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In 3 John, “The Elder” John writes another letter of roughly the same size as 2 John, both of which could have been written on a single sheet of papyrus. Although many read 2 John as a related, but independent letter, I really like Lenski’s take on the relationship of 2 John and 3 John:

Although this letter is called John’s third epistle because it is a trifle shorter than the second, the two letters were probably written on the same day and were sent to the same place, the second to the congregation, the third to one of the members. (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1966], 577.)

Lenski’s theory is that 1 John had been written as a general letter to combat the general problems in a particular church; then, the Apostle wrote 2 John and 3 John to confront a very specific problem, where a man named Diotrephes had been welcoming false teachers into their midst, while turning out faithful believers who opposed him or who merely wanted to welcome itinerant orthodox missionaries as they traveled through the area.

But that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves. More on Diotrephes later.

In 3 John 1:1-4, the Apostle writes:

[1:1] The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. [2] Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. [3] For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. [4] I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 John 1:1-4)

The first person we read of in this letter is Gaius, whom John loves in truth (cf. 2 John 1:1). Gaius is, in fact, the intended recipient of this letter, a man whom John relates to as a special friend and ally at this particular church. Moreover, we should not read over John’s prayer for Gaius’s health too quickly:

The contrast between Gaius’s physical and material condition, on the one hand, and his spiritual condition, on the other, was rather striking. His spiritual prosperity seems to have exceeded his material prosperity. Too often in that day, as well as this, just the reverse was true. (Donald Burdick, The letters of John the Apostle : an in-depth commentary [Chicago: Moody Press, 1985], 460-61.)

Gaius was faithful and beloved not only as a friend of John, but as a child of God. The Apostle is not offering a general wish for good health, but praying that God would raise his level of physical health to the level of his spiritual health.

Would I pray that prayer for myself?

Most importantly, John exclaims his great joy upon hearing that the children of Gaius are walking in the truth (cf. 2 John 1:4). Apparently, John had sent some of his own missionaries to this church, who reported back to John that Gaius had many faithful children who were “walking in the truth.”

This phrase extends the idea of truth beyond mere intellectual assent, but suggests that the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ had permeated every aspect of their lives. Their daily walk in their homes, jobs, recreations, etc., was marked by the full weight of the truth of the gospel.

And so John writes, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” At first, we might dismiss such a statement as hyperbole. Everyone has some greater joy than simply in hearing that people are living their lives according to the truth, right?

Not so with John. The Apostle is genuinely sold out to seeing people walk in the truth of the gospel. Nothing brings him more joy.

So, what is it about this situation that brings John such great joy?

John finds his greatest joy in seeing Jesus Christ glorified. When sinners repent from their sins, Jesus gets the glory. When repentant sinners embrace the truth for salvation, Jesus is made to look very good. When repentant believers begin to live differently, Jesus is proven to be worthy of all glory, honor and praise.

If you have no greater joy than seeing Jesus glorified, then your greatest thrills in life will come in seeing lives changed by the power of the Jesus’ gospel. Nothing more powerfully demonstrates how glorious our Savior genuinely is.

Post Series on 3 John:

  1. No Greater Joy (3 John 1:1-4)
  2. Missions For the Sake of the Name (3 John 1:5-8)
  3. Do Not Imitate Evil, but Imitate Good (3 John 1:9-12)

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