In the New Testament, the framework for itinerant service is found in Jesus’ example and instructions in the Gospels. The book of Acts describes how Jesus’ followers eventually begin to live out this framework. As we read through Paul’s letters to different churches and individuals, we get an even better picture of how itinerant servants worked among the churches.
But, what about the General (or Catholic) Epistles? Can we learn anything about itinerant servants from those letters?
We have already learned from Paul that (at least some of) Jesus’ brothers were itinerant servants. (See 1 Corinthians 9:5, for example.) Thus, James and Jude may have been included in that number. We also know from both Acts and Paul’s letters that Peter was a traveling servant at times. (See Acts 9:32, 1 Corinthians 1:12, Galatians 2:11.) This might explain why James and Peter have formed relationships with believers scattered around the Roman empire. (James 1:1, 1 Peter 1:1)
If James was an itinerant (at least at some point), it could also explain his focus on traveling to “such and such a town and spend a year there.” (James 4:13) While the verse is primarily aimed at people traveling for business, the principle of seeking the will of God before making plans or choosing a destination would certainly apply to itinerant servants as well.
Two of John’s letters also help us understand itinerant service better. For example, John was planning to travel to visit “the elect lady and her children” (2 John 12) and to visit Gaius (3 John 10; 3 John 14).
Furthermore, John specifically praises Gaius for taking care of itinerant servants who are traveling through his area. (3 John 5-8) He also admonishes Diotrephes for not welcoming those traveling brothers and sisters and for teaching others not to welcome them. (3 John 9-10) John is so upset about this that he plans to “bring up what [Diotrephes] is doing” and uses him as an example of someone who is “doing evil.”
These few passages show us that itinerant service was more widespread than Paul and his team. There were other groups of itinerant servants at work at the same time.
Plus, we see how important it was for Christians to show hospitality toward those who were traveling through their area. As we saw from the passages in Matthew 10 and Luke 10, hospitality was very important for the work of these traveling servants.
Can you think of other important passages concerning itinerant servants in the Catholic Epistles?