Worship Times

Sundays    10:30 a.m.
                    4:00 p.m.

Today's Verse


by Mark Grant

In third John verse nine we read, “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. Beloved do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.” In this third letter that the apostle John writes he addresses it to Gaius (3 John 1). John writes this epistle to fulfill a threefold purpose: (1) to express his personal appreciation for Gaius, (2) to rebuke and denounce the domineering attitude of Diotrephes, and (3) to commend Demetrius, who was probably the bearer of the letter (3 John 12). Fighting the good fight of faith with forces outside the church can certainly be difficult enough, but struggles within a church can sometimes be devastating. Such was the case with Diotrephes. He had become a threat to the life of the local church because faithful members were being hurt by his arrogant attitude. This is why John felt the need to deal with such a severe situation. As you are reading all of this, I wonder if you might recognize this kind of attitude yourself. For unfortunately, there are brethren like Diotrephes in congregations today, who want to do nothing more than run the church. Therefore, it is important for all of us as Christians to learn from what John had to say about Diotrephes.

The apostle John begins to describe the character of Diotrephes by stating, “I wrote to the church.” By John penning the words “I wrote” implies that a letter had already been written before. So John had written an earlier letter, but it was either suppressed or possibly destroyed by Diotrephes. He refused to acknowledge John’s apostleship (does not receive us) since he had asserted his control over the church out of his own personal ambition. The apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:1-5). The mortal enemies of unity and harmony in a local church are selfish ambition and vain conceit. Selfishness can ruin a church, but genuine humility can build it. Humility is the source of Christian unity and not a person who is conceited and has a haughty attitude. Paul stresses spiritual unity, asking the Philippians to love one another and to be one in spirit and purpose. Not absolute uniformity in thought but the common disposition to work together and serve one another, which would be imitating the attitude of Christ. When we work together, caring for the problems of others as if they were our problems, we demonstrate Christ’s example of putting others first, and we experience unity. Considering “others better than yourselves” is not thinking that everyone is superior but it is laying aside selfishness and treating others with respect and common courtesy. Let us as Christians guard against selfishness or vain conceit, because displaying these attitudes toward our brothers and sisters in Christ will only lead to dissension in the congregation. Showing genuine interest in others is a positive step forward in maintaining unity among believers. Remember, you can choose your attitude. You can be a Diotrephes who is going to have his own way, and it doesn’t make any difference what the result might be. Or you can make every effort “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2-4).

John continues on by revealing the main character flaw of Diotrephes when he wrote, “who loves to have the preeminence among them.” Why was Diotrephes acting in such a hateful way toward his own brethren? He evidently was not satisfied with the position he held and its scope of power, but desired to have the supremacy or preeminence of the entire church. Preeminence comes from the Greek word “Philoproteuo” which Thayer defines as, “fond of being first, striving after first place…to aspire after pre-eminence, to desire to be first: 3 Jn. 9.” Diotrephes loved to be at the head of all things, to rule and to lord it over others. No matter how many brethren strive to be first, there is only one who has the preeminence among men. “Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And being in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. Because of this, God raised him to the heights of heaven gave him a name that is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil.2:5-11; New Living Translation). The Christians attitude should be a complete submission by being a servant for God, an attitude continually like that of Christ and not like that of Diotrephes. He was a very ambitious leader, and evidently had the ability to gain the approval of a substantial majority in the local church.

Some Christians even today try to excuse brethren’s behavior in wanting to be first in the local church as being assertive. Assertiveness can be a good quality in a leader, but only when it is tempered by a love and concern for others. When assertiveness turns into a selfish, pushy, aggressive attitude, then the brother who displays it threatens the very structure of the local church. It was the disciples of Jesus who were constantly arguing and bickering about who was the greatest (Matt. 18:1-4; Mark 9:33 -37). The mother of James and John came to Jesus asking him to give her sons special positions in his Kingdom (Matt. 20:20 -21). The other disciples were upset with James and John for trying to grab the top positions (Matt. 20:24 ). Then Jesus described leadership from a new perspective. Instead of striving to be a master, we are to be slaves. “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave-- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28). The value of a real leader in God’s eternal Kingdom would be completely different from the values of the world. A real leader in Jesus’ Kingdom is not one who fights over what rank or status that he can gain, but one who has a servant’s heart; not one competing for recognition or the highest position, but one seeking to serve others no matter how demeaning the job may be. A true leader for Jesus Christ is one who seeks to serve others and not one who just wants to dominate. On the night after the Feast of the Passover had ended, Jesus himself took the position of a slave and began to wash all of the disciples’ feet, including Judus Iscariot (John 13:2-5). Jesus’ action was done to set forth the example of selfless service and He promises that we will be blessed if we live as He lived (John 13:12 -17). You can approach living the Christian life by expecting to be served, or you can look for opportunities to serve others.

The apostle John now reveals how he planned to personally confront Diotrephes and remind him of his conduct. “Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does.” Diotrephes’ conduct was not a case of doctrinal deviation but of moral failure. The verb “does,” in the phrase, “his deeds which he does,” comes from the Greek word (poiei), which is present active indicative, and means, “what one does repeatedly, continually,” (Bullinger, pg. 231) thus revealing an unrelenting course of behavior on the part of Diotrephes. Diotrephes was condemned not because he violated sound teaching regarding the gospel of Jesus Christ but because his “actions” violated Christ’s command to love one another. When a leader makes a habit of encouraging maltreatment of brethren and discouraging righteous treatment of brethren, then he is no longer a leader in the Lord’s service. So the apostle John felt the need to deal with Diotrephes by writing this letter and planned a personal visit himself in order to exercise his apostolic authority in disciplining him. In the meantime, the letter’s recipient Gaius needed encouragement, and Demetrius is recommended to the confidence of the church.

The magnitude of Diotrephes’ covetousness of lordship over the congregation is made known by John stating, “prating against us with malicious words.” Prate comes from the Greek word “Phluareo” and is defined by Thayer to mean, “to utter nonsense, talk idly, prate…to bring forward idle accusations, make empty charges, …to accuse one falsely with malicious words, 3 Jn. 10.” Diotrephes loved having the preeminence over the congregation so much that he sought to undermine the apostle’s character and his influence by attacking him with malicious false accusations. How many times have you seen a brother launch an all out assault to defame the character of fellow Christians with false accusations just because he viewed him as a threat to his preeminence in a congregation? Defamatory remarks that are intended to injure or disgrace the reputation of another brother no matter what the reason is condemned by God. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor homosexuals, not sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, NOR REVILERS, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10) One of the sins that Paul lists in this scripture is “revilers” (or railer) and comes from the Greek word “loidoros” that is defined by W. E. Vine to mean, “abusive, railing, reviling, is used as a noun, 1 Cor. 5:11, R.V., “a reviler” (A.V. “a railer”); 6:10, “revilers.” Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, who is a recognized scholar on the Greek New Testament, and is the author of numerous exegetical books and booklets in both Greek and English languages, describes how revilers is used in 1 Cor. 5:11 and 1 Cor. 6:10. “To these unsavory characters Paul adds two more, a railer and a drunkard. The “railer” in Greek is loidoros, “a reviler.” This adjectival noun occurs only twice here and in 1 Corinthians 6:10. In both passages, it is listed among sinners of the worst kind who are not going to inherit the Kingdom of God. It describes a deceiver as one who beguiles others to believe his malicious false charges or misrepresentations intended to damage another’s reputation. The reason why Paul included such a defamer and blasphemer in the ranks of those who parade in the church as so-called brothers is that they specialize in ruining the reputation of other genuine Christians within the church. The world does not particularly occupy itself in defaming believers. The world leaves that to their spiritual brothers. And there are many within the church who do much harm by engaging in such defamation” (Immorality In The Church. Can We Sweep It Under The Rug? Pg. 194). Let us as brothers and sisters in Christ never take part in such deeds as to damage a brother’s reputation with malicious false charges as Diotrephes, for those who do so will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

However, this was not the full extent of his actions for John goes on to say, “And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren.” Diotrephes refused to receive the brethren who had been sent by the Apostle John. These men were sent out by John to preach and teach, and Diotrephes rejected these men, obviously, because he wanted to do all the speaking and teaching himself. These men were singled out for abuse and denied the hospitality due them as members of the household of faith. Gaius was one who welcomed these leaders into his home (3 John 5-8). Yet, Diotrephes would not welcome these brethren into his home because he did not want to jeopardize his power of dominance. Brethren, let us as Christians never become insensitive to the needs of fellow brethren. The measure of love for God can be measured by how well we treat others. The apostle John himself wrote: “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). Christians who open their doors and their hearts to the needs of traveling brethren are essentially receiving and caring for Jesus Christ (Matt. 10:40 -42). Don’t hesitate to share your home and food with brethren cheerfully, for in doing so you are serving God (1 Pet. 4:9).

Diotrephes carries his opposition even beyond the apostle John and his messengers for he says, “and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.” The harshest treatment of all had been directed against members of the congregation who chose to extend hospitality to John’s messengers. In other words, Diotrephes withdrew fellowship from members who showed hospitality to the traveling preachers. Still, Diotrephes had utterly no right to any such authority to the extent of denying these brethren membership in the body of Christ. In fact, not even an entire eldership could have been justified in the brutal enforcement of casting out of their fellow-Christians because their twisted, unscriptural judgment had not been honored. In John 21:16 Jesus told Peter, “Tend My sheep.” The apostle Peter would later pass this command on to elder’s by saying, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Pet. 5:2-4). Peter illustrates several characteristics of good leaders in the Lord’s Church. (1) They realize they are caring for God’s flock, not their own; (2) they lead out of eagerness to serve, not out of obligation; (3) they are concerned for what they can give, not for what they can get; (4) they lead by example, not by force. Bossing and intimidation have no place in the Lord’s Church. Christian leaders lead by teaching and by being examples and not being tyrants.

God also never intended for church discipline to be used as a tool for bullying Christians. The church must discipline flagrant sin among its members, but it should be used as a means to bring about the sinners repentance and not for vengeance (1 Cor. 5:1-5). To exclude a Christian from any association of hospitality with believers is the concluding method of discipline (1 Cor. 5:11) which hopefully will awaken the rebellious brother or sister to sins that are done flagrantly and arrogantly, provided the attempts described in Matthew have been executed first (Matt. 18:15-17). As members of Christ’s church we must not allow sins that are done haughtily within the congregation to progress, or else it will destroy the health and strength of the congregation (1 Cor. 5:6-8). Church discipline must be exercise at times toward members who are living in sin, but it must be handled carefully, straightforwardly, and lovingly (Gal. 6:1). Removing the Christian who is in error from fellowship is to be done with a united disapproval when the whole church comes together and not just one man (1 Cor. 5:4; 2 Cor. 2:6). If the Christian who has been living in sin chooses to repent then forgiveness and comfort are in order (2 Cor. 2: 6-8). The most important theme of church discipline to remember is that restoration of the one in error is the ultimate goal, and not to cast members out for one man’s selfish reasons.

The apostle John now turns toward Gaius to admonish him not to “imitate what is evil, but what is good.” Each of us chooses to imitate what is evil or what is good, but the choices we make will reflect our integrity (Luke 6:43-45). That is why John did not want Gaius to follow the leadership of Diotrephes. He instead made the loving appeal to Gaius to imitate good conduct, not bad. The proof of any Christian’s commitment to God is that we personally reject evil and embrace a life patterned after that which is good (1 Thess. 5:21-22). As you read 3 John, with which man do you identify? Are you a Gaius, who generously shows hospitality to others? A Demetrius, who loves the truth? Or a Diotrephes, who wanted to rule or oppress as a tyrannical leader?

John’s concluding words are, “He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.” God is the source of goodness (Matt. 19:17 ), and doing good is a choice and action that comes from knowing and following God. “He who does good is of God” is John describing the fruits of conduct growing out of a relationship with God. “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). This is extremely significant because it tells what a Christian’s relationship is with God, by looking at his relationship with his brethren. For if God is love, and if God lives in us and we in Him, then love for the brethren will occur as an expression of righteousness without exception. “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart” (1 Pet. 1:22). Righteousness involves the fulfillment of all law, both spiritually with God and socially with man. One either loves his brother and proves that he is God’s child, or else he does not love his brother, and proves he belongs to the devil. “He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-11). “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:14-16). If a brother is at one with his brethren, and his relations with them are marked by love, unity and concord, then he is on his way to being a man of God. If, however, a brother is at variance with his brethren, and he is a quarrelsome, contentious, trouble-making creature, he may be a diligent church attendee, he may even be a church leader, but he is not a man of God for he is blind and has never seen God.