Fellow Workers For the Truth
A meditation on 3 John 8: We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.
Cooperation has always been a difficult word for Protestant Christians to utter convincingly.
Given a history defined by expulsion and separation, our lack of credibility in this area is understandable. If we’re honest, many of us would have to admit that “competition” not “cooperation” is often the subtext in the relationships between churches. Churches compete for members, for influence, for resources.
Further complicating matters, many of the voices speaking most loudly in favor of cooperation seek to build it on shaky or even unbiblical ground—proposing superficial unity that ignores serious disagreement about the gospel itself.
To top it all off, my personal qualifications to write about the issue of cooperation, as an evangelical Baptist congregationalist, may seem triply in doubt! Nonetheless, Scripture convinces me that cooperation is a topic that all gospel-loving Christians must take seriously if we intend to take God’s Word seriously. But where to begin?
The book of 3 John is one place where the value of cooperation between Christians in different local churches is especially clear. It appears that some itinerate evangelists had gone out from the church where the Apostle John lived and had come to the town where his dear friend Gaius resided. John then wrote a letter that contrasts the faithful support and cooperation these evangelists had received from Gaius with the self-centered rejection and opposition they had received from Diotrephes. In verse eight of the letter John stresses the importance of cooperation saying, “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth” (italics mine).
We can’t begin here to plumb the depths of this rich little letter, or even the eighth verse. But we can consider, in context, the challenge it presents to us and why it is important for Christian to joyfully embrace it. How should we understand this passage for us and for our churches today?
SEEK TO BLESS OTHERS
To start with, we should actively desire to cooperate with other Christians committed to the same gospel truth. Certainly we must not cooperate with or support people or churches who teach a false gospel—the book of 2 John helpfully addresses that topic. But the positive injunction of 3 John should delight us that there are other Christians with whom we share gospel truth and can cooperate.
This is why the congregation where I serve is committed to spending a significant part of its resources and time not merely on our own congregation but in blessing and partnering with other local churches.
WAYS TO PARTNER & SUPPORT
There are lots of ways churches can do this. A church can partner with other gospel-believing churches in hosting weekly lunchtime evangelistic talks at strategic downtown locations to which church members can bring their work colleagues. (Our Baptist church partners with an Anglican and a Presbyterian church in this way.)
A church can do this by hosting a pastoral internship program that supports young men for a semester or more, teaching them how to be pastors or missionaries before sending them out to bless other congregations.
A church can do this by pooling its money with other like-minded churches to send one another’s members with the gospel to unreached peoples around the world.
A church can do this by supporting an organization like 9Marks, which helps other churches think through biblical church life.
And, as occasion permits, a church should certainly practice showing hospitality to members of other churches, as this verse directly instructs.
WHEN OUR LOVE FOR THE GOSPEL IS MOST CLEAR
The kind of cooperation and hospitality described in 3 John 8 is important, but it takes effort. It goes against our own self interest. That’s why John is so concerned in the letter to encourage Gaius to actively love strangers, to support those from outside his own circle who are working for the truth. John says this not because the gospel work of these evangelists was more important than work done in Gaius’ own town, and not because cooperation is an end in itself. John commands this because obeying John’s instruction on this matter is good for Gaius’ soul. John knows that one of the most reliable indicators of our love for Jesus is the degree to which we will work for the advancement of his truth when there is nothing directly in it for us.
Our love for the gospel is most clear when we delight to see it prosper—and to help it prosper—when other people will be viewed as the human agents of its success. John models this kind of love for the gospel as he delights seeing the truth honored in the lives and ministries of spiritual children who no longer have any direct connection to himself.
You see, I think even Diotrephes (whose heart was “evil”) was excited about success in his own church, but I fear only because he regarded it as his church. Gaius was no doubt pleased to see the gospel bear fruit in his church too, but there was a critical difference. Gaius was also delighted to see the gospel bear fruit from the labors of strangers, from another church, among people he would never even meet. Gaius was willing to go to extra trouble and expense to advance their work—to work together for the truth.
And it’s this willingness that so helpfully clarifies that a Christian is in love with the name of Jesus and not merely his own name or his ministry’s name. That, my friends, is the attitude you and I should imitate.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So labor for the health of your local church, certainly. Support your local ministry, love one another, teach and train men and women to serve right where you are. But don’t do even that merely for your own sake, but so that your congregation can be a blessing to your community, to churches throughout your nation, and even to the distant parts of the world. Cultivate ways to make visible your love for the gospel, and not just your love for your ministry.
But, actually, even that’s not enough. Don’t just labor so that your church can be a blessing to the world, labor for the sake of the Name, so that Christ will be exalted among the nations. And as you do this, as you set out to help the work of other gospel-believing Christians, you will demonstrate that you want to see Christ exalted, and not merely your church or group exalted. You will demonstrate that the gospel is much bigger than your personal sphere of work.
When you do all this, I think that you will find that both your joy in the gospel and your confidence in its world-wide triumph will only grow as you join hands with others to work together for the Truth.