Summary: If Christ is the head of the church, no bullying can ever be justified to bring about the result a leader desires. We must permit the Spirit of God to rule the church, and not mere mortals.
“I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.
“Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.”
Dead for almost two millennia, Diotrephes nevertheless lives! He holds membership within many congregations, wreaking havoc within the vineyard of the Lord, destroying the work of God and hindering the advance of the divine Kingdom. Who is Diotrephes? He (and just as often “she”) is the “church boss” who controls the life of the church. Though he would deny the charge, the church boss has displaced the Head of the Body. He is a usurper, a pretender to the throne of the assembly, who has shoved the Master to an inferior position so that he can reign.
I have met Diotrephes, just as you have, if you have been among the churches of our Lord for any length of time. Diotrephes is easily identified because he has embraced reprehensible attitudes and performed detestable deeds that violate church polity. Above all else, he viewed membership in the church as one would treat membership in a civic club. Thus, the church of the Living God is reduced to a personal, and petty, fiefdom.
Before we actually examine the implications of the text, it will prove helpful for us to clarify one textual matter. Many people assume that Gaius is a member of a particular congregation and that Diotrephes is a member of the same congregation. They assume that Gaius is a church member, and that Diotrephes holds some church office, perhaps as a tyrannical deacon or elder. However, the church mentioned in our text does not appear to be the same church that is mentioned in verse six. It seems likely that John, the Elder, belongs to, or perhaps pastors, the church mentioned in verse six, which is distinct from the congregations to which either Diotrephes or Gaius belong.
While it is not apparent in my translation, John used the third person pronoun in this ninth verse. For instance, one translation reads, “I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not acknowledge us.” It is unlikely that the churches John referred to in verses six and nine were the same church. Had they been the same congregation, the writer would not have used the third person pronoun to refer to the other members of the congregation. If Gaius was a member of the same church, it would have been more natural to use a second person pronoun (“Diotrephes, who loves to be first among you”). Thus, it seems reasonable to conclude that Gaius belongs to, or provides oversight for, one local congregation while Diotrephes is in another congregation—a church known to Gaius but to which he does not belong.
What appears obvious, and is the focus of our study at this time, is that Diotrephes is a church bully. He controls the church, regulating who is welcome and who is unwelcome. He is less concerned with doctrinal integrity than he is with personal control. John warns against such attitudes and his warning merits closer examination if we will honour God. Join me, then, is learning about the “church boss,” so that none of us fall into the trap of either attempting to exert personal control over the congregation of the Lord, and so that we will resist every attempt to manipulate the people of God.
DIAGNOSIS OF A CHURCH BOSS — “Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.” Would you not imagine that one of the Twelve would merit respect among the churches? Would you not imagine that when an Apostle appointed by the Master spoke, church leaders would heed what he said? Apparently that was not the case for Diotrephes, the church boss.
While there is no continuing office of Apostle, among the early churches we readily imagine the Apostles who were appointed by the Master were respected because of that appointment. Those who were Apostles had not only known the Master in the days of His flesh, but they had been personally selected by Him to be with Him, and also that they might preach and exercise authority over demons [see MARK 3:13-15].
This raises a sufficiently important point that I am compelled to point out some truths that may be neglected in this day. To be an Apostle, one must have been appointed to the office by the Master [MATTHEW 10:1-14; 1 TIMOTHY 2:7]. Though from earliest days some appointed themselves to be apostles, the Risen Master identifies them as false and instructs the churches to test all who make such claims [REVELATION 2:2]. Those who were true Apostles were not only appointed by the Master Himself, but they understood that they were servants to His people [see 2 PETER 1:1]. In the pages of the New Testament, those identified as having been appointed by Christ to serve His people (teachers, shepherds, evangelists, prophets, and especially apostles [see EPHESIANS 4:9 ff.]) always exhibit a servant’s heart. Those few whom we meet in Scripture that exalt themselves, lording it over the people of God, either have never received divine appointment, or they have departed the position to which they were assigned.