“Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors 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 people so that we may work together for the truth.”
(3 John 5-8 NIV)
John continues the commendation of his friend and ministry partner Gaius.
As the church at large grew and the Good News of Jesus Christ was spreading, a number of people were going out as missionaries, following Jesus’ command to share the Gospel to the world. As these missionaries ventured out, some of them were passing through the town where Gaius lived.
John commends Gaius for showing hospitality to these brothers and sisters in Christ, even though Gaius did not know them until they arrived on his doorstep. The Greek word John uses for “hospitality” means “to receive”, or “to welcome”. Our modern interpretation and usage of “hospitality” often implies entertaining guests – as in a social visit. John was commending Gaius for welcoming these travelers in, providing for their basic needs with a place to stay and a meal.
Just to put this in perspective, the folks in John’s day did not have phones or online bookings. They did have courier service (prior to mail delivery), so if the travelers were well-organized and had extra funds, then could send a letter to Gaius, letting him know they would arrive on such and such a day. However, that was the exception rather than the rule. Most of these folks would show up on Gaius’ doorstep unannounced, weary after a long day’s journey.
A lot of these folks going out on their short-term mission trips were regular folks who worked hard and did not have much spare cash. Being able to spend the night at a friend of a friend like Gaius was a huge help for them. Gaius ministered to these folks out of love for the Lord, and not out of obligation.
As noted earlier, Gaius provided a place to stay, and a meal for these traveling missionaries. John thanked and reminded Gaius to continue sending these folks “on their way” in such a manner that it honored God. What does that phrase “send them on their way” mean?
Typically, this meant two things:
- Providing for peoples’ needs during their next day of journey (food, water, maybe a little cash for needs along the trip)
- Escorting them (walking with them) for part of the journey, possibly to the end of the town where Gaius lived, or maybe even to the next little town along the way.
In essence, John is commending Gaius for his love for these missionaries, and encouraging Gaius to treat them as if they were the Lord Himself. John is reminding Gaius that by providing hospitality to these travelers, he (Gaius) is a partner in their missions effort and truth.
So what does that look like in our day? Surprisingly, not a whole lot different than in John’s day. We still can provide hospitality to those who are ministering the Gospel – a place to stay on their journey, a meal, encouragement, help with basic needs… pretty straightforward. And all done with an attitude of love for the Lord and for the traveler.
The next time an opportunity comes your way (either planned or last-minute) to host and encourage those ministering the Gospel, don’t worry about entertaining them or having your house “perfect” – just love on them and care for their needs. You will be surprised by what a joy it is to do so, and you will have made a new friend along the way.