Prophets, Preachers, and Politicians

Prophets, Preachers, and Politicians
Robert Wurtz II

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! (Galatians 5:14-15)

Our passage contains the dreadful consequence of a “party spirit” (politics) operating in the churches of God. Ignoring this passage has brought many Christians, relationships, ministries, and moves of God, to an abrupt and pitiful end over the last 2000 years. It is impossible to overstate how dangerous a “party spirit” or politics are to God’s people. This is why Jesus commanded the disciples not to organize their ministry into a Gentile power structure in Matthew 20:25-26, Mark 10:42-43, and Luke 22:25-26. Multitudes cry to Heaven “Lord, Lord” and then go right out and disobey these clear verses. Simply put, Jesus warned us not to set up a corporate type hierarchy (pecking order, ranking, chain of command) in the churches. 

Despite this clear command being repeated in all the synoptic Gospels, churches and organizations are typically set up like a corporation. In a corporate hierarchy, we might say that “Pete is about six levels below the CEO;” however, this is not the way churches and Christian organizations are to be established. It is nothing more than Israel crying for a king rather than allowing God to rule over them. As with Israel, so too with the churches, this Gentile, worldly, Egyptian, or whatever adjective we want to employ, “power structure” has grave consequences.  

Moving Up The Ranks?

Any place that you find a ranking system, you have sin being committed. Disobeying God in Matthew 20:25-26, Mark 10:42-43, and Luke 22:25-26 is no different than any place else. Moreover, ranking systems breed sin and offenses. They can do no other. Why? Because when there is a political element involved, people don’t feel obligated to treat their brother or sister in Christ as they would want to be treated. They generally lose their minds and forget they are supposed to be Christians. 

What happens? Older ministers fear that some young person is “gunning for their job” so they do everything in their power to suppress all potential “threats” to their position. They are not allowed to do anything that may get the people taking a liking to them. Some ministers are afraid to go out-of-town lest when they come back, someone is trying to take their job. Moreover, some younger ministers undermine the people in high position, so they can eventually be “voted in to their job.” They obstruct, refuse to support, point out their shortcomings, etc. ad nauseam. It becomes a very tense “us against them” abomination to God and man. This is worldliness at its finest. Naturally, if you ask them, they all do these things for “spiritual” reasons. The carnal Corinthians thought they were “spiritual” too, because they were moving in the gifts of the Spirit; however, some were fornicating, suing one another, and splitting the church into political parties backing “Paul, Appollos, Cephas and Jesus.”

In the Old Testament, when the people were really off track, God would use the prophets to bring a strong message of correction. Nobody “votes in” a prophet, so God has to raise one up to confront the people. They often employed radical language or tactics to accomplish the job. Similarly, Paul used a morbid statement to the Galatians, But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! What happens? When someone bites, the natural response is to bite back. This process continues until all parties involved are consumed (destroyed). What begins as behavior becoming toddlers — erupts into a savage warfare between people acting like wild animals. The renowned Greek scholar A.T. Robertson, in commenting on these verses, tells the sobering story of two snakes who each swallowed the other by the tail. 

If there is one thing that most parents of toddlers detest — it is biting. The fastest way to receive a spanking when I was a  child was to bite somebody. Emotions would run so high that some parents would say to the victim, “Just bite him back! Show him how it feels.” It would not be unusual for parents to come to blows nearly when they looked at their child’s arm and there was a bite mark. “Why did he bite you?!” The parent asks. “Because I was playing with his toy.” Then the parents get into an argument. One backs their child’s right to territory, and the other wants an apology for biting. In modern times, I suspect parents are more civilized than this, but I’m not holding my breath. 

Toddlers are not the only people who “bite” when they don’t get their way. Adults do it too. This is what Paul said, But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! (Galatians 5:15) This is much more serious and destructive than the behavior of toddlers. It is more serious because toddlers are supposed to be selfish; that is to say, they have to be taught to be friendly and loving. Christian adults should know better. It is more destructive because there is so much more at stake. When a toddler bites and is then bitten back, both have bite marks. Each tells how the other bit them. The same holds true with adults. Of course, we are not speaking of literal teeth marks; we are dealing with malicious actions against one another. 

Scorched Earth Tactics

When adults grow up in carnality they don’t fight over toys, they fight over territory. They fight over positions at work or at church. Most of the time the parties fight each other until neither of them have a reputation left. In fact, people will even sabotage one another in hopes they can “get their job.” This is part of what is often called, “office politics.” Whole books have been written about the subject. What happens? Life becomes a perpetual replay of age 2-20. Everything we had to endure from pre-school to High School becomes our daily lot. Boys fist-fighting in the halls; girls quarreling and fussing. I realize the fists are not usually literal in adulthood, but the attitude back of those behaviors is just as real. The stress on daily life for some becomes almost unbearable. 

These things ought not so to be in the churches of God; but unfortunately they are. There is nothing new under the sun. Nepotism is just as rife in many churches as it is in the world. Ministries become dynasties all the way from the corner church to the largest Christian TV Networks. Father and son feuds develop imitating the madness and hate of family based reality shows like Orange County Choppers. Moreover, politics are often exaggerated in churches. Factions develop that split churches and organizations into two or more opposing camps. Again, usually there is a real spiritual reason for doing it, just like there was a real good reason for the toddler to bite the other one. Really? 

The First Politician

Satan was the very first politician. He led a rebellion in Heaven and drew a third of the Stars with him. Then he shows up in the Garden of Eden spouting propaganda to win over the whole human race into his camp. First politician. First liar. Hmmm. See the connection? Satan misrepresented God because he wanted his place on the throne. Nearly all politicians misrepresent their opponent or withhold information about them that would sway the people into liking them. “Make the opponent look bad” is the modus operandi (m.o.). Imagine what happens when a Christian environment becomes “politicized.” Who do you think is behind it all? God wants the churches to be a place of heaven on earth. Satan does too. He comes in to use people to do on earth what he had done in Heaven. He divided it by campaigning for God’s throne. All the while blinding everyone to what he is doing. What happens? He causes so much strife that every action gets interpreted. Motivations get questioned. A spirit of suspicion prevails. 

Most of the time people are just trying to serve God, but sometimes they are not. People know when they are intentionally being divisive. Whereas love puts the best construction on events, politics puts the worst construction on them. Ministers have been known to hire private detectives to bring one another down. It happened in the 80’s and early 90’s in mainstream evangelicalism. The name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles. There is no new thing under the sun. Pride has often destroyed the works of God’s hands. How is God going to handle those who do such things? It’s a sad thing to work in the kingdom for decades only to have those labors destroyed by a bunch of crooked politics. 

Pride and Politics

Pride has been known to completely destroy ministries. Men have turned and fought against the very thing they prayed into existence. In America we have what some have called a “peaceful transfer of power” when new presidents and governors are elected. Harry Truman had the right attitude when it came to leaders leaving their political office. For example, he was asked during the Cuban Missile crisis if he had called the sitting president to offer advice. His answer was compelling, “If the president wants my opinion he will ask for it. And when he does I won’t be telling you about it. If the president wants it known he can tell you.” This is humility talking. This is a man who was able to “let go” and go home. He wanted the nation to prosper, even though he handed the presidency over to a Republican rival. Understand that Truman is considered to be one of the greatest presidents in American history, and yet was not offended by the fact that he may not have been consulted by the sitting president, even in a crisis. Is this the attitude of politics in ministry? Not generally. If you don’t keep everyone feeling important, they are liable to start biting and devouring. Is there any wonder Jesus commanded the churches not to set up in a worldly construct? Politics has no place in the Kingdom of God; it is the outworking of democracy, not kingdom. 

Matthew Henry commented on these verses, “But, says he, if instead of serving one another in love, and therein fulfilling the law of God, you bite and devour one another, take heed that you be not consumed one of another. If, instead of acting like men and Christians, they would behave themselves more like brute beasts, in tearing and rending one another, they could expect nothing as the consequence of it, but that they would be consumed one of another; and therefore they had the greatest reason not to indulge themselves in such quarrels and animosities. Note, Mutual strifes among brethren, if persisted in, are likely to prove a common ruin; those that devour one another are in a fair way to be consumed one of another. Christian churches cannot be ruined but by their own hands; but if Christians, who should be helps to one another and a joy one to another, be as brute beasts, biting and devouring each other, what can be expected but that the God of love should deny his grace to them, and the Spirit of love should depart from them, and that the evil spirit, who seeks the destruction of them all, should prevail?”

What’s the use of so much prayer, when politics are destroying our prayers? Why fast? Everything in the kingdom of God is put at risk where politics are involved. How can we have a revival if people are jockeying for the credit and glory for what transpires? I have seen revivals destroyed because of rivalry. What happens? Christians are disillusioned and near to giving up because of the politics that go in behind the scenes. This is where repentance has to begin. Not in the pew; not with the drug addict; not with the sinners around the world. We cannot go forward until men and women lay down their ambitions and all that is involved in them. There must be a humble repentance of the secular approach to ministry that prevails in our times. There must be a wholesale repentance of lovelessness and hate wherever it exists among leaders in the churches of God. 

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! (Galatians 5:14-15)

The spirit of Diotrephes

The spirit of Diotrephes

“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.” (3 John 1:9–11 NKJV) 
[…] Many years ago I wrote an article for a denominational paper concerning Diotrephes. The editor told me afterwards that twenty-five deacons had ordered the paper stopped as a protest against the personal attack in the paper. What I did in the article was to show that Diotrephes was a typical church “boss” who ruled the church to suit his own whims. In Kentucky we have a phrase termed “the short-horn deacon” for this type of church regulator.
[…] The sin that John charges against Diotrephes is that he “loves to have the pre-eminence.” The word here employed by John is a very rare one and means “fond of being first.” A late scholion explains it as “seizing the first things in an underhand way.” The word occurs among the ecclesiastical writers to picture the rivalries among the bishops of the time. It is a sad commentary on human nature that even preachers of humility often practise the pushing of self to the front in an unbecoming spirit and manner.


One recalls that once Jesus found the disciples disputing among them selves who was the greatest among them, a spirit that Jesus sternly rebuked by placing a little child, possibly Peter’s own child, in the midst of them, and by saying that the greatest was the one who served the most. And once James and John with their mother actually came to Jesus with the formal request that they be given the two chief places in the kingdom of Christ (the political Messianic kingdom of their expectation). And at the last passover meal Jesus had to rebuke the apostles for their unseemly conduct in scrambling for the post of honour at the meal. It was with this peril in mind that Jesus urged the apostles to love one another and prayed for unity among them and among all his future followers.
Ambition is not sinful in itself though our very word (of Latin origin) had a bad history, for it suggests politicians who would take both sides of an issue in order to get votes. This double-dealing is due to the desire for place and power. Jesus noted that the Pharisees loved the chief seats in the synagogue in order to be seen of men. Their piety was particularly punctilious if enough prominence could be obtained to justify the display and outlay of energy. A certain amount of ambition to excel is good for one. Ambition is a good servant, but a bad master. It is dangerous for ambition to have the whip handle in one’s life.
Diotrephes loved the first place among the brethren. He was determined to be first at any cost. If any honours were to be bestowed, he assumed that they belonged to him as a matter of course. He must be consulted on a matter of church policy else he was against it. The least detail of church life must receive his sanction else he would condemn it. If he was not chairman of all the committees, he must be regarded as an ex officio member. If Diotrephes had been the sole pastor of the church, something could be said for such pre-eminence. But evidently Gaius was also one of the elders. And Diotrephes may have been only a deacon. But the spirit of a man like Diotrephes does not depend on office. Such a man rates him self as the natural leader of the church by reason of his native gifts, family, money, reputation. The only way for the church to have peace is for all freely to acknowledge this brother’s primacy.
Plutarch notes that Alcibiades wanted the first place. He got it and he ruined Athens by the expedition to Syracuse. It is impossible to calculate the harm that has been wrought in the churches by church dictators like Diotrephes. Diotrephes drew the line on John. He “receiveth me not.” He refused to recognise the standing and authority of John the Elder and Apostle. The word here rendered “receive” occurs in the papyri in the sense of “accepting” a lease and in Maccabees 10:1 for “accepting” a king. Evidently Diotrephes treated John as a heretic or as John is said to have treated Cerinthus when he rushed out of the bath when Cer- inthus came in lest the house fall in because of God’s wrath.
One recalls the temperament of this “son of thunder” who came to be known as “the apostle of love.” It was John who in great zeal reported to Jesus one day: “Master, we saw one casting out demons in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followed not with us” (Luke 9:49). But Jesus rebuked John’s narrowness of spirit about method of work. “Forbid him not: for he that is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:50). John and James were those who asked Jesus to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans who “did not receive” Jesus (Luke 9:52-55). But Jesus “turned and rebuked them.”
John was now the aged apostle who went from church to church with the message : “Little children, love one another.” But he still had the old fire and vigour with more justification against Diotrephes than against the examples in the Gospel of Luke. Diotrephes was turning the tables on John (cf. 3 John 10) and was refusing to recognise or to entertain John as a genuine minister of Christ. Be sides, he said slighting things about John, “prating against us with wicked words.” The word translated “prating” occurs as an adjective in 1 Timothy 5:13 “tattlers” (verbosce, Vulgate). These idle, tattling busy-bodies excited Paul’s disgust. That is John’s word for Diotrephes. He seemed to have John on the brain and gadded around with idle tales and “wicked words” derogatory to John’s character and work, seeking to undermine his influence for good.
This sort of propaganda against preachers is only too common. It degenerates into idle gossip. One of the saddest spectacles in modern Christianity is to see the very forces that are designed to co-operate with the pastor in pushing on the work of the kingdom of God, engaged in pulling down all that the pastor and other church members try to do. The result is the paralysis of the work and the mockery of the outsiders who sneer at Christian love and unity. As a rule the pastor can only suffer in silence and go on with those who have a mind to work in spite of the slackers and the hinderers.
Silence is the best answer to idle slander. But sometimes the man of God has to speak. And then it should be to the point and very brief and in a way to help the cause of Christ, not to do harm. As a rule, well-doing is the best way to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men (I Peter 2:15). John does not mind ostracism by Diotrephes save as that leads others astray. But Diotrephes draws the line on all of John’s followers. Diotrephes was “not content therewith.” He was not satisfied with his vindictive opposition to John the Elder. “Neither doth he himself receive the brethren.” Probably these missionary brethren had letters of commendation from John. That item would only anger Diotrephes all the more. It was now his habit to close his door against anybody aligned with the Apostle John.
He will not recognise the Elder. He will not recognise the followers or co-labourers of the Elder. Hence John pleads with Gaius to take special interest in those who “for the sake of the Name went forth” (3 John 7). One recalls the language of Luke in Acts 5 :41, “Rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the Name.” This way of referring to Jesus became common, it is clear. The problem of welcoming those who travelled from place to place and who claimed to be at work in the name of the Lord was a vital one for a long time as is seen in “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” XII, 1 : “And let everyone that comes in the name of the Lord be received and then after testing him ye will know.” The brother who claimed to be for the Lord had the presumption in his favour, but some wolves travelled in sheep’s clothing and a certain amount of discretion was called for then and now. Even to-day, with all our publicity and modern facilities for information, people are only too often taken in by slick-tongued adventurers who make money out of gullible brethren and sisters and then move on to fresh pastures.
There is some advantage in having some sort of a line drawn. John is not here demand ing that Diotrephes reform, but that Gaius see to it that John’s missionaries are taken care of when they come. One of my clearest childhood memories is that of Elias Dodson, a quaint and godly missionary of the old Home Mission Board of Southern Baptists. This gifted and consecrated man went from house to house on his mule and usually had only one suit of clothes. He used to ask for a dollar for the Indians and he generally got it. He would write postcards ahead about his entertainment or send little notes to the denominational paper concerning his appointments and entertainment.
He was a modern example of John’s travelling missionaries from church to church. Elias Dodson did much to create a real missionary spirit in Virginia and North Carolina. Even those who were opposed to missions found it hard to put a ban on Elias Dodson and his mule. But Diotrephes sought to dictate to the whole church a line of conduct toward John and his missionaries. “And them that would (receive the brethren) he for- biddeth and casteth them out of the church.”
Here we see the rule or ruin policy of the church “boss.” This self-willed leader is not content that he shall be al lowed to treat John and his missionaries as outsiders. He demands that everyone in the church do the same thing. He had the whip handle in the church and was determined to force his will upon the entire member ship. It is not clear whether he actually succeeded or not. The tense in the Greek allows merely the threat and the attempt for “casts out.” In John 9:34 the Pharisees actually “cast out” (aorist tense) the blind man who stood out against them that Jesus was not a sinner, but a prophet of God. They turned him out of the synagogue and then Jesus met him and saved him, a grotesque picture of a synagogue that fought against God in Christ.
If Diotrephes actually compelled this church to expel those who dared to welcome the missionaries of John, it was an honour to be out side of that church. But the fact that Gaius was still a member of the church, an elder apparently, argues for the conclusion that Diotrephes was simply terrorising the brotherhood by his threats. But it was bad enough for a church to have a “bulldozer” like Diotrephes who blocked the path of progress for the church. He had become the chief liability to the church instead of its chief asset. So John exposes Diotrephes plainly to Gaius. John is not afraid to face Diotrephes. He is anxious to do so, but he cannot come yet.


Meanwhile, he puts Gaius on his guard and urges him to break the power of Diotrephes over the church by daring to show him up as he really is. Gaius owes this duty to the church. But John hopes to come some day. “Therefore, if I come, I will bring to remembrance his deeds which he does.” One needs only to read 1 John 2 to see how plainly John can speak when the occasion calls for it. It becomes a sad duty sometimes to expose the wicked ambition of a man with the rule or ruin policy. It is better that such a man drop out of the church than that the church wither and die. Our churches need leadership, but not domination. The difference is vital. Leaders lead, bosses drive their slaves under orders.

The Guileless Man

The Guileless Man
Robert Wurtz II

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! (John 1:47)

Though his hatred is covered by deceit, His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly. (Proverbs 26:26 NKJV)

Someone once said, “God cannot change the person you are pretending to be.” Many people are able to feighn all kinds of personalities in short bursts. They alter their beliefs and convictions depending on present company. Sometimes you want to ask, “Who really are you? What do you really believe?” Sadly, those who have made a practice of such behavior could not tell you. They don’t seem to feel strongly about anything. Moreover, they have put up appearances and play acted for so long, that they don’t even know who they really are. They have no concrete identity. Others say or do whatever is necessary to win a person over to their cause. With so much pretense and fakery in the world, the very foundations of trust are often in shambles. People who live this way are very dangerous and can never be trusted. 

I have chosen two texts to illustrate the meaning of the Greek word dulos, which is translated as “guile” in John 1:47, and “deceit” in Proverbs 26:26 (LXX). The word is first used in Genesis 27:35 (LXX) when Isaac stated, “Your brother, coming with deceit, took away your blessing.” (Genesis 27:35 NETS) Jacob had disguised himself in order to acquire the blessing of the first born. His mother was also a party to the strategy. After this event, Jacob apparently repented of being deceitful and received the name Israel. (Genesis 32:28) Interestingly, a few verses after John 1:47, our Lord called to remembrance Jacob’s ladder experience. (John 1:51) This is the context of the sure statement that Nathanael was an “Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile!

Nathanael (Bartholomew) was the type of man who called it like he saw it. For example, when Philip came to tell him about Jesus he stated, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:46 KJV) Nevertheless, being the type of person who would turn on a dime when the evidence warranted it, he became one of the first people to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

Nathanael had no tendency to pretense. He was the type of man who you could safely trust. A guileless person does not use flattery or other subtle forms of manipulation; they are honest and genuine. You wouldn’t have to worry about Nathanael “befriending” you for some ulterior reason. You could take him at his word. He would not have been the “win friends and influence people” type. His personality did not allow for such deceitfulness and pretentiousness. 

It is fascinating to know that the same man who made the comment, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?“ — was effectively praised of Jesus for his guilelessness. The tendency is to think that such a comment deserved a rebuke; however, Jesus was not praising unbelief — but his brutal honesty. This man had no desire to deceive or be deceived. 

The Contrast

Though his hatred is covered by deceit, His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly. (Proverbs 26:26 NKJV)

Unlike Nathanael, there is a type of person who can hate you in their heart, but cover their feelings with guile — so that you cannot tell how they truly feel until it is revealed. We have additional insight into this behavior when we read; “The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.” (Proverbs 10:18 ESV) Think about how this passage contrasts with Nathanael. The word for hatred is translated as enmity in the NETS. When a person conceals their hostility, it is bound to come out. It will often manifest in slanderous acts and other forms of maliciousness and treachery. 
Where there is competition, there is usually enmity. Where there is enmity, there is likely to be slander and deceit (guile). This is just one progression and expression of the behavior. 


Nathanael was a man in contrast to the religious leaders of his day. He would not have joined the party spirit of the schools of Hillel and Shammai, or Sadducees and Pharisees (for example). He had no ambitions that would entice him to act with guile (deceit). In modern times, politicians will do almost anything to achieve their objectives. What is worse is how they express their hatred of their opponents. They will put everything at risk just to cause their opponent to look bad. Why? Politicians think in terms of winners and losers; whereas Christians are concerned for the welfare of fellow believers and the churches of God. Politicians misrepresent their opponent and attack them in all kinds of questionable ways. Nevertheless, Jesus did not call politicians. In fact, these actions are all manifestations of the flesh — that He came to destroy. 

Revelation 21:8 tells us that all liars are going to have their part in the Lake of Fire. I think it is fair to say that this will include people who are a living manifestation of falsehood. The world may use guile wherever it is useful to them; however, it must never be so among Christians. Beware of any person who can transform themselves into an “angel of light” while around the saints but revert back to something else later on. The destructiveness of such behavior is such that it puts everyone at risk. The world does not mind misleading, using, and destroying people; but it ought not so to be in the churches of God. 

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