Sermon on 3 John 5-8 | When a Strange Preacher Comes to Town

When a Strange Preacher Comes to Town (3 John 5-8)

The young preacher has just announced to the congregation that he was resigning to accept a position with another church. He was standing at the door after the service greeting people. One elderly lady approached him her eyes swimming in tears. She sobbed, “Brother, I’m so sorry you’ve decided to leave. Things will never be the same again.” The young man was flattered, but he was equal to the situation and took her hands in his and most benevolently replied, “Bless you, Sister, but I’m sure that God will send you a preacher even better than I.” She choked back a sob and said, “That’s what they all say, but they keep getting worse and worse.”

What do you do when a strange preacher comes to town? You might be thinking, “We’ve handled the one we have fairly well.”

But, I the first century, welcoming a strange preacher, one of whom you knew nothing, as a common occurrence. Inns often served as brothels as well as places to lay one’s head at night; therefore, Jews and Christians regularly avoided them. When Christian missionaries went from place to place, they often carried letters to the leaders of the congregation. The letter would be written by someone who knew the leadership and whom the leadership trusted; the letter would basically say, “You can trust this guy. Accept him.” In fact, Third John could very well be one of those letters, commending Demetrius (v 12).

The question might be asked, “When you get such a letter, what are you supposed to do?” John addresses that question in two ways:

Faithful Man, vv 5-6

“Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you.”

The “dear friend” of verse 5 continues the affection John has shown Gaius throughout this short letter. Notice that affection. “The elder, To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth” (v 1). “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” (v 2).

What caused John to have such affection toward Gaius? Some traveling preachers had come back to John and told him about the love Gaius had demonstrated to them. While it’s pure conjecture on my part, I can’t help but think that Gaius had shown hospitality to John at some point. John and Gaius knew one another personally—that’s very obvious from this epistle. John had been an apostle and traveled preaching the gospel of Jesus. It only makes sense that John had been traveling and Gaius had shown him hospitality. Additionally, Diotrephes was abusing his authority in the local church and challenging the apostles—I get the impression that Gaius was standing up to oppose Diotrephes, and John appreciated the support.

Gaius was faithful in what he was doing for the brothers, even though they were strangers to him. “Faithfulness” refers to fidelity. In what ways was Gaius faithful? In the first place, Gaius was faithful to these preaching brethren—he helped and supported them. But in helping and supporting the preaching brethren, Gaius was faithful to God. Gaius was using the abilities and talents he had to help the spread of the Gospel, and God is always pleased with such.

These brethren were strangers to Gaius. He had never met them before in his life, but he was going out of his way to help them. You know why: they were brethren. There is a bond between brethren that is difficult, if not impossible, to put into words. You know exactly what I mean: you walk into a congregation where you’ve never been and the brethren are as warm and inviting as your own family. That’s really the point—as we’re brethren, we’re family.

The traveling preachers had told the church about Gaius’ love. The traveling missionaries whom Gaius kept reported back to the church the love he showed them. The Greek grammar indicates that these missionaries reported this news in a meeting of the church, when the congregation came together. When Paul and Barnabas arrived back to Antioch, “they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them” (Acts 14:27). This is quite analogous to our having a missionary come and speak about the work in which he’s involved during worship. Notice that these missionaries not only told the brethren about what God had done but what Gaius had done.

Gaius had shown such love that the missionaries couldn’t wait to get back to tell the church about his love. What type of love do we show toward those who are strangers to us? What type of love do we show toward those who visit our worship service? There are few things as frightening as visiting a church where you know no one and have no one speak or even attempt to make eye contact. What type of impression do we make—you don’t belong here, or we’d love to have you join our family?

Gaius would do well to send these missionaries on their way in a manner worthy of God. Sending them on their way probably implies that Gaius would give these missionaries money, support for their journey. Support for missionaries is so very important. How else can missionaries go throughout all the world unless someone helps them pay for transportation and gives them enough to live on?

Scripture teaches us to support missionaries financially. “The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14). The Philippian church support Paul in his efforts: “As you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only, for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need” (Phil 4:15-16). The church here supports missionaries and has been very generous in supporting the preaching of the gospel. We need to commit ourselves to continuing that support.

Gaius needed to send these missionaries forth in a manner worthy of God. Worthy of God could mean a couple things here:

  • The phrase could mean that Gaius needed to send them forth as he would send God forth—with love and care.
  • The phrase could also mean that Gaius needed to send them forth in a worthy manner because of their work

Either way we understand the phrase “worthy of God,” the meaning is obvious: the missionaries needed to be sent forth in an appropriate manner.

Gaius was a faithful man for the way he supported the Gospel by supporting missionaries. Let us be faithful in the way we support missionaries!

Faithful Messengers, vv 7-8

They went forth for the sake of the Name, receiving no help from the pagans.

They went forth for the sake of the Name. “The Name” here undoubtedly stands for Christ. For Christ, these missionaries left the safety and comfort of home to preach the Gospel. Undoubtedly, most all these missionaries left family and dear loved ones at home, and they went and preached. Undoubtedly, many of these missionaries eft good-paying jobs to go and preach. Undoubtedly, many of these missionaries faced persecution, imprisonment, and even death, but they continued to preach the Gospel.

These missionaries were willing to give up much for the sake of Christ. When I was in college, many of those there had ben up much for the sake of preaching the gospel. One of my best friends there was an industrial plumber in Memphis, Tennessee, and was making six figures plus a year—he gave that up to come to school and go to Eastern Europe as a missionary. Many of the guys there had come from Africa, and they had left wives and children behind so they could come to America, train to preach the Gospel, and then go back home and establish churches.

What are we willing to give up for the sake of Christ? Are we willing to give up time so that we might go and share the Gospel with a friend? Are we willing to give money that some might go and preach the Gospel of Jesus? Are we willing to give up our lives to be a fragrant offering that leads others to Christ?

These missionaries received no help from the pagans. This is why Gaius needed to support the missionaries—they had received no support from the heathen. These missionaries only accepted funds from brethren-that would keep them and their message from contamination.

This also seems reminiscent of Jesus’ sending out of the Twelve. The Lord told them: “Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep” (Matthew 10:9-10). Early missionaries seem to have used this passage as instruction for them not to take money when they set out for a missionary journey.

Gaius needed to show hospitality to these men so that he may work with them for the truth. Because of the reputation of inns in the first century, hospitality was an important Christian attribute. “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom 12:13). “The overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2). “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb 13:2).

Gaius needed to show hospitality “so that we may work together for the truth.” We’ve mentioned numerous times that we all need to be involved in evangelism. As I’ve done so, I’ve tried to make clear that we are all involved in evangelism in different ways—we don’t all have the same talents, so God doesn’t expect the same thing from all of us. This verse makes that point abundantly clear—by housing these missionaries, Gaius would cooperate in the spreading of the Gospel.

Are you willing to cooperate in the spread of the Gospel? Some of you are housing workers for our campaign. Others of you, who can’t house workers, are preparing food. Others of you are planning on inviting your friends and family to hear the Gospel. Others of you are praying diligently for the effort. Others of you are planning on helping in the ways that best suit your abilities. Are you ready to cooperate in the spreading of the Gospel?

Do you need to come this morning and respond to the Gospel?


This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.

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