1 From the church leader.
To my dear friend Gaius.
I love you because we follow the truth, 2dear friend, and I pray all goes well for you. I hope you are as strong in body, as I know you are in spirit. 3It makes me very happy when the Lord's followers come by and speak openly of how you obey the truth. 4Nothing brings me greater happiness than to hear that my children are obeying the truth.
5Dear friend, you have always been faithful in helping other followers of the Lord, even the ones you didn't know before. 6They have told the church about your love. They say you were good enough to welcome them and to send them on their mission in a way God's servants deserve. 7When they left to tell others about the Lord, they decided not to accept help from anyone who wasn't a follower. 8We must support people like them, so we can take part in what they are doing to spread the truth.
9I wrote to the church. But Diotrephes likes to be the number-one leader, and he won't pay any attention to us. 10So if I come, I will remind him of how he has been attacking us with gossip. Not only has he been doing this, but he refuses to welcome any of the Lord's followers who come by. And when other church members want to welcome them, he puts them out of the church.
11Dear friend, don't imitate the evil deeds of others, but follow the example of people who do kind deeds. They are God's children, but those who are always doing evil have never seen God.
12Everyone speaks well of Demetrius, and so does the true message that he teaches. I also speak well of him, and you know what I say is true.
13I have much more to say to you, but I don't want to write it with pen and ink.
Although the opening of this letter, unlike 1 John, follows the customary formula – writer, recipients, greeting – it is somewhat obscure to us because of the oblique references to “the church leader” and the “very special woman and her children.” The “church leader” probably emphasizes John’s position of authority in the church, and “very special woman and her children” refers to a congregation.
This letter is about truth and love. How difficult we find it to keep these two things in tension. In our pluralistic society we are often urged to be tolerant. This bland attitude won’t do on two counts. On the one hand it is too broad. Things that are patently wrong (pedophilia comes to mind) are not to be tolerated. On the other hand it is too narrow. I want to be loved, not tolerated. We are to exercise truth and love. It’s interesting that it was the Ephesians that Paul urged to practice the truth in love (Eph 4:15 NET Bible), and John, having praised the Ephesians in Revelation 2:2 for testing “those who claim to be apostles and are not” and finding them to be false, upbraids them for their lack of love.
V 12 speaks volumes to Christian leaders today. We see John’s love for these people in his desire to be with them. We see his leadership in wanting to address the heresy in their midst. We see his wisdom in not wanting to tackle troubling issues in a letter. Hard though it is, the more difficult a conversation, the more important it is to have it face to face (literally “mouth to mouth”). If that’s impossible, a phone call is second best. A letter – or email in today’s world – is the worst way to resolve personal difficulties. How often, in our desire to avoid confrontation, we get this backward.
Father, I pray for discernment and the Spirit’s help as I face tensions, whether in my church, my family, or at work. I pray that I may have the courage to speak in both truth and love, without compromising either. For the sake of Jesus, who in his ministry modelled both so spectacularly well. Amen.