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"Diotrephes and Demetrius"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon - 6/10/2018



III John 1:9-10
“Diotrephes and Demetrius”
June 10, 2018

            The Bible records disagreements, arguments, hostility, and outright fighting among people from the beginning.  I’m not talking about feuds and war here, just one-on-one personal matters.  Genesis gives us Cain and Abel, Sarah versus Haggai, Jacob versus Esau, and Joseph against all of his brothers, for starters.  In Exodus, the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh starts out looking and sounding like a matter of protest: “Let my people go!” but ten plagues later, with Egypt a wreck and the pharaoh’s own son lying dead in the palace, it has long since become personal. 

           In the New Testament we also see what can happen even within the community of the faithful when things get heated.  Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is occasioned by squabbles where believers have divided themselves up into parties or teams.   We never even find out what the argument was about or how it began.  All we know is that Paul felt obligated to step in and try to break it up.  He told them all off (lovingly, of course):

“Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,
‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’, 
and again,
‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
   that they are futile.’ 
So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
[I Corinthians 3:18-23]

            But in III John we hear from one of those human leaders about another human leader while their own fight is going on.  Somebody named Diotrephes has been denying John’s authority and asserting his own, and in the course of it has refused to help people who have been traveling from place to place, probably as wandering evangelists who, John says,

“began their journey for the sake of Christ, accepting no support from non-believers.” [III John 1:7]

John told the church

“to support such people, so that we may become co-workers with the truth.” [III John 1:8]

It seems that these folks, who are doing their best to live faithful and fearless lives in the gospel have been caught up in the spat between Diotrephes and John, and John is saying to leave them out of it and let them follow their calling.

            The other thing John has to say is that Diotrephes has been doing some rumor-mongering.

“I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.  So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us.”  [III John 1:9-10]

Let’s look at that one a little bit.  “You shall not bear false witness” is one of the Ten Commandments.  Exodus expands on it a little bit when it says,

“You shall not spread a false report.  You shall not join with the wicked to act as a malicious witness.  You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit.”  [Exodus 23:1-3]

The situation in III John may not have come down to a lawsuit, but the beginning part is there.  False reports are going around, and John isn’t even there to defend himself, whatever those reports may be.

            Fifteen hundred children are reportedly unaccounted-for by ICE.  That part turns out to be true.  At first, with the current government officials bragging about separating parents and children, and warning that they will take babies from their mothers at the border, it is only natural that there would be an outcry.  What is unnatural is that it was not louder.  A few days later, though, we find out that the missing children are ones who had previously been placed in the care of relatives after arriving unaccompanied at the border two years ago.  The fact that the guardians will not respond to ICE or inform anyone of their whereabouts is still understandable –whether it’s defensible or not is a different discussion, I’m only saying it is understandable – and we can see how easily a rumor based on insufficient information can take root.  The children are not missing, but hidden.  That’s a big difference. 

            John says he wishes he could be there to set things right himself.  This letter repeats language that appeared in II John, expressing the desire to renew a relationship of trust and friendship.

“I have much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; instead I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face.” [III John 1:13-14]

False rumors are going around – and that happens – but add malice or power-grabbing to the mix (as John suggests is part of Diotrephes’ motivation) and it becomes even more toxic.  So until John can get there to clear things up, he proposes that people look at somebody else whom they know and trust and follow his example.  Again, it’s someone we now know nothing about apart from what John says, but that is that his name is Demetrius and that he is someone who cares about truth. [III John 1:12]  My guess is that he was the sort of person who could say, “Wait and see,” or “Don’t jump to conclusions.”

            Two great evangelists, John Wesley and George Whitefield, had started as college buddies at Oxford, but in the course of their careers they went in different directions theologically until it reached the point where each saw the other as leading people astray and they started printing pamphlets decrying each other’s stance.  There’s a preacher/artist named Charlie Beber who puts out a comic strip called “The Wesley Brothers” (yes, it’s kind of geeky, but I get it by e-mail every week) that deals with this kind of thing.  Last week the column that he wrote to go with it said this:

“It’s interesting how little we’ve changed in the ways we publicly thrash the people who think differently than us, and how quick we are to part ways with dear friends in order to preserve our own way of talking about Jesus.  When love is passionate, this protective instinct rises up in us, and with hostility we rise up to defend the ones we love.  When we bring the guns of self-defense and lay them on the altar table for self-preservation, it leads to escalation.  When we take communion with all our loaded weapons pointed at the person next to us, and all their loaded weapons pointed back at us, we imagine the only way to feel safe again is to just part ways.  It’s too scary to lay down our weapons.  We think that must mean that we don’t really love the people we’re trying to protect.  We’re not really being faithful to Jesus if we don’t crusade and destroy the people that think differently about him.  And like the men in the comic, our theological wars leave a wake of destruction.”[1]

            Politics or theology or a neighborhood argument or trouble in the workplace – a lot of it works the same way.  Everybody needs a Demetrius at some point to counteract the Diotrephes tendencies that anyone can find in themselves if they bother to look.  Argue and disagree when it matters, of course.  By no means cower.  Only, when you stand up to an opponent (even – or maybe especially – someone full of malice) do it in an honorable and faithful way.  Don’t lump one issue in with another that’s unrelated.  Make sure what you say is true, and check out what you hear before you repeat it.  Do not be hasty to believe the worst, and keep innocent bystanders out of it.  Take a time out when you need one.  Above all, don’t let anything you say or do hinder those who are just trying to spread the good news about Jesus, the “friends” who are everywhere.

“Peace to you.  The friends send their greetings.  Greet the friends there, each by name.” [III John 1:15]


[1] http://www.wesleybros.com/

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