I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone – and even by the truth itself. - 3 John 9-12 excerpts (NIV)
If you want to know about the values of a society, look at what people are naming their babies. Baby names reflects who we think deserves our admiration. There are a lot more kids named Barack than there were 20 years ago. The same goes for Usain or Serena. The flip side is true, too. Certain names fall out of favor because someone bearing that name becomes infamous.
This even shows up in the Bible. Take Diotrephes and Demetrius. Both of these early church leaders likely believed they were representing the best parts of the faith. Both were prominent enough to be known simply by first name. Of little ones named Demetrius, we have no shortage. But when’s the last time you met a baby Diotrephes? What did Diotrephes do to make his name mud?
It seems he was acting as a gatekeeper. Diotrephes worked to keep some people out of the church. But Demetrius was well spoken of by everyone including, it seems, those who Diotrephes pushed out. At this point, I am squirming in my seat. Because I’ve been in the church long enough to know that hospitality is hard.
I have banned people from church property for what I think are good reasons. But Diotrephes had his reasons too. Yes, a church should welcome all people. But a church cannot welcome all behaviors. This stuff is hard. It’s “yes, but.” There are no easy answers or hard-and-fast rules. Hospitality requires willingness to be uncomfortable but not unsafe. It requires placing the last first and the first last.
We must work hard to get it right. It matters that we get it right.
Just ask Diotrephes.
God of the stranger in our midst, help us follow you.
John Edgerton is Lead Pastor at First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois.