The Spirit of Diotrophes

By Dick Blackford

I wrote something to the church; but Diotrophes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and he forbids those who desire to do so, and puts them out of the church (3 John 9, 10).

It is with irony that the author notes that Diotrophes “who loveth to have the preeminence” is given a very non-preeminent place in the Scriptures. He is mentioned only one time (occupying only two verses) in what is next to the shortest book in the whole Bible (2 John has thirteen verses and 3 John has fourteen). Even worse, what is said about him is bad. We do not know who or what he was beyond what is stated in the text. In contemplating such irony we hear the words of Jesus as they echo up through the centuries, “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Mt. 23:12). Though Diotrophes is mentioned only once, there are numerous warnings against his disposition throughout the Scriptures.

Before proceeding, it is needful to consider some definitions. Pride means to have “inordinate self esteem; conceit of one’s talents, ability, wealth, station, etc.; disdainful behavior; contempt for those beneath us in station” (The Comprehensive Analysis of the Bible, Montgomery F. Essig, p. 421). Humility means `freedom from pride and arrogance; a modest estimate of one’s worth . . . ” (Ibid. p. 250). Essig adds, “When we are humbled we do not attribute to ourselves any goodness or virtue that we do not have, we do not overrate ourselves, we do not take immoderate delight in ourselves, we realize our imperfections and we ascribe all goodness and good works to God.”

What Is The Spirit of Diotrophes?

It is one of pride, arrogance, haughtiness, and conceit the opposite of humility, lowliness and meekness. This disposition is depicted by other expressions in the Bible. Elsewhere, John calls it the “pride (vainglory) of life” (1 Jn. 2:16). He says it is not of the Father, but of the world (cf. 3 Jn. 11). Peter calls it “lording it over God’s heritage” (1 Pet. 5:3). This happens when one becomes a tyrant or boss. Paul says an elder must not be a novice, “lest being puffed up (conceited, NASV) he fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6). It is serious enough to cause one to be eternally lost. And James illustrates it by telling of a man who comes into the assembly with a gold ring and fine clothing and is given a preeminent place while a poor man in vile clothing is given an insignificant place (Jas. 2:1-10). It is as wrong for others to promote a man to a preeminent place in the kingdom as it is for him to seek first place. The answer to who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven has not always been accepted by men (Mt. 20:20-28). Some continue to push themselves into the chief seats of preeminence. Verily, they have received their reward.

The Character Of Diotrophes Stated, Illustrated, And Condemned

It is unknown whether Diotrophes was a preacher, elder, deacon, or simply the chief decision-maker in the absence of elders. We do know that he was ambitious of the highest place and the greatest power. His attitude was “I am the greatest.” As we proceed to discuss Diotrophes, it would be well to remember the words of the wise man: “Pride goeth before destruction and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).

The character of Diotrophes is illustrated by his conduct. First, he rejected the highest authority. John had written a letter to the church and Diotrophes had rejected its message. John, whom some believe was the apostle who was closest to the Lord, spoke by the inspiration of God. Jesus had said, “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that rejecteth you rejecteth me; and he that rejecteth me rejecteth him that sent me” (Lk. 10:16). In this third epistle John had commended Gaius for his hospitality toward preaching brethren that were strangers to the congregation in which he and Diotrophes were members (vs. 5-8). Diotrophes did not like it one bit and was determined that he would run the church.

Second, he defamed the character of John by making unjust accusations. His religion was vain for not bridling his tongue. In order to promote himself, he had to tear down others. This he did without basis. “When a man has done wrong to another, he finds it necessary either to confess the wrong or to say false and wicked things against him he has wronged, hoping thereby to justify himself’ (The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, comments on 3 John 9, 10). In defaming John, Diotrophes was indirectly guilty of blasphemy against God. In verse 11 John said, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” Diotrophes was in the latter group. John was teaching the will of God when he wrote the church that they should show hospitality to these missionaries. Diotrophes was hindering the spread of the gospel and saying wicked things about those who promoted evangelism. He elevated his opinion to the level of God’s law. “For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers with the truth” (3 John 7, 8).

Third, Diotrophes forbade the performing of a grand privilege and a sacred responsibility. After his “prating against us with wicked words,” John says “not satisfied with this, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church” (v. 10). Diotrophes would not practice hospitality toward these deserving brethren. He would not aid them in their work of spreading the gospel. He would not allow others to help and went so far as to excommunicate those who were doing the right thing. Not all withdrawing is scriptural. Because he was a lover of self, many were hurt by the actions of Diotrophes. He hurt John, he hurt the men who needed support and hospitality, he hurt those who helped the ones in need, he hurt those to whom these were sent, and he hurt the Lord and his church! Like a rock thrown into the water, the consequences of sin are far-reaching. Self-promoters will often step on others in their ambitious aims to climb to the top.

John is called “the Beloved.” But he was not mushy and spineless as some act who claim to be imitating him. He was willing to stand up to Diotrophes. He would prove his own authority as an apostle. He would vindicate the work of the men who were spreading the gospel and needed support and hospitality. He would set the church in order. And he would rebuke Diotrophes. There is a place for pity, compassion, and gentleness. And there is a time to deliver such an one unto Satan.

The Spirit Of Diotrophes And Its Bearing On Present Issues

In a sense this passage has bearing on issues of today. Some who have taken a loose and liberal view of grace and fellowship have accused those who oppose their error as possessing the spirit of Diotrophes (while depicting themselves as John, the Beloved). While no one (regardless of convictions) is immune to the temptations to which Diotrophes submitted, let us notice why such is not a valid accusation.

First, John, Gaius, and others who resisted Diotrophes were not teaching false doctrine as are those of the socalled grace-fellowship movement. When one opposes and refutes false teaching, that does not make him guilty of Diotrophes’ spirit. John was not advocating fellowship of instrumental music, institutionalism, etc. (It is not the purpose of this article to discuss those errors).

Second, sarcastic and satirical writings (such as mock publications of journals of conservative brethren by those who are afraid to reveal their identity) and other similar tirades have not indicated the spirit of John, the Beloved. No one should get the idea that John was going to handle the problem by writing an anonymous satire on Diotrophes.

Third, while John is speaking of a local church problem, one could manifest this attitude on a larger scale (“brotherhood”). However, it remains to be proven that brethren who oppose the new unity movement have elevated their opinions to the level of God’s law. These issues need to be probed, examined, and investigated in a wholesome public discussion.

Principles To Guide Us

Every man must guard against the temptation to promote self. Jesus said the “last shall be the first, and the first last” (Mt. 20:16). Satan is ever at work trying to get us to ignore such statements of inspiration. “Whosoever therefore humbles himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:4). Human wisdom wants to argue against that, for this principle rarely works in the kingdoms of men. Genuine love (not the “honey-coated sentamentality” kind) will go a long way in helping each individual not to seek preeminence. For love is not arrogant or rude. It does not brag on itself or insist on having its own way (1 Cor. 13:4, 5).

God hates pride and arrogance (Prov. 8:13). “Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, but humility goes before honor” (Prov. 18:12). Therefore, no man should “think more highly than he ought to think” (Rom. 12:3). Instead, we should “be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation” (Rom. 12:16). Salvation is beyond those who cannot humble themselves down as a little child (Mt. 18:3, 4).


  1. Explain the difference between pride and humility.
  2. List some expressions used elsewhere in the Bible which describe the disposition of Diotrophes.
  3. What is our Lord’s answer to who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Give Scripture.
  4. What did the writer of Proverbs say about pride and the haughty spirit?
  5. The arrogance of Diotrophes caused him to commit at least three sins. What were they? Can you name others?
  6. Who did Diotrophes hurt by his self-promoting?
  7. What should we remember about the consequences of sin?
  8. Since John was “the Beloved,” was he afraid to stand up to Diotrophes? Discuss this.
  9. Who is immune to the temptation to seek preeminence in the kingdom?
  10. What bearing does the spirit of Diotrophes have on present issues over grace and unity?
  11. In what way can love help each individual not to seek preeminence?
  12. With what words did Paul teach the Romans to be humble people?
  13. Is humility essential to salvation? Give Scripture.
  14. Is rebuking false teachers a manifestation of the spirit of Diotrophes?

Guardian of Truth XXV: 16, pp. 248-249
April 16, 1981