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Diotrephes: A Spiritual Bully

Local churches were not always harmonious, even in the apostolic age. They had their share of disturbances. For instance, there was a congregation in the province of Asia that was being troubled by a man named Diotrephes. He was a spiritual bully who intimidated others into submission.

John's third epistle describes Diotrephes as a man “who likes to put himself first” (v. 9). Other translations say he “loves to be the leader” (NLT) and “wants to be head of everything” (Phillips). Diotrephes used heavy-handed tactics to get his way, going so far as to put people out of the church (v. 11). Diotrephes did not want members of the congregation helping itinerant preachers who were associated with John the apostle. Thankfully, however, there was at least one brother who did not yield to the dictates of Diotrephes. His name was Gaius.

Gaius opened his heart and home to the itinerant preachers. He understood the importance of being hospitable (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9), especially to those who are teaching the truth. For that, he was commended and encouraged to keep it up (vv. 5-8).

Some have suggested that Diotrephes was an elder in the local church. If so, he is a perfect example of what elders are not to be. Arrogant, controlling, domineering, power-hungry men should not be appointed as overseers (1 Peter 5:3).  

Diotrephes ranks near the top of “infamous characters in the New Testament,” along with names like Judas, Demas, and Hymenaeus. Nobody likes a bully, including Christ!