Third John is briefer – but indulges in more ad hominem about a couple of specific leaders. If the advice is to ‘trust this guy, but not that guy’, is it a helpful shorthand, or a pernicious practice?
Start with affirmation – still a god practice. Gaius and his friends are being hospitable and faithful. The elder is tickled that people he taught are carrying on the tradition. I know the feeling.
For instance, Gaius’ community has welcomed strangers, and recognized them as co-workers and undemanding partners in our movement. That kind of discerning hospitality is essential to living out the faith. Of course, material support to such newcomers is a fine, laudable thing.
Diotrephes is named and shamed. This guy has been acting as a a gatekeeper, and denying a hearing for correspondence from ‘the elder’ in other communities of faith. The elder proposes to come in person and make it right.
Diotrephes has been making different choices than the elder, in terms of whom to welcome and whom to exclude from the material benefits of the community’s welcome and hospitality. Have you ever disagreed with anybody about whom to welcome and hear in your community, and whom to resist? Me too.
Demetrius, on the other hand, is endorsed by ‘The Elder,’ as enthusiastically as Diotrephes is challenged. Who vouches for whom? What weight do you give to endorsements or references, when a new member or pastor is introduced in your community of faith? Until we can see for ourselves the practice and reliability of that person who is new to us.
When you see a stranger approaching, do you see Diotrephes, or Demetrius? Potential friend, or likely threat? The criteria of ‘orthodoxy’ or ‘orthopraxy’, sharing the same way of praising, or the right way of thinking, or the common practice of doing, are often summed up by ‘who vouches for her’.
1 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
2 Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul.
3I was overjoyed when some of the friends arrived and testified to your faithfulness to the truth, namely, how you walk in the truth.
4I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
5 Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you;
6they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God;
7for they began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers
8Therefore we ought to support such people, so that we may become co-workers with the truth.
9 I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.
10So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us. And not content with those charges, he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church.
11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
12Everyone has testified favourably about Demetrius, and so has the truth itself. We also testify for him, and you know that our testimony is true.
13 I have much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink;
14instead I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face.
15 Peace to you. The friends send you their greetings. Greet the friends there, each by name.