What does it say?
These two final letters of John reflect the same style and theme of his first epistle, our need to love God and each other. John is still an elder of the church in Ephesus and the lady to whom he writes is probably an idiomatic way to address another local church. If so, her children would be the church members (2 John).
John’s third letter is addressed to an individual named Gaius. He should not be confused with other individuals mentioned by this name in the New Testament. Tradition holds that this Gaius was an elder in the nearby church in Pergamum. John writes to encourage him in a conflict with another leader in the church named Diotrephes that is attacking both Gaius and John. Demetrius is probably the messenger that delivers this letter to Gaius.
What does it mean?
These two letters are examples of how to deal with those that would corrupt God’s love and the truth of his word. The first letter makes application to a local church under attack from without, and the second is a situation that involves a toxic individual within the church. In both cases, John instructs direct action rather than passively waiting and hoping for things to improve. When some threaten to introduce false teaching in the church, the response is to break from them (2 John). In the case of Diotrephes, John is very direct in the need to confront him (3 John).
In the letter to Gaius, the real issue is missional. Traveling missionaries in the first century go from church to church expecting hospitality and, if possible, help to arrive at the next destination. Diotrephes not only refuses to help them but throws them out. Some fail to see God’s mission due to ignorance or immaturity, but those like Diotrephes are proud and love to have the preeminence.
How will I respond?
If I were cast in a movie made about the background of 3 John, what role would I play? Do I take part in God’s mission by giving and encouraging those who are taking the Good News to others, or do I see God’s mission as taking attention away from me and my perceived needs? What can I do this week to encourage someone who is working to take the Gospel to another people group or ethnicity?