The Threefold Secret of Life

Study Guide to 1,2,3 John
by Francis Foulkes ©



'The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth. Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in health; I know that it is well with your soul. For I greatly rejoiced when some of the brethren arrived and testified to the truth of your life, as indeed you do follow the truth. No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth' (3 John 1-4).

When we read this letter that we call 3 John after reading 2 John we realize that the two letters are very similar. As we noticed was the case between 1 John and 2 John, so when we read 2 John and 3 John side by side we see that many of the same key words and phrases are used. They speak of 'love' and 'truth' and 'joy' in similar ways, of the writer's joy in his friends' following the truth, of the things that he can put down on 'paper' and the things he looks forward to talking about when he sees his friends to whom he writes 'face to face'. Both are written by 'the elder' but 3 John is written to a single person, Gaius. The name Gaius was a common one in those days (see Acts 19:29, 20:4, Romans 16:23, and 1 Corinthians 1:14 for different men of that name). Of this Gaius we have no certain knowledge apart from what we can understand from this letter. Gaius seems to have had a position of some leadership responsibility in the church where he was; he was an example to others in his Christian living and, in particular, he was one who showed generous hospitality to strangers. Three things stand out from this first part of the letter, three things that any sensible person would want to have: health of life, truth of life and the joy of life.

a. Health of life

We have seen that many letters in the New Testament have greetings like the greetings used in most other letters in those days, except that the greetings have become prayers for the richest of God's blessings that He gives us in Jesus Christ. It was also very common for letters in those times to have good wishes for the health of the person to whom the letter was written. Here there are good wishes like that, but with a difference. 'I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in health; I know that it is well with your soul.' 'The elder' wanted the very best for Gaius in every way, in body and soul; so he asked God for that best. He could say that he knew that Gaius was well and healthy in his soul, in his spiritual life. To both the writer and the reader this was the most important kind of health. Many people are concerned to keep fit and well in body. They have exercises and control what they eat and drink for the sake of their health. That is right and good. The Christian is reminded in the New Testament (in 1 Corinthians 6:19) that his body is a 'temple of the Holy Spirit', and so it is to be kept fit and useful for Him. But many people are much more concerned about physical training and physical fitness than about spiritual training and spiritual fitness. In 1 Timothy 4:7- 8 there are some wise words of advice, 'Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for life and also for the life to come'. Gaius was concerned for health of body and soul. We should be like him.

b. Truth of life.

Another thing that could be said about Gaius was that he did 'follow the truth' in his life. 'The elder' says that people testified 'to the truth of (his) life'. This suggests that he not only knew the truth, accepted and believed it, but that he lived it out in his life. It is important to notice the ways that the New Testament speaks not only about knowing the truth and believing the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10, 1 Timothy 4:3) but also living in the truth, loving in truth (1 John 3:18) and doing the truth or living according to the truth (1 John 1:6). Jesus said that we can only really know the truth in our minds when we are ready to obey it and do God's will in our lives (John 7:17). Christian truth is never just for the mind but is for the whole of life. Gaius was a balanced Christian, wanting to live by the truth, and to do so in love, wanting to live with a healthy body, a healthy mind and a healthy soul.

c. Joy of life.

We can find joy in life in many ways as God 'generously gives us everything for our enjoyment' (1 Timothy 6:17, Today's English Version). There is, however, no greater privilege in life than being called to serve God and to share the knowledge of His truth and love with others. It then becomes the greatest joy possible for us to find others with whom we have shared that knowledge going on in their following the truth. This is what 'the elder' says here (and compare 2 John 4): 'I greatly rejoiced when some of the brethren arrived and testified to the truth of your life ... No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth'. In the same kind of way the apostle Paul begins most of his letters expressing his joy and thankfulness to God for His work in the lives of those to whom he had preached the gospel. The Philippian Christians he calls 'my joy and crown' (Philippians 4:1) because he was so happy at the thought of their going on in Christian faith and discipleship

In 1 John 1:4 John says that he is writing his letter to help and strengthen his friends in their faith 'that our joy may be complete'. In Luke 10:21 we read of the joy of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself in the way that simple men and women had accepted the truth and become His disciples. We read how He 'rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, 'I thank thee. Father Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes'.' We, too, can have that great joy - the greatest and most lasting joy in life - of knowing God's truth and of sharing with others 'the unsearchable riches of Christ' (Ephesians 3:8).


Lord God, for ourselves we pray and for our families and friends, that we may have the health of body and mind and spirit that You intend us to have. Help us to follow truth and love in every part of life, and may we seek and find the joy of serving You and of bringing others to be strong in the faith of Jesus Christ our Saviour. AMEN.

For further thought and study.

1. From this whole letter gather together the things that are said about Gaius and about his Christian life. In what ways are those things an example to others?

2. What evidence do we have that Jesus was concerned for people to have both physical and spiritual health? What steps should we take to keep in the greatest possible health of body and soul?