Don’t Be a Diotrophes

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us (3 John 9).

I arrived early Sunday morning for my first service preaching at the Baptist Church in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I’d been invited by the chairman of the board to fill the pulpit for a month to see if I was interested in becoming the pastor. 

Moments after I arrived, a woman in her early 90s came in, looked me square in the eye from across the room, and marched toward me. My name is Vera and I’m in charge here. I was speechless.

Days later I spoke to the church board about the need to reach beyond vacationing Americans and Canadians to English speaking Mexicans. Vera again spoke up … We already have Mexicans and they belong to me!

Five weeks of head-to-head combat with Vera resulted in my decision not to shepherd the congregation.

The Apostle John broke the etiquette of modern Christianity by giving the name of a trouble maker in a church. Diotrephes had rejected the words of John, those sent to the congregation by John, and even threw out members who welcomed John’s emissaries. We know little more of Diotrephes. He may have been a pastor, but more likely a layman who loved being number one. 

Every congregation has a Diotrephes. He is selfish, self-centered, and self-seeking. He wants to be in charge of something, recognized, afforded special attention, and promoted. His ministry isn’t really about Jesus; Jesus is just a means to self-glory.

Back home in Portland was another woman named Vera. She was a widow in her 80s, fragile, and more quiet than a church mouse. Each Sunday she sat alone on the end of the row in the back pew. Vera spoke very little, but when she did it was often the same, Pastor, thank you for telling me about Jesus today. I can’t do much, but I pray for you every day; and though I don’t have much to give, I give what I can.

Her smile each week as I preached, faithfulness to pray, and generosity in giving the little God enabled was enough.  

Don’t be a Diotrophes.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross – Isaac Watts (1707)

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

To Christ, who won for sinners grace
By bitter grief and anguish sore,
Be praise from all the ransomed race
Forever and forevermore.

They will look on Him whom they pierced (John 19:37).


A Horse in the Church

Trojan horse

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction (2 Peter 2:1)

For more than 3,000 years, parents have been telling their children the story of the Trojan Horse.

Around the year 1190 BC, an army of Greek soldiers from the city of Sparta laid siege to the Turkish city of Troy. For more than 10 years the Greeks tried and failed to enter the city with walls over 20 feet high (6 meters), kill its king, and rescue their beautiful Queen Helen.

Unable to break into the city, the Greeks hatched a scheme to enter the city. Tradition was for a defeated army to offer a gift to the victors. The Greeks built a giant wooden horse, left it outside Troy’s walls at night, and then departed. It was all a trick, however. The horse was hollow, and 30 of the most valiant Greek soldiers hid inside. The retreating Greek army didn’t leave, they hid nearby.

In the morning, the citizens of Troy brought the horse into the city walls with great celebration late into the night.

When the Trojans finally went to sleep that night, the 30 Greek champions climbed out of the horse, opened the city gates, and let in the thousands of waiting Greek soldiers.

What couldn’t be destroyed from the outside, even with great effort, was easily destroyed from within.

Some believe the story of The Trojan Horse to be nothing but a myth, but sneaky false teachers both rising up from within and others creeping into the local church is an historical fact. The Bible repeatedly warns of those worming their way into the local assembly. They come in looking, acting, and sounding like Christians, but are really vicious sheep-eating wolves intent on fleecing the flock of God.

Are you Biblically prepared and spiritually discerning to protect yourself from such evil men and women?

Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears (Acts 20:31).

A Thousand Deaths

sufferingJonah was unhappy with God. He knew God was merciful, so he refused to go to Nineveh. He chose instead to travel to Spain, but God would have nothing of Jonah’s attitude. He sent a great storm to do a bit of persuading, yet rather than obey God, Jonah had the sailors throw him into the raging, stormy ocean.

God not only prepared a great storm, but a great fish. The moment Jonah began his descent into Davy Jones’ Locker, that big fish swallowed God’s prophet.

Jonah sat three days inside the fish, the digestive juices bleaching his skin and his clothes. I imagine Jonah in that dark, smelly, confinement wishing he was dead a thousand times over. Finally from the belly of that great fish, he prayed and God answered.

Everyone suffers in different ways and for different reasons. One thing I know is that we prefer to suffer on our own terms. If we’re going to suffer, we want our suffering to be gentle and full of immediate and obvious positive results, the silver lining in every cloud philosophy. Like Jonah, we want our trials to be over right now. Dying a thousand deaths is not on our agenda.

As Christians we know God has a purpose in our suffering. In His perfect wisdom and love for us, He prepares exactly what we need – not to destroy us – but to make us more godly and to conform us to His will. He knows the amount and kind of suffering that best works His purpose into each one of us.

He knows the way that I take, when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold (Job 23:10).

The Spiritual Fruit of Love

But the fruit of the Spirit is … love … (Galatians 5:22).

A quick search on the internet shows there are over 36 different meanings to the word love in the English language. It encompasses a deep euphoric feeling, to sexual intercourse, to admiration, to a score in the game of tennis.

The Biblical meaning embodied in the Greek word agape is far more specific. It is an action of sacrificing self for the welfare of the one who is loved. It is the very essence of God’s nature (1 John 4:8) and is a product of the Holy Spirit in believers through God’s gift of salvation (Galatians 5:13-14). It is much more than a feeling of fondness toward those you like. It goes far beyond the sacrifice of a mother for her child. It is a sacrificial giving of one’s self for and to one who is your enemy! If love only reaches as far as the people you like, it’s not Biblical love.

In August 2020, a communist agitator near my home ignited an explosive device to throw at police, but dropped the device at his own feet and immediately his lower body erupted in flames. The man frantically ran around in the street making the flames rage even greater. The police officers targeted by the terrorist chased him down, threw him to the ground, and extinguished the flames that engulfed him, saving his life. That is the Biblical meaning of love: sacrificial grace, kindness, and mercy toward more than a friend, but an enemy.

Romans 5:5-8 reminds us that few people ever choose to die for someone who we like or is worthy, but Jesus willingly laid down His own life – not just for His friends (John 15:13) – but for those who hated Him and were enemies.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5).

Taken from my sermon on Galatians 5:22, The Fruit of the Spirit Is, part 1. Listen to the full sermon by clicking here.