain where their judgments rule rather than the word of God. It is not enough for them to handle their own affairs and relationships, but they also seek to control the relationships of other Christians. Some even seek to extend their influence beyond their local congregations and become judges of other congregations where they have no part. They mark each congregation as approved or unapproved in their own minds, and then reject anyone who holds a different opinion. Being overly critical and sensitive, they make every issue a point of fellowship and become workers of division. Rather than rejecting only those who do not bring the teaching of Christ (2John 9-11), they reject those who do not share their opinions.

As we digest the words of Third John, let us gain the advantage of seeing these two men in contrast. John summarized his message to Gaius in verse 11, saying, "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” This standard for our behavior is as simple as it could possibly be, but men attempt to complicate God's word into an impossible enigma. Diotrephes was one such man who had not seen God by the simplicity of His word, so we should not imitate what was evil in him. Instead, let us emulate the conduct of the beloved Gaius, who stands out in the records of God's holy book as an example of faithfulness, love, work in the truth, and good. "Peace be to you” (v. 14).

Stacey E. Durham




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