John’s final Epistle where he referred to himself as ‘the elder’ was addressed to his ‘beloved Gaius.’ In it, he mentioned three individuals: Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius. The Apostle’s greeting to Gaius “… I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers” is quite unlike the salutations or enquiry we normally extend to each other. He commended Gaius’ on his spiritual wellbeing and ensuing good health, a significant reversal, whereas, we would typically pray for the welfare of each other and then sought God’s strengthening for their fortitude. Furthermore, John expressed his joy at receiving news from others of Gaius’ faithfulness to the gospel. The particular accolade referred to his specific warm hospitality towards ‘strangers’ who were itinerant teachers and preachers travelling from congregation to congregation ‘for the sake of the Name’ (3 John 5-8). Today, we would call them missionaries. Gaius treated them as though God would Himself despite not knowing them personally nor being aware of their reputations.
John’s comments on Gaius contrasted broadly with those attributed to Diotrephes, ‘who loves to be first among them’ (3 John 9-11). Although information on Diotrephes is lacking, an assumption is that the latter was one of those roving preachers during the first century. He was an oppositionist to the teachings of the Apostles at Jerusalem, having a self-egregious reputation and dividing congregations wherever he ministered. A person’s character and particularly his flaws are usually revealed in the way he wields power, and there is a very thin line where the defence of the truth spills over into personal self-justification where it becomes a subjective adherence to truth rather than objective pursuance of doctrinal orthodoxy. Often, its viciousness is furthered by prejudicial decision-making in the exclusion of faithful brethren from the assembly. John assured them that when he next visits them, he will handle Diotrephes himself and set the record straight (c.f., 1Cor 5). There is a wide gulf between how power and authority are generally exercised in our world and within the Christian community (c.f., Matt 20:20-28); Jesus provided a model of how He discharged His authority. Although all authority in heaven and on earth is centred in Him, He came to serve and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45); leaders ought to lay down their lives for those they serve. It was always other-centred in His case. In Demetrius, John’s good testimonial of him was accompanied by an exhortation to be careful who we look up to and choose to follow. When we do, let it be someone who is not only well-spoken of by everyone, where his very being, his demeanour and behaviour, additionally speaks for themselves (viz., ‘a good testimony…from the truth itself’). Demetrius’ faithfulness in sharing the message of the gospel and his guilelessness are testimonies to his mission’s authenticity.
John’s ‘greater joy’ was to see his spiritual child, Gaius, still faithfully and with perseverance preaching the gospel (3John 4). Christian growth, irrespective of where they are occurring is a reason for rejoicing. What would be definitively revealing is that the object, issue, or person who becomes our greatest joys in life would reflect our unwitting values. It is certainly not to discount the joys of seeing our own children, or spiritual children for that matter, fervently pursuing Christ as we age, but it cannot be compared to personally knowing Christ Jesus. To be distracted by the many earthly blessings that come our way is to diminish the critical import of our lives in the shadow of the cross, etched indelibly into our thoughts and the focus in life this side of heaven.