A Synopsis of the Book
Most of the New Testament deals with problem brethren and problems in the churches. Paul exposed troubling false teachers in the book of Galatians. Paul dealt with the lack of unity and contention among brethren at Corinth (see 1 and 2 Corinthians). The apostle Paul spoke of the "enemies of the cross" at Philippians 3:18, the vain and church troubling doctrines of men at Colossians 2:8, and sons of perdition at 2 Thessalonians 2. Peter exposed false teachers at 2 Peter 2 and John exposed the spirit of antichrist at 1 and 2 John. The apostle Paul even named the troubling brethren by name when addressing Timothy (see 2 Timothy 2:17-18). The book of 3 John reveals another trouble maker in the church by the name Diotrephes. Diotrephes goes down in history as one whose priorities were confused and consequentially a nuisance in the Lord's church. The book of 3 John is only fourteen verses long yet packed with information regarding the common occurrence of trouble in the early church. The incident with Diotrephes was not an isolated event.
The apostle John had established a church and apparently baptized one named Gaius at some unrecorded location (see 3 John 4). John keeps up with the progress of this church through letters and word of mouth. John sent preachers to this church to edify its members and preach to the lost in the local area. These preachers represented truth and came with the high commendation of the apostle John. Gaius received these faithful preachers and he was hospitable to them too. Diotrephes; however, rejected these men and cast them out of the church.
Apparently Gaius and Diotrephes were working and worshipping at the same church. Part of the work of these preachers sent by John was to expose error in the local churches. It is likely that these preachers exposed Diotrephes' wickedness and were consequentially cast out of the church. Diotrephes sought after preeminence among brethren and would not stand for any who would take his position away from the minds of other brethren. One such preacher was Demetrius. While the apostle John commends Demetrius' stand for truth Diotrephes was casting him out of the church. Gaius was obviously not following Diotrephes and neither was he viewing the heretic as preeminent. Gaius is commended by John as one who walked in truth. Obviously Gaius and Diotrephes were at odds regarding the spiritual standing of Demetrius and John is writing this short letter to encourage him.
Those who do not like thinking or reading about church problems are not likely to be edified by 3 John. Those who do not read the New Testament and learn from the content of these inspired pages will forever be confused. Paul said of such people that that they are, "Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of truth" (2 Timothy 3:7). Let us remember that the apostle Paul wrote, "For there must be also factions among you, in order that those who are approved may be become evident among you" (1 Corinthians 11:19). There will always be problems in the church. What should we do? Should we say, "That's why I don't go to church?" "They are all hypocrites." "There is no love here." Why not look to the word of God and take note that there is a battle for the souls of men taking place. Satan is doing all that he can to ruin the eternal existence of all men because he hates, with a passion, the church of Jesus Christ (see Revelation 12:14-17). We will be victorious over him by recognizing his tactics among men and standing for truth alone (see 1 John 4:4). Let us be as the apostle John and deal with these corrupt men who do the work of Satan (see 3 John 10-11). Secondly, let us be sure to encourage men like Gaius who are standing for the truth in very difficult times. John C Robertson