3 John 1-8
1 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
2 Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul. 3I was overjoyed when some of the friends* arrived and testified to your faithfulness to the truth, namely, how you walk in the truth. 4I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
5 Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends,* even though they are strangers to you; 6they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on in a manner worthy of God; 7for they began their journey for the sake of Christ,* accepting no support from non-believers.* 8Therefore we ought to support such people, so that we may become co-workers with the truth.
The third letter of John is thought to be written by the same author, who calls himself “The Elder”, as the second letter. This letter, however, was not accepted as scripture until much later, the late fourth century. This is a personal letter, written to Gaius, which is a fairly common name of the Greek / Roman community of the time.
The author offers a prayer for his reader, that all is well with him and that he is in good health, adding the assurance that all is well with his soul. “Some of the friends” had come to the home church, or the church where the Elder is, and had testified that his friend Gaius was faithful to the truth, that he walked in the truth. Are they simply testifying that he is keeping the faith? Or is the Elder still dealing with the division addressed in the second letter, and saying here that he is happy to hear that is friend has not fallen in with those false teachers? The Elder is overjoyed to hear that his friend, that his children, are walking in the truth – or, keeping the faith. The use of the term, “my children”, indicates that he has some connection with this church. Is he perhaps an early bishop over churches in the area? Or did this church arise from his own missionary journeys or from missionaries he sent? There are many questions here that cannot be answered from this short letter. Whatever he has done for these friends, he has done well – even though they were strangers to him. They have testified to his love before the home church – this is the only time the word “church” is used in the three letters. These friends began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from unbelievers – this seems odd as well, why would unbelievers support missionaries of any sort? Regardless, these had not accepted such support and were, therefore, in need of support from those who are co-workers in the truth.
Missionaries or traveling preachers often traveled from church to church across a region in those early days of the church. There was not a fast means of communication to warn churches of those who sought their own glory rather than that of God or Christ (think of televangelists). Dissension could arise between a church that had followed one of these and the “home” or founding church. Approved missionaries would often carry letters from the home church as credentials. They required the hospitality and help of the churches they visited in order to continue their mission. This letter may have been written to Gaius to encourage his continued hospitality.