3 John Bible Study
A Survey

If you study the book of 3 John, you will find a book about fellowship.  It is actually the third part of a three book series about fellowship.  

  • 1 John is a book that addresses fellowship.  It is a book that lays the foundation of fellowship and tells us God’s conditions for accepting us into His fellowship.  God desires fellowship with you, but that fellowship is conditioned on our obedience and love.
  • 2 John is a book about accepting others into our fellowship.  There were some who were accepting fellowship from those whom God has not accepted.  
  • 3 John looks is about withholding fellowship.  There were some who were withdrawing fellowship from those whom God has accepted.  

The third epistle of John forces us to deal with questions that can be very challenging.  There are questions regarding those with whom we can and cannot have fellowship as it relates to teaching error, and they can be difficult to answer.  

Can we have fellowship with someone who is right on most issues but is in error on one of two specific doctrines?  Should we reject them as being unsound?  This is not theoretical, but real life situations, and these are questions that can make us feel very uncomfortable.  Maybe a 3 John Bible study will help us come to terms with the subject of fellowship.     


3 John Bible Study:  The Contextual Setting

Anytime we want to study a book of the Bible, we always want to consider what is said in light of the overall context of the book.  To get a grasp of the context, there are three questions that we need to ask.  The answer to these three question will help us with the contextual setting of 3 John.


Who Wrote 3 John?

In all probability, the author of 3 John was the same author who penned 1 John and 2 John.  When you study 3 John, you will find that it essentially has the same introduction as 2 John.  When you get down to the last verses, you will find that it essentially has the same conclusion as 2 John.  

You will also find that 3 John has the same theme as 1 John and 2 John.  1 John lays the foundation of fellowship.  2 John addresses those with whom we are not to fellowship.  3 John addresses those with whom we are to have fellowship.  There is a single theme that runs through all three of these epistles.  

The first verse of 3 John begins with, “The Elder.”  Just as we noted with 2 John, it is suggested that this is a reference to the apostle John when he was older.  I would suggest that it was written by the apostle John.


To Whom was 3 John Written?

We do not have a lot of information regarding those whom John addresses just as we don't know the audience of the second epistle.  Verse 1 begins with “The Elder.”  It then says, “To the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.”  Who is Gaius?  

There are four individuals in the New Testament named Gaius.  

  1. There was Gaius who was from Macedonia and traveled with Paul on his third missionary journey which we can read about in Acts 19.29.  
  2. There was Gaius who was from Derbe and also traveled with Paul which we can read about in Acts 20.4. 
  3. There was Gaius who housed the church in Rome.  (Rom. 16.23).  
  4. There was Gaius who was in Corinth whom Paul baptized.  (1 Cor. 1.14).

It could be one of these four individuals.  It could be someone else entirely, because Gaius was a very common name.  Gaius was the "John Smith" of that day.  Whoever it was, Gaius was someone who had a very special relationship with John.  John writes to this individual and calls him beloved.  He then writes, “whom I love in truth.”  This was someone whom John cared for deeply.


Why was 3 John Written?

To answer this question, we look for key words and verses that we might identify as capturing the theme of the book.  The theme would be found in verse 10:

3 John 10:  "Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. 

The key word of this epistle is “receive.”   This is a book about an individual who would refuse fellowship with certain brethren, and John writes to Gaius and tells him not to be like that.  You cannot withhold your fellowship from those that God has accepted.  This is a book that suggests that we do not have the right to withhold fellowship with those with whom we are obligated to fellowship.

Many in the world believe we ought to fellowship with those God does not fellowship.  There are also some in the Lord’s church who believe we ought not to fellowship with those God does fellowship.

Who are those we are to fellowship, that is, to recognize as our fellow brethren in Christ?  That is not a question that we are to answer based on our own conditions.   We are not to answer that question by making a list of issues and deciding that we will only fellowship those who agree with us on these issues.  We are not to answer that question by only having fellowship with those with whom we feel comfortable.  We are not to answer that question by only having fellowship with those who have treated us right.  

We are to answer that question by looking into the Bible and seeing who it is that God fellowships.  We are not to draw lines of fellowship.  God does.  We are to have fellowship with those whom God has fellowship.  That means we have to go through the Bible and see the one’s whom God has fellowship, and those are the ones with whom we are to have fellowship.  We do not have the right to withhold fellowship from those God has received. 

3 John is a letter which says that God has welcomed into His heart and into His family these individuals, and we are to recognize them as members of God’s family.  We are only to fellowship those whom God has welcomed into His family.  When God looks on an individual and says that this is one of His people, we are to have fellowship with them.  That’s what 3 John is about.  It is about recognizing those with whom we are to have fellowship.


3 John Bible Study:  Breaking Down the Text

As we study the book of 3 John, let’s break down the text.  We’ll go through 3 John verse by verse to really see what John is saying.  As we break down the text, you will see that there are three major sections.  There is the introduction, the body, and then the conclusion.  Let’s first of all look at the introduction.  


The Introduction of 3 John

3 John 1,2:  “The Elder, To the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth:  Beloved, I pray  that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”

Notice the words “love” and “truth” which are also found frequently in the 1 and 2 epistles of John.  There is a balance between love and truth in John's writings.  

  • John writes about love, this affection that we are to have for one another.  But this love is guided by truth, the embodiment of the word of God  (John 17.17).
  • John writes about truth, the word of God.  But this truth is not to be cold and calculated.  It is to be seasoned by our affection.

This same thought is found in Ephesians 4.15, where we are told speak the truth in love.  We are to speak the truth.  What we say is to be according to what the Bible says  (1 Pet. 4.11).  If we speak, we are to speak as of the oracles of God.  But when we speak the truth, it is to be spoken out of love.  We are not to speak out of a heart of pride and arrogance.  We are not to speak about of a hatred of condemnation.  We speak the truth, but we are always to do so out of love.  That’s the balance that we find in 3 John.  


The Body of 3 John

The body of the book of 3 John can be divided into two major sections.  In the first section, you will read words of commendation.  In the second section, you will read words of caution.

Words of Commendation

3 John 3,4:  "“For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth.  I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”

This is very emphatic.  The truth was in him, and he was in the truth.  The truth was saturating his life.  It was oozing out of his pores.  Every decision that he made was based on what the Bible teaches.  Every word that he spoke was within the realm of the truth.  Every thought that he had was guided by the truth.  To say that the entirety of someone’s life is completely enveloped in the truth is to give them high praise.  That is what John is doing.

He is writing about "my children" who were walking in truth.  John was so happy to know that the ones that he had converted are living faithfully.  In 3 John, he is referring to the ones that he had converted.

Do you have people you have converted?  Do you have in mind individuals you intend on approaching with the gospel?  Have you talked to anyone about the gospel?  Friends?  Family?  Co-workers?  


3 John 5:  “Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers”  

What Gaius did for brethren and for strangers?  In what way did he serve them?  We don’t know, but we know that whatever he did, he did it faithfully.

Now we start seeing John develop the main theme of the book.  We are about to read in this commendation how Gaius is commended for receiving the brethren and sending them off wishing them Godspeed.  The first section of 3 John is a commendation to Gaius for receiving the brethren.

3 John 6,7:  “who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles.”

He received them, and is then told to send them out on their journey.  If he does, he would do well.  Why?  Because he was sending them off to do the Lord's work.  They didn’t go to the Gentiles (non-believer) to get help on their journey.  They’re out there sharing the gospel, helping those in need, doing the Lord’s work, and they made a stop at Gaius' home.  They came to him.  So now he was to give them the things they need, and bid them well.  

3 John 8:  “We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth.”  

The word “receive” is the Greek word “apolambano.”  

  • The root word is Lambano, and that means, “to take.”  
  • It is prefixed by the word “apo” meaning away from.  

The word carries the idea of taking someone away from the hostility of their environment, and providing for their needs.  It is the idea of hospitality.

If someone is out there doing the work of the Lord, and in their travels, they happen to come our way, it says that we out to show hospitality to them, help them in whatever needs they may have.  If you show hospitality to these individuals, you become fellow workers.

The words "fellow workers" is from the Greek word "sunergos."

  • Ergos, like ergonomics, is the word that means "work."
  • Sun is the word that means "together."  
  • Put them together and you have "sunergo" whcih means "working together."

If you help with the needs of those who are out there doing the Lord’s work, you become workers together with them.  They are out their working, and it is as if we are out there side by side working with them.  We need to receive them, support them in their work, so that we can have fellowship with them.

This first section of the body of 3 John commends Gaius for how much he is helping these brethren who are coming to him for help.  He says, we ought to have fellowship with them.  


Words of Caution

In verses 3-8, John commends Gaius for receiving the brethren and encourages him to keep receiving them.  In the next section of 3 John, the apostle John warns Gaius that there are some who are not being receptive.

In verses 9-12, there are two examples that are given.  In these two examples, there is one who is doing things wrong.  He is not accepting into the fellowship those he should.  But there is another who is doing right.  He was extending the hand of fellowship to these brethren, and he is commended for it.


1.  The Example of Diotrephes.

3 John 9:  "I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.”  

The first name that is mentioned is Diotrephes.  He is described as someone who loves to have the preeminence.  

The phrase “loves to have the preeminence” is actually translated from a single Greek word, and that word is “philoproteuo”.  It’s actually a compound word.  

  • The first one is “phileo” which is the word for the love of a friend. 
  • The second word is “protos,” and that’s the Greek word for “first.”  
  • Together, the word literally means, Friendship with being first.

Diotrephes is described as someone who was friendly to the idea of being first in the church.  He wanted to be in authority in the church.  Nothing happened in the church unless he approved it.  Because he wanted to be in charge, John writes that he did not receive us.  

The word “receive” is a different word that what if used in verse 8.  The word “receive” in the previous verse is the idea of supporting and showing hospitality.  The word in verse 9 is an entirely different word.  It is the word “epidechomai.”

  • It’s “dechomai” meaning “to accept.”  
  • I has as a prefix, the word “epi” meaning “over.”

It’s the idea of welcoming someone go comes over to where you are.  Diotrephes did not do that.  He did not welcome them and accept them as part of the family of God.

3 John 10:  “Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.”

Not only did Diotrephes refuse to recognize John as part of God’s family, but he did not recognize other brethren as well.  

The word "putting out" in verse 10 is from the Greek words that mean literally, "throw out."  There were some who wanted to fellowship with John and other brethren, and Diotrephes threw them out of the church.

Here is a man named Diotrephes who loved the idea of being in charge, and he wouldn't accept John into the fellowship, and he won’t accept other brethren into the fellowship, and if anyone wanted to accept John or the brethren, he would throw them out.

Diotrephes refused to recognize as part of God’s family those whom God recognizes.  He did not fellowship those with whom God fellowships.

3 John 11:  “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.” 

Those who want to withhold fellowship from those that God does not withhold fellowship are called evil.  We are not to imitate the evil that is exemplified in Diotrephes.  Those who set themselves up as judge and determine which congregations are faithful and which ones are not, need to read these verses.  

If you refuse to fellowship with someone whom God fellowships, then you are engaging in what is evil.  Don’t follow evil in the example of Diotrephes, but follow the example of someone who is doing good.  What example would that be?  


2.  The Example of Demetrius

3 John 12:  “Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true.” 

There are those who will say that Demetrius is a good man.  Actually, there are three who testify.

  1. He has the good testimony from the brethren.  
  2. He has a good testimony from the truth itself.  You can go to your Bible and read about what it means to be a good person, and Demetrius fits that description.
  3. He also has the testimony of the apostle John.  John says that you know that his testimony is true.  


The Conclusion

3 John 13,14:  “I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face.  Peace to you.  Our friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.”  


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