************ Sermon on 3 John 1:9,12 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 2, 2019
3 John 1:9-14
3 John 1:9,12
"Diotrephes or Demetrius?"
Installation of Office Bearers
Two men are held before us: Diotrephes and Demetrius. Elders and deacons, as you serve in church office are you like Diotrephes or are you like Demetrius?
A What do we know about Diotrephes? We know he is a leader in the church because he is able to put people out of the church. We aren't sure what office he held. In our text, John says he "loves to be first." In the Greek this means an ongoing action on his part. A continual action. A constant attitude. A habit. He is driven by personal ambition.
So what does he love? He loves power, position, honor, glory, prominence, preeminence. He loves to promote himself. Diotrephes wants to be in charge. He loves to be first. He had the final say about everything in the church, and his decisions were determined by one thing: "Is this good for Diotrephes?" The heading in one of my commentaries puts it this way: "Diotrephes the Dictator."
Diotrephes loves -- that is, he has a strong affection, a strong desire -- to be first. The phrase "to be first" is used one other time in the Bible, in Colossians 1:18, and there it talks about the preeminence of Christ Jesus. So Diotrephes is a man who was competing with Christ. He was so busy seeking power and holding on to power that he actually shoved Christ to the side. Christ was replaced by Diotrephes. He was not at all like John the Baptist who said, "[Jesus] must become greater; I must become less" (Jn 3:30). How horrible for the other leaders in that church. How horrible for the congregation under his care. How horrible for faithful ministers of the gospel who end up serving with someone like that.
Diotrephes is not humble. He is not selfless. He is not loving. He is not compassionate. He certainly doesn't have the mind of Christ.
Diotrephes loves to be first. Diotrephes the Dictator.
B We come across these people time and again throughout the history of God's people. One of the first is Abimelech, the son of Gideon. Abimelech wanted to be king, he wanted to be first. He wanted this badly; that was his goal in life. He sought power and prominence and preeminence. He persuaded his mother's side of the family to support him, murdered his seventy brothers, and got himself crowned as king (Judges 9). His sad pathetic life was ended when a woman dropped a millstone on his head.
Next in line is Absalom. He was so power hungry that he tried to murder his own father to take the throne (2 Samuel 15). You know how he died.
Don't forget Haman. Haman was drunk on power and prestige. He demanded everybody obey him and bow before him and pay him homage. When Mordecai refused to bow before anyone but God, Haman plotted the death not only of Mordecai but of all the Jewish people (Esther 3). Haman was hung on the gallows he prepared for Mordecai.
Remember what Nebuchadnezzar did? He exalted himself rather than God. He was walking on the roof of the royal palace and said,
(Dan 4:30) Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?The words were still on his lips when God took his royal authority from him and for seven years he lived with the wild animals and ate grass like a cow.
In the New Testament there is a similar story about Herod. Herod delivered a speech. His audience shouted, "This is the voice of a god, not of a man" (Acts 12:22). Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
Throughout the gospels Jesus identifies a group of people who love power, prominence, preeminence. They love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues. Jesus has nothing good to say about them. He calls them whitewashed tombs, hypocrites, snakes, vipers. Jesus is talking about the Pharisees (cf Mt 23:1ff).
There has always been these kinds of people. Even among the people of God. Even the disciples were not exempt. The disciples often argued over which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Mt 18:1ff). Jesus reminded them that their model for ministry was not the Roman officials who "lord it over" the people (Lk 22:25), but the Savior Himself who came as a humble servant (Phil 2:1ff); they were to be like the Son of Man who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28).
C Diotrephes stood in a long line of men and women who love to be first. A line that continues to this day.
In some churches the pastor is a dictator forgetting that the word minister means "servant." Over the years I have seen different models for ministry. One model is that the "successful minister" is more like a Madison Avenue tycoon than a submissive servant. In his hand is a cell phone, not a towel; in his heart is selfish ambition, not a love for lost souls and for God’s sheep. Diotrephes the Dictator.
Many churches have members who insist on "being boss" and having their own way. A longtime member of the church thinks he or she has "seniority rights" because they helped start the church. In one of the churches I served someone said, "I'm in charge" -- not Christ, not the elders, but "I'm in charge." In another church someone was literally yelling and screaming because they wanted to be in charge. Diotrephes the Dictator.
I have served as clerk eight times in four different Classis. I mention this because of what I see and hear as clerk. Young men graduate from seminary. They are declared candidates for the ministry. They are called by a church. They are examined by Classis. Their hearts and minds are ready and eager to serve. They pour their hearts and lives into the church they are serving. They run into a Diotrephes who feels threatened by their love and zeal and devotion for the Lord. This Diotrephes criticizes them and resists them and fights them and spreads gossip and lies about them. The conflict is not doctrinal; it is not theological; it is not ecclesiastical; it is spiritual. Diotrephes has a spiritual problem of wanting to be first, of loving to be first. So these young pastors call me looking for advice and help and prayer. They can't eat, they can't sleep, they can't do ministry, they can't function as husbands and fathers. They are reduced to tears. All because of Diotrephes. This happens all the time. It is a constant and common battle. Especially in small churches. Diotrephes the Dictator.
You know what I say to the churches with a Diotrephes? You must take power away from Diotrephes. If you don't take the power away, then you are going to lose the pastor you have, and the next one, and the one after that. Faithful ministers of the gospel being lost because someone in the church loves to be first. As clerk of Classis I have learned that very rarely is a pastor let go because of poor preaching or because of an unrighteous lifestyle. Almost always he is let go because somebody loves to be first.
D Diotrephes loves to be first. Now, this comes to expression in a particular way. This is how John puts it:
(3 Jn 1:9) I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.Diotrephes loves to be first so he "will have nothing to do with us." Diotrophes wants nothing to do with John. He won't welcome John. He won't accept John's letters -- does he send them back, tear them up, or put them in the round file? Realize he is rejecting the apostolic word and apostolic authority. John wrote to the church -- we don't have that letter anymore -- but Diotrephes did not like what John said. Knowing John, we can guess he talked about love and hospitality and the marks of a true Christian. All the stuff that would create problems for a tyrant like Diotrephes.
Now consider what is said in the next verse, verse 10, about Diotrephes:
(3 Jn 1:10) He refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.Hospitality is one of the marks of a Christian (1 Pet 4:9) and one of the requirements for being in church office (Titus 1:8). But Diotrephes feels threatened by visitors, traveling preachers, and John himself. These visitors take the spotlight off of Diotrephes. Attention is being given to them rather than to Diotrephes. When these visitors are around, Diotrephes is no longer first. So Diotrephes wanted nothing to do with them. And, he went so far as to forbid anyone in the church welcoming these brothers.
Diotrephes slandered John, was inhospitable to visitors and preachers of the Gospel, and excommunicated the loyal and faithful in the church. Why? Because he wanted to stand alone at the top of the heap.
So the Bible warns us about power-hungry people in the church. If you are in church office you cannot be like Diotrephes. If you are in church office you don't need to be first. Verse 11: "Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good." If you are in church office you don't imitate the attitude of Diotrephes; instead, you imitate the attitude of the Lord Jesus Christ -- namely, you are there to serve.
We all have models that we follow. Little children follow or imitate their parents. Teens follow a movie star, rock star, sport star, youth pastor. As we get older we realize we can choose to follow those who do good or those who do evil.
A Let's move from Diotrephes to Demetrius. Demetrius was one of those traveling preachers that Diotrephes saw as a threat to his authority and position. Our Bible reading has this to say about him:
(3 Jn 1:12) Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone -- and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.This is a requirement for those in church office: they must have a good reputation (1 Tim 3:7), people must speak well of them.
According to Old Testament law, do you know how many witnesses are needed to affirm something as true? Two or three (Deut 17:6; 19:15). Notice, there are three witnesses as to the character of Demetrius. The first witness: everyone. How many people do you know who get this kind of rating? The second witness: the truth. The truth of the Bible. The truth of his doctrine. The truth he professes and preaches and lives. The third witness: we also. Meaning John, and the church leaders serving with John.
When you measure a man you ask three question. First, what does everybody say about him? Second, how does his doctrine and life match up with Scripture? Third, what do Christian leaders say about him? Everyone spoke well of Demetrius. Outsiders. Church members. Fellow pastors. John. His doctrine and life.
B "Well spoken of by everyone -- and even by the truth." "We also spoke well of him." What do you think they said about Demetrius?
-What a nice guy.
-He makes a lot of money.
-You should see the house he lives in.
-He comes from a good family.
-He is a fun guy to be with.
-He always wins the camel race.
That's not the sort of thing John has in mind.
"Well spoken of by everyone -- and even by the truth." "We also spoke well of him." What did they say about Demetrius?
-His soul is getting along well (vs 2).
-He is faithful to the truth and walks in the truth (vs 3).
-He is loving (vs 6).
-He ministers in the Name of Jesus (vs 7).
-He does what is good (vs 11).
Such a man needs to be embraced and not chased away. Such a man needs to be welcomed with open arms. Such a man is more than worthy of leadership in the church.
Congregation, do you want to be under the leadership of Diotrephes or of Demetrius? Who is better for your soul? Who is better for the church? Who is better for the glory of God's name?
I can say without embarrassment or shame that in this church we look for leaders like Demetrius and avoid those like Diotrephes. We look for leaders who imitate the Christ who came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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