Pastor Scott Andrews | July 11, 2021
III John 1-8
We are a Christian & Missionary Alliance church. It’s not a flag we waive nor a badge we wear – in fact, sometimes people attend here for a long time before they find out we are part of this small denomination called the C&MA.
If you’ve attended a Weekender, you’ve heard a little about the C&MA. It was founded in 1887 by a presbyterian pastor named Albert Benjamin or A. B. Simpson. Simpson was actually Canadian – born on Prince Edward Island and later attended Knox College in Toronto. But he eventually pastored Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky before moving to Thirteenth Street Presbyterian Church in New York City. There, he soon became frustrated with that church’s lack of evangelistic zeal, so he left and started an independent church called the Gospel Tabernacle in the city. By the way, through his study of the Scripture, he had also become convinced of believer’s baptism. But his primary purpose was evangelistic – to reach with the Gospel the swelling number of immigrants to New York City, coming through Ellis Island. I won’t get into the immigration and border debates this morning, but our response as Christians to immigrants should be Christ/Gospel-centered.
Well, after starting the church, with people coming from literally all over the world, he soon started focusing on world evangelism. I’ll spare you the details, but the Christian & Missionary Alliance – an alliance of Bible-believing Christians who were committed to world evangelism – we call that missions – was soon started. Today, the C&MA still has a strong missions’ focus – with about 800 missionaries in over 60 countries of the world. In fact, I often point out the C&MA is ten times larger outside the US than inside. That’s intentional – our focus has been worldwide. It’s the largest evangelical denomination in many countries of the world because of their mission focus. Frankly, it’s why I’m part of the group – because of their desire to reach the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and plant faithful churches.
Is that, by the way, biblical? Of course it is – most of us know what is called the Great Commission found in Matthew 28. It’s after the crucifixion and resurrection, and Jesus is about to ascend to heaven. One of the last things He says to His disciples is, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”
This is the ultimate purpose of missions – dare I say it is one of the primary purposes of the church – the become and multiply fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. To become ourselves more mature and more fully devoted to Christ and the gospel through His Word; and to multiply ourselves – to see others become followers of Jesus with us. It’s one of the reasons we’re still here – to do the work of evangelism – missions. How do we do that? I’m going to talk about evangelism – sharing our faith with those around us – in a couple weeks. But for this morning, we continue our study in the epistles of John.
In I John, we found the aged apostle John was writing to churches around Ephesus, where he was – to churches in Asia Minor. He wrote because we saw there were those who had succeeded – left the church – they had gone out and become false teachers. They threatened to disrupt the gospel and the church of Jesus Christ. So John wrote a letter in part to combat these false teachers. But more, to give assurance to those who had remained – to tell them that they were in the right place. If you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh, to die for the sins of people, if you seek to obey His commands, if you love other Christians, you can be assured that you have eternal life. These things I have written so that you can know that you have eternal life.
But when John wrote II John, he still had this pesky problem of false teachers who seemed to be attempting inroads into the church. They did so by themselves become itinerant false teachers going place to place sharing their heresies. So, John wrote II John to a local church to encourage them – to remind them to walk in the truth, and to love one another. But he also reminds them many deceivers have gone out into the world. So what do we do with these false teachers? Don’t receive them. Don’t have them into your homes, don’t give them a platform in the church. Don’t show them hospitality. They are deceivers – they are antichrist. Verses 10 and 11 said, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.”
You see, to give them a greeting – and a place to stay/to show them hospitality – was considered an endorsement of them and their teaching. Don’t do it. Don’t expose yourselves or your families or the church to them. Don’t even give them a greeting.
But wait a minute, what about itinerant teachers who were faithful – true Christians – who went from place to place sharing the gospel and the teachings of Christ? Huh, that sounds a bit like missionaries. What about them? III John. I would suggest that in addition to the centrality of the Great Commission, in addition to the narrative of the spread of the gospel and the church in the book of Acts, that III John is a great book to support the very early idea of missions. We’ll get to that in our text today.
But as normal when starting a new book, let’s do a little introduction. Like II John, this third letter will only take us a couple weeks to cover. You see, by word count, this is actually the shortest book in the NT. But don’t let its brevity fool you – it’s full of faithful, exemplary truth. Let’s read our text for today – the first 8 verses of III John.
What a great text to tell us how we, the church, should support missions. Like II John, the author simply identifies himself as the elder. Technically, he doesn’t say, I’m the Apostle John. But, when you compare I and II John with the Gospel of John, there are lots of similarities – it seems clear they are the same author. And when you compare II John with III John – notice, the author being the elder – the similarities again indicate they are the same author. So, through a process of deduction, it seems clear John wrote these letters along with the gospel that bears his name. This has been held by the church and conservative biblical scholarship through the centuries. It’s interesting to note that John would have been quite old by now, likely in his eighties – yet he was faithfully serving. One of my commentaries suggested, “The retirement age for Christian ministry is death….[John] would rather die in the pulpit than on the golf course.”
That author goes on to use John Calvin as an example. Calvin was an extremely industrious man. For decades, he preached every day, gave three lectures a week, and wrote over a million words. When poor health forced him to stay home, he still worked – counseling those who came to see him, still writing letters. When Theodore Beza once encouraged him to rest, Calvin answered, “Would you that the Lord should find me idle when He comes?”
Now, unlike II John which was written to a church, this one was written to an individual, a guy named Gaius. That name appears four other times in the NT – all associated with Paul. Attempts have been made to identify this Gaius with one of them, but it’s not clear. Besides, it’s known that Gaius was one of the most common names in the Greco-Roman world at this time. So, all we know about this one for sure is what John writes about him.
Notice, he writes, to the beloved Gaius. He calls Gaius beloved four times in 15 verses – they clearly shared a special relationship. Perhaps they served together, perhaps John was a recipient of Gaius’ hospitality that we’ll see in a moment, but more likely, perhaps John led him to faith in Jesus Christ. You see, after noting that Gaius is faithfully living the truth, John says in verse 4, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” My children likely refers to Gaius being his son in the faith.
Don’t miss that John says, to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. We’ve seen that John uses the word love more than anyone else – three times in the first four verses here. In II John, writing to the church, he says, “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth.” Same phrase. Here, as there, he means he loves Gaius because of the relationship they share through the gospel. I love you in truth – or the truth, because we are both followers of Jesus and His gospel. There is a special bond of relationship that exists between followers of Jesus. We love each other because we are in the truth – by the way, I mentioned John uses the word love three times in the first four verses – he mentions truth four times. Because love and truth cannot be separated. (balance)
Now, John uses the typical letter-writing convention of the day, writer to recipient, followed by a prayer-wish. I say that because this is more typical of letter openings of that day than any other NT letter. Look at what he says, “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” This was very typical – to pray or wish for someone’s health. But I don’t think John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is just using typical words with a typical, formula-like greeting. John says he actually prays for Gaius to prosper – to be successful – and be in good health. Clearly, that speaks of physical health since he goes on to say, just as your soul prospers.
That’s very interesting. Now, some people in the prosperity gospel movement use this verse to support their ideas – that God intends, as we pray for prosperity and health, He always hears the prayer and intends for His people to be materially prosperous and physically healthy. The challenge is the vast majority of believers in the NT who were not that – in fact, they suffered for being Christians. And the difference here is this: they see it as a promise and goal of the gospel – that we be materially prosperous and physically healthy. That’s not the case – the goal of the gospel is to make us spiritually prosperous – to make our souls right before God – through the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to God.
But let’s not ignore the verse. Let’s not make it a guarantee for what it doesn’t say, nor ignore what it does say. It is okay to pray for prosperous success and physical health. John prayed for that for Gaius. So do that – pray for our brothers and sisters to have prosperity and health – for the good and cause of the gospel. John simply mentions it here in the salutation – it’s not the goal of the letter. No, he says, I pray for your prosperity just as your soul prospers. And he turns his attention there.
Now, how did John know that Gaius’ soul was healthy, prosperous? Verses 3 and 4 – “For I was very glad when brothers came (the implication is, they had been with Gaius) and testified to your truth…” That doesn’t mean a different truth like many use the phrase today – everyone has their truth – as if truth is relative to personal experience. No, he goes on to say, they testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth – the truth of the Gospel. The truth of what Christ has done to save you, and make you a new creation in Him.
And that brings me great joy. One said, Christian faithfulness brings supreme joy. We talked about this a few weeks ago – John said, “I have no greater joy that this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” He could have said, I have no greater joy than to know that you have material prosperity and physical health, but he didn’t. I have no greater joy than to know that your soul is prospering in the Christian faith. Go ahead – pray for prosperity, but rejoice in the work of the gospel in the souls of people.
What is it that makes you happy, joyful, about the people you love? Your sons and daughters – that they landed a good job, great salary, enjoy a comfortable living, that they are healthy – no sickness or disease? John says, while I may pray for material, physical prosperity – I have no greater joy than to know that my children are walking in the truth of Christ and His gospel.
Which brings us to the specific example John gives of Gaius’ walking in the truth – verses 5-8 – and it is here we see both the responsibility and privilege of showing hospitality to traveling, faithful brothers – teachers. And I’m suggesting we see some principles regarding support of those on a mission – we call them missionaries. There are several principles here:
First, verse 5 – Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brothers, and especially when they are strangers. The principle is showing hospitality to missionaries – even if they are strangers to us. Now, you should know that these traveling teachers often carried letters of recommendation from someone the church did know. For example, next week, we’ll see that John had written to the church regarding these guys. And so, with that recommendation, Gaius acted faithfully even though they were strangers.
So, while we are commanded to show hospitality to one another, technically, hospitality is showing care for strangers. Having strangers in your home for the purpose of feeding and caring for them – meeting needs. Obviously, as it relates to traveling believers – teachers – we must be discerning. Interesting, the Didache, a church manual of sorts written late first century or early second century actually gave instructions about showing hospitality to traveling teachers. It says:
“Let every apostle who comes to you be welcomed as if he were the Lord. But he is not to stay for more than one day, unless there is need, in which case he may stay another. But if he stays three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle leaves, he is to take nothing except bread until he finds his next night’s lodging. But if he asks for money, he is a false prophet.”
I want you to think about that a moment. In what way can we show hospitality to missionaries – even those we don’t know? Well, I mentioned we are part of the Christian & Missionary Alliance – which currently has 800 missionaries out on the field. Do we know them all? Of course not. Is it necessary that we know them all – or is a letter of recommendation from those we trust enough? Should we show special care for those who travel about – go cross-culturally, sharing the gospel?
Second principle – care for their needs, not just while they’re here, but after they go. Look at verse 6. They testified of your love before the church. Next week, we’ll see there was a guy named Diotrephes speaking against them. But Gaius, before the church, loved them and cared for them. Further, you will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. A couple of ideas there. First, we don’t just care for them while they are here, but we send them out with continued care. Send them on their way – actively be involved in what they do by intentionally sending them. The idea is to provide for them, even as they go.
And how do we provide for them? In a manner worthy of God. This is not to be token care – they are God’s messengers, ambassadors. They come and go in the name of God, and so we should care for them in that way – in a manner worthy of the name they bear. They should receive not minimal, but maximum hospitality.
Next principle, verse 7 – most important. For they went out for the sake of the Name. We send them on their way because of the work they do – their going out is for the sake of the Name. Incidentally, the words, they went out, are the same words as I John 2 – they went out from us, but they were not really of us. That’s speaking of the false teachers. But these guys – they went out from us, being of us. How do we know? Because they went out for the sake of the Name. What name? Clearly, the name of Jesus Christ – the only name by which we must be saved, and the name to whom every knee will bow.
I could have spent our entire morning on this principle. The purpose of missions is for the sake of the Name of Jesus Christ. The purpose of missions is ultimately for God. In his book on missions entitled, Let The Nations Be Glad, John Piper starts with the statement, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” In other words, missions is ultimately for the glory and worship of God. These brothers went out for the sake of the Name. It’s interesting to note this phrase is used several times in the NT, usually in the context of suffering – suffering for the Name.
But here, missions is ultimately for the sake of the Name. Let me say it like this – missions is penultimately for the sake of lost people. But it is ultimately for the Name and fame of God. It is to make much of Him. Paris Reidhead, a missionary to Africa, once preached a message in which he said he went to the mission field to improve on the justice of God. What did he mean by that? He went to tell people about Jesus because he didn’t think it was fair there were people who had not heard of Jesus. So, he went to improve on the justice of God.
Through a series of circumstances and experiences, he learned the truth of this text. Missions exists for the sake of the Name – for the glory of God. To make much of Jesus. Reidhead said it this way – we do missions because Jesus is worthy of those for whom He died. Missions exist because worship doesn’t. Do you see? Missions is for the sake of the Name.
Which means this, and let me say this gently. There may be lots of reasons to do good things for people in need. Dig wells to provide clean drinking water, provide food for impoverished areas, provide medical care, build orphanages and hospitals and schools. Bundle that all up and it has as its goal to improve the living conditions of people. And that’s a good thing. Christian missions has done all that well for centuries. But, if we do all that, and leave the gospel behind, it is not Christian missions. There are lots of good organizations – non-Christian organizations – that do that well, for which I’m thankful. But it is not Christian missions. We do all of those kinds of things to build a bridge that will support the weight of the truth of the gospel.
We do it for the sake of the Name. To make much of Jesus and His gospel. If we just improve people’s lifestyles, but don’t share the hope of Christ and eternal life, our help, while temporarily helpful, is eternally meaningless. So can I encourage you, in all the good things you do – do them – but take the gospel. Do it for the sake of the Name.
Notice also in verse 7, they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. That simply means unbelievers. Here’s another principle – Christian mission should be funded by Christians. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the funds of unbelievers – like the United Nations or something like that – but any time there is a string attached – you can dig wells with this money, but you can’t do it for the sake of the Name, you say thanks, but no thanks. Because ultimately, you see, what we do is for Jesus.
Finally, verse 8, therefore, we ought to support such men – missionaries. It is our responsibility, not unbelievers – our responsibility to support missions. Which brings me full circle to my introduction. We are a Christian & Missionary Alliance church – having chosen to be so in 1978 when this church was planted – for the love of the Name – for the love the Gospel and seeing it shared around the world. And such work requires funding.
The C&MA has a missions cooperative fund called the Great Commission Fund. Catchy. The idea is right from this verse, and others like it. We ought to support such people who go out to share the good news of Jesus. We ought to support missions, and it ought to be a priority for us. We want to obey Christ and fulfill the Great Commission. So here’s how it works at Alliance Bible Fellowship. When you give to missions at Alliance, we send 70% of that to the Great Commission Fund to support such people – those 800 missionaries taking the gospel around the world.
Now, we keep 30% not for ourselves, but to fund other missions work. To fund those who have gone out from us who are part of other mission organizations, for example. We don’t think the C&MA is the only group doing it well – no, there are many other groups we love and help fund. We also use that to fund short term mission trips. To fund some local missions work at the University like Intervarsity and Cru.
We ought to fund such mission outreaches – and giving to missions should be a priority for us as a church, and you as a committed believer. It’s interesting to note from this text – some go, but some fund. I would add, we all can pray.
And in so doing, lastly, by supporting mission work, we become fellow workers with the truth. Do you see that? In II John – he said, don’t have false teachers in your homes, don’t give them a greeting, because by doing so, you participate in their evil deeds. Conversely, here, when we support faithful missions, we participate in the work of the gospel. We become fellow workers with the truth.
Let me summarize this text in the words of Karen Jobes. It’s a lengthy quote, but really good:
“Third John also invites us to reconsider what we mean by hospitality. Hospitality, in whatever form it takes today, should not be offered only to our friends in the Lord, but even to strangers whose faith in Christ and work for the gospel our Christian leaders have validated. The Christian church is not to be a social club of cliques. The church is composed of all who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of their race, ethnicity, social position, or economic standing. Wherever and whenever those engaged in the work of the gospel have need of life-sustaining provisions in order to continue their work, they should be able to count on the generosity of their fellow Christians, who will send them on their way ‘in a manner worthy of God.’ Generously supporting those sent out in the name of Christ is not primarily a tax deduction; it is a spiritual work that enables one to participate in the work of the gospel.”
Can I encourage us as a church and as Christians, to give sacrificially to missions. Over the past 12 years, we were in this building project, which we needed to do. But now, it’s built. We have some debt we need to pay off – thank you for those who give to debt reduction. But I want to encourage us to give more to missions – for the sake of the Name, to be fellow workers with the truth, here and around the world. I want us to give more to see the gospel taken to the ends of the earth to the ends of the age. And frankly, I’d like to see some of our giving going to church planting. What do I mean? We have communities around here, within a 45-minute drive, in which we’d like to plant Christ-exalting, gospel-centered, Word-saturated churches. I believe that is what God calls us to.