3 John 1-8 How to Build Lasting Relationships

3 John 1-8 How to Build Lasting Relationships February 8, 2007

3 John 1-8 How to Build Lasting Relationships

3 John 1-8 How to Build Lasting Relationships

I am starting a new sermon series that I calling “How to Live a Life that Loves.” I want to spend the next four weeks, in the book of 3 John. We will look at this book from the examples of four men: Gaius, Diotrephes, Demetrius, and John.

From Gaius, we will learn about building relationships, Diotrephes will teach us about conflict resolution. Demetrius will help us understand effective communication. Finally, the apostle John will teach us about capable leadership.

Within the church, there are three kinds of members. Some are like wheelbarrows – only useful when they are being pushed. Others are like canoes – they sometimes need to be paddled. Then others are like kites – if you don’t keep them on a string, they will fly away. Others are like kittens – they are contented only when they are petted. Then there are those who are like footballs – you can’t tell which way they are going to bounce next. Lastly, some church members are like trailers – they always have to be pulled along.

How do you get along with so many different people in the church? How do you build lasting relationships with them? Here in 3 John 1-8, John describes four ways to do this.

Gaius, our first example, teaches us the importance of companionship.

In a world where many Christians derive their deepest joy from advancement, ease, promotions, financial security, good health, popularity, and a host of other things, it is delightful, not to say challenging, to hear an apostle who testifies that nothing stirs his joy more than to hear that his “children” are walking in line with the Gospel. That tells us all we need to know of his heart—and of where we should find our pleasures too.

He was given a COMMENDATION, COURAGE, and a COMPLIMENT. The Bible lists several qualities about him, which are also different ways to build a lasting relationship with others.

Love requires that we build lasting relationships. 

We build relationships by how we act. “walk of truth in love” (2-5)

This is John’s code for building relationships. In modern terms, we call this “lifestyle evangelism.”

The first approach is called lifestyle evangelism. It stresses building relationships with unbelievers in order to provide witnessing opportunities. It’s a long-term commitment, one where unbelievers are able to witness Christians modeling the Christian lifestyle.

The principle here is this: The life that Christian lives in the presence of an unbeliever act as a preview of what an unbeliever will see his life becoming if he becomes a Christian. If we are legalistic, condemning, or self-righteous, a non-Christian will not want to become a Christian because that is what he will see himself becoming if he does.

For example, an untimely or thoughtless comment on smoking, drinking, or watching R-rated movies nearly always will slam the door on evangelism. It doesn’t matter whether or not these behaviors are wrong. Even worse, if we live a life more in harmony with the secular world than with the kingdom of God, an unbeliever will judge all Christians as hypocrites and believe that he or she was right all along in rejecting Christianity. The point is that many unbelievers will choose to accept or reject Christianity on the basis of what they see—not what they hear.

The second approach to evangelism is referred to as proclamation. It entails verbally proclaiming either gospel, law, or apologetics. The goal of the proclamation is to present a clear statement of the essential Christian message to unbelievers, in particular, the plan of salvation. However, this goal may not be achieved on a first encounter. Often, unbelievers will raise objections that will have to be overcome before they will seriously consider a gospel presentation. This is when apologetics comes into play. The visit to the atheist at his home and my dinner invitation illustrate proclamation.


A side note needs to made at this point about truth. The word for truth in this passage, as well as many other places in the New Testament, is “aletheia”. The word here means a conformity to reality or actuality; whether historical (in space and time) or supernatural.

One of the difficulties we are going to deal with today as we try to build relationships with other people is that they don’t view truth the same way that the Bible defines it here. There is a fact/value split in the minds of most people today.

For them, the truth is found in science, math, engineering, and other disciplines where you can define your experience by what can be tested – seen, tasted, smelled, and acted upon. Gravity exists for example because it can be proven.

Christianity used to be defined that way in this country. It was just as valid a source of truth as the sciences. But that has changed. People look at philosophy, politics, and religious truth as a source of value, not a fact.

It is like a two-story building. Religious nature of truth (about marriage, family, salvation, and other things important) were put in the first story of a house, along with science, math, and engineering, and biology. Now society has put it on the second level. This second level is the level of opinion, of value, of preference. So I learn truth in school. But in church, I learn what I value. We even call this traditional values.

So what is the problem? People don’t see moral truth the same as you and I do. They see moral truth as a moral opinion, a moral preference. This is why it is hard to share the Gospel with many people. They don’t see the Gospel as exclusive that everyone should accept. They see it as a choice of opinion among other alternatives. Well, Christianity may work for you, but you don’t have to put it on me.

This leaks into other areas. If Christianity is a value preference, like a place a shop, or a car I drive, or the type of clothing I wear, then all other points break down too. For example, family, as defined by the Bible, is not a universal truth. It is a personal preference. So anyone can get married, they have rights too. Christians have bought into this line of thinking in the political realm. We say things like “traditional values.” We have defined truth as a value in the political arena. We even say Christian values. The problem is that these values are based on Christian truth.

So if we are going to build relationships, we need to at least understand what the other person is thinking. This secular, postmodern mindset is hard to overcome by imposing our belief system on them. This is because they have accepted another definition of truth. However, if we learn to act and show how a Christian lives, we will be able to open the door for them to change their mind about their values and their facts.

We build relationships by how we help. “work of truth in love” (5-7)

The apostle Paul said that his ministry as a missionary was “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of [Christ’s] name among all the nations” (Romans 1:5). The apostle John said that missionaries are those who “have set out for the sake of the name” (3 John 7). James, the Lord’s brother, described missions as God’s “visiting the nations to take out of them a people for his name” (Acts 15:14). Jesus described missionaries as those who “leave houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake” (Matthew 19:29).

In context, Gaius was helping strangers, brothers from another church, who came as missionaries. He was a host to these missionaries on their way to share the Gospel with other people.

How helpful are we with other Christians? Lifestyle evangelism is about letting unbelievers see how we live by our actions. However, it also works because it shows unbelievers how we act toward others whom we say we love. How I treat my brother is a signal about how I will treat an unbeliever. If the unbeliever does not believe that we “love one another”, how will they believe that we will love them?

None of this happens in a vacuum. We all have problems and difficulties. We all have probably mistreated or offended one another at one time or another. The test for this church as Christians is how we get over our disagreements. How do we continue building relationships is the test for this postmodern generation.

This generation is looking for people who are willing to stick together no matter how hard life becomes. They want to know that we will not quit on each other. If we don’t give up on each other, then they can see that we won’t give up on them.

How do we show our love by how we help? How do we go about “building others up?”


Live a life of love. 

Dear friend, you are showing faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers, especially when they are strangers.” (3 John 5, HCSB)

Don’t just say you love others, show it. Love everyone God calls you to love. Build relationships with other members of this family and strangers – those who are Christians, as well as those who are strangers to Christ.

We have both been greatly influenced by the book To Transform a City by Eric Swanson and Sam Williams. In their book, the authors use the phrase “ulterior versus ultimate” to describe common motives in building relationships with others.

Ulterior means something is intentionally kept concealed. An ulterior motive is usually manipulative. It’s when we do or say one thing out in the open but intend or mean another thing in private.

Ultimate means the farthest point of a journey. An ultimate goal is an eventual point or a longed-for destination. Examples are when a person begins college hoping to become a physician one day or when a kid starts playing basketball with dreams of one day playing in the NBA.

The ulterior motive in good neighboring must never be to share the gospel.

But the ultimate motive is just that—to share the story of Jesus and his impact on our lives.

There’s a big difference. The “agenda” we need to drop is the well-meaning tendency to be friends with people for the sole purpose of converting them to our faith. Many so desperately want to move people forward spiritually that they push them according to their timetable, not according to how God is working in them. It’s tempting to offer friendship with strings attached.

And the truth is, many Christians have been taught by well-meaning people that they should do nice things solely for an opportunity to have a spiritual conversation. But Jesus never called us to use a bait-and-switch approach, where we become friends with people only to share spiritual truths with them. We are called to love people—period. Whether those people ever take any steps toward God is beside the point. We are called to love our neighbors unconditionally, without expecting anything in return. The Great Commandment says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The commandment ends there, with no other expectations given. Thus good neighboring is an end in itself.

Spend time with them. 

since they set out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from pagans. Therefore, we ought to support such men so that we can be coworkers with the truth.” (3 John 7–8, HCSB)

Spend time with them. The way you love someone most is to spend time with them. Invite them over. Share a meal, open a room.

What I Do Act out of love (v.5-6)

What Others Say See my love (v.3,6)

What God Does Rewards my love (v.2-3)

You can only love in a relationship. You can only truly love people. People see that love and they talk about how you show and share your love. People really observe how you love other members in the church and how you love strangers. How you treat these two groups is a test of your love.


Be truthful with others

For I was very glad when some brothers came and testified to your faithfulness to the truth—how you are walking in the truth.” (3 John 3, HCSB)

Be faithful

Dear friend, you are showing faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers, especially when they are strangers.” (3 John 5, HCSB)

Be hospitable

Dear friend, you are showing faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers, especially when they are strangers.” (3 John 5, HCSB)

Gaius had a relationship with God. This was his vertical relationship.

I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 4, HCSB)

However, he also had a horizontal relationship. He was building relationships with two different kinds of people:

Dear friend, you are showing faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers, especially when they are strangers.” (3 John 5, HCSB)

Two groups of people are addressed here. John is encouraging Gaius in building relationships with other Christians, and with people whom we do not know.

Be courageous

They have testified to your love in front of the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God, since they set out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from pagans.” (3 John 6–7, HCSB)

Gaius was able to build great relationships because of his use of hospitality. In this particular case, these were missionaries. Gaius knew that these people who came to him were stepping out in faith.

Photo by Asaf R on Unsplash

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