Beyond the Lectionary Text: 3 John

by Bill Sytsma

Comments and Observations:

It’s not too difficult to think of influential Christians throughout the course of history.

The Apostle Paul traveled the world, established numerous churches, stood trial for advancing the gospel, and wrote numerous letters that have become part of the New Testament.

After his conversion in 387, Saint Augustine became one of the most influential Church Fathers in Western Christianity.  He wrote The City of God and Confessions, which are still widely read over 1,500 after his death.  He helped formulate the teaching on original sin, and both Protestants and Catholics consider him an authoritative leader within the church.

John Wycliffe was an influential leader in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th Century.  He argued that people should be able to read the Bible in their own language and worked on the translation of the Latin Vulgate into common English, which was completed in 1382.  His name is still utilized today by the Wycliffe Global Alliance (formerly Wycliffe Bible Translators).

Mother Theresa dedicated her life to serving the poorest of the poor, caring for people who had been afflicted with diseases such as AIDS. In 1979, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her charitable work.  Her efforts set an example for many others, as thousands of Catholics continue to carry out her work in freely caring for those who are in the greatest need.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor and Civil Rights leader who was catapulted into a position of notoriety in the United States in the1950’s during the Civil Rights Movement.  He encouraged nonviolent protests to highlight the injustice of racial inequality.  His “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered in 1963 during a march on Washington, and still remains one of the most well known speeches in American history.

Billy Graham was a Christian evangelist who preached to (an estimated) over 2 billion people at his crusades, on television, and over the radio throughout decades of service in ministry.  He met with several presidents of the United States during his ministry.  The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has been influential in founding numerous media ministries.

We could list countless other leaders who have preached, founded agencies, and donated generously to further God’s Kingdom.  When we read the list of names above, and recognize what God has done through their lives, we might experience a mixture of awe and intimidation.  On the one hand, we are amazed at what God has accomplished through his people.  On the other hand, we wonder how we can make a contribution to God’s Kingdom.  Is it possible to make significant contributions to God’s work without vast resources, intellectual superiority, or throngs of followers?

In 3 John, we get a glimpse of someone who served in a way to advance God’s Kingdom that John was compelled to encourage, even though it may not seem as impressive as the contributions of the people listed in the paragraphs above.


In John’s previous letter (2 John – which is directed to an entire community), John gives instruction about welcoming people into homes.  In that letter, he warns that the church should not provide a place to stay for traveling teachers who is not true to Christ’s teaching.

Hospitality is the act of making space and welcoming others into that space.  It is most often noticed in those who open their homes.  A gifted hostess has a wonderful ability to make you feel like you are welcomed into her home.  It doesn’t have to be extravagant to be hospitable.  It can be a simple meal with warm and friendly conversation.

Hospitality does not require a home.  Perhaps you have stood with a group of people in a public location, huddled in a loose circle while you talk. Hospitality can be demonstrated as you motion to someone who is standing outside of your group, invite her to come over, and introduce her to the rest of the members in your group. You have made space for them.

You can make space for a friend by canceling an appointment on your calendar to visit him in the hospital.  You can give someone your undivided attention while you listen attentively.  Hospitality is a gracious act of making someone know that he or she is welcomed.

Hospitality may seem like a small act, but it is a crucial part of imitating Christ.  In John 14, Jesus comforted his disciples by telling them that he would be leaving them in order to perform an act of hospitality – to prepare a place for them.

The Key Personnel: