“I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say … He himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.” (III John 9-10)
Talk about church problems. Here we find John condemning Diotrephes, the leader of the church he was addressing, because he would not receive and support the first-century traveling Christian missionaries (:7-8). He even put those who DID want to help them, out of the church! What could possibly have been his motivation for such actions?
We find the answer in :9: John said that Diotrephes is one “who loves to be first among them.” Here we find the motivation for all the ungodly actions which John listed in this letter:
— rejecting the words of John & the apostles (:9)
— unjustly accusing John & co. (:10)
— not receiving the traveling brethren (:10)
— “disciplining” those who receive them (:10)
It is not hard to discern the motivation behind Diotrephes’ actions. John said he “loves to be first among them.” This explains why he did what he did:
— Diotrephes was proud, not wanting to submit to the teaching of the Apostles. This spirit of rebellion against God’s leadership has been around since the time of Moses (Korah, Numbers 16, etc.) and is still evidenced in many churches today. This comes from a root pride, “wanting to be first” and not being willing to submit to the authority of others.
— His false accusations against the apostles (:10) arose out of that same spirit of pride & jealousy.
— It may well be that Diotrephes didn’t receive the traveling missionaries & evangelists for the same reason: pride. He didn’t want his people to think that there were other, spiritual people who deserved their respect and support, besides himself. He wanted all their focus and admiration to be on himself, not on the missionaries.
— And when some of his people went ahead and supported the traveling evangelists in opposition to his will, he put them out of the church — they had committed the “unpardonable sin” of crossing his will; a transgression which no proud man will endure.
Really, all of the actions of Diotrephes that John mentioned here can be explained by the motive he sets forth in :9: he loves to be first. That is the “root problem” behind all of the other issues.
This is instructive to us in several ways. Besides merely avoiding the sins of Diotrephes, we can also learn something about one’s actions, and their corresponding motives. Merely attempting to treat the surface issues in a person’s life is not sufficient. The root cause must be addressed. John could have tried to reason with Diotrephes about the scriptural mandate to support missionaries, but the lack of a doctrine of missions was not really his root problem. It was pride which drove his actions.
In the same way, there are people in our churches today who exhibit a number of symptoms of sin. But merely addressing the surface issues will not really fix the situation. Because the root problem is often something different than the surface issue. It’s not just the “doctrine” or “the ministry” or the “procedural issue” that the person is supposedly concerned about, which is the real problem; it’s something deeper: a root sin of bitterness, or lack of faith, or, as in Diotrephes’ case, pride, which needs to be addressed.