In many ways this is just some simple opening greetings in a letter, from John to his friend Gaius, much like we might write today ‘I hope all is going well with you and that you’re in good health’. It’s of note however that John likely intended a literal prayer. So already we start to see this letter’s Christian flavour, which becomes even more evident in the next phrase, ‘even as your soul prospers’. That’s the primary focus for John, since he continues ‘For…’(3 John 3ff.) followed by some comments about Gaius’s apparently thriving spiritual health.
So this verse is not primarily about physical health and financial prosperity. In fact the word prosper here is more general than that anyway, and also interestingly carries the sense of progressing on a journey, so ‘going well’ is a good equivalent. Nevertheless, John does mention general health and prospering in ‘all things’ here, and it’s in scripture, likely a prayer even, so it’s a helpful point from which to reflect on what we ought to be hoping and praying for as Christians regarding such things.
However, ‘“first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness”’(Matthew 6:33) – the soul prosperity. John mentions ‘truth… walking in truth… love’(3 John 3-6), which pretty much sums up the Christian life, i.e. believing the truth, journeying with and even in that ‘“way… truth… life”’(John 14:6), and so living in a manner consistent with it, which should especially be characterised by ‘love’(2 John 6; 1 Corinthians 13:1ff., etc.). Another characteristic of healthy things generally is growth and development, so someone who’s spiritually prospering will progress in that sense too, especially from feeding on ‘the pure milk of the Word… grow[ing] thereby’(1 Peter 2:2). Even Jesus, perfect from birth, nevertheless ‘grew up… as a tender plant’(Isaiah 53:2, cf. Luke 2:52). Moreover, like plants, such thriving souls require light from a clear sighted view of ‘the joy… set before’(Hebrews 12:2) them, an eternal ‘inheritance that doesn’t fade… in Heaven’(1 Peter 1:4) – the healthy heart/soul’s ‘“treasure”’(Matthew 6:21).
So should Christians pray about physical health too, for themselves and others? This verse would certainly be consistent with that, but even more the gracious and powerful healings of ‘Jesus’(Matthew 4:23ff.), and of His disciples even, suggest that prayers for physical healing are expected and part of God’s will for us. Certainly the Bible teaches that we should ‘pray’(James 5:14) for the sick (and here apparently for ongoing good health as well). However, even the apostles could suffer from lingering ill health, like Paul’s metaphorical ‘thorn in the flesh’(2 Corinthians 12:7). It wasn’t God’s will to heal him from that, because ‘“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”’(2 Corinthians 12:9). Moreover, it’s an obvious fact that Christians die, in most cases from a disease! Perhaps an appropriate prayer for the sick might be something like ‘may they know Your grace and power in their weakness, in whichever sense is Your will for them’ (meaning 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 or Matthew 4:23-24 etc.)?
What about more general thriving; should we be praying about that even? Again apparently John does here, and Jesus taught that we should pray for our ‘“‘daily bread’”’(Matthew 6:11) at least. Paul prayed for safety on a literal journey, that ‘through the will of God’(Romans 15:32) he might reach Rome, albeit for Christian fellowship. Elsewhere he urged prayer for secular authorities even, ‘that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life’(1 Timothy 2:2, cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:11), so basically for peace and prosperity, but again for the purposes of godly living.
It’s an interesting fact that, aside from through blessings and answered prayers, godly living will naturally tend to produce such outcomes. Just as those who indulge in ‘too much wine, or… who gorge themselves’(Proverbs 23:20) will tend to ‘become poor’(Proverbs 23:21), in health and other ways, the opposite sort of behaviours will tend to produce the opposite effect. Likewise, someone who wisely ‘works eagerly’(Proverbs 31:13) will tend to prosperity, as will a society that avoids corruption. Of course persecution can blight that for Christians, and right priorities may well temper it too, but if God’s ways are permitted to thrive in a society it will naturally tend towards ‘going well’, with at least ‘necessities’(Acts 20:34) being met – God knows how life should work.
Finally, how would healthy souls use such prosperity? Paul used his surplus necessities to ‘help the weak’(Acts 20:35). The eager worker above provided for ‘the needy’(Proverb 31:20), and John commended Gaius for his practical support of ‘fellow workers for the truth’(3 John 8).
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