Last week, my son said that he was tired of being everyone’s servant. He is four and half years old, and he has a great servant’s heart. He will willingly carry his sister’s backpack and lunchbox in the house when we get home from school, he’ll help clean the house without being told, and he offers to help make dinner regularly; so I took the opportunity to encourage him about his servant’s heart and to explain that Jesus was the best servant of all. He seemed confused. He said, “But Jesus is the king! He can’t be a servant!” I explained that while Jesus was here on earth, that’s exactly what he came to do.
“‘For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Matthew 20:28)
When Jesus comes again, He will indeed reign as the King that He is, but when he came the first time it was as a humble servant. There is another person in the Bible who represents the exact opposite of this humble, selfless, servant-leadership that Jesus modeled: his name was Diotrephes. Diotrephes was a leader in a church in the New Testament, and John writes to the people of this church in his third epistle.
“I wrote to the church about this, but Diotrephes, who loves to be the leader, refuses to have anything to do with us.” (3 John 1:9)
Immediately after mentioning his name, John pointed out that Diotrephes loves to be the leader. The NIV translates this as, “(he) loves to be first.” A servant-leader does not have a me first attitude; a servant leaders thinks, everyone else is first. This is the example Jesus set for us. When there was no one to wash their feet, Jesus put everyone in the room before Himself and He washed the disciples’ feet. He didn’t have to endure the cross—He could have called for an army of Angels to save Him in an instant, but He put you first. In willingly dying on the cross, Jesus put everyone in history ahead of Himself.
“…rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7-8)
Diotrephes refused to have anything to do with John and those who were traveling with him. Other translations have the last line as, “does not acknowledge our authority.” When a leader refuses to acknowledge the authority of others, when he refuses to have anything to do with others in charge, then it shows he wants to be the only leader. He wants to have the first and last word on everything. This is the my way or the highway attitude and it’s a very insecure way to lead. Selfish leadership leads to an egocentric perception of one’s authority. Anytime the authority is challenged, a leader like this will isolate others so that he or she remains the only one in charge.
“When I come, I will report some of the things he is doing and the evil accusations he is making against us. Not only does he refuse to welcome the traveling teachers, he also tells others not to help them. And when they do help, he puts them out of the church.” (3 John 1:10)
Diotrephes was also slandering the apostles, which isn’t surprising given what we’ve read so far. If he feels that his authority is challenged, if he leads only for love of self and power, then one of the few tools he has to remain on top is speaking ill of others, especially when they are not around. John says that he is going to report about these things when he comes—Diotrephes isn’t going to simply get away with what he has been doing because John is not a pushover. Not only is Diotrephes turning away visiting teachers and talking bad about them behind their backs, but he is also telling others not to help them—no financial help, no shelter given, and if they did help the traveling teachers, Diotrephes threw them out of the church. Again this is the my way or the highway attitude. This is a selfish, desperate man trying to hold on to his authority.
“Dear friend, don’t let this bad example influence you. Follow only what is good. Remember that those who do good prove that they are God’s children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God.” (3 John 1:11)
You may know someone like Diotrephes, someone who grasps for authority with all their might, who puts themselves above all others, who has to speak ill about people and isolate themselves just to hold on to their perception of authority. These people may have the power they desire, but John gives us advice on what we should do by calling it what it is. John says Diotrephes and this kind of leadership is a “bad example” and he tells us not to let it influence us. What should we do? We follow what is good. Why? Because “those who do good prove that they are God’s children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God.” Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit and it will flourish in those in whom the Spirit flourishes and it will be easy to tell good from evil. Don’t be influenced by the behavior of selfish people, but follow Jesus’ example of selfless leadership.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.