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Dealing with Despisers, Dividers, and Downright Toxic People

March 12, 2023 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Highlights in 1st Samuel

Topic: Conflict Passage: 1 Samuel 11

Highlights from 1 Samuel

Allen Snapp

Grace Community Church

March 12, 2023


Dealing with Despisers, Dividers, and Downright Toxic People

The last few verses of chapter 11 close the loop on some brewing relational dynamics that started in chapter 10 so let’s back up just a bit so we can consider one of the first challenges Saul faced after being anointed as king.

I’m calling this message, Dealing with Despisers, Dividers, and Downright Toxic People. Let’s read the closing verses of chapter 10.

26 Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went men of valor whose hearts God had touched. 27 But some worthless fellows said, “How can this man save us?” And they despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace. 1 Sam 10:26-27

Saul had just been anointed as king, he had no track record either good or bad, but most of the people supported him enthusiastically and some men of valor knit themselves to him because God had touched their hearts. But there were some who despised Saul and wrote him off.

Their first impulse was to hold Saul in contempt, to be disrespectful towards him, and to predict that he would fail: how can this man save us?

  1. Dealing with despisers

There will always be despisers in our lives. People on the sidelines who judge and criticize anyone who attempts anything. There will always be critics who don’t enter the fray, don’t try to solve the problems, don’t have any productive contributions to make, but boy they sure know better than anyone else how it should be done.It makes me think of the famous speech Theodore Roosevelt gave where he said, in part:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

First thing that needs to be said is, let’s make sure we’re not that person! Let’s not be the Monday morning quarterback who criticizes those on the field from the comfort of the sidelines. The person who second guesses other’s decisions, while not carrying the weight or responsibility of making those same decisions.

These worthless fellows offered no respect to Saul – not because he had done anything to lose their respect but because their worthless character naturally bent towards being disrespectful towards others. They resented his promotion, they would have resented anyone’s promotion except their own. Let’s make sure we’re not that person!

And let’s not let our despisers stop us from going forward with what God puts on our hearts to do. We want to be open to counsel AND to criticism, because both can help us make wiser decisions. But this wasn’t that kind of well-intentioned criticism. This was all negative: who does he think he is? he can’t do it, he’s a failure, he shouldn’t even try…

Don’t let the fear of criticism stop you from stepping out or attempting great things for God and new things in life. Let’s not let the fear of failure stop us from trying new ventures or stepping into new roles. Saul didn’t.

Here’s what Saul did about his despisers: he held his peace. It literally means he was deaf to their words. He didn’t get angry, he didn’t argue, he didn’t lie awake thinking up ways he could get back at them or prove himself to them, he acted like he didn’t hear them. Like they weren’t even there. He was deaf to their words.

Charles Spurgeon, in a message titled The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear warns his listeners not to be consumed with what other people say or think about us. He makes the case that we should develop a blind eye and a deaf ear to what people say and think in the sense that we’re not always trying to find out what did so-and-so say about me? What does so-and-so think about me? He likens the person who’s consumed with finding out what’s being said to a spider who…

…begins to cast out his lines, and fashions a web of tremulous threads, all of which lead up to himself and warn him of the least touch of even the tiniest [gnat]. There he sits in the centre, a mass of sensation, all nerves and raw wounds, excitable and excited…

There is something paralyzing and useless about being consumed with what people think about us all the time. If someone whose opinion and judgment we respect is concerned for us, we are wise to seek out their thoughts. But there are worthless people who live to criticize and love to despise. Those who feel bigger when they’re putting other people down, who resent anyone being successful other than themselves, and who privately cheer for other people’s downfall. Let’s not be those people and let’s not be paralyzed by those people.

And who knows? When we anchor our security in what God thinks about us and continue forward, Spurgeon points out we may actually win some of our detractors over in the end. I think that’s what happened to Saul and that brings us to the second point.

  1. Dealing with dividers

As we read last week, Nahash the Ammonite attacked the city of Jabesh-Gilead and Saul rallied a fractured and disunified Israel to fight and defeat the Ammonites and now on the other side of Saul’s first and impressive victory as king, those who supported him return to the subject of the haters. Verse 12:

Then the people said to Samuel, “Who is it that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring the men, that we may put them to death.” Vs. 12

The people who supported Saul from the beginning now want to put those who hated and criticized Saul to death! They wanted to divide Israel into the camp of those who supported Saul and the camp of those who didn’t, and punish those who despised Saul.

13 But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.” 14 Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed peace offerings before the Lord, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly. 1 Sam. 11:13-15

Saul could have let his success go to his head, he could have been swept away by the fervor of his supporters, and he could have used this as an opportunity to pay back his detractors. But to his credit, Saul saw the big picture: God had given them a great military victory but an even greater national victory. Once again they were united, once again fighting for each other and God had used Saul to do that.

This was a day to give praise to God and rejoice, not kill the people who didn’t like Saul. Saul wasn’t going to allow his supporters to divide Israel into a bunch of factions again.

Now I want to be clear here: there are legitimate issues over which Christians need to divide over. Paul was clear when he said let anyone (including angels) who preaches another gospel than the gospel of Jesus Christ be accursed. That’s division! If someone denies the Bible as the inspired word of God, or denies Jesus as the only means of salvation, or other central doctrines of orthodox Christianity, we need to divide in terms of our beliefs. I’ll love and respect you as a person and I’ll be praying for you but I need to let you know we’re believing very different things and can’t enjoy fellowship as Christians together.

But Paul wrote to churches dealing with serious issues and he didn’t take a sword and start chopping them up into camps. In the Christian community there has to be grace to see things differently, to be in different places in our sanctification, to have different convictions and perspectives on important but not gospel essential issues and doctrines.

That’s where forbearance, forgiveness, humility, and love come in!

But notice how Saul dealt with it: he refused to retaliate against those who despised him, but he also refused to humiliate or insult his overzealous supporters. He pointed them all to what God had done and was doing and united them under that. Samuel sees this as a great opportunity to reinstate Saul’s kingship and renew the kingdom and everyone offered sacrifices to the Lord and rejoiced greatly. I’ve got to believe that included those who initially despised Saul.

At the end of the civil war, Abraham Lincoln was narrowly re-elected as president of a wounded and divided nation. Many in the South thought him a “vulgar tyrant”, many in the North thought he had mismanaged the war and damaged the country. People in the North and South thought him unpresidential.

The black leader Frederick Douglass hoped to see a more passionately anti-slavery leader elected and opposed Abraham Lincoln’s reelection.

Lincoln used his second inaugural address to heal a nation divided. He didn’t boast of his accomplishments or rail against his opponents. He didn’t claim God was on his side and was judging the other side. Instead, in a short 700 word address, he claimed both sides shared culpability for the horror the nation had endured and suggested the war may have been God’s judgment on the whole nation for the “evil of slavery”. The way forward he said was “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

At the end of the speech, Frederick Douglass, Lincoln’s political foe, made his way to the president to shake his hand. When Lincoln saw him, he said, “here comes my friend Douglass.” Douglass responded, “Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort.”

  1. Dealing with toxic people

If you’re wondering “who is the toxic person in this account?” I am reading Nahash into that role. He was an enemy for sure, but he was also a cruel, malicious, toxic person.

…”the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you.” But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel.” 1 Sam. 11:1a-2

I want to be careful here because people aren’t toxic because they disagree with us, or annoy us, or are unkind or unpleasant or obnoxious or sinful. Toxic is a Nahash-like commitment to hurt and shame and destroy us.

It wasn’t enough for Nahash to defeat Israel, he insisted on humiliating and degrading them. His agenda was their harm. And yes, there are people who want to hurt and shame and destroy others and they are toxic.

And they should be loved and prayed for, but from a distance. Toxic the noun is a poisonous substance and toxic people are poisonous to our spiritual health and to the mission of the church. Here are a few of the characteristics Carey Neiwhof identifies as being toxic:

  • Lying
  • Manipulation
  • They are never wrong
  • Unwilling to hear feedback
  • Hidden agendas (they say the want a peace treaty, but they want to gouge out your eyes)
  • Critical spirit
  • Malicious gossip about other people
  • Passive-aggressive behavior (what happens to your face and what happens behind your back are very different)

Gary Thomas writes that many toxic people can’t stand healthy relationships. They are master manipulators and can be charming in their efforts to get their way, but will attack anything standing in their way.

He goes on to say the natural Christian response in dealing with toxic people is to try and stick around, pouring more and more energy, love, and care into the relationship hoping they will change.

Jesus said not to cast our pearls (what’s precious to us) before swine or they will trample them under their feet and then turn and tear you to pieces. Matt. 7:6

More in Highlights in 1st Samuel

June 4, 2023

God’s Work in the Wilderness Part One

May 28, 2023

A Beautiful Friendship Part Two

May 21, 2023

A Beautiful Friendship Part One