Titus 3:10-11 – 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Many people struggle against sin in many ways. Thanks be to God, there is much room for grace in his church. All of us fail in various areas. Sometimes we get over our sinfulness in a particular area with very few setbacks. At other times, we fight against our flesh for year after year, seemingly only gaining inches in a battle that will take miles to thoroughly win. Isn’t it wonderful that God knows our hearts, knows our failures, and chooses to keep loving us?
But there are a few areas in which our struggle against sin has less leeway. There are points of struggle in which God is clear, we must attack it now, defeat it now, and not return to it. This is not to say that he will love us less if we fail, but it is to say that our continuing failure will carry with it some very strong consequences.
What do you think of when you think of areas of sin that God will simply not tolerate in us? What areas do you assume are the kinds of sin with which we cannot be patient? What areas do you think of as the “big ones?” This is not saying that any sin is a little sin, but there are only a few in the scripture that require immediate attention—that say “fix this or else.” Do you think of murder, adultery, and felonious criminal behavior? Do you think of the marriage-destroying and enslaving sin of viewing pornography? What ranks up there as a sin that requires immediate action?
In Titus 3, Paul shares with a young pastor one sin that is clearly a very big, very immediate problem: stirring up division. Strange, isn’t it, to think of this sin with the kind of gravity that Paul gives it in verses 10-11 of Titus 3? Paul tells Titus to look at this sin with a “three strikes and you’re out” approach. Warn a division maker once, and even twice; but after you have warned him twice, if he keeps it up, have nothing to do with him. This is hard-hitting, right-to-the-point, and no exceptions allowed kind of teaching.
Why might God be so strong on the issue of making divisions in the church? It’s simple, really. The church is the “body of Christ” on earth. That means that we serve as the visible and physical reminder to the world of who Jesus is. And when one of us does something to tear down the body, causing conflict and division where there need not be conflict or division, we earn for ourselves strong words of condemnation from our God. He will not let the body of Christ be marred by petty divisions and conflicts. We are to address them head-on.
Now, there are two kinds of questions that should come in all of our minds. I’ll handle the easier first. Are there ever areas in which conflict is acceptable? Of course there are. When you see a member of the church involved in blatant sin, you must as a brother or sister in Christ confront that person. At times, such a confrontation will cause a conflict. In such an instance, the conflict is necessary for the good of the believer and the church. When blatant sin or clear and important biblical doctrine is at stake, conflict may be necessary.
But now to the second question: How do I know if I am causing a division in the church? Almost all Christians would believe that people should not cause strife and division in the church. Almost all Christians would say that there are far too many Christians who are stirring up division in their local congregation. And, surprise, almost all Christians think that they are not the ones who stir up conflict. How can this be? The answer to this is also simple, stirrers of conflict often do not think that what they are doing is something that is a cause of division in the church.
So, in order to make sure that you and I are not the causes of division in the church, a sin which draws such extreme rebuke from our Lord, let’s examine what we do and say.
· Do you regularly talk to others about things in the church that “bother you.” We’re not talking about sinful areas here that you intend to confront, but simply those things that don’t suit you? If so, you stir division.
· Do you speak negatively about other people in the church? Let’s be clear; when we put down others, what they do or how they have done it, we are stirring division. Again, it is one thing to address sinful behavior, it’s entirely another thing to simply enjoy complaining about a person or group of people.
· Do you prefer to bemoan the sin of another person instead of confronting them? If we see our brother or sister in sin, we are to address it with them with the goal of restoring them to right living. IF we simply talk about “how sad it is,” we do not help; we only stir division.
· Do you regularly complain that things are not done your way regarding issues of preference? Do you talk to others to find out if they also feel the same as you about the preference issue? It is very likely that you are stirring up division. Instead, you should talk to the leaders who are making the decision. Who knows, they may have a reason for doing things the way that they do them that you have not considered. Who knows, they may even be willing to change things in order that your preference is also acknowledged along with the preferences of others. Or, perhaps they will not be able to do what you ask; but it is still better for you to talk to the leaders instead of stirring up division with others.
· Do you, when there is a debate over some non-essential issue of theology, run through people in the church to see which “side they’re on?” It’s one thing to want to be taught by scripture. It is divisive to think that the way to find truth is to find which group has the majority opinion.
· Do you, whenever a business meeting type decision is approaching, go through the church to privately win people over to your “side?” if so, you are in great danger of being divisive.
· Do you, when the pastor has preached a sermon, talk with others more about what was right or what was wrong with the message? Be careful.
One thing that we do not want to do is ever be guilty of being dividers in the church. How can we avoid it?
· Pray for a person before ever speaking negatively regarding them. Try this: make it a rule that you will pray for a person for 10 minutes before you will allow yourself to speak a negative word about them.
· If you are going to speak negatively about someone, be sure that you are dealing with clearly sinful behavior that you are willing to personally confront. If you are willing to say that Bob was wrong in the way he did something, you must be willing to follow the scriptures, and bring your grievance to Bob for his good. You should talk to Bob long before you talk to another person about Bob (with the possible exception of your seeking counsel concerning how best to talk to Bob).
· If someone asks you a question that will, if you honestly answer it, bring out a divisive remark, do one of two things. Either refuse to answer the question and simply change the subject or speak at least 2 compliments for every negative you offer. Show that you are not willing, under any circumstances, to darken another’s opinion of someone else in the church who is not engaging in overtly sinful behavior.
· If someone comes to you with a complaint about another church member, refuse to listen to them without their agreeing that they will allow you to be a part of reconciling the situation. Say, “I’ll let you tell me your problem with Bob only if you will help me be a part of solving it. Once you tell me what is on your mind, either you or both of us will go to Bob to make this better.”
· Refuse, under any circumstances, to engage in complaining about things that you are unwilling to help fix.
· Seek out things in the church to compliment. Be kind to the pastor, to Sunday School teachers, to visitors, and to others in the body. Become a person whose conversation is seasoned with grace instead of someone who begins a conversation with, “Isn’t it awful that . . .”
· When you see or hear something done in a way that is not your preference, try to think of who in the church might prefer it that way. Perhaps you will find that you can think of a good group of people who like the very thing you dislike.
All of us are working through the progression of becoming what God wants us to be. This is a long and often difficult procedure. Because we are all still sinners in the process of change, we are going to disagree with one another regularly and dislike one another on occasion. God makes it very clear for us, however, that doing things that divide the church is not acceptable. We are to avoid such activity like the plague.
I know that I, as a pastor, have to watch what I allow myself to think, say, and do. I know that as church members, many others have to guard themselves as well. Let us make it a point, however, to honor God by being peacemakers in our church, and never, under any circumstances, to cause division. Let us understand that we start this fix with ourselves, not by blaming others. Let us follow God’s word in Titus, and neither cause division nor put up with those who do.