The Apostle John’s Observation
The apostle John writes very revealingly of a church leader called Diotrephes, in his third epistle (3 John 9-10). John said Diotrephes “loves to be first”. This is a telling piece of information. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:28 that in the church it is to be “first, apostles“, and this can only mean that Diotrephes was claiming apostolic authority over the local church. John also said that he “will have nothing to do with us”. This makes Diotrephes, by definition, a false apostle. Possibly he was originally a genuine leader of God’s people who had fallen, or was falling. He fails the test of the true apostle on both the following points.
Firstly, the true apostle is marked by humility, gentleness, considering others better than oneself, love and hospitality. Yet Diotrephes was “gossiping maliciously” about the apostles, he refused “to welcome the brothers”, he stopped others from offering hospitality to the brothers, and he “puts them out of the church”.
Secondly, he rejected the true apostle (John), and exercised malicious and manipulative control of the local church. We have here a classic example of the false apostle/prophet/shepherd. Further, John implied that Diotrephes was not of God when he made the comment found in 3 John 11.
On the other hand, John proceeds immediately to commend Demetrius, who stands in stark contrast to Diotrephes. He is well spoken of by the believers, and by the truth itself. As well, the apostle commends him, which is a faithful testimony.
A Pattern for Validating True Grace Gifts.
This gives us the pattern for recognising the true apostle or prophet. God will provide two or three witnesses to establish every truth. This will come from the testimony of the believers who are around them, the testimony of just how their life compares to the Word of God, and the testimony of the apostles who are over them in the Lord.
In assessing the validity of leadership ministry, let the body of Christ take note of John’s words in his second epistle, found at 2 John 7-11, and consider especially these instructions. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work” (2 John 10-11).