This third letter of St John’s is very short and, like the second letter, some translations assign a chapter number to its 14 verses (e.g., 3 John 1:1-14), others do not (e.g., 3 John 1-14).
3Jn 1:5 Dearly beloved, thou dost faithfully whatever thou dost for the brethren: and that for strangers,
Dearly beloved, thou dost faithfully, &c. Faithfully, i.e. thou actest in a Christian manner, thou doest that which becometh a believer, by showing hospitality towards and nourishing the faithful, especially pilgrims and strangers. For hospitality was of old most highly esteemed by Christians. It was a sure mark and sign of Christian faith, as the heathen Lucian testifies (in Peregrino).
Faithfully in this place not only signifies the faith, but also the fidelity of Caius. Thou art faithful to Christ. Thou fulfillest indeed that which thou hast promised to Christ in thy baptism. Listen to Tertullian recounting hospitality amongst the notes of the faithful (de Præscrip. c. 20): “Amongst the many and notable marks of the Church there is one prime note handed down by the Apostles by which all the chief and Apostolic Churches prove their oneness and their unity. This mark is the communion of peace, the attestation of brotherhood, the mutual bond (contesserationem) of hospitality. And the one principle which governs these rules of hospitality is the one tradition of the same Sacrament.” He makes use of the word contesseratio because of the tessera, or sign, which Christians were wont to exhibit to Christians to show that they were Christians, that so they might be received to brotherly hospitality. The heathen had similar tesseræ, or mutual tokens and pledges of hospitality. It was because the heathen discovered, and used these Christian tokens for purposes of deceit, as Lucian tells us Peregrinus did, that the Council of Mie substituted commendatory letters instead of tesseræ. On which see Baronius.
And that for strangers, Greek καί είς τοὺς ξένους. The καί here means especially. Thus Christ says, “Tell the disciples, and, i.e. especially, Peter.” (Mark 16:17.) The Greek phrasing implies an emphasis or distinction. See the NAB and RSV translation of 3 John 5.
Moreover, by peregrini (“strangers”) here we may understand with Bede apostolic men who went about spreading the Gospel. Also Christian exiles proscribed by the Gentiles. The reference is to traveling missionaries as the context (5-8) makes clear.
3Jn 1:6 Who have given testimony to thy charity in the sight of the church. Whom thou shalt do well to bring forward on their way in a manner worthy of God:
Who have given testimony to thy charity in the sight of the church. For of old the bishops and presbyters used to invite guests who came to give a sermon or exhortation in the church. And when they did this they would praise the charity and hospitality of Caius, of which they had experienced elsewhere. This duty of allowing hospitality to guests is spoken of by S. Clement (lib. 2 Constit. 62), and is sanctioned by the 4th Council of Carthage, cap. 4.
Whom thou shalt do well to bring forward on their way in a manner worthy of God.Or, To whom doing good thou shalt lead (deduces) worthily of God. The meaning is, To whom, if thou continuest to show kindness by receiving them to hospitality, thou wilt cause their journey to be easy, so that they will be able to reach the place whither they are going. This is a pious work and worthy of God. The word translated deduces in the Vulg. is πζοπέμψας in the Greek. It does not mean that S. John wished Caius personally to accompany his guests, but it refers to his affording them provisions for their journey, and other things, such as guides and letters of introduction.
Worthily of God. As it is worthy of God that His worshippers should treat worthily other worshippers of Him, honouring them as ministers of God, and honouring God in them, by treating them charitably and reverently as befits servants and members of Christ. As Christ saith, Matt 10:40, “He that receiveth you receiveth Me. He that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward.”
Moral: let every believer examine himself, and see whether his works be full, perfect, and of such excellence as to be worthy of God; whether his charity be like to the charity of God and Christ; whether he live and act worthily of Christ. The gift which thou presentest to a king must not be of some mean sort. It should be excellent and regal. What then does it become us to offer unto God, who is King of kings and Lord of lords? This is what S. Paul admonishes the Ephesians, “I therefore, a prisoner in the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation in which you are called” (Eph 4:1).
3Jn 1:7 Because, for his name they went out, taking nothing of the Gentiles.
Because, for his name they went out, viz., that they might preach the name of God and Christ, says Bede. Or else because for His name they have been driven into exile. The first of these is the more probable reason. And it is strengthened by what follows.
Taking nothing of the Gentiles. Because without price they preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, that they may not seem to gain any profit by the Gospel.
3Jn 1:8 We therefore ought to receive such: that we may be fellow helpers of the truth.
We therefore ought to receive such. The Greek for receive is κατα λάμβανίν. This means, not to wait until they come to us, but to invite them to our house, yea, to constrain them to come in. Œcumenius says, as the disciples constrained Christ at Emmaus (Luke 24:29). Moreover to receive and reception means in Scripture every sort of kindness and protection, care and assistance.
That we may be fellow helpers with the truth, by ministering necessary things to those who preach the truth or who suffer exile or tribulation for the truth’s sake.
Observe: S. John by many arguments stirs up Caius to persevere in his liberality to pilgrims. 1st He praises his generosity because also his guests praised it before the whole Church. (Ver. 3.) 2d Because it was a work befitting a Christian believer. (Ver. 5.) 3d Because it was a work worthy of God. (Ver. 6.) 4th Because it was done to those who made known the name of God. (Ver. 7.) 5th Because it was done to those who were forsaken or despoiled by other Gentiles. (Ver. 7.) 6th Because by this means they became fellow-workers with the truth and the Gospel, and preached it themselves through the preachers and confessors whom they received and nourished.
Moreover, when S. John exhorts Caius to persevere in hospitality he makes use of the first person, “we ought therefore,” that his exhortation may be sweeter and more powerful. Certain it is that S. John was very hospitable to pilgrims. For he was the Bishop of Ephesus, and in that capacity was wont to dispense the goods of the Ephesian Church to the poor and strangers. Moreover, Bede says that S. John, like S. Paul, lived by the labour of his hands.