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The Prospering Soul and the Cause of Missions

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Tom Steller

Central Baptist Church

Sioux City, Iowa

March 19, 2000



3 JOHN 1-8

On page 203 of the World Christian Encyclopedia there is a picture of 6,215 believers from the Kachin people of northern Burma being baptized in December of 1977 with an additional 100,000 watching.  I have been told that this was the largest baptism service in the history of the church.  And what’s even more amazing is that Bethlehem, my home church, played a part.  Let me tell you the story.

About  9 years ago after our morning worship service my wife, Julie, pointed out to me a couple standing across the sanctuary.  I looked over and saw man and woman who were obviously from another country since they were wearing their native dress.  I decided I should go over and meet them.  What a gracious couple they were.  The man’s name was Kyen Naw and he said he was from the Kachin tribe of Burma and came to the US to study at Trinity Seminary near Chicago.  But one of his ambitions was to visit his mother church.  I asked him where that was, and he said, “I am here”.  He then proceeded to tell me the story of Ola Hanson.  Back in 1890 Bethlehem, then known as First Swedish Baptist Church, ordained Ola Hanson one of its members to the gospel ministry and then sent him and his wife, Minnie, to Burma to work with an unreached people group called the Kachin.  When he got there he met the King of Burma who said his mission among the Kachin would be hopeless.  He said, “So you are to teach the Kachins!  Do you see my dogs over there?  I tell you, it will be easier to convert and teach these dogs.  You are wasting your life.”

When Hanson arrived in Kachin land he soon learned that in the mythology of that area was the story of a book that had been lost and that one day a foreigner would bring the copy of the book back to the Kachin.  When Ola heard this, he resolved to translate the Bible into the Kachin language.  On June 29, 1911--twenty-one years after he arrived he completed the New Testament.  After he completed it he revised it three times.  Then he proceeded with the Old Testament translation.  He translated over 400 hymns from English and Swedish, he also composed 200 hymns for the Kachins, true to their music style and culture.  He completed the Old Testament translation on August 11, 1926, thirty-six years after he arrived.  Listen to his own words as he described his feeling in a letter he wrote just a few days later:

“It is with heartfelt gratitude that I lay this work at the feet of my Master.  I am conscious of the defects of my work.  I have tried to master Kachin, and make a translation intelligible to all.  Pray with us, that our Divine Master may bless this work to the salvation of the whole Kachin race...”

Well, the people of Bethlehem prayed and many others prayed.  Today of the 625,000 Kachins of Burma, between 400,000-500,000 are Christians and of these 250,000 are in the Kachin Baptist Convention.  When Ola Hanson arrived they were 100% illiterate and now this people group is considered 100% literate and the Bible they continue to read is the one that was translated by Ola Hanson.  Kyen Naw, this Kachin man who visited Bethlehem, said that these Kachin Baptists regard Ola as the father of the Kachin Church and so Kyen regards Bethlehem as their mother church.  That’s why he wanted to visit Bethlehem that Sunday back in 1990, because it was the 100 year anniversary of when Bethlehem, the First Swedish Baptist Church, commissioned Ola and Minnie Hanson to missionary service among the Kachin.

The Scripture says in Rom.10:13 for "Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent?

I believe God’s purpose for us this morning is to be encouraged and to be challenged from this text in 3 John in regard to this ministry of sending which He has given to us.

But before we look at 3 John I need to raise the question,  “Why more cross-cultural missionaries?”  There’s so much work to be done right here in this part of Iowa or in America.  Why are more missionaries needed.  In Matthew 28 Jesus’ last words to His disciples were: 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”.  Earlier he said in Mat 24:14 "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.”  In other words the goal of the church is not merely to win as many people to Christ as we can but more specifically to win worshipers to Jesus from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

When the Bible refers to nations, it is not speaking of countries whose borders change with the fickleness of the next war.  But rather it refers to groupings of people in which the nation is not determined by political boundaries but by language and culture.  So when Jesus commands us to disciple all the nations he is not referring to the 200+ countries represented in the United Nations but rather thousands of people groups spread out around this globe.  Take Cameroon for example, where my family and I served for seven months back in 1991.  It is one country politically, but in God’s way of determining things it contains about 275 nations--each with its own language and culture.  On the seminary campus alone where I taught about 120 students, they represented over 30 distinct people groups, 30 nations as the Bible uses the term “nation”.  In the world today, depending on how you count them, there are between 4000 peoples and possibly as many as 11,000 peoples who have no church established yet in their culture.  That means they will not hear the gospel in terms they can understand unless someone like Ola Hanson or someone like you or me leaves our own culture and learns their language and their customs so that the glories of Jesus can be communicated in a way that will make sense to them.

The main point of our passage in 3 John has to do with this ministry of sending.  You can see it in v. 6 “You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.”

What I want to do with the rest of our time is to see this verse in its context.  I see three categories of observations:

1.  The Value of Sending

2.  The Mandate of Sending

3.  The Manner of Sending

I.          The Value of Sending

It must be valuable because look at how happy it makes the apostle John.  Let me try to reconstruct why John got so happy.  First of all, John refers to Gaius as one of his children.  Apparently a while back Gauis was either converted under John’s ministry or significantly nurtured by the apostle in his Christian life.  Gauis was now ministering in another church some distance from John’s church.  Some missionaries from John’s church (see v. 7) paid a visit to Gaius and told him of their work.  Gaius received them and loved them and agreed to support them in their missionary work.  The missionaries then return to John’s church and testify in front of the whole congregation of Gaius’ love for them (vv. 3,5).  When John hears this testimony a big smile fills his crinkled old face and he runs home and writes Gauis a letter.  Listen to the joy and warmth of these first four verses:

3Jo 1:1 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. 2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3 For I was very glad when brethren came and bore witness to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. 4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.


According to v. 2 perhaps Gauis was not doing all that well health-wise, and perhaps his business was struggling--and so John feels the need to pray for these things.  But the one thing John was sure of was that Gaius’ soul was prospering.  The prospering soul is the soul that is walking in the truth (v.3) or working together with the truth (v.8).  In other words he’s not living a fantasy; he’s not living the American dream; he is living in a way that fits with ultimate reality, where God is at the center.  Is your soul prospering this morning?  Life is too short and eternity is too long to let our lives be consumed with the momentary pleasures and glitz of this world.  Align your life with God’s purpose.  Seek His Kingdom first.  And your soul will prosper!

The value of sending can also be seen in the phrase, “you will do well to send them” in v. 6.  The word for well carries with it the sense of beauty.  It is a beautiful thing to wash the feet of those who go out for the sake of the Name. Isa 52:7 “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news.”  If the feet of those who carry the gospel are considered lovely by God, it should be no surprise that those who wash those lovely feet are viewed by God as doing something beautiful.

One more thing about the value of sending.  You will  notice in v. 8 that in God’s eyes there is no hierarchy of value with the missionary on top and the one who sends playing second fiddle.  In verse 8 we are told that both the goers and the senders are “fellow-workers with the truth”.  Both are equally valuable before God, the lives of both are equally significant in God’s opinion--which is the only opinion that matters!  The most important thing is to let our lives be consumed with seeking the Kingdom first.  It’s a secondary issue whether we do it here or in Uzbekistan.  But if God does lead you to stay here, your soul will only prosper as it ought if you are actively engaged in sending others to the mission field.  And this leads us to the second category of observations.

II.          The Mandate of Sending

This observation is very brief.  We are commanded to be senders, to be actively engaged helping missionaries get to the field and stay on the field.  It is not optional.  This can be seen in v. 8 “Therefore we ought to support such ones”  Since they go out for the sake of the name and since they don’t sell the gospel for money, therefore we ought to support them.  Sending missionaries is one of the oughts and shoulds of the Bible.  But please never regard it as one of the oughts and shoulds of legalism, as though sending missionaries will put you in a position to earn brownie points from God. Legalism is where you regard the commands of Scripture as a job description telling what you must do to earn something from God.  But Scripture is clear that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s blessings.  They are freely given.  All the commands of Scripture including this command to be a sender should be seen as a doctor’s prescription.  Our all knowing and all loving doctor Jesus knows that the only way our souls will prosper as they should is if we look beyond our own immediate interests and lift up our eyes to God’s global purpose.  The most exhilarating thing in life is to be a fellow worker with Him in making His name known, both in our own neighborhoods and among the unreached people groups of the world.            God only commands what is good for us, so it’s no wonder he commands us to be senders. 


III.         The Manner of Sending

The last category of observations I want us to consider is the manner of sending.  What is it?  How is it done?    I want to get real practical here but first I want us to look at the logic and the content of vv. 6-8.

“You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers with the truth.”

The big answer to the question on how to send is found in v. 6.  We are to send in a manner worthy of God.  To send in a manner worthy of God exalts the importance of how we send as high as can be imagined.  Notice the logic.  Why should we send missionaries in a manner worthy of God? Verse 7 For they went out for the sake of the Name...Therefore we ought to support such people.  Verse 7 is the best definition of missionary that I am aware of in the whole Bible.  A missionary is not someone who goes out for merely humanitarian concerns, as important as those are, but a biblical missionary is driven by a passion to exalt the Name of God, to declare His Glory among the nations, to make known the beauty of the character and work of Jesus’ Christ.  These are the only kind of missionaries that we are commanded to support.  Notice the word “such” in v. 8.  Therefore we ought to support such people, not any old kind of person, but only those who go out for the sake of the Name.  And since they go out for the sake of the Name we must support them in a manner worthy of God.  One commentator put it this way.  “Since they are God’s representatives, treat them as you would God” (Holtzmann).  When it comes to sending there is no verse in the Bible that has gripped me more than this one.  A missionary told me once, “There is a lot of difference between a church that has missionaries and a church that sends missionaries.  To send a missionary in a manner worthy of God means a lot more than having missionary names on the back of the bulletin, or a line item in the budget, or signing a check here or there.

So what does it mean to send a missionary?  This particular word for send occurs 9 times in the NT, always in the context of helping Christian workers get to where they need to go to do the work of the kingdom. Titus 3:13 Diligently help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way so that nothing is lacking for them.  It is very practical help.  It includes finances but goes way beyond finances.  Notice in 3 John 5, “you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren.”  That word “whatever” shows the breadth of what is included in sending.  It only takes a little thought to imagine the upheaval in your life it would bring for God to call you to change all your career plans and to prepare to go to the mission field and then serve Him there for years to come, and this would be compounded all the more if you are married and have children.  Last night I gave to your missions committee a list of practical expressions of what it means to send.  I encourage you to ask them for a copy sometime and take it home with you and ponder it.  None of us can do all that’s on that list, but no one is being asked to do it all.  But let’s each of us ask the Lord and search our own hearts as to what your and my particular role may be in helping to send our missionaries.

May God help us to send in a manner worthy of Him!

Let’s pray.

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