(We continue our study in 3 John)
Imitate Good Behavior:
 Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
This is the last of four times that the apostle calls Gaius “beloved” (agapete, cf. v. 1, 2, and 5). It is no small matter that John appeals to Gaius in this fashion; the term refers to one of compelling worth and one who is dearly loved.
While there is no hint that John and Gaius know each other personally (and we not excluding the possibility), at the very least Gaius has gained such high esteem with the apostle due to his longstanding history of helping traveling missionaries (v. 3, 4, 5-6).
Although the letter is brief Gaius is described in at least eight other ways emphasizing his faithfulness and support of the truth, by the financial and material support of those who preach and teach the gospel.
(1) John loves Gaius “in truth” (v. 1). Combining a few ideas and passages in this letter, “in truth” is an idiom for a framework of thinking centered on the Gospel truth and its proclamation.
This is the Christian worldview in mind; in other words, the “fundamental way of looking at things” as a Christian (cf. Col. 3.1-3). Christianity for Gaius – as it ought to be for us – is not for mere “social fraternity” but for “redemptive” outreach.
(2) John prays that Gaius’s health resembles his robust spiritual health (v. 2). One is immediate compelled to wonder, what would our physical health appear should it be replaced by our true spiritual status.
Indeed, God knows our failures; yet, it is also true that God knows our heart despite our failures.
For Gaius, such a benediction was a mark of faithfulness to God in the face of certain church politics applying negative pressure upon those who desire to support evangelists.
(3) A report had been given to John regarding Gaius having truth, and living a life consistent with that truth (v. 3). This is emphasized again in verse 4.
Consistently, Gaius is the living embodiment of faithfulness to the gospel in that he was involved with sending evangelists, seeking those who would hear the gospel, and saving lost souls with this message of redemption.
The fact that “walks” in truth is a statement of that this is a lifestyle, not a “past time”. Christianity did not exist solely within the confines of worship and times of fellowship; instead, evangelism was the air that he breathed, and his conduct reflected it.
(4) Because Gaius lives within the framework of Gospel truth evidence by his support of evangelists, John calls him his “child” (v. 4). This is certainly a mark of solidarity.
Despite their distance, this statement reflects their united fellowship seen in the comforting knowledge of faithful Christians “continuing steadfastly in faith and good works”.
(5) Gaius is one who does faithful deeds which is supporting traveling evangelists by providing hospitality out of his home and through his material blessings which he sacrifices in order to send these heralds with the appropriate things needed to get to the next stage of their evangelistic labors (vv. 5-6).
(6) The “beloved” (agapete) is also one who expresses “love” (agape, v. 6) through these evangelistic and hospitable deeds (v 5). Because of his love shown to others (here, the evangelists), John has made a special place for Gaius in his heart.
(7) For the above reasons, Gaius implicitly is qualified as “a fellow worker for the truth” (v. 8). Gaius understands the moral imperative to support the gospel (= the truth) by “sending” the traveling evangelists.
This should elevate the relationship of “giving” with its connection to supporting evangelism in the church. We must understand that without “supporters” and “givers”, evangelism would die. “Without missions there would be no church, for the church is the result of missions”.
It is not enough for us to know that supporting evangelism is important and essential, there must be follow-through to actually “put aside something” proportionate to our prosperity (1 Cor. 16.2).
(8) Finally, Gaius is even dearer to John because he has not done these deeds in isolation; instead, Gaius has done this in the face of a local dominating church leader named Diotrephes.
Understanding that John knows all of these things as he wrote this letter, one can only imagine the kind of trust, love, admiration, and appreciation for Gaius which had budded within John’s heart.
Mimic Good Behavior, Not Evil
It is an important transition to which we find the words, “do not imitate evil, but imitate good”. The reality is that Gaius is already doing good, for he is living in “truth”.
Perhaps John is cautioning Gaius to be mindful of responding to Diotrephes tactics with the same measure of carnality.
The force of the verb is that of an earnest plea, or that of a command (imperative). In either case, John is imposing his apostolic presence to compel Gaius to stop mimicking (“do not imitate”) evil (kakos), which suggests that perhaps he had given in to the carnality of the combat instigated by Diotrephes.
Consequently, John had to impose on Gaius to repent (though the word is not there) and to continue his honorable work of supporting evangelists. Here we learn the lesson that when “church problems” affect evangelism we have must repent so that peace may return to the congregation. A wise leadership will shield its congregation from needless battles of words with ungodly individuals, for peace is better than a war of words.
We must imitate good, and that means we must submit our passions to God (cf. Jas.1.19-20; Rom. 12.9-21; 1 Cor. 11.1). In this light, the apostle desires to pull Gaius away from the distractions which come from in-fighting to refocus himself so that he may support Demetrius, who was probably the letter courier (v. 12). And it like Demetrius, Gaius must reflect the truth through commendable behavior.
In order to hammer this point down, an important contrast is struck. It is in many ways, “a moral test”. The test is a simple one: is your lifestyle described as continuing and practicing good or evil?
If your life is consistently soured by evil, worthless, base, even criminal behavior – like Diotrephes – then you have not seen God; essentially saying, you are not in fellowship with God for you do not know him (1 John 3.4-6).
A Christian cannot be consistently immoral and think they are well pleasing to the Lord. Consequently, Gaius is called upon to be found behaving as he ought to, as a faithful benefactor in the kingdom of God. Only then can it be said that he is “from God”.
It has been well observed:
Gaius was a man of influence and he had shown a Christian spirit in all things; yet John knew that Satan is no respector of persons and it would be a great blow to the church if Satan could cause this loyal church member to behave in a n unchristian manner.
Could this be the apostle’s loving way to bring Gaius back from the cliff of carnality, a moment where the heat of battle was changing Gaius into the very thing he had sworn to defend the church from? Possibly. Never the less, the lesson is ours.
To be continued…
- Walter Bauer, Frederick W. Danker, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2000, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3d edition (Chicago, Ill.: U of Chicago Press), 7. Abbreviated as BDAG.
- Paul G. Hiebert, 1985, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries (Repr. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008), 21.
- Gailyn Van Rheenen and Bob Waldron, 2002, The Status of Missions: A Nationwide Survey of Churches of Christ (Abilene, Tex.: Abilene Christian University Press), 1-2.
- BDAG 803.
- Guy N. Woods, 1973, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles of Peter, John, and Jude(Nashville, Tenn.: Gospel Advocate), 360.
- Van Rheenen and Waldron, 2002, The Status of Missions, 13. In fact, they go on to say, “Wherever churches exist, missionaries have overcome immense obstacles to teach unbelievers the Gospel, edify new Christians to live Christ-like lives, work together as a body of Christ, and train preachers and elders for Christian ministry” (13).
- J. Gresham Machen, 1923, New Testament Greek for Beginners (Repr. New York, N.Y.: MacMillan, 1956), 180. Machen writes, “the present imperative refers to it [i.e the action] as continuing or as being repeated”. The text literally reads, “stop mimicking the evil, instead [mimic] the good” (my translation), which would be a reference to the two opposites of Diotrephes and Demetrius – hence, the warning would suggest, “Do not imitate Diotrephes, but imitate Demetrius” (David Smith, 1900, “The Epistles of John” in Expositor’s Greek Testament [New York, N.Y.: Doran], 5:208). If the rebuke and command are to make sense, it appears then we must see the good Gaius as one who has allowed the carnality of Diotrephe to get the better of him, and John is trying to bring peace back into the church setting.
- John R. W. Stott, 1988, The Letters of John, TNTC edited by Leon Morris (Repr. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000), 232.
- The words “do good” (agathopoieo) and “do evil” (kakopoieo) are common antitheses regarding causing harm (being criminal/evil doer) v. not causing harm (being good citizen/benign) in the New Testament, that they appear together four times across four different authors: 1 Peter 3.17, Mark 3:4 = Luke 6:9, and here 3 John 11 (BDAG 3, 501).
- Oliver B. Greene, 1966, The Epistles of John (Greenville, SC: The Gospel Hour), 256-57.