At the iServe Africa Annual Partners Reception a few months ago we looked at the shortest book of the Bible, 3 John, and found a fantastic little letter, not about prosperity but about mission support.
The picture in this letter is that there are people who have gone out “for the sake of the Name” and they aren’t getting their support from non-Christians, they’re being supported by Christians – Christian families and little house churches – they’re going from Kitui to Marsabit and on their way they stop at Nairobi and then Nyeri and then Isiolo and the Christians there give them hospitality, a bed for a few nights and then send them on their way with provisions and money for the next stage of their journey.
This is not just a 3rd John thing:
- In the Gospels we see that this was how mission was supposed to work: find a “son of peace”, stay with him, eat what he gives you, move on to another town, stay with another son of Peace (Luke 10).
- Paul writes a letter to Titus on Island of Crete and tells him: “Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need.”
- Paul writes on his own behalf to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:6): “Perhaps I will stay with you for a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go.”
- Same to the Romans (Rom. 15:24) – Paul is planning to visit Spain and he says: “I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.”
See the pattern? There are mission workers going out, travelling from here to there and it’s ok for them to ask for support for that. And Christians should open their homes and their wallets to them and send them on their way.
And the hard thing here is “they are strangers to you” (v5), “strange brothers”. These are not family and friends you’re giving a bed, giving money – these are Christians (brothers) who you do not know. They’ve not been sent out from your church, they’re probably not from your ethnic group – they might be a Gentile and you’re a Jew. This is a really Kingdom-minded mission. You’re supporting someone you don’t even know.
Diotrephes is opposite of that isn’t he? He doesn’t love the brothers he loves himself. He doesn’t welcome them and he stops other people from welcoming them. He is not looking outward in mission – he is just about himself and his church. He has an inward looking, separatist model of church. That is the wrong model for us to imitate (v11) we are to imitate Gaius in loving and supporting these mission workers.
But it’s hard. We’ll be tempted to think this isn’t our responsibility. Or we may do it for a while and then grow weary of doing good. If it wasn’t hard then John wouldn’t have bothered writing this letter. Gaius needs this encouragement and so do we.
How exactly does John encourage Gaius here? What is going to keep him going in supporting mission workers?
- Truth. The ground of Christian love and missions support is Truth – v1, 3-4. And then this “walking in truth” turns out to be “love for the brothers” (v5). John talks about this in his first and second letter too – how Love and truth go together. And the point that strikes me here is that Truth is the ground of Christian life and love. In a world where “happiness is the truth” or “what works for me” or “what most people think” – this is True Truth – that everything has been created through Christ for his glory, that Christ came in flesh, in history, that he died, was buried, rose, that he is returning physically, and that this whole world is heading for a train crash and only those united to Christ are going to survive that – That Truth, this Reality, is where we start begin and end in Christian life – and we walk in it – we don’t just know it – we walk in it – and that life in conformity to reality and truth will look like helping brothers on their mission to tell people that reality before it’s too late.
- Joy. Especially an exceeding joy in others – v3-4. It’s like the other John, John the Baptist. You remember when Jesus started baptising and everyone started going to him, and the disciples went to John and said, “We’ve got a problem here, numbers are going down” and John said, “That’s Great!! That’s why I came. I’m the best man at the wedding. I rejoice when the Bridegroom finally turns up and my joy is complete, my joy overflows, when I see people going to Jesus and enjoying him. Or think of Paul. In almost all his letters he is just overjoyed in hearing good things about the spiritual growth of other Christians. He says “you are our joy”. He’s desperate to hear news from a church and when he hears good news he says, “Now we really live since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for all the joy we have in his presence because of you.” His life is not about being first – not about himself at all – his life is lived outside of himself in others so when they’re doing well he lives, he is overjoyed. Have we tasted that pure joy in other people finding joy in Christ? That is the motor of missions and of mission support.
- Faith. Look carefully at verse 5. A “faithful thing” could just mean faithful as in ‘a trustworthy fulfilling of the task he’s been given’ but ‘faith’ usually means more than that in John’s writings. Almost always it is faith in Jesus himself and the hope of seeing him and being with him where he is and being like him for we shall see him as he is. How does faith produce work and particularly the work of loving strange mission brothers? Well in a couple of ways:
a) As we look away from ourselves and to Jesus and his coming we begin to enjoy him; we begin to taste the goodness of his present and coming reality; and then we start loosening our grip on things now. Hebrews 10:34: “You had compassion and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” Looking in faith on the better and abiding possession (Christ) makes us more generous with the lesser and fleeting possessions.
b) Loving others, true hospitality, true generosity is something we simply can’t do it. In and of ourselves we simply can’t love. Even as regenerate believers we are constantly dependent on Christ. Without him we can do nothing. We need his grace, his Spirit, his strength moment by moment for every little bit of love. So love is a faith activity in the sense that it is only done constantly crying out “I can’t do this, help me”.
- Beauty. Another wonderful motivation to kingdom minded mission support is catching sight of the beauty of hospitality and mission support. Where verse 6 talks of a “good” or “noble” thing it is literally a “beautiful” thing. It’s the same as when woman poured perfume on Jesus – he said that was a beautiful thing. Hospitality is a beautiful thing. Particularly beautiful when it is (as Peter says) “without grumbling” and it is really really beautiful when it is for stranger brothers. When Jesus sees you giving to support a mission worker or an apprentice you don’t really know or sees you open your home to host an apprentice whose only connection to you is the gospel of Christ which has made you brothers – when Jesus sees that he says that is a beautiful thing.
- A knowledge of the giving out and bringing in God. Look at the end of verse 6. What is sending on mission workers “in a manner worthy of God”? Well we have to know what sort of God we’re dealing with. If he was a small and stingy and grudging God then we should send people on in a small, stingy, grudging way. That would be obeying verse 6. But what if we have a God who is an overflowing giver; who from Genesis 1 onwards is overflowing with light and love and goodness and beauty and abundance; who sends his beloved only Son to be crushed instead of us, gives his Son to us, gives us the Spirit of the Son, gives us adoption as Sons; and who gives in order that he might bring us in – 1 Pet. 3:18: “to bring you to God”. Jesus often talked about a great banquet that was being spread for us. God is the great host. He is the expert at lavish hospitality. “In my Fathers house are many rooms,” Jesus said, “and I’m going to prepare a place for you.” Jesus’ great prayer is that we might be with him where he is enjoying the love of the Father in his house. Why would Jesus want to spend eternity with me? I have no idea but that is great love. That is great hospitality, joyful, extravagant, ridiculous hospitality. And the New Testament tells us to welcome others with the welcome you have received, give as it has been given to you – freely, joyfully.
- A zeal for the Name. Verse 7. John in this letter is reminding Gaius that these guys didn’t go out for the sake of their own names (like Diotrephes), they didn’t go out to promote their own ministries, to have private jets with their own name on the side – no they had a zeal for The Name. It’s a wonderful study to go through the Bible tracing theme of the name of the Lord. The way the Lord proclaims his name to Moses – compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness and truth, punishing the guilty. The way the Lord God gets a name for himself through the rescue of his people out of Egypt. How his name dwells in Jerusalem at the temple (just read 1 Kings 8 and spot all the references to the name). Then the prophet Joel talks about a day when everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. And then you get to book of Acts and find that the saving name is Jesus. There is no other name under heaven by which men may be saved. The apostles get beaten and go out rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name and, next verse, they never cease teaching and preaching Jesus Christ. John Stott used to call this “the most compelling of missionary motives” – this is what kept him going till he was called home at the age of 91 – a zeal for the fame of the name that has been exalted above every other name. Henry Martyn, missionary to India, once said, “I could not endure existence if Jesus was not glorified; it would be hell to me.” If we have a zeal for the name and we meet others who are going out for the sake of that name we’ll want to help them all we can.
- A practical need. Look at the end of verse 7 and how it flows into verse 8. Do you see the logic? Because they’ve gone out for Name AND because they aren’t being supported by unbelievers THEREFORE support them. There’s something very practical and realistic here. Non-Christians don’t support gospel work, mission work – and we shouldn’t expect them to – why would they? They may support a famine appeal or the digging of a well but they haven’t got any concern for the name of Christ so they won’t support mission work, gospel work, Bible work. So therefore WE need to. We mustn’t over-spiritualise mission support. Sometimes people say to a ministry apprentice, “That’s great you want to serve the Lord for the next year – God bless you – I’m sure if God has called you he’ll provide for you. Kwa heri!” An apprentice in Kilgoris or Moyale is not going to live on fresh air. A mission worker serving in Turkana or working with Somalis in Eastleigh needs to eat and drink and pay bills. And God is not always going to be sending ravens to feed them like he did with Elijah. There probably won’t be envelopes of money falling out of the sky. God’s normal way of supporting mission work is God’s people. John says pagans won’t – you must do it.
- A desire to be fully engaged. At the end of verse 8 John gives another reason – that we will be fellow workers. You want to be involved in mission? You want to promote the fame of the Name of Christ? You want to be a part of that? YOU CAN! You provide for a mission worker – you send them on their way in a way worthy of God – you are a fellow worker with them. The ministry apprentice may be in Sololo and you are in Nairobi but you are just as much a mission worker as they are – you are a fellow soldier on the same battlefield. We need Go-ers and we need Senders. Both are fellow workers for the gospel.
- A humility before the authority of the apostle. Looking again at verse 8 we find that supporting mission workers is actually commanded – “ought”. It’s not saying if you feel like it, or if you’re particularly ‘into’ mission, or if you’ve got a bit left over after you’ve given to the local church and sorted out all your bills. You “ought” to do this. We passionately believe in grace – it is all Christ’s work for us – beginning to end – but part of that grace to us is that Christ writes his Law on our hearts. There are commands in the New Testament and the command here is that we must receive and give hospitality and support to mission workers. Compare that with verse 9. Part of this refusal to welcome the brothers is that Diotrephes is inward looking, separatist – he’s not interested in anyone else – but it’s also that he is not willing to submit to the authority of the apostle John. John has written to him with his full apostolic authority which is the authority of God – he has given him God’s Word – and Diotrophes takes the letter and throws in bin. It’s very common – that there is a ‘Bible believing church’ but we just don’t preach on this bit of the Bible, or this bit, and we quietly ignore this bit. Instead we need to read and preach and submit to the whole counsel of God. We need to feel the weight of this command and humbly submit to it.
- A vision of the good God. Verse 11 gives us a wonderful final motivation and one that gives us the power to do the command of verse 8. Notice in verse 11 that “being from God” is the same as “seeing God”. “Being from God” is talking about the New Birth (as John does a lot in his first letter) and “seeing God” is basically the same – New Birth is an opening our eyes to see the glory God in the face of Jesus Christ. And that is where the good works come from, and particularly here the good work of hospitality and mission support. And seeing God is not just a conversion thing it is the whole Christian life. We are transformed form one degree of glory to the next as the Spirit opens our eyes wider and wider to see the glory of God in the face of Christ in the pages of Scripture. So if I’m finding it hard to love strange brothers, if I’m finding I don’t have much joy in them or much zeal for the Name, then I go to the Bible and I seek Christ and I see him there, the fountain of living waters, the shepherd laying down his life for the sheep, the God who eats and drinks with sinners – and then his goodness starts to flow through us to others.
iServe Africa is an indigenous Kenyan gospel-driven organisation that exists to promote faithful Bible teaching and servant leadership.