I wrote a letter for the members of the church, but Diotrephes, who enjoys dominating, refuses to acknowledge us. So if I do come, I will tell everyone what he is doing, and how he spreads malicious gossip about us. As if that weren’t enough, he not only refuses to welcome our co-workers, he also interferes with those who want to do so, and banishes them from the church.
But as for you, my dear friend, don’t imitate evil. Imitate what is good instead. Those who do what is right are children of God; those who do what is evil have never seen God.
3 John 9-10
The writer of the Johannine letters (1, 2, 3 John) has always struck me as a person of great depth and wisdom. Love is the start of faith. Love is the substance of faith. Love is the culmination of faith. It is this writer’s emphasis on love as the primary movement of God towards us that sustains my own faith. So it is amusing to come across this spiritually adept person as angry and frustrated.
I’ve known anger and disappointment and the feeling of being stuck because others won’t get on with it or can’t seem to get out of my way. I’ve known the cutting pain of being stabbed in the back and of having my designs thwarted by another’s lack of support. Yes, I’ve known frustrations and so appreciate the candidness with which 3rd John reads.
Diotrephes has been lost to history outside of this rant. We can conjecture that Diotrephes represents another expression of faith – one that the writer of the letter is at odds with. In the context of this conflict Diotrephes “refuses to acknowledge us”, “spreads malicious gossip”, “refuses to welcome our co-workers”, and “interferes with those” who would welcome these co-workers, banishing these helpers from the church.
In a significant way the personality of Diotrephes still represents the church to queer people of faith. Acknowledgement of our concerns fall on death ears, while at the same time malicious gossip spreads half-truths and outright lies. Our allies are often shouted down or simply ignored, and in some cases banished from the church. It's enough to make us shout "Talk to the hand!"
While it may seem a just cause to fight fire with fire and use the same techniques in turn, 3rd John leaves no room for such sloppy spirituality. “Don’t imitate evil. Imitate what is good instead.” Good here being the love and acceptance which God has provided for all humanity through Jesus the Christ.
The writer of the Johannine letters is frustrated because Diotrephes has chosen to imitate something less then what is good. Diotrephes imitates attitudes and power grabs that belong more in the realm of the godless than to the realm of those who love God.
It is hard to face Diotrephes and keep our eyes on God. It is hard to bear the burden Diotrephes lays on us and keep our feet on the sure path. Yet Diotrephes represents what is small and trivial. 3rd John indicates that for those seeking the greater experience of life there is only one choice – the imitation of what is good.