The Threefold Secret of Life

Study Guide to 1,2,3 John
by Francis Foulkes ©


'Beloved, it is a loyal thing you do when you render any service to the brethren, especially to strangers, who have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey as befits God's service. For they have set out for his sake and have accepted nothing from the heathen. So we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers in the truth' (3 John 5-8).

Christian people have a duty of showing love to all people whatever their race or religion, whatever their politics or profession. Jesus in His famous parable in which He answered the question what it meant to love one's neighbour, honoured the Samaritan who cared for the Jew who was robbed and beaten and left half-dead on the roadside (Luke 10:25-37). The Jewish people, on the whole, treated Samaritans as enemies, but the Samaritan in the story treated the Jew as his friend and neighbour. He who gave us this parable would not want us to ask whether a person in need is a Christian before we show love and care for him. At the same time, just as in our human families we have a special responsibility of showing love and care, so in the Christian family. Both the wider responsibility and this special responsibility are put to us in the words of Galatians 6:10, 'as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith'. Three words in these verses of 3 John sum up the way we should act towards our brothers and sisters in the Christian family: service, hospitality, support.

a. Service.

'It is a loyal thing to do', Gaius is told, 'when you render any service to the brethren.' Serving our brothers and sisters in Christ is a Christian duty. The New Testament pictures the church as being like the human body, made up of many members, each with its own work to do (see 1 Corinthians 12). We are 'members one of another', intended to do with all our strength the work that God gives us each to do (see Romans 12:2-8). 'Through love be servants of one another,' we are told (Galatians 5:13). We are to encourage one another in faith and discipleship (Hebrews 3:13). We are to help one another to grow in understanding our faith and living it out (Ephesians 4:11-16). We are to lift up those who fail and fall. The apostle Paul tells us to do this and he adds, 'Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ' (Galatians 6:1-2). The Christian life is a life of service - serving God first of all, then serving one another for His sake (see 2 Corinthians 4:5).

b. Hospitality.

It could be said of Gaius that he served his Christian brothers and, in particular, those who were 'strangers'. These people were able to speak well of what he had done for them. We have already seen that Christian hospitality was very important in New Testament days. There was little public accommodation that was satisfactory (see note below). At the same time there were many who left home and family and moved from place to place preaching the gospel. We can realize from the New Testament that there were three things involved in Christian hospitality in those days.

1. There was the welcome that 'strangers' were given. They were made to feel welcome and at home in the Christian family to which they came. 'Welcome one another.' Christians were told, 'as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God' (Romans 15:7).

2. There was the caring for the guests with thoughtful, loving care as long as they stayed.

3. Then, and very important, there was the farewell that was given to the guest. Here Gaius is told, 'You will do well to send them on their journey as befits God's service". Sometimes in

Acts (see 20:38 and 21:5-6) we read of Christians going as far as possible along the road with their friends whom they were farewelling and thus showing their affection and concern for them. Sending such traveling messengers of the gospel on their way also meant providing for the needs of their travel and their expenses until they arrived at a place where again they could be cared for by Christians. Several of the epistles speak of 'speeding* such guests on their way (see Romans 15:24, 1 Corinthians 16:6 and 11) and in Titus 3:13 it is made quite clear what that meant: 'Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing.'

Then and now Christian hospitality is a costly thing, but it is a lovely thing, a joy to those who give it and a joy to those who receive it.

c. Support.

We have realized as we have thought of these verses that they do not refer so much to any and all Christians who might be traveling, but in particular to those who traveled as messengers of the gospel. Like Paul, they would not take money from those to whom they preached (see Acts 20:34, 1 Corinthians 9:18 and 1 Thessalonians 2:9). In the world then (see 1 Timothy 6:5) as in the world now, there were people who tried to make money out of religion. The true Christian will never do this. It says of the traveling preachers here, 'they have set out for his sake and have accepted nothing from the heathen' (verse 7). Such people depend on their fellow-Christians for their support. Their fellow Christians should give that support. Verse 8 says, 'we ought to support such men'. When we do so, we will 'play our part in spreading the truth' (New English Bible). This is true for us. It is our privilege to support not only our pastors and ministers but those whom we send out from our churches as missionaries and evangelists.

William Barclay expresses this in a very practical way, 'A man's circumstances may be such that he cannot become a missionary or a preacher. Life may have put him in a position where he must get on with a secular job, and there he must stay in the one place, and carry out the routine duties of life and living. But where he cannot go his money and his prayers and his practical support can go; and, if he gives the support, he has made himself an ally of the truth. It is not everyone who can be, so to speak, in the front line; but every man by supporting those who are in the front line can make himself an ally of the truth. By giving our practical support to those who are carrying out the wider work of the Church, without leaving our bench or our desk or our office or our factory or our home town, we can still become an ally to the truth. When we remember that, all giving to such a cause must become, not an obligation, but a privilege, not a duty, but a delight. The Church needs those who will go out with the truth, but the Church also needs those who although they must stay at home, will be the allies of the truth.'


Lord, help me to do my part in spreading Your truth in every way You choose for me. Strengthen me to witness by my words and my life, in my home and my work. Help me to serve others, to welcome others, to support the ministers of Your word, and to pray for Your work where I am and in all the world, to the glory of Your great name. AMEN.

For further thought and study.

1. Look up the references to other parts of the New Testament given in section (a) of the study and think out the practical ways in which they show that we should serve one another in the Christian family.

2. What teaching is given in 1 Corinthians 9:3-14, Galatians 6:6 and 1 Timothy 5:17, 18 about the way that Christian people should support their ministers?


1. Public lodging houses or inns in biblical times had a very bad reputation, as many of them do today. Often they were places of immorality and, if not, they were far from comfortable and guests were often robbed in them. For this reason hospitality in the homes of friends meant a great deal in the days of the early Church.

2. In verse 6 the words translated by the Revised Standard Version: 'as befits God's service' meant literally 'worthily of God'. 'Worthy of the God we 'serve' is the way that the New English Bible puts it. For similar expressions see Ephesians 4:1, Colossians 1:10 and 1 Thessalonians 2:12.

3. The words that our translation takes as 'for his sake' in verse 7 are literally 'for the sake of the Name'. The name of God or our Lord Jesus Christ expresses who He is. All of the names are given have deep meaning, but when it says here that 'it was the sake of the Name that they went out' (New International Version), it means that they went out for Christ's sake, realizing who they were serving, their Saviour and Lord and Master.