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3 John 1:9-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
9 I wrote something to the congregation; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not receive us. 10 For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, neither does he himself receive the brothers, and he hinders those wanting to do so and throws them out of the congregation.
DIOTREPHES: THE CHURCH BOSS 3 John 9–10
Now, we come to the “roadblock” to congregational hospitality. His name is Diotrephes, and he was a serious irritation to John and apparently many in the local congregation. John says that he wrote to the church (v. 9) apparently the one where Gaius, Diotrephes, and others were involved together. Again, we do not know if this man had any official position in the church or was simply a layperson agitated over the hospitality issue. However, John gives us a clearer picture of what he was like.
Diotrephes loved to be first. Other translations use term like “being in charge,” “in control,” or “being leader.” In every group, there are those who are comfortable to lead if needed, those who are glad to follow, those who refuse to follow, and those who lead without being asked. Diotrephes qualified for two of those statements. There are those in our homes, places of work, places of recreation, and our churches who seem to have a need to resist otherwise respected leadership and establish themselves as a more noble authority. They are normally people of “truth” but lack grace. They are those half-done Christians who cause the rest of the folks to grow in courage and grace or to get out.
Diotrephes rejected established church leadership. John says that the man not only loves to be first, but he also will have nothing to do with us. He was overtly resisting the established leadership of the elder, John. It is unclear whether or not the whole congregation was under the thumb of Diotrephes, but at least he refused to recognize the appeals of John regarding the hospitality issue.
Diotrephes was engaged in malicious gossip. John says that if and when he came he would call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us (v. 10). The Greek words for this gossip have the meaning of “babbling incoherently or verbally fluent, but empty.” This must have frustrated John, as it does any of us when we become aware that others are talking about us in ways that are demeaning, distorted, and disgraceful. If there are three dominant forms of temptation and sin that cripple the work of any church, they are lust, envy, and gossip. Especially when people engage in gossip, each and every one needs to be lovingly and firmly challenged by church leadership as well as their peers.
Diotrephes refused to welcome the guest missionaries. What more can be said, but that the man loved his local power base and was not about to yield it to anyone? It is even possible that this man was the ruling deacon of the congregation. Whoever he was, he alienated anyone who threatened his place of dominance among the people. In congregations like this, they rarely grow beyond a few dozen people because even outsiders can figure out the church politics fairly quickly, so they run for the next church or simply stay home.
Diotrephes put people who opposed his views out of the church. This is what makes us wonder if he had some kind of official authority. It sounds, however, as though it was a single-handed authority. We don’t know a lot about him, but we do know he was an intimidator. Are we being unfair with him? Possibly. It is quite possible that his intentions were much better than it appears. And it is always good to extend grace when it comes to our reactions and responses.
The situation with Diotrephes is an excellent case for the value of accountability systems within the church and even beyond a local congregation. History has clearly demonstrated that individuals can gain a power base in a congregation and, once gained, can control that group and inevitably put severe limits on its ministry capacity. When church systems of accountability are working well, they are well worth having.
The situation with Diotrephes also serves as a warning to all of us. To some degree, most of us love attention and praise. We would rather be first than second. We would rather win than lose. So, in fact, the problems of pride, power, and preeminence can be an issue for each of us to face and address. We should each ask ourselves, “How are such flaws hindering my holiness, my relationships, and my usefulness to Christ?”
By David A. Case and David W. Holdren