It’s instructive that the Bible not only alerts us to watch out for doctrinal heresy, but also for relational heresy.
The Bible commands us not only to be careful out there about people who are false teachers; we also must be careful out there about people who are false lovers—divisive, biting, devouring, overbearing, quarrelsome, and contentious people.
Consider just a few of the times that the Bible warns us to be careful, to be on guard against, and to watch out for divisive people.
Romans 16:17-19: Watch Out for Those Who Cause Divisions
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisionsand 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. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”
Galatians 5:13-23: Watch Out for Those Who Bite and Devour, Who Sow Discord, Dissensions, Factions
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
Titus 3:9-11: Warn a Divisive Person
“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.”
Ephesians 4:2-5: Be Diligent to Keep the Peace
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Some Additional Sample Passages Among Many: On Avoiding Divisions and Keeping Unity
· 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
· 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
· Philippians 2:1-11
· Philippians 4:2-3
· Colossians 2:2
· Colossians 3:12-17
· 1 Timothy 3:3, 11
· 1 Timothy 4:12-16
· 1 Timothy 6:4-5
· 2 Timothy 2:23-26
· Titus 1:7-8
Notice how many of these verses have warnings both about false doctrine and false living. It’s never either/or.
Did you notice how many of these verses command that pastors/teachers/leaders not be quarrelsome or overbearing, but instead be gentle and kind in words, attitude, and actions?
Obeying the Greatest Commandment
Did you notice how often these verses are wrapped around the context of the greatest commandment?
If the greatest commandment is to love God and one another (Matthew 22:34-40), then relational heresy involves actions and attitudes that cause division between God’s people.
Of course, we must speak the truth, but we do so in love.
Given these biblical warnings, we each need to search our hearts to make sure that what we think is “speaking truth in love,” is not simply a grumpy, complaining, contentious, negative, envious, jealous, fleshly spirit masquerading as being a prophet for the truth.
Also, given these biblical warnings, we need to be careful out there about divisive people. We need to confront them in love—twice. And after that, according to Paul in Titus, we are to have nothing to do with them.
God takes relational heresy very seriously.
Join the Conversation
In our own lives, how can we assess whether we are speaking the truth in love, or being divisive and contentious?
What are marks of the divisive, contentious person?
How can we confront in love the divisive, contentious person without becoming divisive and contentious ourselves?
Posted on February 17, 2011