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 men so that we may work together for the truth. (3 John 1:7-8)
One of the purposes of John’s third letter seems to be to address an issue of hospitality. Workers for the Lord were traveling for His cause, and the church needed to be aware of their needs and try to help meet them.
They went out for the sake of the “Name”, but the pagans didn’t help them. Who were the pagans? Well, to be honest, I have a personal dislike for the term pagan. It is from a Latin term meaning “country dweller.” Country folk were less likely to form organized religious groups and more likely to hold on to traditions and superstitions. So their designation morphed into a spiritual word, which I personally think was a bit overblown…from an etymological standpoint. I also think it is interesting that, in our culture “country dwellers” are generally thought to be more religious.
Let’s see…where was I? Oh yes! The word translated pagan here is the same one the King James Version translates as “Gentiles.” The word simply speaks of people groups of the world who are not known worshippers of God. The translation was probably changed to pagans so readers didn’t get confused over Gentiles who had become Christians.
I don’t think today’s passage is necessarily lamenting the fact the pagans were unwilling to help those who went out in the “Name”, but rather is merely stating a fact: you would not expect people who don’t worship the Living God to intentionally watch out for those who are on an evangelistic mission. In other words, if the Lord’s people don’t support the Lord’s work, who will?
The church I serve tries hard not to ask the people it is trying to reach with the grace of God to support its work. Sometimes this is hard because unbelieving people carry around a lot of loose change that could be used for kingdom work.
We are careful not to criticize others who have another viewpoint because there are few clear instructions in the Bible about how the Lord’s work can and cannot be funded. And I am not suggesting the church should never receive gifts from non-believers. But one thing is clear: God wants us to support His work with a pure conscience, which means we should always look at people who don’t know Him as the object of our compassion, not the target of our money-making schemes. To think otherwise risks rotting our hearts from the inside out.
So I am not at all surprised the pagans weren’t supporting those who went out with the “Name.” They weren’t supposed to. That only leaves one group who should, and that is those of the “Name.”
Every now and then I think it is good for us to check our mind-set in these matters. I believe that is why John was writing his letter. I also believe that is why God preserved it for our study.
Dear God, give me a bigger heart for the mission. In Jesus’ name, Amen.