Good Health and God's Will1
“Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 2).
Many of those in the Word of Faith or Health and Wealth camp argue on the basis of 3 John 2 that God always wants his children to be physically healthy. He wants all to “go well” with us and for each believer to “be in good health, as it goes well” with our “souls.” But can it be demonstrated from this passage that it is never God’s will for one of his children to suffer physically? Is it really the case that what we have here is a declaration of God’s unalterable and unconditional will for physical prosperity? It’s doubtful.
What we have in this text is a standard form of greeting found in most letters of the ancient world. Gordon Fee reminds us that "just as there is a standard form to our letters (date, salutation, body, close, and signature), so there was for theirs [i.e., the ancients]. Thousands of ancient letters have been found, and most of them have a form exactly like those in the New Testament." One of the standard elements in such letters is the health-wish, such as we find in 3 John 2. To argue that this typical salutation should be used to establish a theology of healing is highly suspect.
This does not mean, of course, that praying and hoping for the good health and financial prosperity of our fellow believers is wrong. We do not know if Gaius was suffering from bad health. This was a standard greeting and would be perfectly legitimate in a letter to somebody with good health, that he/she may continue to enjoy it. If Gaius was ill, we would have another case in which a believer who is prospering spiritually was at the same time suffering physically. We know this because John's prayer is that Gaius would prosper physically just “as” his soul is prospering.
Gaius was undoubtedly a godly man, as vv. 3-8 make clear. John's desire for his friend is that his body would make as much progress as his soul. And that should be our prayer for our brothers and sisters in Christ as well. Whether or not such is God’s “will” at all times for all believers is something the text was never designed to suggest.