He was a church leader described in III John. He “loves to be first,” according to John. John had written a previous letter to the same church that received the letter in III John, apparently requesting an audience with the church. But this letter was intercepted by Diotrephes, who refused to welcome John. What’s more, Diotrephes was spreading malicious gossip about Johhn, and “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.” A prince of a fellow, that Diotrephes!
Are you sure you don’t know him? The truth is, we all probably know a Diotrephes, who lets leadership go to his head, is intent on getting the upper hand, or forces his leadership on a church through sheer will or false modesty or position in the community. You must agree with him or you won’t be welcomed. If you’re in the church and don’t toe Diotrephes’ line, you’ll be forced out. If all else fails, malicious gossip will be used to cleanse the church of opponents of Diotrephes.
In direct contradiction to the philosophy of a leader like Diotrephes, Paul provides the framework for church leadership in Romans 12:10-13, 15-16 (NIV): “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality…Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”
Diotrephes would have a difficult time in this kind of structure. He’d move on, looking for an unwelcoming church already tinkering with the the idea of exclusion and fostering an environment of disunity. It is in this kind of church that Mark Twain’s quip rings true: “The reason most people don’t go to church is because they’ve already been.”