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The Condemnation of Diotrephes (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
December 6, 2023 3:00 am

The Condemnation of Diotrephes (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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December 6, 2023 3:00 am

“One bad apple spoils the bunch.” This saying highlights the detrimental effects a corrupt individual can have on an entire group. Listen to Truth For Life as Alistair Begg examines the apostle John’s condemnation of one such “bad apple” within the church.



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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at tfl.org thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!





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You're familiar with the old saying, one bad apple spoils the whole bunch.

That highlights the detrimental effect that one corrupt person can have on an entire group. When the Apostle John wrote his letters encouraging the early church to walk in the truth, he warned them about bad apples. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg examines John's condemnation of one such character. Father, we thank you for the hope that is ours in Christ. We thank you that through the encouragement and endurance of the Scriptures we might have hope.

And as we turn now to the Bible, we remind ourselves that what you have to say to us is far more significant than anything that we have to say to you. And so we pray that you will come and speak to us. Some of us are on the fringes of faith. Some of us are actually opposed to what faith really means in Jesus.

Others of us are faltering and wondering. But wherever we are, meet us, Lord, today, we pray. Beyond the voice of a mere man, may we hear from you, the living God. For we pray in Jesus' name and for his sake.

Amen. And I invite you to turn to 3 John, verse 9 is where we start to read. I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he's doing, gossiping maliciously about us.

Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God.

Anyone who does what is evil hasn't seen God. Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true. I have much to write to you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you, the friends here send their greetings.

Greet the friends there by their names. I want to begin by reading again the brief paragraph from Gresham Machen as an encouragement to us in turning again to what is one of the most neglected parts of the New Testament, one of the shortest and most neglected. And this is what Machen, who died some time ago, had to say concerning this. Despite its individual address and private character, the third letter of John is not an ordinary private letter. Like all the books of the New Testament, it has a message for the entire church. The devout reader rises from the perusal of it with a more steadfast devotion to the truth and a warmer glow of Christian love. I think that Gresham Machen is accurate, and therefore we have every legitimate right to anticipate that in Christ we will increase in our devotion to the truth and we will glow in a warmer way with expressions of genuine Christian love. This little study, Walking in the Truth, in 2 and 3 John, is about the juxtaposition between truth and love. And we remind ourselves of the fact that when the Bible is addressing this issue of truth, it does so in the understanding that truth is revealed ultimately in Jesus, that it is objective, it is outside of us, something that we are responding to and encountering, that it is defined, that it is not woolly and vague, and that it is absolute.

The truth that we are tackling—revealed, objective, defined, and absolute—and therefore vastly different from contemporary ideas of truth. Some of you in the earlier hours may have heard, as I did, just as I was driving, part of a program that was about the folk revival—or one of the folk revivals—in the sixties here in America. And the interviewer was addressing the work of Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger and others, and at one point suggested that the religion of Pete Seeger was a religion that had to do with people coming together and singing songs. Seeger's idea was that if we could sing together, then perhaps we could talk together, and then in talking together perhaps we could live together, and then perhaps the whole world would join in song. I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Or, as Jackson put it—that is, Michael, we are the world, we are the people.

It all sounds fantastic. It's horribly naive, but you understand the expectation that is represented in it. And strikingly, Arlo Guthrie said, the fantastic thing about it is this—that while we all gathered to sing the same songs, as we stood next to one another, we all had different ideas about what the songs meant. And so we were able to sing the same words while meaning different things.

That was in the sixties—a perfect forerunner to where we are now in the twenty-first century. We're not only outside of the framework of Christianity, but within the form of Christianity, many are affirming that Arlo Guthrie theology, if you like. Well, we need always to pour our ideas through the sieve of the Bible, and when we come to the Bible, we discover that that notion will not stick. The truth is not what we conceive it to be. The truth is what we have been given, ultimately, finally, and savingly, in Jesus. And so, when John says, I'm so happy when I hear that members of your congregation are walking in the truth, he knows exactly what he means by that, and so do those of us who are studying the Bible.

Now it is with that in mind that we keep coming back to these studies, and we come now to the juxtaposition between two particular characters, one by the name of Diotrephes and the other one by the name of Demetrius. The fulcrum of this final little section, I suggest to you, is verse 11, where John says, Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Elsewhere in the Bible we have the statement, Bad company corrupts good morals.

Every parent knows that. That's why they try and guide their children, especially their adolescent children, into the right kind of company. Because relationships are seldom neutral. They're usually positive or negative.

Positive in the sense that there are people in whose company it is easy to go forward and be good, and there are other people in whose company it's easy to be bad and to slip back. Here, in this section of 3 John, we have an example of each. And what makes it so incredibly significant in the life of the man that we now consider is not simply the fact that behavior has an effect on other people, so that the behavior of Diotrephes could run throughout this church community—therefore, it has to be addressed—but it is not simply that his behavior has an effect on other people, but it is that his behavior gives evidence of his spiritual condition, so that how he behaves either reinforces what he says he believes or calls in question what he says he believes.

And if Christianity is to make progress in our generation, it has to keep before its gaze the fact that Christianity is about truth, and Christianity is about truth worked out in the integrity of loving relationships. So when we consider that in relationship to Diotrephes, then we realize what a challenge is represented. Role models are important. We all copy people to one degree or another. It is therefore vitally important that we choose good individuals to imitate. Now, this may seem theoretical, but it isn't. The emergence of characters like Diotrephes is not an unusual phenomenon in the history of the church.

And he, sadly, is an illustration of the kind of individual that none of us want to become. The history of the church, both biblical and beyond the framework of the Bible, is a history that makes us aware of how easy it is for bad attitudes combined with big egos left unchecked to be a catalyst for chaos amongst God's people. That is almost an equation, isn't it? Not that I know very much about equations—A plus B equals whatever you thought it was last Tuesday.

But bad attitude plus big ego left unchecked equals chaos. Any knowledge of a local church will confirm it, and any reading of the Bible will make it impossible for us to deny it. Just when I was thinking to myself this week, you know, here I have to do 3 John again. I know that people will be thinking, Why are we doing 3 John?

It's so remote from everything we know. I spent time with somebody who doesn't even come from this country. And in the course of our conversation, he told me of a circumstance that had emerged in his local church—a church of about two hundred people—a circumstance that ended up with he and his wife and his children being asked to leave the church and never come back.

His crime? In trying to initiate a father and son sports ministry, he left out of his investigative planning stage one prominent gentleman in the church. The prominent gentleman in the church apparently did not like not being asked for his advice. That would have been fine if he simply wanted to go to the fellow and say, Hey, why did you go on without me?

But it became much worse than that. And today, my friend and his wife and children find themselves scurrying around some other congregation despite the fact that they've been there for virtually all of their Christian lives. And so I said to myself, Well, maybe 3 John is actually a little more relevant than I myself had been thinking. There are two points, but they'll become now two sermons. Point number one is the condemnation of diatrophes. Point number two is the commendation of Demetrius. Condemnation, commendation.

Okay? But we'll only get as far as the first. This is not easy material. It's a reminder to us, isn't it, that the Scriptures are given to us, they're profitable for exhortation, for reproof, rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness. And the only way you get to passages like this is if you work your way through passages. Otherwise, never in a million years will you find yourself sitting under the instruction of the condemnation of diatrophes, unless, of course, you happen to be in a church where everything has gone completely askew with, and the pastor has found this obscure passage and decided that this is the way to handle it. Now, we're not doing this right. If you're visiting this morning, just know that last week it was all really encouraging about Gaius or two. Last week it was peculiarly encouraging, because I wasn't preaching. But the Sunday before that was the encouragement of Gaius. So it all balances out, and next time it will be the encouragement of Demetrius.

But for now, this is pretty tough. Now, you will notice that the actions of this individual as they're described for us here are a stark contrast to the generosity of spirit that mark Gaius. Gaius is the recipient of the letter.

And in verse 5 and 6 we discover the practical expressions of Christian love represented in Gaius's life. Now we discover that John had written to the church, but diatrophes were in verse 9, had decided that he didn't want to hear from the apostle John anything that he'd written to the church, any of the instruction that he had sent. And because he was disinterested in it, he sought to intercept it and in turn have nothing to do with it. Now, it's very, very important for us to notice at the outset that the problem that is posed by this individual is not ostensibly a theological problem. It is not a problem of error as it relates to the belief system of diatrophes.

At least, it is not presented to us in that way. There may be those underlying problems, but they're not addressed by John. The problem is not a problem of belief. It is a problem of behavior—behavior which admittedly calls in question the belief, but John is simply challenging the bad attitude and bad conduct of this person. The problem that is not theological, it is moral. Diatrophes has failed miserably when it comes to bowing beneath the mandate of the Bible—classically, in Romans chapter 12, where Paul says, "'Let no one among you think of himself more highly than he ought, but each of you should think with sober judgment according to the grace that God has given you.'"

It's a very countercultural notion. After twenty-five years of egotism in the Western world, twenty-five years of the little emperors of our children having positions of prominence and so on, twenty-five years of just ego, ego, ego, you then bring that influence that is represented in the culture and in the community, and you bring it into the framework of God's people, you have a lot of significant ego to deal with, because everything in the culture says, You should think of yourself as highly as you possibly can. And when you write your resume, you should make yourself sound as good as you possibly can. And when you tell people about your children, you should make them sound as if they're all going to be, you know, national merit scholars and great physicists in the best of our Ivy League universities, even if they're not.

And you should tell them that they probably have the strongest left arm and that they will be the next great baseball pitcher, and that only Phelps could possibly be better than them at swimming and so on. And then you read your Bible, and it says, You know, it'd be a really good idea if you didn't think of yourself more highly than you ought, but with sober judgment. You hear people describing how far they can hit a golf ball, telling their wives. At best, it's exaggeration.

At worst, it's lunacy. That they've actually become disengaged from their minds. "'Cause I've seen me hit.

And so have my friends." Diotrophy's got this wrong. He refused to view himself in the light of God. And John isn't rebuking him—and I say it to you again, purposefully—he's not rebuking him because his belief is warped but because his behavior is wrong. In other words, when he would come home of an evening, he would gladly have just said to his wife, Put on Frank Sinatra again.

I love that song! And he would just sit out and look out on his garden and sing to himself, I did it my way. And that was the problem. He did it his way. And so, John writes, I wrote something earlier along this line to the church, but Diotrophy's who loves being in charge denigrates my counsel. Now, just in case we get it wrong or we fail to see what he was doing, look at what we're told. There are six things that characterize him. Verse 9, he loves to be first, he will have nothing to do with us, he gossips maliciously, he refuses to welcome the brothers, he stops those who want to, and then he puts them out of the church.

What a nice guy! And so, look at what John says. So if I come, verse 10, I will call attention to what he is doing.

I don't think we need to see this as a threat. I think we need to see this simply as a statement of fact. John is not writing in this way because his nose has been put out of joint. John is not writing in this way because this is a personal matter between himself and Diotrophy's, were it to have been a personal matter between the two of them, John would not have written a public letter—a letter that was going to become public knowledge—to Gaius. For that would be to have violated the very principle of interpersonal relationships as given to us in the Bible—a principle that is so easily overturned to the disruption of many a local church. So instead of the individual who is offended going to the offender, the individual who is offended immediately decides to bring a third party into the equation. And the third party then brings another person into the equation, and before we know, there's a kind of exponential growth that is both-sided, and you have more than a storm in a teacup. No, John is actually dealing with something that is a matter of public concern, and it is Diotrophy's who has made it a public concern. It is a pastoral matter. It is being addressed by the one who has pastoral care and control. And that takes great courage.

It takes great skill. Now, we said that there are six aspects to what Diotrophy's is doing. Let me try and summarize them under three. What is he doing? Well, first of all, he's talking trash. He's talking trash. Now, I learned that when I was watching basketball, that he'd said after the interview, yeah, he was talking trash all the time. And I said, ooh, talking trash. Okay, right, good.

So then I ran this. I said, Diotrophy's is talking trash. That's what he's doing.

It fits perfectly. His words aren't only wicked. They're senseless. They are malicious in their intent, and they're bogus in their content.

Do you get that? The intention is malicious. The content is untrue. It's a bad combination. Malicious intention, untrue content.

It's trash. Leadership always brings challenges. There are always those who are unwilling to follow. Diotrophy's, whoever he was, was not the bishop. There's no indication that he was actually in an official position within this congregation. He may have been, but it would seem likely that John would have addressed that. Therefore, we must only assume that he was an aggressive member of the congregation who, by dint of the force of his personality, was able to sweep others before him.

He was able to establish an opinion, gather people around him, and then turn it into a movement. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life, and we'll hear more from Alistair tomorrow. Here at Truth for Life, we teach directly from the Bible each day because we know God works through his word to transform the lives of those who listen, both those who already believe and those he converts. And while all of this is a mystery that we don't fully understand, it is remarkable to see the tangible reality of the power of God's Spirit working through his word. I want to encourage you to take a minute and go to our website.

Go to truthforlife.org slash stories. There you can see how God is working through this ministry. We have posted pictures and stories from people around the world who've been strengthened and even converted by God through Truth for Life's teaching.

For example, you'll read about Shadrach. He's a young student from Monrovia, Liberia. He wrote and said, I want to express my deepest gratitude for your ministry. It's because of your dedication and commitment that I was convicted as a Christian.

Prior to that, I was lost and confused, but God brought you into my life to shepherd me toward understanding his word. Despite being in different parts of the world, your messages through email have made a profound impact on my spiritual journey. You can read more from Shadrach and many more of your fellow listeners who have sent us photos and videos to share with you when you visit truthforlife.org slash stories.

I think you'll find this website is tremendously encouraging. These changed lives are what your donation to Truth for Life makes possible. So while you're online, please make a generous donation to support this 100% listener funded ministry. When you do, we'll say thank you by inviting you to request a bundle of three books written by some gifted theologians. One of the authors is J.I. Packer, who left a legacy for all of us through his many writings. The three book bundle we're talking about today includes a classic work from Packer called What Did the Cross Achieve? It's an essay he wrote on the atoning power of the cross. It's considered one of the most significant works on this topic written in the 20th century. To go along with it, there are two more pocket-sized books that contain timeless writings from two other historical theologians, Scottish ministers Henry Schoogle and Thomas Chalmers, who titled this three book bundle Short Classics. Ask for the Short Classics bundle today when you donate through the Truth for Life mobile app or online at truthforlife.org slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine. Tomorrow we'll find out how one person's prideful behavior can disrupt an entire congregation and why it should not be ignored. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-06 06:41:51 / 2023-12-06 06:50:29 / 9

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