Today's sermon is going to be a very basic introduction to the topic. I want us to have confidence that it is OK to pray for increased stewardship – for riches. A lot of Christians feel very uncomfortable with that idea. They think that if they are not poor there is something wrong with them.
I don't want to go to the opposite extreme and say that there is something wrong with us if we are not rich. As we will be seeing, Gaius needs prayer for both material prosperity and health, and yet he was spiritually strong. Paul had learned both to abound in finances and to suffer need. The fact that the Jerusalem church was impoverished and needed offerings from around the empire was not evidence that it was in sin. But we deprive ourselves of resources unnecessarily when we do not have faith to pray and to expect that God will give above and beyond what we need – in order to have an increased stewardship.
What kind of prosperity is John talking about?
I want to analyze this passage by asking it several questions. And the first question is: "What kind of prosperity is John talking about?" The American church has become so dualistic in its thinking that almost all of God's blessings are relegated to the invisible. Historically dispensationalists have insisted that while Israel had both spiritual and physical blessings, the church has only spiritual blessings. And thus, all the physical blessings of the Old Testament are reinterpreted as being symbolic of spiritual blessings today. The American church tends to be nervous about healings, prosperity, rain, crops being blessed, etc. Deuteronomy 28 just doesn't fit into the thinking of most American Christians. So I don't want to assume that we all know what kind of blessing is being talked about in this passage.
There are two kinds of prospering mentioned here. The first is not controversial at all. John tells Gaius in verse 2, your soul prospers. And he wasn't praying that it would prosper. It was already prospering. Here are some of the indications that you have a soul that is prospering. Look at verse 3: the truth was in Gaius. I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you. We need to ask ourselves if we are filled with the truths of Scripture. It is Scripture alone that can ultimately tell us what is and is not truth. And this truth was in Gaius. That is an essential to being prospered spiritually.
Another indication that Gaius was prospering spiritually is in the next phrase – just as you walk in the truth. Gaius was not a hypocrite. He sought to practice what he believed. He sought to live out the word. And that continues to be an indication of a healthy soul.
Another indication of how prosperous his soul really was can be seen in verse 5. Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers. He was engaged in service. And it wasn't just service for those whom he loved and knew. He did it for strangers – people who couldn't pay him back. This is one of the kinds of mercy ministry that we talked about this past Wednesday night. In Matthew 25, Christ says that mercy ministries is essential to what it means to be a Christian, and one of the forms of that was taking in strangers.
Verse 6 gives another measure for a healthy soul – love for others; tangible demonstrations of love that can be seen and talked about by others. Who have borne witness of your love before the church.
Verse 6-8 goes on to indicate that financial giving was another indication of Gaius's spiritual growth. He was a steward of all that God gave, and delighted in sharing what he had with others.
But verse 2 does not just talk about Gaius' soul prospering. Whatever that first phrase means, it is something in addition to his soul. The reason we know that, is that the word "just" compares one thing with another. Just as his spirit was already prospering, John was praying that his body would be in health, and indeed, that Gaius would prosper in absolutely everything. Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. He is moving in his descriptions from a comprehensive statement covering everything, down to an example of the physical (health) and an example of the spiritual (the inward soul). Now I have spent a bit of time on this because there are many people who vigorously deny that we can expect physical blessings. But the two are so joined together that it is hard to separate them. And we will be seeing that as we go through numerous Scriptures in upcoming weeks.
Now I've already described verses 5-8 as evidence of God's spiritual blessing in Gaius's soul. But money, house and health were all quite needed to be able to carry out those instructions. God blesses us with more than we need so that we will be able to overflow in serving others. And so in answer to the question, "What kind of prosperity is John talking about?" we would have to answer, every kind that you can think of. Financial, social, spiritual, ministry blessings, family blessings. Yes, having a large family is a blessing. And all of these things need to be within the scope of our understanding in these series. Just think about Deuteronomy 28 and all the blessings that you read about in preparation for this sermon and that is what John is talking about.
Is there any New Testament precedent for this?
Now you may have already anticipated the second question we are going to answer. "Is there any New Testament precedent for this?" Suspicions die hard, and people might think: "Well, maybe this is just a standard greeting that is meaningless" like our greetings, "How are you?" or "Have a good day." And my response is fivefold. First off, our greetings should never be meaningless. Greetings are carriers of blessing according to the Gospels, and we must give them in faith. When I say "Shalom" at the beginning of the service, I mean for God's Shalom to be manifested in your lives. And that is why 2 John says we must never greet a heretic that way. Look up the page at 2 John 10. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him. Why were they not supposed to greet them with the standard "Shalom"? Because God doesn't want to give His shalom to a heretic, and we in effect are asking Him to. I don't say, "Have a nice day" or "God bless you to a Jehovah's Witness" who is seeking to snatch souls and send them to hell. So my first response is that it is ridiculous to call any greeting in the Bible a meaningless greeting.
My second response is that in every epistle the greeting fits the needs of the congregation.
My third response is that even if you could find secular greetings exactly like this, which I doubt, it is still inspired. It wasn't just John who gave it. The Holy Spirit gave it for our edification.
The fourth response is "Yes. There is plenty of New Testament precedence for tangible physical blessings." Let's flip to a few. Turn first of all to Mark 10:21-31. This is another passage where it is impossible to deny the very tangible blessings God promises to pour out into the lives of stewards who seek His kingdom. Let's start at verse 21:
Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack; God your way, sell whatever yo have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
This man clung to his riches as an idol and Christ is in the business of destroying idols. This man had to be taught how to be a steward of everything that he had. Everything had to be at God's disposal. And if the pursuit of riches grips your heart, you are not yet trustworthy to be given more riches. Look at Christ's commentary in verses 23 and following.
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" 24 And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! 25 "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." 26 And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, "Who then can be saved?" 27 But Jesus looked at them and said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible." 28 Then Peter began to say to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You." 29 So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, 30 "who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life. (Mark 10:23-30)
Notice that there are spiritual blessings in heaven that are mentioned, but these are in addition to tangible blessings in the now. Now in this time, houses, people, lands. And notice that there is a promise of a 100-fold increase of the person who has 100% stewardship – has given up all.
He goes on to say, "But many who are first will be last, and the last first." (Mark 10:31)
When God calls us to bring a drunk into our house and we bemoan the fact that he will ruin our carpet, we are still putting ourselves first. I was challenged on this even this past week. Students needed some very expensive medicine, and my first impulse was to think – buy your own. We'll go broke if you take all this stuff. And God rebuked me and made me realize that I was clinging to things rather than having a stewardship trust.
There are many tangible blessings that the New Testament promises to those who are stewards. 2 Corinthians 9 promises money. Matthew 5 says, the meek shall inherit the earth. Matthew 6 promises clothing and food and drink. 1 Timothy 6:17 talks about tangible riches and says, God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Etc.
But my fifth response is "Why limit the precedence to the New Testament?" If we are truly submitting to the New Testament then we will see that it upholds not only the Old Testament laws, but all of the Old Testament blessings. Let me give you a few examples. Turn to Ephesians 6. This is a passage which deals with family issues, and in the course of quoting the Old Testament commandment, Paul highlights and emphasizes as his reason for doing so that there was a blessing attached to the Old Testament commandment.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with promise: "that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth." (Eph. 6:1-2)
No commentator that I know denies that the Old Testament promise was a promise of physical blessings. But I have talked to skeptics today who say, "But it doesn't happen." They will have to wrestle with their own unbelief. But you cannot deny that Paul applies physical promises of the Old Testament as if they continued to apply today.
And I have many, many similar examples. In fact, 2 Corinthians 1:20 says, For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. He is saying that all the promises are confirmed in Christ through us. That includes all the promises of blessing in Deuteronomy 28 that I had you read this past week.
Turn to Psalm 34. If all of the promises of the Old Testament are confirmed in Christ to us, then it should not be a surprise to us for Peter to use this Psalm to prove that God will provide for the persecuted believers he is addressing in 1 Peter.
Psa. 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Psa. 34:9 Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. Psa. 34:10 The young lions lack and suffer hunger; But those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing.
Isn't that a marvelous promise? According to Peter, it still applies. Turn to Psalm 112. This is a marvelous Psalm of promise of God's financial and physical provision to His people. But let me just read the part that Paul quotes in the New Testament. Verse 9 says, He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever; His horn will be exalted with honor. Paul quotes this verse and two other promises to guarantee that we can sow into the kingdom by giving money and God guarantees to cause us to reap more money than we sow. In fact, Paul is so confident that those physical blessings continue to apply that he guarantees that we will reap to the same extent that we sow. If we sow money sparingly, we will only reap sparingly, but if we give generously we will reap abundantly. In fact, that is such an important passage for prosperity, that I plan to spend a bit of time on it at a future date.
The New Testament quotes the promises of Isaiah 35:5-6; 42:18; 53: 4 5 and 61:1 as the basis for New Testament healing. That's pretty physical and tangible. This past Thursday I looked up all 235 Old Testament passages that are quoted in the New Testament. It's quite an eye opener. If you read them you will see that the New Testament church took seriously the commandments, the warnings and the blessings of the Old Testament. They treated them as if they were written to the church. Why? Because they were. So yes, there is precedent for what John is saying in 3 John 2.
Is physical prosperity automatic when we are walking in the truth? (first extreme)
Now here's another question to help us analyze this passage. "Is physical prosperity automatic when we are walking in the truth as Gaius was walking in the truth?" One extreme in the church says "Yes, it is automatic, and if you are not wealthy and healthy you are living in sin." I believe that is in error. Now unfortunately many people who see this error, and see the extremes in the health and wealth Gospel back off to the other extreme and say that there is no connection between righteousness and prosperity. Gary North has demonstrated that this too is an extreme.
But let's deal with each extreme in its own turn. I would say that verse 2 hints rather strongly that Gaius was in need of more physical prosperity and that he was sick. For sure, his physical prosperity and health was not as high as his soul's prosperity. That much we can say with confidence. But I think I.Howard Marshal is correct when he says that both verse 2 and verse 9 imply that Gaius had some temporary set backs in health and other things. Here's his logic. John doesn't have to pray for inner prosperity since Gaius was demonstrating it in abundance. He does have to pray for physical health. Secondly, his health appears to be bad enough that he has not been able to make it to church. The way this conclusion is reached is that verse 10 indicates that Diotrephes putting people out of the church for extending hospitality to the very people that Gaius had extended it to. Gaius was not yet thrown out of church. Furthermore, Gaius has to be told that this is going on and that John had sent a letter in verse 9. Therefore, Marshall concludes that Gaius must have lived in a nearby town and was not well enough to travel to church to find out about these things.
And by the way, the Greek tense of verse 2 (which is a present infinitive) doesn't support the idea that John was praying that he continue to be prosperous since the infinitive carries with it no sense of time.
Now whatever you think of that, I think that my interpretation is certainly consistent with the rest of the Scripture. There are many times of temporary set back that God's people experience. You can think of Job. God says that he was blameless, and yet all of his wealth was taken away. Paul said that there were times that he was naked and hungry and he trusted God and saw God coming through in those times. There were other times when he had far more than he needed for himself. Poverty is not the norm for Christians, but neither is it an indication that we are living in sin. We will look in the future at what we can do when we are in that situation. But this passage says at least that we should pray for one another to get out of such poverty stricken situations. So that's the first extreme.
Is there no relationship between righteousness and prosperity? (second extreme)
The second extreme is seen by the question, "Is there no relationship between righteousness and prosperity?" Many have concluded that. But that would be to fly in the face of literally hundreds of Old Testament Scriptures as well as several New Testament passages we have already read. Look at 3 John 3. I think it is seen right in this passage itself. Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. The prayer is that in proportion to your soul's increase, may your other areas increase and be blessed.
And that is exactly what Deuteronomy 28 promises. Turn there please. This passage promises that to the degree that we walk closely to God in the power of His grace that we will experience tangible blessings in every area of life. I won't read the whole passage, but let's start at verse 1.
Deut. 28:1 Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth.
Deut. 28:2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you [I love that phrase – "shall overtake you." It implies that there are times where we have to wait – where we are ahead of the blessings. But it also implies that God will chase us down with those blessings, "and will overtake you"], because you obey the voice of the LORD your God:
Deut. 28:3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.
Deut. 28:4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks.
Deut. 28:5 Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
And he goes on to speak of blessings in war, in storehouses, livestock, productivity of the land, and many other areas. He says in verse 8 The LORD will command the blessing on you in your storehouses and in all to which you set your hand... There is clearly a connection between our walking in the truth and our prosperity. And some of our future sermons will be showing precisely what kinds of things we need to be involved in if we are to see material prosperity. Commitment to the body would be one. Psalm 122:6 says to the church, May they prosper who love you. Prosperity is connected to tithing, to obedience, to almsgiving, and we will look at some others. But there is a clear connection, though not always an immediate or permanent connection between soul and physical prosperity.
What is the connection of prayer to prosperity?
The next question almost answers itself. "What is the connection of prayer to prosperity?" And the answer is obvious. John prays because its not there, and he prays because he expects prayer to provide it. Basically, we will only have prosperity to the degree that we ask in faith. And there are tons of Scriptures which show this connection between seeking God's face and prosperity. 2 Chronicles 26:5 says, as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper. Did you get the connection to prayer? As long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper. That's 2 Chronicles 26:5. Now here's another question.
What is the goal of such a prayer? To increase our stewardship (vv. 5-8)
The sixth question is this: "What is the goal of such a prayer?" And the answer is, to increase our stewardship. God doesn't make us prosper so that we can selfishly cling to it. He prospers us so that we can have more than we need to take care of ourselves and our stewardship is increased to take care of others. And the more faithful our stewardship, the more God gives above and beyond what we need. Verse 5 says, Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers. Gaius saw himself as a servant of the brethren and strangers and sought to do things for them. He was faithful in God's calling. Psalm 34:9 says, there is no lack to those who fear Him. Those who seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness find that they have no lack because God continually adds to them the material things that they need, and more. Part of stewardship is tithing, and Malachi promises to open up the flood gates of heaven in pouring out blessings on those who tithe as a faithful stewardship. Giving above and beyond the tithe is part of stewardship and Luke 6:38 says, Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.
Advancing God's kingdom is part of stewardship, and Christ promised, Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Saving up an inheritance for our children is a part of extending the kingdom by the principle of compounding. But if we don't handle it as stewards, it won't be blessed. Proverbs 20:21 says, An inheritance gained hastily at the beginning will not be blessed at the end. On the other hand, God blesses those who lay up for the future. If we use our houses and cars and food to serve His kingdom, God entrusts us with even more. Our whole life is to be a stewardship trust, and it is not until we begin to act like stewards that this prayer has power. Gaius was there, and I am therefore absolutely confident that God answered this prayer.
In verse 6, John says, If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name's sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth. By supporting the missionaries, Gaius was treated by God as being fellow workers with them. That means that Gaius was going to share in their reward. This whole section shows that when we have a stewardship attitude, God will bless the steward with more and more resources.
But if we don't have the faithfulness of verse 5, we won't have the increase of our stewardship. The two go hand in hand. When you pray for a better car, you can put arguments into your mouth before the Lord as to why you would be a more effective steward if you had a car. We can pray for health so that we can serve the Lord more, for success in business so that we will have more to give and more to establish our children as takers of the gates of the city. We can pray for peace for the better spread of the Gospel. But our prayers have got to have as their goal increased stewardship, not selfish ownership.
What should be our greatest joy?
The last question I want to answer is this: "What should be our greatest joy?" John answers it in verse 4. John's greatest joy was not material prosperity. It was holiness. Notice that he says, I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth. And if we are to be blessed materially, we must make sure that we pursue the kingdom, not wealth; that our greatest joy is know God who is the truth. The moment we delight more in the gifts than the giver, we shortcircuit the purpose and the power of this prayer. If you want our prayers for material blessing for each other to be answered, then we must make sure that we have no greater joy than knowing Jesus and the power of His resurrection. We must make sure that our soul's prosperity far exceeds the prosperity of body and money. We must make sure that we are seeking our relationship with God far more than we are seeking money. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
Now here's something for perspective. If God were to answer the prayer of verse 2 in the lives of some Christians, they would be poverty stricken and in sickly health. Why? Because their soul is not prospering. Without our walk with God being our greatest joy, this prayer becomes a dangerous prayer. Our greatest goal in life should be to pursue the upward call that we have in Christ Jesus. And our money should be a means of achieving that and helping others to achieve it. Otherwise money becomes a snare rather than a blessing.
But having said all that, I think I have demonstrated that God wants us to prosper physically, financially, socially, in ministry and in everything else if our soul is prospering. And He not only wants us prosperous, He has over and over promised it. And furthermore, He wants us to pray for each other to be blessed in this way. Let's pray prosperity for each other – prosperity in soul, prosperity in body, prosperity in money and prosperity in ministry and prosperity in all that we set our hands to. This sermon series is designed to raise your faith expectations to a heightened level so that God will pour into our laps above and beyond anything we have experienced to this date. And may He receive all the praise and the glory. Brothers and sisters, pray this prayer into each others lives. And may it scare the spiritually lazy into seeking God with all their hearts, and may it result in better jobs and better ministries for the rest. Amen.