Title & Background
Itinerant teachers sent out by John were rejected in one of the churches in the province of Asia by a dictatorial leader, Diotrophes. This man had gone so far as to excommunicate members who showed hospitality to John's messengers.
Author & Date Of Writing
According to the NIV Bible, this letter was probably written about the same time as 1 and 2 John, around A.D. 90. The Biblical Studies Foundation makes a very strong argument that 2 & 3 John were probably written much earlier in about 66-67 A.D., so 2 John, 3 John and Jude could have all been written about the same time. A comparison of 2 and 3 John suggested that the apostles John was the author of both letters. John functioned as an elder in his later years, and he begins both 2 and 3 John with that designation. John uses identical phrases in both books "love in the truth" (2 John 1 and 3 John 1) and "walking in the truth" (2 John 4 and 3 John 4). The conclusions to both letters are similar as well. (NIV Compact Reference Bible, (c) 1989, Zondervan Corporation)
The elder to the beloved (2)
Gaius, whom I (3) love in
2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.
3 For I (4) was very glad when (5) brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you (6) are walking in truth.
4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear of (7) my children (8) walking in the truth.
Humility & Truth
As in the letter of 2 John, the author refers to himself as "the elder". He was likely the only one left of the Disciples since all the others had been martyred in the cause of Christ. This is yet another demonstration of the humility of the Apostles. John could have referred to himself as the world's only living foundational Apostle. If he had been one of the modern false apostles he would have made sure to blow his own horn in this respect. Jude did the same thing in his epistle by referring to himself as the brother of James and a servant of Jesus, not the brother of Jesus (which he was). Can you imagine someone like Benny Hinn not milking that connection for everything it was worth if he were in that position? The sign of a true follower of Christ is humility.
Notice that John addresses Gaius as he did the lady in 2 John, so we can know by this opening salutation that John was talking about "agape" love, and not some other type. Notice that John is praying that Gaius will "prosper and be in good health." I suppose Word-Faith teachers would quickly pick up on this point and make a case for our praying for health and wealth. The problem is (1) John was not praying for his own prosperity and health as Word-Faith false teachers teach their followers to do and (2) he based his prayer on the fact that Gaius "soul prospers". This shows that prosperity and health can come as a result of a right relationship with Jesus Christ, but that it is the soul that God "prospers" first and that is ultimately what matters most. The prayer of John is for Gaius to have good health and prosperity, and we can pray that for any godly man, but that is not guaranteed, either in the Atonement or by a right relationship with Christ. It's up to God whether to allow the wicked or godly to prosper, be poor, to be healthy or to be sick and persecuted (Ecc. 7:15; 8:14). The Holy Spirit's main purpose is to "prosper the soul", to make our soul rich in the things of the Lord, healthy and mature.
2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.The point is that God does sometimes prosper and make Christians healthy. But sometimes we may also be poor and sick. It doesn't really matter because the Holy Spirit is still doing the ministry of making us rich in the things of the Lord through the written Word, and building us up to maturity and health in the Spirit. Would you rather gain the whole world but lose your soul (Mark 8:36)? We can certainly pray for God to prosper those who are committed believers, like Gaius, but we also are to ask everything according to the will of God. We do not demand, declare, summon or invoke God as the TBN heretics do. That is sorcery. We may ask, seek and knock (Matt. 7:7) if we do so according to His will (1 Jn. 5:14) living in obedience to his commands (1 John 3:22) and as long as we remain in Him and His words remain in us (John 15:7).
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Hebrews 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (NIV)
Matt. 7:7 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.The other basis for the prosperity and health of the soul from God is that we walk in the truth. Gaius had a good testimony and others testified in his behalf that he was walking in the truth. What is walking in the truth? Simply put it is walking in the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostles and the prophets.
1 John 5:14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
1 John 3:22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.
John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
2 John 1:4 I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father.John's greatest joy, as expressed in both 2 & 3 John, is to see those who are his spiritual children walking in the truth of the Word, Jesus Christ, and His teachings as taught by the Apostles. His joy was not in their spiritual gifts, in signs and wonders, in how big their churches were, or how much money they collected, but in their adherence to the truths they were taught. This is also God's greatest joy. God blesses us and is pleased with us based on our obedience to His Word.
John 17:17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.
2 Corinthians 4:2 but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
John 15:10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.Notice that John emphasized the word "truth" four times in the first four verses. Today the emphasis in churches is on everything but making sure we are walking in the truth. Rather than bringing people to maturity in churches, the leadership keeps them infants by feeding them the milk of stories, myths, pop psychology, entertainment, and new ideas beyond what is written. They teach them not to judge, not to discern, not to test by the Word of God, not to even use their minds for fear they may become "critical" and miss out on the "move of God". But what God requires is entirely different. He requires discernment, and the only way to get discernment is to become mature in the Faith. The only way to become mature in the Faith is to know Jesus Christ, His Word and obey His commands.
1 John 2:3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.
1 John 3:24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
1 John 5:3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,
5 Beloved, you are acting
faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the (9)
brethren, and especially when they are (10)
6 and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to (11) send them on their way in a manner (12) worthy of God.
7 For they went out for the sake of (13) the Name, (14) accepting nothing from the Gentiles.
8 Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.
This is an excellent short study on how home churches ought to be the
primary supporters of ministry efforts. The marks of a
healthy church include these attributes:
(1) A healthy church is willing to support strangers who are doing the Lord's work beyond their own local concerns. This means support in prayer and financially. Of course those strangers must be actually doing the Lord's work, but if they have stood the test of walking in the truth, then we are to help those who take the Gospel to foreign mission fields and out into other avenues of ministry wherever God has called them.
(2) A healthy church will not just send them on their way with a prayer that God will provide their needs and prosper them, but will follow that up with real intercessory and prayer financial support.
(3) Many foreign missionaries are solely supported by churches and individuals back in their home countries because there may not be any way to do "tent-making" where they are doing their mission work. Paul was a "tent-maker" and supported his ministry that way when he had the time to do that kind of work. Many modern missionaries do that also, but Paul and others were also supported by faithful churches to fill in the gaps.
(4) The reason to support mission work is not only to obey the Lord, but to have a share in the harvest. We are fellow workers when we support those who go out. There always needs to be a "home team", a tactical support unit for mission work. The home team supports the troops in prayer and finances, the front line soldiers go to battle, but all are in the same war effort. Prayer and financial support are just as important as those who fight the battle on the front lines.
9 I wrote something to the
church; but Diotrephes, who loves to (15)
be first among them, does not accept what we say.
10 For this reason, (16) if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not (17) receive the (18) brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and (19) puts them out of the church.
11 Beloved, (20) do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. (21) The one who does good is of God; (22) the one who does evil has not seen God.
Now we come to the section of this short letter where John begins to name names. What? How dare he do such a thing? Isn't this an example of someone who is not speaking the truth in love? But naming names IS speaking the truth in love. To name people, either for praise or for warning, helps both the Church and the individual.
The most loving thing you can do for a non-believer is to preach the Gospel to them, thereby telling them the truth.
The most loving thing you can do for a believer is to teach them the truth, to disciple them and help them grow to maturity in Christ so that they will be able to know the difference between good and evil (Heb. 5:14) and not be blown about by every wind of doctrine (Eph.4:11-14).
Heb. 4:14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.The most loving thing you can do for a heretic is to tell them the truth, rebuke them and reject them if they are unrepentant.
Eph. 4:11-14 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
Naming heretics accomplishes two things:
(1) It protects the Church against wolves who secretly introduce heresies (Acts 20:29, Matt. 7;15, 2 Pet. 2:1).
(2) It rebukes and rejects heretics so that they might possibly be ashamed and return to orthodoxy. There is no way any heretic can be "schmoozed" back to orthodoxy. They must be confronted in the truth in love with their false teachings, and if they do not repent and stop doing what they were doing, they are to be thrown out of the church, no longer to be called our brothers in the Lord. This is what John was about to do with Diotrephes. We are to call attention to the deeds of heretics and warn the church to stay away from them.
Let's look at the character of a false teacher through the example of Diotrephes.
Heretics Do Not Heed The Word - "I wrote something to the church ... Diotrephes ... does not accept what we say"
Diotrephes had a letter from John but would not accept what the Apostle was teaching. This is the first and most important sign of a heretic. They do not accept the teachings of the foundational Apostles, and they add to or go beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6).
1 John 4:6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (NIV)Therefore, the first test of a false teacher is the test of teaching and doctrine. If they do not accept sound doctrine as taught by the foundational Apostles through the Holy Spirit written in the Word, then they are to be rejected (Titus 3:10).
Proverbs 30:6 Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar. (NIV)
Rev. 22:18-19 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (NIV)
2 Tim. 4:3-4 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (KJV)Heretics Seek Fame & Position - "first among them"
Isaiah 8:20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (KJV)
He wanted the highest position he could get, to be first among the leadership in the church. This is another sign of a heretic. They love to brag, to tell stories about themselves, to get famous, to make a lot of money, to have a higher position than anyone else, to claim they have an anointing far greater than others. This is because they have gone beyond what is written.
1 Corinthians 4:6 Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, "Do not go beyond what is written." Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. (NIV)Heretics Lack The Fruit Of The Spirit - "wicked words ... deeds"
Luke 20:46 "Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. (NIV)
2 Tim. 3:1-5 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (NIV)
You can always discern false teachers by their deeds. Benny Hinn collects huge sums of money from the poor, the widows, the sick and helpless, then turns around and spends it lavishly on himself and those around him. That is a lack of the spiritual fruit of kindness and love. You can see by his "slain in the spirit" tactics that what he is doing is clearly not coming from a true anointing of the Holy Spirit, nor are the manifestations biblical or even good. That is a lack of the spiritual fruit of peace and self-control. There are many more examples that could be given. Heretics gossip about those who disagree with them behind their backs because they cannot reply to the apologetics presented to their faces. Notice that when John was away the heretics started saying things about him and others because they could not stand the test of truth face to face.
Heretics Accuse The Brethren - "unjustly accusing"
When heretics are confronted with error they are not able to defend themselves biblically, so they resort to name calling, gossiping, back biting, and accusing the brethren with wicked words.
1 Peter 3:16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.I see this almost on a daily basis from those who do not like what I am doing in the field of apologetics on my web site. When faced with truths they cannot answer, they almost always resort to strawman arguments, to broad brushing the character of people they do not know, and even to using filthy wicked words to try to justify themselves and vilify others. They are incapable of carrying on an intelligent debate over issues raised as a result of their false teachings. I could bring you email after email of people who have called me every name in the book who claim to be Christians, including "Satan", the devil, heretic hunter, Pharisee, and some curse words I will not repeat here.
Heretics Are Out Of Fellowship - "does not receive the brethren"
Finally, when faced with opposition, the word goes out from false teachers not to associate with those who oppose them, even though they continue to argue that they should not be rejected as heretics. Yet they are the ones who have gone out from the truth, from the fellowship of believers.
1 John 2:18-20 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. (NIV)They will not allow their followers to talk to those who demolish their arguments, read their materials, or watch videos exposing them. In fact they even tell them that the articles, audio and video are made up, manufactured lies. I often tell them "Hey, I'm no Steven Speilburg. How am I going to manufacture a tape of an animated Benny Hinn, or a Benny Hinn look alike, saying that Jesus Christ is going to physically appear in his crusades?" Why would I bother to make a false video of Kenneth Copeland saying that "Jesus Christ is the High Priest of MY words?" Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland and any other of a thousand Latter Rain heretics dig deep enough holes for themselves without any editorializing from me. But this is the argument that comes down from the leadership of false teachers and is played out in emails from many, many followers, another evidence that the brainwashing process has left these poor deceived souls with very little capacity for deductive reasoning or discernment. Why would any rational human being want to be absorbed into the mind control cult of the Third Wave? Sometimes I think that cynical non-believers have more discernment than many Christians.
Heretics Cause Divisions - "puts them out of the church"
In the end those who bring legitimate concerns before false teachers do not have their concerns addressed and are either vilified or asked to leave. It is interesting how discernment never cuts both ways with false teachers. They rant and rave against "heretic hunters", tell them not to judge them, not to "touch the Lord's anointed", and then even curse them. But when there are people in their church who disagree with what they are teaching and have legitimate concerns, those Bereans are not only told not to question authority, but if they don't want to "play ball" they are told they can leave. Diotrophes was putting people out of the church that the Apostles planted, thereby causing division. This is also a mark of a false teacher. They are the divisive ones.
Jude 1:19 These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.Heretical movements like the Third Wave are also well known for not making new converts but rather taking people out of good churches to come over to their bad one. If you doubt this fact, go talk to a number of pastors of small biblical churches in any city and ask them how many people they have lost to big Third Wave mega-churches.
Titus 3:10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. (NIV)
Diotrophes, because of his lack of accountability and refusal to be tested by the Scripture, ended up dividing the church and taking away followers of Christ.
Heretics Are Doers Of Evil - "the one who does evil has not seen God"
Those who seek fame and position instead of humbly serving Jesus Christ, who lack the fruit of the Spirit and works of righteousness, who accuse the brethren when their teachings or prophecies are challenged from the Word, who end up out of fellowship with biblical believers and as a result cause division in the Church by getting people to follow them ... are doers of evil. Those who are heretics, doers of evil, have not seen God. They are not our brothers in Christ and they must be rejected until such a time as they repent, change their ways, and demonstrate that they will no longer be divisive heretics.
So is it right to name names? The fact is that this is what Paul, John, the prophets and many others did in the past. This example from 3 John is especially appropriate because John was not just writing a letter to Timothy as Paul was, though Timothy obviously shared those letters with the Church, but he was going to make the information about Diotrophes public. Why shame the man? Because the Church needed to be warned, and he needed to be made ashamed for the sake of his soul. Many Christians today say that we should not name names but just preach the Word and people will figure out what is true and false by themselves with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is an element of truth to this argument, but it is not entirely biblical. There is a very practical reason to name names. Because we are not just warning people about the doctrines, we are warning people to avoid specific teachers who are teaching and doing these things. There are no false doctrines without the purveyors of those teachings. You can't just broad brush subjects like heresy. You have to give concrete examples, and to do so you must quote from a specific teacher and use what they are doing as an example. Many Christians have been sucked into following people like Benny Hinn and others because they were not warned by name. Some heretics are so good at laying error alongside truth that their teachings must be examined carefully and they must be exposed by name. When a person does things publicly that effect whole churches, they are answerable to that same public in public. This issue is different from private sin which needs to be dealt with according to church discipline among the brethren. Public heresy is answerable in public, as Diotrophes was made answerable before the people he was trying to lead down the wrong path.
12 Demetrius (23) has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and (24) you know that our testimony is true.
Notice that John doesn't just dwell on the negative by naming Diotrophes, but also gives a positive example by naming Demetrius. It is always a good idea to balance what is being said when naming names. It is also crucial that we as believers encourage one another.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. (NIV)Here are a few of the indications of a true believer:
Hebrews 3:13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (NIV)
Acts 11:23 Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; (NIV)
Romans 1:12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine. (NIV)
Of Good Report - "has received a good testimony"
True followers of Christ have a testimony that is consistent with their life and teachings. They will not blow their own horn, but others will testify freely of their faithfulness to God. They avoid even the appearance of evil (1 Thes. 5:22), they are men of integrity (Pr. 20:7, Titus 2:7-8) and truth (1 Tim. 3:2-7, 2 Tim. 2:15), and they obey the Word of God (Luke 11:28, 2 Thes. 2:15).
1 Thes. 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. (KJV)Holds To The Truth - "from the truth itself"
Prov. 20:7 The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him. (KJV)
Titus 2:7-8 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. (KJV)
1 Tim. 3:2-7 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men— the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle— I am telling the truth, I am not lying— and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles. (NIV)
2 Tim. 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (NIV)
Luke 11:28 He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it." (NIV)
Mature Christians hold to the truth. They hold on to their faith as handed down through the Apostles in the written Word of God.
Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (NIV)They do not entertain false doctrines and false prophecies. They demolish arguments and rebuke those who teach falsely, and they reject those who do not repent of false teaching.
1 Timothy 3:9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.
Hebrews 3:14 We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (NIV)
Hebrews 4:14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. (NIV)
2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. (NIV)
Matthew 7:15 "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. (NIV)13 (25) I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink;
1 John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (NIV)
2 Corinthians 10:5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (NIV)
2 John 1:10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. (NIV)
Speaking Face To Face
The issues of false teaching are best dealt with face to face. John does not say he will confront Diotrephes face to face, though likely he did that as well. He is talking about warning Gaius and the fellowship of believers face to face about Diotrephes. So warnings by letter naming names of false teachers and praising good ones is good, and warning and encouraging face to face is even better. This puts to rest all the talk about people writing articles warning about false teachers today. Most good apologetics discernment ministries today have confronted false teachers privately by letter, publicly by exposing their false teachings in articles, books and tapes, and face to face in debates and discernment conferences. What more can they do? They are following the example of the Apostles and obey the Word of God in every respect. Remember that public false teaching is answerable in the public forum, before the Church. It is not only our duty to warn Christians to steer clear of false teaching and false teachers, but it is also our duty to warn unbelievers away from them and help them find good teachings and a good church. The more we do this the more we will see maturity in the body of Christ, and people being saved. Unsaved people are not saved by the silky deceptive words of heretics--they are drawn by integrity and truth.
15 (26) Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends (27) by name.
Naming names? Yes, for all kinds of reasons, some good and some bad. We help no heretic by being silent, afraid to say who they are. We also help no one if we do not name names in encouragement and blessing. Too often Christians forget that we are to meet together for encouragement.
Phil. 2:1-4 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (NIV)Do you know a brother or sister in the Lord who needs an encouraging word today?
Hebrews 3:13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (NIV)
Hebrews 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another— and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (NIV)