How To: Handle a Cankerous Person

“Have you ever seen this happen?

Brook watched Anna come through the door of her Bible study and her palms grew damp. They smiled at each other like opponents across a jousting field. Brook knew what would come. Anna sat through the Brook’s teaching nodding at all the right times. When it came to the question and answer period, she waited for a minute before asking a question. She threw in a hint of antagonism, then doubt, then fear. When she saw Brook stumble, she dove in with full steam ahead making her point contrary to the teaching of the Word of God. By the time the meeting broke up there was an uncomfortable shift in the room against what was taught and Brook wondered if she was effective or not. Finally, Brook left and decided never to teach again.

If you have had this happen to you then you should know something. First of all you’re not alone. Paul dealt with it too many times. He called people like Anna, “a thorn in his flesh.” So what did he do about it?

First, he identified the real problem.

 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high [places].” Ephesians 6:10 (KJV)

There is a spiritual tyrant named Satan, working very hard to steal the seed of the rightly divided Word from our hearts. How do I know that? Look at this parable.

“Then he (Jesus) told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up…. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Matthew 13:3-4,8 (NIV)

Later, Jesus explained what he meant to his disciples.

“When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.” vs. 19 (NIV)

If faith comes by hearing the Word of God, then if you were Satan, where would you plant your workers? Among the people listening to the Word of God. These snatchers also plant weeds of doubt then they swoop in and steal the seed of the Word right out of people’s heart.

God knew we’d be dealing with this type of problem. Paul saw two individuals who were subverting or undermining the work of the Lord as well.

 “Of these things put [them] in remembrance, charging [them] before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, [but] to the subverting of the hearers.” 2 Timothy 2:14

What is the one thing that never profits a believer? Unbelief. What causes unbelief? Doubt, worry and fear. Instead look at the very next verse in Timothy.

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

This is our weapon, our sword against the adversary. The Word of God divides thoughts and intents of the heart. If you’re teaching and you haven’t studied your subject then you’ll be targeted. Know you’re subject well and be aware that the next few verses may be happening in your group meetings.

“But shun profane [and] vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.” vs. 16-18

Vain babblings is the Greek word kenophōnia it means “empty discussions.” Empty discussions always lead to error in some form. In the case of these two they tried out the lie that the resurrection, Christ’s Return, had already passed. What a bunch of garbage. But it worked to sway the faith of some didn’t it. As the leader of a discussion how do you determine that a discussion is empty?

Here are a few ways:

  1. First ask God, is this discussion profitable to Him? Or, what’s the profit of talking about this? This journey is a walk. He’ll know if you get off the path.
  2. Does it measure up to the Phil. 4:8 test. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things [are] honest…” etc? If we’re supposed to think about these things then it’s a pretty logical step to talk about them too.
  3. God knows who are His and who is working for Him. He gave us a manifestation of the Holy Spirit called “discerning of spirits.” As the leader we need to be watching for the “wolves” among the sheep. That is the example Jesus Christ the greatest Shepherd gave us. 2 Timothy 2:19 “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”
  4. When someone asks the question avoid them. Just don’t answer them. Don’t give them their platform. “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.” 2 Timothy 2:23 You are the leader. Even if temporarily. Where is it written that we have to have a conversation with the enemy? This takes practice. Role play with a trusted friend so it will be easier once you have to do it live. You may also want to role play the act of dismissing someone from the group. I guarantee you’ll make a statement to all those who are confused when you ask them to leave. James 4:7b “…Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
  5. Don’t be intimidated. Intimidation is one of the oldest tricks in the book. You don’t even have to go there with the person. Just say, “Hey, I didn’t write the book.” They need to take their “complaint” to a greater power and that’s God. He is the Author of the Bible and He’s alive and well. James says He’ll give them wisdom liberally who ask. If these people want to pick a fight then let them fight with God. He’s a big boy, trust me He can handle them.

In the end you answer to God. He wants you to speak, teach and spread His word. Let Him help you handle the person with the right word at the right time.

If you have any questions feel free to ask them here in the comments.

God Bless You!

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