Face To Face With Diotrephes
Elder Jeff Winfrey, Pastor
Dawson Springs Primitive Baptist Church
101 East Walnut Street
Dawson Springs, KY 42408
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 9-10)
Truth and Love in Preference to Diotrephes
In the opening verses of the Apostle John’s God-inspired letter to a man named Gaius we find two things held in high regard. The first is truth. The word truth is used five times in the first eight verses. And the second thing held in high regard is a charitable lifestyle.
John declares that Gaius faithfully dealt with both brethren and strangers. Moreover, the ones thus dealt with had witnessed of the charity that they had received. It seems that Gaius was a Godly man. Instead of hindering or ignoring brethren and strangers, Gaius brought them forward on their journeys of life. Furthermore, as he received them unto himself he did more than just advance them in their lives. By dealing thus with them, John said that Gaius even helped in the advancement of the truth that was held in such high regard.
John begins his letter with praises for a man named Gaius, but has none for one named Diotrephes. Instead of praising Diotrephes, John declares this man to have a real problem. Diotrephes’ problem was a problem of love. Now love pointed in the right direction is the centerpiece of Christianity. But a misplaced, self-directed love is one of the greatest enemies to the cause of Christ. Instead of loving God with all his being, Diotrephes loved to have the preeminence. Instead of loving his neighbor, it seems that Diotrephes loved Diotrephes. Instead of holding Jesus’ teachings about love in high regard, Diotrephes preferred to hold himself in high regard.
John says of Diotrephes that he loveth to have the preeminence. In like fashion Jesus said of the Pharisees that they love the upper most rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues. A man with a too-high attitude loves a high upper room. A self-appointed, full of himself boss is well fitted for a chief seat. But though Diotrephes might have fit right well in a Pharisee’s seat and even would have fit perfectly into the Pharisee’s thinking, he was very ill fitted for Christ’s church. For a church to be a true church, Christ must have the preeminence, for Christ is the head of the body, the church…that in all things he might have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:18)
According to John Gaius walked in truth, while Diotrephes ‘walked tall’. Gaius received others, while Diotrephes refused to receive. Others bore witness of Gaius’ charity, while Diotrephes prated against others with malicious words. Gaius brought others forward on their journeys, while Diotrephes cast others out of ‘his’ church. Gaius was a fellow helper to the truth, while Diotrephes was forbidding brethren that stood for the truth.
A truth-centered, loving, Gaius-like man builds up a Christ-centered church, while a self-centered, hateful, Diotrephes-like man causes contentions and divisions and a man-centered church.
John’s Desire to Confront Diotrephes
Concerning the errors of Diotrephes, John declared, if I come, I will remember his deeds. I do not intend to speak negatively of this beloved Apostle, for I do not believe that John had a vengeful spirit. Nor do I believe that he had an unforgiving spirit that refused to forget a wrong. But what John did have was a love for the Lord Jesus Christ and His church that would not allow him to ignore such a one as Diotrephes. If their paths were to cross in the future, John felt that it was his duty to try to redirect Diotrephes to a more righteous walk. Surely with grace, yet boldness, John had to confront Diotrephes.
It is not that John was unsympathetic toward someone who struggled with a sinful tendency concerning selfishness or pride. Surely John paused to think of his own past. Yes, John doubtless remembered that there was a time when even he, the Apostle John, had exhibited a desire for self-exaltation.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. (Mark 10:35-37)
So it does seem that the Apostle John had a history of the same kind of thinking that Diotrephes had fallen into. And in yet another story we find that John had not always followed the right spirit. John and his brother, James, failed to listen to the right Spirit when they desired that fire from heaven would fall upon the Samaritans. They had obviously forgotten that their ways, as followers of Jesus, were different to the world’s ways. What a misled way of thinking they truly had at that moment! They desired heaven’s power, but for the wrong reason. To desire heaven’s power in order to destroy sinners is man’s way of thinking. To desire heaven’s power in order to restore sinners to paths of righteousness is Christ’s way of thinking. In the presence of the divine Jesus Christ they sought divine intervention in order to destroy much people. Jesus said to them, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. (Luke 9:55) They had forgotten the ways of the One they stood beside. They might have been willing to bow to Him, but they were not bowing to His ways. They had fallen back into the world’s ways and forgotten the ways of this King of a different kind of kingdom. So, as John anticipated confronting Diotrephes, he surely needed to remember his past tendency toward self-love and his past failure to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.
It is truly not my intention to judge an Apostle. My desire is to judge myself and to see that if an Apostle can fall into these sins, who am I to think that I can stand? For as I recognize how difficult it would have been even for an apostle to confront Diotrephes, I must admit that the scriptures teach me that it is likewise my duty to correct others in the church. Now to some this may be easy, but to me correcting a wayward brother is one of the most difficult things that I am called upon to do.
First of all, society has taught me that I should mind my own business and this instilled thinking goes against the idea of correcting an errant brother. Secondly, my own history of sinfulness makes me feel unworthy to assume the task of correcting anybody. Next, a lack of faith and trust in the Lord leaves me lacking the boldness to try His methods even in His church. And last, finding the right spirit in which to confront even a genuine wrong is exceedingly difficult.
(Now under certain circumstances such as when I have been suddenly attacked, it might become really easy to find the boldness to very forcefully correct another person. But when the boldness comes that easily, this is my sure indicator that I am being moved by my carnal nature and not by the Spirit of God.)
So hopefully John had not forgotten his own history when he said of Diotrephes, I will remember his deeds. If John had forgotten his own failures, then he, like Diotrephes, was too full of pride. But if John first remembered his own deeds, then in a spirit of prayerful humility and with the help of Jesus he would be able to gently and meekly confront Diotrephes. And if Diotrephes could be restored to a Christ-centered way of thinking, then a Christ-centered church could be restored to her Christ-glorifying mission. Oh, if Jesus would empower John with the strange combination of humility and boldness required to correct error in the church, then perhaps He will be with me when it is my duty to try to restore a brother that has fallen into sin.
A Lesson in Loving Confrontation
In this epic confrontation between loving John and self-loving Diotrephes, it is vital not to lose sight of the fact that there are two kinds of confrontation at issue here. One is a John-like confrontation for the truth’s sake; the other is a Diotrephes-like confrontation for the sake of self. The one must be graciously practiced, while the other must be studiously avoided. The first can easily turn into the second, if we are not careful to guard our hearts and spirits.
In recent years I have become more forbearing of others than I once was. Many things may have led to this, but let me share one in particular. A few years ago we were attempting to preach Christ to college students in a nation where only one percent claimed to be Christian. And it seemed that we were beating our heads against the wall of failure.
Christianity was an absurdity to them. I was somewhat downcast as we left an afternoon session and began to walk across the campus. But I was raised from my dismay when we heard a distant female voice calling to us. The young lady was quickly approaching us and excitedly repeating the question, “Are you Christian? Are you Christian?”
I eagerly began to move in her direction responding, “Yes, we are Christian. Yes, yes, we are Christian.” She was almost in a jog as we met. Her arms were extended. Her face was jubilant. And I am sure that I appeared the same to her. How refreshing it was to see an obvious Christian!
We embraced for a moment. And while still holding to me she pulled her face back where we could talk. She said the words, “I am Catholic. I love Jesus Christ.” The way she said the words, “I love Jesus Christ,” truly seemed to convey the deep feelings of a heart. The expression in the single word ‘love’ was so indicative of her sincerity. There was so much warmth in the way she said the word. Her genuine manifestation of love for Christ so soothed my troubled heart. To her confessed love for Him I responded, “I am Primitive Baptist and I love the same Jesus Christ.” I hope my words seemed as sincere to her as hers had seemed to me.
She faithfully followed us for another two days in our somewhat vain efforts. Perhaps we would have disagreed about many things concerning truth. We never had the opportunity to talk about all those things. At the time they did not seem so important. I only reminded myself that she loved the same Jesus that I loved. And that same Jesus, who has so loved me, loved her just like He loved me.
She broke through my Primitive Baptist crust. She found a weakness in the thick skin of my heritage. I have never been the same. For that I thank her and I thank the Jesus that she and I both loved on that day. I am thankful that she loved Him enough to search me out and to find me on that lonely foreign campus. I do not know if I taught her anything concerning Him. But she taught me much about Him. One thing I am certain of is that whatever I may have taught her, will never equal what she taught me.
So when I look upon my brother that may have erred, let me not forget that we love the same Jesus. As I come face to face with one caught in the act of sin, let me be reminded that Jesus loves this one that I face just as He loves me.
I confess that oftentimes I struggle to know which situations in life to confront and which to let go. But if we are to faithfully represent Christ, a stand for righteousness is sometimes imperative. Yet if we are to truly represent Christ, the way we stand for righteousness is just as imperative as the fact that we stand for righteousness.
If we are to represent Christ, a defense of the truth is sometimes necessary. Yet if we are to represent Christ, the charitable way that we confront the individual must be Christ’s way of confrontation. We must not only please Christ by who and what we confront, but also buy how and why we confront.
So for a final thought let us remember two things. Diotrephes, and John’s dealings with him, reminds us simultaneously that there are times when a person must be confronted for Christ’s sake, and that there are times that the one too eager for confrontation may himself have a Diotrephes-like spirit.