Series: Best Book In the BibleEvery Christian knows the importance of reading their Bible, but many are overwhelmed with the task of devouring such a monstrous book! Often times, when Christians lose steam in their yearly reading plans, they can become frustrated and feel defeated. It is for this reason that individual book studies can be a lifesaver. In the Best Book in the Bible series, we will provide entry points into faithful study through “selling” you on why you should fall in love with the various books of the Bible.
There exists a misconception that love and truthfulness cannot coexist. If one is being painfully honest, love is absent; when one loves others, there is a tendency to bear with others and gloss over bigger issues. However, the essence of love is honesty. In fact, a lack of truth is evidence of a lack of love. The apostle Paul exhorts the church to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), as the two must work together as close friends. In John’s third letter, he continues to maintain his fervent love for the church, all the while, calling out a savage threat which threatens to undermine authority, destroy unity, and extinguish genuine love within the body. For those who seek to understand the essential balance between truth and love, 3 John just may be the best book in the Bible.
Main Theme: Walking in Truth & Love
“I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” (3 John 4)
Third John is the shortest New Testament book and can be read very quickly. Often times, its brevity lends itself to the wrong assumption that it is insignificant. In this letter, the apostle John deals with a very real threat to the church, and exhorts her to maintain truth and love.
(1-8). John introduces himself as “the elder” in verse 1 and addresses the letter to a man named Gaius who is likely a pastor “whom [he] loves in truth.” John has heard word from this pastor that the church is doing well, and that the believers are “walking (a.k.a. living) in truth” (v. 3). They are devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and are maintaining a fervent love for Christ based on His revealed word (see John 17:17).
Additionally, John addresses some missionaries who are passing through and exhorts the church for their love and care of these ministers. Even though these men are relatively unknown to them personally, John affirms that they are “fellow workers with the truth” (v. 8) and encourages the church to support them financially.
(9-12). John quickly shifts his focus away from the faithful ministers and toward an abusive man named Diotrephes. From what we can tell, Diotrephes was either an elder or a man acting as an elder, but we very quickly see that he is not qualified for church leadership. In verses 9-10, we learn seven things about him. 1) he’s self-willed, 2) he’s stubborn and rebellious, 3) he’s unjust and accusatory, 4) he’s impossible to please, 5) he’s inhospitable, 6) he’s divisive, and 7) he’s aggressive, legalistic, and unforgiving. A cursory look at the elder qualifications outlined in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 reveals that Diotrephes is disqualified on many counts.
It’s implied that John is rejecting Diotrephes and commands the church not to “imitate what is evil, but what is good” (v. 11). In other words, “Don’t be like Diotrephes”, as he is a man “who does evil [and therefore] has not seen God” (v. 11b). It’s understood that you cannot conduct yourself in an evil manner and claim to know God. Wicked deeds do not indicate a righteous heart (see Titus 1:15-16).
(12-14). In juxtaposition to the wicked Diotrephes, John points to another man named Demetrius, who has “received a good testimony from everyone and from the truth itself” (v. 12). The picture is clear: imitate men like Demetrius, and reject wicked men like Diotrephes. By contrasting these two men, John is not being unloving, rather, he is warning the church of bad leaders (see Rom. 16:17), and exhorting them to follow good leaders.
The conclusion of the letter points to the fact that John has intended to be brief, dealing very quickly and tersely with the issues at hand, but desires to discuss the matter is greater detail when they can all “speak face to face” (v. 14). Even in the last lines, we see John’s absolute love for the brethren, calling them his “friends.”
What Makes This Book So Great:
Third John is short enough to be read, memorized, studied, and analyzed in-depth. Further, it serves as a model of how to walk the delicate line between love and encouragement; warning and rebuke (see Titus 1:9). Elders have a paramount responsibility to become well-versed on both disciplines. An elder who only exhorts and never corrects is cowardly and unloving, while an elder who only rebukes is harsh and oppressive. But John, as “the elder”—the last living apostle at this time—demonstrates the wisdom and shepherd care that he learned from the Chief Shepherd.
As with all other shorter books, be sure to read it repeatedly and thoroughly. John’s epistles are best read when read together, but do not underestimate the gold nuggets of wisdom that can be mined from faithful study. After devoting yourself to learning this book well, you will surprise yourself with how often you’ll draw from it in the future!
- John MacArthur, 1—3 John. Chicago: Moody, 2007.
A verse-by-verse commentary that is helpful for any thinking student.
- John R.W. Stott, The Letters of John. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity, 1988.
A helpful scholarly treatment from a faithful Bible teacher.
- Robert W. Yarbrough, 1, 2, and 3 John. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008.
A high-level exegetical study in a top-notch series.
Note: Find the rest of the Best Book in the Bible series here: EntreatingFavor.com/BestBookSeries.