Formations 11.23.2014: Curators of Reputation

3 John

George Romney, The Accusation of Susanna, c. 1773

George Romney, The Accusation of Susanna, c. 1773

These days many job-seekers turn to professional networking sites like LinkedIn and Quora to burnish their personal brand and make connections with possible employers. But what if their networking platform were actually sabotaging them rather than helping them?

That is the potential scenario some LinkedIn members may face now that a premium membership feature lets others, such as recruiters or hiring managers, search their networks for co-workers and reach out to them informally. One can assume one’s handpicked references will give the job-seeker a glowing recommendation, but what about a randomly selected co-worker?

In a recent article, J. Maureen Henderson argued that this sort of scenario spells the end of “personal branding.” Simply put, with the growth of social networking—and even the cultural expectation that people will interact with each other on social networking platforms—people have less and less control over how others perceive them.

As University of Washington School of Law professor Anita Ramasastry explains, “A company can now decide which people associated with you can be curators of your reputation in situations that matter.”

There can be great power in “curating” the reputation of another—in defining who that person is for a third party. And it is possible for such power to go to someone’s head. That seems to be the case in 3 John.

The Elder did not merely warn believers to be careful whom they welcomed into their church. He also warned them to be careful whom they turned away. A certain Diotrephes refused to extend hospitality to teachers and preachers the Elder had sent, apparently more concerned about his own role as ecclesiastical gatekeeper than about the unity of God’s people. He made “unjustified and wicked accusations” (v. 10) against those he ought to have recognized as fellow believers.

We have no way of knowing whether he did any permanent damage to the reputations of these upstanding missionaries. We do know, however, that the Elder warned Gaius, another church leader, not to listen to him.

J. Maureen Henderson, “Personal Branding Is Dead—Here’s Why,”, 11 Nov 2014


• When have you seen someone injured by “unjustified and wicked accusations”?
• How can Christians show wisdom and grace when a fellow believer’s integrity is called into question?
• When have Christians become so zealous to preserve the church’s purity that they have compromised its unity?
• What can we do to guard against such a narrow-minded attitude?
• How can Christians recognize who is a fellow believer to be welcomed and heard?

Reference Shelf

Hospitality in the New Testament

In the NT the practice of hospitality is amply attested. Jesus had no apparent place of residence (Matt 8:20) and relied on the hospitality of others (Mark 14:3; Luke 8:3; 10:38; John 12:1-2). When Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, they also depended upon hospitality (Matt 10:5-15; Mark 6:7-11; Luke 10:4-11) as did Peter (Acts 10:5-6), Paul (Acts 16:15; Rom 16:23; Phil 4:14-18), and other missionaries (Acts 18:27; 3 John 5-8) in the early days of the church. During times of persecution hospitality provided by Christians for Christians was especially important since it offered protection and encouragement through fellowship and worship (Acts 10:7)….

The NT churches were encouraged to practice hospitality (Heb 13:2; 1 Pet 4:9) and did. People both close at hand (Acts 2:44-45) and far away (Rom 15:26-27; 2 Cor 9:1-2) were cared for. Jesus’ teaching that to care for anyone was to care for him lived on in the church (Gal 4:14) and undoubtedly served to bond the Christian communities together as one.

Robert C. Dunston, “Hospitality,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990) 393.

Introduction to 3 John

This brief personal letter, the shortest book of the New Testament, skillfully juxtaposes hospitality embodied (vv. 5-8) and denied (vv. 9, 10). Hospitality was a necessary component of early missionary strategy and a sign of obedience to the love command (cf. Rom 13:9, 13; Heb 13:1-2; 1 Pet 4:8-10). The letter is about doing for the leading characters, Gaius (vv. 5, 6) and Diotrephes (v. 10), and also for the defining maxim (v. 11bc). The modern reader is allowed a glimpse into early connections among churches, as the writer assumes they should be cooperatively associated.

The Elder, presumably the same author as for 2 John, penned a fascinating letter to Gaius, not otherwise known though this common name appears elsewhere in the New Testament (Acts 19:29; 20:4; 1 Cor 1:14; Rom 16:23). This letter to Gaius moves from commendation and appeal (vv. 2-8) to scathing criticism (vv. 9-10) to recommendation (v. 12). It addresses a crisis or “exigence” stirred up by the resistance and expulsive policies of Diotrephes. The letter was drafted because of a glowing report from returning missioners (vv. 3, 6) about the graciousness of Gaius along with a disturbing account of the recalcitrance of Diotrephes. Third John comes across as a letter of request, rather like Philemon, containing implicit warning as well. It partakes of the rhetorical in the sense of concerted efforts at persuasion through three personal addresses begun with “beloved.” The Elder addresses Gaius quite personally throughout, using the second person “you” fourteen times, ten times explicitly with a personal pronoun; interestingly, the pronoun is entirely absent in the passage related to Diotrephes. One muses in passing that the letter might have come to be known as John’s letter to Gaius, making him far better known.

The “story line” for 3 John took its beginning when representatives from the Elder’s church were sent to one or more churches. These missioners or missionaries, the terms here used interchangeably, were received graciously by Gaius and rejected abrasively by Diotrephes in apparent response to the “something” the Elder had written (v. 9). Diotrephes may not have even bothered to read it, or perhaps he read it and was enraged by its content. The representatives returned and reported to the sending church. The Elder, presumably in conjunction with his church and perhaps as the voice of the Johannine school, writes a letter probably delivered by Demetrius….

Diotrephes stands in violation of the principle of Christian hospitality. A certain accountability is implied by the Elder, forecasting a probable visit but also moral support for Gaius who will not have to deal with Diotrephes alone. The adroit author will bring forward a general maxim (v. 11), possibly developed in the Johannine school. He will utilize thesis and antithesis as a kind of test (v. 11bc) and the authority of testimony (vv. 3, 6, 12). He moves from positive (vv. 2-8) to negative (vv. 9-10) to positive (v. 12), sandwiching skillfully the criticism with commendation. He asks a great deal of Gaius, requesting not only hospitality but also additional support, but given the character and track record of Gaius the author is understandably hopeful. Is he implicitly urging Gaius to cross Diotrephes, to risk being expelled from the church himself? It is not certain whether Gaius and Diotrephes belonged to the same house church or were simply in the same vicinity, but v. 9a could be taken as referencing the same church, though it could have in mind the churches to which the Elder relates (Johnson), especially if the tantalizing “something” written refers to 1 or 2 John. The fact that Gaius evidently is not expelled from the church suggests two different churches in close proximity. Gaius may have been a prominent member or the ministerial leader of a nearby house church. The fact that he is juxtaposed to Diotrephes in the letter and is the recipient of the letter could suggest that he was the minister, but if so we would expect some title. We do not know.

One wonders how this brief and personal letter came to be preserved. It is a safe bet that Diotrephes did not save it! It could have been retained by Gaius, by the Elder himself, or by Demetrius. Gaius would have treasured it. The skimpy letter struggled to make its way into the canon. Its celebration of Christian hospitality, its association with the apostle John, possibly the success of the letter, and the fact that connection won out over the model of totally independent congregations all contributed to its acceptance.

Third John stands not only as a pastoral-polemical letter as 1 and 2 John but also particularly as a missionary epistle. This is the only Johannine letter addressed to an individual.

Peter Rhea Jones, 1, 2, & 3 John, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 209), 244–47.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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