The Third Epistle of John

The Third Epistle of John

A Transcript of James Battell’s Verse-By-Verse King James Bible Study

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Okay, please open your Bibles to 3rd John, 3rd John. And like I said yesterday, 1st John, 2nd John, 3rd John, according to tradition, were written late in the life of the apostle John. And we are told that he was in his eighties, perhaps even older, when he wrote these epistles. And he was held at the pleasure of Domitian, a very cruel emperor, and during his time in exile he would pen the three I’s (John 1, 2 and 3), Revelation and the Gospel of John.

That’s what we are told as far as tradition is concerned. But I just wonder, and I mentioned this yesterday, if 1st John, 2nd John and 3rd John were written earlier. And I just wonder if these epistles were written anywhere up until probably Acts 15.

And I base that on the way that he speaks about the law, transgression. It almost mirrors what Peter was preaching throughout the first several chapters of Acts of the Apostles. And it almost feels, to me anyway, that this is pre-Paul’s calling, pre-the gospel of the grace of God, and some Church leaders even suggest that these books shouldn’t be in the New Testament. But I don’t go as far as that. They’re clearly Scripture, but I just wonder if these books were penned earlier in the life of the apostle John.

But let’s start today, if we may, in 3rd John. John’s 3rd epistle, verse 1:

3 John, verse 1: “The elder unto the wellbeloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.”

What a great way to start an epistle. John refers to himself as “the elder”, which doesn’t mean he was an old man necessarily. An elder is normally somebody who has been recognized from within a typical fellowship, and that elder will be not only recognized from within a local meeting place, but he will be also commissioned by the Holy Ghost to be a teacher.

You don’t bring somebody into your meeting. If you have any kind of a fellowship, if it’s a handful of people, the chances are you have at least one good, godly teacher who can read the word of God. If you’re fortunate, you may have two or three good teachers, but the point is that they are recognized from within. So, you don’t have to import somebody in. They should already be within your meeting place, and they should be recognized from within.

So, let’s not change the word “elder”. Let’s not read into the text what’s not there. Let’s not suggest that because he uses the term “elder”, he’s a very old man. And he maybe, you know, I won’t be dogmatic and say that he wasn’t, but my theory is that these writings were perhaps penned earlier, during the early Church’s history.

But even if we were to retain the view held by the early Church leaders that John was an old man when he wrote it, it can still be interpreted the way to suggest that he was an older man, an elder man, a brother in the Lord, an elder. But what he doesn’t call himself is a “pastor”. What he doesn’t refer to himself is as the “holy father,” or a “reverend,” and I spoke about this yesterday.

But Gaius, he was loved in the truth, he was the recipient of this epistle, and he must have been something special because John has written to him. And yet, when you read the Pauline epistles they are written to the Church, the elders, not pastor A, B or C. So, this is the difference, I suppose. This would be the difference between John’s writings and Paul’s writings, and yet it’s difficult to harmonize these.

If you were to sit down with the pre-Millennialist, a dispensationalist, what he would say to you is that 1st John, 2nd John and 3rd John are Tribulation epistles. And they do that because they can’t exegete these verses very easily. And I understand! It’s difficult.

And I’m going to struggle when we get to verses 11 and possibly 12. And I’ll do my best when I get there. But I don’t think that we can kick these epistles into the Tribulation. I think these epistles are relevant, first of all to their initial recipients. And we can read them today and still get some doctrinal relevance to us. And yes, it’s possible that these will be further expounded during the Great Tribulation. I won’t dismiss that. I think when the two witnesses arrive, they will open up the word of God and do things that we haven’t been able to do in the Church age.

But let’s just read on. Let’s see what the Holy Spirit shows us.

Look at verse 2, please:

3 John, verse 2: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.”

How the Charismatics love this piece of Scripture: that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers! Not financial health, more likely to be spiritual health. More likely to be in reference to the fruits of the Spirit. But it says, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.”

Nothing wrong with being prosperous, nothing wrong with being successful. It’s the love of the money which is the problem, not the money per se. We all need money. We come into this world with nothing. We go out of the world with nothing. And that account was given some years ago of a very wealthy man who died and they said, “How much did he leave?” And the response was, “He left it all.” Very funny, but it’s very true. You need money in this world, but if you worship money, if you love the money, that’s when the problems begin.

But here, John’s an old man. Quite possibly he’s still in exile around the late 1st century, if we go with the historical view. And therefore, he’s got no real wealth. In fact, the apostles had nothing, for the most part. The prophets in the Old Testament had nothing, for the most part. The Lord had nowhere to lay His head! Of course, the kings were wealthy, but the kings represent Christ as His second advent. But when Christ came the first time He was very much the son of Joseph in a foreign land, in exile, if you will, betrayed by his brothers, very much suffering.

So, let’s not read into the text what’s not there. Let’s not get the whole “Name it and claim it” interpretation from this Scripture. Let’s just leave it as it is in reference to the fruits of the Spirit, found very much in Galatians 5, from memory.

Look at verse 3, please:

3 John, verse 3: “For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth.”

Like the Romans, he had a great testimony; he was something else. We’re not told much about this individual. Yes, you could probably get ahold of some commentaries on the New Testament and read what those that have gone before us have written about this individual. And yes, you may want to go to the Church fathers, the Church leaders, perhaps Papias or Polycarp or Justin Martyr, and no doubt they’ll have some more information about this man. But, for my study this morning, I’m going to simply just approach this with the understanding that he was a leader, an elder from a local assembly, a local house church (the Gentiles had house churches, whereas the Jews would have synagogues), and he has a great testimony. And that is something which is so easily lost. It’s hard to get, and it’s easy to lose.

We’ve been in Switzerland now for a few days. We’ve been doing a lot of outreach work, and we think that perhaps by the end of our trip here, we will have given out perhaps 2,500 tracts, perhaps. That’s our testimony. We are here to represent the King, our Lord, and hopefully we can encourage others to do so, as this man has been encouraging those that he was working amongst.

Look at verse 4, please:

3 John, verse 4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”

“My children,” my spiritual children! Paul would refer to Timothy as his spiritual son. What you can’t get from this verse is that John is referring to himself as Father John. I don’t believe that. I know some people would like to say that by calling himself or referring to these people as his children, he is allowing those to call him Father John. I don’t believe that for one moment. You can have a ministry, and people can refer to you as a spiritual leader. People call me, you know, “You’re my spiritual leader in the Lord”, maybe even “spiritual father in the Lord.” I wouldn’t want to be referred to as that, but I know some people who have called me that in the past, but what he’s saying is, he’s rejoicing here in this individual, he’s rejoicing in this man, Gaius, who has a testimony, and of course there’s no greater joy that his children walk in the truth, which goes back to what I said yesterday, if you’re saved, wonderful; if your children are saved, even better.

And here, John is an old man, or an older man. He’s rejoicing in the fact that Gaius has a testimony, and that his child walks in truth. No more than that! So, don’t read in this text what’s not there. Don’t try and use this piece of Scripture to allow for titles! That’s highly problematic and deeply offensive to the Lord.

Look at verse 5:

3 John, verses 5-7: “Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers; Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: Because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.”

Put yourself out for others. That should be obvious, but verse 7: but “for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.”

Now, we get into paid ministry, which leads to a thorny subject, depending on who you speak to. We were told in 1st Corinthians 9 that Paul, an apostle, Paul, an evangelist, had he wanted to, could have been supported financially. But he chose not to, so as to avoid anybody accusing him of any wrongdoing.

But what we don’t know is whether John or Peter or the other apostles were supported financially. We know from Acts 6 that the apostles wanted to pray and study the word of God and not serve tables. They wanted others to do the more menial work, if I can use that term. So, we’re not overly clear as to what the early Church did when it came to apostles and elders. But what you can’t find in Scripture is a church-run by one man who takes a full-time salary. You just don’t find that.

An evangelist is one thing; a pastor is something different altogether. A ministry is even more different. It’s in a different category altogether to a typical church setting. But, as I say, Paul, to avoid any complications, to avoid anybody saying, “There you are, you see, filthy lucre! He’s in it for the money.” He abstained from drawing a salary, and he was a tent-maker.

But I just want to make this point, one last time, before we can go on: that we can’t be overly sure what John’s position was, or Peter’s. Now, before they were called, they were fishermen, but I don’t think they spent a lot of time fishing after they were called for service. It’s quite possible that the early Church had some financial system or place in scheme for the elders, for the evangelists, even for the apostles to some extent. So, I don’t think we need to be too critical on an evangelist who goes out by faith, or even a ministry per se, but a pastor of a church, a one-man pastor, I don’t find in Scripture. But these verses are very much from 1 down to 7 are praising his spiritual son, very much uplifting him for what he has been able to do, encouraging him, so he could be an encouragement to others.

Look at verse 8, please:

3 John, verse 8: “We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth.”

Put yourself out for others. And these verses are very easy to read and to interpret, I guess, to some extent, but we live in a world now where we’re very much focused on being hospitable, putting ourselves out, being sociable. But in some cultures, it’s very much the opposite. I’m told the Chinese culture can be quite cold, quite distant, not very forthcoming, not very warm.

But for those of us which live in the West, it’s no big deal. I think those of us which have come from Christian countries, or which were once Christian, it’s something we’ve always done. We’ve always put ourselves out, we give to charity. We help those that are less fortunate than ourselves, but maybe when John wrote this, it was somewhat different in the 1st century.

Verse 9:

3 John, verse 9: “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.”

There’s always one bad apple, there’s always one individual who tries to cause problems, tries to cause divisions. And Paul told us that you’ll always have heretics amongst you, and those heretics are there to test the leaders of the Church. If you have no discernment, you’re in a bad way, because people are going to come from within, not without, and they’re going to devour the flock and they’re going to do what they can to destroy you. Peter speaks about such folks making merchandise of you. And I go around and I see people selling their tapes, their books, their DVDs, and they are simply making merchandise of ignorant people.

But Diotrephes from verse 7, Gaius from verse 1, two different people, very much opposite ends of the fence, are found in one epistle, very much making it clear, to me anyway, that where there’s good, there’s bad. And this is the problem, what do you do when you come across somebody who is a mischief-maker?

But let’s look at verse 10, please:

3 John, verse 10: “Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.”

“Prating against us”. The word that we use in England is a prat. It’s not a particularly nice word. It’s not a swear word, as far as I’m aware, but it’s not a word that you’d want to use in decent circles. But it says, “if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us [he even includes himself here] with malicious words [oh yes! I know this type of person very well. I’ve met this type of person over the years] and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren [he’s like a little pope], and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.”

It’s like John Calvin! We went to Geneva yesterday, and we visited the church that Calvin preached at for some years. And it was a pretty non-descript town, or a small town within a city I should probably say, and it made no impression on me at all, really. But this man, from verse 9, very much feels like a pope character. Perhaps he wanted to be a one-man minister. Maybe he’s a bit like John Calvin.

But John’s aware of him, and it says in verse 11:

3 John, verse 11: “Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.”

And here’s the problem. People say to me, “what do you make of this verse, James? Does that mean if we do evil, we haven’t seen God? Does that mean if we do evil, we’re not saved?”

Well, it says in 1st John 3 that if we hate our brother, our spiritual brother, we are a murderer, and no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

I look back over the years at people I’ve met, people I’ve spoken to, and I think a lot of people that I’ve met over the years don’t particularly like me, for different reasons. And I wouldn’t be overly surprised if certain people wanted to do me harm, perhaps. And not just me, others as well, I know. And if that’s the case, then according to 1st John 3, they’re not saved.

And yet, as God as my witness, sitting here this morning, I don’t hate anybody. There are people I don’t particularly like, but I don’t hate anybody. And even those I don’t particularly like, if I could do them good, I would do them good. There’s people that I can think about that have, you know, wronged me over the years, that if they were to phone me up and say, “would you please help me?”, I would go straight to their need. I can really say that. But here, this piece of Scripture causes problems and that’s why some of our dispensational brethren will kick this into the Tribulation.

Let’s break it down: “Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good.” That’s pretty simple! If you’re saved, you’re going to follow what is good and abstain from that which is evil. That’s pretty straightforward, common sense, for any dispensation.

“He that doeth good is of God, but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.” It’s quite clear to me that the latter part of verse 11 is speaking about somebody who was never saved to begin with. But even that isn’t clear enough. “He that doeth good is of God.” He that does good is of God. Of God, in God, born again! He that does good is of God; he that does good is born again. “But he that doeth evil hath not seen God.”

Please turn to 1st John 2. I’m not clear about this Scripture. 1st John 2, 1st John 2, look at verse 29, please: “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.” Okay, so you’ve got 1st John 2:29 and 3 John 11: “He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.”

We’ve got 1st John 2:29: “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.” 1st John 3:6: “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.”

Back to 3rd John, let’s try and pull these verses together: “Beloved [this person is saved], follow not that which is evil, but that which is good.” Think of your testimony! Separate from ungodliness, so on, so forth! “He that doeth good is of God.” He that is born again is of God. He that has received an imputed righteousness is of God.

Which goes back to John chapter 1, those that are born again are born again as a result of the new birth, which comes from God, not from man. “But he that doeth evil [he that hasn’t received an imputed righteousness, like this individual from verse 9] hath not seen God.” So, I don’t think we need to be worrying about this verse particularly when it comes to losing one’s salvation, and neither do I think we need to kick it into the Tribulation.

I think what John is telling us here is that he that does good is of God (born again), but he that does evil hasn’t seen God. So, I think, just leave it as it is when it speaks about an imputed righteousness from 1st John 2:29 going into 1st John 3:6 and 7.

I may be wrong on that, but that’s my initial feeling as I look at this epistle this morning, but maybe I’ll come back to that before we wrap this little message up.

Look at verse 12, please, from 3 John:

3 John, verse 12: “Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true.”

Now, we’ve got a third person put into the mix here. Three people, and I don’t know what sort of size this assembly would have been, if it was just a local house-church. It could have been a dozen people, maybe more than a dozen, I don’t know. This man has a good report of all men, which should put us all to shame, I guess, and of the truth itself.

In fact, we were told in 1st Timothy 3 that an elder of a church should have a testimony in his community. He should be known in his community. And yet I wonder how many pastors are even known in their community, I mean, by name! We do street work in our ministry, seven days a week. And we know a lot of people, and people know who we are, and we have some credibility (can I use that word?) some standing (can I say?) in our town, and we’re not even pastors, just two Bible-believing brothers in the Lord.

But Demetrius has “a good report of all men, and of the truth itself [being Christ, of course]: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true.” Wonderful! Apostolic affirmation as to this individual.

Verse 13:

3 John, verses 13-14: “I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee: But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name.”

Very much as he ended the previous epistle, and of course you want to arrive to meet Gaius, Demetrius and also this individual from verse 9 who was questionable (shall we say?), “but I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face.” And that’s why I wonder if this was written before his incarceration. If he’s been incarcerated, how’s he going to meet this individual? So, I think it’s quite possible, but I don’t quite know this, but it’s quite possible that John wrote this earlier, up until anywhere between Acts 1 to Acts 15.

“Peace be to thee”, which is supernatural. We may think we have peace in this world, but that is very much conditioned on, many times, our surrounding environments.

“Our friends salute thee.” Now, again, if he’s been incarcerated under the emperor Domitian, who are his friends?

“Greet the friends by name.” There’s a pretty strong community here. Yes, it’s possible he was being detained, and it’s possible that he was being detained with others, yes, and he was hoping to be released soon. That’s possible. And it’s possible, as the early Church or some of the early Church leaders taught that this was written later in John’s life, but I’m not overly sure about that. As I say, my feeling is that this was written earlier in John’s life, written pre-Paul’s calling. There’s no clear blood atonement here. In fact, there’s no clear blood atonement in 1st John, from memory, 2nd John or 3rd John. Not clear! It’s there, of course, it’s there! Imputation’s there, of course! Substitution atonement is there, of course!

But Paul was the master when it came to articulating imputation: once saved, always saved. Eternal security. And yet, it took Paul to meet Peter. It took Paul to straighten out Peter, and maybe Paul would later straight out John. I don’t know. But these 14 verses are pretty straightforward, for the most part, until you get to verses 11 and 12. That’s why I spent a bit of time looking at those 2 verses, because I know that a lot of people who have read these verses over the years have struggled, and they have come away with the opinion that you can lose your salvation, which I don’t think you can. You can fall inboard but you can never fall overboard. But I guess the two words would be “doeth”. Doeth good, doeth evil. And most Greek scholars will say that that verb “doeth good” is to continually do good, and to continually do evil demonstrates, on the one hand a saved party, and on the other hand an unsaved party, never saved to begin with.

That’s possible, and yet let’s not forget the Corinthians. They were sinning perpetually, they died. It wasn’t just a one-off sin and “live as we will.” They were sinning for a period of time and they were called to repentance by Paul. And and no doubt, some of the elders in the church of Corinth, and they died.

So, even the Greek doesn’t overly help us with the term “doeth”, a continual act, whether it’s good or whether it’s evil. But I think with the help from 1st John and a quick breakdown of this verse hopefully has made it clearer that John is probably speaking about this individual from verse 9, compared to this individual from verse 1, compared to this individual from verse 12. Three men, two are saved, one isn’t saved. And the one who’s not saved is prating about with malicious words. And that’s the person that John is speaking about probably in verse 11 going to verse 12.

So, that’s about all, I think, I can say for today without spending any more time looking at these verses. But yes, that’s my position anyway, that John was probably younger when he penned this book. Hence, why there’s no clear gospel of the grace of God.

And Jude is the same, which comes after 2nd John and 3rd John. But anyway, I shan’t go over that again, so we’ll close there for today.