by Jefferson David Tant
If you have read III John, you are aware that the author, very likely the apostle John, mentioned a troublemaker in the church. “I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 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, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church" (III John 9-10)
The question comes to mind from time to time as to how do we deal with troublemakers in the church today? If you have never experienced this in your lifetime in the congregations of which you have been a part, you are blessed. Hopefully, the time won’t come. When you read the letters in the New Testament, you are aware that there were problems in various churches.
So, what about Diotrephes? Evidently, he had a problem with self-importance and obviously had no respect even for John, an apostle who had been chosen by Christ himself. Although John gave no instructions to the church about him, he evidently hoped to deal with him when he came.
Notice something missing in John’s instructions. He did not tell the Christians to leave and go find another church. The problem needed to be dealt with, but running away wasn’t the answer. That time may come, but not as the first response. There is no indication that those in authority were teaching false doctrines and refused to be corrected. but evidently, this was some personality problem.
We know that there are occasions when some drastic action must be taken to preserve the peace and admonish a sinner. “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us” (II Thessalonians 3:6).
So, just how do we treat one who is out of order? Paul gives us some instruction about this. “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). Please note the word “gentleness.” I have been aware of shouting matches, and bad attitudes when dealing with problems. I recall one time when I was doing some preachers’ training in the Philippines that some dispute arose, with men shouting at one another. They were speaking in their native Ilocano language so that I could not understand, but I was later told they were using some bad language.
So, here are a few “takeaways” from what we learn in the Scriptures. We know that disputes can be over personal matters, as well as disputes over matters of doctrine.
- The first thing to do is not to run away. Those that are faithful that you leave behind will lose your encouragement and support.
- Approach the offender privately and with a sincere heart seek to resolve whatever the problem is, whether personal or doctrinal, etc.
- If personal conversations are not productive, then take others with you. "And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer” (Matthew 18:15-17).