John begins his letter to Gaius with this:
The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. – 3 John 1:1
Now, John doesn’t identify himself explicitly here, which leads some to doubt that he was the one that wrote it. But the style of the letter and the emphasis on certain subjects, plus the church’s history of understanding this as having been written by John, point strongly to his authorship.
But he simply refers to himself as the elder. He uses this term, which was an office in the church, and it expresses humility. John had the right to identify himself as “the Apostle”, but instead chooses to write in the capacity of a more common office in the church.
At the same time, being an elder, a pastor, an overseer carries certain connotations of authority. He is an under-shepherd of His church. He has huge responsibilities for the kingdom of God. He’s writing to encourage Gaius, to recommend a man named Demetrius, and to warn against a certain Diotrephes. He was writing in an official capacity.
In this capacity, John addresses his recipient, to the beloved Gaius. John is widely known as “the Apostle of love” because of his rigorous emphasis on the subject. He loves God’s love to His people, loves their love for God, and loves their love for one another. And he loves Gaius. Oh, sheep, will you be known as one who loves God and His people?
We don’t really know who this Gaius is. This name was so common in the Roman Empire and this letter was written so late that it wouldn’t make sense to try to tie him to one of the Gaiuses in Acts. What we know of this Gaius we’ll see in the rest of the letter, and it’s enough to encourage us greatly.
Whoever this Gaius is, John loves him and he loves him in truth. This could mean “I love you, for real”, but more likely, John is bringing in his second major theme, truth. In this case, he’s probably talking about the Scriptures, including the Apostles’ teaching, in which we’ll soon see Gaius was walking.
It is the Scriptures that give us the foundation of our love for one another. We love because God first loved us. As Jesus has loved us, so we are to love one another. Not only is it what logically follows being loved by God, but loving one another is commanded by God. To love one another in truth is to love one another in light of what God has revealed and according to His commandments.
Especially in Reformed circles, love tends to be under emphasized. We herald truth over love, but actually, both are required. We don’t sacrifice one for the other. We must speak the truth in love and love one another in truth.