The apostle John addresses his third letter to Gaius, adding that John is praying that in all respects Gaius would prosper and be in good health (3 John 1:2). It is clear that John is referring not just to spiritual prosperity, as John adds “just as your soul prospers.” Isolating this verse from the context and from John’s other writings, one might suspect that John endorses the prosperity gospel. After all, John tells Gaius, “I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you.”
In the context John quickly shows that 3 John 1:2 does not endorse the prosperity gospel. In 3 John 1:3 he adds that he is glad that Gaius is walking in the truth, and in verse 4 John expresses his greatest joy is that his children walk in the truth—not that they prosper and be in good health. John commends Gaius and the church for their hospitality to the brethren, explaining that this kind of hospitality is appropriate (3 John 1:5–9). Just as it is important for believers to show hospitality and help meet the temporal needs of others, John expresses a genuine desire that Gaius prosper and be in good health—perhaps in part because Gaius is doing good with the resources he has. John has personal care for Gaius and simply wants him to be doing well.
As a friend, John has care and concern for Gaius, wishing for him to prosper and be in good health, but John does not endorse the prosperity gospel. In an earlier letter, John had written that full joy comes from fellowship with God and with other believers (1 John 1:4)—not from physical prospering and good health. In fact, John reminds his readers that prosperity in this present world does not last, as this world and the desires one might have in this world are all passing away (1 John 2:15–18). Further, brothers should be willing to lay down their own lives for each other (1 John 3:16). John is not putting a high value on prosperity and health—in fact, he is more focused on the soundness of his readers’ doctrine and their love for one another.
John’s Gospel is consistent with what he wrote in his letters. John presents unmistakably that true meaning in life is found in knowing God (John 17:3) through belief in Jesus (John 20:30–31). John recorded Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus told her that the one who comes to Jesus would never thirst (John 4:13–14) but would be filled to eternal life. The woman thought at first that Jesus was talking about actual water (John 4:14), but she soon recognized that He was talking about Himself as the one who could satisfy human need (John 4:29). She had learned an important lesson—prosperity and health are blessings, but that is not what Jesus was offering. He was offering her life by belief in Him.
John recorded a similar instance when Jesus fed five thousand people and then told them that He was the bread of life (John 10:35) and that those coming to Him would no longer hunger. He urged His listeners not to focus on food that perishes but to pursue the gift that Jesus was offering them, eternal life (John 10:27).
John understood that the gospel is not about prosperity and health—John was not endorsing the prosperity gospel; instead, he was proclaiming the gospel of Jesus that offers eternal life, which is of infinitely greater value than physical prosperity and health. Certainly, John prayed that Gaius would prosper and be in good health. It was natural for him to do so. But John understood those temporal blessings are not guaranteed, nor are they to be priorities in the Christian’s life.