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