In ancient Greek times, the name “Diotrephes” was given to individuals of influence. It was not a name given to those of low estate. We note this because we wonder why Diotrephes rose to the position of power that was allowed by those over whom he dominated. We might conclude that those who are successful and influential in the world may not be the best leaders among a flock of slaves. Unless a leader truly lives the gospel of the incarnate Son of God, he cannot lead those who are living incarnationally (See Ph 2:5-8).
It is difficult for those who are leaders in the world and successful businessmen to live incarnationally among the disciples. The best advice to give to a leader of the world, or a successful businessman who is converted to the Lord, would be, “But what things were gain to me [in the world], those things I have counted loss for Christ” (Ph 3:7). If a successful person in the world cannot live this statement, then it would be very unwise for the slaves of Christ to designate him to be a leader among the disciples. Diotrephes took advantage of the innocence of the sheep, and in some way became dominant among the sheep because of his influence that he had before he became a Christian.
It is noteworthy that John did not judge the sheep for allowing Diotrephes to capture them through his autocratic behavior. John judged the cause of the problem, the one who was the opportunist who lorded over the innocent sheep. Embedded in John’s reply is his assurance of Gaius that individuals as Diotrephes will eventually take ownership for their own behavior in the final judgment because they seized an opportunity to steal the flock of God. Until then, James reminded all leaders with the following caution: “Let not many of you become teachers [leaders], knowing that we will receive the stricter judgment” (Js 3:1).
Because lordship leaders will be held accountable for lording over the flock, they must understand that it is evil to substitute their lordship in the place of the one Lord to whom we must all give our allegiance. So John exhorted Gaius, “Beloved, do not follow what is evil” (3 Jn 11).
The character and behavior of Diotrephes was evil. He sought to establish an autonomous group of disciples under his own lordship, and thus, steal the sheep from their true Lord. The Holy Spirit defined this behavior as evil. If we would make a general list from 3 John of what God considers evil among those who would lord over His sheep, it could be the following:
- It is evil to crave to be the leader of the flock for the purpose of either notoriety, lordship, or financial gain. (We must not confuse this with the desire to shepherd the flock about which Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:1. That about which Paul spoke was in reference to desiring ministry, not notoriety or authority.)
- It is evil to separate a group of disciples under the banner of one’s own personality and command.
- It is evil not to support those who are traveling about in order to preach the gospel to the lost.
- It is evil to disrupt the mission support of the church.
- It is evil to discourage any individual member from supporting the preaching of the gospel to the lost.
- It is evil to slanderously damage the reputation of an evangelist who seeks to preach the gospel to the lost, for in so slandering an evangelist, supporters would be reluctant to preach the gospel through him.
- It is evil for a church leader to hinder the mission purpose of the church.
- It is evil to threaten disfellowship from the disciples those with whom one would disagree in reference to receiving and supporting preachers of the gospel.
[Next in series: January 9]