Studies in 3 John, Part 5 (v. 12)

Posted on June 1, 2012 by


(We continue our study in 3 John)

It has been said that without influence one cannot lead. John wrote his letter 3 John – briefest document in the New Testament – to encourage Gaius in his own time of need. To influence him to do the right thing.

There is evidence within the letter suggesting that there was a concern that Gaius needed the advice of verse 11, calling upon him to imitate (Grk. mimeomai) good, civil, non-detrimental behavior.

Such strong appeals reflect that Gaius may have come to the edge in his own crisis. Missions killer, Diotrephes, and his own evil, criminal, and detrimental methods may levied their toll upon Gaius, and now he may feel compelled to enter the fray of church politics with a war of words.

John implores Gaius to maintain; despite the conflict, be a child of God – be a “doer of good” (= supporter of evangelism). In this connection the apostle introduces Demetrius, who most likely bore the letter to Gaius, and places a stamp of approval upon him.

A Recommendation

[12] Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.

It is not all together clear who Demetrius is, and what exactly is his relationship to John, Gaius, and Diotrephes. In the light of any concrete evidence, there are a number of reasonable connections to consider.

In the New Testament, the proper name Demetrius is found in this letter (12) and in Acts with reference to an Ephesian silversmith (19.24, 38). The two are most likely different individuals.[1]

Some have observed that Demas is a shortened form of Demetrius, and may very well be a repentant detractor from among Paul’s co-laborers (2 Tim. 4.10). The latter case is not probable (see below). The name, however, is quite common in the inscriptions.[2]

Demetrius in this sense is a mystery to us; however, he is a Christian known to John and Gaius, but we are blessed by his notice in this letter due to his example of faithfulness.

John sets forth Demetrius’ faithfulness by appealing to three witnesses. (1) The church bears witness of his faithfulness, (2) the “truth” as understood in this letter as that of good Christian conduct expressed in the support of evangelistic pursuits, and (3) John and his group go on record on behalf of Demetrius.

“The threefold witness to Demetrius should stir our desire to emulate his character”:[3]

(1) Universal testimony

The text begins, “Regarding Demetrius, it has been witnessed by all …”[4]; or, “Demetrius has witness borne to him by all”.[5] Unlike Diotrephes, and much like Gaius, Demetrius’ good reputation precedes him.

Demetrius has well known, geographically dispersed reputation within the church of faithfulness. Furthermore, this is not a new development for John uses the Greek perfect indicative which denotes a present state of affairs resulting from a past action.[6] In other words, Demetrius’ character was of good report in the past and continues to be in the present (hence, not Demas).

Consistent character is a wonderful blessing to the church! Too many times there are those who are more like shooting stars, bright shining spectacles which fade away as quickly as they emerged. The church needs steady hands, devoted hearts, and ready feet.

Demetrius was of great influence in the work of the church, and it can be seen why he would pose such a great contrast to Diotrephes (11).

(2) Good testimony from the truth itself

The second testimony which John appeals too is that which comes from truth. In fact, he compounds it with the testimony which “everyone” else makes regarding Demetrius.

Gaius lived in truth, walked in truth and testimony of his support of evangelists had reached John (vv. 3, 6). In the same vein, then, it seems that Demetrius is so commended. Here we may learn something about Demetrius’ role in the church.

Some suggest that Demetrius is a traveling evangelist bearing this letter from John, which sets forth the principle that support for such noble men ought to be provided (7-8). Demetrius is one such noble men who have left for the sake of name, needing support; in this way the truth of Christian thinking commends him.

Others observe that Demetrius may in fact be a member and leader of the local congregation (house church?), who is known to John, Gaius and Diotrephes. He may very well have reported to John what had been going on at “home”.

Now on return, John sends a brief note designed to commend Demetrius for his faithfulness to the church there, acknowledging Gaius’ faithfulness as well, and to denounce Diotrephes from affair with a hope to do so in person.

In either case, Gaius and Demetrius have everything in common spiritually. They share the same “Christian way” of thinking which places the Gospel and missionary imperative as the backdrop for all of their actions. Would that we could capture the spirit of evangelism demonstrated by these first century Christians.

(3) Good testimony from John and his circle

This third commendation comes more specifically from the apostolic circle. The apostle makes it abundantly clear that Demetrius is known and commended by an authoritative source.

John anticipates that Gaius knows the value of his apostolic testimony. Here we find why John appeals to Gaius to imitate good (11), instead of imitating evil behavior as expressed by mission killers.

Verse 12 suggest three criteria of commendable church leadership. Leaders in the church must reflect Christian character and behavior, perspective governed by a Christian worldview which is evangelistic at its core, and behave consistent with apostolic authority.

Missions and Prudence

As a footnote to the last point above, we must add that those who have left for the sake of the name are commendable for the reasons listed above. These traits are the result of training and development.

Can we imagine that John would send just “anyone”? Hardly. The most important work in the world to go into all the world should not be carried out by novices (Matt. 28.19-20). They were prepared before they left and well-supplied to do the work.

To be continued…


  1. Ronald F. Youngblood, Ed., 1989, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, Tenn.: Nelson), 346.
  2. James Hope Moulton and George Milligan, 1914-1929, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament Illustrated from the Papyri and Other Non-Literary Sources (London: Hodder and Stoughton), 144.
  3. F. B. Meyer, 1914, Through the Bible by Day: A Devotional Commentary (Electronic repr. Franklin, Tenn.: e-Sword, 2000-2012), comments on 3 John 1:1-14.
  4. My translation.
  5. John Nelson Darby, 1884, New Testament Translation (Electronic repr. Franklin, Tenn.; e-Sword, 2000-2012).
  6. J. Gresham Machen, 1923, New Testament Greek for Beginners (Repr. New York, N.Y.: MacMillan, 1956), 187.