Diotrephes, A Difficult Brother
A Practical Lesson From 3 John
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth”
(3 John 1:4).
Have you ever entertained the thought, “If only our Lord were here, He would straighten things out.” “If only Paul were here! He would tell us what is right in this situation.” Or, “If only a long-since departed and well-respected elder in the church were still here, he would resolve our problems.”
While we love and appreciate the example of our Lord Jesus and those who ably serve him, the notion that all our problems would be solved by one great leader is not realistic. Recall that despite Jesus’ presence and teaching the disciples daily they still dissembled among themselves. The Gospels record their argument over who would be greatest in the kingdom, and which of them would sit at Jesus’ right hand, or at his left. Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement and Paul had to confront Peter. Even Pastor Russell in his day had coups plotted against him by brethren who challenged his position in the church. Difficulties have always existed within the brotherhood.
We may reason, “If we had a strong leader, they could take charge and tell us what is right and wrong.” Would not that make our lives easier? Not really — because it negates accepting personal responsibility. It abrogates our need to exercise personal judgment in difficult situations. Our spiritual growth would be stunted. Strong meat belongs to those who are “mature; those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14 ESV).
John praised the disciples Gaius and Demetrius for their generosity and hospitality toward the brethren. He urges us to support brethren who exhibit similar qualities. Thus, we should support brethren who not only speak the truth but also walk the truth; aiding those who humbly labor, without desire for earthly reward, to preach the gospel of the kingdom. Let us support those who promote the spirit of unity and brotherhood among God’s people.
In stark contrast with Gaius and Demetrius, one brother boldly resisted John’s authority in the Church. He was Diotrephes — a domineering false teacher. We see Diotrephes’ unmitigated gall. We react to him with indignation! “How dare he challenge John, the Apostle!”
Note his great offenses (verses 9 and 10): (1) He loved preeminence in the church — ignoring Jesus’ counsel “he that is greatest among you shall be your servant, and whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:10-12).
(2) He spoke evil of John — prating against him with malicious words. (3) He would not receive the Apostle John — apparently either in person or by letter! (4) He would not receive brethren sent as emissaries by John, and … (5) If brethren received John’s emissaries, he threw them out of the church!
Perhaps John had in mind Diotrephes as an example of those already exercising the spirit of antichrist. He is appropriately named, Diotrephes, “nourished by Jove/Dios,” the chief Roman god, Optimus Maximus (Best Greatest), whose cult was centered on Rome’s Capitoline Hill. Diotrephes strove to be “best greatest,” the spirit of antichrist. Antichrist, the great apostasy, was able to grow and dominate the church because its high-handed leaders were not properly dealt with by the church as a body. This solemn and practical lesson still applies.
What practical lessons do we take away from our study of 3 John? (1) “Mark them that cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them” (Romans 16:17). Giving any attention to false teachers empowers them! To discuss their outrages only bolsters their stature. (If no one listened to Hitler, Stalin or Jim Jones would they have risen to power?)
(2) Support leaders who not only speak truth, but walk in truth. (3) Do not support leaders who use evil speaking to forward their agenda. (4) Elect elders to serve ecclesias and conventions who present wholesome truth and a wholesome spirit. (5) Exercise hospitality to all of the Lord’s people who are seeking to serve Him in spirit and in truth. “Greet the friends, every one of them” (3 John ESV).