Christian believers have a unique and powerful identity: we are adopted (Gal. 4), justified (Rom. 4; 5; Gal. 2), forgiven (Rom. 8), righteous (2 Cor. 5; Rom. 5) and secure (Rom. 8; John 10). But we also read about the spiritual DNA of those outside of Christ: they are dead in sin (Eph. 2), spiritually blind (1 Cor. 2; 2 Cor. 4), separated from God (Isa. 59), and unable to be fruitful (John 15). It is important to be aware of this DNA, because both groups of people will manifest who they are.
Growing up, I never knew my biological father and was totally clueless about my paternal bloodline. Scientists can match with 99 percent accuracy a person’s DNA with others with the same genetic ancestry. So, for roughly $90, I mailed my saliva to a DNA testing place. I learned I am 40 percent British and 33 percent Irish, with the rest being mostly eastern European. It was amazing to find out who I really am, at least from a physical and historical standpoint.
The Christian’s Spiritual DNA
The list can go on and on. But we also read about the spiritual DNA of those outside of Christ: they are dead in sin (Eph. 2), spiritually blind (1 Cor. 2; 2 Cor. 4), separated from God (Isa. 59), and unable to be fruitful (John 15).
It is important to be aware of this DNA, because both groups of people will manifest who they are. Saved people who are growing will produce godly fruit. Those disconnected from God’s grace will produce spiritually rotten fruit.
It would have been nice if 3 John could have ended at verse 8. But there was someone John needed to address, Diotrephes. John indicts Diotrephes’s character with these pointed words, “who likes to put himself first” (3 John 9). This word “first” is only found in one other place in the New Testament. In Colossians 1:18 Paul shares his desire for Christ to have “preeminence” or “first place” in all things. John uses this same word to describe the position of importance Diotrephes desired—to be first or preeminent. His desire resulted in disruptive consequences for this church:
- Diotrephes refused to acknowledge the leadership of John and other authorities in the church, revealing an obvious lack of humility.
- He refused to be welcoming to traveling Christians, revealing a lack of hospitality.
- He tried to create daylight between John and the other believers in the church, revealing a divisive spirit.
The text doesn’t tell us if Diotrephes was a truly regenerate believer, but it does reveal that he wasn’t in a good place spiritually. The text also does not identify the conflict that Diotrephes had with John. But it implies that John was correct, while Diotrephes was out of place. We see here a few of the consequences of someone who always has to be first.
The big takeaway from 3 John 9–11 is that those who love to be first cause serious damage to Christ’s church. This is the economy, or administration, of a heart disconnected from the grace of God. Jesus’ economy, on the other hand, is that the first will be last and the last will be first. If we want to be great, we’ll be great servants of God and of others (Mark 10:31, 45).
Here’s the real difference between Gaius, whom John wrote glowingly about (3 John 1–8), and Diotrephes, whom John warned people to stay away from: Gaius loved, served, and put others before himself. In turn, people were blessed and encouraged. But Diotrephes loved to be first, resulting in harm to individuals and the church.
The DNA of a Diotrephes
One of the main characteristics of DNA is that it makes copies of itself. What we read about Diotrephes in 3 John might make us wonder if he replicated himself in people today. Even in churches today. You might have just read about Diotrephes and wondered if he’s going by a pseudonym in your church!
Those who always have to be first will have a hard time serving and loving others. Why? For starters, they’re more interested in serving and loving themselves. But be hopeful. The gospel has the power to change individuals infected with a divisive spirit.
Below is a list of the characteristics of Diotrephes’s DNA. If you see any characteristics that reflect your own heart, remember that the gospel is powerful enough to change any pattern of destructive behavior.
1. Those with the DNA of Diotrephes always want to be the center of attention.
Always wanting to be first or preeminent means an individual will go to great lengths to ensure people notice him. This could entail being loud and obnoxious. It could mean wanting to spread juicy gossip. It means not serving and loving others, because a person can’t be preeminent and put others first at the same time. It’s difficult to love and serve others when we’re climbing over them. Having to be first means wanting to control or dominate a situation and stopping at nothing to be the center of all things. Someone with the DNA of Diotrephes isn’t content with being unnoticed or not getting the credit he thinks he deserves.
It’s interesting that in a few places in the New Testament, godliness isn’t associated just with being holy or doing good works, but also with being quiet and not being a busybody. Notice how Paul intertwines brotherly love with minding our own business and leading a quiet life: