Studies in 3 John, Part 6 (vv. 13-15)

Posted on June 4, 2012 by

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(We conclude our study in 3 John)

A Face to Face Visit

[13] I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. [14] I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.

In John’s closing remarks, he makes it abundantly clear that this brief letter is only the beginning. The letter is to encourage Gaius to continue his support of evangelism, to denounce Diotrephes’ hostile church leadership, and to commend to the local church the conduct of Demetrius.

As John sums up his letter, he reemphasizes to Gaius that there is much which cannot be solved with “pen and ink” (cf. 2 John 12).

In fact, John points to a wealth of matters to which he had a desire to write about when he began to write,[1] but under the present circumstances wisdom pressed him to refrain from a “war of words”.

This is a personal point to which John makes abundantly clear of his “present unwillingness to go on writing the other things ‘with pen and ink’”.[2] The apostle shows that church problems are not solved with ongoing writing, particularly when it can be solved with a personal visit (v. 10).

The phrase “ink and pen” (melanos and kalamos), similar to another phrase the apostle uses in 2 John 12 “paper and ink” (kartos and melanos), reflect the common tools for written communications. John literally says, with “black” and “reed-pen”.[3] Calling attention to these tools of communications – writing technologies – acknowledges the limitations of such to do the work to which leaders must avail themselves.

Church leadership is not for cowards who can hide behind the defenses of ink and pen leveling charges at a distance. The need to confront sin, or deal with matters of a more delicate and personal nature are better resolved “face to face” (v. 14).

Consequently, the many things which “the elder” had the initial impulse to write to Gaius will not be developed in text form. Perhaps this is one of the greatest lessons gleaned from this letter – when to silence the pen.

One can only ponder over the kind of treatise the document would have been; it doubtless would have called into question Diotrephes’ conduct and the crisis he instigated. Nevertheless, John wanted quality time with Gaius so we should not assume all the matters at hand were negative in nature.

After all, John held “hope” in his heart to be with his “fellow worker” (v. 8) very soon. There was a planned visit in John’s itinerary to arrive on scene with Gaius, Diotrephes, the church, and perhaps even Demetrius. His words are not threats, but promises to rectify the situation.

He looks forward to a time when they can speak intimately “face to face” (lit. “mouth to mouth”). Unimpeded by the limitations of ink, pen, and paper, the “vividness” of thought and timbre would set the tone for the work to be done at the local level for which John traveled to help resolve.[4]

The Farewell

[15] Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, every one of them.

Thus ends the briefest letter in the entire New Testament, and the entire Bible. A common benediction is offered towards Gaius to the intent that “all felicity attend you. Those that are good and happy themselves wish others so too”.[5]

Even in the face of church dysfunction, John shows how much we must keep our perspective cool and collective; instead of taken by the heat which pervades those so entangled in bitter words of disagreement. Instead he wishes peace.

And why not, they are mutual “friends” after all. The idea of “friendship” appears to be the equivalent phrase of “brethren”,[6] which is the more commonplace term for fellow Christians.

Still, it is quite possible and likely that since this is a personal letter in every aspect – from John to Gaius – the idea of “friendship” here is that which reflects the bonds of their fellowship.[7] They may haven brethren in faith, but they were fraternal at heart.

Faith was the environment their relationships developed into friendships. It is true that not all Christians form tight bonds with every other Christian; however, those relationships which materialize into tender overtures of mutual affection as friends find a unique bond this side of heaven.

Zane C. Hodges writes:

The use of the term ‘friends’ twice in these closing statements is perhaps one final reminder to Gaius that Christians in every place are or should be a network of friends who are ready to help one another whenever a need arises.[8]

The readiness with which Christians must arm themselves to be a ready help to their fellow brethren is a tremendous theme within this letter.

While trouble is the main cause of need for brotherhood reliance in 3 John, trouble should not be the only reason we rely upon each other. We must realize that we are an extension to each other.

One of the critical problems in this letter is the abuse of leadership, Diotrephes assumed a place of prominence and imposed his will on others and gave no respect to true authority in the form of the apostle.

We must absorb what Jesus says, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matt. 20.26).

Sources

  1. D. Edmond Hiebert, 1987, “Studies in 3 John Part 3 (of 3 Parts): An Exposition of 3 John 11-14,” Bibliotheca Sacra 144 (July-Sept.): 300.
  2. Hiebert, 1987, “An Exposition of 3 John 11-14,” 301.
  3. Barclay M. Newman, Jr., 1993, A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Stuttgart: German Bible Society), 112, 91.
  4. Hiebert 302.
  5. Matthew Henry, n.d., Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (electronic repr. Franklin, Tenn.: E-sword), comments on 3 John 12-14.
  6. Craig S. Keener, , “Friendship” in Dictionary of New Testament Background edited by Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press), 387.
  7. Hiebert 303.
  8. Zane C. Hodges, 1983, “3 John,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor), 914-15; As quoted by Hiebert 303.
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