1. The Greeting (VV. 1–4)
Third John follows the typical pattern of the ancient epistle (as does 2 John; see comments at v. 1). The author wishes to establish positive and friendly affection with his reader. Adopting the letter writing style of the day, the greeting consists of three basic parts: (1) identification of the author and his recipient (v. 1), (2) a blessing or expression of good wishes (v. 2), and (3) a greeting or word of praise (vv. 3–4).
(1) The Sender (V. 1a)
1a This letter begins in the same way as 2 John with the author simply identifying himself as the elder (see the comments on 2 John 1). He writes on his own authority and with a sense of authority. The elder, whom I believe to be John the apostle, rightly held a position of theological, moral, and pastoral leadership over the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter used a similar title when addressing a group of elders in his first epistle (1 Pet 5:1). Men of respect and authenticity with a solid “track record” could rightly identify themselves by this term (ho presbuteros).
(2) The Recipient (V. 1b)
To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
1b The letter is addressed to a man named Gaius. This is the only epistle of John addressed to an individual by name. In this regard it is similar to Paul’s letter to Philemon. “Gaius” was a common name in the Roman Empire of the first century, and three men by that name appear in the New Testament: Gaius of Corinth (Rom 16:23). Gaius of Macedonia (Acts 19:29), and Gaius of Derbe (Acts 20:4). Because the name was common, it is unlikely the Gaius of 3 John should be identified with any of these. To my “dear friend” (tō agapētō) appears four times in the letter and at significant locations (vv. 1, 2, 5, 11). The term appears on six occasions in 1 John. “Dear friend” is probably too weak to convey the affection the term bears. The elder desires to express deep and genuine love for this man. Gaius is near and dear to his heart. He is loved by John.
To reinforce his affection and go beyond typical convention the elder adds (lit.) “whom I myself love in truth.” The “I” is emphatic. John has in mind a love which is a companion to the truth of the Christian faith. Truth is an important theme, for it is mentioned seven times in this brief letter (vv. 1, 3, [twice],4, 8, 12[twice]). Love does not function as some disconnected emotion with no substance or content. Without truth it will devolve into mere sentimentalism. Love and truth are necessary companions. They go together. They work together. They must stay together. John expresses sincere love flowing from both heart and head, a love rooted in him who is the “truth” and “true God” (John 14:6; 1 John 5:20).
(3) The Blessing (Prayer-Wish) (V. 2)
2Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.
2 After an initial greeting, John moves to express his good wishes for Gaius in the form of a brief prayer. He begins by again expressing his love and affection through the second use of agapēte (“dear friend”). In Greek concerning “all things” is put first in the sentence for emphasis: “Concerning all things [John] prays that [Gaius] may prosper and be in health just as his soul prospers” (my translation). The word “prosper” (translated “all may go well with you” in the NIV) can mean “to have a good journey.” Here it is used metaphorically. John asks God for the best in every way for Gaius. Further, he specifically prays for “good health.” It is clear that Gaius was a man with a clean bill of health spiritually. That he was also in good health physically is not so certain given John’s request. It should be noted that to pray or wish for someone “good health” was a common feature of the letters of this day. Brown points out we need some type of contextual clue to see a definite and specific request for the good health of someone who is ill. What we can be certain of is that Gaius was thriving spiritually. He was in the best sense of the phrase a man of God.
John’s prayer-wish should give us pause. What if such a prayer was made to God for me and it was answered? What condition would I find myself in physically and spiritually? Compare your bodily health to your spiritual health. Dare we hope or pray for ourselves or others in this manner? The order is not insignificant. The spiritual is indeed “the standard of measurement for the physical.”
(4) Word of Praise (VV. 3–4)
3It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. 4I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
3 There is ample evidence that Gaius was “soul healthy.” The elder had received a report from itinerate teachers concerning Gaius. It was a source of “great joy” (echarēn lian) to the elder. The report was that Gaius was in the truth and walking in the truth. The emphasis is twofold. First, he was faithful in what he believed. Second, he was faithful in how he lived. In doctrine and deed Gaius was commendable, praiseworthy, and consistent. To walk in the truth is to conduct one’s life in the truth. It is to flesh out in conduct one’s confession. Loyalty to Christ and the gospel marked his life. Gaius continued to do the truth he had been taught.
4 Verse 4 reinforces v. 3. It also carries the word of praise (exordium) a step further. In v. 3 the elder has “great joy.” In v. 4 he now has “no greater joy.” The elder is enthusiastic and emphatic in his joy over what he hears concerning Gaius. The life of Gaius and his service for the Savior are of the greatest joy to John. “Children” of course is plural and is regularly used by Paul in referring to his own converts (1 Cor 4:14; Gal 4:19; Phil 2:22). That the elder views Gaius as one of his children could indicate he was responsible for leading Gaius to faith in Christ. It is also possible John simply has in mind all believers who are under his pastoral care. Regardless of the view taken, John’s point is clear. He experiences supreme joy when it is reported to him that those under his watchcare are walking in the truth. To walk in the truth means to know it, believe it, and live it. As Stott writes: “Whoever walks in the truth is an integrated believer in whom there is no dichotomy between profession and practice. On the contrary, there is in him an exact correspondence between creed and conduct.”
—New American Commentary