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3 John Commentary                              


I. Content of the Chapter


Walk in the Truth

A.  Opening words and blessings (v.1-2);

B.  Praising to Gaius (v.3-8);

1. The apostle has no greater joy than to hear that Gaius walks in truth (v.3-4);

2. Praise him for receiving the fellow-workers faithfully (v.5-8);

C.  Evaluation of Diotrephes (v.9-11);

1. Diotrephes who loved to have the preeminence refused to receive brethren and forbid those who wished to (v.9-10).

2. Do not imitate what is evil (v.11).

D.  Testimony of Demetrius (v.12);

E.  Closing words and greetings (v.13-15);


II. Verse by Verse Commentary


3John. 1 “The Elder, To the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth:”

YLT: “The Elder to Gaius the beloved, whom I love in truth!”

Meaning of Words: elder”: senior; 

Literal Meaning: “the elder”, it has two meanings in the original: 1) he who is in an old age; 2) the overseer of one local church; both explanations are suitable for the writer of this epistle, the apostle John. The apostle Peter had also been the elder of a certain local church (see 1Pet. 5:1).

  “To the beloved Gaius”, “Gaius” was a rather common name at that time. This name has been mentioned in the New Testament three times: 1) the man of Macedonia, Gaius (Acts 19:29); 2) Gaius of Derbe (Acts 20:4); 3) the Corinthian (see Rom. 16:23; 1Cor. 1:14). Concerning the details of Gaius in this epistle, please read the recipient of the introduction of this epistle.

  “Whom I love in truth”, “I” in the original is emphatic. “In truth”, it shows that truth is the central mind of this epistle; “love in truth”, love one another in pure faith of truth;

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)     “Beloved” may be a polite remark in the beginning of the epistle. And the writer still mentions “I love in truth”, showing that it is not oral love in appearance but true love out of heart.

2)     In the church, we may call one another “brothers and sisters”, but actually we may not have the divine bosom of “brothers and sisters”. Let our word in keeping with our heart and treat one another in true love.

3)     The faith of truth that all we believers keep produces the relationship of union of life that we will naturally love those whom are born of God (see 1John 5:1).


3John. 2 “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”

YLT: “beloved, concerning all things I desire thee to prosper, and to be in health, even as thy soul doth prosper,”

Meaning of Words: prosper”: do well in, succeed in reaching; health”: sound, wholesome;

Literal Meaning: “beloved”, it is mentioned again and again in this epistle (see v.1, 2, 5, 11), which expressed not only politeness but also true solicitude out of the writer.

  “You may prosper in all things”, though “all things” include business and properties, we shall not declare that believers must prosper in everything especially business and wealth as long as they love God according to his verse like the modern “Prosperity Theology”, because this verse is not God’s promise, but the apostle’s wish. Actually, it is a supplementary explanation of “being in health”.

  “Be in health”, it suggests the physical condition of Gaius was not good.

  Just as your soul prospers”, “soul” includes the mind and affection and will of a man. “Your soul prospers”, it means that he has sound mind and rich affection and strong will. In other words, his life condition before God is good. 

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)     Both the heretical and radical men only pay attention to the mental and spiritual pursuit of men, but ignore the physical condition. A normal Christian shall pay attention to both aspects.

2)     Some preachers who love the Lord may have not looked after their bodies well that they depart from the world ahead of time in their middle years just when they are suitable to be used by the Lord. What a pity!

3)     A normal Christian shall keep the balance between his spiritual and physical conditions. On one hand, let us seek godliness and be fed by the word of God. And on the other hand, let us exercise our bodies and take in proper nutrition and keep physical cleanness and a regular schedule every day.

4)     The life that keeps the body and soul and spirit in health and joy is a life that glorifies God.

5)     Gaius prospers in soul, but is weak in body. Some of the Charismatic church declares that one must be physically strong as long as he prospers in spiritual life. Obviously, such teaching is not in keeping with the fact in the Bible.

6)     We cannot judge one’s spiritual condition according to his physical condition.


3John. 3 “For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth.”

YLT: “for I rejoiced exceedingly, brethren coming and testifying of the truth in thee, even as thou in truth dost walk;”

Meaning of Words: testify”: bear witness; truth”: reality;walk”: go, tread;rejoice”: be glad, be cheerful;

Literal Meaning: “for when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, “brethren”: brothers in the church where the recipient is; “testified of the truth”, the recipient keeps and experiences the objective truth in faith so that the truth has become his subjective truth.

“Just as you walk in the truth”, “walk in the truth”: practice the truth and live out the truth that is received that let the truth lead our way and regulate our daily life; “walk”: practice continually; 

I rejoiced greatly”, it shows that keeping the truth is the source of joy.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)     The word we have spoken is heard by others and the life we are living is seen by others. Both have become our “testimony”.

2)     Each Christian is a “testimony”, no matter good or bad. If we are not manifesting the truth, we are against the truth.

3)     A good witness is man who obeys the truth of God. On one hand, the truth of God abides in him. On the other hand, he practices the truth of God in daily life, namely, obedience to the truth.

4)     The truth is none other than the Lord Himself (see John 14:6), the Spirit (see John 16:13) and the word of God (see John 17:17). Let us keep the three in us and obey the inspiration and enlightenment we have received.

5)     Let us not only keep the truth but also live out the truth. And let us not only keep the truth in heart but also obey the truth ---- let the truth abide in us and manifest out of us.

6)     In the age in which everyone pays attention to reality, nothing will more glorify God than walking according to the truth.

7)     Parents must rejoice when they see their children walking according to their will with obedience. When a spiritual elder hears young believers “walk in truth”, he must be more joyful.


3John. 4I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.

YLT: “greater than these things I have no joy, that I may hear of my children in truth walking.”

Literal Meaning: “I have no greater joy”,

  “Than to hear that my children walk in truth”, in other words, this joy is greater than leading men to the Lord. Indeed it is a joy to lead man to the Lord. However if the new believer fails to walk in truth and is even entangled and subdued by the pollutions of the world, his situation is just like that of a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire (see 2Pet. 2:20-22). It is a real grief.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)     Truth is the manifestation of the love we have received in heart in our life that others will also feel the love of the Lord.

2)     Let us be both hearers of word and doers of word (see James 1:22).

3)     The greatest joy to a teacher is that he sees his students walking in truth. Truth makes a man godly in mind and conversation.


3John. 5Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers,

YLT: “Beloved, faithfully dost thou do whatever thou mayest work to the brethren and to the strangers,”

Meaning of Words: strangers”: sojourners; do”: work;faithful”: sure, true;

The Background: at that time, the Roman Empire occupied a larger domain. For the purpose of stability, many military camps were set in all the important fortified points. And there was convenient traffic between the camps to support the defense. The commercial dealings were thus fostered and the gospel was also widely preached. Therefore, many inns rose in response to that time and situations. However, most of the inns also did pornographic business and most of the customers committed fornications. And the inns become a den of vice and were unsuitable for the saints to dwell in. Therefore, many local churches encouraged believers to open their houses to receive the workers who went out to work for the Lord and common saints.

Literal Meaning: “beloved”, note that the tone and word of this epistle are full of “love”.

  “You do faithfully whatever you do”, “do”: do all the time; “do faithfully”: often do…;

“For the brethren and for strangers”, “the brethren and for strangers”: believers who went forth for the name of the Lord (see v.7);

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)     Individualism has become an increasing trend in the present society. People pay little attention to strangers. However, in the church of the Lord, we shall have the sense of big family even to believers whom we have never met before.

2)     In the sight of the Lord, inasmuch as we have done it to one of the least of the brethren, we have done it to Him. Contrarily, if we have not done it to one of the least of the brethren, we have not done it to Him (see Matt. 25: 40, 45).

3)     The Lord judges whether we are faithful according to our attitudes toward and works to the fellows in the Lord (see Matt. 24:45, 49).


3John. 6who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well,

YLT: “who did testify of thy love before an assembly, whom thou wilt do well, having sent forward worthily of God,”

Meaning of Words: church”: assembly; bear witness”: testify;worthy”: as becomes, appropriate;well”: good;

The Background: it was a custom in the ancient time that the hospitable family also gave the guests money for the journey to support them when the guests were leaving. When the Jews saw the rabbis off, they would go with them for some distance.

Literal Meaning: “who have borne witness of your love before the church”, “before the church”: before brothers and sisters; “have borne witness of your love”: to testify the love of Gaius was not only in word and tongue but also in work and truth (see 1John 3:18);

  “If you send them forward”, “send them forward”: it includes the help in money, food, clothing, traveling, etc. (see 1Cor. 16:6; Titus).

  “On their journey in a manner worthy of God”, “worthy of God”, it carries two aspects of meaning: 1) be worthy of God’s name and not humiliate the name of God; 2) be in keeping with God’s love toward men.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    The Lord Jesus said, “He who receives whomever I shall send receives me. And he that receives me receives him that sent me” (John 13:20).

2)    Whoever is willing to open his house to all the saints must be a man who opens his heart to all the saints. The love in the saints can be tasted in both receiving and being received.

3)    It is good that he who has received love of believers testifies the love before the church to encourage all.

4)    Nothing is more “godly” than sacrificing oneself to serve others. Such service is truly worthy of God ---- worthy of God’s name and love, and glorifies God.

5)    As for the expenses of journey and accommodation, preachers who go forth to work for the Lord shall walk ahead by faith in the Lord. Through the devotion of all the local churches and individual believers, the Lord accomplishes the preachers’ faith. And all the churches and common believers have thus become fellow-workers for the truth (v.8).


3John. 7because they went forth for His name's sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles.

YLT: “because for name they went forth, nothing receiving from the nations;”

Meaning of Words: for…sake”: for the purpose of; “went forth”: leave; “take nothing”: receive nothing;

Literal Meaning: “because they went forth for His name's sake”, “for His name’s sake”, it means that the purpose of preachment is to testify the name of the Lord so that men will enjoy the abundant reality of the name of the Lord; “went forth”, it suggests that they gave up their own cozy and warm families and labored outside.

“Taking nothing from the Gentiles”, “the Gentiles”: unbelievers of the world; “take nothing”: here it especially means not receiving any financial assistance. The reasons why Christians take nothing from the Gentiles are as follows: 1) let not unbelievers misunderstand that the God whom we believe in is unreliable; 2) let not unbelievers misunderstand that Christians have no love to their own; 3) let not unbelievers misunderstand that they can please God by it and thus become self-righteous and unwilling to believe the Lord.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)     A normal preacher will in no wise receive any financial assistance of unbelievers so as not to humiliate the name of the Lord. Therefore, it is the duty of the church and believers to provide what the workers of the Lord need.

2)     Christians are a group of people who practice the word of the Lord ---- “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The characteristic of Christianity is paying for the sake of the gospel rather than be rewarded by the world.

3)     When the people of God provide the servants of God sufficiently, it is a powerful testimony to unbelievers of the world.


3John. 8We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth.

YLT: “we, then, ought to receive such, that fellow-workers we may become to the truth.”

Meaning of Words: ought to”: should; receive”: take aside, provide;fellow workers”: those who work together;

Literal Meaning: “we therefore ought to receive such”, it is our responsibility of receiving preachers.

  “That we may become fellow workers for the truth”, “fellow workers”, it suggests that fellow workers may not do the same thing in the same place nor serve the same objects. As long as we work for the same goal and fulfill the part distributed to us, we are fellow workers. “Fellow workers for the truth”, the purpose of works is to keep the testimony of the truth.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)    The ministry of receiving and supplying preachers is not only a chance but also a duty (Gal. 6:6-11; 1Cor. 9:7-11).

2)    There are many different members in the body of Christ, with different functions. As long as all the members are fitly jointed together and tempered together, they are fellow workers.

3)    He who receives those who do not preach the doctrine of Christ shares in their evil deeds (see 2John v.10-11). Likewise, he who receivers those who go forth for the sake of the Lord’s name has become the fellow worker for the truth.

4)    It is one who sows and another who reaps that both he that sows and he that reaps may rejoice together (see John 4:26-27). If we believers receive the Lord’s workers, all blessings in the preachment will abound to our account (see Phil. 4:17).


3John. 9I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.

YLT: “I did write to the assembly, but he who is loving the first place among them -- Diotrephes -- doth not receive us;”

Meaning of Words: loves to have the preeminence”: love to be first; “Diotrephes”: Jove-nourished;

Literal Meaning: “I wrote to the church”, since we are not sure where the church that Diotrephes led was, so we can also not be sure whether it refers to the Second Epistle of John. Probably, this epistle had been destroyed and lost by Diotrephes.

“But Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us”, “who loves to have the preeminence among them”, it means that one loves to be the first but may not be qualified to be the first. “Does not receive us”: do not receive the apostle John and his fellow-workers; there might be two reasons: 1) because he desired to defend his position and was unwilling to let anyone contact with the local believers without his introduction. 2) because he kept different views about the understanding and practicing of the truth.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)     Through the ages, there were often contradictions and conflicts between the local churches’ right of self-determination and all the churches’ spiritual fellowship. Therefore, it has been a great problem to all the leaders of the churches of how to keep balance between the external and internal spiritual authority.

2)     If everyone rejects the natural views and seeks the guidance of the Spirit according to the sound truth, there will be no affairs of “predominance” or “seizing power”.

3)     If the “pastor” or “elder” in the church tends to seize supreme power, it shows that they have forgotten they are merely “servants” who serve believers (see Matt 20:26).

4)     A man who really serves the Lord shall remember the Lord’s preeminence in all things (see Col. 1:18). Any believer cannot overstep the position of Christ in the church.


3John. 10Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.

YLT: “because of this, if I may come, I will cause him to remember his works that he doth, with evil words prating against us; and not content with these, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and those intending he doth forbid, and out of the assembly he doth cast.”

Meaning of Words: come”: approach; call to mind”: recall, mention; deeds”: works; “prate against”: rant against; “malicious”: bad, evil, wicked; “content”: satisfied; “wish”: desire; “forbid”: hinder, prevent, withstand; “put … out of”: dispel, sent out, remove;

Literal Meaning: “therefore, if I come”, it suggests that the apostle John intended to visit this local church in person, so he wrote this epistle to pave the way.

“I will call to mind his deeds which he does”, the tone of the apostle John in this epistle is not as direct as that in the First and Second Epistles of John. In the first two epistles he judged “the antichrist” (see 1John 2:18; 2John v.7), “those who try to deceive you” (see 1John 2:26), “the children of the devil” (see 1John 3:10), “the spirit of error” (see 1John 4:6), “deceiver” (see 2John v.7) directly and clearly. Therefore, it was inferred that Diotrephes was not a heretical false teacher or one of their fellows.

“Prating against us with malicious words”, condemn others by false words; “prate against”: it shows that the word of accusation make no sense. However, it was a pity that there were always believers in the history that liked to hear senseless word and believed it.

 “And forbids those who wish to”: take abnormally heavy actions in the church;

“Putting them out of the church”, this was a kind of despotic action that ran counter to the nature of the New Testament.

There are four faults of Diotrephes: 1) prate against the apostle and his fellow-workers with malicious words; 2) do not receive the apostle and his fellow-workers; 3) forbid those who wish to receive them; 4) put those who receive the saints out of the church;

The apostle John appeared to be an experienced and mature elder in the dealing with things of Diotrephes: 1) he did not ask Gaius to prevent the despotism of Diotrephes, for it would cause divisions in the church; 2) he only encouraged Gaius to do what he had to do in the church and play a positive role in the church and fulfill the role of balance. 3) He purposed to let Gaius realize the present situation and stand firm until he himself came; 4) he mentioned fact only and did not pay evil by evil words.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)     If any individual or several men have exercised the authority beyond the sphere of the truth, it must destroy the healthy church life and will become a cancer of the body of Christ.

2)     Christians should be careful and not flippantly believe the “evil words” or “good words”, for many are senseless words.

3)     There is not a believer in the world who keeps identical views upon the truth and the church with another one. Therefore, let us honor and allow the liberty of everyone’s understanding of the truth, except for the fundamental truth ---- the Holy Trinity and the truth of salvation (see Rom. 14:1-6).

4)     The chastisement of the church is not a weapon for the dictator in the church to protect himself, but the final means that the church has to adopt to maintain the nature of the churches’ holiness without leaven (see 1Cor. 5:6-13). No leading character in the church can abuse the authority of “putting someone out of the church”.

5)     The heresies like to condemn Christians who keep different views from them or divide men according to their own purposes. They accept or refuse according to their “narrow views” rather than the truth of faith in the Bible.


3John. 11Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.

YLT: “Beloved, be not thou following that which is evil, but that which is good; he who is doing good, of God he is, and he who is doing evil hath not seen God;”

Meaning of Words: imitate”: follow; evil”: corrupted, wicked; “see”: gaze, behold, see with discernment;  

Literal Meaning: “beloved, do not imitate what is evil”, “imitate”: take a man or a thing as an ideal model and follow; “what is evil”, here it refers to things that Diotrephes had done (see v.10);

“But what is good”, “what is good” refers to the good testimony of Demetrius (see v.12). 

“He who does good is of God”, “of God”: be out of God and thus of God;

“But he who does evil has not seen God”, “has not seen God”: do not know God (see 1John 3:6).

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)     God is the source of all good (see Matt. 19:17). Everyone who always does good is motivated by God, so he is out of God and of God.

2)     He who has seen God must know God dislikes man to do evil. Therefore, he who does evil has not seen God.

3)     Man’s habitual good works show his relation with God is good. Contrarily, man’s constant evil works show he lies under the wicked one (see 1John 5:19).


3John. 12Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true.

YLT: “to Demetrius testimony hath been given by all, and by the truth itself, and we also -- we do testify, and ye have known that our testimony is true.”

Meaning of Words: has … a testimony”: bear witness; true”: real, honest;

Literal Meaning: “Demetrius has a good testimony from all”, “has a good testimony”: keep in mind and serve others in love (see Heb. 10:24; Gal. 5:13); “all”: believers in the church; “has a good testimony”: be praised and approved;

“And from the truth itself”, it indicates that all his works are according to the truth (see v.3-4; 1John 3:18-19). In other words, he keeps the truth and obeys the word of God, so the word of God itself (the truth) bears witness concerning him.

  “And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true”, “we”: the apostle John and his fellow workers and even believers who are with the apostle John;

  This verse is to introduce Demetrius to Gaius. It was said that Demetrius was a fellow-worker in the place where the apostle John was and was entrusted to bring this epistle to Gaius.

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)     We have never seen God, but we can see His works on other believers who have good testimonies so that we will be encouraged.

2)     It is dangerous when all the people ---- no matter those who are saved or not saved, good or bad ---- say you are good, for it means compromise and hypocrisy. However, it is good when all believers that love the Lord in the church approve your life and testimony.

3)     Man’s testimony is not totally true. However, if there is still the testimony of the truth, that will be the testimony of both God and men. Surely, it is true.

4)     F.B. Hole said, “Note that here it is not he bears witness of the truth, but the truth bears witness of him. No one can be the standard of trying the truth, but truth is the standard of evaluating believers.” If our works are worthy of the standard of the truth after the evaluation of the truth, the truth will bear witness of us.


3John. 13I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink;

YLT: “Many things I had to write, but I do not wish through ink and pen to write to thee,”

Meaning of Words: have”: possess; “many”: abundant, a lot of; “wish”: desire;

Literal Meaning: “I had many things to write”, it is not sufficient to write all things in this short epistle.

  “But I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink”, it suggests it was better to speak face to face to deal with the troublesome things as the case of Diotrephes (see v.14).


3John. 14 but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face.

YLT: “and I hope straightway to see thee, and mouth to mouth we shall speak.”

Meaning of Words: hope”: expect; shortly”: soon, immediately; face to face”: mouth to mouth; speak”: talk; 

Literal Meaning: please read the commentary of the Second Epistle of John, verse 12.


3John. 15Peace to you. Our friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.

YLT: “Peace to thee! salute thee do the friends; be saluting the friends by name.”

Meaning of Words: peace”: rest, harmony; friends”: beloved ones;greet”: salute;

Literal Meaning: “peace to you. Our friends greet you”. “Our friends” refer to the fellow-workers and believers who are with the writer; “peace to you”: it is a personal greeting; “our friends greet you”: it is a corporate greeting;

“Greet the friends by name”, “by name”: some individual believers; “the friends”: the fellow-workers and believers who are with Gaius;

Enlightenment in the Word:

1)     There personal and corporate relations of believers with the brethren in the church. Let us have both sense of belonging toward the whole church as well as friendship with individual believers.

2)     Dictators in the church will have fewer and fewer friends. However, he who walks according to the truth will have more and more friends with whom they can share the love of Christ.


III. Outlines of the Spiritual Lessons


Relations between the Truth and Believers

A.  Love in truth (v.1);

B.  Truth that is in believers (v.3a);

C.  Walk in truth (v.3b, 4);

D.  Work for the truth (v.8);

E.  Truth bears witness to believers (v.12);


Two “As ”s

A.  Prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (v.2) ---- consistency between what is inside and outside;

B.  The truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth (v.3) ---- consistency between knowledge and conversation;


Do Not Imitate What is Evil But What is Good

A.  Do good:

1.  What Gaius has done:

a.Walk in truth (v.3-4);

b.Do faithful for the brethren and for strangers ---- receive in love (v.5-6);

c.  Be fellow-workers for the truth (v.7-8);

2.  He who does good is of God and has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself (v.11-12).

B.  Do evil:

1.  Things done by Diotrephes (v.9-10):

a.Who loves to have the preeminence in the church;

b.Who himself does not receive the brethren and forbids those who wish to;

c.  Who prates against the servants of God with malicious words and puts those who receive brothers out of the church;

2.  He who does evil has not seen God (v.11);


Three Kinds of Testimonies

A.  The testimony of the truth ---- when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you (v.3);

B.  The testimony of love ---- they have borne witness of your love before the church (v.6);

C.  The testimony of good works ---- (v.12);

1. Have a good testimony from all;

2. And from the truth itself;

3. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true;


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

   Translated by Mary Zhou