Tucked away in the farthest corner of your Bible is a little book called Third John. Though not nearly as famous as its predecessors – First John deals with grand themes of love while Second John deals with antiChrists – it nevertheless creates a snapshot of life in an early church and the dynamic personalities that compose it.
We dip into third John every once in a while to find fodder for sermons or to lambast people in the church that act (and sound) like Diotrephes, but we hardly ever take the time to give them each their proper due. All three personas that fit into the fifteen verses of Third John are unique, and at times, contradictory. It’s hard to imagine all of them occupying the same space, and yet, we see them so often in our churches today.
Who is Gaius?
Paul mentions a Gaius in 1 Corinthians, but according to tradition, John was mostly based out of Ephesus during the bulk of his post-Jesus ministry, even though he was banished to Patmos at the time of the writing of Revelation (Revelation 1:8). Still, Ephesus isn’t that far from Corinth, and neither are very far from Patmos, which makes it a remote, but possible, argument that they’re the same person.
What we do know about Gaius from Third John is that he was a man of unquestioned integrity. Indeed, not only does John testify of his truthfulness, but the brethren that came testified of it as well (3 John 3).
He was a man that loved the church. A man whose soul prospered spiritually, and whose physical health John prayed would match. Everything he put his hand to, he did so with faithfulness and character; in short, Gaius is exactly the type of member that any local church would be thrilled to receive.
But what set Gaius apart from others is his sincere love for those who it seems were engaged in spreading the Gospel. These are men who “went out for the sake of the Name”; men who made it their life’s work to preach. And apparently, this included both men that he knew, and strangers.
Whether these sentences allude to preachers specifically or just general hospitality is less of a concern, what matters is his general disposition to put others ahead of of himself. These are exactly the type of people that made up the early church (Acts 2:43-47). People like Tabitha who serve other people day and night (Acts 9:36-42).
Who is Diotrephes?
In contrast to Gaius’ hospitality, Diotrephes is a man who lived first and only for himself. His major crime, as outlined by John, is that he “does not accept what we [John] say.” He has zero faith in the Apostles to deliver the truth, so he pushes them to the side in favor of advancing his own cause.
Moreover, Diotrephes used the church to elevate himself, not the Gospel. He was the embodiment of Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 6:5 of people who “suppose that godliness is a means of great gain.” It is great gain, Paul admits, but only when it’s accompanied by contentment.
Diotrephes was not content. By all accounts, Diotrephes appears to be desperate for power, praise, and priority. He is the anti-Gaius, to put it simply. Where Gaius was hospitable, Diotrephes was selfish. Where Gaius encouraged other Christians (and possibly preachers), Diotrephes tried to silence them. Where Gaius walked in light, Diotrephes walked in darkness.
It’s no wonder then, that John says that he’s going to “call attention to his deeds.” Ironically, people like this love to move in anonymity (John 3:20), and the last thing they want is for someone to point out the true motivations behind their actions.
Perhaps speaking of the difference between Gaius and Diotrephes, John encourages his readers to “not imitate what is evil, but what is good.” In other words, in a world of Diotrepheses (Diotriphi?), be a Gaius.
Who is Demetrius?
With the obvious tension between the two conflicting personalities of Gaius and Diotrephes in the rear-view mirror, John turns his attention to one standout individual: Demetrius.
The name “Demetrius” actually appears earlier in Scripture. When Paul and his companions were in Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41), a silversmith named Demetrius stirred up the townspeople against him, claiming that Paul was trying to tear defame the goddess Artemis (he was, albeit indirectly by preaching about the One True God).
This is not that Demetrius. Whereas Paul’s Demetrius commands half a chapter’s worth of information for his evil antics, John’s Demetrius has one verse: “Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.” Everyone seems to be in agreement that Demetrius is a good man; high praise from an Apostle who was so close Goodness personified.
Demetrius is commonly thought to be the one that delivered this letter from John to Gaius; if so, that places him in an even more trustworthy position. It also should send shivers down Diotrephes’ spine, knowing that if Demetrius is here, John can’t be far behind.
Who Am I?
These personalities may be distinctive in their own way, but they’re by no means uncommon in churches today. Look around your local church: I’m sure you’ll find a Demetrius sitting in the pews next to you, and hopefully a Gaius or two. If you have a Diotrephes (or if you are one yourself), keep a close eye on their actions and don’t be afraid to expose him for what he is…in love, of course.
As one person has famously
The sake of the Gospel depends on it.Last modified: February 1, 2019