Lisa Sheffler, author
Consider this dispute from American history:
“Michigan and Ohio might now be known their longstanding football rivalry, but the two states once nearly went to war over a border dispute. The argument began in 1803, when the newly formed state of Ohio took ownership of a sliver of land containing the town of Toledo. Michigan territory later disputed Ohio’s claim on this ‘Toledo strip’ in the 1830s, launching a heated debate that teetered on the edge of violence for several weeks. In what became known as the Toledo War, both sides wrestled for political control of the territory, and both raised militias to defend against a possible invasion by the other.”
President Andrew Jackson was able to bring the two sides to a compromise, but decades before the American Civil War, two U.S. states almost took up arms against each other over a strip of land.
Disputes have a way of escalating. Arguments and debates can become quarrels and fights. They can destroy relationships, fracture communities, and even lead to violence. It’s not that there aren’t some ideas and principles worth fighting for. It’s that we should be very careful about which disputes we choose, and how far we go to win them.
 Evan Andrews, “6 Wars Fought for Ridiculous Reasons” History https://www.history.com/news/6-wars-fought-for-ridiculous-reasons
Titus 3:9-11 (NIV)
9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.
Paul talks about a divisive person. How would you define “divisive”? What kinds of behaviors do you associate with a person who is divisive?
Some people love to argue, and they’re good at it. Maybe they were the captain of their high school debate team and now argue cases in front of judges and juries. Maybe they’re politicians who advocate for a particular point of view as a means of shaping public policy. There’s nothing wrong with having the ability to convincingly argue your point. The danger comes in motive, intent, and the lengths to which you’ll go.
Here’s a statement that should shock no one: Christians will disagree. We will disagree over how a church should organize itself and what a church service will look like. We’ll disagree over how and when to baptize or serve the Lord’s Supper. We’ll even disagree over how Christians should interact with their government and what candidates, ideas, and policies they should support. And with some important exceptions (when the gospel of Christ is a stake), that is okay.
As Christians we must learn how to disagree, even strongly, and still love our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can appreciate diversity while maintaining our unity. Divisive people who relish controversy and enjoy quarrels are a threat to that unity.
Paul speaks strongly against the divisive person. What are the characteristics of someone who is divisive? I think Proverbs 16:27– 28 can help us sketch a portrait:
27 Scoundrels create trouble;
their words are a destructive blaze.
28 A troublemaker plants seeds of strife;
gossip separates the best of friends. (NLT)
It might be stating the obvious, but a divisive person sows division. They use their words to destroy and start trouble, they encourage strife and separate friends.
Having a strong opinion doesn’t make you divisive. How you present that opinion and the lengths to which you will defend it might. In Paul’s day, there were those who loved to stoke controversy over interpretations of the Jewish Scripture. Apparently, in Crete, these revolved around genealogies and the Jewish law. Paul sees no benefit in these endless debates and quarrels. He calls them foolish, useless, and unprofitable. They weren’t bringing clarity, they were fueling division. They weren’t bringing light to these issues — just heat. By sucking all the oxygen out of the room, they were starving the gospel mission.
Times haven’t changed all that much. Unfortunately, there are still Christians who’d rather engage in an endless series of debate over some minor doctrinal issue than do the hard work of helping people find and follow Christ. Of course, there are Christian beliefs that are clearly defined in Scripture and lie at the heart of Christianity. We must preserve and defend these even at the risk of conflict, because to abandon them is to abandon Christ himself. But a lot of the hot-button issues that people fight over are not essential. They might even be foolish controversies. Endless arguments that go nowhere are harmful to the body of Christ. People who fire at their own because they’re treating non-essential issues as hills to die on are being divisive.
Leaders in the church should confront those who are habitually divisive. We should love the divisive person and remind them of the beauty of the gospel that Paul so eloquently describes in the previous verses. But if they refuse to change, Paul says the community of believers should have nothing to do with them. Don’t engage. Why? Because the body of Christ is vital to Christ’s mission and its people are beloved by its Head. Surely part of what it means to do good is to build up the church, not tear it down. It must not be hobbled by fights over minor issues when it has so much good to do.
What kinds of things do you hear Christians arguing over? What criteria could you use to determine if a debate is “foolish,” “unprofitable,” or “useless”?
What kinds of issues do you think are worth debating? How can you do so in a way that shows love to others and honor to Christ?