How to Handle a Divisive Person

Stefan Nitzschke June 26, 2022 Romans 16:17-27
Outline

James 4:1-2a - What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. 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, brethren, 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 must also 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 men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, 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 men 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 men 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 endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires...

4. Stirs up conflict

Proverbs 16:27-30 - A worthless man digs up evil, while his words are like scorching fire. A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends. A man 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 (16:19a)

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

John 13:35 - By this all men 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, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members 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.

This morning, we continue in our annual theme, Growing in Gospel Gratitude..

Our current study has us looking at biblical ways of Handling Criticism

The opening messages in this series have made it clear—conflict doesn’t arise from a vacuum

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

When there’s conflict within a church family, we can know where it comes from…

*Here is the church, here is the steeple—open the doors, and see all the little conflict-instigators

Conflict comes from within and is sourced in people and their inappropriate response to desire

Fortunately, the Word of God is very clear on How to Handle a Divisive Person

Please turn in your bibles to Romans 16, we’ll start in v 17 this morning…That is on page 129 in the back section of the bible under the seat in front of you.

Though we’ll mainly be in that passage, we’ll be jumping around Scripture a bit for the purpose of building a robust, more holistic view of the topic

While you’re turning there, let me tell you about the brown recluse… [picture of brown recluse]

We just had VBS and it was a hit (*thank you + any neat stories?)

But while setting up for VBS, I had a run-in with a spider that I thought was a brown recluse. I have an agreement with bugs of all stripes: if you are in your natural setting, you get a pass—once you encroach into my territory, all bets are off. I managed to take a picture of this arachnid before it quickly became unrecognizable

Mike Stefanik (who leads VBS with his wife, Kim) happens to be a bit of a spider-buff (or, a spider-man, you might say). I showed the picture to Mike, asking if he knew what it was—needless to say, it was not a brown recluse, but he continued with this bit of reassurance: “there is a notable increase in brown recluses in our area this year”

Now, why is that bit of information troubling, you may ask? I’ll spare the pictures, but a bite from a brown recluse is nothing to joke around about. Though they generally avoid human contact (hence, brown recluse), they’re equipped with a necrotic venom

If you’re not sure what that means, I’ll give you two words: tissue death. If left unaddressed, the spreading venom from a brown recluse will create a crater-like wound that eats away at the skin tissue, little-by-little

And while we are on the topic of venomous spiders, let’s read about divisive people from our passage

*Read Romans 16:17-20

With the time we have remaining, let’s discuss…

4 practical responses when facing divisiveness

Our main passage begins with a warning:

I. Watch Out for the Divisive Person

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

Like the brown recluse—the divisive person is not always one who’s out to pick a fight. More often, they lurk in the shadows and avoid the light for fear of detection. And given the context of the letter Paul is writing, we know that this is not an infestation that plagues the outside world alone

We can…

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

The presence of divisive people in God’s church was no surprise to Paul, and it ought-not be a surprise to us as well

In fact, he is quite emphatic of this point in other letters:

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 must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.

The local body of believers (such as Faith West) is comprised of a diverse blend of people. Every Sunday, there’ll be men and women who love the Lord and want to live their lives in a way that’s pleasing to Him—Paul refers to them here as “those who are approved”

Most Sundays, there’ll be men and women who have not made a commitment to follow Christ as Lord but are here to check things out—while they’re not a part of the “global church,” we welcome them as guests in our local assembly in the hope that they’ll hear about Jesus and desire to follow Him

Many Sundays, there’ll be men and women who have made a verbal commitment to follow Christ as Lord, but their divisive actions and words tell a different story. Whether or not they are “approved” comes down to one thing: repentance. Who does a genuine Christian genuinely want to be like? CHRIST!

So when he or she is confronted with behavior that’s un-Christlike, they’ll quickly repent and go the other way! They want approval from Jesus and they don’t want to lurk in darkness but live in light!

2 Timothy 3 tells of the other group:

2 Timothy 3:1-5 - But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, 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 men as these…

These are those who display qualities of a divisive person but are unwilling to repent when confronted. The call to action is the same: “avoid such men as these”

Fortunately, our passage gives several…

B. Warning signs of how to identify these divisive people

One of which is…

1. False teaching (16:17b)

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

Pop quiz: how many chapters are in the Book of Romans? 16! Which would make this the END of the book. What did Paul dedicate the majority of this letter’s ink towards? Heavy teaching!

The simple matter is this: you’ll know the divisive person if they are leading you or others in a way that is contrary to what is clearly spelt out in God’s Word. What is the necessary implication of this warning? You need to know true teaching in order to identify false teaching

Let me put it another way: what’s the best insect repellent? What’ll ward off those nasty brown recluses? A generous application of the Word of God. Are you saturated?

Another warning sign from our passage is…

2. Self-serving motivation

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

Everyone is trying to please someone. The genuine Christian is living to please Christ as they are guided by His Word. The divisive man or woman is living to please self as they are guided by their own desires

The spider that I smashed turned out to be a harmless Cobweb spider (in my defense, he still violated the terms of our agreement). Honestly, I don’t know enough about spiders to tell the difference—they all fall on a spectrum ranging from icky to yucky—it’s hard to tell the difference between them. So how can you tell the difference between a person who is righteously reproving versus the person who is wickedly divisive?

The litmus test is this: WHO are their words serving? If a person is selflessly following the lordship of Jesus as His Word would command, you’re probably dealing with a Christian: do not smash. If the person’s actions serve self and are nowhere to be found in God’s word, you’re probably dealing with a divisive person: smash (just kidding!). We’ll talk about what to do with divisive people in a bit

Another helpful indicator is…

3. Smooth talk and flattery

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

This is an outflow of self-serving motivation. If they’re standing in as Christ (i.e., functioning as their own authority), who do they want you to like? THEM! The genuine Christian wants WHO to look good? Jesus! Even at their own expense!

The divisive person realizes that they need to get past the bug repellent in order to sink their fangs into a victim—therefore their words need to be extra sweet to attempt to counteract God’s Word. The discerning and wise man or woman (i.e., those saturated in spider repellent) will quickly identify the venomous ploy

The unprotected victim—stated here as “the unsuspecting”—will quickly succumb to the counterfeit words…

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

They will be struck by the fangs of the divisive person and the necrotic venom will begin to spread

Lastly, based on the very nature of division, we know that the divisive person…

4. Stirs up conflict

Proverbs 16 provides insight into this matter:

Proverbs 16:27-30 - A worthless man digs up evil, while his words are like scorching fire. A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends. A man 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.

We read earlier that there must be factions among us so that “those who are approved may become evident”—this passage is talking about something different

This is the man or woman who is instructed by false teaching (not the Word of God), living to please self (not Christ), speaking flattering words (rather than the truth in love), and is unconcerned about the unity of Christ’s church—in fact, they may be actively seeking to tear it apart. There’s an added layer: they may look and sound a whole lot like an approved follower of Christ!

Like the harmless Cobweb spider they closely resemble, the brown recluse is brown, eight legs, likes basements, spins webs, the whole deal. Similarly, the divisive person may look and sound very spiritual as they spin their webs—even using misplaced Bible verses, appealing to love and even Christ! But they are stirring up venomous conflict that will prove to eat away at the body of Christ

Listen to the warning from the beginning of our passage, and discerningly look out for the signs of a divisive person

For this, it’s necessary to…

II. Come Under God’s Authority

We do that when we…

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.

This is one of the most essential ways to ensure you yourself are not acting as a brown recluse…

Ask yourself questions prompted by the context of this passage:

  • Do I feed off of the next piece of juicy gossip?
  • Do I spin webs of slander and hearsay?
  • Am I uncaring towards a bit of venomous dissention among Christians that I may have caused?
  • Do I make a home in the shadows of my own authority as opposed to the light of fellowshipping with God’s people and submitting to one another?

Avoiding what is evil, we are called to…

B. Choose faithful obedience (16:19a)

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

Let me give you the bad news: each of us has brown recluse genetics pulsing through our veins—and not in a cool “Spiderman” kind of way…

Romans 3 says this of us: “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips

We have all spewed necrotic venom, each of us has feasted on a meal of juicy gossip, and there are none among us who hasn’t scampered into the darkness to spin our own webs

Romans 3 continues with the bad news but quickly shifts to the good: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed

Jesus is the only one who has no venom in His being, who did not revile, even when being reviled, and who has created unity where there was once division. And “faithful obedience” is only available through accepting the One who was faithfully obedient, even unto death

*gospel plug (only one antivenom)

And once Jesus has cleansed us (justified), He makes us like Him little-by-little (sanctification)

Jesus said…

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

If we are looking at the signs of a uniting person (as opposed to a divisive one), you will see someone sacrificially loving, like their Savior. This extends to interactions with a divisive person

We are still called to…

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.

The default disposition of a genuine Christian is one of love. But this isn’t a weak love: it’s a powerful one—it’s an active one. We are to actively pray for those who persecute us

And instead of receding into the shadows ourselves, we’re actively called to…

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

Ephesians 4:25 - Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.

Again, this part speaks more towards how we handle a divisive person that has been identified—we are to speak the truth in love (as v 14 of Eph 4 phrases it). Fortunately, we have some great models of what this looks like

Did Paul, the human author of Romans (& Ephesians, for that matter), ever need to speak the truth in love to a divisive person? Absolutely…

  • - 1 Corinthians 5 records a man whose unaddressed sexual sin was dividing the church. What did Paul tell the church in Corinth concerning this divisive man? “I commend you on your great tolerance”? “leave him alone, lest we stir up further dissention”? is that what he said? No—he says in verses 5-6, “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?

This is far from a passive silence or a complacent acceptance—it is an active confrontation!

  • - We could also go to Galatians 2, where Peter was sowing division among the brothers as well, and Paul calls him out in front of everyone for it. But let’s go to the One who is “full of grace and truth” Himself: Jesus

Did He ever come up against divisive people? ALL THE TIME! We could look at the time Jesus calls Peter “Satan”, but I think we’ve picked on him enough already

  • - Another example would be Jesus in Matthew 23 when he pronounces 8 powerful “woes” over the scribes and Pharisees—those who ought to have been shepherding the people of God, Jesus says of them in v 33, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?”—elsewhere he calls them sons of the devil. Pretty close to our brown recluse illustration… Jesus is not passive towards divisive people either!

Similarly, we need to speak the truth in love to others who may be spinning webs of division or spewing necrotic venom of gossip and untruths. If you’re aware of a divisive person in your life (or will confront one in the future), what is your role? Speak the truth in love

That takes three elements:

  • - First, it’s necessary to… speak! Again, there is no carve out for passivity in this equation
  • - Next, it’s necessary to speak the… truth! To speak the truth, you must know the truth. Put on that bug repellent and wear it everywhere you go!
  • - Lastly, it’s necessary to speak the truth in… love! Even with the divisive man or woman, you must strive to emulate your Savior in your interaction with them, thinking, “what would please Jesus?” If possible, take time to pray for them before speaking, Think about all the reasons you genuinely love and are thankful for this person

Once you’ve sought to speak the truth in love, Lord willing, they will… repent! But if a divisive person has been confronted and will not repent, Jesus compels us to continue to lovingly pursue the divisive person by bringing others along

Either someone who is directly involved and willing to come alongside you or seeking the counsel of a pastor/deacon—if they refuse to repent even then, the elders will need to be involved anyhow

In these types of interaction, it can be difficult to do all 3 in the moment: speak | truth | in love

Especially as we are compelled…

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..

To catch up, we are to be on guard for divisive people, come under God’s authority to ensure we ourselves are not divisive, and confront the discordant person in love. But spiders only stick around if there is something to feed on—hence, why you’ll typically see webs near outdoor lights

We also need to heed the warning given in our passage:

IV. When Appropriate – Flee the Divisive Person

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

Titus 3:10 also urges us to, “reject a factious man after a first and second warning.” If a divisive person finds no audience—especially after he has been confronted—he will have nowhere to go but to Christ for forgiveness (hence, repentance) or out from the assembly for the destruction of the flesh. And if you were paying close attention, there was a common strand between the 3 examples of confrontation I gave above:

  • Paul commits the unrepentant divisive man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh
  • Jesus calls Peter “Satan” when reproving him for seeking to turn Him from the cross
  • And Jesus calls out the “sons of the devil” for their divisive and hypocritical behavior

Who is behind all division leveled against Christ’s church? Who is “Lord of the spiders”? Paul ends our passage with a note of hope regarding dissention; verse 20 says: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

A suiting end for a spider…

  • So let’s put on that bug repellent and be on the lookout for the invasive brown recluse
  • Ensure that you yourself are submitting to Christ and living in the light, rather than spinning webs in the darkness
  • Call divisive men and women out of that darkness and into the light where Jesus is ready to forgive and unite
  • And when necessary, do what is natural: flee from the venomous fangs of the divisive person, resting assured that the “lord of the spiders” will soon be crushed

Authors

Stefan Nitzschke

Roles

Pastor of College Ministries - Faith Church

Bio

B.S. - Management Information Systems, Iowa State University
M.Div. - Faith Bible Seminary

Stefan has been serving on the pastoral team at Faith Church since 2016. He and his wife have a passion for discipleship and evangelism. They are the blessed parents of four carefree boys and one sweet girl. Stefan is certified as a biblical counselor through the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) and is a board member of Faith’s Community Development Corporation.