Whilst many of the letters in the New Testament are written for the benefit of a whole church or group of churches, 3 John is simply a letter from one friend to another, brimming with love and familiarity. The Oxford dictionary definition of a friend is ‘a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection’. That sounds kind of like love! The Bible calls us time and time again to love one another, to be friends. In a society where we are increasingly individualistic, boundaries between reality and virtual reality are increasingly blurred when it comes to relationships, and loneliness is rife, I'd say our need to be good friends is as prevalent as ever. I am certainly not an expert in the area of friendship, and I don’t know if John was, although he did learn from the best in Jesus. But I think that in his letter here he demonstrates being a good friend in a number of ways that we can learn from. So what tips for being a friend can we glean from John?
Verse 2 – He prays for Gaius. It is good to pray for our friends. Not just the ones in crisis, those who are sick or who don't know Jesus. But just those who are our friends, because we care about them enough for them to be on our hearts and to bring them to God.
Verses 3-4 – John is deeply interested in Gaius's walk with God and it gives him joy to know that it is going well. It can sometimes be hard in our friendships to get past the small talk or subjects common to both those who are Christians and those who aren't, and break through into conversation about spiritual things. It can seem almost taboo to talk about God outside of the ‘Word' section of a life group meeting or a ministry time at the end of a church service! But a great way to be a good friend is to take a visible interest in their walk with God.
Some examples of conversation starters could be:
- I missed the sermon this week because of…. What was it about?
- I’m so busy at the moment. What do you do to help you cope when you’re overwhelmed and anxious?
- This food is really good. I really love food. Fasting is HARD! What do you think about fasting?
- I’ve been struggling to find time to read the Bible this week/ I’ve really enjoyed reading 3 John this week! How do you find time to read the Bible in your busy life?
Verses 5-6 – John encourages Gaius. First, by praising his hospitality, his love and faithfulness in using this gift. And then by spurring him on to grow in serving in this way and further his good work. It's good to encourage each other, both by talking about what we've done well but also pointing out what else we can do well!
Verses 9-12 – Out of love for Gaius, for the church and for God’s glory, John speaks the truth across these few verses in a straightforward way. I am often guilty of trying to people please. There’s nothing wrong with being nice to people, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of sharing truth, with a friend, that is good for them. Firstly, John is open about another church leader who is not putting God first or being accountable to his brothers in authority. This is not idle gossip but makes Gaius aware of the situation with Diotrephes, warns of his influence and teaching, and acts as an example of what not to do!
He then goes on to address Gaius directly in instructing him not to imitate evil but to do good. I think it would be pretty easy to offend a friend by telling them not to imitate evil! These two obviously had a relationship where John could sharpen Gaius with instruction and teaching. It is good for us to cultivate friendships in which we can be told to do something well and still know we’re loved. Even to be told we’re doing something wrong and rather than take offence, be grateful for good friends. It’s not very British, but it’s good for us!
Verses 13-14 – He looks forward to spending time with Gaius, and in the meantime writes him a letter! This seems like an obvious ingredient in any friendship – time for each other and connection with each other. It is so easy for life to get busy with… any number of things! Work, family, parties, exercise, ministry, DIY, me time, etc, etc. Let's make sure we make time for friends and not forget how important it is to cultivate good, godly friendships.