The Spirit of Diotrephes

“I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 10 For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church. 11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” – 3 John 9-11

 In 3 John we are introduced to a man about whom we know relatively little, but from whom we can learn a great deal about leadership. What we see in these verses is an account of what John observed about Diotrephes. This implies that we must also evaluate our leaders based on observable actions. Unfortunately, the lessons we observe in Diotrephes are all of the “what not to do” variety. You see, Diotrephes was apparently a godly church leader who got side-tracked from the purpose of leading for God’s glory. He began to use his position for his own interests. He made himself a boss rather than a leader.

A quick study of Diotrephes in verses 9-11 reveals several characteristics of a self-absorbed leader-turned-boss that every believer should guard against in his own heart and be watchful for in those around him. What was it that John condemned so strongly in this church leader? Here are several characteristics of a Diotrephes style leader.

  • A desire to be first. John said that Diotrephes loved to be first. He wanted to be in control. He wanted to be seen as the leader. He was greedy for the power and recognition that came with a position of leadership. He prioritized his opinions, desires, preferences, agenda and plans above anything else.
  • A refusal to submit to any other authority. John said that he wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes refused to listen. This is a letter from an Apostle, so we can assume this is instruction of some kind and that it was sanctioned by God. In his zeal to lead this church in the way he thought was right, Diotrephes arrived at the point of no longer caring what anyone else thought about His decisions. He refused to submit to John and the Word of God that John was delivering. This is typical of a rogue leader. They refuse to submit to or acknowledge any authority other than their own.
  • An aggressive attitude toward other leaders. Diotrephes’ refusal to submit to authority eventually led him to make unjust accusations against John. Once a leader has gone rogue, he sees other godly leaders as a threat. Anyone that he believes wants to take his authority away becomes a target for his attacks. However, his sinful actions are generally justified as being necessary for the protection of the work that he is responsible for.
  • An appetite for control. Diotrephes was so consumed with having everything his way, that he kicked people out of the church for disagreeing with him. Not every leader has the ability to kick people out of their organization, but this heart still manifests itself. A rogue leader is so committed to his own plans and preferences that he will manipulate and control in order to get what he wants. This type of leader has confused a privileged role of leadership with a position of power and seeks to control every aspect of the people and organization that he leads.

For these characteristics, John came down strongly on Diotrephes. He said he would call him out when he arrived and he recorded his deeds in scripture. Did John do this because he was angry and hurt? Certainly not! His reason is recorded in verses 11 in an exhortation to the beloved church members: “Do not imitate what is evil.” The reason John was so hard on Diotrephes is that he was in a position of leadership and as such it was assumed that the church should be following his example. Unfortunately, his actions were evil and would lead others into sin if they followed him. For that reason, a spirit of Diotrephes cannot be tolerated in the church. When a spirit of Diotrephes is discovered in a leader than it must be confronted head on and removed. The rest of us must constantly examine our hearts to guard against the danger of getting side-tracked from our God-given purpose and becoming self-serving bosses rather than godly leaders.