John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, faced a strong opponent in the Body of Christ.
He was the closest to Christ, the only disciple who stayed with Jesus, even as He hung on the Cross. Jesus commissioned him to take care of His earthly mother.
Five times (the number of grace), John describes Himself as the "disciple whom Jesus loved". John was preeminent not for what he did, but for what God the Father did and keeps doing through His Son Jesus Christ!
John faced a straining opponent in the church. Diotrephes, was an opponent who had infiltrated the assembly of believers and was turning the brethren away from John.
John was very displeased with this man's witness in the Body of Christ:
"I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not." (3 John 9)
Here, "loves to have preeminence" renders the original Greek word "φιλοπρωτεύω
philopróteuó: to strive to be first, referring to one who desires preeminence or the chief place.
In Christ, we do not have to strive to be one with Him, yet He alone is preeminent, is number one. In Him alone do we have glory:
This Spirit of Diotrephes is very strong in many churches, a spirit in which men and women are seeking preeminence for themselves, and thus do not receive those who walk by faith, receiving God's grace to do every good work.
Why do people prop themselves up with preeminence? They do not know who they are in Christ.
We are the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5: 21)
We are seated in high places (lit. above the heavens") with Christ (Ephesians 2:6)
He lives in us, our hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)
Seated with Christ, we reign over all principality and power (Colossians 2:10-15)
If we walk in the Light, which is Christ, then His blood continually cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1: 5-7)
If God is for us, then, who can be against us? Who can condemn us, who can put us to shame? (cf Romans 8: 31-34) We have no reason to fear the recriminations of men. We have no reason to prove ourselves, to work to achieve God's favor, which is grace and therefore unmerited!
Yet in the Body of Christ, because many are not skilful in the words of righteousness:
"For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
"But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."
Now, to be skilled in righteousness is not a matter of doing more, but rather believing more. Believing is the chief work of God that Jesus exhorted His followers to do:
"Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." (John 6:29)
This is the one work! Even Oswald Chambers conceded that it is much easier for man to do something than to trust and believe -- yet that is the one work without which it is impossible to please God! (cf Hebrews 11:6)
Yet many in the Body of Christ have become wrapped up in the works that they do, convinced that they can earn God's favor. Some are still stuck in the false notion that they must earn God's salvation! These are enemies of the Cross (cf Philippians 3:18), to the extent that they believe that there are still other things that we must do beyond Christ's Finished Work to merit God's unmerited favor in our lives!
Yet nothing can complement or compete with Christ and His Finished Work:
"Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
"That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
"And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2: 9-11)
"Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church." (3 John 9-10)
Here, "remember" renders the original word ὑπομιμνῄσκω hupomimnéskó
which speaks of reminding or calling attention to Diotrephes' conduct, somewhat like Paul when he confronted Peter for his dissimulation before the circumcised (Cf Galatians 2).
Diotrephes and his modern successors (whether intended or not) persecute those who trust in the Lord for all, resting in His grace, receiving His glory as the fullest extent of preeminence.
Paul wrote of this conflict between those who live after the flesh (Whether in the Body of Christ or not) and those who live after the Spirit:
"Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
"But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now." (Galatians 4: 28-29)
Those who are well-versed in righteousness have no need to provoke others, to seek a higher place, to love preeminence, for they know that they are already accepted in the Beloved (cf Ephesians 1:6)
The chief enemy in the Body of Christ, therefore, is not sin, but the spirit of Diotrephes, in which believers insist on vying for God's favor through their works rather than trusting in His grace.
Every believer needs to rest in the assertion which Paul gave to his trusted charge Timothy:
"But godliness with contentment is great gain." (1 Timothy 6:6)
Godliness itself is a gift from God:
"According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue." (2 Peter 1:3)
How tragic, that the same discontentment that causes men to be ignorant of the godliness which they have received as a gift is the same rebellion which stirred up Satan to rise up and then fall before the Lord!
This is an evil heresy, one which is routed out not by shame or blame, but by instructing all to be skillful in the words of righteousness!