3 John and Work

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
3 john

Like 2 John, 3 John is so short that it is not divided into chapters. Nonetheless, it contains two passages applicable to work.

An Example of Gossip at Work (3 John 1–12)

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John addresses the letter to a “co-worker” (3 John 8) named Gaius. John demonstrates a personal touch when he says, “I pray that all may go well with you, and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul” (3 John 2). He pays attention to his co-worker’s body (health) and soul. By itself, this is an important lesson for the workplace—not to see colleagues merely as workers but as whole people.

John then offers himself as an example of someone who is not being treated well in his work. A member of the congregation named Diotrephes has been trying to undermine “our authority,” John says, by “spreading false charges against us” (3 John 10). In all three of his let­ters, John’s primary concern has been bringing together truth and love (3 John 1). Diotrephes is doing the complete opposite—speaking falsely in hate. You can almost feel John’s pain as he says—to use the more dra­matic translation of the New International Version—“I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us” (3 John 10, NIV).

It is doubly painful that Diotrephes is a believer. This reminds us that being a Christian does not by itself make us perfect. No doubt Diotrephes thinks of himself in the right. What we recognize as false gossip, he may well consider simply warning others so they can protect themselves.

When we give our opinion of others in our places of work, do we ever make unfavorable impressions about ourselves or others? One simple test would help us see ourselves as others see us. Would we talk about people the same way if they were in the room? If not, we are very likely giving a false impression of those we’re speaking about, as well as giv­ing a bad impression about ourselves. John, while he has a complaint about Diotrephes, is not gossiping. He knows that his letter will be read aloud in the church, so his complaint will be in the open for Diotrephes to hear and respond to.

Giving his opponent an opportunity to respond to his complaint is an essential element of John’s combining of truth and love. He believes that his complaint against Diotrephes is true, yet he recognizes that his opponent deserves an opportunity to explain or defend himself. How different from the kind of trial-by-press campaigns conducted by many public figures today, in which insinuations are spread through the mass media, where there is no opportunity to respond on the same scale.

This principle applies not only to how we speak of individuals but also groups. To collectively denigrate others is as bad as, if not worse than, gossiping or slandering an individual. Virtually every kind of un­just treatment of people at work begins by casting them as members of an inferior or dangerous group. Whenever we hear this happening, it signals our opportunity to speak out against prejudice and guilt by as­sociation and in favor of finding the truth of the specific situation.

John’s commendation of Demetrius, the brother carrying the letter, is also interesting. John uses his influence as a leader in the church to raise up Demetrius to Gaius and his church. John commends Demetrius for both his life of truth and the respect given him by fellow believers. Leaders in the workplace can use their power and influence effectively toward the end of truth, justice, love, and mercy, even when the gospel is not outwardly acknowledged.

Greet People by Name (3 John 13–14)

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The letter ends with the same thought that concludes 2 John. John has things to communicate that would be better said face to face than in pen and ink (3 John 13–14). But there is a twist in 3 John that offers another insight for our daily work. At the very end, John adds, “Greet the friends there, each by name.” Speaking a person’s name adds further to the personal touch that John recognizes is needed in communication.

Many of us come face to face with hundreds of people in the course of our work. To some degree, we need to communicate with each of them, even if only to avoid knocking into each other in the hallway. How many of them do we know well enough to greet by name? Do you know your boss’s boss’s boss’s name? Probably. Do you know the name of the person who empties the trash in your workplace? Do you greet people by name when you are in conflict with them? Do you learn the names of newcomers to the organization who may need your help at some point? The names you bother to learn and those you don’t can reveal a lot about your level of respect and compassion for people. John cares enough to greet “each” person by name.