Diagnosing the Spiritual Diotrephes – Part 2

Yesterday we considered that dangerous individual to the church, Diotrephes (3 John 9-10). Today, we will look at six additional ways to recognize him.

5. He is blind and self-deceived

Of Diotrephes, it was said, “[He] does not accept what we say” (3 John 9). Tragically, he is blind to the point that he opposes godly counsel in his life. His deception mirrors that of Uzziah’s in 2 Chronicles 26. “But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God, for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. Then Azariah the priest entered after him and with him eighty priests of the Lord, valiant men” (2 Chron 26:16-17). Infected with Diotrephes syndrome, Uzziah opposes a multitude of godly counselors; 80 to be exact. That is catastrophic blindness and self-deception.

Pride blinds you to thinking, “These godly people in my life, who are sacrificing comfort to confront me, all of them are wrong, and I, in my sin, I am righteous.” That is Diotrephes’ reasoning. It’s tragic.

One of my mentors once told me that godly believers and fellow church leaders in our lives are like mirrors around us. The guy who spurns a multitude of correction is like the guy standing in a room, with five mirrors around him at every angle, saying that each mirror is lying. In light of the massive amount of Scripture exhorting us to be teachable to counsel (e.g. Prov. 10:8, 10:17, 12:15, 15:10, 15:12, 29:1), it behooves us to have a posture of listening.

Here is the danger of Diotrephes and his unteachable spirit: Diotrephes never thinks he is Diotrephes. He never thinks that he is deceived. This is why Diotrephes must be evaluated, not be himself and his own evaluation, but by godly men around him. He needs God-recognized, men and biblically appointed men and leaders in his life.

6. He is arrogantly unsuspicious of himself

Diotrephes usually professes sound doctrine. He typically can articulate key tenets of the faith. Particularly, Diotrephes will tell you, “Yes, I believe in the depravity of humanity. We are all sinners. We all have remaining sin and no one is glorified until we see the Lord.” Fine and good. However, the danger is that Diotrephes fails to apply the doctrine of depravity to himself. He tragically neglects to make that key implicational step: since sin is still present in the regenerate, and sin can be self-deceiving, we must be suspicious of ourselves at times. That’s especially true when godly believers bring concerns to us about our character.

But Diotrephes is arrogantly unsuspicious of himself. A multitude of godly men have come alongside of him, yet he dismisses them. His high-mindedness deceives him into a self-confidence which is unsubstantiated in light of one’s unglorified state.

Diotrephes will likely find a church that will place him into a leadership position in a short time. Weak leadership teams who are easily manipulated and mesmerized by his go-getter spirit will prematurely lay hands on him. What’s worse, Diotrephes will not pause, apply a biblical hamartiology, and say to himself, “Hmm, so, I am not Jesus, nor am I glorified. Scripture says men are to be tested. Maybe I need more time, notwithstanding this leadership team’s quick promotion of me.”

7. He must be called out publicly

John writes, “For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does…” (3 John 10). He also mentioned him by name in the previous verse. It’s because Diotrephes must be called out publicly. This is the case for the same reason that a wooden support beam in your house that is cracking has to be pointed out and dealt with.

Diotrephes can do great damage to people in the flock, especially those who are newer believers and more easily influenced by error.

Identifying Diotrephes is a painful, but necessary step out of love for Christ, his reputation, and the protection of his blood-bought flock. Moved by honor for his Lord, the apostle Paul had to do this (e.g. 1 Tim. 1:20).

8. He slanders biblically qualified & affirmed leaders who confront his sin

Notice Diotrephes’ sad tactic: “I will call attention to his deeds, which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words” (3 John 10). He slandered the apostle John, and other leaders coming alongside him. Sadly, he has to go this way if he won’t repent. Why? He understands that God calls every believer to be shepherded by a local body of biblically appointed elders. When those leaders shepherd him to choose a better way than pride and to thus fall on the forgiving, transforming arms of Christ, and he refuses, he only has one direction to go. For Diotrephes to continue in his infatuation with importance, he has to continue on his tragic quest. He has to invalidate people who are confronting him. If he can do that, then he has provided affirmation to continue in his sin. He also must find a way to invalidate the teaching of those who are shepherding him. Stewing in bitterness, he might twist words of a teacher in the past, as that provides him continual affirmation in his lust for recognition.

He is a dangerous man. It’s about himself. If men confront him, it’s not him, it’s them. Which is to say, “I am the standard; not even God’s standard can question me.”

9. He will have accompanying sins

John adds, “… and not satisfied with this…” (3 John 10). Diotrephes was not satisfied with the sins mentioned so far. His uncrucified pride gave birth to additional sins. This will always be the case. Because he is sowing to the flesh, he will have other fallout sins. He cannot keep his sin isolated. Why? When we do not crucify the flesh in all ways, it will find another weak spot.

Imagine all the water underground in a system of ten geysers close together. Assume it was possible to plug up all of those geysers. It will not be enough to prevent the water from bursting forth. That superheated water will find another weak spot in the ground to break through since the source has not been cut off. So it is with any uncrucified flesh in our lives. A tolerated craving of recognition and significance will grow to rot other areas of our thinking and living. The Christian life cannot be compartmentalized.

10. He sees other sound leaders & believers as obstacles to his prominence

Finally, John writes, “…he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church” (3 John 10). The apostle had sound, like-minded brothers come to the church where Diotrephes was attempting to rise up. But, he threw them out somehow. He even prevented others from welcoming them.

Here is a terrible situation: Diotrephes has actually connived his way into a position of influence in the church. If he is tossing people out, he has some sort of prominence, in form. He likely manipulated or intimidated people to get there. But sound believers and leaders likely came to the church and discerned Diotrephes’ lust for recognition. Likely they confronted him. So, Diotrephes sees them as a threat. Biblically qualified and valid leaders will be roadblocks to gratifying his craving for recognition. Diotrephes knows it. Qualified leaders are obstacles to his glory. Thus, Diotrephes will look for churches that are close to being biblically sound, but where there is an absence of biblically qualified leaders, so as to reduce roadblocks to his quest for recognition.

Sadly, Diotrephes is no rare creature. By the grace of God, he must turn his gaze from his glory to that of the Lord Jesus Christ. His heart must be tenderized by the majestic and humble Son of God, who stepped out of heaven, clothed himself in humanity, and laid his life down for the sheep. He whose yoke is easy and burden is light must become the center of Diotrephes’ affection, in place of his passion for prominence.

One final consideration. In view of our Lord’s command to remove the log from our own eye, we do well to avoid only thinking of others’ sins. If we are not Jesus or not in heaven, our Lord would have Christians, first, weaponize it against our own sin. Christ is our humble, gentle, exalted Lord, who paid a colossal price for his church. Those who profess his name owe it to him to humble themselves at his feet, and make personal sanctification a priority.

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