Those who do the most harm to the church aren’t always those who fall from grace in an extravagant display of immorality, or those who come preaching another gospel. But often the worst fracturing is done by arrogance, wicked speech, and divisiveness slowly seeping into the fellowship of the church and breaking it apart.
It doesn’t take a sledgehammer to break a rock into little pieces. Obviously, a sledgehammer will do the job but it’s not the only way to do it. Fascinatingly, it really only takes a little bit of water and temperature variation to do the trick. In a process known as weathering a small amount of water can seep into the crack of a rock, and if the temperature gets cold enough that water will freeze. As it freezes it expands and begins to widen the cracks and split the rocks. I’ve read before that there’s no rock on earth that’s hard enough to resist the forces of weathering.
What’s true in geology is also true in ecclesiology. Churches aren’t always broken by big things — overt false teaching, moral scandals, or leadership failure. They can do the job but it’s not always what happens in the life of a church. Rather, it’s the little things that seep into the worship and fellowship of the church that, given the right conditions, often fracture a congregation. When people’s attitudes, personalities, preferences, and opinions meet with the coldness of lovelessness congregations break. Big sins have slain a thousand churches and little sins have slain ten thousand.
This is why the example of Diotrephes is so interesting. Remember him? I suspect not. Tucked away in what is probably one of the most neglected books of the Bible the Apostle John has to write to Gaius to condemn the behavior of Diotrephes. Not only, however, does he condemn the behavior he warns Gaius — and others who would read his third letter — not to imitate him: “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good.” Why does he have to write that? Because John understands that the innate direction of our hearts is to imitate evil. He knows that Diotrephes example easily influences and persuades others to follow him. The result would be catastrophic! Like a little water seeping into a rock it could fracture and break the church apart.