Speaking Truth in Love

by Ken Idleman

3 John verses 9 & 10:
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.  So, if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us.  Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers.  He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. 

In the content of the very personal letter of 3 John there is a warning about a man in the early church named Diotrephes.  He is described as someone who “loves to be first.”  He is described as someone who is standoffish and critical.  John says he “will have nothing to do with us” and that he is “gossiping maliciously about us.”  In fact, John said, Diotrephes “refuses to welcome any of the brothers… He also stops those who want to [be welcoming] and puts them out of the church!” 

Wow.  This guy, Diotrephes, had some major spiritual blind spots!  He was self-serving and self-projecting.  He loved to be preeminent, the center of attention, occupying a place of power.  He was what we might call “a control freak.”  He wanted to call the shots.  He expected people to defer to him.  He was aloof.  He was an armchair general.  He used verbal skills to manipulate and intimidate others.  He did not want the church to grow.  He was not a welcoming presence to say the least.  He even actively opposed those in the church who wanted to be welcoming of others.  He excommunicated people who were hospitable!  That is the furthest thing from a Spirit-filled disciple of Jesus – and he was wreaking havoc in the life of the early church. 

Thankfully, church people with attitudes like Diotrephes are few and far between.  They truly are the exception, and certainly not the rule.  However, when they do surface, they need to be firmly, but lovingly, confronted.  In five decades of ministry in local churches and our Bible colleges, I learned that if I get into necessary, loving confrontation early, we’re already halfway to solving the problem.  Situations like this never “just go away.”  If we think a problem “can’t get any worse,” it can. 

As the apostle John promised, “If I come, I will call attention to what he is doing.”  Remember, John was formerly described by Jesus as a “son of thunder,” so I’m pretty sure he could handle it.  But, without an Apostolic presence in the contemporary church, this task of loving-and-firm confrontation falls on the elders/pastors.  It must be entered into with a spirit of humility, but it must be done. 

Pray with me… Father in heaven, we know that people seeing Christ in us and hearing about Christ from us is the hope of the world.  May we never have a down day or even a moment of weakness that would cause us to identify with the alien spirit of Diotrephes.  As Jesus was, may we be ‘full of grace and truth.’  In His Name, amen.

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