Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. (3 John 2, KJV)
The faith teachers (WOF) often use this verse to teach a gospel of health and wealth. Critics counter that their application fails to respect the genre or literary form of 3 John. The verse appears in the introductory portion of a letter. Thus it is a greeting, intended as a wish and not a promise. The observation might be correct, but to use this as a rebuttal is deceptive. Whether the misdirection stems from a lack of reverence, a lack of honesty, or a lack of intelligence, we will not take time to investigate. The theologians of unbelief usually display all three characteristics in their attempts to destroy their enemies.
Faith teachers do not always refer to the verse as a promise in the first place. In fact, I cannot immediately recall an example of this. But let us assume that some of them do, so that we will not become stuck on this point. Still, the truth is that they mainly use the verse to teach that it is “God’s will” for his people to live in health and prosperity. In our terms, this would be in the preceptive sense.
If the critics then insist that the apostolic greeting cannot represent God’s preceptive will on the matter because the verse appears in the greeting portion of a letter, they would have to apply this to all the apostolic letters. All the greetings in the inspired epistles would be reduced to mere human wishes and friendly gestures. This offers an alarming view into what the critics really think about Scripture, and God himself.
What are some of the apostolic greetings? Paul writes, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:3). A mere greeting? I can get someone saved with this! And Paul himself extended this with theological content: “…who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (v. 4-5). Verse 4 affirms the atonement, but it depends on verse 3, the greeting. So the greeting is not just a greeting.
Peter writes, “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2). Is this a mere wish? But there is a teaching in there: “…through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” We can receive grace and peace in abundance through the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ. The greeting is not just a greeting, but also a teaching.
Even if a greeting amounts to a mere wish, we know that grace and peace are promised to us through Christ. So just because something appears in a greeting as a wish does not mean that it is not promised in many other places in Scripture. This is mainly how the faith teachers use the 3 John 2. The verse teaches us that God’s will is for his people to possess healing and prosperity, and he has promised these things in a number of places in the Bible. The observation that the verse is a greeting does not overturn the WOF doctrine.
Look at the greeting in Revelation: “John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father — to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. ” (Revelation 1:4-6). The high christology is so integrated with the greeting that it is inseparable from it. As I copied the passage to make this point, I became captivated by the content and read it several times to appreciate it. I could taste the richness in it. The elevated description of Christ was enough to move me to tears, but I restrained myself so I could continue. This is the Jesus I love. But of course, it is just a greeting, right?
When I write a greeting card to my wife, I follow the custom where one closes with a word or phrase, accompanied by a signature. The difference is that there is a special phrase that I use only for her. I might throw other people a “sincerely,” if even that. Although it is a customary portion of a card, when I write to her it is not a mere greeting or polite gesture, but it is always the most meaningful part of it. I always write it with the greatest amount of feeling and purpose. The words represent what she means to me. The phrase is both a statement of fact and a solemn promise.
Who was God to John? What did Jesus mean to him? “Him who is, and who was, and who is to come…the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth…who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” If this is just a greeting to you, then Jesus does not mean the same to you. But if Jesus means the same to you, then this is not just a greeting.
This same John greets his friend Gaius with all sincerity: “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John 2). Just a wish? What a wish! He does not say, “Friend, I wish that the sovereign will of God be done in your life, whether it is sickness or health, whether it is prosperity or calamity.” No, he only wants his friend to be well. Unless the scholars accuse John of going rogue, in which case they would condemn themselves, the least we can say about the verse is that it represents the preceptive will of God. And this is exactly how the faith teachers use it most of the time. Then, the promises of God that could fulfill John’s wish are found in other places in Scripture.
The first issue with this verse is not health and wealth, but whether we take God’s word seriously. Even if the faith teachers make more out of the verse than it intends, the critics are the worse offenders. With all the right intellectual tools, it is remarkable that they end up with such an inferior application, while the unsophisticated “heretics” arrive at a better interpretation just by taking the verse more seriously — to the critics, too seriously. The truth is that these critics are prejudiced against the Bible itself, and against the benefits that come from faith in Christ, and the WOF Christians just happen to get caught in the crossfire. The faith teachers are indeed mistaken on some points, but you could not tell what they are, if you are prejudiced against what the Bible teaches.
When have you seen the critics put 3 John 2 to good use? Probably the only time that they bring it up is for controversy and refutation, not for teaching and encouragement. So which group honors the word of God more? What good is it, if the critics call themselves doctors this and that, when they cannot even use a greeting correctly? And what good is it, if they do not use God’s word to build up people’s faith? Wouldn’t they contribute more to the world, if they would become land mine testers instead?