Interpersonally, our churches have the ability to struggle. Why? We are humans in a room with other humans. Ideally, we are loving and growing; but often, we are marking our corners and encouraging our friends to huddle up.
This is unfortunate but it is not new. I was reading 3 John this weekend (exhausting, I know, jk!). It is said to be written between A.D. 70 and A.D. 90. So, John is telling us that misuse of power in the church is already in full swing.
I came across a wonderful little subplot. I don’t watch reality TV, so this pretty juicy to me.
“I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us. And not content with those charges, he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God (3 John 9-11, NRSV).”
My first reaction to this passage was, “That is pretty bold”. John just said that Diotrephes is spreading rumors about John and his representatives, and it has turned into a full blown cat fight. As the evening news and the History Channel show us, ecclesiastical power is and, forever, has been a source of controversy.
The offense of Diotrephes is his refusal to show hospitality. Hospitality is not something that we have invented, although there are so many amazing blogs to check out revolutionizing the way it looks. Hospitality was essential to the Jewish tradition.
This rich legacy flowed easily through the first followers of The Way, meeting in house churches. Hospitality was not optional; it was a representation of the faith. The meeting of the church was literally embedded in someone’s hospitality. Thinking about this alters my understanding of hospitality. How about you?
To refuse hospitality was to offend the one who sent these friends. John understood the message that was being sent from Diotrephes. Diotrephes did not stop there, however, he was throwing people out of the church that showed the friends traditional kindnesses. It is like the worst case scenario, elementary school, playground routine. You are my friend and if you talk to them, you cannot be my friend.
Moving from the offense to the solution, John says not to worry. He does not say to make a big stink or confront Diotrephes. He simply says that he will talk to him when, and if, he comes. If he comes? So, this could never be resolved?
He gives good, concise spiritual advice…don’t act like that. We tell kids that all of the time. “Don’t act like Diotrephes; he is setting a bad example”. Then John lays it out in very simple words. If he is doing good, then it is from God, but if he doesn’t then he has not seen, or perceived, what God is really like.
Don’t we do that? We tell God who He is and then one day He just blows us away by revealing Himself. What a blessing of our faith that we continue to grow and understand God in new and more mature ways! I love those revelatory moments, although they make me feel a little silly in retrospect.
I hope that this was not the end of this story. I hope that 4 John said something like, “And then Diotrephes perceived God and invited the friends in for fellowship, while writing a letter of peace to me”. Maybe that happened, maybe not. Maybe the church was unshackled by his inhospitable ways, maybe not.
This is what we need to pray for amongst believers. There are people that we know who need to see what God is really like. They need God, not us, to show them when pride leads to overburdening oneself, or arrogance leads to being the one with the mic. We must persist in prayer for the body, while maintaining our sight, and perception, of God. This is tricky ground and requires diligence.
John’s advice is so relevant in our church, today. Don’t fixate on the problem. Don’t make it worse by gossiping, and if it doesn’t look like God then don’t act like that. The three steps to conflict resolution in the church.
Are you facing conflicts in your church body? Do John’s words help you process response to conflict in the church?
Father, thank you for dealing perfectly with conflict. Give us patience and perseverance in the middle of discord, and let us reflect you in uncertainty. Show yourself to us so that we can be unmoved. Give us a heart for your hospitality, and let us welcome in your people.