2 Reasons to Preach through 3 John
The book of 3 John is only fifteen verses long; it contains a grand total of 296 words. That would barely qualify as a chapter in many books of the Bible. But for those who have spent time digging into this most personal of letters, it becomes clear that there’s a lot more here than first meets the eye. So pastors should preach through it for at least two reasons. But before I mention those, I want to list some wrong reasons.
TWO WRONG REASONS
First, you don’t preach 3 John because it lays the foundation for the prosperity gospel.
False teachers love to twist and misuse John’s greeting to Gaius: “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” John does not suggest that the gospel promises health, wealth, and every kind of prosperity. Of course, the apostle John certainly desired the best for others—Gaius included. But his epistles make it clear that the greatest prosperity is to walk in the truth (3 John 4). The great promise of the gospel is not necessarily physical and material fitness in this life, but spiritual fitness and the promise of victory in the life to come.
Here’s another reason not to preach 3 John: because of church members who are abusing their power. Diotrephes was such a church member, but John doesn’t write to attack troublemakers. In fact, the presence of people like Diotrephes affects much more than the pastor’s peace of mind. Rather, John is concerned about how the church treats those sent with the gospel. Put simply, 3 John is about how the local church should treat missionaries.
Which leads me to two right reasons you should preach through 3 John.
TWO RIGHT REASONS
1. You should preach 3 John because God’s mission matters—and not everyone gets this.
One might summarize the theme of 3 John under the heading, “Beauties and the Beast.” After all, the main characters—Gaius, some unnamed missionaries/evangelists (vv. 2–8), and Demetrious (v. 12)—are the kind of church members we would all love to have. Their testimony is beautiful.
But then there’s Diotrephes. This guy sought preeminence; he was blind to God’s beauty and stood in the way of those who wanted to spread the gospel. A real beast, we might say. For he tried to hinder the mission of the local church.
Our local churches need to be reminded of the priority of making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ among the nations (Matt 28:19–20). 3 John provides us with a clear example of those who prioritized God’s mission: both those who were “sent out” to do this mission (the unnamed “brothers” and “Demetrius”) and those who “stayed at home” (Gaius and his local church) and materially supported them in their ministry.
John was so blessed by this church’s commitment to God’s mission that he penned a letter to encourage them. This short little book wonderfully expounds on the necessity of opening our lives and our wallets to invest in God’s mission.
Clearly, Diotrephes had “lost the plot.” His desire “to put himself first” is also a frequent problem in our churches. Though perhaps we are not as brazen, many of us also lose the plot of God’s story. Our own pursuits take precedence over God’s purpose: the spread of his fame through Jesus whose Name is preeminent above all names (Acts 4:12).
2. You should preach 3 John because God’s missionaries matter—and not everyone gets this.
A missionary is someone sent by the local church to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ cross-culturally. It would seem that these “strangers” (v. 5) were such. They were faithful with the gospel; they came with the commendation of their local church. Though Gaius and his fellow church members did not know them, they did know their message, their mission, and their Master. In the eyes of Gaius and his local church, these faithful missionaries mattered. They were important to God’s mission and that was enough to justify extending practical hospitality to them. So they supported them in a manner “worthy of God.”
These days, missions and missionaries are sometimes relegated as secondary. Churches might give money, but it’s rare that the whole church knows them well. Thankfully, 3 John pushes against this tendency. Local churches must lovingly, sacrificially, and practically partner with their missionaries. But 3 John also comes with a warning: churches should partner with not just any missionaries, but those who have been commended by their local church.
Unlike Diotrephes, Demetrius was such an individual (v. 12). This commendation encouraged Gaius and his church to partner with him. Our churches need to affirm this vital principle. Not every “missionary” is worth our partnership. For this reason, 3 John provides a wonderful opportunity to instruct our local church on what God expects of those sent on his mission.
Some books that I have found helpful in my study of 3 John:
- Epistles of John, by John Stott (Tyndale New Testament Series)
- The Message of John’s Letters, by David Jackman (The Bible Speaks Today)
- 1, 2, 3 John, by Michael Eaton (Focus on the Bible)
- The Epistles of John, by FF Bruce (Eerdmans)
- Missions, by Andy Johnson (Especially chapter 3)