Avoiding Divisive People

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We don’t talk about “shunning” much, and this concept seems like it might be a strange topic within the theme of equipping the saints. A more accurate (and actually quite common) biblical term is avoiding. The reason this is important for the theme of equipping the saints is that the theme of unity runs through the passages about equipping the saints for ministry. The opposite of unity is division. Satan loves to divide, especially among people who crave and need unity. This is why Satan will start his work within a family. Tearing a family apart is an effective way to poison love.

Divisive people are like toxins. Jesus warned people about the leaven of the Pharisees. Paul says to avoid irreverent babble, because their talk will spread like gangrene. We know that people who inhale or inject toxins into their body get sick and eventually die. So why would we tolerate toxins within the body of Christ?

Think about it. It’s impossible to equip and mentor people if others are undermining that work by tearing someone down. All of us know how crippling discouragement is. It ruins our self-worth. It destroys confidence. Reputations can be ruined by someone with a nasty tongue. This is a huge reason why division and greed are not tolerated in the church. Over and over the scriptures tell us to avoid people who are greedy, prideful, and divisive.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul is very clear: “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. . . Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Cor. 5:11, 13 ESV). In Romans 16:17, Paul says, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.”

It’s important, if we are going to properly equip one another, to teach those we equip to avoid certain toxic, divisive people. One of the reasons people get crippled in the church when it comes to serving is that divisive people are intimidating them and shouting them down. Healthy churches avoid those people and stick together to spur one another on towards good deeds.

Equipping the Saints

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Paul talked a lot about unity in the church in Ephesus. He urged the Christians to live in a manner worthy of their calling, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, and bearing with one another in love. The purpose was to maintain the unity in Christ through the bond of peace. As Paul says many times elsewhere, the body of Christ is made up of many parts. Each member of the body has a different function, and one is no more or less important than the other. Some of what could be considered less noble parts are actually indispensable.

The model was healthy and holy. Paul intensifies the purpose of maintaining this unity: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and to the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the of the stature of the fullness of Christ. . . we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13, 15 ESV).

It’s important now, more than ever before, that we live this out. The church in this nation is on life support in many respects while it could should be thriving. We Christians have an amazing opportunity to turn the weakened body into a unified, holy body that is bound together by peace through the Holy Spirit. But to do so takes equipping of the saints. We have our work cut out for us, but as followers of Christ we can do it.

There are countless opportunities to serve people in need and to teach them the good news of Jesus Christ. This coming year will be one of equipping, equipping, equipping!