Beware of Diotrephes
There are some characters in scripture with whom it is a privilege to likened. To be called a Timothy, or a Mary or a Martha could be flattering. What you would not want to be called, is a Diotrephes. I first heard someone called a Diotrephes when I was a teenager bursting with enthusiasm and frustrated because my church at the time seemed generally lifeless (at least to a critical teenager). I cannot be sure exactly who the person I was speaking with was referring, but I know the kind of person she was describing.
Diotrephes gets just one brief mention in the New Testament, in 3 John verses 9 and 10. Since he gets this mention, and his character and conduct also get described in detail, I presume that the Holy Spirit wants us to know about him, understand him, and avoid becoming like him.
His name is interesting as it means ‘nurtured by Zeus’. We can conclude that he was a gentile Christian. Zeus, the god of thunder, was the king of the gods of Mount Olympus, ruling with a rod of iron. I find myself wondering whether Diotrephes had admired, or even worshipped Zeus before becoming a Christian. His own behaviour is rather Zeus like. It certainly seems to me that he might well have brought something from his pre-conversion culture into his Christian life. He likes to be seen to be important, and loves that important status, while exercising his leadership role in an autocratic – even dictatorial – manner.
We note first that this is contrast to the character and behaviour of Jesus. He is the king who is gentle and comes riding on a donkey. This is the one who entered the world in a stable, and who sought no glory for himself. This is the one who humbled himself, divesting himself of the majestic splendour that was his by right. This is the Master who washes feet.
We also note that this was contrary to the teaching of both Jesus and the apostles. Jesus was clear that among his disciples there was no room for anyone who might seek to lord it over another. On one occasion he spoke about the seating at a feast and the folly of claiming superiority. Paul emphasises humility in Philippians 2:1-4. In Romans 12:3 Paul encourages the Christians not to think of themselves more highly than they ought. The very principle of fellowship (Greek: Koinonia) is based upon essential equality.
Diotrephes’ longing to have the pre-eminence is not his only weakness. He has also made himself the gatekeeper for the church of which he is a part. He controls who or what may gain admittance. The apostle John finds himself excluded. In this respect he is not prepared to have his authority challenged, so anyone who does not fall in line with his decisions, he expels from the church. No room for dissent. He is an extreme example of what we usually call a control freak.
To these two bad characteristics is added a third. He spreads around malicious nonsense. No doubt to reinforce his own position and opinions and defend himself from any criticism he employs slander and gossip. Here then is a man who has an inflated opinion of his own worth, is dictatorial, controlling, and instead of speaking words of love, tells lies to deliberately hurt the innocent. No wonder that John feels that it is important to call attention to his misdemeanours and urges his readers not to imitate what is evil but what is good.
I was once taught that in any social group there will be one or some who will take the lead. When I asked how these could be identified, I was told look for the ones who others listen to. These comments were made to me regarding small rural churches where it is often claimed there are no leaders. We are currently living in days when authority is regularly challenged, and assertiveness is often praised. Trying to provide leadership in churches is not a science but an art. Diotrephes stands in scripture as a stark example about how not to do it. In character and conduct he is a contrast to the character and conduct of our wonderful Saviour, whose model we are called to follow. Unfortunately, that might also lead to some kind of crucifixion.
It seems to me that the spirit of this age is rebellion against authority. For those of us who are Christians, dissent should always be tempered with love, and those in leadership must not stifle the opinions of others. In God’s economy, all are valued. If we can get our relationships right, seeking to prefer one another, considering others better than ourselves, we will be a light in the darkness. Beware Diotrephes, for he can emerge from anywhere within our churches.
From the Diary
Give thanks to God for an excellent time at the Rural Likewise event in North Nibley, Gloucestershire last Tuesday. Thirty people registered mostly from small rural churches. I heard much that was encouraging and even exciting.
This Saturday, 24th September I shall be taking part in the Congregational Federation’s Mission and Society Committee in Nottingham. This is an important committee so please pray.
Much of my time is currently being spent preparing for various upcoming events. On Thursday and Friday, 29th and 30th September I shall be taking part in the Enabling Group for Churches Together in England. On the Thursday evening I have the privilege to talk about the Congregational Federation and chose to share this with my friend and colleague from the United Reformed Church as both traditions share a common history marked by courage and conviction and which has led to the blessing of many. Please pray that what is said and how it is said may glorify Jesus and bless all.
On Saturday 1st October (where has this year gone!) I will be leading an online seminar on the theme of the powerful influence of image. Tragically, the failure of many churches to recognise the importance of image means that the message they long to share with others is drowned out by the many unspoken messages we give out daily. There is still time to book your place for this event if you have not done so. It is free. It starts at 9.00 and runs for 45 minutes, with a lot to think about. All that is needed is an internet connection with sound. This is really an important topic so in addition to praying for it, please encourage others as well as registering yourself at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7965285920768011533
Sunday 2nd October starts a very busy week which includes, among other activities, a trustees meeting for Sunrise Ministries, the charity title for Rural Mission Solutions. In the midst of this busy period I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther who suggested that at times like this one should spend more time in prayer.
Thank you for your prayers on my behalf. It means so much to me