E. Endangered world evangelism:
The behavior of Diotrephes was evil because his behavior would lead to the loss of many souls. On the other hand, Gaius was doing well in supporting those who came his way and left to evangelize other areas. Gaius was living the gospel. Diotrephes was discouraging Gaius from his gospel living. Diotrephes’ behavior, therefore, was contrary to the gospel.
If evangelists were not supported, then many people would never have an opportunity to hear and obey the gospel. Those who live the gospel know this. Diotrephes’ behavior, however, was disrupting the evangelistic function of the body of Christ because he was threatening Gaius and others who supported the preaching of the gospel. In contrast to living the gospel, he was doing evil by obstructing the evangelistic function of the body of Christ.
We must look beyond Diotrephes when interpreting the “evil” that was encouraged by this one individual. The problem went far beyond both Gaius and Diotrephes. If Diotrephes’ example and influence were continued into the next generation of leaders after him, then the preaching of the gospel to a great extent would terminate before the close of the first century. It was for this reason, therefore, that the Holy Spirit deemed it critical that this very short letter be included in the cannon of Scriptures for the church for centuries to come.
The church must be warned about allowing any leader to capture the church to the detriment of evangelizing the world. If Diotrephes’ behavior of church leadership were passed on to those who followed him, then his cancer of opposition to the gospel would have been catastrophic. Thousands of souls would have been lost.
But in order to satisfy the immediate frustrations of Gaius, John advised Gaius to receive Demetrius (3 Jn 12). Gaius must put himself in the fellowship of those who have a good reputation (3 Jn 12). We thus assume that Demetrius had the reputation of living the gospel that must be preached throughout the world. Demetrius may have been a messenger sent by John with John’s letter in hand. Whether he lived in close proximity to Gaius, or was one of John’s fellow evangelists, John encouraged Gaius to receive and fellowship him as a source of good.
Because Diotrephes’ influence could possibly spread throughout the church at the time, the Christ-sent apostle John determined that he should personally show up at the door of Diotrephes’ house. If John had in mind his responsibility to exercise the duty of a Christ-sent apostle, then the ring of Diotrephes’ doorbell would not be pleasant.
By this time in the history of the church, Diotrephes had surely heard that disciples dropped dead before Christ-sent apostles in the early beginnings of the church (At 5:1-11). Some were delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that they might be taught gospel behavior (1 Co 5:4,5). Some were struck blind by a Christ-sent apostle (At 13:11). If John were coming with the same rod of discipline that Paul was prepared to use with some arrogant leaders in Corinth (1 Co 4:21), then Diotrephes was in trouble. John’s coming to Diotrephes would be as Paul’s coming to some arrogant leaders in Corinth:
“For I fear, that perhaps when I come, I will not find you as I wish, and that I will be found by you to be as you do not wish … lest when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I will mourn over many who have already sinned, and have not repented …” (2 Co 12:20,21).
We must mention the preceding because we wonder why John decided not to write a lengthy letter about the problem. “I had many things to write to you, but I will not with ink and pen write them to you” (3 Jn 13). John did not write a lengthy list of instructions because he possibly felt that this situation was so serious that it needed the direct intervention of God through a Christ-sent apostle. Therefore, John wrote, “I hope to see you shortly” (3 Jn 14).
When we are faced with problems among the disciples in the church, it is best to first determine if the problems directly affect the underlying principles of the gospel and our responsibility to preach the gospel to the world. There will always be personality problems among disciples. Such was the case with Euodia and Syntyche in Philippi (Ph 4:2,3). But when problems affect the God-defined organic purpose of the body of Christ to preach the gospel to the world, then it is time to take action. This was the case where Gaius lived, for the evangelistic function of the body was under threat. The mission function of the body to preach the gospel to the world was being curtailed.
This particular case involved a local dysfunction of the mission outreach of the church. But the problem could have gone further, and subsequently, affected the immediate area in which the participants lived. It would be worth mentioning in this context the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas when Paul determined that it was time to continue their mission into Asia (At 15:36).
There was a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas in reference to giving John Mark a second chance, for he had turned back on the first journey (At 13:13). When it came time to go on the second journey, Paul did not believe that Mark was mature enough to go into the difficult areas to which he planned to go. Paul and Barnabas divided over the level of Mark’s spiritual maturity, but both evangelists did not allow their disagreement to detour them from doing that which they must do, that is, preach the gospel to the world. Paul simply took Silas, and Barnabas took Mark, and all four men carried on in their mission to preach the gospel to the world (At 15:40,41).
Nothing should ever become an obstacle to the preaching of the gospel to the lost. If we allow dysfunctional problems in the local church to hinder the preaching of the gospel to the world, then we know that we are wrong. We are wrong because we are allowing personal squabbles to lead to the loss of souls.
It is not possible for most individuals as Gaius to quit their jobs and go into all the world as evangelists. If Gaius gave up his means of support, then there would be no support to give in order to send others into all the world. God’s system of world evangelism involves senders and those sent. Paul explained, “And how will they preach unless they are sent?” (Rm 10:15).
The point is that if a sender is discouraged in his responsibility to send, then there is a problem. God’s system of world evangelist breaks down. If another individual covets the money of the willing sender, then evil has entered the heart of the covetous person. This may have been the problem with Diotrephes. He may have simply coveted Gaius’ support money for himself. Such is evil.
We must never forget that the eternal soul of a person is far more precious than any personal disagreements we may have with one another, or any love of money (See 1 Tm 6:12). Diotrephes was standing in the way of the preaching of the gospel to the world. For this reason, the Christ-sent apostle John was on his way to deal with him personally in order to either bring him to repentance, or move him out of the way. In either case, the gospel mission of the organic body of Christ had to go on.
[End of series.]