Regular Christians (Part 11): Diotrephes

Regular Christians

Diotrephes was one who fell away because he wanted to have the preeminence. The only time we read about him in the New Testament is when John warned about him in his third epistle.

I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them [have the preeminence, KJV], does not accept what we say. 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, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church” (3 John 9-10).

When John described Diotrephes as desiring preeminence, he was referring to an attitude in which this man wanted to be in the place of Christ – to place himself between the brethren and the Lord. Paul warned the brethren in Thessalonica that this was what the “man of lawlessness” would do: “Let no one in any way deceive you, for it [the return of Christ, as] will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). Diotrephes may not have specifically been the “man of lawlessness” that Paul warned about, but he did have the same attitude. The result would be apostasy – not just of the one who initially departed, but of all those who would follow him.

Jesus warned of “false Christs and false prophets” who would try to “mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). Similarly, Paul warned the Ephesian elders of some “from among [their] own selves [who would] arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). Those who are faithfully following the Lord strive to lead people to follow Him (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:12-13; 2 Corinthians 4:5). Those who are not faithful to the Lord strive to lead people to follow them. This is what Diotrephes was doing.

In order to combat the influence of Diotrephes, John said he was going to “call attention to his deeds” (3 John 10). Notice what Diotrephes did:

  • He did not accept what the apostles taught – The apostles were the Lord’s official spokesmen (2 Corinthians 5:20). What they taught was the equivalent of the Lord’s commandment (1 Corinthians 14:37; 2 Peter 3:2). Their message condemned the behavior and attitude of Diotrephes. Rather than change himself in order to be obedient to the Lord, he was unwilling to accept their words.
  • He unjustly accused the apostles with wicked words – Many people who reject the words of Christ and His apostles simply leave the church. However, one who wants to have preeminence cannot do that – he wants to stay and run the church. Since the apostles spoke the truth from Christ by inspiration, Diotrephes could not reasonably contend with them in open and honest debate. So he had to use a different tactic – spread false accusations against the apostles in hopes that the brethren would not listen to them. Brethren like Diotrephes do the same today.
  • He refused to receive the brethren – If Diotrephes would not accept the words of the apostles, naturally he would not welcome those who came if they accepted the words of the apostles. After all, the more brethren there were who did not “side” with him, the harder it would be to hold onto his position of power over the church.
  • He withdrew fellowship from those who would not go along with him – Once he had control over the church (whether official or unofficial), he would need to maintain his position by running off any brethren who would not fall in line. After all, if their allegiance was to Christ first, they were a threat to him and needed to be removed.

All of this was rooted in pride. Diotrephes saw himself as being above the members of that local church, above the apostles, and above the revealed word of God. The wise man said, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Proverbs 16:18). This arrogance is the opposite of the humility that we must have. Peter wrote, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Peter 5:5-6). We are to “submit…to God” (James 4:7) and “to one another” (Ephesians 5:21). This leaves no room for self-centeredness.

Diotrephes was so intent upon having his way that he was willing to reject the words of the apostles who were hand-picked by Christ to deliver His Spirit-inspired message from above. Sadly, there are Christians like Diotrephes in the church today. We must take this as a warning to guard against them and guard ourselves from becoming like them. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). When our will trumps God’s will, we cannot faithfully serve the Lord.

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