The Bible has a lot to say about love. It teaches us that love is patient and kind. We should bear with one another in love. In fact, we're to love our enemies. So why was the Apostle John so quick to condemn a man who was causing trouble, a man named Diotrephes?
We'll hear the answer today on Truth for Life. Alistair Begg is teaching from 3 John. We're focusing on verses 9 and 10.
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. Diotrephes 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. And so John writes, I wrote something earlier along this line to the church, but Diotrephes, 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. Relax. We're not going to work our way through them one at a time. But let's just notice them. 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 Diotrephes.
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 Diotrephes 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, as some of us have discovered along the way. Now, we said that there are six aspects to what Diotrephes 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 phrase, that is, not how to do it, but I already knew how to do it.
I just didn't know what it was called. But I heard that. Well, 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 learned this. I said, Diotrephes 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. Diotrephes, 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. I think it's also important, when we say all of that, to recognize that anyone who exercises leadership runs foul of the possibility of being charged with all of the above, whether it is a legitimate or an illegitimate charge. Those of you who know that, whatever you are—if you're a schoolteacher, whatever it is—well, why are we doing it this way?
Why is we doing it that way? If you're in business or you're in medicine or whatever you do, you're on the leader in the building or construction world. There's always some bright spark there who thinks that if he was in your position, you know, he knows exactly how it should be done, and frankly, he's resentful of your leadership. So, for example, Nehemiah—when Nehemiah went up and did in Jerusalem what no one else had been able to do, some of his friends who were his opponents sent him a letter.
It was an unsealed letter—very clever, because an unsealed letter could be read by all the people who were bringing it along the road, so he could get the word out as widely as possible. And the accusation was that the only reason Nehemiah was doing what he was doing was because he was actually planning on making himself the king of Judah, and he was about to go all around Judah and say, Nehemiah is the king of Judah. What was he actually doing?
He was obedient to God, he was leading the people, he didn't take any nonsense out of them, he told them to get off their duffs because they hadn't been doing anything for, like, a hundred years, and he assigned their responsibilities, and he led! And as a result of leading, he was on the receiving end of all kinds of mitigating circumstances and accusations. That's part of leadership. And he sent them this reply. Nothing like what you say is happening, you are just making it up out of your head.
That's a clear conscience. Well then, why doesn't Diotrephes send such a letter back? Because what is happening is happening. And Diotrephes knows it's happening, and so does the church community. His malicious words, his behavior is such that he is unprepared even to give up space to those who are coming with the good news around the congregation. Now, don't let's misunderstand this. Don't think for a moment that I'm trying to set this up as an aggressive member of the congregation, because it isn't possible to be an aggressive leader of the congregation with an official position.
Of course it perfectly is! It's what makes it so challenging. That's why plurality is so vital in leadership. That's why no one individual can be ultimately in control of what happens amongst God's people. That's why it has to be team, that's why it has to be shared. And many a pastor is unprepared to share, unprepared to allow anyone else into their pulpit, unprepared to let his junior colleagues do certain things.
Why? Often, I think, because many pastors—many of us as pastors—are some of the most insecure people you ever met in your entire life. And therefore, they're afraid ever to step away, ever to go out, ever to be gone, because who knows what'll happen if I'm not there to control everything? So I'm not suggesting for a moment that this is a lay problem, per se, and that it couldn't ever bleed into the church. The Lord knows that there are a lot of popes around—a lot of popes—and not just in Rome.
They're poping up everywhere, all over the place. Pope here, pope there, pope everything. And we all have the potential that the pope Alistair is an ugly, ugly creature.
No, don't think for a moment that I read 3 John and consider it as a wonderful book for everybody else I've ever met in my life. It first of all drives a stake into my heart. Talking trash. Secondly, blocking the brethren. Blocking the brethren. That's the kind of… I got a basketball thing going now. No, no, that's football.
It's more like football, isn't it? Blocking. Basketball is picking.
Upset a pick. Whatever that is. I don't know what that is. But I think it's similar to a block. Is it? Ah, you don't even know yourselves, I can tell.
So it's like, Yeah! If Gaius and Diotrephes were in the same congregation, as presumably they were, and if Gaius was so kind to these people who were coming around and letting them stay in his house, if he was as generous as is described here in the first eight verses, then it is no surprise that Diotrephes would absolutely have found it infuriating to have him do what he had done. But after all, in verse 10 of 2 John, hadn't John given the instruction to the congregation that if anyone comes to you, don't take him into your house or welcome him? Isn't that what he said? If anybody comes to you, don't take him into your house or welcome him.
Yes, he did say that. But what's the missing phrase? If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not welcome him. The problem there, or the issue there, was an issue of protection. The issue in 3 John is an issue of pride. Diotrephes is not applying the tenth verse of the second letter.
He's making his own application out of his own stubborn will. So he blocks them. And thirdly, he casts out the caring.
Look at the final sentence of verse 10. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. You see, this is a bad character. This is not just somebody who, within the framework of the local church, goes home and badmouths the leadership to his wife, who sours the minds of his children against legitimate leadership, as a result of his own irresponsible, disgruntled spirit.
This isn't just an individual who does that. This Diotrephes character takes it way beyond his kitchen table, takes it out into the community, invades, interferes in the lives of those who are seeking to express the genuine hospitality and kindness that is represented in the activities of Gaius, and he says to them, I don't want you giving a place in your home to these people who are coming in here bringing this teaching. This is our church. I don't want you listening to John. I know he's an apostle, but I don't think it's time for us to listen to him anymore. We are now in our own place. This is our own time. And frankly, I just want you to stop that. And being unable to stop it, he then says, Since I've been unable to prevent you from doing it, then I suggest that you just go and find yourself another congregation. Who do you think you are, Diotrephes?
Who do you think you are? It's a reminder, isn't it, that we ought to just be too quick to say, Oh, I wish I lived in the first century, but it was also wonderful. If only we could go back to the early church, you know, to where the early church, that was, oh, it was great then.
Oh, it was great! Sure it was—the first flush of enthusiasm and excitement, the outpouring of the Spirit of God, the evangelism that was taking place, the establishing of God's people. And within a relatively short period of time, Paul has to write letters to the Corinthians to tell people to cut out their incest, to stop clowning around before they come to the communion table, and so on.
It was absolute manifold chaos. Because the heart of man is desperately wicked, first century or twenty-first century. If man was progressing the way liberal philosophy suggests, by this point in history we really ought to have it down, don't you think? Both without the church and within the church. We'd be able to say, you know, two thousand years ago they used to have this diatrophies thing.
You know, egomaniacs, the big mouths, trying to control everything. Ah, we're glad that that's all in the past. I don't know why we're even reading 3 John. It just doesn't relate at all to all that stuff—all that bad stuff they used to have. Now, it's timeless, isn't it?
You see, it isn't uncommon. It isn't a pretty picture. And what an individual like diatrophies has forgotten is the fact that God has exalted above all things his name and his Word, and that he will not share his glory with anybody else. That we need to take the top sail down, as it were, in order to go in the entryway into heaven. If you think in terms of sailing into heaven, like one of those bridges over A1A or at A1A, between A1A and the intercoastal down in the peninsula of Florida, and that experience of having to wait there while the drawbridge comes up so that the large sails and masts may be able to go through, there will be no drawbridge coming up at the entryway to heaven to let our large heads go through.
No. We must first drop the top sail. Down with the top sail. Down with the top sail. Then we go through. Diatrophies.
He had his top sail way up. Well, we're done, aren't we? But listen to John Stott's summary of his actions. Diatrophies slandered John, cold-shouldered the missionaries, excommunicated the loyal believers, because he loved himself and he wanted to have the preeminence. You will find, if you've encountered this, that the Diatrophies factor usually is able to flourish only where the congregation is very small.
Once it gets beyond a certain level, even the dilution factor will take care of it in part. But in small congregations, large egos plus bad attitudes, left unchecked, almost inevitably reap havoc. And the final observation is this. When such an attitude emerges in a local church and the response of the leadership of the church is diffident—D-I-F-F-I-D-E-N-T— is less than forceful, is less than it ought to be. When such an attitude emerges and the local church leadership is diffident, when reproof and rebuke is called for, it isn't Christian to refrain. It's cowardice. It's cowardice. And many a congregation has been absolutely stymied, not because the individuals there do not recognize the absolute wrongness of the circumstances represented in the syndrome but because the leaders themselves are either in cahoots with the individual or married into the family of the individual or are tied up with the individual in some way, that they've lost any position of being able to be objective and to do what needs to be done. And failure to act when action is called for is not an expression of Christian love.
It's an expression of cowardice. You see, in all leadership, we need strength and gentleness. There has to be leading, and there has to be loving.
And I said some time ago when I had the privilege of being with the men in our church, they were asking me questions about life back then—back then. I wasn't born before the Second World War, but anyway, back then, one of the observations that I made—and I didn't do it in any self-promotional way—but I said, Along the road, grace teaches you in leadership that your aggressive desire as a young man to drive your congregation has to be set aside. You have to learn to lead them.
Driving people comes by dint of our personality, comes by dint of our influence or whatever else it is. Leading people comes by way of our character, comes by way of grace. Now, it would be so much better if we could go on to Demetrius and not have to finish on this solemn note.
But on this solemn note, we finish. You're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg with a message titled, The Condemnation of Diotrophes.
Alistair returns in just a minute to close today's program. I hope you are benefiting from these challenging lessons from 2nd and 3rd John. If you missed any of this study, you can catch up online. All of Alistair's teaching can be streamed or downloaded for free using the Truth for Life mobile app or on our website at truthforlife.org. The complete series is also available for purchase on a USB at our cost of $5.
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Schoogle was a professor of divinity at King's College in Aberdeen, Scotland in the 1600s. He died at the young age of 28, but his classic work titled The Life of God in the Soul of Man later influenced people like Charles Wesley and George Whitfield, along with countless other believers through the centuries. In this classic work, which was originally written as a letter to a friend, Schoogle differentiates between religious practices and genuine spirit-filled faith. The Life of God in the Soul of Man is part of a bundle of three classics you can request today when you make a donation. We're calling these short classics. The two other books are written by Scotsman Thomas Chalmers and well-known theologian J.I.
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Shipping is free in the United States. You'll find the Bible and other meaningful gift ideas at truthforlife.org slash gifts. Now here's Alistair to close in prayer. O God our Father, look upon us in your mercy, we pray. Forgive us the spirit of diatrophes, which we so readily find engendered within us when things don't go the way we desire. Help us, Lord, to be more like Demetrius, whom we'll next find, and less like diatrophes. Help us to be more like Jesus. And thank you that the root is paved with grace, that the springboard for every kind word rather than unkind word, every encouragement rather than discouragement, is all flavored in grace. And so we pray that your grace may fill our hearts, fuel our thinking, frame our relationships with one another, and follow us into the days of this coming week. Now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one who believes, now and forevermore. Amen.
I'm Bob Lapine. In diatrophes we have an example of what to avoid, but is avoiding bad behavior enough? Tomorrow we'll hear about a Christian role model we can emulate. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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