“A worthless person, a wicked man,
goes about with crooked speech,
winks with his eyes, signals with his feet,
points with his finger,
with perverted heart devises evil,
continually sowing discord;
therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly;
in a moment he will be broken beyond healing.”  Proverbs 6:12-15

“Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,
and quarreling and abuse will cease.”  Proverbs 22:10

“Those who rebuke the wicked will have delight,
and a good blessing will come upon them.”  Proverbs 24:25

“For lack of wood the fire goes out,
and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.”  Proverbs 26:20

“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”  Titus 3:10-11

Not every opinion deserves a place at the table.  It is the responsibility of a church’s elders to monitor the conversation going on in their church and encourage the positive and confront the negative.

Sadly, some people just don’t listen.  They are too self-assured.  Reasonable discourse leaves them unsatisfied, because they are unsatisfiable.  They do not feel that you understand them until you agree with them.  The only acceptable outcome is their outcome, which they will pursue relentlessly.  The Bible calls this kind of person a scoffer (Proverbs 9:7-8; 13:1; 15:12; 21:24).  He (or she) might be a highly impressive person outwardly.  Very able.  A strong personality.  Convincing.  But even in little ways (“. . . winks with his eyes”), this person sows discord in their church — small provocations with big impact.

Sometimes people overreach in this way because they claim they have been hurt.  But no one, however wounded, has the right to disrupt the blood-bought peace of a church.  The sacred wounds of Christ overrule all others.  Moreover, in today’s climate of victimization, hurt can, in fact, be hate.  Elders are responsible to discern this and confront it, even if the person offending is a long-standing member and a personal friend.

It is the privilege of elders to keep the conversation going on 24/7 in their church positive — about Jesus, his gospel and his mission.  Those elders who accept this clear teaching of the Bible and courageously follow through will, in the long run, “have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.”  To preserve their church in those green pastures and beside those still waters, the elders might have to ask the trouble-maker to leave.  They will do so reluctantly and carefully, and they will try not to embarrass the offender, but faithful elders will obey the Bible.  And everyone in their church will breathe a sigh of relief.


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14 thoughts on “The scoffer”

  1. Jerry says:

    As always, Jesus is our wonderful Savior, Lord and Example. Reading the post, the line from the hymn “Hallelujah! What a Savior” came to mind. Here is the stanza, “Bearing shame and scoffing rude,In my place condemned He stood; Sealed my pardon with His blood.
    Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

    Thanks, Ray!

  2. Scott Thomas says:

    May we, as elders, courageously lead our board meetings, staff meetings, elder meetings and private meetings with this spirit.

    You have rightly said, “No one, however wounded, has the right to disrupt the blood-bought peace of a church. The sacred wounds of Christ overrule all others.” If we feel the need to take up the offense and hurt of anyone, it should be of Christ.

    Thank you for your insight with its anchor on the Gospel.

  3. Aaron Britton says:

    Great word on the wounds of Christ. I wonder, though, if sometimes “disrupting the blood-bought peace of a church” is actually just calling out sin in a leader that would rather not be bothered. Or naming names on an issue that has been cowardly un-addressed. It’s a two way street to be sure, and I love Rev. Ortlund’s word here. But, sometimes when those in power call for unity, it’s actually really unhealthy. It’s not loving or unified to “get in line” when things haven’t been dealt with properly.

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      Good point, Aaron. But that is a different post. In this one, I am only addressing the problem of the scoffer. It is a real problem that we elders sometimes fail to confront.

      Sometime I’ll have to do a post about the problem you are bringing up. That too is a real problem. Thanks for pointing it out.

      1. Aaron Britton says:

        Thanks Rev. Ortlund. Your blog is a blessing to me consistently and I love your word here.

        Agreed that we should be aggressive with scoffers, and at the church where I’m on staff, we have failed at times in that regard.

        I just want us to also have a robust view of dissent and dialogue. I think sometimes the new emphasis on “vision” and “ambition” can make it so that voices are not heard.

        1. Ray Ortlund says:

          Again, a good point. Thank you. When a decision is being worked through, whether among the elders or in the congregation, whatever a church’s polity might be, then it is vital that people feel free to speak candidly and courteously to the issue. For the eventual decision to be stable, it must be discussed honestly and thoroughly. “After there had been much debate . . .” (Acts 15:7).

          But then a decision is made. And at that point, dissent must end. If some continue to dissent and hold out for their own view or undermine what has been decided or even just hang back in passive resistance, that is wrong. A scoffer can do this with tragic effect. It is a real problem — which is why the Bible addresses it so bluntly and helpfully.

  4. JeffB says:

    I’m looking forward to your post on the problem of sinful leaders.

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      Thanks, Jeff. The scoffer is often found among the leaders.

  5. Nel says:

    Rev. Ortlund
    How does oen determine the difference between a scoffer and a person legitimately and seriously wounded by the church? Also, if someone has been deeply hurt, wouldn’t it be normal if they hung back, in passive resistance, giving time for their wounds to heal? Are we expecting the person to just “buck up” and carry on with a stiff upper lip?

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      Thanks, Nel. That’s an important question. Churches certainly can wound people, and terribly.

      It might be normal “if they hung back in passive resistance,” but it would not be biblical. The biblical thing to do is respectfully to talk through the disagreements and see if a win-win can be found. If it can’t be found, it’s probably time to find another church that can be trusted.

  6. Bill says:

    I’m curious to know, is a constructive way to for congregants to address wrongdoing or bad teaching by leaders (other than by leaving)?

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Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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