6 Reasons to Avoid Divisive People

Divisive people should be avoided because of the problems they cause. When I found myself dealing with one I went to God’s Word to see how to respond and my studying produced the post, “How Do You Deal with Fools?” Scripture is clear the correct way to deal with fools is by not responding. The main reason is they’re too prideful to receive correction well. The same is true with divisive people. In my studying, I learned six reasons they should be avoided

1. Avoid divisive people, because that’s what God commands.

If this was the only reason it would be enough:

  • Romans 16:17 I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.
  • Titus 3:10a Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition.

Divisive people are such a threat they have to be “noted” or watched, and then “avoided” or “rejected.”

2. Avoid divisive people, because they destroy a church’s unity and witness.

When people think of the “worst sins” divisiveness probably doesn’t come to mind, and this is unfortunate. Proverbs 6:16-19 lists six sins God hates, and a seventh that is detestable to Him: “one who sows discord among brethren.” Most other translations say “brothers” (ESV, NASB). These are ways to refer to God’s people.

When Jesus prayed for all believers in His High Priestly prayer in John 17:21-23 He discussed the importance of unity in the church…

“[I pray] that [believers] all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”

Jesus compares the unity He wants believers to have with the unity He has with His Father, revealing how serious it is when a divisive person threatens it. Why? Because it is the church’s unity that allows the world to believe “the Father sent the Son.”

When there’s division in churches, the unbelieving world looks on and doubts the credibility of Christianity: “These people are supposed to be known for their love, and they can’t even get along.” Unbelievers shake their heads and walk away in unbelief.

NOTE: if you’d like more info on the above verses, please listen to this sermon I preached: Unity in Suffering.

3. Avoid divisive people, because they destroy a church’s joy.

When Sheba lead his rebellion, “David said to Abishai, ‘Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom. Take your lord’s servants and pursue him, lest he find for himself fortified cities, and escape us’” (2 Sam 20:6).

Absalom caused a LOT of problems, but amazingly David said Sheba’s divisiveness would cause even more problems. Why is that? Because he was threatening to split the nation (2 Samuel 20:1-2), and this is exactly what divisive people do in the church. They turn people against each other. As a result, believers dread seeing each other. They see church events as a burden instead of a joyful time of worship. 

4. Avoid divisive people, because they distract God’s people.

Our associate pastor, Doug Connell, has been like an armor bearer to me. When he learned of the divisive person’s actions, he met with the leadership and their wives. I was invited not to attend so it wouldn’t look as though I was behind it.

It frustrated me to know the leadership and their wives’ had to spend their time on something unrelated to the spread of the Gospel, discipleship, counseling, etc. But this is what divisive people do: they occupy people with conflict and strife instead of productive ministry.

5. Avoid divisive people, because they’re “warped.”

Titus 3:11 A divisive person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.

The Greek word for “warped” is ekstrephō and this is the only place it occurs in Scripture. It means, “To turn or twist.” Divisive people are “twisted.” You can’t help them because they’re unreasonable. They can’t be counseled. It’s similar to dealing with fools.

6. Avoid divisive people, because they think they’re the cause for righteousness.

Instead of seeing themselves in sin, divisive people often think they’re fighting the good fight. They act like they’re looking out for the best interests of others.

Korah is probably the Bible’s most famous divisive person and in Numbers 16:3 he told Moses and Aaron:

“You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”

Korah acted like he was acting on behalf of the people, but Moses didn’t see it that way, and more importantly God didn’t see it that way. In one of the most dramatic events in Scripture, God revealed how He felt about Korah’s actions when He made the ground open up and swallow him and those with him (Num 16:28-34). This was a very strong revelation of the way God views divisive people and it serves as a good conclusion for this post.

Discuss:

  • If you have faced a divisive person before, how did you handle it?
  • Can you think of any other reasons divisive people should be avoided?

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23 thoughts on “6 Reasons to Avoid Divisive People

  1. I have an aunt who was like another mother to me. I Love her and always showed and told her how grateful I am to her. I am now 53 years old, married and with 3 grown adult children. My aunt couldn’t have children. She treated everyone’s else’s children as her own. We have a close family. I entertain on all the major holidays and birthdays. But something changed over time. She has become bitter, critical, reclusive and rude. She has caused divisiveness among family members and between her own brother and sister (my mom). She lives in the past and holds grudges against things that are resolved or she thinks it is true, when in fact, it isn’t. My mom (her sister) had a bad fall and broke her hip. My uncle (my aunt’s husband) also fell and broke his ribs in his back area, my daughter will be going for radioactive treatment. All in the same week. I try my best to be there for my elders so they won’t be alone and have help when needed. I and other family members try to call her, but she doesn’t return calls or answer the phone. I approached her kindly and gently with this and she ripped me apart in an awful way. Right in front of my daughter. I kept telling her that no matter what, I Love her, I will, and have always, pray for her. The family only wants to help her and be there for her. I cried for a week. I feel i need to let her go. It is such a bad, negative, toxic situation. I need advise on what is the proper way to handle such an irrational, unstable, negative and bitter angry person. This is not the same person I grew up with. I have spoken to her about depression and misplaced anger and regret. To no avail. I need to focus on my mother and my daughter. I need to focus on those who want help. Is it ok to continue to send Holiday and birthday cards? Should I continue to invite them to holiday dinners? My concern is that it is an open door for rejection and God knows what else. My husband checks in with the center where my uncle is at so I know how he is doing, because she won’t call and I don’t want to upset her. She told me that I am no longer her niece. I only want to keep my family together. I pray for everyone. I am at a loss.

    1. Hello Denise
      Getting older is harder. The reality of death sets in, there are more health issues, you have to watch other friends and loved ones near the same age pass away. All of this can contribute to people becoming bitter as they get older. Plus, some conditions associated with old age, such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia, can contribute to too. You mentioned unresolved issues that she wrongly believes to be true. That is common with these conditions. My father has Alzheimer’s, but even though it’s made him somewhat paranoid, it hasn’t made him angry.

      You mentioned her living in the past. When people get older, they feel like the past is all they have. One of the most loving things you can do for elderly people is let them talk about the past.

      You said she won’t return phone calls though. Can you visit? If the distance is too much, then there doesn’t seem to be much else you can do. It sounds like you’re doing a wonderful, loving job.

      Yes, keep sending cards and invitations. Yes, it’s still an open door for rejection and hurt, but it’s still the right thing to do.

      I’m sorry she was so cruel to you. I would encourage you to remember her the way she was in the past. Try to see her and think of how she used to be when she was like a mother to you.

    2. Thank you so much, Scott, for your advice. It was so helpful and comforting. I did leave her a loving message when I called her the other day. I am at peace and will continue to show Love and remember her for who she truly is deep down. I will always pray for her, my uncle and my family. Thanks again and God Bless.

    3. You’re welcome Denise! I’m blessed that my counsel helped. I’m glad you left her that message. She sounds like a hurting woman, and that’s the right way to treat her.

      God bless you too!

  2. Question, What do I do with a divisive person who is my husband. We’ve been together for 30 yrs. He’s in poor health (refuses to see a doctor because they don’t know what they’re doing) & very argumentative. He prides himself on always taking the opposite view even if he, himself, does not believe what he’s saying, just for an argument. He knows his Bible very well & if anybody says something he finds different than the Bible he forcefully says, “Show me that in the Bible!!! Where does it say that!?” He brought my neighbor to tears doing this, then laughed & said, “Well I guess I got her upset.” He is now studying with a Mormon every Saturday even tho he’s not Mormon but it hasn’t gotten into a fight yet. I refuse to fight with him or discuss the Bible anymore because he’s always right even when he’s wrong. This attitude has worn off on the rest of the family too because my daughter & grown gndson are also argumentative. I’m so exhausted being around negative people for so long. I go to the gym every day just to be around positive/healthy people who love me.

    1. Linda,
      I hate having to read those words, ” . . . who is my husband.”

      If I was dealing with someone as argumentative as the person you’re describing I wouldn’t try to argue with the person. I would let the person “be right.” Save yourself the time and frustration. When you’re dealing with people who won’t listen and argue when they know they’re wrong, what’s the point? You’re just introducing unnecessary frustration into your life while wasting your time.

      This seems to be what you said. I agree with the approach you’ve taken. Plus, if you’ve been married 30 years, there’s little (if anything) you’ll be able to change. If he changes, it will be something the Lord accomplished. You said you’re exhausted, and assuming that’s the case, give up this fight as it’s not one you can win in your flesh. Save your time and energy for productive, meaningful investments.

    2. Thank you Scott for your response. It only reinforces what I’m already doing. The only thing I can do is ignore his arguing & try to center on his good points. I divorced him 8 yrs ago but we still live together for financial reasons & because other than the constant divisiveness he takes care of things at home. He’s a very unhappy guy. Only he & God can change that. I can be of no help to him so I have learned to stay quiet most times.
      PTL God blessed me with a sweet mother who taught me to look for the good in everybody even if it’s deep. Mom had a hard life but enjoyed every minute of it with laughter. She was shot (in Camden NJ 1938) by her neighbor, 10 yrs before I was born, because she wouldn’t date him. He went to Trenton State Prison & she walked with a limp until her death in 1969. As a young teen I asked her if she hated him. Her answer amazed me at my young age, “Oh no, I pray for him every day.” Her story, if you’re interested, is on a Camden NJ site called: DVRBS.Com. Florence Gottwald or Aversa.

    3. Hi Linda,
      I am sorry you and your husband divorced as I know that’s not God’s plan for marriages.

      That’s great that you focus on his good points. Rare is the person who doesn’t have any, but it’s not rare to find the person who refuses to look for them. I’m sure that’s an encouragement and strength to you.

      I read about your mother. If anyone else reads this and wants to see the stories about her, here’s the link.

  3. An example of an issue in a church is this: I was an AWANA teacher in a large, well established church but it was not my home church. At one of the (35 yr. service) pastor’s sermons he gave this story. “I was at the mall yesterday & wanted to buy my wife some perfume for Christmas. When I saw that the seller was obviously gay I laughed & went to another place. I refused to buy from him.” The “I laughed” part bothered me the most. So because this was not even my home church I had to do a lot of praying on it & avoided talking to him for a while. I was overjoyed when I heard he went away on vacation for 2 weeks. He rarely visited the AWANA building but here he was, stopped right in front of me so I figured God was nudging me. I kindly said I didn’t think that was a good thing to say because if he had a gay person in the congregation he might have pushed them away.” I expected him to say, “This isn’t even your church so you have nothing to say.” But amazingly, he said, “Thank you, I’ll take that as a word from God. You were afraid to do this weren’t you?” Yup!!

    1. Wow, Linda, that’s a pretty wonderful testimony…I mean regarding the way the situation resolved.

      Definitely not the way I was expecting it to go. While I agree he shouldn’t have spoken like that in a sermon, it’s definitely a credit to him to respond with such humility. And a credit to you to observe the Spirit’s nudging.

      Thanks for sharing!

  4. This was a great read! My question would be is there hope for a divisive person/spirit? What can you do if you find this to be a personal struggle?

    1. Hi Francis,
      I think through the Gospel there’s hope for anyone regardless of the struggle.

      What can you do if you find this to be a personal struggle?

      I can’t quite tell what you’re asking with your second question, so I’ll answer it two ways…

      If you’re asking how to deal with a divisive person, I’d recommend you read this post I wrote: How do you deal with fools? I think the way you deal with a fool is the same way a divisive person should be approached. In short, how do you deal with a divisive or foolish person? You don’t. Your best bet is to leave them alone.

      If you’re asking what to do if it’s a personal struggle for you, I would encourage you to humble yourself, repent, and confess your sin to God. Ask Him to help you overcome this struggle. Also, find someone you trust who can let you know when you’re acting divisively.

  5. A question on the verse you quoted… Romans 16:17 I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.

    Typically, to be divisive, one will be the odd man out who is trying to win others to his cause. What do you do when the majority of a congregation believes something incorrect? Do you run the risk of being divisive by holding people to the doctrine we were taught in the Bible? Or do you walk away from the congregation altogether?

    I realize I am speaking in generalities… I can message you directly to address specifics if you’d like.

    1. Hi Jonathan,
      Good question. One question I have is when you say, “the majority of the congregation believers something incorrect” are the elders involved in that majority? Does the statement of faith agree or disagree with the majority’s false belief?

      Let’s say the elders and statement of faith agree with the false belief. At every membership meeting we discuss good and bad reasons for people to leave a church:
      Bad reasons – someone didn’t say hi to me, the pastor never preaches on the subject I want to hear addressed, the evening service goes on too long.
      Good reasons – the church doesn’t deal with sin, the pastor doesn’t preach the Word, there’s a low view of family/children.

      I’d also add to good reasons: the church holds false beliefs on essential doctrines i.e. the Gospel, inerrancy of Scripture, deity of Christ, etc. Nonessentials (although still important) view of civil government, prophecy, creation (six 24-hour days versus non-literal days – even this shouldn’t break fellowship).

      If you hold a different view on an essential doctrine and the leadership is with you, stick with them. Stay in the church. Help bring about change.

      If the leadership believes falsely, it’s time to find a new church. Why? The exact reason you said: you’ll be labeled divisive, and in a sense that’s an appropriate title. It’s just that in the two divisions created, you’re on the biblical side.

    2. The view of family and children seems to be very low. A comment from the pulpit made both of us cringe when he said he would not have had children if he’d known then what he knows now. Similar comments are made regularly with others voicing their agreement.

    3. Oh wow, that’s a pretty unfortunate thing to hear a pastor say.

      I can’t really tell you whether that’s a deal breaker per se, but I can say you obviously won’t be getting the kind of support in your parenting that you’d want from your church family.

Do you have a question or thought? If so, please share!