– Nico Bougas

South Africa recently witnessed the largest prayer meeting in its history when more than a million believers gathered in Bloemfontein for the massive, “It’s Time” call to prayer. Thousands more gathered in duplicate prayer meetings in towns and cities around South Africa. It was a hugely impressive movement acknowledging our need for divine intervention in our nation.

Criticism over the event
Sadly, there were those who took to social media to criticise the event. Perhaps it didn’t fit their particular theological bent. Or perhaps they were never consulted. Or perhaps it didn’t address their particular political agenda. Instead of being overwhelmingly grateful that there was this massive expression of our need of God, they settled for nit-picking.

Criticism over JOY
We even get people who regularly criticise JOY! Magazine and discourage people from reading it, even though it is reaching tens of thousands of people each month with positive, inspirational, and challenging articles that are desperately needed in our country.

A critical spirit in the Bible
There was a man in the early church who seemed to have this same critical spirit. His name was Diotrephes. He was a person who was probably a church official, who abused his position, and who ruined his usefulness for the Kingdom of God because he got things out of perspective. You can read about him in John’s third epistle where we read about, “Diotrephes who likes to put himself first”.

He loved prominence
There are always those that want the centre stage. They always want attention. They always want to get the credit. Everything that gets done must carry their stamp of approval.

One of the great tragedies amongst the Lord’s people are those that are always seeking credit. They always want people to notice their particular contribution. They love the prominence and the pre-eminence. They have an attitude that is the very opposite of the Christ they profess to serve. “He did not retaliate when He was insulted, nor threaten revenge when He suffered.” – 1 Peter 2:23. 

True followers of Jesus put Him first
Diotrephes loved to have pre-eminence. The word “pre-eminence” is used only twice in the New Testament. It is used here about Diotrephes and the only other time is it used is when it is used about Christ having pre-eminence in our lives in the epistle to the Colossians. If He is to be Lord and Saviour to us, then He must have first place. He must come before our house, land, wife, husband, parents, children, wealth, fame, and position. We are to present our bodies to Him as a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to Him, which is our reasonable service. The true follower of Jesus Christ gives Him pre-eminence in all things.

We must die before we can live
Diotrephes comes along and is thrust into a position of prominence. Maybe he was a great preacher. Maybe he could sing. Maybe he was a great organiser. Maybe he was very talented. Maybe he had lots going for him. But whatever it was, there was one vital thing that he had never learned. He had never learned to die to himself.

George Muller was a man greatly used by God. A man whose faith in God is legendary and whose life forms one of the great chapters of Christian biography. Asked about the secret of his life he said, “There was a day when I died. Died to the approval or disapproval of the world, died to the praise or condemnation of the world and that was the day I began to live.” Jesus said, “ Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” – John 12.24.

Do you live for yourself, or for Christ?
Diotrephes loved to have pre-eminence. He loved the position that rightfully belongs to Christ. He wanted the prominence, the respect, the loyalty, and the praise that can only belong to Christ.

How about you? Who has the pre-eminence in your life? Who controls your thoughts, desires, aims, ambitions, affections? Is self on the throne in your life? Have you tried to substitute Christ with self? Are you a self-centred, self-willed, selfish person or does Christ really reign over your life? Have you reached the point in your life that John the Baptist had when he said, “he must increase, I must decrease”? – John 3.30.

He was quick to criticise
Diotrephes was so anxious to be the leader, to have pre-eminence, that he resorted to spreading malicious gossip and slander about the apostle John. In doing so he identified himself with satan. Because this is satan’s work. His name means “slanderer” and there is no weapon that he is more adept at using than the tongue. It is as James reminds us, “an unruly evil, full of wickedness, and poisons every part of the body”. The tongue is set aflame by hell itself. It is compared to a raging, burning, destructive fire, to a wild untameable beast. It is those idle words that we speak that can ruin people’s reputations break up homes, destroy careers, shatter friendships.

Our tongue is our greatest blessing, and our sharpest weapon
God gave you a tremendous gift when he gave you a tongue. You can use it to encourage, to inspire, to cheer, to uplift to instruct, or you can use it to criticise, complain, or condemn. It can bring you great comfort and joy, but it can also bring bitterness, hatred, and despair. How do you use your tongue? You can be like Barnabas who earned the reputation of being a great encourager and had a positive influence wherever he went, or you can be like Diotrephes who spread malicious gossip.

He refused authority
Diotrephes not only loved pre-eminence and spread malicious gossip, but he also rejected authority. In this case the authority of the Apostle John. He wasn’t taking orders from anybody. It was Winston Churchill who once said, ” I am always willing to learn, but I am not always willing to be taught.” Sometimes it is harder to be a follower than a leader. Diotrephes would have nothing to do with his superiors, he rejected authority. It stopped him running his own little show.

What is the Christian attitude to authority? In Jesus’ day there were two extreme points of view embodied in the attitudes of the Sadducees and the Zealots. The Sadducees gave their unreserved submission to the Roman domination and surrendered all hope of the Kingdom of God; they were the collaborationists of the day. The Zealots on the other hand unreservedly denounced the Roman state and for years preached and prepared for a holy war. Their efforts finally led to open war, which ended with the destruction of the temple by the Romans in AD 70.

Our citizenship is in Heaven
Now Jesus did not fit into either category. He was not a Sadducee or a Zealot. The Bible teaches us that our citizenship is in Heaven (Phil 3:20). It teaches that the state is a temporary institution willed by God for this present age. It is necessary for the present order of things, and the disciple of Jesus is not to try and abolish the state as an institution but to give what is necessary for its existence. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s“. As soon as the state demands more than is necessary for its existence, the disciple is relieved of all obligation to this requirement of the totalitarian state. He is not to give to the state that which belongs to God.

All authority is God-given
Paul puts it even more strongly. He says in Romans 13 that his readers are to subject themselves willingly to the governing authorities for two reasons; all such authorities are established by God so that one who resists them is resisting God and will incur condemnation from Him. Secondly, resistance invites the wrath of the authorities and properly so, for in bringing vengeance upon evil-doers they are ministers of God to us for good. 

Pray for our rulers
The Christian’s attitude towards the government, regardless of his opinions about the wisdom of its policies or the integrity of its officials, should be fundamentally positive in that the state’s existence in this age is willed by God for specific purposes. In exhorting us to pray for our rulers, Paul does not leave us the option either of destructively criticising the government or of being totally indifferent towards it. In the case of Diotrephes, he was totally opposed to the rightful authority wrongfully.

He refused hospitality
“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 10. Here is a man who professes the Name of Christ, who seeks to be a leader of God’s people, who sets himself up as an example to follow – and what is he doing? He is insulating himself from others in God’s family. He is isolating himself from other brothers and sisters in Christ. He is saying, “my group is better than your group; we are more scriptural, we are more sanctified, more spiritual. All the others are poor imitations; they are inferior – we are the real thing.”

Pettiness, jealousy, and pride
We find that same sort of thing developing in the Corinthian church where they were saying, “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, I am of Christ.” They were so partisan, so parochial in their outlook. They only cared about their little group, their party, their interests. It is said that when the Titanic sunk, the headlines in an Aberdeen local newspaper read, “Aberdeen man drowns in Arctic.” as though the scores of others that drowned were of minor significance. What does Paul say about this Corinthian spirit? He told them they were still carnal, they were still immature, worldly folk who still thought and lived like the ordinary non-Christians around them. That’s the way the world thinks – it is full of petty jealousies, full of party spirit, full of bitterness and pride.

The Church is riddled with this carnal spirit
The church is riddled with men and women with this same carnal, divisive party spirit. We have people hiving off into little camps – the reformed group, the charismatic group, the anti-charismatic group, the prayer book group, the believer’s baptism group, the pre-millennium, post-millennium, a-millennium groups, or some other issue that is not really at the heart of the matter and has no relevance to our salvation. And people become so vociferous in their support for a particular group that we can no longer hear the voice of Him who said, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another” – John 13:35. We cannot hear Him praying that we should be one.

Unity, liberty, charity
Now I am not saying that we shouldn’t have our individual convictions and interpretations of Scripture. But God forbid that we should esteem ourselves above others. There is an oft quoted dictum that should govern our actions as Christians, “In essentials – unity; in non-essentials – liberty; and in all things – charity.”

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