Diotrephes – the spirit that requires preeminence. Part 1

Some time ago while meeting with pastors of various congregations in our city, we were discussing the biblical viewpoint of one church, ecclesia, in a city or region. We see this throughout the New Testament where churches are addressed as “the church in Ephesus, the church in Corinth, the church in Smyrna, the churches of Galatia.” Then you also see Paul address the church in “the house of Aquilla and Priscilla, Nympha, Archippus, Stephanas” and others; you also see the church meeting from house to house and in the temple. As we were discussing these things I pointed out that we could view ourselves as one church in our city with many shepherds functioning as “under shepherds” under One Shepherd. While we were one ecclesia in the city, we met in many different locations and congregations. We could see this as the church, or, more clearly, the congregation that meets in so-and-so’s house, and we could see ourselves, in the biblical sense, as the elders of the church in our city. I made the comment that I was looking forward to the day when we could clearly see ourselves as under shepherds, serving under One Shepherd, over one church in our city. I was little surprised when one of the other pastors said with sort of a snide inflection, “Well Lloyd, are you applying for the job?” While I was a little shocked, I commented that I was speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ as The Shepherd. I had hoped that was clear, but apparently I was not clear enough, and the others got a laugh at his expense.

I think this view is a problem in the church – too many leaders do not see themselves as under shepherds under The Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Of all the major faith and belief systems on the earth, only Christianity still has its founder available to lead His followers with His leadership. We actually have access through the Holy Spirit to the living Lord Jesus Christ who continues His earthly ministry through His ministers while seated at the right hand of God. Yet, when I begin to speak about these things, in practical non-theoretical terms, I often encounter disbelief and even unbelief amongst leaders in the church. It is not a theory that Jesus is alive and available to shepherd His church through His under shepherds.

This is not a new problem in the church. Even before the end of the apostolic age the apostle John, the Lord’s friend, was dealing with this issue. In John’s third epistle, the apostle John, was dealing with the spirit working in a church leader that desired the preeminence over anyone or anything – including the apostles, the prophets, and the Holy Spirit.

I have to admit that for most of my life my time in the book of Third John has centered on the second verse, “Beloved I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers.” However, as I began to investigate this spirit that exercises preeminence in the church, I realized the main theme of this epistle is dealing with this spirit of Diotrephes.

3 John 1 “The Elder, To the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth:
2 Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.
3 For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth.
4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
5 Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers,
6 who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well,
7 because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles.
8 We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth.
9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.
10 Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.
11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.
12 Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true.
13 I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink;
14 but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face. Peace to you. Our friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.”

Can you imagine a church leader that would refuse the apostle John access to the believers? This is the man who sat next to the Lord at the last supper and laid his head on His breast to hear the heartbeat of the Lord. He was the disciple who the Lord loved as a friend, the only one of the twelve to be at the crucifixion to receive the appointment to watch over Mary, the mother of Jesus. This was a duty which included the responsibilities of the first born being passed on to him, and he accepted. At the time this epistle was written, John may have been the last of the twelve apostles of the Lamb to be alive on the earth, and this church leader would not receive him. There are two dynamics working here, the arrogance of Diotrephes and the humility of John.

The name Diotrephes means nourished by Jupiter or blessed by Jupiter, which is the Roman or Latin equivalent of the Greek god Zeus. In only two verses directly dealing with Diotrephes, the apostle John points out at least seven major descriptions of this leader;

1) he loves to be first or preeminent (vs9);
2) he rejects the apostolic and their teams (vs9);
3) he maliciously spreads gossip and false accusations (vs10)
4) he withholds hospitality from other believers with whom he disagrees (vs10)
5) he requires others to follow his poor example and forbids them to follow others (vs10)
6) he excommunicates anyone who disagrees or crosses him (vs10).
7) he sets a bad example and influence for the church (vs11).

This spirit is led to high places as sure as goats prefer pinnacles to view from. We recently have the example of a major European leader rise to power stating that he would reign as a “Jupiterian” president – “a remote, dignified figure, like the Roman god of gods” [Reuters 1]. Similarly, in the United Sates we were subjected to a president who accepted his presidential party nomination on a stage copy of the Pergamon altar to Zeus, now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. In both cases these politicians were presented as god-like, but quickly proved to be ungodly in their governance. I mention this as a note as my purpose is to spotlight this spirit functioning in the church.

As I am interested in identifying this spirit working in the church, I am also searching for hints in Scripture regarding how to overcome this spirit’s influence and, ultimately, defeat it in our present-day churches. With such a short epistle it is logical that we would look deeper into what the apostle John has written in order to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal strategy for dealing with this type of situation. In other epistles John wrote, and especially in the book of Revelation, John often placed information in his writings which need to be extrapolated to understand additional information hidden “between the lines.” Scripture says that it is, “the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to search it out” (Proverbs 25:2). As I began to investigate Third John for information on how to deal with this spirit, I had this search in mind.

First, the individual Diotrephes is called “nourished by or blessed by Jupiter.” As mentioned, this is the Latin equivalent of the Greek god Zeus. John also mentioned Zeus indirectly in his epistle to the church in Pergamos when he wrote the words of Jesus:

Revelation 2:12 “And to the angel in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has that sharp two – edged sword:
13 “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny my faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”

Jesus was addressing the church in Pergamos where there was a temple to the god Zeus. He did not call Zeus by either his Latin or Greek name but identified him as Satan. This should give us concern that John in this epistle is addressing someone “blessed by Satan” in the church. Certainly, anything blessed by Satan should give us concern, especially when it is functioning in the church of Jesus Christ. It is no wonder that this spirit is blessed by Satan, because it hinders the believers from receiving from the apostles, prophets and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus cautioned that there would be those who were not of His kingdom planted into His kingdom.

Matt 13:36 “Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”
37 He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.
38 The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one.
39 The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels.
40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age.
41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness,
42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

It is interesting that here, in the parable of the kingdom, Jesus said there are sons of the wicked one sown in amongst His own people, as He says, and the Angels will gather out of His kingdom “all things that offend and those who practice lawlessness.” There are tares growing alongside of the wheat in His kingdom.

John also addresses Gaius. This possibly is the Gaius who was a bishop of Ephesus. The name Gaius means “to rejoice.” I think when dealing with this spirit in the church it is important that we remain positive and remain in faith.

Isaiah 61:1, 3b “The spirit of the Lord is upon me … The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” John was a relational apostle often addressing the church and those whom he related to in familial and kind terms. Certainly, mentioning Gaius, “rejoice,” I believe would be a reminder not to allow difficult situations to turn our thoughts away from faith and encouragement. Perhaps this is a first key when dealing with this spirit in the church. Stay encouraged; continue to praise the Lord.

Unless noted, all scripture from New King James Version.

[1] Reuters World News JULY 3, 2017 “In Sun King’s palace, Macron threatens to ram through parliament reform” Ingrid Melander, Michel Rose

Lloyd C. Phillips PhD, Director
The Fellow Laborers’ International Network (FLInt Net)
P.O. Box 113 Missoula, MT 59806
impact@flintnet.org
http://www.flintnet.org