The apostle John’s letter to a Christian brother named Gaius is a fascinating window into the uncomfortable reality that sometimes, some Christians don’t act very much like the Christ! Modern Christians sometimes seem to forget that the problems and conflicts that can arise within a congregation are neither unique nor original. In the fourteen short verses of this personal letter, John both extolls the godliness of faithful and consistent brethren like Gaius and Demetrius, and bluntly condemns the arrogance and “my way or the highway” attitude of Diotrephes. Surely there is no doubt that John’s stark comparison of Gaius’ good works and the evil being done by Diotrephes was intended to influence the congregation where they both seem to have worshipped (see vs. 11) to imitate Gaius!
In a manner very similar to his letter to “the elect lady” (2 John), the apostle writes to Gaius of his joy in knowing that his own “children” were walking in truth (vs. 4), which seems to suggest that John had been instrumental in leading Gaius to Christ. John begins the body of his letter with a statement in vs. 2 that should give every Christian pause to reflect on the condition of our own souls:
“Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”
If my physical health matched my spiritual health, how “healthy” would I be? Would I even be alive? Our generation places great emphasis on healthy eating habits and getting adequate exercise, in order to live as long as we possibly can in THIS world: Should Christians not put just as much emphasis (or even more) on being spiritually well-nourished and “exercised unto godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7)?
We have no way of knowing who brought John the report of Gaius’ faithfulness (vs. 3). His commendation of Gaius’ willingness to assist “brethren and strangers” in vv. 5-7, however, suggests that John’s information came from those whom Gaius had aided (commonly thought to be “missionaries” sent out by John), even in the face of opposition by Diotrephes (vv. 9-10). What is noteworthy is the contrast in attitudes between Gaius and Diotrephes; the one a willing servant of his brethren and the other a would-be “ruler” over them! It is clear in vs. 8 that John includes Gaius as a fellow helper (companion, coworker) to truth, while Diotrephes is clearly an opponent to anything and anyone – including John himself – that could prevent him controlling the church (vv. 9 -10). The description of Diotrephes’ behavior in vs. 10 makes it clear that he was very willing to “ruin” the congregation where he was if he was not able to “rule” over it, even to the point of “driving out” anyone who dared to challenge him!
While John’s appeal to “follow/imitate what is good” is directed specifically to Gaius in vs. 11 (“beloved” is singular), it nevertheless has application to each Christian, echoing the words of Paul in passages like 1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1, Philippians 3:17, and 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9. There is also an implicit assessment of Diotrephes’ spiritual condition in John’s statement that, “he that doeth evil hath not seen God” at the end of vs. 11, followed by his commendation of Demetrius’ good works.