3 John is one of those brief New Testament letters that is often ignored by Bible students. However, it is one that is directly focused on dysfunctional relationships that often occurs among leaders of the body. In fact, the dysfunction about which John wrote was so great in this particular situation that it endangered the organic function of the body to evangelize the world. Souls were or would be lost if the dysfunction in relationships continued. For this reason, the Holy Spirit deemed it necessary to write a specific document (letter) to correct the problem. If necessary, the Spirit sought to send a Christ-sent apostle to the location of the dysfunction in order to sort out the individual who was the source of the trouble.
There were four personalities (disciples) involved in the dysfunctional scenario that is addressed in 3 John. There was the Christ-sent apostle, John, who wrote the letter. There was Gaius, the informant, to whom the letter was written. There was Diotrephes, the instigator of the problem. And then there was on the sidelines a disciple name Demetrius. All four individuals played a significant role in the problem and solution.
The letter does not deal specifically with the church as a whole, but with individuals. In this case, the focus of the letter was directed to a businessman for whom John prayed would become more successful in his prosperity and health, just as he was spiritually prospering (3 Jn 2). Gaius had assumed the responsibility of living the gospel, and in living the gospel, he took personal ownership of making sure the gospel was preached through his support of traveling evangelists. He did not shun his personal responsibility to preach the gospel. He did not off-load his responsibility on a “church budget.” He was directly involved in mission support.
The Holy Spirit, therefore, urged John to write of his personal prayers for this individual: “I pray that in all things you may prosper” (3 Jn 2). Nowhere else in the New Testament is there such a prayer offered for the material prosperity of an individual. We must conclude that if such a prayer were offered for ourselves, then certainly we should be doing with our material prosperity that which Gaius was doing with his. In his case, the more Gaius prospered, the more money he had at his disposal to support those evangelists who were passing through his house on their way to preach the gospel to unevangelized regions.
But there was a serious problem. The problem was so troubling that Gaius was moved to inform John, and then ask for help from the aged apostle. John’s instructions in the letter, therefore, are significant in reference to our personal responsibility to preach the gospel through others. When the preaching of the gospel to the lost is threatened, then it is time to take action. We can be patient with personality disputes among brothers and sisters. However, when the disputes endanger the preaching of the gospel to the lost, then we are in danger of forgetting who we are as disciples of Jesus. If the church does not step up and sort out any problem that causes any member to be discouraged from supporting the preaching of the gospel, then we individually lose our purpose for being disciples of Jesus.
[Next in series: December 29]