Week of August 29

What Does Your Table Tell Others about Your Belief?

Read Jeremiah 50-51; 3 John
“Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God;
whoever does evil has not seen God.”
3 John 11, ESV


Henri Nouwen writes, “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” John knew the significance of hospitality that was rooted in the giving nature and love of Christ. He also knew, and warned against, the contrariness of wanting preeminence. Pride undermines the fellowship of the saints and hinders an effective witness! Let’s learn from John’s counsel.

Let's See What the Bible Says

The short letter entitled 3 John provides us with important instruction, even though it is only fifteen verses in length. 3 John, in fact, is the shortest book in the Bible! It is “fraternally” linked with 2 John and shares the familiar writing style of letters in that era. John commends Gaius, criticized Diotrephes, and compliments Demetrius. Hospitality provides us with the central theme (cf. Hebrews 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9). There were no Motel 6s to “leave the light on,” so itinerant ministers were dependent upon local churches to provide them with lodging. His practical counsel in the letter does have theological and ethical grounding.

All of this practical instruction we are readily able to recognize, but John builds his argument upon the key idea of God’s truth (vs. 1, 3,4, 8, and 12). Truth represents the type of behavior that agreed with Christian doctrine (3 John 8). To “walk in truth” meant one displayed behavior in accord with Christian teachings. John, Gaius, and Demetrius were witnesses to the truth while Diotrephes belied his commitment to the truth. One may see how the mixed message confused outsiders that might be considering Christianity.

John uses a powerful phrase to describe the attitude and actions of the man called Diotrephes. He is mentioned only here in the Bible, and the literal translation is, “The one loving to be first among them, Diotrephes, does not receive us” (NAC). The verb “loves to be first” is unique and found only here in the entirety of the New Testament (NAC). A hint to the problem with the man is found in the statement about Christ in Colossians 1:18 where Paul states that only Christ rightly deserves to be preeminent. This man had usurped Christ’s rightful role and, as a consequence, he loved to be the leader and the one in authority (v. 9). The man wanted to run the church to his own glory and not that of the Lord Jesus. We’ve all seen this sort of power play in the life of many contemporary churches. The result is like putting a wet blanket on the fire of the Spirit. So, how are we to avoid falling into the same pattern of disruptive church fellowship?

John outlines four things to avoid (v. 10). First, we should avoid malicious gossip. Social media has nothing on this fellow, since he was doing this regularly as the verb tense indicates! He was spouting nonsense. Secondly, we are to open our hearts and our homes to those who travel to our churches to teach and lead. Thirdly, we are not to become an obstacle to fellowship and hospitality within the church. Fourthly, we are not to stand in the way of the church’s ministry; specifically, the extending of hospitality to others! Some in our generation use the word “truth” when they agree with a thought. So, I say, “Truth!”

John tops off the short letter with a direct didactical climax when he writes “imitate.” If someone was to be imitated, it was not the big name on the internet (OK, so I’m preaching here), but the person who was hospitable. He was to be imitated (cf. John 13 and the ministry of the basin and the towel)! Ultimately, people can see Christ’s great loving sacrifice on the cross through our humble good deeds (Matthew 5:16). One of the noblest ministries that a church can practice is loving hospitality.

Let's Deepen Our Walk

Most of my readers will know about the Baptist Center for Global Concerns’ ministry called “Mary’s Table®.” The ministry was not named after Mary, Martha’s sister, but Mary Shirley, the mother of a lifelong mentor. You may read the background to the ministry on the Center’s website; however, my point is that her Christlike example of showing me hospitality provided the practical experience from which God has raised up a powerful Mary’s Table ministry witness to the love of Christ.

Her love for Christ shone brightly through her willingness to offer me food and Christian fellowship, even as she was providing round-the-clock care for her husband, Hollis, who had suffered for eleven years with Alzheimer’s. Mary never once questioned my theology, which was all the rage in the 1980s, nor did she round up the “usual sinners,” the ones that self-righteous Christians often scorned, and criticize them. She never demanded anything from me, but had she asked me to climb a mountain for her, I would have done it. Her hospitality gave a wonderful witness to the love of Christ. I’ll state it this way: Mary was never a member of the church that I pastored, but her example took me “to church” and modeled 3 John each time I entered her home.

Here is a thought for our spiritual growth. We often wonder how we may take what the Bible teaches and apply it to our lives for the good. I suggest reading John 13:1-20, 31-35 and 3 John, then putting what you believe about Christ to work through your hospitable actions. Write down the ways that your actions link directly to Christ’s command to love and serve others. Then give God praise for His work in your life.

Let's Think and Discuss

1. Do you, not just your church, practice “table ministry?” Write down ways that you may live the truth about Christ through being hospitable.  

2. For Families: This passage reminds us that being hospitable is one of the best ways we can show the love of Christ. In the next few weeks, ask your children to identify a person in their school or at church who needs a warm welcome, a “space to enter and become a friend.” Maybe the person is new at school or to the community. Maybe the person needs a little help with English and needs to practice communication. Maybe the person is lonely, having lost a spouse, or a single Mom with kids. Invite that person or family to your home for a meal, or meet them at the park for a play date. Show Christ’s love by extending His grace to others in this special 3 John way.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock