Scholar and pastor J. I. Packer notes that the Puritans often referred to pastors as “physicians of the soul.” They meant that just as a medical physician cares for the health of the body, the Christian minister should be concerned with the spiritual health of the congregation.
Third John would agree—but as we see in today’s reading, care for spiritual health often requires addressing difficult issues. The man named Diotrephes, either a member of Gaius’ church or perhaps one of its leaders, “loves to be first” (v. 9). Unlike the servant leadership exhibited by Christ, Diotrephes sought the spotlight and enjoyed being in charge. Second, he refused the very hospitality for which Gaius had been commended. Diotrephes “even refuses to welcome other believers” and “stops those who want to do so.” Finally, Diotrephes seemed to be talking behind the elder’s back, “spreading malicious nonsense about us” (v. 10).
These traits were not idiosyncrasies of a quirky leader. Scripture calls them “evil,” and they should not be imitated. Moreover, the evil actions and attitude of Diotrephes demonstrated that he had not really been transformed by a genuine encounter with God: “Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God” (v. 11). Part of the purpose of 3 John was to warn Gaius about the seriousness of Diotrephes.
The letter ends on a bright note. John commends another man, Demetrius, as being “well spoken of by everyone” (v. 12). Gaius should be encouraged by the news that the elder would be coming for a personal visit where “we will talk face to face” (v. 14). Third John concludes with a pastoral offer of peace and greetings from friends.