The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul. I was overjoyed when some of the friends arrived and testified to your faithfulness to the truth, namely, how you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth. Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you; they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God; for they began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers. Therefore we ought to support such people, so that we may become co-workers with the truth.
With the advent of the email have we lost the art of letter writing? In 3 John we have the briefest of openings to an Epistle typical of a secular letter of its time: first the greeting, next the prayer for good health, after that the main body of the letter with its news, and then final greetings. Early Christian letters were the kind of letters which people wrote to each other every day.
Some Christians from Gaius’ region have reported to the author of Gaius’ ‘faithfulness to the truth’. We know nothing of Gaius except he was a lay person, a convert of the author’s perhaps, (later tradition makes him bishop of Pergamum). Gaius is praised for his extraordinary hospitality offered to some itinerant Christians.
In our modern world we wouldn’t claim hospitality as a mark of ‘faithfulness to the truth’. But in the ancient world it was much more than offering an occasional meal. Here truth is integrated with love. This would include financial assistance as well as other support so that these missionaries might fulfil the vocation to which God has called them. The ancient practice of a local stipend as a living allowance to enable ministers to live does sound familiar!
The author’s response to this situation is to rejoice and to urge Gaius to continue offering such hospitality. But the author is doing more than merely requesting Gaius show the same hospitality to the missionaries when they return. He is appealing to a broader principle: all people should be supported in this way. By giving such support, Christians like Gaius become ‘co-workers in the truth’ loyally living in Christian obedience. Can we make the same claim? To fulfil this responsibility is to play our part in ‘spreading the truth’ for it is both our Christian duty and an act of Christian love.
whose love is boundless
and whose compassion
makes no distinction
between friend and stranger,
grant us generosity of Spirit
that we may faithfully walk in the truth.
Turn our indifference into hospitality
and our hard-heartedness into care
that we may participate
as true co-workers in your kingdom. Amen.
The Rev’d Nicola Furley-Smith, Moderator of Southern Synod.
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