What makes a person divisive?

It doesn’t take an in-depth understanding of the New Testament to see an important truth:

God really isn’t pleased with divisive people.

A totally unexpected and mind-blowing truth, I know. In Paul’s day, there were many who were stirring up division and dissension; the super-apostles in Corinth, the Judaizers in Galatia, former ministry colleagues throughout the land who’d abandoned the gospel…

These are some of the examples of overtly divisive people—but you don’t have to be someone who’s openly defying the Lord and proclaiming a false gospel while seeking to destroy God’s people to be divisive.

Being divisive is a lot easier than you think. In fact, you might be a divisive person and not even realize it.

All it takes is a little bit of pride.

My wife and I both love to be right. And it’s usually over the most trivial matters. In our efforts to help ourselves recognize our behavior, we’ve given it a title: being the rightest person in the room. It’s a silly term, but it helps snap us back to reality when we’re getting ridiculous.

Imagine, though, if we didn’t do this. Our meaningless debates would escalate into a serious conflict eventually. We’d dig our heels in, refuse to give ground and, sooner or later, say something we’d regret.

That’s why we need safety measures in our lives. We need silly names to defuse our own goofiness. We need people who can call us on our guff and tell us to chill out.

This is what I’ve seen people desperately needing in the recent Driscoll ballyhoo, on both sides. The folks who are looking to lynch him need to look at themselves for a second. It’s not that the idolatry of celebrity isn’t a crucial issue (it is), but what does the response of many say about the state of their own hearts?

Remember the behavior Paul charged Titus to teach: “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2). Does the delight some seem to take in thrashing this particular person online reflect this kind of attitude? Worse, do they think it’s really going to help him be responsive to legitimate concern and attempts at correction?

When you look at a guy like Driscoll, it’s not hard to make a case that he’s a divisive figure. In fact, he absolutely is that guy and should be held appropriately accountable.

But we also need to be careful, because, really—are the rest of us any better?

There’s a certain extent to which we’re all that guy.

The difference is, we just don’t get as much airtime, and it’s but by the grace of God that we are not also being torn apart by people who, arguably, care little to nothing for us as people. Who don’t necessarily want us to get better, but just don’t want us to have a voice anymore.

But we ought to remember that, as Paul says, all of God’s people “were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). This is what God rescues us from. Why sink back into that kind of divisiveness?

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.

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6 Replies to “What makes a person divisive?”

  1. I don’t think Carl Trueman ever spoke evil of Driscoll. What I find interesting is the Ergun Caner issue. Seems the only guy talking about him is James White. Would you consider him divisive? I’m curious. Are you familiar with it?

    1. Sorry for the late reply. I wouldn’t say Trueman spoke evil of Driscoll, either. In fact, he’s been one of the more moderate voices (which is not to say not firm). Many others have been far . Although I’m hesitant to say it, I’m inclined to label Driscoll as divisive (something I mentioned above), but we should be careful to watch ourselves that we also not do likewise.

      As for Caner, I’m only familiar with that controversy in passing, but what I do know I’m concerned about.

  2. We have occasionally had people in our small non-denominational church that cause divisions, sometimes over doctrinal side-issues, and sometimes over practical issues. (I’m sure this happens more often in a church made up of people coming from different various theological persuasions.) Even now, discussion over some topics end-time events sometimes digresses into each side trying to get in the last word. The arguments aren’t heated, but it wouldn’t take much to make it so.

    I agree lack of true humility is a primary factor in divisiveness. I’ve learned to recognize when an argument becomes non-productive and so let the other person have the last word (especially in non-essential areas). For most people (including myself), heated argument doesn’t change their mind. I think it even becomes a stumbling block to finding the truth.

    Even a quiet, humble-sounding person can be divisive. I don’t have the gift of discernment in knowing who is or isn’t. But I can see the fruit of a divisive person in the church. If the unity of the body is being disrupted and people are moving away from Christ, then that is the call-sign of a divisive person.

  3. Interesting. Can one be divisive when standing for what is right? Not right vs wrong as you’ve described with your wife (glad to hear we’re not the only ones that do that! :)), but standing for biblical truths when others seem not to.

    1. There are some ways in which people stand for biblical truth in an unbiblical fashion, and it usually starts with the heart. Does the way we contend for a biblical truth represent a desire for reconciliation and restoration (though not necessarily a full restoration to public ministry)—or do we just want to be right?

      While I don’t pretend to know what’s going on in someone’s innermost being, I have to wonder what would be enough for some critics of the celebrities out there. Would they be satisfied with “I’m sorry for what I did; I was wrong”? Some, I hope, would be. Others, I’m not so sure…

      Does that answer your question?

      1. Absolutely. I think that it is always good to stand for what is right, but you’re correct in saying that the manner in which you do so is important. You’re also right with the manner in which people accept apology. For some, “I’m sorry” just isn’t enough when it probably should be. (and for some, I mean me. I’m guilty of being skeptical of one’s sincerity.) thanks for the reply

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