John writes to a believer called Gaius who seems to have been a convert of John’s (this is why John describes him as one of his children in verse 4). This brief letter gives insights into life in the early church.
Gaius had shown hospitality to some travelling Christians. They probably were preachers sent out from the church in Ephesus to the surrounding cities and towns. On such preaching tours, they were dependent on hospitality being shown to them by Christians wherever they went. The fact that Gaius showed such hospitality was clear evidence that he belonged to the truth and that he was a fellow worker in the faith.
Hospitality was not to cover the bare essentials. Instead, it was to be done as if God was the guest (v. 6). Hospitality was also to be shown knowing that the travellers had resolved to depend on other Christians rather than accept help from elsewhere (v. 7). It would not have been a good Christian witness for the preachers to stay in an inn when there was space they could have been given in the homes of Christians.
Gaius’ treatment of the preachers had been told by them when they returned to their home church. Evidently, it was the custom to say what their experience had been in other churches. Perhaps we should do the same when we return home from a journey – this is one way to inform believers what to pray about.
In contrast, Diotrephes did not help the travelling preachers. It is clear that he did not like John and would not help anyone linked to him. Moreover, he took action against anyone who did. There is no hint that he was unorthodox in his beliefs, although John does say that Diotrophes had lost sight of God. Instead, the sin of Diotrophes was that he wanted to be in charge, which means that he is a warning to church leaders who like to dominate proceedings.
Some people admire strong leadership, whatever that may mean. What Diotrophes did not have was shepherd leadership, marked by a care for the flock. Any leader without a shepherd heart has the potential to be a Diotrephes. How do we recognise such a one? When he is willing to divide the flock and ban other shepherds from helping them are the marks given here by John.
The letter was delivered by Demetrius, whom John commends highly. Perhaps Demetrius was a new preacher and Gaius would need assurance of his suitability. Diotrophes would try and stop Demetrius, but Gaius now knew that he should support this new preacher when he arrived. His hospitality extended now to ensuring that Demetrius could speak to the church when it gathered after his arrival.