Notes on the Apostle John’s Epistles

Taken at a Bible Study Led by Walt Henrichsen

In San Francisco, 10-14 March 2008



Table of Contents

3 John. 1

The identity of “the beloved Gaius” (3 John 1) 1

General observations about 3 John. 1

Diotrephes (3 John 9,10) 2

The unique authority of the apostles was obnoxious. 2

Three forms of Church government 2

Elders in the Church. 2

Aspiring to be an overseer 3

Serving as a leader when God calls. 5

The importance of being brothers and serving. 5

John’s dealing with Diotrephes’ problem (3 John 9,10) 6

“Do not imitate what is evil” (v.11) – is this general or referring to Diotrephes?. 6

Correcting counter-biblical thinking today without any defining apostolic gift 6

The problem of scathing criticism of church leaders in America. 7

John’s letters and the Ephesian church. 8



3 John


The identity of “the beloved Gaius” (3 John 1)

·        In 1 Cor. 1:14 Paul mentioned that he had baptized a man of Corinth [in Greece] named Gaius.

·        [Paul probably wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus around 56 A.D.]

·        In Rom. 16:23 Paul wrote that a man named Gaius was “his host and the host of the whole church”

·        [This might have been the same Gaius of 1 Cor. 1.]

·        [Paul probably wrote Romans from Corinth around 57 A.D.]

·        Acts 19:29 mentions a Gaius of Macedonia [north of Greece] who was with Paul in the riot of Ephesus [around 57 A.D].

·        Acts 20:4 mentions Gaius of Derbe who joined Paul on his last journey to Jerusalem [around 58 A.D.].

·        [Derbe was a town Paul visited on each of his three missionary journeys from 46-57 A.D.  It was located between Tarsus and Lystra in the Lycaonian District, or what is today southern Turkey.]

·        The Gaius of 3 John [probably written around 90 A.D.] may have been one of these men, or perhaps he was someone else.

·        [Perhaps the other men in the New Testament named Gaius in 56-58 A.D. had already died.]

·        ‘Gaius’ was probably as popular a name then in the Roman Empire as ‘Thomas’ is today in English-speaking countries.

·        So the identity of Gaius in 3 John is a matter of conjecture [and so is the location of his church].


General observations about 3 John

·        John does not make mention of the love commandment of the other epistles here in the third.

·        He uses the word “church” in v. 6,9,10, but nowhere else does he use it in the Gospel or 1 & 2 John.

·        “Church” appears several times in Revelation.


Diotrephes (3 John 9,10)

Q:  What do we know from this epistle about Diotrephes?

·        His name was a Greek name, not a Jewish name.

·        He wanted to be first, have the preeminence.

·        He was not willing to put himself under the authority of the elder.


Q: What is important or striking about that? Or so what?

·        If someone says he does not submit to church authority, he’d better have a very good reason that is not in direct disobedience to a commandment of God.


The unique authority of the apostles was obnoxious

·        The apostles claimed for themselves an authority that they were adamantly insistent upon and that nobody else had.

·        You’d better listen to me, says Paul to the Galatians, but not to those other people – my word, not theirs.

·        What was good for John was not good for Diotrephes – that was offensive to every man.

·        You don’t have to be under authority, but I do – that was Diotrephes’ complaint to John.

·        I remember when my little girl was about to get a spanking, she once said, “Dad do you ever do wrong? Who spanks you?”  She was asking who my authority was.

·        So the claiming of authority is obnoxious to everybody, especially when I tell you that you should not have that kind of authority in others.

·        That’s different from when I come and ask you your opinion.


Three forms of Church government

·        Every argument in the history of the Church – without exception – has centered on who gets to control.

·        In the government of churches, we find three forms: Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Congregational.

·        In the Episcopalian form, the authority resides with the bishop.

·        In the Presbyterian form, it resides with the elders.

·        In the Congregational form, it resides with the congregation.

·        The presence of the 3 within the Church lets us know that the New Testament doesn’t give us any structure or authority in this area.

·        If you argue that the institutional church is manifested in the New Testament, I will not take exception with you, but I will note with you that it’s presence is not helped by [the absence of] God telling them how they are to run it.


Q:  So the New Testament church just grew of itself – a blueprint structure?

·        Yes. That’s what I’m saying.


Q:  There was no model or structure, but rather people just relating to each other?

·        Yes, there is no model [for the institutional church] in scripture.  Also, models are not normative.

·        If models were normative, none of us would marry, because Jesus was our model, and He was celibate.


Elders in the Church

Q:  So in Titus and 1 Tim. 3, do you see the qualifications for elders as descriptive and not a model?

·        I’m saying the presence of an elder does not necessitate an institution.

·        I’m further saying that the men around this table are elders.


Q:  So we ought to have elders?

·        You function as an elder with or without an institution.

·        When Timothy was told to appoint elders, how did he do it?

·        Did he say, “All those qualified, line up against the wall and count off in 3’s; all the 3’s are elders”?

·        We don’t know how he did it


Q:  Would it be OK to say it was descriptive and not prescriptive?

·        Yes, but even in Acts there was no model.

·        If there were a model, there’d be a compelling reason for the Episcopalians to tell the Presbyterians to change their government or vice versa.


Q:  Since there is no model [for elders or Church government in scripture, does that mean] a Chinese house church of four people will not have to explain to God why it did not join something more formal [i.e., register with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and China Christian Council (CCC) and let unbelievers influence it’s leadership team]?

·        Apart from [explaining to God about] disobeying the [Chinese] government, no.


Q:  If a person is not a part of an institutional church, will not God hold him accountable?

Q:  If a person operates on his own and is not accountable to any kind of leadership, can we say he’s wrong?

·        Yes.


Whatever leadership looks like doesn’t matter.  The leader can be in another country or across the world, as long as on Judgment Day you can tell God, “This was my leader.”

·        In most Christian environments, every individual picks his own leader if he is going to have one.

·        The presence of a leader does not mean people will follow any more than a wife necessarily follows the leadership of her husband.  [For example, the contentious women of Pr. 21:9,19; 27:15,16.]

·        There are many ways to refuse following without it looking like rebellion.

·        I don’t know if your kids were different from mine, but my children quickly became experts in ignoring what their parents didn’t want them to do with out appearing to be rebellious.

·        “Dad, come on, you just think you told me to do that,” or “I just forgot, do you ever forget?”

·        We should have real leaders whom we look to for counsel


Q:  We should have real leaders whom we look to for counsel and help.   I’m thinking of Hebrews 13 and the command to obey your leaders.  So what if a guy doesn’t have an institutional church?  Should a person, whether he has an institution or not, find people to be accountable to – mature Christians who are willing to oversee him?  Is that a biblical arrangement?

·        Heb 13:17 says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account.”

·        If I truly believe that I have no problem with another man but only God, then I’d be an absolute idiot not to find people who watch for my soul, because if this is true and you cannot hurt me – and that’s what Hebrews 13 says – “The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid what man can do to me” [Ps. 118:6; Heb. 13:6], then there is only one person that could hurt me – that’s me!

·        So if I really believe that you cannot hurt me, why wouldn’t I want you to watch for my soul?


Aspiring to be an overseer

Q:  Should we seek out formally to get this?

·        I would strongly suggest that any time you look for the opportunity to watch for the souls of others, that you read 3 John and ask yourself whether or not you are like Diotrephes.

·        Men, if you watch for my soul as men who must give account, you are doing me a favor.

·        Why in the world would you want such a thankless task?

·        It’s like we tell our families – it was not my idea that I’m the head of this home.

·        [I think] my wife should be [the head] – she’s smarter, more gifted, more sensitive.

·        Being head of the home was not my idea.

·        Why would anyone want to be the head of anything apart from it being God’s idea?


So, if you say that, it seems that Diotrephes wanted to be first.

·        Diotrephes is like the guy who says, “I’m against bishops unless I can be one.”


One reason to be a spiritual head is that it’s an opportunity to love one another in mentoring.

·        If a man considers you his leader, well and good, but if you consider yourself his leader, be careful.


1 Tim. 3:1 says, “This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work.”

·        First and foremost – I don’t know what your translation says – but there are no offices in the NT.


Q:  So the King James Version is wrong?

·        Yes.  [The verse supports the idea of the role of an overseer, not a formal job title in an institution.]

·        I don’t think an elder is a man going around looking for people he can lead.


Q:  Then, in what sense do we aspire to be overseers?

·        In the sense of being used of God, but again, why would you want to be the head of anybody?


In 1 Tim 3:1, you aspire to the qualities.

·        If you’ll concede to me that everyone who meets those requirements is an elder, then OK, that’s true.


Q:  What if you are motivated by eternal gain to be an elder?

·        Eternal gain is measured exclusively in terms of faithfulness to opportunity.


Lorne Sanny’s story

·        I worked for a number of years for the president of the Navigators [Lorne Sanny].

·        Everywhere he went, I went.  That’s when I traveled all over the world.

·        Men would vomit all conceivable complaints on him day after day after day.

·        In return they called him the president.

·        I traveled with him at times when it got to him so badly that he had to go to the hospital to have them help him relieve his bladder.

·        I asked him, “Why in the world would anybody want your job?”


What you have to do day-to-day in that job is three times greater than the leader of any Christian organization, in terms of getting dumped on with men’s problems.

·        Well, that may be or may not be.  All I can say to you is that I’m the leader of no one but my family.


So we should not ask people to follow us, but if God makes you a leader, then you must stand up and do it.  We can’t say, “I don’t want to do it.  Let somebody else do it.”  You can say that at church, but not when God asks you to do it.

·        I can’t say that to my brother who is a head of a department or an organization.

·        I can say it to any of you that you do it by the will of God and not because you want the preeminence.


Q:  You yourself have said that on the global stage we have a crisis of leadership.  Would you agree with that statement now?

·        I don’t remember saying it, and I don’t think I would agree.


Q:  There’s no crisis of leadership in countries, schools, cities, governments, mayors?

·        If you define leader in terms of a servant, yes.

·        If you define it in terms of people telling others what to do, we have way too many.


Q:  What did the Navigator president say in response?

·        He did not.  I loved the man like my father.  But he paid a high price – indigestion, some kind of reflex – it eventually turned into cancer and killed him.


Q:  Would you say that a person who accepts such high pressure will get a reward in heaven?

·        God will reward everyone to the degree he’s been His faithful and obedient servant.


Q:  Would you caution people not to take that role unless they are sure God has called him to that?

·        Yes, and I’d say it to everyone around the table – whatever the role is.


Q:  Does opportunity mean constitute a call?

·        Opportunity and a call are not the same.  A need it not a call.

·        The needs of the world are like a black hole.


Serving as a leader when God calls

There’s a term called PAM – Passive Asian Male.  Women use it to describe some men.

·        It would be true in the US too – Passive American Male.

·        Pusillanimous [lacking courage or resolution; cowardly; faint-hearted; timid]


Q:  I always thought that to be [good] Christian men we need to stand up and just serve people by leadership, to call right right and call wrong wrong, take a risk.  Nobody wants to do that.  Diotrephes here tempers that, but I always call young men to leadership – not to be a PAM but to take these risks.  Would you affirm that?

·        It depends on how you define being a leader.


You define it as being a servant, and serving people is seeing something wrong, stopping someone and saying something about it.

·        Only within the parameters of the commandments

·        I have no authority over another man apart from the negative commandments.


Q:  In management training [you hear that] in a group some people are born for different purposes.  Some are leaders.  Others are followers, executives and supporters.  Do you think non-leaders are perhaps more blessed in that they might not be like Diotrephes?

·        A man who defines being a natural leader by, “I want the job to be the head,” – I want to be as charitable as possible – but I would suggest that man is an idolater.


Q:  So, don’t go after power?

·        I don’t know where I would go in scripture to affirm that worldview.


The importance of being brothers and serving

·        So a corollary would be that none of us are born servants.  We need to be trained.  We want to be served.

·        Mt. 23:8,9 says, “But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teachers, the Christ, and you are all brethren.  Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, who is in heaven.”

·        Do not call anyone your leaders.  Only one is your leader

·        It seems that the Brethren [denomination] would be the best model.

·        This was in the context of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

·        They aspired prominence, so Christ humbled them.

·        “Whoever is greatest among you shall be your servant” [Mt. 23:11].

·        “He who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” [Mt. 23:12].

·        So the best model would be Christ and all [the rest be] servants.


More on Lorne Sanny’s leadership

·        I had no problem at all in seeing Lorne Sanny as my leader.  I enjoyed following

·        What I told him, I tell you.  I cannot understand how anybody would want the job.


Q:  When you say that you are only the leader of your home, are you saying that that’s the only biblically commanded role that God gives you for leadership?  All other leadership roles are your own choosing, and you’d better be sure it’s God’s will for you?

·        I’m the leader of my home because it’s the will of God, not because I want it.

·        You’ll have to ask my children and my wife if they see more as a servant than as a leader.


John’s dealing with Diotrephes’ problem (3 John 9,10)

Q:  Why did John not discipline as fiercely as Paul?

·        In 3 John I am left wondering whether or not he even had met Gaius.  Maybe he’d just never been there.

·        So that’s why he said, “I want to come to talk things over face to face.” [3 John 14]


He just listened to some traveling missionaries’ hearsay [rumors] about what was happening.

·        Yes, like v.3 – “The brothers came and bore witness of your truth – how you are walking in the truth.”


Personality issue more than doctrinal issue

·        I have a suspicion that [Diotrephes problem] was probably not a doctrinal issue, but a kind of personality issue – a hostility of domineering.  He just wanted to be dominating.

·        But he also acted defiantly against apostolic authority, which might potentially weaken the Church.

·        He was badmouthing the apostle.

·        The thing that people resented about the apostles was that they claimed an authority for themselves that nobody else could have.

·        It was [seemingly] unfair.


Q:  So Diotrephes did not really break any outward commandments like in 1 Cor. 5?

·        He didn’t exercise apostolic authority as severely as Paul did.

·        Maybe it was a personality difference or maybe the issue was different.

·        I walked away from the letter thinking to myself that maybe this was the beginning of the Episcopal form of government.


“Do not imitate what is evil” (v.11) – is this general or referring to Diotrephes?

Q:  Is verse 11 a general statement, or is it referring to Diotrephes?  “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good.  He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.”

·        I think so – just a general statement.

·        [However,] the example of the arrogant opposition seen in Diotrephes and the strong rebuke by John stands virtually alone in the New Testament with the exception of Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees.


Q:  So verse 11 was a general observation?  Or it referred to Diotrephes?

·        I assumed that that referred to Gaius.


Q:  Is it about Diotrephes in particular or generally as Christian behavior?

·        I don’t know.

·        I just thought as I studied the subject that the comments regarding Diotrephes were parenthetical to the main thought of the letter.

·        The main thought of the letter began in verses 5 through 8 and then continued in verse 11 – that of Gaius’ giving fellowship to the brothers.

·        So Diotrephes was a negative illustration of what John would like to see happen.


Correcting counter-biblical thinking today without any defining apostolic gift

Q:  Do you think there is any such thing as apostolic leadership today?  Was that unique to a certain dispensation, or do we have surrogate type of apostolic leaders in our lives [today]?

·        The biblical apostles were apostolic in the sense that if you want to call yourself a follower of Christ you’ve got to abide by what they said.  Beyond that, they had no designs or authority over your life.


Q:  Is there such leadership in the Church today that, like the apostolic authority of yesteryear, is really focused on doctrinal or correct thinking, that there is a responsibility to correct or point out – like here in First John – and to warn people against wrong, counter-biblical thinking – that kind of strong leadership?

·        I think we all are called to do that.  I think the difference is that, not only were they called to do that, more importantly, they were called to define it.


In that sense the apostolic gift was different.   They were called to define it.  They wrote the Bible!

·        Yes


That kind of authority doesn’t exist today.

·        I will not submit to any authority that claims that [today].


Q:  So the apostles were the ones who defined at that time.  [Today,] do we have some apostles – sent out ones – without the capital letter A?  That could be a non-specific?

·        Yes, Paul seems to suggest that’s the case.


Q:  So apostolic authority is referring to that band.  There won’t be any more?

·        [No response]


Q:  Is there a kind of authority today to write a letter like John did to specifically rebuke somebody else in the Church – a person who is seeking after attention today?  I don’t know of anyone who would write a letter saying somebody is not listening to authority or wants first place, so do not buy his book.  Is there such an authority today to write a letter against another so-called brother?

·        Gentlemen, whether it is God-given or not, they do exist.  There are a lot of them out there.

·        I don’t want to disagree with what they are doing.  I just do not feel called to do it.

·        There’s a book I would encourage all of you to read if you want learn about the Emerging Church.

·        And that’s a book by Don Carson entitled, “Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.”

·        That’s what he’s doing.

·        And if you go to Google and google “Lighthouse Trails Research Project” you can subscribe to a periodical that will do just that.

·        [Go to and click on Sign Up for Free E-Newsletter.]

·        It an exposé of these kinds of people, naming these people.  [It’s] scathing [bitterly severe].

·        One of their most vocal spokesmen is a gentleman by the name of Roger Oakland.


The problem of scathing criticism of church leaders in America

There is widespread criticism of church leaders.  It’s sometimes difficult.  Some of these people do not deserve it.  Some probably do.  In terms of growth for a lot of people, hearing all these negatives can be very damaging to the Church.

·        I would agree with you.  I read a book by Roger Oakland called Faith Undone.

·        In that book I did not feel comfortable with his premise, because you are guilty by association.

·        [That is,] if you’re a friend of my enemy, you’re my enemy – that kind of thing.

·        That’s why I commended Don Carson’s book.

·        He does not do that.  He’s very even, very charitable, [addressing] a lot of questions, but very strong in his position that you cannot compromise with the Bible.

·        But I could not be more in agreement with you.  There’s a lot of [writing that says] he must not be good because he has so-and-so with him.


There was a lot said about Rick Warren, because he had Barak Obama at his conference.

·        That’s the kind of stuff you’ll get in spades in Faith Undone [i.e., in the extreme or without restraint].

·        A little of that goes a long way with me.


John’s letters and the Ephesian church

In Rev. 2:2-4 John wrote about the Ephesian church, “I  know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.”

Q:  Do you think that John’s epistles were written to the Ephesian church?

·        That’s a good question.  I never asked myself that.  I’ll have to go back and think about it.


More thoughts on the Ephesian church

·        Revelation is talking about testing those apostles – probably those missionaries, the sent ones, who are not of the apostolic band.  I think they were practicing this kind of hospitality and testing people.

·        If that were so, then why would he say that they had left their first love?

·        I always wondered what this first love means – does it refer to Christ?

·        It seems very interesting when looking at comments to the Ephesian Church and after studying the three epistles [of John].



[End of discussion on 3 John; Q & A followed]