Partners for the gospel – 3 John

3 John doesn’t spells out for us how we are all partners for the gospel. I doesn’t get preached much, obviously. But it does have some of the New Testament’s most important teaching about the character of Christian leadership. And it helps us see the join between what you do every day and the outreach of this church.

Hopefully this will prove helpful as we face a new year together. It will help you in work, and help direct your prayers for the kingdom work here too.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

We are all partners in mission (1-8)

We read a few different names and there’s a lot going on for such a little letter. Some New Testament letters are to churches; some to individuals. This one is to a man called Gaius. The events seem to be this:

  1. Some travelling teachers have gone from John’s church to the church where Gaius is.
  2. Gaius welcomed them and gave hospitality – which would also mean lending his name and credibility to them there.
  3. It seems there’s a church leader called Diotrephes who didn’t welcome them – and so also rejected John.
  4. The travelling teachers returned to John, who now writes to thank and praise Gaius and to encourage him to keep doing what he’s doing.
  5. John also makes it clear that he will take things up with Diotrephes when he visits himself.

So read 3 John 1:1-2. Those are pretty standard words for letters of the time. Except for the end of v2 – Gaius, as a Christian, is already as well in his spirit as a human can be! So “May your daily life match that” is a warm sentiment.

John speaks of the report he’s had: Read 3 John 1:3-4. [Your translation might say “brothers” where the NLT has “travelling teachers”. “Brothers” means different things across the New Testament, and certainly means travelling teachers here.] These travelling teachers were common in the very early church, passing on teaching and letters from church to church.

And the news about Gaius brings joy to John, because Gaius is “living according to the truth”. What does that mean? We saw in 1 John that means a life striving for holiness (Right Living) and loving other Christians (Right Love) because we are all children of one Father.


Holiness and love characterised Gaius, as demonstrated in his hospitality towards travelling Christian teachers. And that all came from faith in Jesus, Son of God (Right Lord), our great high priest and sacrifice.

He expands on it next. Read 3 John 1:5-6.

Of course God is pleased when his children love one another, so John encourages Gaius to keep on doing good! The reason it’s so important is that these travelling teachers have no other means of support. Read 3 John 1:7-8.

  • These men are working for the Lord.
  • They’re not paid by non-church sources.
  • The Lord expects his people to support his workers.

But that brings out an important point: “we ourselves should support them so that we can be their partners as they teach the truth.” lit. “so that we might be co-workers in truth”


My role in the church is pretty clear. This is my job. My income comes from your giving, whether from your pension, you work, or something else.

  • That makes us co-workers.
  • As you go to work (or went to work) and now give, we’re co-workers.
  • When I was contemplating leaving the corporate world to enter ministry, I knew I had a gospel role wherever I was: That might be earning a lot to contribute money, or switching to a lower income and being more directly involved. 
  • The Lord decided which it was to be. But if I’d stayed in work I’d still have been a partner in ministry every day.

But there’s more.

  • Some of you clean the building; some make refreshments.
  • Others greet visitors at the door, and so on.
  • Tots, Knit2TOG, Connections, finance, music, tech.
  • Some aren’t able to contribute time and energy any more, but can still pray at home – and they do so.

In 2022, let this be a great encouragement to you. No-one is so insignificant that you don’t matter.

Whatever you do for the church – work, prayer, giving – makes us all co-workers and partners for the good news of Jesus here.

We must work cooperatively (9-10)

What comes next is quite shocking: Read 3 John 1:9-10.

Diotrephes didn’t quite get the point about partnership! John had sent these travelling teachers to that church, complete with a letter from John to the church.

  • It’s a bit like a child being sent with a note to a headteacher – the note clearly represents the sender, not the messenger!
  • So when Diotrephes rejects John’s letter, carried by John’s travelling teachers, he is rejecting the apostle John.
  • The Lord’s most-loved, longest-lived apostle. Rejected!

The interesting thing is that Diotrephes isn’t necessarily being highlighted for a doctrinal error. But he’s displaying isolationism. He’s displaying pride. He doesn’t need old man John!

But it goes worse. Not only does he refuse to help the travellers, he forbids anyone else helping them either – or else be thrown out of the church.

  • He’s building a church around himself, and refusing help or authority from outside.
  • He’s cutting his church off from outside influence so that he can have maximum influence over them – “because he loves to be the leader”. 
  • He loves the power and authority. He’s a spiritual bully.
  • And there’s a good chance you wouldn’t see it if you met him. Not straight away.

Again, not a clear doctrinal issue. But a character issue for sure.

Gospel truth and gospel culture

Churches need gospel truth and gospel culture. Both 100%. Leaders must exercise humility, love, submission, service. Pastors can easily become proud.

  • We’re usually trained to be the expert.
  • You’re given a pulpit to speak uninterrupted to a group of people once, twice, or more often each week.
  • All that is right; Jesus spent hours preaching.
  • The New Testament tells me clearly to “preach the word”.
  • But for too many men that becomes a snare.

That’s why having a plurality of elders is actually biblical. A “pastor” is nothing more than a paid elder, with time freed up from secular work to be dedicated to church work. Before this, I worked at Barclaycard while serving as an elder. A plurality of elders provides a spiritual accountability group to a pastor. Please be praying for elders for the benefit of us all.

I’ve seen a number of churches grow old and shrivel because the leadership wanted to keep their hands on things. Pride, isolationism, refusal to accept help from outside their own tribe.

Inviting help

But that attitude can apply to anyone:

  • If you do a work for the church, you can feel that it’s “yours”, to be done “your way”. You don’t welcome help.
  • You think your way of doing it is best and you’re unwilling to hear from others.
  • But that’s a denial of the truth that we’re all partners in mission.

So whatever you do for the church, thank you. We can all thank one another as partners and co-workers! But be open to others serving with you. Invite help.

Your feelings when I say “invite help” will betray your heart.

Are you, perhaps, a bit proud, isolationist? In 2022, remember the encouragement that we are co-workers and partners, than none of us is insignificant. And also remember that none of us is too important either – that we are all co-dependent and connected. In particular, that we are children of one God, in fellowship with his Son.

Apart from Christ you can do nothing. And we are his one body, to work as one. Pray for elders, for unity, and humility before one another.

Fellowship → Partnership → Friendship (11-15)

This letter would need delivering to Gaius. It was probably sent with Demetrius, probably along with travelling teachers again. So as Demetrius arrives at Gaius’s house, and Gaius reads the letter, Gaius has a decision to make:

  • Will he be swayed by the church leader Diotrephes? Will he turn Demetrius away?
  • Or will he welcome John’s group, and face being thrown out by Diotrephes?

Gaius’s right love and right life don’t come from his own ability. He is like that because of his faith in Christ. He has union with Christ, fellowship with the Father. So read 3 John 1:11-12.

As he said in 1 John 1, John has fellowship with the Father and so any true child of God will also have fellowship with John. John speaks God’s truth, so it must be right to welcome Demetrius (sent by John) and ignore the bad leadership of Diotrephes.

It’s good to do good; it’s right to do right.

Diotrephes would lead his church to extinction.

Gaius is to carry on doing right.

This fellowship with God means fellowship with his children. Fellowship is partnership, so the spiritual relationship between John, Gaius, and all God’s children is worked out in practical ways – hospitality, standing up to church bullies.

Partnership becomes friendship

But these aren’t just business partners or colleagues, they’re friends. Look at the warmth in the language as we read 3 John 1:13-15.

  • You’ve probably experienced this in work.
  • As you work longer and harder with people you get to know them better, to trust them, to talk – and you end up friends.
  • How much more is that true in church. I count you my friends – not least because we have worked together for so long and so hard!

I work with Wirral Gospel Partnership pastors, vicars, rectors, elders, leaders.

  • Over the past few years we’ve worked together to host many events, prayer meetings, and missions.
  • Our next mission is at the end of March and there’s a launch event a week on Wednesday for it.
  • Fellowship in Christ drives me to work with those leaders. That fellowship has led to partnership in action. 
  • After so long, that partnership is now friendship.
  • As good as that is, we would benefit even more here if I was developing that with fellow elders here.

Churches are almost unique in having friendships exist across age and social divides – often even more broad than families. You will obviously have friends outside the church – people you wish to share the good news of Jesus with.

But be sure to develop friendships within the church too, to share in the warmth John had. And if you really want to follow John’s lead, develop friendships with God’s children in other churches too. The LIFE Mission is a great way to start, as you learn someone else’s name and promise to pray for each other.

So, in 2022, be encouraged that no-one is unimportant in the Lord’s work here. Also, remember that no-one is too important, and no-one is to build their own empire (however big or small).

It’s the Lord’s mission we’re on, and we’re all his servants.

May he be pleased to build his kingdom here. Pray to that end.