Yesterday, we were introduced to a church leader named Diotrephes, a seemingly despicable sort of person mentioned in III John. But the letter in III John was written to another church leader named Gaius, one of John’s dear friends “whom I love in the truth” and “faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you”–someone very different from Diotrephes.
Surely Diotrephes and Gaius butted heads, no doubt one reason John exhorted Gaius to not “imitate what is evil but what is good.” The distance between the leadership of Gaius and that of Diotrephes was measured by John along the lines of good and evil. How can two such leaders coexist without disunity occurring in the church?
In Acts 6:1-7, we read of a division between two factions in the church established in Jerusalem. The apostles called the brothers and sisters of the church together to discuss the problem. Through discussion, the problem was solved. Leaders don’t always have to solve a problem themselves. They can lead a congregation to a solution by organizing a discussion with members of the congregation. If members of the congregation have a say in what the solution should be, the more likely it is that the solution will work.
For 2,000 years or so, despite admonishments throughout scripture that unity should be a hallmark of Christianity, the number of divisions we have suffered are legion. Some have been caused by differences of opinion. Some have been caused by differences in leadership styles. Some have been caused by differences in leadership substance. Divisions are sometimes caused when two leaders or two factions stop talking to each other. The Jerusalem church kept talking until the problem was solved.
We should keep lines of communication open, speak to each other in love, and treat each other with respect. If we do, our unity will bring to fruition one of Jesus’s most important prayers: “I pray also for those who will believe in me…that all of them may be one, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…that they may be one as we are one…so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)
When there is disunity in the church, all the brothers and sisters should meet and read Jesus’s prayer in John 17–several times–in unison–privately. Then keep talking–so that the world will believe in Jesus and believe that God sent Jesus to fill us with the spirit of love.