Church Bullies

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.”
(3 John 9-10 NIV)

John continues his letter to Gaius, now warning him about a man in the church named Diotrephes.  This man had inserted himself into the church and had basically taken over, calling all the shots.  In today’s words, we would call Diotrephes a bully of the highest order.

So what was Diotrpehes’ issue?  Pride.

John said that Dioptrehes “loves to be first”.  This is actually one Greek compound word, which literally translated, means “friend” and “being first”.  Putting these two words together, it means “doing whatever it takes to be first”, or “to strive to be first”.  This word is a verb, and is an active word, not a passive one.  In other words, Diotrephes was not waiting for others to say good things about him – he was taking action to make sure he was in charge.

So what are John’s evidences against Diotrephes?

  • Diotrephes intercepted a letter that John had written to the church.  John implies that Diotrephes did not read the letter to the church, and may have, in fact, destroyed the letter.
  • Diotrephes would not welcome John into the church.  Diotrephes was a regular guy, and he was refusing to allow John, an apostle who walked with Jesus, to come to the church and speak to the congregation.
  • Diotrephes was also spreading rumors and gossip about John and others, undermining their character and credibility.
  • Diotrephes was not allowing the short-term missionaries who were passing through to join their church gatherings.
  • Diotrephes was blocking other believers in the church from practicing hospitality and helping out the short-term missionaries as they passed through (the very thing Gaius was doing well).
  • Diotrephes would kick people out of the church if he found out that they even suggested showing hospitality to the short-term missionaries as they passed through.

Does this sound familiar?  This story is as old as the struggle between good and evil.  Satan said he would be like God.  In the book of Esther, Haman said he wanted to destroy the Jews and take over.  The list goes on and on.  And now Diotrephes is essentially trying to take over the local church and put himself in charge, and not allow Jesus to be the head of the church.

Unfortunately, this is how many churches are run.  People become thought leaders within the church, and decide how the church will be run, rather than looking to Christ for direction and guidance.  In many cases, these people are not willing to serve in official church leadership positions, but instead, try to take over in the court of congregational opinion.  If  a new pastor comes in and suggests changes, they lead the opposition and start vicious rumors about the pastor.  If not stopped, the church bully turns the congregation against the pastor, and the pastor is forced to leave.

John was neither deterred nor intimidated by Diotrephes.  In fact, John said he would confront Diotrephes when he came to town, calling out his pride and ungodly behavior toward others.

So what are the lessons to be learned here?

  • First, to look at our own lives, and make sure we are not a bully in our family, church, etc.
  • Second, to recognize and stand up to bullies, especially in the church.
  • Third, always make Christ head of our lives, and head of the church.

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”  (Ephesians 4:15 NIV)