"Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth." 3 John 5-8 (emphasis mine)
The letter of 3 John doesn't get much attention. However, we can learn a good deal about the importance of hospitality by reading through its fifteen verses. As our home fellowship recently was discussing this epistle, I noticed something I had not seen before. John makes a strong statement about Christians the church should support.
John specifically says, "we ought to support people like these." Who is the apostle talking about? The answer is those "who have gone out" and who are "on their journey." John is describing traveling Christian workers, probably apostles, prophets, and evangelists.
The recipients of this letter had already shown hospitality to these Christians. John is now calling upon them to support them. Since they receive no financial assistance from the Gentiles (non-Christians), John is exhorting those who received this epistle to help these folks.
Why did the traveling Christian workers, who we might call missionaries, need financial assistance? Since they traveled from place to place, they would have been unable to hold down a regular job. This would have made earning a regular income a difficult task.
We see the theme of financial support for traveling workers in a few other places in the NT. For example, in Philippians 4:10-20 we read Paul's commendation of the church in Philippi for the financial support they gave him. Paul was a traveling Christian worker.
Also, in I Corinthians 9:8-14 Paul writes, "In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." The context is strictly that of traveling Christian workers (note: not elders or pastors). Although Paul did not accept any financial support from the church in Corinth, this seems to have been due to the numerous problems there. Based on what we see in both 3 John and Philippians, it was generally a good thing for churches to financially support those who traveled from place to place sharing the gospel.
One additional note: while these passages speak of financial support, they say nothing of salaries. Most likely, these churches sent love gifts from time to time. The workers probably all had some sort of skill to help provide for their own needs (such as tentmaking).
We Christ-followers should be giving people. We must also be wise. The scriptures provide us with models for who needs financial help. We read repeatedly of the importance of helping the poor. We see that widows are generally worthy of our assistance. And, as we see in 3 John, we have a responsibility to help those who travel about spreading the gospel.
I'll admit that it is not always easy to know specifically who we should help and exactly how we should do so. Despite this, we can be sure that God is pleased when we give to those who go.