Apostle John’s Three Letters . . . 3 John: vv. 3–8
Walking in the Truth
Before we go farther in our study of Third John, we ought to re-examine a specific practice that was common in the early church, since it bears significantly on Second and Third John's messages: "hospitality." According to Pastor and Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, in Jesus' day, "inns were often little more than houses of ill repute. The infamous character of inn-keepers was often noted in Roman laws. So it was natural for Christian people on their travels to be given hospitality by members of local churches.
"Showing hospitality was considered both a Jewish obligation (Deuteronomy 10:18–19; Isaiah 58:7) and a Christian virtue (Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2; 5:10; Titus 1:8; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9). But such hospitality was open to abuse. What about free-loaders? What about those who claimed to be prophets but were false? This issue was so important that it occupies considerable space in a very early Christian document known as the Didache, a first-century church manual, perhaps written in the same decade as John's letters. In Second and Third John, the issue of showing hospitality is prominent: In Second John, we are given insight into when showing hospitality would be wrong; in Third John, we see both a positive example of Gaius showing hospitality and a negative example of Diotrephes refusing hospitality."
We'll meet three characters in John's third epistle: (1) Gaius, the letter's addressee, who'd righteously been accommodating visiting Christian missionaries who were preaching the gospel account of Christ; (2) Diotrephes, one of John's house-church leaders who'd become a dictatorial leader of a church in Asia Minor, modern Turkey, but who resorted to refusing to be sociable to the itinerant missionaries, even excommunicating those who remained devotedly hospitable; and (3) Demetrius, a man about whom John had received several excellent reports; he was perhaps a church member or a missionary himself; possibly he was the one who delivered this letter to Gaius.
Clearly, the purpose of this third epistle was to commend and encourage his beloved coworker, Gaius, who'd grown in faith through the apostle’s ministry, to persist in showing hospitality to visiting Christian missionaries while boosting Demetrius's desire to be hospitable to visiting Christian ministers.
Gaius' Faithfulness (3 John, vv. 3–4)
This letter and Second John begin similarly with a commendation and encouragement of the recipient (vv. 3–4) for his faithfulness in promoting the truth. In both of these brief letters, we find a similar expression dealing with his receiving joy after hearing good news about each letter's recipient. Remember this in Second John: "It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us" (2 John, v. 4). Now read what he'd written to Gaius about walking in truth.
3 It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth (Third John, vv. 3–4).
While Gaius was dealing with church troubles, John wanted to direct him, not only in how to respond to those trials but how to personally relate to those who proclaimed the truth of Jesus. The elder was delighted by what a group of Christian missionaries had reported to him about Gaius' behavior toward them. While visiting him, they'd been treated most appropriately, which brought joy to John. His greatest joy, as expressed in both Second and Third John, occurred when he realized how well his spiritual children were walking in the truth of the Word — Jesus Christ — and his teachings that the apostles had taught. Referring to "my children" (v. 4), the author probably regards those under his spiritual authority as his children. Speaking of "the truth," if you'll look back at the start of this letter, you'll see that John accentuated the word “truth” four times in its first four verses!
Looking further at "the truth," John’s kindheartedness towards Gaius came from his appreciation of the extent with which Gaius walked in Jesus' truth. Nothing pleased John more than to know that his children — his members of the church — were, by being faithful to the truth, "walking in it." And when brothers had testified to John that Gaius continually walked in truth, great joy filled the elder's heart. Gaius' devoted walk in truth was noticed by many and attested to because they'd seen it firsthand.
In David Guzik's opinion, "(1) To walk in truth means to walk consistently with the truth you believe. If you believe that you are fallen, then walk wary of your falleness. If you believe you are a child of God, then walk like a child of heaven. If you believe you are forgiven, then walk like a forgiven person; (2) To walk in truth means to walk in a way that is real and genuine, without any phoniness or concealment."
The Godliness and Generosity of Gaius (3 John, vv. 5–8)
Following the apostle's commendation and encouragement of Gaius (vv. 3–4) for his faithfulness to the truth, Gaius will be specifically commended for showing hospitality to itinerant preachers of the gospel, even though such men were strangers to him.
5 Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. 6 They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. 7 It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. 8 We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth (Third John, vv. 5–8).
After greeting Gaius with "Dear friend," John praised Gaius for his hospitality and faithful service to traveling missionary "brothers and sisters," even though he didn't know them personally since they were "strangers." Evidently, John saw Gaius' servanthood as a hands-on ministry of Jesus' command to "love one another" (John 13:34). He was faithful in his hospitality efforts that clearly honored God. The missionaries had returned and informed John’s house church of Gaius’ support for them and their mission ("your love"). The "church" in v. 6a (Greek ekklisía) seems most likely to be the "church" wherein John was currently located. In v. 6b, John asks for Gaius' additional assistance to prepare for the missionaries' next travel assignment. Apparently, they planned a follow-up visit to the area where Gaius’ church was located; having been there previously, they returned with a good report of what Gaius had generously and lovingly provided them.
Putting these four verses into perspective, Pastor Jim Gerrish writes this: "Ephesus was becoming a great center of Christianity in the ancient world. No doubt Christian workers regularly went back and forth from this center to many other places in the Roman Province of Asia and elsewhere. . . v. 5 seems to verify that the group was about to be sent out once more by John, and that they were planning to visit Gaius again. It was, no doubt, the proposed visit that made this letter necessary."
Looking carefully at the text in v. 6a, related to "send them on their way," it appears to Pastor Gerrish that "Gaius was getting quite a reputation for his hospitality. Apparently the group had testified to the church (probably at Ephesus) about his liberality. John with full faith now sends the workers to Gaius once again, charging him to '…send them on their way in a manner that honors God.' The Greek word for 'sending forth' is propempsas, meaning, 'Bring forward on their journey…to send forward, bring on the way, accompany or escort.' Apparently it was customary in earlier Greek times to accompany a parting guest for a distance and sometimes even provide money and food."
Christian itinerant ministers, in those days, relied upon generous hospitality shown by fellow Christians. In John's eyes, those Christians who helped ministerial workers who professed the truth about Jesus became fellow collaborators for the truth. That's one reason why John prayed for Gaius' prosperity (v. 2): Gaius used his Spirit-endowed gifts in a godly way, by helping others generously and graciously. If the Spirit blessed Gaius with more, others would also be blessed with more. Gaius wanted to ensure a warm welcome from his and fellow house churches to those who traveled around preaching the gospel, open-handedly offering them needed provisions and a good-natured send-off "in a manner that honors God" (v. 6). Commentator and well-known Bible teacher, Warren Wiersbe, says, "Gaius not only opened his home, but he also opened his heart and his hand to give financial help to his guests."
We can't know with certainty whether "Name" in v. 7's "for the sake of the Name" refers to God or specifically Jesus. Biblical scholar F F Bruce (1910–1990, source) thought that "the Name" could have been a synonym for Christ. But he noted that it also could be a substitute for "YHWH" or "Yahweh." W Hall Harris III agrees with Bruce: "'The Name' refers to Jesus’ name. The traveling missionaries sent out to combat the false teaching of the secessionist opponents have been accepting nothing from the pagans, that is, non-Christians. Their mission is not evangelization, but concerns an 'in-house' debate over christology." Others disagree, believing that it's a reference to only Father God.
Nevertheless, for his Name's sake, "they went out," as missionaries, "receiving no help from the pagans" (or "Gentiles," "non-believers," "heathens," "people who do not know God"). Instead of soliciting funds from the general public, the traveling missionaries sought food, lodging, shelter, and financial contributions from fellow Christians. So the first reason to give hospitality to traveling missionaries is that they're our brothers and sisters; we honor them because they go out for his Name's sake. The second reason is they don’t have other means of support; if we don’t support them, who will? Can’t ask heathens to support them! There’s a third reason to support them: "That we may work together for the truth" (v. 8). We all can't go and serve as missionaries, but all of us can donate to them.
The Greek for "We" (Emeís), used twice in v. 8, is in the first-person plural, meaning (according to Harris), "The author refers to himself, Gaius, and all genuine Christians, all of whom should become coworkers in cooperation with the truth by supporting the efforts of the traveling missionaries ("such people") in their efforts to resist and counteract the teaching of the secessionist opponents…it seems likely that the 'truth' at work through the missionaries here is ultimately the Holy Spirit, who works through their efforts. Thus the Christian who supports them becomes a coworker with the Spirit of God himself."
Love and truth are inseparable since love is built upon truth. Truth always governs the exercise of love, which is why John — called "The apostle of love" — speaks of truth often: vv. 1, 3, 4, 8, and 12. He also writes in this third epistle about a love-filled hospitality that's unique to those who are in Christ and, as a result, walk in the truth. When we walk in the truth about Jesus, we open our homes and our hearts to visitors.
- Q. 1 Are you "walking in the truth" today? What's an example or two of your walk?
- Q. 2 Why are we to support Christian workers in their ministries (vv. 5–8)?
3 John, vv. 3–8
New International Version (NIV)
[View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to Third John narrated by Max McLean.]