Sitting here watching football this evening, I was reminded of how, in any sport, it feels great to be in first place. Everyone loves to win, and loves a winner. Players work a lifetime of long hours just to be a champion someday. There is also something to be said for “running to win” in the Christian life. But on the other hand, there is also an unhealthy desire for preeminence and power that is unhealthy and sinful. It’s is where a person believes they deserve to be in charge and enjoy lording their authority over others.

In the little letter of 3rd John, the Apostle mentions just such a man and hs name was Diotrephes.

I wrote to the assembly, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, doesn’t accept what we say. (3 John 1:9 WEB)

This is the behavior that Paul warned about when talking about proper conduct for elders in the church in Titus chapter 1. John details the things Diotrephes was doing so that centuries later we could be warned of engaging in such conduct, and wary of those whose behavior resembles the same.

Therefore if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words. Not content with this, neither does he himself receive the brothers, and those who would, he forbids and throws out of the assembly. (3 John 1:10 WEB)

Toxic leaders will spread lies and accusations against others. They will try to maintain their power by disparaging anyone else that might be sought out for counsel. In doing is, they reinforce the illusion that they are the only source of true teaching that their flock can trust.

Toxic leaders not only do they spread gossip about other leaders, but do not accept correction from others. Such a leader is so full of himself that he sees no benefit in hearing what anyone else has to say. They not only forbid the flock to hear teaching from other sources, but are convinced that their understanding of the Bible is superior to others. This kind of intellectual inbreeding leads to deformed spiritual growth and eventual destruction of the flock.

Toxic leaders are so insecure that they will believe they are protecting the flock by expelling those who dare to hear teaching from anyone else, for fear they will introduce new ideas or expose them as false prophets. It is fear of losing their spiritual family and all they have known that keeps people in such destructive systems. Ironically, in the First Century Church, they are already dealing with a cultic and toxic leader like Diotrephes.

What does John advise them to do? He tells them how to act, and even gives a positive example of someone they can emulate.

Beloved, don’t imitate that which is evil, but that which is good. He who does good is of God. He who does evil hasn’t seen God. Demetrius has the testimony of all, and of the truth itself; yes, we also testify, and you know that our testimony is true. (3 John 1:11, 12 WEB)

How can you tell if you are following a Diotrephes instead of a Demetrius? If you are in a situation where your leaders are lording their authority over the flock, get out! If orders are being given to obey instead of examples being lived to follow (2Thess 3:9), get out. If you find yourself doing things only because the pastor said so, and you don’t want to be seen as having issues with authority, get out. You need to be doing things because the Bible says so!

Have I seen situations like this? Yes. Am I in one now? Not even close! We have wonderful elders. But having been other places, I know what it can be like, and your spiritual survival depends on living the Christian life that the Bible describes, under the godly leadership of multiple elders. That is what the New Testament mandates, and men like Diotrephes are the reason why. Find a church with a biblically accurate organization and you will be on your way back to spiritual and emotional health.

But if you are in a healthy congregation that has godly leaders in place, encourage them and do all that you can to make their ministry effective and not a burden. Paul summed it up nicely for the Thessalonians.

But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13 NASB)

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