3 John 9-11 How to Deal with Conflict
We are going to look at four characters in the book of 3 John. Each of these characters will show us how to live a life of love. Some are good examples and some are bad examples. However, each one of them will help us to understand how to live a life of love. We looked last week at a guy named Gaius. Gaius taught us the importance of hospitality and the importance of building relationships. Today we will look at Diotrephes. Diotrephes teaches us the importance of conflict resolution.
Diotrephes is our bad example. Diotrephes teaches us the importance of conflict resolution. You know in order to live a life of love, you have to learn to get to know people. When you get to know someone, there is going to be a disagreement. You have to learn to deal with your disagreements, without being disagreeable.
Unlike Gaius, Diotrephes is not good at his people-building skills. Instead, he shows us some problems that can come up when we deal with different types of people. With some people, we are going to have a problem at some time. Even if we tend to like everyone we meet, and even if they like us, there will come a time when there will be conflict. Husbands and wives will be in conflict. Parents and children will be in conflict. Friends and lovers will be in conflict. How do you deal with it? That is the question.
Some people went to a zoo and were amazed to find a cage with a fox and four chickens inside and a sign hanging on the front that read: “Peaceful Co-existence.” The people were amazed at this and asked the zookeeper how the fox and chickens could get along with each other. The zookeeper said, “Oh, it’s very easy to maintain this arrangement because all we have to do is occasionally toss in a few more chickens.”
In any relationships which come across conflict, there will be challenges. Conflict does not immediately come up. It occurs over time. The Bible shows in these verses how the conflict stages occurred. If you are one who sees that you argue often and you seem to think that your relationships are requiring therapy, then perhaps you could be the one causing the conflict.
Conflict happens through various stages of control. Conflict happens because one person wants to control the relationship. These stages of control increase. As the stages increase, the potential for and the intensity of conflict increases.
STAGES OF CONTROL THAT CAUSE CONFLICT
“…but Diotrephes…will not pay any attention to what I say.” (3 John 9, GNB)
Diotrephes was making a deliberate attempt to ignore other people. He would not accept the hospitality of others. He shut other people out.
“I wrote a letter to the congregation. But Diotrephes, who loves to be in charge, won’t accept us.” (3 John 9, GW)
Diotrephes chooses to resist other people. This is the first stage. Simply put, you start a conflict by not listening to someone else. You shut them out. You don’t pay attention to their interests. You don’t submit to their authority through love. Instead, you try to take control of the situation. Just as Diotrephes wants to be “in charge,” many times, the way a person starts a conflict is through resisting someone else.
There are two types of resistance: passive and active. Passive resistance is when you don’t openly say something – you just ignore, you don’t listen, you don’t respond. There may not even be words exchanged. You just resist. You think: “I won’t do this, and I will show my resistance by not paying attention to the other person.
What was the situation that caused this conflict? It was probably a disagreement over mission philosophy. John reminds Gaius that the church here had accepted John’s original teaching about accepting missionaries, especially ones who were not being paid, and who were not formally tied to another church. Gaius was one who accepted John’s advice (because John was Jesus’ brother at this time) and so Gaius helped these missionaries. Diotrephes, on the contrary, did not love these strangers. He did not like the idea. Perhaps this was related to the given by John in 2 John:
“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home, and don’t say, “Welcome,” to him;” (2 John 10, HCSB)
Notice that 3 John was written to Gaius, and not to the entire church, but that 3 John was written only to Gaius:
“The Elder: To the elect lady and her children…—” (2 John 1, HCSB)
“The Elder: To my dear friend Gaius: I love you in the truth.” (3 John 1, HCSB)
As a result, there was a disagreement that led to conflict. This brings one to the second stage of control in the process:
“This is why, if I come, I will remind him of the works he is doing, slandering us with malicious words…” (3 John 10, HCSB)
The second stage of control is criticism. Criticism is a form of active resistance. You go from saying nothing and ignoring, to saying something. Criticism, in this case, is really lying. Rumors, gossip, wicked nonsense, babble and false accusations – whatever you call it, criticism that is based on lies is wrong. There are good forms of criticism (also called constructive criticism which is based upon truth), but this criticism that leads to conflict is based upon lies, not truth.
“…And he is not satisfied with that! He not only refuses to welcome the brothers himself, but he even stops those who want to do so and expels them from the church.” (3 John 10, HCSB)
What is Diotrephes doing? He is openly isolating two groups of people. He is telling the guests that they cannot come into his home (sounds like he doesn’t love them does he?) and he won’t let others bring guests in as well.
In context, if this is about traveling pastors, you might see how Diotrephes could start to think this way: he wants to protect the church from false teaching. In practice, however, he shows that his interests are not for the church as a whole, but for himself.
You can also see that this is active isolation. From the wording in the original Greek, the implication is that Diotrephes did not do this just one time. He has had a habit of isolating others. He has been in a habit of controlling other people in the church for some time. He was trying to be the boss of the church and he used many ways to do this. He controlled the situation by refusing to read John’s previous letter to the church. Apparently, John had written a letter about this missionary policy and Diotrephes intercepted it. (This letter is different than the letter entitled 2 John.) Then Diotrephes would go around spreading rumors and lies about John. Finally, he isolates other people in the church.
“…he even stops those who want to do so and expels them from the church.” (3 John 10, HCSB)
The last stage is active control. This is when you have overpowered someone else by elimination. You have total control of the situation because you have eliminated your competition. While we should be brothers and sisters in Christ, there are people (even Christians) who try to control one another – even to the point of excommunication. As you will see, the reasons for excommunication, in this case, were not valid.
The word here means to actively eject someone out of the assembly. This literally calls up the picture of someone kicking another person out of the church. The principle of control is total selfishness. I am going to control my wife, my husband, my workplace, my friends, my own little private space that is mine.
You can easily see how a simple disagreement over something very insignificant can lead to total division in the church. This also applies in the home. These were simple disagreements that can lead to division through conflict and control.
This is the basic reason for conflict in the first place: control. However, it does not happen overnight. Fighting for control is something that occurs over time. A person that wants a relationship to build needs to stop trying to control the relationship. When you try to control the relationship you will eventually lose that control through some form of conflict.
VISUAL: You can’t shake the hand of another person when you make a fist.
FOUR WRONG WAYS TO RESPOND TO CONFLICT
The first way many people respond to conflict is with the “my way” method.
People who respond this way usually think they are 100% right 100% of the time. They do whatever it takes to get their own way. They’ll even fight a battle to get their own way.
Two knights were traveling toward each other on the same road when they came to a shield suspended between them. One of the riders said it was gold, while the other insisted it was silver. Soon they were fighting about it. When it was over, they discovered that they were both right – and both wrong! The shield was gold on one side and silver on the other side.
The second way many people respond to conflict is the “no way” method.
These people usually back away from conflict and refuse to face it. They do whatever it takes to avoid an argument.
That’s like the husband and wife who had a really bad argument. The wife came crawling to her husband on her hands and knees screaming: “Get out from under that bed you coward!”
The third way that some respond to conflict is with the “your way” method.
This is when they just say, “have it your way.” This is the kind of person who always gives in to the other person. They just roll over and play dead. They keep stuffing their emotions inside until their bitterness swells within them like a shaken can of coke. Then they explode and spew!
The fourth way that many people respond to conflict is with the “halfway” method.
This is where they try to compromise. They win some of the time and the other person wins some of the time. It’s a win/lose proposition. This way might be better than the other ways we have looked at, but it’s still not the best way to respond to conflict.
So, how does God want us to respond to conflict?
There is a good way to respond to conflict. This good way is God’s way and is clearly outlined in the Scriptures. We have an example of how to deal with conflict the way Jesus said to do it. The book 3 John gives us an application of what Jesus taught.
PRINCIPLES OF CONFLICT RESOLUTION
It is always more rewarding to SOLVE a conflict than to DISSOLVE a relationship.
“This is why, if I come…” (3 John 10, HCSB)
“Better an open reprimand than concealed love.” (Proverbs 27:5, HCSB)
John planned to deal with the conflict. He planned to confront Diotrephes. Notice that John spends his time trying to deal with the conflict without hurting Diotrephes. His approach sounds familiar because Jesus taught it. John intends to meet with Diotrephes. Perhaps John had written a letter to Diotrephes. Yet, apparently, Diotrephes was the only man that was resisting the will of the church. So John looks for a way to present this problem before the church.
Expose lies with the truth.
“…I will remind him of the works he is doing, slandering us with malicious words…” (3 John 10, HCSB)
The words and actions of Diotrephes had to be addressed. The delicate way to deal with the conflict is to address the words and actions without harming the person. (We will talk about how to communicate next week in this way.)
These reality talk shows should be called the “shout shows” the way they respond to each other. You don’t have to shout. You can talk through a conflict, not acting through one.
“We love you Diotrephes, but we do not agree with what you did. This is wrong. You need to stop this.”
Always talk the conflict to a resolution. People can work out their differences in conversation. It takes a calm spirit, and a willingness to understand. It also requires exposing lies. Lies that are left in the dark unexposed lead to dissension and disorder.
End conflict on a good setting
“Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” (3 John 11, HCSB)
However you decide to work out the conflict, always end it on good terms. Make sure everyone comes away a winner.