FOCUS – Divisive people: three strikes and you’re out
Last week wasn’t the first time I’d read Titus 3, of course. For some reason, verse 10 had never jumped out at me before. But as I read it last week, I practically stubbed my toe on it. I couldn’t possibly glide past it. Few verses in the New Testament are so harsh: “Warn divisive people once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.” It is not the only abrupt directive in the Epistles. (Note I Corinthians 5:5 for example, a shocking verse by anyone’s standard.) But Titus 3:10 is one of the rare almost intolerant verses of the New Testament.
Paul had left Titus on the island of Crete. The church in Crete was fairly new, and Titus was given the responsibility of establishing church structure and getting the church to function smoothly. So Paul had much practical advice to offer Titus in this small book. Many verses describe what manner of person is desirable for leadership. In chapter three, however, Paul makes a comment about all the people of the church, not only the leaders. If a person is causing disunion within the church he should be warned (presumably by the pastor, since this advice is directed to Titus) that such behavior is unacceptable. If he does not stop his behavior, he is to be warned again, perhaps more sternly. But after the third offense, there is no more need for tolerance. For as the next verse says, “such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.” The divisive person ties the knot on his own noose.
All of us know what this is about. All of us have experienced divisive people within our churches. There are those who will rant and rave over the wallpaper someone hung in the nursery because it isn’t the wallpaper they would have chosen. There are those who boycott Bible study because it is held at Fred’s house instead of Sam’s. Some folk even thwart the very mission of the church because they do not approve of the youth pastor’s approach, or the officer’s sermons, or the corps council’s latest decision. And while some aren’t quite that brazen, they chip away at the church’s mission by their constant disapproval over the small issues. They injure people’s feelings and hurt the general morale. And these divisive people are not silent; oh no! They whisper their opinions to others in the foyer; they share their views with other soldiers over lunch, they engage in long phone calls, seeking allies in their discontent.
It seems to me that a divisive spirit is often fueled by arrogance. The malcontent says, “Only my way is the right way. I shouldn’t have to compromise.” She does not consider the idea that God gives good ideas to others, too. The malcontent says, “My ideas are inspired by God it all came to me while I was in prayer.” She will not admit to herself that her idea may have been self-initiated, and she merely sought God’s stamp of approval. The malcontent says, “The other person’s motives are self-serving. Why can’t he do things my way, for the good of everybody?” This is perhaps the most inexcusable indictment that comes from the heart of the divisive person. Judging someone’s motives simply because one does not agree with that person’s ideas or methods is bitterly cruel. (And the person who would point such a finger should frequently be pointing at himself.)
To be honest, I’m really glad that Titus 3:10 is in Scripture. What relief to know that we have the right no, the duty to confront troublemakers, and to cut them loose when they will not cooperate! I only wish most of us had the courage to obey this verse. Ironically, we often do the complete opposite! We have a tendency to cater to the people who create disharmony. Sometimes we do it because our corps is so small, we don’t want to lose anyone. Sometimes we do it because trying to keep everyone happy seems the Christian thing to do. But clearly, it isn’t. God wants officers and other pastors to put their foot down. In so doing, the entire congregation and the goals of the church are protected.
Dear reader, I would be remiss if I did not pose this question: could you be the divisive one in your church? Do you ever lean in that direction? If you see any such tendency within yourself, I implore you to fall in line with the mission and the practices of your church, to support and love your officers and other leaders, and to simply abide the hideous new upholstery on the pews. If you cannot, I must wonder if you are in the church where God wants you.