Written by Pastor Lincoln A. Graham, Jr.
Scriptural text: 3 John 9-10 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.
3 John 9 reads in part, “Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.” At the time that John, the Evangelist and Apostle, was writing this, he was well up in years, and possibly was the last original Apostle still living. Although well up in years, he could not slow down, for he was in a constant battle against men trying to impart divisions and erroneous doctrines concerning the humanity of Jesus in the church. In this case, the reason for this letter is not a doctrinal dispute, and the reason he is talking forcibly, directly and very matter of fact is because Diotrephes has the potential to hurt people and make divisions in the church. The Bible does not tell more than what we have just read about Diotrephes, but we can deduce from the overall letter several important things because John has juxtaposed him against and is contrasting him with Gaius who is the recipient of the letter. Some extra biblical sources believe that this is the same Gaius that is the Bishop of the Ephesus Church and one of the 70 disciples that Jesus had sent out to evangelistic ministry in the book of Luke chapter 10. If so, Diotrephes would be the chief pastor of the church, and Gaius would be some sort of leader under him.
The Bible does not indicate what role Diotrephus had in the church, save to say that he loves the preeminence. Preeminence is an interesting choice of word. According to Oxford dictionary, it is the act of surpassing all others, or the act of achieving superiority. There are many ways one can achieve preeminence; some good and some bad, and in this case, John the Apostle reacts very negatively to how Diotrephes has achieved his preeminence. What readily comes to mind is politics. Of course, the Oxford dictionary meaning that I am reaching for has nothing to do with national governance, rather it is the politics having to do with “Activities aimed at improving someone’s status or increasing power within an organization.” In this case it seemed Diotrephes was willing to be political because the Apostle John does not lump him with the Christian virtues that he lauds in Gaius. Rather his introduction to us seems to be that of a foil to Gaius – his are good Christian habits, and Diotrephes on the other hand are bad Christian habits.
What strikes me as very interesting from a larger picture is that there is a tendency in life to do the right things for the wrong reasons. In this case, Diotrephus is involved in church ministry not for the purity and the good that he can bestow upon others through service, but merely as a way to push himself ahead. I find this interesting, because as I look across the spectrum of life, there are people who will “push ahead” and seek the preeminence because it fills some sort of lack that they have in their lives. The problem is people who seek preeminence for purely selfish reasons have a tendency to hurt people, hurt themselves, and destroy the fruit of sweat, blood, and tears: they destroy community.
If one is involved in ministry, how does one prevent the spirit of Diotrephes from taking over one’s life? First, one must know what we are ministering for – and that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we understand fully that Jesus is the template as well as the stamp, the trademark, the guarantee and the assurance of this Gospel that we preach and attempt to live it by faith, then we are less likely to act out of a Christ character.
Second, we must have a deep relationship with the doctrine, for it is doctrine that creates boundaries, paths, and roadways to take. Additionally, we must fully know all of our doctrine and be willing to live by all of our doctrine. We must, at the very least know the following: the Bible is the infallible Word of God and the authority for salvation and Christian living. We must know that there is one God, who has revealed Himself as our Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, and as the Holy Spirit. We must know that Jesus Christ is God manifested in flesh and that he is both God and man. We must know that salvation comes by grace through faith based on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and that the saving gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again. That we obey the gospel (II Thessalonians 1:8; I Peter 4:17) by repentance (death to sin), water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (burial), and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (resurrection). (See 1Corinthians 15:1-4; Acts 2:4, 37-39; Romans 6:3-4). Furthermore, we must know that as Christians we are to love God and others, and that we should live a holy life inwardly and outwardly, and worship God joyfully. Additionally we must know that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, including healing, are for the church today. (See Mark 12:28-31; II Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 12:14; I Corinthians 12:8-10.) Finally, we should have a firm belief that Jesus Christ is coming again to catch away His church and should live accordingly: ready for his taking away of his church, and in the end there will be the final resurrection and the final judgment. The righteous will inherit eternal life, and the unrighteous eternal death. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 20:11-15.)
Third, one must have the fruit of the spirit operating in their life. It is not enough to have received the Holy Spirit; one must be growing, expanding and rising in God’s Spirit. In verse 2 of the book John writes to Gaius, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” For one’s soul to be prospering one must, as the Apostle Paul points out, produce fruit. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that “… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
The MSG translation of the bible breaks down these nine characteristics of this one fruit as follows: First, “things like affection for others; Second, “exuberance about life; Third, “serenity; Fourth, we should “develop a willingness to stick with things; Fifth, “a sense of compassion in the heart; Sixth, “…a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people; Seventh, we should “…find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” And the (AMP) translation finishes it by saying: Eight, “Gentleness (meekness, humility); Nine, “self-control (self-restraint, continence). Against such things there is no law [that can bring a charge]. For One’s soul to be prospering, one must as Jesus pointed out in Mathew 25:14-30, be not only using one’s “talents” in the kingdom of God, but must also be getting return on their talents in the kingdom. It is about the return!
In the Parable of the talents, the Master upon hearing the lame excuse of the servant that he gave one talent to- “Master, I knew you to be a harsh and hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you had not winnowed [the grain].So I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is your own.” The Master cried out and “… answered him, “You wicked and lazy and idle servant! Did you indeed know that I reap where I have not sowed and gather [grain] where I have not winnowed? Then you should have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent away from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will be furnished richly so that he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have will be taken away. And throw the good-for-nothing servant into the outer darkness; there will be weeping and grinding of teeth”. Notice this: at the very foundational level what we have received from God is the Holy Ghost – what then are we going to stand and say? “I was afraid; here is your Spirit back.”?
John lays out the first two of several charges against Diotrephes. First, “Diotrephes…. loveth to have the preeminence”, and second, he refuses to accept apostolic authority in his life. Without apostolic authority one is bound for shipwreck! Unfortunately as we learn from Diotrephes, we have a tendency to do ministry from the standpoint of our weaknesses, fears, and over-compensations, rather than solely the spirit of God. The problem with this is multifold: First, it does not give glory to God; second, it will never get us into the kingdom; third, our good becomes a test of works; fourth, we will hit the wall and become disillusioned and fifth, in hitting the wall, we will become angry and callous and hurt the children of God.
There are many who labor in the kingdom with the fear of failure hanging over their heads. Everything is then driven by a spirit of success, which, when they do not bear quickly and broadly, leads them to a sense of despair and withdrawal. Jesus is not looking for your perfection; instead he is looking for a willing heart. There are many who labor in the kingdom from a sense of “rule” vs. relationship.
Holiness is not a bunch of rules; rather it is about growing in relationship with Christ in a way that impels you to become more like Christ. The focus of our Christianity is not asceticism – that’s works, and works has no life and has no power. There are many who labor in the kingdom from a sense that they must please men – God did not call us to be men pleasers. We are not puppy dogs needing the approval of the Master – he calls us His children. We are not then to be driven by the root underlying spirit of the men pleaser which is rejection. Those who labor under the sense of rejection are given over to: – Avoiding People; difficulty giving and receiving people; giving in to peer pressure; allowing others to influence their moral standards and manipulation by others.
Diotrephes had the spirit of preeminence. It was, as my dictionary tells me, a spirit of “high status; importance owing to marked superiority”. The concept carries the implication that the particular person or object, when compared to others of a similar type, has clear advantage over others. But Jesus’ ministry was marked by the art of servanthood and nowhere is it more poignantly displayed than in the washing of His disciples feet (John 13:12-20). We must have a spirit of humility and service as apposed to a spirit of politics and preeminence.
My pastoral concern is that we grow spiritually and show evidence of our growth through how we treat one another and how we treat the community. The goal is that people may know Christ by our fruits. Only then can our souls be truly healthy and only then can we grow properly in Christ and help others to find themselves as well in Christ. After all, the old adage still works, “like kind produces like kind.”