Summary: This is the very reason that this 3rd letter of John was written. There was a divisive leader in the church who was causing serious problems. In writing, John covers the traits of the divisive leader and he tells us how to handle him.
A divisive leader is one of the most serious problems to ever confront a church. When a church has within its ranks a divisive leader, the very life and ministry of the church are threatened. A divisive leader always carries a church through one of its most traumatic experiences. He usually gathers others around him into a clique of opposition, and when he goes this far, he becomes much more of a threat to the life of the church.
This is the very reason that this 3rd letter of John was written. There was a divisive leader in the church who was causing serious problems. In writing, John covers the traits of the divisive leader and he tells us how to handle him.
READ v. 9-11. We are introduced to this divisive leader, Diotrephes. Who was he? All we know is what is said here. This is the only time he is mentioned in Scripture. But we are given enough about him to know his ways. We can tell he’s a prominent leader in the church. He had enough authority to reject John’s letter. And he knew that John was not only an Apostle, but that he was one of the three closest Apostles to Christ.
Diotrephes also had enough authority to stop traveling ministers from holding meetings in the church. He had enough authority to force people out of the church. All this points to his being a minister or one of the highest lay officials in the church such as a deacon.
He had an enormous opportunity. Holding such a high call in the church he could have been a dynamic example of what a believer should be—an example of love, care, ministry, outreach, evangelism, and of purity of life. But the legacy he has left behind is a far cry from being a testimony. His legacy is division. Just think, after his death, the major thing remembered about him is that he was the person who caused division in the church. We see six things said about him worth noting:
1. Diotrephes loved recognition. Verse 9 says he loved to be first.
- He wanted people recognizing him as the most important leader in the church.
- He wanted people coming to him for advice and counsel.
- He wanted people seeking his opinion first before they went to others.
- He wanted all new ideas and ministries and programs to be brought to him first.
- He wanted to have the major say-so in all decisions.
- He wanted the right to approve or disapprove who did what in the church.
This is going to sound sad, and I won’t mention names because that doesn’t matter, but when I became pastor at SEBC, I had this EXACT problem with some. And on and on this list could go.
This same scenario exists in many churches today. A.T. Robertson wrote a paper on Diotrephes years ago. He wrote the paper to open churches’ eyes that this problem might exist in other churches. It was recorded by the editor of the writing that 25 deacons stopped the paper to show their resentment against being personally attacked in the paper.
This is why I am so blessed with our deacons. Many in our church have used the wrong terminology when referring to our deacons. SEBC does not have a deacon BOARD. A deacon board is a group of deacons who rule and run the church. We have a deacon BODY—a group of men who were ordained to be servant leaders. There’s a big difference. They don’t rule over me and I don’t rule over them. Instead, we respect one another for the position that God has entrusted to each one of us. That is how it should be.
Greek authorities tell us that the phrase “who loves to be first” in Greek is only found in this one place in the Bible. The meaning is simply “one who loves to be first—one who will rule or ruin.” But there are no rulers or lords in God’s church. Pastors, deacons, church leaders are not to be lords over God’s heritage.
2. Diotrephes rejected ministerial leaders. John had written some previous letter to the church. Diotrephes rejected the Apostle John—one who actually walked with Jesus. He wouldn’t even allow John’s letter to be read before the church. This is the very reason John has addressed this letter to Gaius. Diotrephes had destroyed John’s former letter to the church so this time John sends the letter to Gaius, who is another leader in the church.
When a person wants his own way in the church, authority matters very little. In fact, this is usually the way we can tell whether or not a person is wanting to be recognized: if he is rejecting the appointed authority in the church.