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.


  • 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?

37 thoughts on “6 Reasons to Avoid Divisive People

  1. I will do my best to remember to keep you updated. I would like to tell you the name of our church but I would rather wait until God has led us through this battle. We do believe we are exactly where Jehoshaphat was in 2 Chronicles 20, “For we have no power against this multitude that is coming against us, nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” I will say we are along the coast in Texas. God has brought our little church through many physical storms, including Hurricane Ike and Harvey. And has ALWAYS shown Himself mighty and able to care for us and meet our needs. All praise to Him who loves us with such overwhelming grace and mercy. Thank you again for your reply. When God brings us to your remembrance, please pray each of us yield to His will not our own and we completely trust and obey where He leads us.

    1. Hi Mary,
      Sounds good. Great analogy with King Jehoshaphat. I’m glad you’re taking encouragement from Scripture.

      I will pray along the lines you requested!

      My wife is expecting our seventh child in May. I would appreciate prayers for her and the baby.

    2. Truly you are blessed as the Lord is filling your quiver with His heritage for you. I will pray as you’ve asked. We have friend’s that have eight and may not be done. They are a blessing to be around.

  2. What does the church do when it is the new pastor and his wife who continually bring division and strife into the church? Unfortunately for our little church body, our by-laws provide no remedy for removing a pastor. Until bringing this man here, our little church was united in love and spirit. We actively were the hands and feet of Jesus in our small community, careful to avoid bringing shame on the name of Jesus as a church body. Growing, discipling, bringing others to faith and salvation. Not perfect, far from it, but that was our heart. The Lord worked through the body moving us in the direction He was going. Since this man’s coming, he immediately began sounding out those members who would stand with him just because he was called to be pastor by the church. This divided friends and even family members as he began to promote his and her agendas. He says the Lord is the head but his actions speaks volumes that he believes he is. The previous ministries of the church and its leadership have been ignored and discarded. Everything has to be approved by him. He has verbally assaulted many of the members of the body, not by name but specific enough we all know who he is referring to, who do not embrace their prideful ways from the pulpit and has on many occasions stated we have two doors and if you don’t agree, don’t let the door hit you as you go out. I could go on and on, but back to my question, what can we do? We have begun to meet and pray corporately specifically for the church, for us individually, and for God to reveal what we should do or not do. Individually we have been doing this for nearly a year and a half. We have also reached out to our association but they can do nothing to help if the pastor will not agree to their help. And he refused and squashed any idea to allow a mediator or someone who might help in reconciling the church be allowed to come when it was brought up in a business meeting. Any ideas?

    1. Hello Mary,
      First, I’m very sorry you’re going through. I can tell from the message that your church body is fairly close-knit, so this must be very difficult.

      I could ask how this man came to become the pastor, but I don’t see how that would help answer your question(s) since he’s already in the position.

      Scripture is pretty clear that church members are to submit to elders. Hebrews 13:17 says, regarding pastors/elders: “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”

      With that said, while church membership is important, it’s not a marriage covenant. If you can’t submit to this man, because you believe his behavior disqualifies him, then you need to find a church that has elders you can submit to. I’ve told people before, “Yes, we’d love to have you join Woodland Christian Church, but if you feel – for whatever reason – that you can’t submit to me and/or the other elders, then you need to find a church where that’s not the case.”

      You’re doing the right thing meeting and praying. I hope you’ll continue waiting on the Lord in this fashion, versus “taking matters into your own hands.”

      I would discourage you from seeking out others in the church to get them to join you. Then that would make you divisive. People will notice you left, especially since you said it’s a smaller church. More than likely people will seek you out and ask you why you left and where you’re attending. You can answer them honestly. Tell them you believe the pastor is not qualified to be a pastor. There’s a world of difference between answering people honestly and seeking people out to share your criticisms of the pastor.

      I hope this can encourage you. If this man acts as badly as you describe, then no, he’s not a pastor (shepherd). He sounds more like a wolf. I don’t think he will last long. Either people will remove themselves from being part of his flock, or God will remove him. In other words, my advice would be, strive to wait him out. Last longer than him. I know that’s tough to hear, but it’s true.
      You said, he was called to be pastor by the church.” If he was called to be the pastor the church, and there’s nothing in your bylaws to remove him, then I don’t see anything else you can do than what I’ve done above while avoiding divisive behavior yourself.

    2. Thank you for the reply and your advice. Yes, by all means, we do not speak to others regarding this. It helps no one and harms the church. We believe in the same way God revealed the truth to us He will reveal the truth to others. There are several positive things that have come from this: we began to diligently search the scripture to see if what we were seeing and hearing were true or were we the ones who were deceived; our love and concern for others increased; we will not be so trusting of what a person says but will spend the extra time and effort it will take to look for the fruit before being hasty to make a decision regarding any leadership for the church body; we pray more and we’ve all agreed God has allowed this for a reason so let’s not miss what He has for us to learn. It’s been a difficult time but instead of becoming bitter I believe we have become better at loving each other and those who are captivated and pleasing man, at forgiving ourselves and others, and at listening and obeying the Lord’s leading. Again, thank you for your reply and advice.

    3. Hi Mary,
      You’re more than welcome. I am glad to hear that God is working this together for good for all of you according to His faithfulness to Romans 8:28. I’m also glad to see your receptiveness both to what God wants to do, and what He wants you all to learn. There’s a part of me that really wishes I could see how this turns out. If you can remember to write me in the future, I’d be glad to hear from you.

      I will pray again. What is the name of the church by the way, if you don’t mind me asking?

  3. Putting church abuse into perspective

    The Monday, March 1 Oregonian article via the Ashland Daily Tidings for same date (“Deceased priest who abused boys casts a shadow on the Northwest”) was very disturbing indeed! As a Christian, I must be direct, forward and morally/intellectually honest: Our churches have both the best and worst of people. Of course too does other segments of society as well. But let’s talk about churches and organized religion.

    Though I myself was never sexually abused as these boys described in article, I’m certainly aware such does indeed happen in our churches. And I’m also certain some churches are worse than others.

    Example: Prior to relocating to Ashland from Klamath Falls in 1986, I spent one year in a Church of Christ (non-instrumental) in Klamath Falls from 1982-83. Though there were some things I agreed with, there were other teachings I sharply disagreed and dissented with, including their sectarian/legalistic, dogmatic attitude of, “We are the only church and everyone else but us is wrong!”

    After leaving that congregation I was the target of judgmental gossip and slander! And get this: This judgmental jerk within the congregation told me it “would be damnable if I left the church,” which I eventually did anyway.

    Later, this same jerk was arrested for sexual abuse of a girl under 12 years of age! Yes, he was a predatory pedophile, a real creep! This is just one example of sexual abuse in our churches that, more often that not, remains covered up, hidden and suppressed. And that is downright criminal!

    Another thing I find disturbing is the trend in our churches today of taking 1 Corinthians Chapter 7 out of context and using it against Christian singles. The dogmatic parroted, “It’s better to remain single than marry,” as preferred by the Apostle Paul, is an oppressive doctrine indeed! Most people who parrot this are religious elitists who are married anyway and have a significant other in their lives.

    Though I have never read the book “Churches That Abuse,” by Ronald Enroth in 1992, it remains posted online via Google for reading. Yes, I have expressed my sentiments here. And furthermore I rightly feel that moral and intellectual honesty sees farther than does political and religious correctness.

    So what is the answer to this? I feel a place to start is with this Bible passage from 1 Peter 4:17: “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God.”

    James A. Farmer, Ashland

    Ashland, Oregon Daily Tidings:Tuesday, March 9th, 2010 / Letters To The Editor (www.dailytidings.com)

    I mark and avoid churches like the one described in my letter above according to Romans 16:17.

    James A. Farmer
    Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County)

    1. Hello James,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I agree that 1 Corinthians 7 shouldn’t be used to promote singleness as superior than being married. This is the teaching that has gotten the Catholic Church into trouble, calling men to lives of celibacy who do not have the gift. They have paid a terrible price as a result.

    2. Thanks Scott for your sincerity, moral and intellectual honesty, sensitivity, and support. Meanwhile at *Shasta Way
      Christian Church of Klamath Falls, Oregon our Sunday School is teaching on “building one another up.” The Christian Community/Body of Christ in America dearly needs this. As Romans 12:10 states: “Be kindly affectionate
      to one another in brotherly love, in honor preferring one another.”

      *After moving back to the Klamath Basin from Ashland, Oregon in October 2016 I identified with Shasta Way Christian Church on Sunday, January 8th, 2017. This has proven to be a Godsend, blessing, and inspiration indeed!

      James A. Farmer
      Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County)

    3. Hello James,
      I’m glad to hear that. Sounds like you’ve been through some difficult stuff, but God has blessed you with a church family that is keeping you encouraged and growing. Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  4. Divisive people are usually abusive as well. They cause drama between loved ones and in families. They lie, twist things to make one mad at the other. They drive a wedge between people. They are evil.

    1. Hi Stephanie,
      Thank you for reading and commenting. From my years in pastoral ministry, I have witnessed that with divisive people too. I might be wrong, but I suspect from what you wrote that you’ve been a victim of a divisive person, and for that I am sorry!

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

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