Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” He came into the world as the prince of peace, preaching a gospel of peace with view to reconciling people to God and one another. His prayer was that those who followed him might all be one as he and the Father are one, that he might be one in us so the world would believe that God had sent him. In Ephesians 2:11-22 Paul laid out the means by which God had moved to take those who had been alienated from God and one another and tore down the wall of hostility between them by abolishing the law. He made both Jew and Gentile into one body through the cross thus making peace between those who came to him no matter what their background may have been.
Of course it didn’t take long for troublemakers to arise in the church. At first it was Jews who had become Christians and were determined to turn Christianity into a sect of Judaism by requiring the Gentiles who became Christians to be circumcised and follow the rituals of the law. Paul became so frustrated with them by the time he wrote the Book of Galatians that he called them mutilaters of the flesh and declared he wished they would mutilate themselves. He said these people were causing people to turn away from the grace that was in Christ to become legalist like their teachers. He pleaded with them to not depart from the gospel of Jesus to some other gospel that wasn’t a gospel at all. When Paul reached the conclusion to the Book of Romans he gave this warning to the church. “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” (Romans 16:17-18)
Some years back I was teaching a Bible class where I preached and each time the class met this one person in the class would start some kind of argument that disrupted the class and turned it into a debate. After seeing this happen over and over again I went to see the man at his home thinking I could talk to him and help him see he was hurting things at church. He was an extremely nice person to visit with at his home. But when I began talking about his behavior in class he started laughing and said, “You know I believe that is the best class I’ve ever been in. I just love to get people into an argument and frustrated at each other to see how it all comes out.” Instead of recognizing that he had a problem on the subject he thought it was his spiritual gift to disrupt the class and get people upset at one another. He said, “You can tell what a person is really like when they get aggravated and have to defend what they think.”
So, how is it ever possible to redeem those who think they are doing good by causing division, separations and confusion among the people of God? Sectarianism wasn’t invented by the Pharisees or the Essenes. But they sure did a good job with it. They were proud of being separatist. Too many follow the same line of thinking today. They are ready to draw lines of fellowship or to decide who is a real Christian over some detail that as often as not has nothing to do with what Scripture actually says. So what can we do to actually help the person or group that has turned into troublemakers rather than peacemakers to change to really trust God and his grace rather than perfect attention to every detail in life?
There are two passages from the pen of Paul that I think lay out the best plan for reaching the troublemakers inside the body of Christ. In 2 Timothy 2:23-26 Paul wrote “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” This was Paul’s final letter. Very likely he was executed at the hands of Nero or his henchmen soon after writing this letter. He strives to give his young friend the things he will need to continue faithfully as God’s man in the world. He knew well that one of the greatest problems he would face would be the troublemakers who wanted to argue about foolish, stupid things that made no real difference in one’s life for God. But the challenge as God’s man or woman is to not become like the very people we are trying to change. So Paul said to Timothy don’t be quarrelsome like they are. Be kind. God’s servant aren’t resentful in their teaching. Instead they gently instruct those who oppose them. I think in many ways the most important part of this instruction is, that he says we offer this gentle instruction “In the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth and may escape the devil’s trap.” It is difficult for us to admit that we aren’t able to change the hearts of people. We can teach, instruct, love and share. We can show a different way and different attitude. But only God can change a person’s heart. He works best in a persons life when we aren’t getting in the way with a lousy attitude.
The other Scripture that is relevant to this point is found in Titus 3:9-11. “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.” This is a very similar teaching, yet the tone is very different. It was written about the same time as I Timothy so Paul’s attitude may have changed on the matter as time had passed. Or the circumstances may be different in the people whom Titus is working with. In both cases he warns the preacher not to get involved in the silly arguments over the law. This is likely still those who were trying to convince Gentile Christians they had to observe the Old Testament law to be right with God. Paul said, it is useless to argue with them. Instead he said to Titus warn them, one time, then a second time in hopes of their changing. But if they don’t change after that, have nothing to do with them. Why would he tell Titus to not have anything to do with them? You can’t change people without making any contact with them. While that is true Paul knew that being around those that are argumentative, quarrelsome and love controversies, leads you to slowly become like them, often without even realizing it. So get away from people that have that spirit.
Paul declared that those who continue in such an attitude are warped, sinful and self-condemned. Such strong words used to talk about people who if asked would have said they were faithful members of God’s family. Yet they were divisive everywhere they went. All my years of preaching I’ve seen churches try to hold on to people who are constant troublemakers in the church and had no intent of ever changing. Actually their intent was to change others to make them like them. It doesn’t matter what the issue may be. If people are trying to make something a law that God never made a law, or if they are trying to say something God said do really isn’t necessary, you had better give a first and second warning and have nothing to do with them afterward.
Can God redeem the troublemakers? Yes and we can be gentle and try to be helpful as we teach people a better way. But never make a troublemaker your best friend. Never allow a troublemaker to destroy a church and never allow a troublemaker to become a leader at church. God may change them and we pray that he does. But until that change is made mark them and have nothing to do with them.