GAIUS and other Christians in the late first century faced challenges. Individuals who were spreading false teachings tried to weaken and divide congregations. (1 John 2:18, 19; 2 John 7) A man named Diotrephes was spreading “malicious talk” about the apostle John and others, was refusing to extend hospitality to traveling Christians, and was trying to persuade others to follow his example. (3 John 9, 10) That was the situation when John wrote to Gaius. The apostle’s letter, written about 98 C.E., appears in the Christian Greek Scriptures as “The Third of John.”
Despite the challenges he faced, Gaius continued to serve Jehovah faithfully. How did he show his faithfulness? Why do we want to imitate Gaius’ example today? How can John’s letter help us to do so?
A LETTER TO A CHERISHED FRIEND
The writer of Third John calls himself “the older man.” That was enough for his beloved spiritual child Gaius to recognize him as the apostle John. John warmly addressed Gaius as “the beloved, whom I truly love.” Then John expressed his hope that the physical health of Gaius was as good as his spiritual health. What a fine sentiment and beautiful compliment!—3 John 1, 2, 4.
Gaius might well have been a congregation overseer, but the letter does not specifically say so. John praised Gaius for hosting the brothers even though they were strangers to him. John considered this to be proof of Gaius’ faithfulness, since showing hospitality has always distinguished God’s servants.—Gen. 18:1-8; 1 Tim. 3:2; 3 John 5.
John’s words of appreciation for the hospitality that Gaius showed to the brothers indicate that Christians regularly traveled between the apostle John’s location and the congregations, and these travelers evidently told John about what they had encountered. Perhaps it was by this means that John received news about these congregations.
Traveling Christians would certainly want to stay with fellow believers. Inns had terrible reputations, offered bad service, and were dens of immoral conduct. Where possible, therefore, wise travelers stayed with friends; traveling Christians with Christian hosts.
“IN BEHALF OF HIS NAME . . . THEY WENT OUT”
John encouraged Gaius to show hospitality again, for the apostle asked him to “send [the travelers] on their way in a manner worthy of God.” In this case, sending guests on their way meant meeting their needs for the next leg of the journey and supplying them with everything required until they arrived at their destination. It was evident that Gaius had already done this for his previous guests, since they had brought John a report of their host’s love and faith.—3 John 3, 6.
The guests may have been missionaries, John’s envoys, or traveling overseers. Whatever the case, they traveled for the sake of the good news. John said: “It was in behalf of his name that they went out.” (3 John 7) John had just referred to God (see verse 6), so the expression “in behalf of his name” appears to refer to Jehovah’s name. Hence, the brothers were part of the Christian congregation and deserved a warm reception. It is as John wrote: “We are under obligation to show hospitality to such ones, so that we may become fellow workers in the truth.”—3 John 8.
HELP WITH A TRIALSOME SITUATION
John’s reason for writing to Gaius was not just to thank him. John also wanted to help him deal with a serious problem. For some reason, a member of the Christian congregation named Diotrephes was not willing to show hospitality to traveling Christians. He even tried to hinder others from showing hospitality.—3 John 9, 10.
No doubt, faithful Christians would not have wanted to stay with Diotrephes even if that were possible. He liked to have the first place in the congregation, he received nothing from John with respect, and he was spreading malicious talk about the apostle and others. Although John never called him a false teacher, Diotrephes was resisting the apostle’s authority. Diotrephes’ desire for prominence and his unchristian attitude called into question his loyalty. The case of Diotrephes illustrates the divisive influence that ambitious and arrogant individuals may try to exert in a congregation. John therefore told Gaius and, by extension, each of us: “Do not imitate what is bad.”—3 John 11.
AN EXCELLENT REASON TO DO GOOD
Unlike Diotrephes, a Christian named Demetrius is mentioned by John as a good example. “Demetrius has been well-reported-on . . . In fact, we too are bearing witness about him,” wrote John, “and you know that the witness we give is true.” (3 John 12) It may have been that Demetrius needed Gaius’ assistance, and Third John may have served as the apostle’s letter of introduction and recommendation. Demetrius himself may well have delivered the letter to Gaius. As one of John’s envoys, or perhaps a traveling overseer, Demetrius likely reinforced what John had written.
Why did John urge Gaius to continue showing hospitality when he was already doing so? Did John see the need to bolster Gaius’ courage? Was the apostle worried that Gaius might hesitate because Diotrephes was attempting to throw hospitable Christians out of the congregation? Whatever the case, John reassured Gaius by saying: “The one who does good originates with God.” (3 John 11) That is an excellent reason to do good and to keep on doing so.
Did John’s letter motivate Gaius to continue being hospitable? The fact that Third John was preserved in the Bible canon and was passed on to encourage others to “imitate what is good” suggests that it did.
LESSONS FROM THIRD JOHN
No more is known about our dear brother of old, Gaius. Nevertheless, this brief glimpse into his life can teach us a number of lessons.
First, to some extent, most of us owe our knowledge of the truth to faithful ones who were willing to travel in order to make it known to us. Of course, not all members of the present-day Christian congregation travel great distances for the sake of the good news. However, like Gaius, we can in some way support and encourage those who do travel, such as the circuit overseer and his wife. Or we may be able to give practical support to brothers and sisters who move to areas within the country, or even abroad, to serve where the need for Kingdom publishers is greater. So let us “follow the course of hospitality.”—Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 5:9, 10.
Second, we should not be surprised if on rare occasions challenges to authority arise in the congregations today. John’s authority was challenged; so was that of the apostle Paul. (2 Cor. 10:7-12; 12:11-13) How, then, should we react if we encounter similar difficulties from some within the congregation? Paul advised Timothy: “A slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, showing restraint when wronged, instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed.” When we maintain a mild temper even when provoked, some critical individuals may gradually be moved to adjust their disposition. In turn, Jehovah “may give them repentance leading to an accurate knowledge of truth.”—2 Tim. 2:24, 25.
Third, fellow Christians who serve Jehovah loyally despite opposition need to be acknowledged and warmly commended for their faithful course. The apostle John surely encouraged Gaius and reassured him that he was doing what was right. Likewise, elders today should follow John’s example by encouraging their brothers and sisters so that they will “not grow weary.”—Isa. 40:31; 1 Thess. 5:11.
With only 219 words in its Greek text, the letter from the apostle John to Gaius is the shortest book in the Bible. Yet, it truly is of great value to Christians today.