3 John (day 1166) 11 March 2013
1-4: The letter is addressed to an influential member of a congregation, location unknown, whose name is Gaius. This was during the time in the early church when much of the authority was still vested with the original apostles, but was beginning more and more to be exercised through traveling preachers sent by them to the various congregations. Sometimes there were disputes between the traveling preachers and the local leaders, and we will find that is the case here. 3 John was written for two reasons: 1) to solicit financial and other support from an influential local church member; and 2) to challenge the authority of someone on the local scene – one Diotrephes.
5-8: First, the fund-raising spiel. Gaius has been a valuable source for covering the expenses of the traveling preachers (here referred to as the “brothers” or, in some translations, “friends”), and John commends him for it and urges him to continue helping out. After all, they get no support from non-believers, and providing for them makes one a partner in the important work they do. Fund raising spiels haven’t changed all that much.
9-10: Diotrephes, obviously an official of some standing in the congregation to which John is writing, refuses to accept John’s authority, refuses to receive the traveling preachers John sends out and, what’s more, kicks those who do out of the church. John threatens to come there himself.
11-12: John entreats Gaius to imitate good people, not evil people. Demetrius, most likely one of the traveling preachers John has sent to them, is good people. He is nudging Gaius towards renouncing support for Diotrephes in favor of Demetrius.
13-14: He tells Gaius that he would like to come and speak to him in person, so cuts his letter short. It is hard to read this without seeing in it just a bit of a threat to Diotrephes.
15: The letter ends with the usual exchange of greetings, but we have to wonder if by “brothers” here (“friends” in the NRSV) he might still be referring to his beleaguered itinerant preachers.