In the fall of 1942, the population in the town of Oakridge, Tennessee started to explode. It was the beginning of the Manhattan Project, the work that would eventually produce the first atomic bomb that ended World War Two. By the time the project was well underway, the small town of 3,000 grew to about 70,000 people, all working on this one project, this one mission. The amazing thing is that because of the utmost secrecy surrounding this project, only a very few knew what the project was. They knew they were working on something for the war, but very, very few really knew what the mission was really all about. They were doing something important but didn’t know or grasp the overall mission.
This morning we are talking about the mission of the church. The problem we face is that many Christians either don’t know or often don’t have a clear sense of mission and direction for the church. Like workers in Oakridge’s Manhattan Project, many Christians spend hours of time and expend enormous energy in “church work, but they often don’t have a clear view or understanding of what their overall mission is. Everyone is very busy but they don’t know what they are doing or why they are doing it. John’s third letter helps us to focus on this issue for the church. Let’s read 3 John 1-8.
I. Let’s look first at the greeting to Gaius.
As with the second letter of the Apostle John, this letter comes from the elder. As in 2 John, John was likely a regional overseer of a number of churches in Asia Minor. He, however, is known to them as the elder and his use of the title conveys authority. The recipient of the letter is Gaius, which was a very common name, much like John, Bob or Jim today. Some try to identify him with others named Gaius in the New Testament, but this is very inconclusive. He was at least a responsible person in the church and possibly a leader in the church. John describes him as a beloved friend whom he loves in the truth. John loves him dearly because Gaius is a fellow brother in Christ.
John greets Gaius with the words in verse 2: “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.” Gaius is thriving and prospering spiritually. John says that he prays that his physical health may be as good as his spiritual condition. It may be that Gaius had suffered ill health and this is John’s “get well” greeting. This is a very personal touch in a very personal letter. Perhaps this is something we should be more willing to express to each other beyond the typical “how’s it going?” However, for many of us, we could and perhaps should reverse the blessing and greeting: “May your spiritual life be as prosperous as you prosper physically.” Balancing our things and our spiritual walk can be difficult.
II. Next John expresses his joy for Gaius’ walking in the truth.
The basis of this is the report from the “brothers,” who were likely some of the missionaries, teachers and evangelists who went from church to church teaching, preaching and also evangelizing new areas. They came back reporting good news, news that brought John great joy. It may be like the parents of a college student who hears back from someone at the distant university that their son or daughter is doing extraordinarily well and doing well overall. Such news would give you great joy. The cause of John’s joy was that they reported that Gaius was being faithful to the truth. Gaius was faithfully following the teaching and life of Jesus as he heard about it from John.
Moreover, the brothers reported that Gaius was continuing to walk in the truth. Not only was Gaius guarding orthodox teaching, he was also applying it daily to his own life. Every part of his life was influenced by and directed by the truth.
In fact, John writes that he has no greater joy that to hear that his children are walking in the truth. John’s children are likely those converts, like Gaius, whom John brought to see the truth in Jesus. He is overjoyed that someone to whom he led to know and love the Lord Jesus is following through in such a strong and beautiful way. Think of those children who made profession of faith over the years here at Faith Church. When we hear that such persons are “walking in the truth,” it brings us great joy.
In verses 3-4 then John is expressing his joy for the overall good spiritual health of Gaius. Gaius is spiritually alive and growing and he is putting his faith into practice as he grows. We too must be growing over the long term as we live out our lives but it may be different than what we think of when it comes to spiritual growth. Science News reports how healthy young children, once thought to grow in regular rates of growth, are now seen as growing in sporadic fits and starts, each lasting less than 24 hours, followed by no increases in body length. The researchers call growth saltatory, that is, abruptly jumping and spurting increases. Just prior to these saltatory spurts there was fussiness, hunger, sleepiness, etc. Could not our spiritual life be similar; growth full of fitful starts and stops? Now in verses 5-8, John focuses on one aspect which illustrates just how Gaius has grown.
III. John gives Gaius a beautiful commendation for hospitality.
John continues to base his thoughts on the report from the brothers. Now in verse 6, we learn that these brothers not only reported to John the good news about Gaius, but also reported this very positive news to the whole church wherever John lived. Gaius is practicing what he believes, especially in the area of showing hospitality. John gives a concrete example of Gaius’ actions. He did not know these men; they were strangers as we see in verse 5. Yet he demonstrated his faithfulness to the truth by showering them with love. These brothers must have been simply overwhelmed by Gaius’ love for them.
In verse 6, John encourages Gaius to keep on showing hospitality. He writes, “You will do well send them on their way.” To “send them on their way” meant that he would provide food for their journey, money for their expenses and provide for other needs as well. It means to make sure that all of their physical needs are cared for so they may continue on their mission for the Lord. It is important to note how they are to do this: in a manner worthy of God. They are to do this, care for these missionaries because this pleases God and it is God’s will. And the way they are cared for will communicate something of God’s love in the church.
But why show them such love and care? Verse 7 says, “It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans.” They are going out as God’s representatives or “for the sake of the Name,” who is Jesus Christ. You don’t send an arrogant and unloving person to evangelize; you send a loving person. God requires good representation.
And John says they need the support of the churches since they won’t be getting any assistance from the pagans. Nor should the pagans support or pay for the work of the missionaries. The message the missionaries are brining is one of free grace. If these missionaries took an offering or required payment, then to the pagan’s eyes, grace is no longer free. Moreover, by not asking for money, they would distinguish themselves from many other popular teachers and philosophers who also traveled about, but charged a fee for their services. The gospel is not to be presented like that, but it must be presented in a manner worthy of God.
When Fred and Nettie pulled up to the old church building, years later, it looked to be a busy place, much busier than he remembered. In his words:
“The parking lot was full — motorcycles and trucks and cars packed in there. And out front, a great big sign: ‘Barbecue, all you can eat.’ It’s a restaurant, so we went inside. The pews are against a wall. They have electric lights now, and the organ pushed over into the corner. There are all these aluminum and plastic tables, and people sitting there eating barbecued pork and chicken and ribs — all kinds of people. Parthians and Medes and Edomites and dwellers of Mesopotamia, all kinds of people. I said to Nettie, ‘It’s a good thing this is not still a church, otherwise these people couldn’t be in here.
When we fail to show hospitality, we fail in fulfilling a vital part of the church’s mission.
IV. So how do we show hospitality within the church’s mission today?
There are still some clear principles from these verses as we join in the mission based on the truth. First, there is the clear principle of supporting Christian agencies and institutions. Just as John commends the early church for their support of these missionaries’ work among the pagans, we must support agencies and people who serve God’s kingdom through our gifts. Mission agencies such as World Missions, Home Missions, World Renew or groups that are dedicated to bringing the gospel of Christ to the world but the world will not support them. The means of support can be time and or money. And remember that we must support the mission of the church because the world will not support it.
And again, showing hospitality is vital to the mission of the local church. John commended Gaius because Gaius had embraced the mission of the church. That mission is something we must fully embrace as well. We are a part of the church that is called to bring the truth of Jesus Christ to this world. We must not only be busy doing “church work,” but must be involved in the church’s mission.
How can we do that? We do that through prayer. We must pray for this church’s mission efforts, the community garden and others. We must pray for the leaders of this church as they provide leadership for the mission. Do you pray regularly for this church, our mission and our leaders? We must encourage each other. We all need encouragement for the part of the mission we are involved in. Think of the impact the “withholding the welcome” had for the false teachers. It was discouraging for them not to hear those words. We need to encourage each other! We need to contribute financially to the work of the church. If you do not do it, no one else will.
We are part of a mission that will save the lives of others for eternity. Let’s devote ourselves to this so that together we may work together for the truth.