by Henry Brinton, May 18 2020

Stay-at-Home Scripture Study 64: 3 John

 3 John 1-8

The third letter of John was written to an individual described as “the beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth” (3 John 1). John wrote this personal letter to warn him about the danger of an insubordinate leader “who likes to put himself first” and had been “spreading false charges against us” (2 John 9-10), a reminder to us that there has been conflict in the church since its earliest days. But before issuing this warning, John commended Gaius by saying, “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” (3 John 3-4). Once again, John focused his attention on the truth of the Christian faith and commended Gaius and his fellow church members for “walking in the truth.”

Quinn McDowell is an assistant men’s basketball coach at Lehigh University, a man who played basketball at William and Mary before graduating in 2012 with a degree in religious studies. He writes that effective leaders “are constantly trying to match their words with their actions. Ultimately, this process builds trust and earns credibility. Trust is earned when the leader is able to both walk the walk and talk the talk. Leaders use language to communicate their vision and beliefs, but their actions ultimately determine the validity of their words. Learning to walk the walk and talk the talk is about the crucial work of creating alignment between what we say and what we do.” This kind of alignment was exactly what John was recommending when he spoke of “walking in the truth” (3 John 4) — an alignment of feet, head and heart that is an important attribute for leaders of churches as well as basketball teams.

So, what impressed John about the leadership of Gaius? In particular, his practice of Christian hospitality. “Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends, even though they are strangers to you,” wrote John; “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” (3 John 5-7). Gaius had welcomed a group of John’s friends, even though they were strangers to him, and John reported that they had testified to Gaius’s love. The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia, which means “love of the stranger,” shown when Gaius welcomed strangers (xenous) and showed them love. How different this is from the xenophobia seen in so many communities today, a Greek word which means “fear of the stranger.”

One of the central truths of the ministry of Jesus was hospitality, a truth that he both walked and talked. In the Gospel of John, Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, turning more than one hundred gallons of water into wine so that a wedding celebration could continue (John 2:1-11). At its most basic level, this was a miracle of hospitality. Jesus went on to feed a crowd of 5,000 and then another 4,000, revealing his desire to nourish people both physically and spiritually. He washed the feet of his disciples, instituted the Lord’s Supper, and after his resurrection cooked a fish breakfast for his disciples (John 21:1-24). Jesus taught us what it means to care for each other in the parable of the Good Samaritan, welcomed little children in spite of his disciples’ objections, and instructed his followers in the nature of hospitality with the words, “when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13).

In a word, a central truth of Jesus was “hospitality.” But his walking in this truth was not a punch-and-cookies hospitality, it was a powerful hospitality that stood up to opposition. When the Pharisees asked why Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who sick” (Matt 9:11-12). He called out to a notorious tax collector named Zacchaeus and invited himself to dinner (Luke 19:1-10). Throughout his ministry, Jesus entered into the lives of people who were on the margins of society, struggling with hunger, shame, and disease. Then, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said that anyone who feeds the hungry and welcomes strangers is really feeding and welcoming him (Matt 25:35).

If Christians today are going to model their ministries on the work of Jesus, they need to enter into the lives of distressed neighbors and practice hospitality in the same way that Jesus did. “Therefore we ought to support such people,” concluded John, “so that we may become co-workers with the truth” (3 John 8). To be co-workers with the truth of Jesus means to practice Christian hospitality and welcome all people with God’s love and grace. This passage from 3 John is one of the Bible’s greatest hits because it challenges us to reach out actively to the strangers around us. The truth of Christianity is not just talk, but is “walking the walk” with a welcoming way of life, following the Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).


1. What are the challenges of walking the walk and talking the talk? 

2. Where do you see a need for the powerful hospitality of Jesus today? 

3. How can you be a coworker with the truth of Christian hospitality?

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by Henry Brinton

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