The apostle John wrote his third epistle to a faithful and beloved Christian named Gaius. In this epistle, John commended several other brethren for their faithful conduct. But the “apostle of love” had these stern words of condemnation for a man named Diotrephes:
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).
Most Biblical scholars believe that Diotrephes was an elder in the church where Gaius was. Regardless, he was obviously a man who insisted upon, and apparently usually got, his way in the church.
Sadly, the spirit of Diotrephes is alive and well in the world today—and in the church today. The spirit of Diotrephes manifests itself in several forms.
John said of Diotrephes, he “loveth to have the preeminence.” Diotrephes put Diotrephes first, and he wanted to make sure others did as well.
Paul wrote, “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1). Serving the Lord’s church as an elder is a good, noble work. But if Diotrephes was an elder, he certainly was not conducting himself as a Biblical elder. Peter instructed elders, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3). The picture of a shepherd feeding his flock bespeaks the tender care with which an elder should work among the church. The prohibition against “being lords over God’s heritage,” or “lording it over God’s heritage” (American Standard Version), forbids an elder from taking his Divinely-ordained authority to exalt himself to a position of preeminence.
The world incessantly manifests the selfish ambition for first place. Yet Scripture warns, “But if ye have bitter envying and strife [‘selfish ambition,’ English Standard Version] in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth” (James 3:14). Wherever this “selfish ambition,” a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:20), can be found, “there is confusion and every evil work” (James 3: 16). One might wonder why there is so much confusion, why there are so many evil works in the world—it may have something to do with the “me first” attitude so many choose to adopt.
Someone once asked George Bernard Shaw in which age he would most have enjoyed living. He responded, “The age of Napoleon.”
Shaw replied, “Because then there was only one man who thought he was Napoleon!”
How sad it is that there are numerous “Napoleons”—and numerous Diotrepheses—even in the Lord’s church! Everyone thinks he deserves to come first. However, in actuality none of us deserves to come first. In the church Christ is to have the preeminence—in all things (Colossians 1:18). We are to let Christ’s mind of humility and compassion be in us (Philippians 2:3-8); yet too many “Christians” take on Diotrephes’ and Satan’s mindset. And Diotrephes’ sin of loving the preeminence, his selfish ambition, ultimately led to his other sins.
Disregard for Apostolic Authority
John said Diotrephes “receiveth us not.” This was an apostle of Jesus Christ that Diotrephes refused to receive. An apostle was “one sent,” specially chosen by Jesus Christ (Luke 6:13). The apostles were given special places of authority in the kingdom (Matthew 19:28). The word they spoke and wrote was the inspired word of God (John 16:12-13; 1 Corinthians 2:9-16). To receive an apostle was to receive the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God the Father Himself (Matthew 10:40). But to reject an apostle was to reject Christ and the Father, and to bring upon himself a fate worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah (Mark 6:11; Luke 10:16). The authority of an apostle was not to be disregarded, yet Diotrephes did just that.
Likewise, there are those today who disregard apostolic authority. Through the apostles’ word, mankind has been given “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Christ’s teachings given through the apostles form the doctrinal foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20). But very religious people reject that apostolic authority, as did Diotrephes.
Religious denominations meet in synods, councils, and conventions to make binding doctrinal decisions. Such meetings have come to conclude that congregants can purchase the right to sin, that Mary and the supposed “successor to Peter” (the Roman Catholic “pope”) should be worshipped, and that innocent babies are born already guilty of sin—regardless of the fact that such teachings are diametrically opposed to what the apostles taught (Acts 8:20-22; 10:25-26; Matthew 19:14). Delegates to such gathering in recent years have openly disregard the apostles’ doctrine regarding homosexuality, allowing for marriage of people of the same sex (against Matthew 19:4-6) and the ordaining of practicing homosexuals as leaders in their churches (against 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 5:11-13).
Such decisions do not always take place in formal public meetings. Sometimes groups of people somehow decide they are going to ignore the apostles’ doctrine in a particular area. Or an individual decides that he is only going to pay attention to the “red words” in his Bibles, since that person believes the words of Christ are more important. But Paul rebuked, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37). The apostles wrote with “the mind of Christ” (2:16).
The Holy Spirit deems it essential that Christians “be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour” (2 Peter 3:2). However, like Diotrephes, some simply must have their way—even if it means disregarding the apostles’ authority. John might well lament of those doing so today, “They receiveth us not.”
 The New Testament uses the terms bishop and elder interchangeably (compare Titus 1:5, 7; Acts 20:17, 28 ASV).
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