Serving Strangers


3 John 1:5-6 “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love.”

We Christians don’t give the Apostle John’s third letter much attention. Chances are, you never memorized any passages from it. The whole thing is only 14 verses long. They form a personal letter from John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, to a dear friend, a lay person named Gaius. It seems Gaius had both a deep concern for the truth and a heart for mission work. If he did mission work himself, we don’t hear anything about it. Rather, John commends him for his faithful service at home. Gaius was supporting travelling missionaries by taking care of their day to day needs.  When they were in the area, he opened his home to them. When they left, he sent them off with food, money, or whatever else he could provide.

Gaius did this for them even though they were strangers. He may have known a few things about them. They had the Apostle John’s recommendation. They were full time workers in God’s Kingdom. He shared a common faith with them. But they were not people he knew deeply on a personal level.

We still work together in God’s Kingdom with this kind of faithful service at home. You likely support missionaries and teachers around the world through your gifts to your congregation, though you have never met most of them personally. They do the Lord’s work in places you and I are unable to go. Sometimes it may pinch a little to support training schools and missionaries. But let’s not become so concerned about the work at home that we forget about spreading the Gospel around the world. Even in our mission work, a selfish spirit can creep in. We want to see big things at home. We want to be served at home. We feel less concern for billions of souls around the world who need the gospel, too. John would still say to Christians who support gospel workers they never met, “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you.”

John would say that especially because of what it reveals. “They have told the church about your love.” The men Gaius’s supported recognized it wasn’t mere duty or obligation that moved him to do so. This wasn’t a stunt to win them as friends or a ploy to make them indebted to him. He wasn’t trying to make himself look good in the church. Gaius’s support was a product of love. His faith was expressing itself in acts of love.

That is not a purely natural thing. Faithful support of the strangers spreading God’s love in other places isn’t the result of heredity. Merely educating people won’t make them so smart they choose to do this. Naturally selfish people don’t fork over their hard earned dollars to support people they have never heard of. They want to know, “What’s in it for me?”

That was never Jesus’ question. He simply loves us. He didn’t live among us because there was something in it for him. He didn’t trade places with us and die for our sins because it was the natural thing to do. It was purely an act of unselfish love. He doesn’t continue to forgiver all our sins every day because he is somehow indebted to us. The debt runs entirely the other way. Yet he freely and willingly loves and forgives.

This love has the power to take hold of us. It transforms and leads us to do things we otherwise would never do. Now that Jesus’ love has set up housekeeping in our hearts by faith, we live for him. Gaius knew Jesus’ love. It gave him such a love for the Gospel that he opened his house to strangers who were leading others to Christ. He supported them from his own pocket.

You and I know Jesus’ love. It leads us to look beyond the narrow confines of our church’s walls. We work together with sister churches across our country and around the world.  In doing so we are participating in a world-wide mission even from home. Serving and supporting such strangers makes us missionaries with them, working together for the truth.

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