3 John 1:9 by Robert Dean
Series:3rd John (2003)
Duration:1 hr 10 mins 2 secs

Grace Orientation vs. Legalism; 3 John  9


3 John 1:9 NASB "I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say."

There is a contrast that John is setting up in this epistle. There is Gaius as a positive example of a believer who is reaching spiritual maturity and how that is impacting the life and the priorities in their day-to-day life—he is specifically praised for his orientation to missions and his support of evangelists and pastors that are coming through the area—and, more than that he is praised for his walking by means of the truth. Then in vv. 9 & 10 we have the negative. This is instruction by contrast. The contrast is between the humility of Gaius and the arrogance of Diotrephes. Diotrephes' arrogance is the result of negative volition. All arrogance goes with negative volition to Scripture. No matter how kind or sweet one is he is still arrogant if he is operating on the sin nature. There are a lot of people who operate on pseudo humility, pseudo gentleness and pseudo kindness and it all flows out of a particular arrogant disposition of their sin nature. We should not fall into the trap of thinking that arrogance is always pictured in a sort of negative, conceited, egotistical way. Some of the sweetest, kindest people that we think are very humble are the most arrogant, self-absorbed people that we will ever meet. They just manage to camouflage it. We always have to remember that arrogance is the orientation of the sin nature. So as soon as we are out of fellowship, as soon as we are under the control of the sin nature, we are operating on arrogance. What we see here in 3rd John is the contrast between genuine humility from grace orientation and doctrinal orientation versus the arrogance of negative volition in Diotrephes.

John writes at the beginning of verse 9, "I wrote something to the church." So he has written an epistle, some specific teaching, certain things. This is the indefinite pronoun tis [tij] which indicates "certain things." He wrote specifics about different areas of doctrine and application, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say." So there is a rejection of the apostolic writing. "I wrote" is the aorist active indicative of the Greek verb grapho [grafw] meaning to write, and whenever we have an apostle using the word grafw what immediately should come to mind is the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. This is foundational to understanding what is going on here. John's writing to the church isn't like our writing to the church. Whatever John wrote wasn't part of the canon and wasn't inspired writing, but nevertheless it came from an apostle so it bore apostolic authority. Diotrephes is rejecting it because, first of all he is rejecting apostolic authority, but more importantly from what is said in vv. 9, 10, he is rejecting the truth.

The foundational contrast here is that Gaius is responding to doctrine, he accepts the truth and applies the truth, whereas on the other hand Diotrephes operating on arrogance rejects doctrine, it is not a priority, he wants to set himself up as an authority, and because he is rejecting doctrine he is rejecting the authority of the apostle. Just as when someone rejects the authority of a local church pastor it is ultimately a problem of arrogance, self-absorption and negative volition to the truth.

You can only have absolute truth if it exists above and outside of all creation. Inside of creation is mankind and absolute truth exists above and apart from and in distinction from all of creation, all of mankind, and all of human experience. Therefore because there is an absolute truth it can sit in judgment on the creation and everything in the creation. Absolute truth then becomes the standard by which everything in the created realm is evaluated. The only way we can have absolute truth, then, is if it is guaranteed to be such by God. We know that Scripture equates God with absolute truth.

The doctrine of inspiration

Inspiration is the product of God the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit so supernaturally directed the human writers of Scripture that without waiving their human intelligence, vocabulary, individuality, literary style, personality, personal feelings or any other human factor, His complete and coherent message to mankind was recorded in the original autograph with perfect accuracy in the original languages of Scripture, the very words bearing the authority of divine authorship. 

Inerrancy only applies to the original autographs in the original languages. The Bible we have today is not infallible, not inerrant, it is a translation. A translation is always subject to flaws which come into play because of the translator's lack of familiarity with the original language, because he brings his own theological biases to the translation, and a number of other things which will affect it.

There are three corollaries that are important to understand. The first is that inspiration is verbal. This means that in the original languages the Holy Spirit guided in the choice of words used. Words mean something; they change ever so slightly the point of emphasis. Verbal means that the words are inspired; plenary means that all of the Bible is equally inspired, the accuracy which verbal inspiration secures is extended to the entire Bible so that it is inerrant and infallible in all of its parts. The third term that is important to understand is inerrancy. Inerrancy means that the writings in the original autograph were without error. In the process of copying and duplicating manuscripts errors have crept in such as leaving words out, changes of spelling and grammar over the years. Furthermore, there were misguided attempts by scribes to clarify a difficult passage. They would add a word thinking it would clarify the passage. Marginal notes were sometimes inadvertently included in the text when MSS were copied at latter dates. There were a lot of different ways that little errors crept into the text but the vast majority of them are errors related to spelling, leaving out a word, adding a word, things of that nature that had no impact whatsoever on any major doctrine in Scripture. We have so many MSS that we are easily able to reconstruct the original. This is important because it tells us that we have in the 66 books of the Bible a guaranteed revelation from God that is absolute truth. That truth, then, sits in judgment on mankind.  

We have to consider another word here and that is "culture." Part of the way we have defined missions is taking the gospel or the Word of God into a cross-cultural context. This occurred in Genesis 3:15 and the first Missionary was God who comes to a fallen Adam and Eve and gives the gospel, and begins to teach them. So we have God coming into a fallen culture and He starts to correct that culture with absolute truth. The nature of all teaching of doctrine is cultural transformation.

Diotrephes "does not accept what we say." In other words, he knows more about the church, more about doctrine than the apostle John does. So in his arrogance he is rejecting truth, in contrast to Gaius who is accepting the truth. Diotrephes is a carnal believer in negative volition to the truth because he is operating on arrogance. He is said to be one who loves to have the pre-eminence. This is the Greek word philoproteuo [filoprwteuw] which has the idea of someone who loves to be first. This is the person who is self-absorbed, he wants to be the most thought of person in the congregation, he loves the spotlight and attention; he is operating on approbation lust.

3 John 1:10 NASB "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, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire {to do so} and puts {them} out of the church."

Diotrephes has fallen into arrogance and is operating on the five arrogance skills. These begin with self-absorption. As soon as a believer sins arrogance, the natural orientation of the sin nature, takes over. Self-absorption leads to self-indulgence. Self-indulgence leads to self-justification. This blinds the believer into self-deception and this leads to a self-deification. This is a process, a cycle that people get into. This exactly what has happened to Diotrephes, he has rejected the authority of the apostle. God is not the one who is in charge anymore, he is. He deifies himself, the creature puts himself in the place of the creator; he rejects the fact that there is an external frame of reference from God that sits in judgment on his own life. The creature rejects the truth and substitutes his own brand of truth which is some sort of relative value system as the absolute, and this always fails.

John is not going to let Diotrephes away with this. There is accountability. "If I come" is a third class condition. There is an element of contingency here but it is considered a more probable condition, i.e. if I come, I'm not sure that I will, but it is my intent and in all probability I will come; "I will call attention to his deeds." This is the Greek verb hupomimnesko [u(pomimnhskw] which in the future tense simply refers to something in the future and has the idea of bringing something to memory. He will remind everyone of what Diotrephes has done; he will rehearse his failing, because they weren't done in private. He has taken advantage of the congregation and John will hold him accountable. This involved "wicked words," running down the authority over him. John continues, "and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either." So not only is Diotrephes rejecting John's authority, rejecting the truth itself and setting himself up as the final authority, but he is not accepting the brethren, in contrast to Gaius who did accept the brethren. Diotrephes' rejection of the truth affects missions, the support of missionaries, and arrogance always does that. He not only does not receive the brethren but he removes them from the church. He is out to build his own little kingdom.

3 John 1:11, 12 NASB "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. Demetrius has received a {good} testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true."

John is clearly showing toe contrast between Diotrephes as an example of evil and Gaius as an example of good. So we can say that Diotrephes practices evil, he is walking in darkness and not in the light; he is not applying the Word. The practical application of that is that he is ejecting people from the congregation, he is not supporting the missionaries and evangelists that are coming through, he has an imperious, cold and authoritarian attitude, and he is characterised by sins of the tongue—maligning, slandering, gossipping and judging others. All of this is in contrast to the maturing believer, Gaius. Any believer can fall into this same trap and this happens any time we get out of fellowship.  


1.  Arrogance is defined as the creature elevating his ideas, opinions, values and actions over that of the creator. He is going to judge God and God's Word from his own frame of reference.

2.  Arrogance is the basic orientation of the sin nature.

3.  Therefore arrogance is the enemy of the spiritual life and is the complete and total opposite of grace.

4.  Arrogance is synonymous with vanity. It puts all of the emphasis on one's person, talents, attainments or possessions. It is linked with a lust for approbation or praise from others.

5.  Arrogance brings with it a host of other sins—mental attitude sins such as jealousy, bitterness, vindictiveness, implacability, revenge motivation, as well as sins of the tongue such as slander, gossip, judging, and maligning.

6.  Arrogance is a mental attitude sin which overflows into motivation, decision making and priorities. As soon as one becomes arrogant he changes his priorities.