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Modern Manifestations of Diotrephes Part 2

By Lee Moses

I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church (3 John 9-10).

With these words, the apostle John warned Gaius, the well-beloved walker in truth, of Diotrephes, a self-serving scourge of the church. Although Diotrephes has long passed from this world, his mindset and works unfortunately have not. Many “Diotrepheses” continue to manifest themselves in the world and even in the church. As noted in last month’s FCGN, Diotrephes’ selfish ambition and disregard for apostolic authority remain easily enough found. And there are several other modern manifestations of Diotrephes to observe and guard against.

Evil Speaking

Among the denounced deeds of Diotrephes, John mentioned “prating against us with malicious words.” As Diotrephes spoke this way, he would “indulge in utterance that [made] no sense”[1]—he was making baseless accusations. Evil speaking is a means to an end for some—to help get their way, they speak evil of others. Those who think they belong in first place will often try to get there by putting others down a place or two.

Others may not be so conniving in their motives, yet their evil speaking of others can be just as destructive. Perhaps they are simply bitter. Perhaps others have hurt them. If so, the New Testament provides recourse for personal offenses; and the first step is “go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone (Matthew 18:15, emphasis LM). To rebuke a brother or sister privately for a personal offense is not harsh, but is rather the loving response (compare with Leviticus 19:17; Luke 17:3-4). There is an apropos poem by an unknown author that addresses this:

TELL HIM GENTLY
Has your brother sinned against you?
Is the fault one he has known?
Jesus tells you to go to him.
Tell him gently - all alone!
 
It may be he will not hear you,
And repentance may postpone;
Yet, before you talk to others,
Tell him gently - all alone!
 
Telling others is forbidden,
Till in private you have shown
To the man his sin against you;
Tell him gently - all alone!
 
How much hurt results from gossip!
By this habit strife is shown;
Rather, since you love your brother,
Tell him gently - all alone!

Negative speaking does not always equate to evil speaking. Rebuke is necessary. The ideal goal of rebuke is that one might “gain his brother.”  And there comes a time when public rebuke is necessary (compare with Matthew 18:16-18). False teachers must be “marked” and “noted,” in order that otherwise unsuspecting brethren may be forewarned (Romans 16:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:14). As John warned against Diotrephes, he certainly spoke negatively of him, but this does not mean that he spoke evilly of him. John said things that had to be said.

However, sometimes Christians say things against their brethren that plainly do not need to be said. Such talk serves no constructive purpose. It hurts the brethren of whom they speak, and unnecessarily offends others. Far too many people have been driven away from the Lord’s church by hearing Christians speaking evilly of one another. And such talk simply does not characterize a “new creature in Christ,” but rather “the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (Ephesians 4:22). Therefore,

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.  And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you (verses 29-32).

Refusal to Support Worthy Works

What John had already mentioned about Diotrephes should have been sufficient to describe a lousy excuse for a Christian. But what John had mentioned to this point was not enough for Diotrephes: “And not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren.”

These “brethren” to whom John refers were engaged in a worthy work, and were worthy themselves. They went forth and labored for the greatest cause—“for his name’s sake” (3 John 7). They refused to receive support from non-Christians (verse 7). By welcoming and providing for the needs of such brethren, other Christians could become “fellowhelpers to the truth” (verse 8)—thus, those who failed to do so were not and could not be considered fellowhelpers to the truth (compare with Matthew 12:30). But if one would “bring them forward on their journey[2] after a godly sort, [he would] do well” (3 John 6). There are far too many worthy brethren engaged in worthy works today, who clearly are not being “brought forward on their journey after a godly sort.”

Perhaps it would be helpful at this point to distinguish between a worthy work and an unworthy work. While worthy works should be supported, unworthy works must not. Jesus would not have helped the Pharisees with their proselytizing, nor would He have encouraged others to do so; as He denounced, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matthew 23:15). The scribes and Pharisees hindered the salvation of others, and brought woe upon themselves for engaging in this unworthy work. There are works that endanger souls of others, and there are works to which one cannot lend aid and remain blameless (Ephesians 5:11; 2 John 10-11).

A worthy work will not violate the Scriptural mission and organization of the church. God has given the church a mission, and no church may delegate its mission to another entity. Churches may certainly cooperate with each other. Cooperation between churches is not only optional; at times it is necessary to accomplish the monumental task given the Lord’s body. However, the church must do its own work, leaving the home and businesses to accomplish their own work.

A worthy work teaches sound, “uncorrupt” doctrine, and only utilizes men characterized by “sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you” (Titus 2:7-8). If such sound men and doctrine characterize a work, anyone who would attempt to speak evil of it should be ashamed. However, what should one do if the opposite characterizes a work?  What Paul wrote to Titus implies that unsound speech should be condemned, and that those who oppose it have nothing about which to be ashamed. If a work is bringing “strange and uncertain sounds” to the brotherhood, how can anyone describe such as work as “worthy”?

The Lord’s church is to continue the Lord’s work of “seeking and saving the lost” and the apostles’ work of “going into all the world and preaching the Gospel to every creature” (Luke 19:10; Mark 16:15). Accompanied by “doing good unto all men” (Galatians 6:10) and laboring to “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28-29), this is the work of the church—and it is most worthy. Elders are to expedite the work of the church (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2; 1 Corinthians 10:23). Yet Diotrephes, apparently an elder of the Lord’s church, stopped a good work of the Lord from going forward.

Diotrephes refused to help “the brethren” because he wanted to be first. Many churches today refuse to assist worthy works because of the “me first” syndrome as well. While the church is to have love as its primary motive (1 Corinthians 16:14; compare with 13:1-3), many churches and brethren are governed by stinginess and materialism. Many worthy works do not have the financial support they need. There are “missionaries” who are forced to give up their mission. Yet churches who claim they cannot help are building themselves multi-million dollar facilities, all too often with much of those facilities devoted to recreational activities—not remotely a work of the church. Other elderships stubbornly sit on their treasuries, hording up tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars, refusing to allow out an occasional few hundred dollars that could provide vital assistance to a worthy work. If many of today’s elders would have received Paul’s vision of the Macedonian man saying, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us” (Acts 16:9), they would have responded, “Sorry—we have our own problems to take care of.” This is a most unfortunate modern manifestation of Diotrephes.

Unfriendliness and Inhospitality

Those who have devoted their lives to sowing the Gospel seed in strange and distant lands should be received as royalty. While Diotrephes’ failure to “receive the brethren” demonstrates a failure to support worthy missionaries, it also demonstrates a severe lack of Christian hospitality. The “brethren” of whom John spoke were not only John’s brethren, they were not only Gaius’ brethren—they were Diotrephes’ brethren. 

Christians are “members one of another” and they are brethren of one another. When Christians can say, “We be brethren,” it follows that they will treat each other in a manner becoming brethren (Genesis 13:8; compare with Romans 12:10; 1 John 4:20).  When members of a church have a visitor in attendance from another congregation, those members should respond to that visitor just as they would a long-lost brother or sister they had never met. They would want to get to know that person well, and kindle a long-lasting relationship. However, some at least outwardly reflect the attitude, “What are you doing at my church?”  That may not be their thinking. Some Christians are more extroverted than others are. Regardless, inhospitality is inexcusable, and Christians should seek to develop hospitality.

Common friendliness and Christian hospitality should characterize our demeanor and our lives. Of course, an elder who is not wholly “given to hospitality” is not a Scripturally qualified elder at all, and should step down or be removed immediately (1 Timothy 3:2). But if our love is to be “without dissimulation,” or “without hypocrisy” (American Standard Version), we must all be “given to hospitality” (Romans 12:9, 13).

God commands that we show hospitality, particularly to those who may not be able to return the favor (Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9; Luke 14:12-14). On the Judgment Day, some will hear as their condemnation, “I was a stranger, and ye took me not in. . . . Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me” (Matthew 25:43, 45). To fail herein is to manifest the condemned spirit of Diotrephes.

Misuse of Authority

Diotrephes went beyond refusing to receive the “brethren” himself. John said Diotrephes “forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.” The Holy Spirit had bestowed Diotrephes’ eldership with authority to oversee the feeding of the flock, as the Holy Spirit does all Scriptural elderships (Acts 20:28). However, Diotrephes went beyond his Divinely-given authority, and used that which he had been given with inappropriate motivations.  No man has the power to sever faithful branches from the vine of Christ (John 15:5-10), and certainly no Christian should ever desire to do so—yet Diotrephes purported to do just that. There are numerous ways authority has likewise been abused in modern times.

Sadly, there have been church leaders who have used their authority to embezzle church funds. Others have taken advantage of unsuspecting young people sexually. Others, given a simple position as a Bible class teacher, assume authority as a “discipling leader” to lead their students after them in a cultic fashion. Other times, one elder will make decisions for the congregation, when it is the task of the collective eldership to make those decisions.

Other misuses of authority can be found under the umbrella of anti-ism. As Franklin Camp said, “Anti-ism exalts matters of expediency to the realm of matters of faith.” Some congregations choose not to support orphans’ homes. I suppose that is their prerogative, as long as they continue to practice “pure religion and undefiled” to the best of their abilities (James 1:27). However, when they decide to “forbid them that would, and cast them out of the church,” we have problems. A church has the right to give benevolent assistance to orphans and other needy children, regardless of the nature of the home in which the children live (Galatians 6:10). 

Some congregations prefer to send their financial support directly to each missionary they support, as opposed to sending it to another church. Again, they have the prerogative to do so, even though there are some potential dangers in sending funds directly to missionaries (compare with 2 Corinthians 8:18-21). But when they forbid congregations from sending funds to other churches, they prohibit the church from supporting works as it supported the apostle Paul. Paul received financial support from a plurality of “churches” (2 Corinthians 11:8).  Yet writing of the same period of time, he told the Philippians, “[N]o church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only” (Philippians 4:15). The terms Paul uses for “giving” and “receiving” were common accounting terms for “debit” and “credit.”[3] Thus, the Philippian church was receiving funds for Paul’s work just as it was distributing funds to the work. The evident source from which the Philippian church received these funds was the remainder of the “churches” spoken of in Second Corinthians 11:8.

Regardless of how it is done, it is shameful when brethren, or any who purports to be religious, misuses authority.

CONCLUSION

Diotrephes’ attitude and action threatened significant harm to the church in the first century. There remain many modern manifestations of Diotrephes, as there are still many who “love the preeminence.” Even if we do not necessarily have the self-seeking mindset of Diotrephes, we can still manifest various “Diotrephisms” that harm the church.  Perhaps the motivation is different from that of Diotrephes, but the fruit is the same. We must guard ourselves against modern manifestations of Diotrephes, whether such can be found in ourselves or in others.

 


[1] Phluareoo, in Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 1060.

[2] “To assist someone in making a journey, send on one’s way with food, money, by arranging for companions, means of travel, etc.” Propempoo, Bauer, et al., p. 873.

[3] Dosis, Bauer, et al., p. 259.

 

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