In 3 John 9-12 we find a contrast between two leaders in a fledgling community of Christ followers. Diotrephes is the negative example and Demetrius is the positive one. 3 John 9 says, “I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.” This verb translated “to put himself first” is used only here in the New Testament and literally means “a love for having the highest rank or position.” Because Diotrephes held this attitude he could not acknowledge John’s apostolic authority-nor probably anyone else’s. If you love to be first, it is going to be really difficult to acknowledge anyone else as a valid authority in your life. But here is the severe consequence-you cannot give away power and therefore you ultimately cannot multiply your own leadership. I believe that the first job of every leader is to raise up more leaders. But you cannot do that without empowering others. John goes on to note that Diotrephes also did not welcome the brothers and even tried to prevent others within the body from doing so. Most likely these “brothers” were traveling teachers-fellow laborers-who circulated through the early church helping to build up the body of believers. This too was probably a threat to Diotrephes’ desire to be first. The consequence of this is you are unable to partner. If you cannot recognize the contribution of other missional laborers then you cannot partner with them for the greater cause of Christ. Diotrephes could not recognize other authorities and he could not welcome other worthy laborers.
In contrast, John says that Demetrius “has a good reputation from everyone, and from the truth itself.” Demetrius seems to be held up as an example of a good leader to imitate. But who is this Demetrius? The only other reference we have in the New Testament of a man with this name is in Acts 19. That Demetrius was the silver smith who started a riot over the preaching of Paul in Ephesus. He did so because Paul threatened his business of idol making with his preaching of Jesus. We don’t know for sure if this is the same man. But John is most likely addressing this letter to the same general region geographically. If this is the same Demetrius then we have a picture of a radical transformation. The one who opposed Paul and caused a riot was now seen as a Christian leader with an outstanding reputation-one worthy of imitation.
Who do you want to be or become? This is the only mention of Diotrephes in the Bible-not a legacy you should long for. We must realize that all authority is derived authority and submit our leadership to the lordship of Christ. That is the starting point. That position is what will allow us to honor and welcome others within the body of Christ. It is this attitude that will allow us to empower others and partner well.