Robert Wurtz II
And he (Jesus Christ) is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence (Colossians 1:18)
I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God. (3 John 1:9-11)
“And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”” (Mark 9:35 NKJV)
When men challenge Jesus Christ for the preeminence in His churches, disaster always follows. Our Greek word for preeminence in Colossians 1:18 is proteuon and is rarely used in the New Testament. In fact, the only other use is in 3 John 1:9 and it is a compound of philo and proteuon. Philo simply means “to be fond of” and proteuon means “to be first” or have first place. It is translated as, “loveth to have the preeminence.” Consider this list of synonyms for our English word preeminence: superiority, supremacy, greatness, excellence, distinction, prominence, predominance, eminence, importance, prestige, stature, fame, renown, celebrity.
The Greek root for proteuon is protos and is commonly used. It simply means “first.” This brings us to Mark 9:35, And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”
This conversation was one of many that the Lord Jesus had with the disciples along this line. In fact, just moments after He revealed at the Last Supper that one of the disciples would betray Him, an argument broke out as to who was the greatest. It would take the absolute failure of all of them (when Jesus was arrested) to prove handily that none of them was quite as great as they imagined. When they finally laid aside their pride and got into unity, the Holy Spirit came and the Lord’s teachings on servant leadership were realized in their lives.
However, all of these teachings and experiences did not stop men from seeking to have the preeminence in the churches. Diotrephes was one such man. John wrote a few letters to the local church where this man was an obstructionist. Somehow Diotrephes had set himself up as the authority in the church and had rejected the first letter that John sent the church. In his quest for greatness and power, Diotrephes continually refused to receive John and other brethren who were of a like mind and spirit. In fact, he took the added step of ordering other people not to “receive him.” The late great Greek scholar A.T. Robertson commented on this man, “If this ancient “church-boss” did not succeed in expelling John’s adherents from the church, he certainly tried to do it.”
Diotrephes was the type of man who would issue an order to his congregation and church leaders not to attend meetings held by brothers he had a “beef” with or who posed a threat to his political aspirations. If he operated in the cyber world he would have forbidden people (especially those associated with the website) from posting certain brothers and sisters articles for similar reasons. If Diotrephes was anything like people today, he would have taken the “spiritual road” and justified the behavior by saying that God “told him” to take this action or that he was “protecting the saints.” John experienced the same thing when Diotrephes refused to allow the people to know the contents of the first letter he had sent the church. Why did he really behave this way? Because he loved to have the preeminence.
Indeed, the Diotrephes’ of the world have a habit of “prating against certain brethren with malicious words” in an attempt to destroy their reputation and influence. They have devised a multitude of ways to retaliate against the people they don’t like. That is the simplicity of it. The rest is commentary. People like Diotrephes can give you their reasoning why they do it, but it is still malice no matter how smooth they articulate it. They treat people this way, generally, because they can’t personally control the person. How do they respond? They give it to their enemy in spades (so to speak). That is to say, they retaliate by attempting to destroy or marginalize them.
John was not the type of person who would sweep this type of evil under the rug. He stated, “Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth.” Clearly, he intended to confront Diotrephes for his behavior. Unfortunately, the Diotrephes types in modern times have set themselves up as a law unto themselves. While rejecting the people they can’t control — they hedge themselves in so that they cannot be controlled either. They are experts at making everyone but themselves look like rebels when they are the most rebellious of all — especially of their own leaders. Therefore, their behavior is likely to continue until the Great Judgment. What can we do? Are we helpless against such treachery? In this case, John offers us his counsel, Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.
These are strong words coming from John. Diotrephes should have been supportive of the apostle. We are not told specifically why he was such an obstructionist. Did he want John’s job? Did he want people to esteem him to be greater than the aging apostle? We only know that he refused to receive John or his messages and he forbade his church members from contact with him. By implication, he used fear and intimidation to get the job done. John called the behavior, evil. Again, our response? Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. Do not be followers of these type of people. Why? He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God. No person can behave in this way and claim to know God. It is not how God operates. It is not the example that Jesus set for us. Besides, the Diotrephes’ of the world are enemies of Christ — setting themselves up in His place. And he (Jesus Christ) is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence (Colossians 1:18)