Co-workers with the Truth
Sunday school lesson for the week of May 3, 2015
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson scripture: 3 John
Writing in his book, “Grandpa Was a Preacher,” Leroy Brownlow stated that the best conduct can have its exceptions. It seems that a visitor inquired of the preacher, “I suppose these people are always kind, polite and sweet spirited.”
“Well, most of the time. Maybe there’s only one exception.”
“Just try getting in their pew,” was the answer.
This is sort of an indirect way of bringing up the important subject of today’s lesson from 3 John – “hospitality.” Scholars inform us that while John does not use the term himself, the Greek word for hospitality is a combination of the words “stranger” and “love.” Therefore, the literal meaning of hospitality is “love of stranger.” John says that hospitality is one way that Christians express their faith in Christ to others, thereby making them faithful coworkers with the truth.
Without doubt, John the aged considers himself as one who has the right to act as guide and counselor and to give rebuke and warning in the churches. After all, John 3 is written to an individual named Gaius, whose character and actions John most wholeheartedly approves (John 3:3-5).
Strife in the Church
We are told that John’s church is experiencing strife. Most of us are aware of how difficult strife can become, especially in the church. Each side refuses to cooperate and blames the other side for things they deny. Now, we do not know much about Diotrephes (pronounced di ot’ ruh feez) other than what John tells us. John states that Diotrephes is an arrogant church leader who will have no rival to his authority. John’s description of him as one “who likes to put himself first” (v.9) means that he looks out for his own interests and likes to be in charge.
So John wants us to see Diotrephes as a person who oversteps his/her authority to speak for the church and dares others to defy him/her. He’s the kind of person who must be overcome.
The real issue is that Diotrephes will not take in or provide food for the mission workers from John the Elder’s church. This refusal is evidence of the deep division between John and Diotrephes. In actuality, Diotrephes does not recognize these missionaries as Christian teachers. He is so determined about this that he threatens others within his church with expulsion if they provide support. Since this letter is related to 1 and 2 John, the theological argument about Jesus’ bodily existence has probably led to this strife-filled situation.
In a nutshell, scholars remind us that Diotrephes did at least four things that caused harm in the church: first, he rejected the authority of John (v.9b); second, he spread inaccurate tales (v.10a); third, he opposed John’s teaching by refusing to welcome the friends (v.10c); and fourth, he didn’t show hospitality himself and stopped those who wanted to do so by putting them out of the church (v.10d). To say the least, Diotrephes was a bad example of Christian hospitality.
As I mentioned earlier, 3 John is written to one called Gaius. From the content of the letter, it is clear that Gaius held some position of influence in the local church – he could have been either the pastor or a lay person with some authority. It is equally evident that Gaius held a fond place in John’s heart. John states his love for Gaius by referring to him three times as “beloved” (v.2, 5, 11), and John’s love is “in the truth.” There is a real possibility that Gaius was a person whom John had personally guided to know Jesus. Note that John speaks of Gaius in the category of “my children” (v.4).
Now Gaius seems to be in a position to influence his congregation and perhaps others to remain faithful to John’s church and its teaching. These opening verses in 3 John renew the emphasis on truth that we have discussed previously in both 1 and 2 John. So John continues his concern about right teaching (Docetism).
Scholars tell us that the central reasons John writes this letter is to thank Gaius and his church for supporting the mission work of representatives of John's church and to encourage them to continue that practice. The practice of the early church was to support traveling missionaries by taking them in and providing for them while they were in town. And, of course, this practice from time to time was abused and led the church to soon develop rules. For example, a true prophet would not stay more than two nights; a longer stay showed he was a false prophet.
Relying on churches for hospitality, which the early church did, meant that the missionaries could preach their message without taking money from their most recent converts. We will recall that this was also the practice of Paul and Barnabas who had refused to accept support from people on their initial mission trip to a city (1 Corinthians 9). So John sees missionaries or teachers willing to sacrifice in this way as being the kinds of people the church should support.
Let's take a brief intermission! Much discussion could take place about the subject of how missionaries and other Christian servants should be paid. The fundamental question is about the freedom to speak the truth and the actual support of Christian servants. Paul refused money from recent converts so that they would not think he was preaching for personal gain and so they would not alter his teaching to suit their desires (1 Corinthians 9; 2 Corinthians 11:7-15). In any discussion about this subject, the underlying principle should be how to carry on credible mission work.
Now, back to the main subject of today’s lesson which is hospitality! Just as some of the members of the church whom John had written in 2 John had brought “great joy” to him, here Gaius’ spiritual walk does the same (v.3). A few fellow Christians, “some friends,” had visited Gaius’ church and brought a good report to John. They reported Gaius’ continuing faithfulness to the truth, of his lifestyle and love. Here was a person who had accepted the teachings of Christ in his daily walk.
In verse 5, John commends Gaius for his past love and, more specifically, for his past Christian hospitality. Gaius had demonstrated his love through his treatment of the church’s representatives. He has treated them with care and respect which they deserve. Gaius has taken them into his home, fed them, and met whatever needs they had. And by acting in this way Gaius has lived up to being one of the people of God and so has honored God. We are told that this is what it means when John says he had acted in “a manner worthy of God” (v.6). And this is all the more excellent because they are strangers. Thus, we see that the idea of hospitality is “extending love to the strangers.”
John gets very specific in that he lists three reasons why proper hospitality should be given to these traveling Christian missionaries or teachers. First, they are on a mission for Christ (“...they left on their journey for the sake of Jesus Christ” (v.7a CEB). This is an authentic mission for Christ and the motives of these Christian representatives are pure.
The second reason for John’s hospitality is more practical. Since these Christian representatives will receive no help from the non-Christian community, they will need help from the church. Consequently. John states in verse 8 the words, “We ought to help them.” In other words, we are obligated to help them.
John’s third reason for extending hospitality to these Christian representatives is that we may work together for the truth (v.8b). It is our involvement with them in extending hospitality that we become “Coworkers with the truth.” Therefore, it is for all of these reasons that Gaius and the readers of John’s letter must demonstrate their hospitality to these Christian representatives.
There is one other personality in today’s lesson that I have not mentioned. His name is Demetrius. John gives personal testimony to him as being a good man, and a man to be hospitably welcomed and received (v.12). As John writes about doing good, his thoughts turn to Demetrius in that he must be the leader of a group of traveling Christian representatives who are on their way to the church to whom John is writing. And since Diotrephes will not extend hospitality to Demetrius and his companions, John urges Gaius to be sure to be God’s instrument of hospitality and by so doing be a “Coworker in the Truth.”
Point of the Lesson
Hospitality remains an important Christian virtue, one that is to be shown to both church members and nonmembers alike. As God’s people, our hospitality should always be seeking ways to show love to strangers that they will be drawn into our fellowship.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries.