Welcome to the shortest book in the New Testament! This very traditional letter was addressed to “Gaius” which is a fairly common name and it is unlikely that we know much about him with any certainty. Whoever he is, he and John shared a warm relationship, mutually bound in Christian love (v 1,6). They are also bound by the truth (v 1, 3, 4, 8, 12).
The person carrying this letter to Gaius is possibly Demetrius. He would have arrived with a packet of at least two epistles and handed them to Gaius. When John wrote, “I have written something to the church” (v 9), Gaius would have understood it to be 2 John.
Third John is written to warn Gaius of Diotrephes, who opposes John (v 10) and who may cause problems when Second John is read to the church. If Diotrephes does in fact cause problems, Gaius is encouraged by John to take heart and stand his ground (v 11), for John will come quickly to sort things out (v 10, 14).
What we get out of this letter is not what we get out of most others. We do not gain any new insights about Jesus Christ or the Spirit. It isn’t likely that you will receive a card from someone where they would quote a verse from this letter. So, what do we get out of this letter?
This is a letter written from one seasoned minister to another. The reality, identity, and expectations of the God they both serve is not the issue. This is a note of encouragement written to a trusted and well-grounded coworker. There are times in ministry when there are potentially hard situations ahead and I’ve had ministers give me a call or write me a note of encouragement when I’ve gone through some of those times. It is encouraging to me that this same kind of encouragement happened then between those who are working in the faith. “I know this is going to be hard but stand firm in what is right.” It is always reassuring to know there are others standing with you when it seems so many are standing against you.
Third John also shows us potentially how some of this correspondence took place. I picture Demetrius handing Gaius Second John, telling him it is to read it to the church, and then handing him Third John and telling him it is addressed to him. Gaius is now prepared for the potential conflicts he might have with Diotrephes and knows that John is with him in this conflict and will be by his side soon.
Third John makes the early church come to life a little bit more for me. There isn’t a lot that is overly profound but what it does reveal about the early Church reminds me that we are part of something real that has been going on for two thousand years.