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3 John by Robert Dean
Series:3rd John (2003)
Duration:57 mins 28 secs

3 John


Introduction; Terms for Pastor; Preparation for P-T


3rd John is a short epistle that is going to reiterate and reaffirm some of the basic elements and doctrines we have already seen in 1 & 2 John but it is also going to bring in an entirely new dimension that we have not looked at in either of the two previous epistles. There are several comparisons between second and third John to show the similarities but they are not identical epistles. First of all, the author in both epistles describes himself as "the elder." We know from two or three lines of evidence that it is John. We know that he was the pastor in Ephesus at the end of his life and that he called himself the elder as opposed to the apostle. By that stage the apostolic era itself was drawing to a close and to the end of his life he functioned more as a pastor than he did as an apostle, i.e. as an apostle who went travelling throughout the empire and beyond. The second reason we know it is John is because of tradition which tells us these two epistles were written by the apostle John, and then third, the vocabulary of the epistle and the style of writing fits that of the apostle John.

A second point of similarity between 2nd and 3rd John is that the recipients in both epistles are described as those "whom he loved in [by means of] the truth." A third similarity is that the recipients are the occasion of great rejoicing on the part of the elder—2 John 4 & 3rd John 3. The author mentions that the recipients in both epistles walk in [by means of] the truth. That means they are walking by means of God the Holy Spirit, their life is characterised by the fruit of the Spirit, and the recipients are those who are advancing to spiritual maturity by means of application of doctrine. Fifth, the elder has received good reports about both—the congregation that is the recipient of 2 John, and the individual involved in 3 John: 2 John 4; 3 John 3, 5. Sixth, both letters contain a warning. 2 John 8 warns of false teachers; 3 John 9 warns about an individual who is causing trouble within the congregation. Seventh, the elder desires to see both groups face to face. Eighth, others sent their greetings. They are with the elder when he writes and are familiar with the recipients of the epistle. These points show that there is a close relationship between these two epistles but they actually deal with different issues and different things. In 2 John we saw a strong emphasis on Christology and the issue facing the congregation here is the issue of divisiveness, the issue of grace orientation, financial and logistical support for missionaries.

3 John is a personal letter written by the elder to an individual. As such it is parallel to Philemon and these are the only two epistles in the New Testament written primarily to an individual. Timothy & Titus were written to pastors and the implication is that the information in those epistles was not only addressed to the individual but also to the congregation where they were pastoring. Philemon and 3 John deal with personal issues related primarily to an individual. 3 John revolves around three particular personalities: Gaius who is the recipient, Diotrephes who is the trouble-maker, and Demetrius who was probably the messenger who is bringing the letter from the elder, John, to Gaius.

John in this epistle constructs the letter with key words, and these give us a clue as to the doctrines that are being emphasised. Four times he refers to Gaius, the recipient, as his beloved. That emphasises a close personal relationship to Gaius and will bring to the forefront the doctrine of friendship, the doctrine of love for other believers in terms of a personal love and a friendship love. Seven times (vv. 1, 3, 4, 8, 12) he mentions the word true or truth. This is a synonym for doctrine in the sense that it describes the characteristic of doctrine. Remember, Jesus prayed to the Father in the upper room discourse, "Sanctify them through by means of truth; thy Word is truth." This is not a reference to lower case t truth but a reference to the fact that the Word of God is absolute truth. It defines truth so that all other principles must be evaluated in the light of God's Word.

We live in an era today when there is an attack on the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture, which is really a corollary of the overall doctrine of the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, that God so constructed the revelation of His Word and His will that He covered every possible category of problem that any believer would ever face in life. So the Scripture teaches that God has supplied everything for us in terms of life and godliness, 2 Peter 1:3. This means that the Word of God is sufficient, that we don't need anything else other than the doctrinal principles revealed in the Word of God to face and handle any situation in life. But a lot of people don't accurately apply the Word or they don't like the results of the application of the Word, or application of the Word seems to be too tough and too difficult, and so we always hear people say they tried that "but doctrine really doesn't work." It isn't that doctrine doesn't work, it is that they are not walking by the Spirit or applying the Word correctly. The Word of God is sufficient, and a way around this that sounds good to people is the phrase "all truth is God's truth."

This is particularly used to justify so-called Christian psychology and Christian counselling. By "all truth" what they are talking about is truth that is derived from that area of observation called natural revelation or general revelation. General revelation technically refers only to the non-verbal revelation of the power and majesty of God given through His creation. Cf. Psalm 19:1 NASB "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands." What has happened today in theology and is being taught in some seminary classes and some theology text books is that natural revelation goes beyond the non-verbal revelation of God's character and it includes anything and everything that is discovered through empiricism and through empirical science. But the information that comes through empirical studies in science is not information that has always been available equally to every person since Adam. General revelation is restricted in its scope and concept, it refers only to that revelation which relates to the existence and character of God. Example: Romans 1:18ff. "…what may be known about God is manifest in them [has been revealed in them] for God has shown it to them [externally]." The explanation is given in v. 20: "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." The Scripture says that certain attributes of God are made clear to every person at all times in history because of the creation, not because of certain discoveries. This means that in non-verbal revelation there is a restriction which focuses on simply the attributes of God. What happens today to get around the principle of the sufficiency of Scripture is that people come along and say there are really two books. There is the book of Scripture which is the verbal revelation of God, or what is known as special revelation in theology, and then there is a second book which is the book of natural revelation or general revelation and that is non-verbal. There error occurs in that they look at these two books of revelation and they put an equal sign between them and say that they are equal, so that the information received through creation, through empirical studies, through science, can then be used to evaluate and interpret Scripture. What this effectively does is say that clear studies that have been developed through the historic principles of exegesis, sound literal, historical grammatical hermeneutics are changing because of certain so-called truths that are being discovered through science, through psychology, sociology, and then that is being used to evaluate Scripture.

What is should look like is this. We do have a book of general revelation restricted to God, and then we have another book of special revelation which is specific, content-oriented information that God has revealed, and this is used then to evaluate general revelation conclusions and determine whether or not these are true. But first of all, general revelation does not include science, sociology or psychology. Special revelation always is used to evaluate the conclusions we derive from empiricism. We can look at nature and we can see many different things. Natural revelation or the study of nature can derive many different empirical truths but the Bible tells us where we are supposed to make application and provides boundaries for the conclusions we derive from empiricism. All of this is to simply say that we are not to make the mistake of saying that all truth is God's truth. There are many different kinds of truth, all kinds of contingencies in truth, and what we are talking about is absolute truth that is irrefutable and undeniable, and that is what the Word of God is. So seven times John emphasises the concept of truth or doctrine, so this would be an emphasis for us—on the Word of God as absolute truth.

Five times he mentions the word "witness"—vv. 3, 6, 12. This emphasises the concept of verification of the truth. The truth of God's Word isn't just something that is subjectively perceived. We don't have prophets going out and getting some kind of private subjective message. Whenever God revealed something subjectively to a prophet He confirmed it through external signs, wonders and miracles so that people would know that this prophet was not someone who was just generating his own ideas.

Another element that is evident in 3rd John is that the elder, the apostle John, is establishing the authority of the truth over against this power play in the congregation that is the result of Diotrephes' desire to be pre-eminent because of his own power lust and his own approbation lust.

3 John 1:1 NASB "The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth." The word "elder" is the Greek word presbuteros [presbuteroj] which has been transliterated into English as Presbyterian presbyter. It basically means someone who is old or elderly, someone who is in a position of seniority, someone who is in a position of authority. It literally refers to someone who is physically older but it comes to refer also to those who are more mature, those who are in positions of leadership and those who are spiritually mature. It is one of the words in the New testament used to describe a pastor-teacher.

The biblical terms for a pastor

  1. Ephesians 4:11 NASB "And He gave some {as} apostles, and some {as} prophets, and some {as} evangelists, and some {as} pastors and teachers." Jesus Christ is the one envisioned in this passage as the one in authority over the Holy Spirit (the one who distributes spiritual gifts, 1 Corinthians 12), and Jesus Christ provides four specific spiritual gifts for the equipping of the saints. Apostles and prophets were temporary gifts that died out at the end of the first century. The only two of these gifts that survive through the church age are the gift of evangelist and the gift of pastor-teacher. The reason that the gift of pastor-teacher is combined into one gift is because in the structure of this particular Greek phrase is one article plus a noun, plus the conjunction "and" plus another noun. If they were two different gifts there would be a repetition of the article. The two nouns are viewed as synonymous; the second one provides a definition for how the first one functions. The first word that is used is poimen [poimhn] which means a shepherd and denotes the shepherd's leadership over the flock. A shepherd is the one who guides the sheep into a pasture where they can be provided with their physical nourishment; a pastor is the one who watches over them and protects them from their enemies, the one who keeps the sheep from doing stupid things that would create self-inflicted harm. By analogy the term indicates the leadership role of the spiritual gift. As the shepherd leads and directs the flock, so the pastor is to lead and direct the congregation. It necessarily includes the concept of authority. You do not have many shepherds over one flock, you have one shepherd who understands the vision, the goals, the objectives for that particular flock, and he is the one who is responsible to God for that flock. There can therefore be only one leader and one vision for a congregation. There are some parameters for how the shepherding operation functions. No pastor can fulfil his mission of equipping the saints unless he is teaching the mystery doctrine of the church age. This does not mean he ignores the Old Testament because it is the foundation for the New Testament. There are three things that are important for the pastor: a) He has to possess the spiritual gift of pastor-teacher. This needs to be identified in the process of his own spiritual growth and spiritual maturity, and it is usually evidenced by the efficacy of his ability to teach. He also needs to prepare the spiritual gift.

Sheep. a) A sheep cannot guide itself; it has no inner sense of direction. In the same way a pastor must guide the people in the pews. He does this by teaching; his role is really restricted to teaching; b) A sheep cannot cleans itself. A pastor-teacher teaches the principles of how the believer can be cleansed from post-salvation sins; c) A sheep is a defenceless animal. The only protection the Sheep has is the shepherd. If the shepherd isn't doing his job the sheep will be destroyed. In the same way by analogy, the pastor protects the sheep by teaching the truth and by exposing error. The pastor has to give the sheep the information they need so that they can develop critical thinking skills and avoid false teaching; d) A sheep is helpless when it is injured and completely dependent upon the shepherd to care for its wounds and get it medicine. In the same sense, when a believer is injured through suffering, adversity and hardships in life it is the pastor-teacher who helps him recover from his injuries through the teaching of the mechanics of the spiritual life—the ten problem-solving devices—so that the believer can recover and handle the situation through the grace mechanics that God has supplied for the believer in the Christian life; e) A sheep cannot find food or water for itself and it dependent upon the shepherd for these. In the same sense it is the gifting of a man with the gift of pastor-teacher who communicates the truth to the congregation. The congregation cannot feed itself. The believer should read the Scriptures, familiarise himself with the Scripture, with the promises of God in the Scripture, but he cannot feed himself from the Scripture. It is necessary to have the pastor-teacher; that is why God gives the pastor-teacher to the church; f) A sheep is easily frightened or panicked. The shepherd calms the sheep with his voice or with music. By analogy, it is the teaching of the pastor that prepares the sheep for any and every disaster in life so that they can remove fear, worry, and anxiety from their life as they apply the principles of doctrine; g) A sheep produces wool as a result of the care of the shepherd. By analogy, as the pastor teaches the Word of God and as the believer takes in the Word of God under the teaching ministry of God the Holy Spirit, and abides in Christ and walks by means of the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit is produced. As that fruit of the Spirit is produced it gives testimony to the will of God and to the grace of God, and God is glorified; h) Sheep are the only animal in all of nature that cannot live on their own. They cannot live in isolation, they must be taken care of by a shepherd. In the same way, believers cannot live in isolation from the body of Christ and from a pastor-teacher. Many have tried and they always fall into carnality.

  1. The second term for a pastor is didaskalos [didaskaloj]. Not everything a shepherd does to sheep is analogous to something a pastor would do to a congregation. So we have to realise that the Bible is going to define the parameters of the metaphor. The Bible restricts and defines the parameters of pastor by this second noun, "teacher." This fits perfectly with what Jesus told the disciples in John 21. He said to Peter three times: "If you love me, feed my sheep." So this second word in Ephesians 4:11 restricts the function of pastor to teaching.
  2. A third word used in the New Testament to refer to the leader of a congregation s episkopos [e)piskopoj]. This is the word that meant overseer, the supervisor, the one who is the guardian of the flock. This emphasises his authority in some sense, that he is the overseer of the congregation, the one who is the policy-maker and the one who directs the congregation. Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1, 2; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 2:25; 5:2. This is the word that was transliterated over into English as Episcopal.
  3. Another word that is sometimes used in reference to a pastor is "minister." The word in the Greek is diakonos [diakonoj] which originally meant someone who waited on tables. So the emphasis here is on the pastor-teacher as someone who is a servant of the congregation, and he serves the congregation by teaching them the Word of God.
  4. A fourth word used is persbuteros [presbuteroj] and this emphasises the individual's seniority and authority—not that he is necessarily physically older but the senior leader, the highest authority in the local congregation. 1 Timothy 5:17, 19; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1. Every local church has only one leader. 
  5. Two other words used are related to one another. The noun is kerux [khruc] and was originally a term describing the herald of the king, the person who went out announcing the decisions of the monarch, the policies of the monarch. The verb kerusso [khrussw] is the verb meaning to proclaim the plan and the policy of the king. These two words describe the function of the pastor-teacher.