How to Handle a Divisive Person

Rod Hutton June 5, 2022 Romans 16:17-27
Outline

James 4:1-2a - What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is the source not your pleasures that wage war in your body’s parts? You lust and do not have, so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.

4 practical responses when facing divisiveness

I. Watch Out for the Divisive Person

Romans 16:17 - Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned…

A. Expect to encounter divisive people inside and outside the church

1 Corinthians 11:18-19 - For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there also have to be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.

2 Timothy 3:1-5 - But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, slanderers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power; avoid such people as these.

B. Warning signs

1. False teaching (16:17b)

Romans 16:17b - …contrary to the teaching which you learned…

2. Self-serving motivation

Romans 16:18a - For such people are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites…

3. Smooth talk and flattery

Romans 16:18b - and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.

2 Timothy 4:3 - For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires.

4. Stirs up conflict

Proverbs 16:27-30 - A worthless person digs up evil, while his words are like scorching fire. A perverse person spreads strife, and a slanderer separates close friends. A person of violence entices his neighbor and leads him in a way that is not good. He who winks his eyes does so to devise perverse things; he who compresses his lips brings evil to pass.

II. Come Under God’s Authority

A. Seek wisdom and avoid evil (16:19b)

Romans 16:19 - I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil.

B. Choose faithful obedience (16:19b)

Romans 16:19 - For the report of your obedience has reached everyone; therefore I am rejoicing over you

John 13:35 - By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another.

III. Respond in Love

Matthew 5:43-44 - You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

A. Speak truth in love (Eph 4:25)

Ephesians 4:25 - Therefore, ridding yourselves of falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, because we are parts of one another.

B. Do not repay evil for evil

Romans 12:17-21 - Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

IV. When Appropriate – Flee the Divisive Person

Romans 16:17b - …and turn away from them.

Welcome back and welcome to summer. It has been a joy to spend the first months of the year walking through Paul’s Letter to the church at Philippi together as the start of our annual theme, Growing in Gospel Gratitude. Our prayer has been that as we studied the practical nature of how God calls us to respond in any circumstance, we would grow in joy, just as Paul demonstrated a content heart even while in prison.

We want to continue that practical study and application for our lives in our summer series as we spend the coming weeks looking at what God’s Word teaches us in regards to Handling Criticism [If there is a Graphic for the series, insert it here, or just a Title Slide].

Our first series on Philippians gave us so many positive steps resulting in thankfulness for the gospel and we want to hold onto that…we want to continue growing in gospel gratitude.

Sometimes that means we have to also be watchful of the negative aspects around us, or even in our own hearts that can tend to steal the joy and even cause us to look past the gospel and focus on the things of this world. As such, we will be exploring topics like

  • Understanding the Critic’s heart
  • Complaining Visionaries
  • Facing the Fear of men
  • Problem Solvers vs. Problem Makers

Just to name a few…today we are going to begin our series by looking at the issue of divisiveness.

Can we all agree that divisiveness is a problem that impacts our lives each day? For some, that may be the only thing that they can agree upon – to agree to disagree.

When I do research for my sermons, I rarely prefer Wikipedia as a resource because I want to honor all of you by coming into Sundays with complete, factual, and verified information. As such, I found a topic where Wikipedia can provide reliable information, a list of controversial or divisive issues.

Wikipedia classifies the topics on this list as controversial because they are constantly re-edited in a circular manner or are otherwise the focus of warring editors seeking to represent their point of view on the topics.

If I read you this list today, we would likely not even get to reading God’s Word, so how about just the categories to avoid going down the rabbit hole of individual issues…

It is simply a matter of reading the news to find the divisiveness in politics and economics, religion, and even history as we want to remember things in a manner that supports what I want today. Amazingly, science, biology, and health are areas where we can find deep division even though these are fields of study where we would say that we are basing the discussion on empirical evidence and facts.

When we are young, we are typically taught about having polite conversations and as such we are warned not to discuss money, politics, or religion. Why? Because you cannot predict how the other person will view the topic and it can quickly turn into an argument and that just wouldn’t be polite.

My goal today is not to have a polite conversation with you…my goal is to pastor you and help us all see what God’s word says on the issue of divisiveness, the things that cause quarrels and fight among you. And though it will not be my main focus today, as we will spend more time on this later in the series, I want us to begin with a truth we need to hear…

James 4:1-2a. What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is the source not your pleasures that wage war in your body’s parts? You lust and do not have, so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.

Before we move into today’s topic of how to handle a divisive person, we must first acknowledge our role and responsibility that we might not walk into self-righteousness.

Not only does it takes two to tango, it also takes two people to have an argument.

So I want you to repeat after me…We do what we do…because we want what we want…

When we find ourselves in a heated debate, an argument over a divisive topic, the question that we will need to ask is what do we really want – do I just want to be right? Or do I want to please God and give thanks for the gospel, the grace that I need to be able to handle a divisive person…

To guide us in this, let’s go to God’s Word to find His sufficient answers…please turn with me to Romans chapter 16. You will find that on page ___ of the Bible on your chair.

After Paul had shown the church in Rome the beauty of the gospel and practical ways we are called to respond, he closed his letter with a warning. Paul knew He had written God’s truth but that there would still be those who would disagree, he was talking about Religion after all, and knowing that his was not the only voice seeking to influence the church in Rome, Paul wanted to warn them against those who would seek to divide the church and as such Paul provided the practical truths that we need in order to know…

Title: How to Handle a Divisive Person

READ ROMANS 16:17-27

More than just a final sign-off to close a lengthy letter, within his warning, Paul provides

4 practical responses when facing divisiveness

Before we dig in even deeper, I want to say that we will discuss some divisive topics today, and my goal is never to be political, but rather to help us look at our responses when facing divisiveness. If there is a topic that you want to explore further in regards to God’s truth about an issue, I will be happy to sit down to open the Word with you to study the issue in greater depth

If we are going to choose to be pleasing to God in all things, then that means not only that we need to choose not to be divisive and we need to choose how will respond when others are acting in a divisive way…

Our first practical response is that we are to…

I. Watch out for the Divisive Person

Romans 16:17. Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned,

Keep your eyes open, be alert because the divisive person may not always reveal themselves through aggressive actions or loud speech. They are not likely to be carrying the protest sign that says “I have already decided and I won’t be happy until you just agree with me.”

First, we need to consider where we will look…when we watch the news, we can see divisiveness impacting many issues around us, but the first place that we need to be aware of is the potential for divisiveness within the church.

Expect to encounter divisive people inside and outside the church

Paul addresses the unity of the church in several of his letters including Ephesians and Galatians, while he specifically rebukes the church at Corinth for their divisiveness.

1 Cor 11:18-19 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there also have to be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.

In the first century, the churches that we discuss at Philippi and at Corinth as well as others had all been planted by the Apostles and other disciples based solely on the gospel of Jesus Christ. But even in the direct shadow of the cross, with teaching coming from the first generation disciples of Jesus, there was still divisiveness within the church.

Can that still happen today? I would say absolutely because history has proven this out.

You could spend a few minutes of study, you could spend as much time as you want, but you will not find the denominations of the church within Scripture. God’s Word does not define us as Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, or Catholic. God’s Word only describes us as Christians, and it is through our identity in Christ that we are to be unified.

Yet Paul warns us, saying that he is not surprised that there are divisions within the church, but that we need to keep an eye open.

Notice though that there is a positive in the rebuke of the Corinthians – For there also have to be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.

We are called to avoid being divisive, but in keeping our eyes open, we are called to unite with those who are approved, those who are following God’s Word.

From the 15th to the 17th century, there was a great deal of division in the church. This was the time of the Protestant Reformation. There were factions within the church that were challenging the teaching of the church, to point back to Scripture alone, in Christ Alone, through Faith Alone, by Grace Alone to God’s Glory alone. Sometimes, division may be needed to bring us back to what is approved.

But Paul is also warning that divisiveness can also draw us away and even in the case of the reformation, ultimately each person needed to choose whom they would follow…

If you came to me asking to be baptized and I told you that I would lift up a prayer for your salvation after having received a $200 indulgence from you, I would expect that there would be factions in the church opposing me, like everyone else, and my divisiveness would result in me no longer being a part of the church. Please know that you will not hear that from me and there is no need to begin church discipline or the revoking of my ordination…

This caution needs to also be applied outside the church as there are many who are not a part of our Christian fellowship who would seek to influence and impact us by imposing their views and values upon others.

2 Tim 3:1-5 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, slanderers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power; avoid such people as these.

When we consider this description of others who are not followers of Jesus Christ, are we surprised that they will want to cause division in order to get what it is that they want…

Again – Why do we do what we do? Because we want what we want – just look at what it is that this says they will want…

Paul wants us to keep our eyes open for the divisive person and he knows that it will not be so easy as the protestor with his/her sign, so he gives us these…

Warning Signs

It can be more subtle, which can be even more dangerous, so lets look at the signs of the divisive person that Paul describes.

  1. False Teaching (16:17b)

Romans 16:17b …contrary to the teaching which you learned…

This applies both within the church and outside the church because ultimately it is the teaching of the gospel, the whole of God’s Word that holds authority over our lives.

Within the church, the Divisive person may be teaching a false gospel of wealth and prosperity or a works-based means of salvation – in these cases, be like the Bereans and examine the Scriptures to see whether these things are so…and where it is contrary to the teaching you have learned – respond to the divisive person appropriately

Outside the church, this applies as well. As an example, one of today’s divisive topics centers around the teaching of human sexuality including same-sex marriage, LGBTQIA+ rights, transgender policies regarding bathrooms, and even sports competitions. A divisive person may seek to teach you a new way of thinking on these topics, they may even seek to re-interpret Scripture to support their way of thinking. To determine how we are to respond to this divisive person, we must recognize the false teaching and choose to come under the authority of God’s Word.

  1. Self-Serving Motivation

Romans 16:18a For such people are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites;

A second warning sign of a divisive person rests in their motivation.

Some may be very obvious in that their self-serving motivation becomes very clear, though rarely will a person speak in a way that shows that their actions are chosen for personal benefit. They may deflect and point to others, even the whole of humanity who will benefit if we would just follow what they believe, yet underlying their actions resides a self-serving motivation. This can happen in the big things as well in the small and it is something we are all tempted by…

While we lived in Italy, we rented a house out in the community where we did not have good internet, driving was hard, poor access to the Taco Bell and any number of other things that made my life less comfortable. So I began a campaign that could have divided our family…I wanted to move us back onto the Navy Base saying I thought it was best for the family, but ultimately, it was solely because I was uncomfortable. Thankfully, Kathy recognized my self-motivated words and called me out. I pushed back, but ultimately had to acknowledge that it was my sinful heart leading the charge. We staying in our house out in Quarto and we were blessed for not following a divisive person.

False teaching can be the what, Self-serving motivation the why, but beware the how…as I said, it is not always the loud aggressive protestor, the divisive person may work through

  1. Smooth Talk and Flattery

Romans 16:18b and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.

This should not surprise us that those who wish to divide will speak in smooth talk and flattery as their goal is to divide while hoping to draw you to their side of the chasm. We do not need to search very far in the political realm to see this play out. Or maybe it is not about changing people’s minds from one side or the other, but to reinforce themselves on one side of the division…should this surprise us… no

2 Tim 4:3 For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires

Then with the what, the why and the how…let’s look at the warning sign in the means…the divisive person will ultimately seek to

  1. Stirs up Conflict

Prov 16:27-30 A worthless person digs up evil,

While his words are like scorching fire.

A perverse person spreads strife,

And a slanderer separates close friends.

A person of violence entices his neighbor

And leads him in a way that is not good.

He who winks his eyes does so to devise perverse things;

He who compresses his lips brings evil to pass.

If we fail to see the warning signs reveling the divisive person in advance, we can see the destruction that is left in their wake…

But before I get locked up on describing divisive people, we need to remember, this is about our practical response – first of which is to watch out for the divisive person, when we see the division starting, then we must take responsibility for our own response and the most important point for today is that we are to

II. Come under God’s Authority

When we recognize a divisive person by their False teaching, there is a corollary about how we are to seek unity and it is not about how we will just get everyone to think the same way that we do, likely through smooth talk and flattery, but rather through affirming and committing to the authority of God’s Word in your life. As such we are to…

Seek Wisdom and Avoid Evil (16:19b)

Romans 16:19 I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil.

One of the methods that a divisive person will choose to deceive is through the redefining what is good…

Think back to the Garden of Eden as described in the first two chapters of Genesis. God created and it was good, he even described his creation as very good after creating man in his own image and he had given all that was good to Adam and Eve with one command saying “From any tree of the garden you may freely eat; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for on the day that you eat from it you will certainly die.”

God’s good was spelled out in both his giving and his withholding.

But the Divisive one, the serpent, more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made, said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, “You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?”

Keep an eye for the divisive –

  • He is trying to teach something false through deceptive leading questions
  • He is using smooth words
  • He wants them to believe him over God,
  • knowing that it will lead to the destruction of their relationships with God

Satan used the same technique in attempting to tempt Jesus in the Wilderness

  • He flattered Jesus appealing to his nature as the Son of God to satisfy his hunger by turning stones to bread proving he is God, challenging him to put God’s love to the test and then offering a pale version of God’s promise to give him a kingdom.
  • To every question - Jesus responded – “IT is written…”

If we desire to be wise in what is good, there is only one way to do so, by filling our hearts with the very word off God, personal Bible reading and study, small group Bible studies, and the gathering to worship and hear the teaching of God’s Word. We need to seek our wisdom from Christ Alone trusting him as He said I am the Way the Truth and the Life…anyone teaching anything else is being divisive.

Then in addition to seeking to be wise in what is good, we are called to be innocent in what is evil.

The evil of this world will surround us, and though Christ did not take us out of this world, He did command us to not be friends with this world.

Are you innocent of what is evil? I did not ask are you without sin. Rather I asked are you innocent of evil?

In other words, do you search it out? Do you seek to consume evil thinking that you are strong enough to resist the temptations of this world on your own?

Men – having a sexual desire for your wife is a good thing? Finding beauty in God’s creation is to call what is good – good. But do you step your toe across the line viewing explicit photos or pornography, saying that no one is being harmed…you are no longer innocent of what is evil, but have rather invited it into your life. That invitation will bring division in your marriage

Ladies – How about the social media or other digital feeds we consume? Do they represent what is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute? Or are we choosing to fill ourselves with the views of this world which seek to deceive causing us to believe a lie about ourselves and what we need…How we allow media in our lives may mean we are no longer innocent of evil even before it leads to sin…but our choice may lead to us contributing to the division around us…

So then how will we respond when faced with a divisive person…hold onto the truth and

Choose faithful obedience (16:19b)

Romans 16:19 For the report of your obedience has reached everyone; therefore I am rejoicing over you

Paul rejoices over them because through their obedience that is being reported across the land, he knows that they are unified, that they have not been led astray by divisive teachers. He knows that they remain faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

This leads us to our third response even as Jesus said

John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another.

We are called to

  1. Respond in Love

When addressing a divisive person, even a person who hates you and hates what you believe, our response is grounded in the same choice as loving other disciples…

In the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus taught a radical response to the one who would seek to divide us…

Matt 5:43-44 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

Last April, when a group of individuals, high school students, chose to gather at West Lafayette High School for an approved walk-out for the purpose of protesting events which they saw as harmful to LGBTQIA+ rights. Included were several individuals who chose to pour out hateful speech towards Faith Ministries using the language of F____ Faith on signs, social media, and even a petition seeking to further divide the community.

We had a choice in how we would respond to this divisive event. Pastor Viars took action through letters and e-mails to the appropriate adults to seek to love those who would call themselves our enemy. He also had the opportunity to teach our high school students what it looks like to respond in love…first holding onto the truths of God’s Word and coming under the authority of Scripture rather than making our feelings the authority over our actions – because my feelings would want to squash teens who would speak that way…

Responding in Love rather flows from my speech into my actions.

If I respond with an impassioned tirade tearing the other person’s character down and explaining all the ways their logic makes them look like idiots – Have I loved my enemy?

Yet at the same time, I cannot agree with their teaching. I must disagree. How then will I love them?

  1. Speak Truth in Love (Eph 4:25)

Eph 4:25 Therefore, ridding yourselves of falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, because we are parts of one another.

We recognize that the world will not always speak the truth. That was certainly the case in addressing Ordinance 31-21 and again here with the West Lafayette students. What was communicated was blatantly false or highly deceptive in accusing Faith of practicing conversion therapy. This is what can make communicating with a divisive person even more difficult. Faith has never practiced conversion therapy, but if their words and actions are based on a lie, we can only respond in one way and It begins with my speech.

First, I put off all falsehood. That does not mean to just avoid telling blatant lies. To rid yourself of falsehood, we must also choose to avoid words that exaggerate or distort the truth. Words like, you never or you always.

Then it is not just the words we choose, but the love that is communicated through them. Does the person you are speaking with know that you desire what is good for them?

Pastor Viars was able to walk this all out to the point of meeting with 2 of the students involved, with their parent’s permission. He did not expect that the meeting would result in their changed minds. In fact, he knew there was the possibility that it could go very badly, but to respond in love met being willing to take that chance. He needed to be willing to listen to what they believed with the hope that they might listen to truth spoken with love, ultimately that they would have the opportunity to seek Christ’s love poured out even when he is being rejected. Ultimately, the outcome was simply a lesson in civility, but truth spoken in love opened the door possibly to further talks…

A very different outcome than if we had followed our feelings…demonstrating another truth about responding in love

Do not repay evil for evil

Romans 12:17–21 - Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Often when someone hurts you – what do you want to do? Hurt them back…right? “I don’t just get mad, I get even.” That is the world speaking into your thoughts.

If we are going to allow God’s Word to be the authority in our live, that means we will follow his lead and not choose to follow our feelings and if I am going to choose to respond in Love, that means I must trust the Lord for the outcome. I am going to trust Him for His justice.

Even if I am mocked and my reputation dragged through the mud – I know the truth about who God says that I am – I am in Christ, valued by God in such a way that He calls me his inheritance.

If I am called worthless because of what I believe and how I choose to live – I hold onto the gospel that tells me the worth God sees in me – for he bought me with for a price, an incalculable price, paid for with the very precious blood of His Son.

If what I see happening is unjust in my eyes – I press on toward the upwards call of God in Christ Jesus, because I trust in His justice, His promises that He will make all things new again where there will be no pain, no suffering, no tears for those who have chosen to believe in His name.

Before I close, if you are thinking, “I just can’t do that…” I want to encourage you, that it is only in the power of Christ that we are able to respond in a Christlike way.

If you have chosen to follow Christ – lean into Him, Seek His wisdom and his strength to response to a divisive person in a way that glorified God.

If you are here and you have not chosen to follow Christ, and you just don’t know how to do what we are talking about – the answer rests in the gospel, because what you are feeling is actually true, you cannot do this on your own, without Christ we are slaves to our flesh, slaves to our feelings. But the answer is clear from his word – acknowledge the sin in your life, repent and turn away from it and choose to make Jesus the Lord of your life…It is just that simple, but if you are considering this or wanting to take that step, please come see either Pastor David or I and we will make the time to walk through any questions you may have.

Now for our last practical response – it is the response that we are called to take if we are unable to do what we have already discussed

III. When appropriate – Flee the divisive person

Romans 16:17b …and turn away from them.

When your feelings are driving your words and actions – turn away

When you are tempted to respond with evil, not good – turn away

When your attempts to respond with love have been rejected – turn away

Even if they continue to heap evil upon you – do not engage with them

Before trying anything other than responding in Love – turn away

It is far better for my name to be muddied if it means that God’s name will be exalted.

Pray with me

  • That our eyes would be open to see those who are divisive
  • That we would seek God’s wisdom and come under the authority of His Word
  • That we would choose to respond in Love
  • That when needed, we would be able to turn away.

Authors

Rod Hutton

Roles

Pastor of Northend Ministries - Faith Church

Director - Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries

Executive Director - Vision of Hope

Chair of the Northend Properties Board - Northend Ministries

Certified Biblical Counselor - Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries

Bio

B. Mathematics – University of Minnesota
M.A. – National Security Affairs – Naval Post Graduate School
M. Div. – Faith Bible Seminary

Pastor Rod Hutton and his wife Kathy have been married for 34 years. They have five children, Chris, Tim, Malia, Grace and Josie. The Hutton’s came to Lafayette on assignment with the Navy to Purdue University which afforded the opportunity to attend Faith Bible Seminary. In 2018, Rod retired from Naval Service and joined the staff to lead the efforts in opening and operating the Northend Community Center and in 2019 he was ordained as a pastor with Faith Church. In 2024, he transitioned to the role as Director, Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries.