Gaius vs. Diotrephes

Gaius vs. Diotrephes

According to most, the Apostle John is the “elder” who writes 2 and 3 John. In his very short third letter, he praises a man named Gaius, and rebukes a man named Diotrephes. It’s hard to imagine two men more different in the same congregation.

The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health,

just as your soul prospers. For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.

Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore, we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth (3 John 1-8).

Gaius Walked in Truth

The first thing to be said about Gaius is that John associates him with the word “truth” a lot! John is thrilled to hear he is “walking in the truth.” Gaius is a genuine Christian. There was no separation between his knowledge of the truth and his practice of the truth. When Gaius learned what the word of God said, he applied it to his behavior.

For John, there was “no greater joy” than hearing of Gaius’ sincere faith and life. Since he calls Gaius one of “my children,” it might be assumed that John was instrumental in converting Gaius to Christ. It’s not that John put himself in an improper position of papal authority (see Matthew 23:9, “do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven”); but that he affectionately recognized the guidance he had been privileged to provide (see 1 Timothy 1:2 “my true child in the faith,” and Titus 1:4 “my true child in a common faith”).

The greatest excitement any teacher or Christian can have is to lead a seeker on a study of the Bible, which opens his eyes to the truth of the gospel. It is thrilling to watch those seeds of truth germinate and grow in the mind, and quickly blossom and bear the fruit of his repentance and baptism into Christ. It is more satisfying than any meal (John 4:32-34)!

But the greatest let down any teacher or Christian can have is to see that same individual give up the faith a few months or years later. Jesus said in the parable of the soils that it would happen, that some would hear the word and “immediately receive it with joy” but when trouble arises “immediately he falls away” (Matthew 13:18-23). Still, it doesn’t make it any less of a disappointment when it happens. I can say, from experience that there is an emptiness in the pit of the stomach to think “perhaps I have labored over you in vain” (Galatians 4:11, cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:5). Gaius caused John no such heartache.

Gaius Spread the Truth

What can we “accomplish for the brethren,” like Gaius did? The particular work for which John praises Gaius is help offered to traveling evangelists. Scholars conclude from non-inspired but early documents such as the Didache that Christian teachers would depart on journeys from town to town to spread the word of God. They could expect hospitality while in town for a couple of days, as well as food to begin the next leg of their journey (recall Matthew 10:40-42, Acts 16:15, Hebrews 13:2). If they stayed longer, they were expected to work. If they asked for pocket money, they were under immediate suspicion!

Obviously, there was a good deal of concern about identifying faithful, sincere evangelists and assisting them in their work. Helping a true preacher on his journey was to have fellowship with the truth itself! In this sense, “fellowship” is really a joint participation in a common work; a supporter of a preaching work is just as involved as the actual preacher (Philippians 1:5, 4:14). Gaius was motivated by love, to receive these travelers with hospitality, assist their work, and speed them on to their next destination. Maybe Gaius wasn’t able to do much preaching himself, but his efforts made it possible for the truth to spread.

With one so devoted to helping the gospel spread, it’s no wonder John prayed for his physical prosperity. “Instruct those who are rich in this present world ... to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Next week, we will talk about Diotrephes, who worked to undo a lot of Gaius’ good.

—John Guzzetta