Sometimes the best lessons come from the worst examples. Maybe you had a parent who disciplined out of anger. Or a pastor who wielded his Bible like a billy club. Or a boss who abused his or her authority.
It’s easy to dismiss lousy leaders as incompetent, arrogant, or uncaring—and unworthy of our attention. But it’s hard to examine their flaws and failures so as to apply their bad example to our own lives.
The Bible often makes good use of a bad example. Scripture records the failings of many—not like some grocery tabloid would—but to show us why we should make good choices (1 Cor. 10:6).
The Apostle John took up his pen and wrote for us 5 good lessons from a bad example.
Thankfully, these are 5 lessons we don’t have to learn the hard way.
5 Good Lessons from a Bad Example
John wrote to encourage his friends to support some traveling Bible teachers. But one leader in the church refused to do so.
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. —3 John 9-10
In two verses, John offers 5 lessons from a bad example:
1. Watch your desire to be ranked as “first.”
John said Diotrephes was “the one who loves to be first among them.” Diotrephes desired to be first in the church. And no doubt, he saw John’s letter as a threat.
Several times Jesus had to take His disciples aside because they kept arguing among themselves which one was regarded as “the greatest.” We need to learn to let our self-image be based on our identity in Christ, not on others’ opinions of us. Can you play second fiddle and let someone else be above you?
2. Submit to the authority God places over you.
Diotrephes was unwilling to be under the authority of the apostles. Part of submission to God includes submission includes staying in bounds with the authority God has given you. Diotrephes should have known no one person has the authority to put someone out of the church; this is a last resort of a process of church discipline by the entire assembly. He abused his authority by making inappropriate decisions on his own.
God has placed people in authority over us in various realms of life:
- Government (Rom. 13:1-2)
- Work (Eph. 6:5-8)
- Home (Eph. 5:22-6:4)
- Church (Heb. 13:17)
As long as our authority doesn’t require us to sin, we should submit as unto the Lord. Will you submit to the authority God has placed over you?
3. Stay teachable.
We should always watch for an attitude that suggests we have nothing to learn from another. John wrote: “neither does he himself receive the brothers.”
Diotrephes refused to welcome the traveling teachers (unlike Gauis who did, v. 5), probably because, as “first,” he felt like it was his turf and his ministry. Are you threatened by someone else’s teaching, or do you see the ministry as a team effort?
4. Remember that someone’s success doesn’t represent your failure.
Diotrephes felt the need to put down other leaders in order to build himself up in the eyes of the congregation (“loved to be first”).
- John said Diotrephes was “unjustly accusing us with wicked words.”
- Not only did he accuse them unjustly, but he used malicious, evil words to do it with. Consider the integrity and maturity of this leader!
Someone else’s success does not represent your failure. Offer genuine congratulations. (Tweet that.)
Are you threatened or jealous when someone else gets a public commendation?
5. Encourage generosity toward others, not just toward yourself.
Not only did Diotrephes refuse to support the traveling teachers, but also he even refused to allow others to do so. This exclusivism bordered on paranoia as his desire to be first felt threatened by the giftedness of others. Do other people’s gifts inspire you or intimidate you?
Some of the best lessons come from a bad example. Determine to learn from every life. (Tweet that.)
Diotrephes served in order to further the kingdom of Diotrephes, not the kingdom of God. His prayers, his service, his acts of goodwill were selective, so that all the good things he did funneled right back to him.
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