The Spirit of Diotrophes

Intro: The apostle John was seemingly a man of contrasts. He often expressed the truth by presenting contrasting ideas or concepts. He spoke often of light vs. darkness; life vs. death; love vs. hate. This makes John’s lessons simple yet profound. We can understand and apply the truth deeply because we distinguish the differences through contrast. John’s third epistle provides a lesson in contrasting individuals.

I. A Contrast of Characters: In a study of John’s third epistle we find two very different people. It may be that John wants us to look at these two men as contrasting characters so as to more fully see ourselves in them.

A. The beloved Gaius – John mentions Gaius in the very first verse of this letter. It tells us a lot about him to know that John loved him (even as John was described as the disciple that Jesus loved). We almost immediately begin to appreciate his character. But what else do we know about him?

1. The truth was in him3 John 3 – 3 For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you. This may indicate that he was an honest person (always told the truth). But the best thought may be that the message of the gospel (the truth) had become an integral part of his character. Paul commanded the Colossians (3:16) to let the word of Christ dwell in them richly.

a. Albert Barnes attributes this trait to Gaius’ willingness to stand up for the truth when others were accepting and teaching false doctrine.

2. He walked in the truth3 John 3-4 …just as you walk in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. It has been inferred from John’s use of the term children here that Gaius was a younger convert of John.

a. to walk in the truth is to practice the truth consistently. Gaius took his religion seriously and was willing to make real changes to be obedient to God.

3. He demonstrated hospitality and generosity. This was evident from his treatment of his fellow Christians and even strangers. 3 John 5-6 – Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, 6 who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well.

a. Generosity and hospitality have always been hallmark characteristics of real Christians. The first century church found favor in the eyes of others because they were transparent in their giving and loved in deeds and not just words. We need to be like Gaius.

B. But not all Christians in John’s acquaintance were like Gaius. Another man named Diotrephes gives us a contrasting picture.

1. Read 3 John 9-10I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. 10 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. John sounded a warning here. This man was not just a weak Christian who needed encouragement. His attitudes and actions were destructive to the church.

2. We need to identify exactly what characterized the spirit of Diotrephes, so as to avoid becoming like him and warn against those who may already be like him.

II. The Spirit of Diotrephes. What kind of person was he? His problems run deeper than just a shallow understanding in scripture, or a weak commitment to obedience. In fact, he may have been one of the more “important” people in the local church, always present and involved.

A. “Loves to have the preeminence among them” (v. 9) We don’t use the word “preeminence” much. But it is a good word to put in your vocabulary.

1. The word “preeminence” in the Greek is “philoproteuo” (fil-op-rote-yoo’-o). It means first place. The only other occurrence in NT is Col 1:18 – 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. That which rightfully belonged to Jesus, was sought by Diotrephes. Lenski says that this description means that Diotrephes “loves to be first, to be considered the leader. He wants to be a boss, a dictator, a lord of all the rest…” This type of person highly values the accolades of others, and judges the worth of people by social position or prestige. This attitude is born from selfishness, which is a sin in itself.

2. When the mother of James and John expressed a desire for her sons to be given preeminence, Jesus taught the principle of humility and service. Matthew 20:25 -28 – 25 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. 26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

3. Jesus saw this attitude in the Pharisees and scribes. Selfish ambition is destructive to the work of leaders and teachers… Matthew 23:6-12 – 6 They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ 8 But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. 11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

4. How should Christians treat each other? – Romans 12:10 – 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; this is a powerful challenge to all of us. Who is willing to always put the other person in the front?

a. “Give preference” (prefer) has the basic meaning of going before, or leading. But the idea here is not that of putting ourselves before others in regard to importance or worth but the very opposite idea of giving honor to fellow believers by putting them first.

5. Philippians 2:3-4 – fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

B. “Does not receive us” (v. 9) – The “us” here is clearly the apostles as the ambassadors of Christ, and possibly those whom John had sent to the church where Diotrephes was a member. The bottom line is that Diotrephes was unwilling to submit to apostolic authority. It may have seen John’s authority as a threat to his own (many view the authority of the scriptures in this same way.) It is important to recognize that a self-centered person often has problems with submitting to authority. He views his own authority too highly to submit to another.

1. Apostolic authority is crucial to the work and unity of a local church. Matthew 28:1818 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Christ has all authority. Paul said in Ephesians 1:20-2220 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. 22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church.

2. Jesus has delegated authority to His apostles – John 13:20 – 20 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”

3. He sent the Holy Spirit to assist them, and guide them into all the truth. Thus they could speak and write with the authority of God behind them –

      • 1 Corinthians 14:37 – 37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.
      • 1 Thessalonians 2:13 – For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. This is why we find that the early church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine…”(Acts 2:42)

4. There are many today who have the spirit of Diotrephes in that they clearly reject the teaching of the apostles contained in inspired scripture. They prefer the authority of a council, synod, or conference. They scoff at the idea of basing conclusions on what the Bible actually says.

a. Many reject the clear teachings of the apostles concerning such issues as homosexuality, women preachers, baptism, church organization, etc.

b. But this spirit does not just exist in the hearts of the unsaved. Many Christians reject the apostles’ call for holy and sanctified living. They can put their own personal interests first, before the kingdom of God

C. “Prating against us with malicious words” (v. 10) – In contrast to the hospitable and generous Gaius, Diotrephes openly sinned against other Christians.

1. The word “prating” in the Greek is phluareo (floo-ar-eh’-o). It means to be a babbler or trifler. By implication it means to berate idly or mischievously. A similar word is translated as gossiper in the N.T. The word “malicious” is poneros (pon-ay-ros’) and means “hurtful, evil”

2. Diotrephes used his words to intentionally hurt other people. He berated others. No doubt he was an intimidator.

3. Jesus made it clear that we will be judged for the idle words that we use (Matt. 12:36-37)

4. We are commanded not to speak evil of one another – James 4:11-12Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? To speak evil of another is to speak evil of the law of God!

a. While it may be necessary at times to “rebuke” our brethren we are to do so in a spirit of humility and kindness 2 Timothy 2:24-26- 24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. Galatians 6:1Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

D. putting them out of the church” – Not only did Diotrephes reject John and his teaching but he actively sought to forbid others to fellowship John and the other faithful Christians there. It seems to indicate that Diotrephes attempted to coerce others into not being hospitable to John and others by threatening to put them out of the church.

1. There is certainly a place for discipline within a local church. Jesus taught there might be times when church discipline is necessary. In Mt 18:15-17 Jesus instructed that the sinning brother should be privately disciplined and the unrepentant brother should be brought before the church. Paul gave instructions for carrying out church discipline in 1 Cor. 5 when a man was living with his father’s wife and when Christians refused to work (2 Thess. 3:6-15)

2. But Diotrephes abused this call for discipline for his own purposes with a desire to control others. He used his own desires and practice as a criteria for fellowship, and no man has that prerogative. It was a power play, plain and simple.

Conclusion: Not all Christians are alike. There are some who claim to follow Christ who do not have His spirit. They do not exhibit even the most basic attitudes and actions – such as love of your brother.