July 20, 2008
The apostle John acknowledged the spirit of generosity in his dear friend Gaius as a love that had become visible to others. As Alistair Begg explores the book of 3 John, he suggests four key ideas that are illustrated in the first half of the letter: prosperity, testimony, generosity, and synergy. The Gospel calls us to work together for the sake of God’s name, walking daily in the advancement of truth.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn to 3 John, in the New Testament. It’s the third-last book of the Bible, so if you start in Revelation… If you’re unfamiliar with your way with the Bible, there are Bibles around you for your use, and you simply need to start at the back and work in from Revelation to Jude and then to 3 John.
And we’re studying these two short and often-neglected letters of the New Testament as a church at the moment, increasingly believing that God has something very strongly to say to us as a church concerning the importance of “walking in the truth” and living in love. And I think already we’ve begun to make some discoveries. I think we’ve unearthed some things, and we’ve been uncovered in certain areas of our lives. And as usual, the study of the Bible is both painful and profitable. As Calvin said, there are two great things we need to know: one is to know ourselves, and the other is to know God. To discover ourselves is usually pretty painful. To discover God, of course, is just absolutely wonderful.
So let’s just read verses 1–8, as we did this morning:
“To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
“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. It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
“Dear friend, you are faithful in what you[’re] doing for the brothers, even though they[’re] strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You … do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.”
Well, we said this morning that there are four words that we were employing in order to try and come to an understanding of these opening eight verses—essentially half of this little letter. Our first word was prosperity, under verses 1 and 2, noting that while we disdain any notion of a prosperity gospel, we cannot avoid the fact that John is concerned for the prosperity, the well-being, of this man by the name of Gaius and that that prosperity extends beyond simply his spiritual well-being, but it actually has to do with his health, and, indeed, it would have to do with his business, and it would have to do with every legitimate aspect of his life. We then went to verses 3 and 4 and noted the testimony—that was the second word—the testimony that came concerning these circumstances, and particularly concerning Gaius and the nature of his love.
And we noted in finishing this morning that the responsibility, the privilege, the obligation of a pastor—the supreme concern of a pastor—is to help his flock know the truth and then to live by the truth that they have come to know. And for most of us, that is going to mean in the details of our routine lives. We may not like to think of them as being routine, but all of us do have a routine one way or another, and even the absence of a routine is usually fairly routine after a while.
And it is possible for us to think wrongly—to sort of double think—in relationship to serving God, that somehow or another there is the ministry, with the definite article, and everything else after that is a ministry, so that the ministry would be the kind of thing that pastors do, and a ministry would be the kind of thing that others do. But I think it’s either all the definite article or all the indefinite article, because all of us in Christ are called into ministry. For some of us, it is a ministry that is artistic. For others of us, it is a ministry that is especially involved in caring. For some, it has to do with leadership, and some, peculiarly, with giving, and so on. But every one of us has the privilege and the responsibility of taking the exhortation to walk in the truth and then work it out in the everyday details of our lives.
And eventually, when the record is opened up, and when in heaven the books are unfastened, as it were, and the story is told, it will be the story of God’s grace and goodness in the lives of many people who are unsung, unknown, and yet who have made, for the cause of the gospel, in many cases great sacrifices that have been unknown to others, and also great advances for the kingdom. And frankly, I delight when I discover that what we might refer to as those who are the unsung heroes—the ones who in the realm of the history of the church wouldn’t be known beyond their immediate circuit of influence. For example, how many of you know who Fred Mitchell was? Be very honest, and just put up your hand if you know who Fred Mitchell was. One person knows Fred. That’s very honest. And another one knows Fred. Both of them work for Truth For Life, and so I guess my discipleship program is extending further than I realize. Nevertheless, we’ve got two out of a vast company, and it’s no surprise.
Fred Mitchell was a chemist. He was, that is, a pharmacist. He was a pharmacist in Yorkshire in the ’40s and ’50s—the 1940s and ’50s. He was, if you like, a Christian layman, committed to his wife and to his family and to his work, and he was also heavily committed to the world of missions. In fact, he became the general director of the China Inland Mission, following a man by the name of D. E. Hoste, whose name some may know but probably most won’t, that man having followed the first general director of the China Inland Mission—namely, Hudson Taylor—whose name more will know but all won’t.
On the third of May 1953, just a few days before my first birthday, I was not alert to the fact that over the radio and in the newspapers of that day, there was the announcement of the fact that a Comet—that is, an aeroplane, a Comet airliner—bound for London from Singapore was missing. All contact with it had been lost six minutes after it came off the end of the runway just outside of Calcutta. The last signal that came from the cockpit to ground control was a phrase by the captain: “Climbing on track.” And then the loss of radio contact, and finally the aircraft found with no survivors. On that plane, coming from Calcutta, was Fred Mitchell. And when they finally put together a little biography of him—a biography that I cherish amongst many that are more significant—they simply called his biography Climbing on Track. And in the early section of it, they make this point, which is being purposefully quoted to you in order to reinforce this vital importance of every person involved in ministry. And this is what the biographer says:
The abiding message of Fred Mitchell’s life [is that] he accomplished no great thing. His name was linked with many Christian organizations, but he was the founder of none. He turned the feet of many into [the] paths of righteousness, but not more than others of his contemporaries. He made no spectacular and inspiring sacrifices. He effected no reforms. For the first forty-five years of his life the pathway he traversed was similar to that of thousands of other self-made, moderately successful business men. “From village school to chemist shop” would[’ve] been an appropriate summing up of his outward course.
And then here’s the sentence: “On that ordinary, hum-drum track, however, he walked with God, climbing steadily in spiritual experience.”
It’s relatively easy to walk with God when the track isn’t humdrum, when the band is playing, when the enthusiasm of the surrounding company gives you some kind of energy that you don’t even bring to the journey. But that’s not routine. What’s routine is routine. And unless we learn to climb steadily on the humdrum track, we will never climb steadily at all.
So, perhaps a little word in passing to those of you who were saying, “Oh, goodness, back to the same old stuff tomorrow morning, the same old business yet again”: what an immense privilege each of us has.
Prosperity, and now generosity. The testimony that he’s heard is an encouraging one concerning Gaius, and he says in verse 5, “Listen, my dear friend, you’re faithful in what you’re doing for the brothers, even though they’re strangers to you.”
Now, the whole foundation of these comments here has to do with the nature of Gaius’s use of his resources. It is impossible to set that aside. To whatever level he has been given a dimension of prosperity, that prosperity has not been hoarded in a selfish way, but it is that which he has been prepared to use in the service of God’s kingdom and to the benefit of others. If you like, Gaius has taken seriously the exhortation of Paul in Romans 12: “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” And by his efforts on behalf of his brothers, he is embodying his conviction regarding the truth and his affection, which is this expression of love.
And his love has become visible. “They have told the church”—verse 6—“about your love.” They’ve told them about his love. I wonder what that meant. “They told us about your love.” What? That you were a lovey-dovey person? That Gaius was touchy-feely? Do you think that’s what he’s saying? No, that’s not what he’s saying. If you like, in Chapman’s stuff for Moody, all those books about love languages—there’s about seven thousand love languages now. I can’t keep up with them. But love languages of, you know… Yeah, yeah, that’s enough. But anyway, Gaius’s love language, if you want to use this, was expressed in his generosity. You wouldn’t have known his love because he kept going around going, “I love you, I love you, I love you,” but his love would have been expressed in the utilization of that which he’d been uniquely entrusted with by God himself. So they were able to come back and explain to the church, “Gaius really loves us.” How did they figure that out? Because of what was visible. What was visible? His generosity.
And again I say to you, as I said this morning, that if you’re going to have some kind of genuine, tangible expression of love amongst the family of faith, it has to be that which is able to weather disappointments, disagreements, disharmony. Because all of that is wrapped up in being a family. Brothers and sisters argue. They disappoint one another. They misunderstand each other. They take things the wrong way. So if love, then, as conceived within a family, has to do with everything being hunky-dory all the time, then, of course, we have to conclude that there are great periods of time where love has just vanished out the door. No, not necessarily—hence these expressions of generosity.
And notice—and again, this is simply to build upon what we have seen prior to this—that his expression of generosity is not because these brothers are his buddies. Because we read there at the end of verse 5 that “you are faithful in what you[’re] doing for the brothers, even though they[’re] strangers to you.” So this is remarkable! This is the kind of thing that makes people sit up and take notice: “Well, why would you be doing that for those people? You don’t even know who they are. Why would you extend generosity to these people that you have never met and you perhaps never will meet this side of eternity?”
“Well,” Gaius said, “they’re my brothers. We stand side by side in the cause of the gospel. We have the same heavenly Father. We are followers of the same Lord Jesus Christ.” And hence, from the life of Gaius flow these practical expressions of love.
Now, if you think about it—and, of course, this is by no means certain—but if we are correct in assuming that these brothers were bearing the letter that is mentioned in verse 9 and, in going to the church, faced the rejection of Diotrephes, and as a result of the bad reaction of Diotrephes, they were cast upon the hospitality of Gaius, then it is perfectly understandable that having been driven, as it were, into the hands and the arms of the affection of Gaius, they would come back to the sending establishment and say, “Hey, you’ve got to meet this fellow Gaius. He doesn’t know us from a hole in the ground, but he gave us a bed, we had three square meals a day, and he gave us pocket money when we left, so that on our journey we would be okay.” Generosity. Generosity.
Now, we have to learn this lesson, don’t we? And I’m sure we need to learn it again and again. We do well to keep in mind the words of Jesus that are recorded for us in Matthew 25. I won’t read them all—just a snippet. You’re familiar with them. Here we go: Jesus says, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” And you remember the disciples said, “Hey, Lord, we don’t remember any of that. Lord, when did we see you like this?” And then Jesus’ words: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” In other words, the brothers, although they are strangers, are the servants of God. They represent God, and therefore, Gaius treats them as he would treat Jesus.
Now, John is a loving soul, isn’t he, as he writes these letters? But he’s also masterful in the little nudges that he gives. And I think there is a little nudge here in the second sentence of verse 6: “They[’ve] told the church about your love.” That’s a kind of attaboy: “Well done. Your love is here.” And then he says, “You [would] do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.” In other words, “Come on, now. You’ve started well. Let’s keep it going. You have encouraged them by your hospitality, but make sure that you enable them in their going by your generosity.” In other words, those who are the servants of the gospel, those who are the bearers of good news, those who are the teachers in the fledgling first-century church, who are dependent upon the generosity of those who have resources so that they might have a place to stay, so that they might have food and clothes to wear—they receive no remuneration from anywhere; they’re entirely dependent on this generosity—would have occasion to bless Gaius.
Of course, keep in mind the warning that has already been given concerning those who are unscrupulous, those who are seeking to use the gospel as a means of lining their nest, those who are, in 2 Corinthians  terminology, peddlers of the Word of God for profit. The warning has already been given concerning the unscrupulous nature of those characters, and it is the part of the Christian to exercise discernment so as to make sure that we are not providing resources to those who illegitimately demand payment for their work in the gospel, but we are, for those who live in the service of the gospel, prepared to recognize that such individuals are worthy of thanks in a tangible way.
Final word is synergy. Synergy. Prosperity such as that for which John prays, the testimony such as has come from these brothers concerning Gaius, the generosity that this wonderful fellow has been displaying, and now, finally, the synergy that John desires.
Now, I know you’re sitting there saying, “Synergy. Any time you try and come up with four words that all end in the same way,” you’re going, “one of them has to be a dog, you know. It doesn’t fit. Frankly, we’ll give you prosperity, we’re prepared to allow you generosity and whatever the other one was—testimony.” It’s actually there. It’s there in the New King James Version: that they “came and testified” about his testimony and so on. Prosperity’s actually there in the Greek; it’s the best equivalent. And so on. But I know you think synergy, I’m just really dragging at this point.
But I have wonderful news for you that will set your minds at rest, because the actual word—the actual Greek word—that gives us our English word synergy is right here in the final phrase of verse 8: “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men”—notice the phrase in the NIV—“so that we may work together for the truth.” “That we may work together for the truth.” In the Greek, it reads as follows: hina ginōmetha sunergoi tē alētheia. In other words, hína (“that we”) ginōmetha (“may be”) sunergoi (“fellow workers”) tē alētheia (“in the truth”). So it’s actually there: “fellow workers.” This is the synergy.
It’s not a synergy, again, that has to do with the fact that we are a homogenous group, that we’ve all come out of the same stable, that we’re all interested in the same kind of music, that we all read the same kind of books, that we’re all from the same socioeconomic demographic. It’s not that at all. No! The synergy that exists in the body of Christ is a God-ordained synergy whereby he introduces us to the wonder of his salvation, and he then calls for us to be united in the cause of truth itself.
These individuals, you will notice, are not simply members of the church; they’re missionaries from the church. “It was for the sake of the Name”—verse 7—“that they went out.” “They went out.” They have gone out under the banner of Christ and his kingdom. They’ve gone out for the sake of Christ’s name. They haven’t gone out for their own name. They’ve not gone out to make a name for themselves. They’ve gone out to make much of the name of Jesus. Says Peterson, paraphrasing this, “They set out under the banner of the Name, and [they] get no help from unbelievers. So they deserve any support we can give them. In providing meals and a bed, we become their companions in spreading the Truth.” That’s the most important phrase: “In providing them with a bed and with a meal, we become their companions. We’re involved in the synergy of spreading the truth.” If, as lay people, you do not understand that, you will never, ever, ever get to the point where you recognize the privilege of releasing resources that God has given you in the work of the kingdom of God, because it will simply appear that what you do is take something that you have and make it possible for others to do something. But until you realize that in taking what you have, you are actually, organically, synergistically involved in that endeavor, then suddenly, it changes everything.
In the past few weeks, on the island of Jersey, which is in the Channel Islands, about twelve miles off the coast of France, Sue and I went and visited the German war tunnels. When Germany invaded Jersey and occupied [Jersey] in 1940, they built tunnels deep into the island. And it was in those tunnels that they did all kinds of things that we won’t necessarily go into now. The tunnels have now been renovated and opened up so that it is possible for historians (and others, like ourselves) to go in and benefit from the discovery of what was happening between 1940 and 1945—actually, from July 1, 1940, when they occupied Jersey, all the way through until the deliverance day of May 9, 1945. It was also within a very short period of time, you will remember, the Battle of Britain took place.
And as we went through these tunnels—and they were wonderful, and I commend the opportunity to you if you ever go there—there were a number of things that stood out to both of us, and none more so than a plaque that was on a wall that said… And I meant to bring this. In reality, I forgot it, but I can do it well enough. It was a plaque to the effect that… This was from women of the sort of compassionate society of the Jersey compassionate people to the members of the Royal Air Force. And basically, it said, “We send our love.” And then it said, “And with their expressions of support, they provided,” and then it said, “fifty-six pairs of mittens, twenty-seven pairs of socks, forty-five flying helmets, fifteen sweaters,” and so on. And it just went down a list. And I just stood and looked at it and said, “Wonder who those women were?” And some airman, flying in the face of Nazi Germany’s endeavor to take over the Western world, was secure and warm in the jersey provided by a lady from Jersey who was just a knitter. Oh, there’s no “just a knitter” when your hands are freezing in an open-top plane.
I think you get it, don’t you? That’s what John is saying here. That’s what he’s talking about in relationship to synergy. These individuals were neither peddlers for profit, nor were they like the begging friars of the Middle Ages. “And so,” says John to him, “we ought to show hospitality to such men.” For two reasons: one, because we believe in the message they proclaim—namely, the gospel—and two, because they have no other means of support.
What a wonderful opportunity for involvement! What a required synergy in the work of mission in the world! All of us are not called to go, but all of us are called to give. Not all of us must preach, but all of us must provide. And when we stay behind, we support those who go. We enter into a joint participation in the work of spreading the truth so that others may come to know the truth so that those who become our spiritual children learn to walk in the truth. That’s actually what we’re all involved in—every last one of us, in the place of God’s appointing. What a wonderful privilege!
Let us pray:
Father, thank you for the picture that the New Testament gives us constantly of the importance of all the different bits and pieces of the body being vital for the function of advancement. Thank you for all the corporate pictures—of a flock with the individual members of the sheep, for a building and all the bricks being put in place, and so on—all these wonderful metaphors that cry out to us just how wonderful it is to be given a privilege of being partners together in this wonderful synergy.
And we pray, then, that you will stir us up by way of generosity, that the testimony that we bear of others may be of their love and of their faithfulness, their fidelity to the truth, and that that may be what others say of us, if it please you. And we pray that we might rejoice when others prosper—when their business does well and when things go well for them. Save us from envy and jealousy and criticism and backbiting. And when it appears that the enemy is raging and winning, help us, Lord, to join our hands, as it were, with one another and bow again before your amazing love and goodness. Help us, Lord, to be those who are walking in the truth. For we pray in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1.1.1.
 Phyllis Thompson, Climbing on Track: A Biography of Fred Mitchell (London: China Inland Mission, 1953), 11.
 Romans 12:13 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 25:35 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 25:37–39 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 25:40 (NIV 1984).
 See 2 John 10–11.
 See 2 Corinthians 2:17.
 3 John 3 (NKJV).
 3 John 7–8 (MSG).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.