Date: Written: 70-100 AD
John addresses this letter to Gaius, a wealthy Christian in one of the communities under John's care. 3 John is one of two NT letters that are written to specific person (the other is Philemon). It gives a poignant yet brief glimpse into the daily workings of the early Church. On authorship, see Introduction to 1 John.
John commends Gaius for his continuous hospitality to traveling missionaries. He asks Gaius to continue hosting missionaries and helping them on their way (3-6). In contrast to 2 John, where the apostle warns against hosting certain people, 3 John encourages Gaius to play host. Yet the apostle defines the type of people Gaius should host as those who have gone out from John's community, who have received nothing from non-believers and who have potential to be "fellow workers for the truth" (5-8). John notes that Gaius' hospitality is an act of faith and love, a true expression of his genuine commitment to Christ (5-6).
A tone of Christian love pervades the letter. John states his love for Gaius and addresses him as "beloved" three times (1, 2, 5, 11). He expresses his joy and concern for Gaius and his desire to see him soon (2-4, 14). The letter is sent from the context of one community of "friends" to another (15).
John warns Gaius about the activities of Diotrephes, who has claimed authority over a church for himself and spurned John's teaching (9). Illustrating the importance of hospitality in the early Church, John notes Diotrephes' refusal to host Christian missionaries as an obvious example of his disobedience (10). John may be turning to Gaius for help in providing for the needs of missionaries where Diotrephes used to help.
By "putting himself first" Diotrephes has apparently claimed some sort of authority for himself without the apostle's permission (9). He rejected John's initial letter and refuses to acknowledge his authority. In addition to this, Diotrephes has been publicly speaking against John (10).
John only gives one exhortation in the whole letter: to imitate good, not evil (11). He points his readers away from the example of Diotrephes and toward the good. Additionally, John gives a commendation of Demetrius who may have been the letter-bearer of 3 John. In harmony with the letter-writing traditions of the first century, John expresses his wish to come visit Gaius (13-14). He also imparts a greeting from "the friends" in his community (15).
3 John illustrates how Christian faith translates into concrete actions. Gaius fulfills his obligation to receive missionaries as guests because of his faith. Diotrephes exposes his illegitimacy by refusing missionary guests. Also, John's apostolic authority comes to the fore. He evaluates Christian teachers and makes it his personal responsibility to visit Diotrephes' congregation and confront him (10). Yet in the face of controversy, John communicates with the warmth of Christian love.
By Mark Giszczak