|John 3 is addressed to a man by the name of Gaius. This name appears five times in the New Testament. It is not clear exactly which one this is. What we do know is that John the Apostle loved the Gaius mentioned in John 3:1. Verse four hints that John led Gaius to the Lord and/or discipled him after his conversion. John had great respect for Gaius because of his walking in truth and the great hospitality he showed to fellow Christians. Keep in mind that in this era, with no Bible in existence, believers relied solely on the teaching of the Apostles and those trained by the Apostles. Old Testament books (scrolls) were in existence but were bulky, scarce, and expensive. Any given church was lucky to have even a few of the Old Testament books in their possession. Consider also that even though most of the New Testament books were written by this time, no consensus had yet been reached concerning which were to be reckoned as Holy Scripture. The letters and books which later were accepted into the New Testament were so new that there were very, very few copies. Traveling preachers and teachers were the best way to instruct and train these fledgling churches. Thus Christian hospitality was very important. John spends the first half of this epistle commending Gaius for welcoming and caring for these traveling ministers of the gospel.
Next, John turned his attention to another man, Diotrephes. He suffered from a malady that many of us succumb to: we have a great desire to be in a place of honor, or rather first in that line. Evidently he thought that welcoming and caring for the traveling ministers would lessen his position in the eyes of the local church members. Diotrephes' desire for honor caused him to treat fellow believers poorly. John continues by drawing our attention to the contrast he has presented. Gaius is good. Diotrephes is not. We are instructed to imitate the good and avoid the bad. John is never bashful in pointing out that our conduct is a reliable and clear indicator of our relationship with God. Examine yourself.
John 13 makes it seem that John was afraid of punishment from the authorities if he wrote certain things. History attests that he had good reasons for those fears. He did however, write one more thing. He mentioned another man, Demetrius, not to be confused with the silversmith from Ephesus, mentioned in Acts 19 as an enemy of the gospel. This Demetrius was a good and godly man. John says he is worthy of imitation. Demetrius was in the position where Diotrephes wanted to be. Demetrius got there by his exemplary conduct. John was certainly aware that Deuteronomy commanded two or three witnesses to verify any matter. Accordingly, John lists three witnesses that testify to the Demetrius' worthiness: John's personal testimony (someone not nearby), the testimony of others who know him (those nearby), and the testimony of the truth itself.
We all have a desire to be respected. Diotrephes let it get out of hand. Demetrius shows the right way. You will have the respect you desire when those far off, those near to you, and the way in which your life lines up with the truth, all testify to your goodness and godliness. There is one more witness. I think John was reminding us also, to not forget to live in such a way that we will receive the approval of the One who is Truth. His testimony and approval is the one that means the most.
Commentary by Steve Ellison,
Harvey's Chapel Baptist Church, Hot Springs, AR