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Missionary Care Begins with the Local Church: A Look at 3 John 5-8

Church leaders should recruit like football coaches. Successful coaches know what type of player they want and do not wait for them to surface; rather, they go get them. These coaches find players who want to be on the team and who are eager to do the work. Are leaders within churches taking the same approach when considering equipping and releasing members to the mission field?


The local church, both its members and leaders, should be sending and supporting well for the promotion and advancement of the gospel. An example of such a church is in 3 John 5-8 as John commends his friend Gaius for sending and supporting well. A careful look reveals that the church’s existence, both biblically and theologically, is because of the mission of God and for the mission of God.


Background


Understanding the background in which the letter of 3 John is written will help give support for why John uses his third epistle to encourage missionary support by the local church. A quick survey of the Gospel of John and John’s letters shows a very close relationship between all four writings. Colin Kruse, in The Letters of John, explained that after the writing of John’s Gospel, there were certain members within the larger community of John’s readers who adopted beliefs denying the person and work of Jesus.

"It is because individuals have been saved and gathered into a local body that the church corporately is sent on mission to proclaim that same gospel."

This group, called “secessionists,” eventually split off and would go around proclaiming heresy and causing confusion within the church. 1 John was written to bolster believers in their faith of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished through the cross. 2 John warned of false itinerant preachers. John then used this third letter to encourage Gaius and the church of the need to support and send forth laborers in the harvest field to promote the gospel. He set apart his friend who was found faithful in this task and spoke of how the church is mobilized to be the engine through which the gospel runs.


Audience


Gaius was a faithful missionary sender and supporter and John highlights these characteristics as exemplary for the church to follow. Danny Akin, in his commentary 1, 2, 3 John, argued that Gaius was indeed walking in the truth because of his faithful manner in showing hospitality to those who were itinerant missionaries proclaiming the gospel throughout the region. Gaius’s actions pointed to the fact that the local church’s members, because they are bound in Christian love and truth, are to be marked by hospitality to those whom they support.


Socio-historical Context


When strangers or traveling missionaries were received by individuals or churches, it was common for them to go back and report to their own community how they were welcomed. John received such a report from Gaius. Verse six states that these guests “testified to your love before the church.”


As Gaius received these missionaries, John exhorted him to “send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God” (3 John 6). John Stott, in his commentary The Letters of John, argued that “sending them on their way” was used to highlight the support of missionaries on their next journey. The admonition was to not only send missionaries, but to do so “in a manner worthy of God.” Churches today should strive to be known as those who welcome well in this way.


The purpose for which these missionaries were sent out is important to understand. Verse seven explains that they went out “for the sake of the Name.” From the context of 3 John and other cross references (see Acts 5:41, 9:16, 15:26, and 21:13), one can deduce that “the Name” is the name of Jesus Christ found in the exclusive message of the gospel. This, rather than any form of payment from non-believers, was the purpose of these itinerant preachers’ ministry.

"The local church must pursue and then be ready to receive, eager to equip, truth-filled in training, and generous in giving to those who go for the sake of Name."

Finally, John exhorted Gaius in verse eight that “we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.”


Theological Implications


The overriding theological implication in these four verses is that a church sends her missionaries to go out for the sake of the Name. It is because individuals have been saved and gathered into a local body that the church corporately is sent on mission to proclaim that same gospel. This text also strongly supports individuals not only sending and supporting in isolation but also doing so in community. While some members are called to go, others are called to stay.


Akin exhorts, “We may not physically go where they go, but when we support them, we go with them anyway. We work together, as one, for the truth. Some give support and some are sent. Both are essential.” (245) This is the rhythm of recruiting, raising up, and releasing that Jesus talks about when he calls us to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)


Ministry Application


There is a strong exhortation in 3 John for why and how the local church is to be the conduit through which the gospel spreads around the world. Andy Johnson, Associate Pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C., gives guidance in application when he illustrates from the passage that support for missionaries is normal, cooperation among churches is encouraged, knowing whom we ought to support is critical, and support should be abundant.


There are several implications here:

  1. As local church leaders consider who to support, they must assess well and in categories that reveal a person’s character, fruitfulness, and biblical knowledge.

  2. Elders and members must also equip. Equipping entails ensuring that members live out their church membership in acts of hospitality, faithful evangelism, and multiplying disciples.

  3. Leaders in the local church must train in areas of theology, ecclesiology, missiology, and in practical expressions of local and global ministry.

  4. As the local congregation sends, she must support through finances, put feet in the missionary’s context, and spend face-to-face time with partners when they are stateside.

Successful recruiting often leads to committed athletes being launched to compete at the next level. While exciting, how much more so it is to see church members commit to the local body of believers and then go to the nations? The local church must pursue and then be ready to receive, eager to equip, truth-filled in training, and generous in giving to those who go for the sake of Name.

 

Ryan serves as Director of Missions for Lightbearers Ministries. He previously served for 13 years as a missions pastor after earning an MDiv in Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He currently is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where he also serves as a trustee. Ryan lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with his wife, Rebekah, and three children.



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