“I wrote unto the church, but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth them not.” III John 9
“Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him accord to his works.” II Timothy 4:4
Since the beginning of time pastors have been victims of criticism in the church and it has caused much hurt for that one who has given himself to serving the Lord and serving the saints. Someone once said that, “The holy heart can be hurt. But is answered with love and prayer and forgiveness.”
From the texts above we learn that even the apostles John and Paul had their critics. For John, it was Diotrephes the dictator, who insisted on being the leader of the pack in the church. Desiring the preeminence simply means that he constantly was promoting himself and his agenda. He no doubt rejected John because he challenged his right to be the dictator of the church. John was teaching that it was Christ’s church! III John 10 seems to imply that Diotrephes reacted by attacking John before the others by spreading false accusations against him, and this he no doubt did when John was away. Diotrephes would not even receive other brethren who were favorable to John. There is no question that a “church split” was in progress, led by Diotrephes the dictator.
On the other hand, Paul was plagued with Alexander the coppersmith. He was a dissenter. Everything that Paul advocated, he abhorred. Whatever Paul cheered, he challenged. What Paul preached, he perverted. His primary task was to do harm to Paul and his ministry. But to be against Paul, was to be against God! It seems that Alexander’s perseverance in undermining Paul’s ministry finally ended with Paul, in a last resort, just handing him over to the Lord, “The Lord will reward him according to his works.”
Only the Lord knows the number of wayward saints, dictators and dissenters, that have caused pastors the loss of their ministries. I once had a discouraged pastor, in his church only a short time, call and inquire if I had available any resignation letters! Few pastors have the joy of ministering in a church where there is never “some thorn in the flesh” whose gift it is to cause them some evil, or at least thwart their dreams, plans, goals or ambitions. Often the smaller the church, the more evident this may be. They may not be as contentious as was Diotrephes, who always wanted first chair, or Alexander, who loved to sow seeds of sin, but their goal always seems to be the same – hinder the work of God. There’s nothing more dangerous to the work of God and the man of God than a wayward saint bent on causing trouble.
For some of you, it might be a reluctant board member who never seems to want to move ahead; or maybe a relentless member who can never be satisfied yet resists change; or a “reactionary few” that always seem to be on the pastor’s case; or a rebellious minority that delights in criticizing the preaching. Whoever they are, out of all the people who faithfully attend your church, the coppersmith is the first one you run into on Sunday morning, and the only one you see while sitting on the platform scanning the congregation (I wonder if this is why more pastors these days are sitting in the front row until time to preach?). He’s the one you always notice has his arms folded and a frown on his face while you are preaching. The coppersmiths always seem to haunt us. They control far too much of our “think” time during the day. They always seem to be on our minds before we fall asleep at night. They just never seem to disappear!
Well, what can we do with these wayward saints that may be in our lives? Let me give you a few suggestions:
- Don’t let them get the best of you!
- Deal with each situation biblically. Always keep the Bible between you and them!
- It may involve confrontation, but don’t do it alone!
- It may mean church discipline, but be sure to follow Matthew 18.
- It will involve patience, but HIS grace is sufficient!
- It may require turning them over to the Lord, even as Paul did with Alexander the coppersmith, warning others and recognizing that, even if you are all alone, the Lord stands with you and will strengthen you: “Not withstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me...” II Timothy 4:17.
- Never carry a revengeful spirit for it will only hurt you: “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord” Romans 12:9. Marshall Shelly in his book, “Well-Intentioned Dragons,” says, “When attacked by a dragon, do not become one!”
- Finally, acknowledge that God’s hand is in all things. He is always working out His good in our lives – Romans 8:28. Learn to pray as did St. Augustine: “O Lord, heal me of this lust of mine of always vindicating myself.”
Experience as did William Law, author of the classic, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, that, “If you pray for a man sufficiently often and sufficiently fervently, and sufficiently in secret, you cannot but love that man, even were he Alexander the coppersmith!”
–Maynard H. Belt