Part 38 – How A Simple Greeting Turned Into A False Doctrine
3 John is last of three Letters written by the Apostle John, and this Letter was specifically written to a 'dear friend' named Gaius, but was also intended for others within the church to read and/or hear. In this short Letter John does not focus on the theological issues of the deity/humanity of Christ, or on the false teachers like he did in his previous two Letters. His focus was to commend two particular church members – Gaius and Demetrius – and rebuke one of the leaders – Diotrephes. There is a connection between 2nd and 3rd John, that being the issue of hospitality. Briefly, while the issue in 2nd John concerned the apparent practice of showing the false teachers extended hospitality, thus validating their false teaching, in 3rd John was the issue of Diotrephes NOT showing hospitality to true Christian evangelists who were traveling through their town. This issue will be covered in a future message on 3 John.
The focus of this first message was on the misunderstanding that has arisen over the second verse of this Letter:
Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that
all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.
In the past fifty years this one verse has been hijacked by the health and wealth, or prosperity preachers, and wrongly used to somehow guarantee or promise to Christians that the Lord has guaranteed good health and prosperity, since the atonement apparently (in their clouded eyes) purchased the believers' wellness and riches. If you are abounding in health and prosperity, then there's something wrong with your faith. Four things that we can learn from all of this:
1. This verse says nothing about guaranteeing physical wellness and prosperity to the person of the Christian faith. It is a normal, cultural greeting of blessing to a friend, just as one today would say, "Have a blessed day", or back in the 70's "Live long and prosper". Just by looking at the position of the verse – at the beginning of the Letter in the obvious salutation of the Letter – you know that this isn't the place for doctrine to be stated. One of the main reasons we know that this is not a promise from God concerning perfect healing and prosperity is because Jesus Himself said, "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33). And Paul told Timothy to 'drink a little wine for your stomach ailments' – in other words, 'take your medicine' (1 Timothy 5:23), instead of saying to Timothy "Have faith, God wants you whole!"
2. There is obviously a danger of taking a text out of its cultural context and making a whole doctrine (false doctrine – health and wealthy prosperity teaching)
3. The Lord God can and does heal – according to His sovereign purposes. We cannot be presumptuous in our prayers of healing, yet we are still to pray, asking the Lord to be merciful and to bring healing – according to His will. We should pray and have others pray for us when we are ill, and we should also seek medical attention as well. We should believe that the Lord God can and does heal, but we must always rest in the Lord's sovereign plan and purposes, because they are always the best.
4. If there is anything that we can take from this verse, besides it being a standard greeting to a Christian friend, it would be the message of the last phrase: '...even as your soul is getting along well.' Since John knows Gaius, and knows that he is a man who is faithful to God's Word and church, as well as generous and hospitable, then that means that Gaius is doing what all Christians are called to do – to 'get along well in their soul – their mind – their behavior – he is growing in his sanctification.
So, it is only natural that in his greeting to his maturing friend Gaius that John 'desires' that Gaius would be blessed in body and spirit, just as he is obviously maturing, or getting along well, in his soul.
This second verse, as encouraging as it is as a greeting to John's friend Gaius, is not the main theme of this short Letter, although many have tried to make it so in the last fifty years. Next week we'll begin to look at what this Letter is really about.