Although every human person, excepting Jesus Christ, has been tainted by sin there are some individuals that manifest particular inclinations toward evil. The New Testament has a great deal of information detailing the characteristics of evil people and also provides teaching that gives direction for how to effectively respond to evil persons.
Of the many characteristics that describe an evil person there are a cluster of attributes that are of particular interest. These attributes include: (1) the tendency to subvert the truth through lying and deception, (2) an arrogant and divisive approach to life, and (3) a religious veneer that cloaks the evil person’s actions. Although all sinful people will manifest these tendencies to some degree the evil person will tend to exemplify these attributes in a more pronounced manner and in concert with one another.
The narration of King Saul’s disobedience in 1 Samuel 15 shows the depths of deception and twisting of the truth of which an evil person is capable. Having been told by the Lord to utterly destroy the Amalekites and all their possessions Saul fails to obey this directive. He intentionally spares “the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good” (1 Samuel 15:9). Saul then has the audacity to greet the prophet Samuel with the words, “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have carried out the command of the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:13). The lie is bold and direct. When confronted by Samuel on this breach of God’s command Saul resorts to minimizing the infraction by attempting to paint it in a “spiritual” light—the best of the animals were kept alive “to sacrifice to the Lord your God” (1 Samuel 15:15). When pressed as to his disobedience Saul continues to affirm his
innocence by flatly affirming, “I did obey the voice of the Lord and went on the mission on which the Lord sent me” (1 Samuel 15:20). At this point Saul also attempts to deflect criticism by misdirection and “scape-goating” when he blames the people for taking some of the spoil from the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:21). This combination of deception, misdirection, and blame-shifting is indicative of Saul’s evil character.
Evil persons are also given to arrogance that results in a refusal to heed counsel or submit to proper authority. Perhaps one of the clearest examples of this is Diotrephes. The apostle John mentions him in the following manner:
I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church. 3 John 9-10
Diotrephes “loves to be first” and in his defiant arrogance divides the church unnecessarily. The apostle Paul would also recognize this divisive reality on the part of arrogant people and counsel Titus to, “reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:1-11). Another apostle, Peter, also speaks to this issue when he calls out the false prophets besetting his communities. He refers to these false teachers as those who “despise authority” (2 Peter 2:10) and speak out “arrogant words of vanity” (2 Peter 2:18). Paralleling this perspective Jude writes of how false teachers manifest their evil by using people for selfish ends. He forcefully articulates how these false teachers are those who “arrogantly flatter people for the sake of gaining an advantage” (Jude 16). Thus, from a multitude of New Testament witnesses the character of evil persons is seen to be manifest in an arrogance that divides the church.
What is perhaps most sickening about certain evil people is their use of religion to cloak and justify their heinous machinations. The Pharisees are the prime example of this evil. In Matthew 23 Jesus excoriates these religious leaders for their hypocrisy. These are men who engage in religious deeds simply to be “noticed by men” (Matthew 23:5). They love religious titles and use these to exalt themselves over others. These men also fail to uphold the “weightier provisions of the law” but, instead, focus on minutiae (Matthew 23:23). The apostle Paul also mentions this kind of person. In 2 Timothy 3:5 he describes those who hold “to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.” These are men who, under the cloak of religiousity, pursue sexual immorality with vulnerable women in the church (2 Timothy 3:6). When speaking to Titus, Paul uses the pointed language of: “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed” (Titus 1:16). This religious veneer masking evil behavior is often brought up in the New Testament and is an indicator of those engaged in evil behavior.
The Bible has no shortage of information on the characteristics of an evil person but it also gives perspective on how to respond to evil persons. The following are some of the themes that provide direction on how to effectively handle evil persons: (1) the need for community assessment and involvement, (2) the place for confrontation and accountability, and (3) the importance for leaders to recognize their proper authority and wield that authority to protect the church.
Jesus draws attention the communal elements needed in addressing sinful situations. In Matthew 18 Jesus teaches his disciples a process for dealing with sin in the community. Jesus mentions the need for two or three witnesses in the process. There is even a place for the entire church to be involved (Matthew 18:17). This is important for often evil people need to be confronted by a plurality of responsible people. Since evil people traffic in deception they must be confronted by a multiplicity of witnesses.
The need for confrontation and accountability is another factor in dealing with evil persons. Titus 3:9-11 has already been mentioned above in reference to defining the divisiveness of an evil person. This text also speaks to the necessity of confronting this person. In particular, verse 10 gives the following directive: “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning.” There are warnings given but there are also clearly defined consequences that are enforced. This is necessary otherwise the evil person is allowed to create on-going and intractable difficulties in the church. The apostle Paul also deals with this issue in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11. He urges the Corinthian church to “not associate with immoral people” (1 Corinthians 5:9). He clarifies this commandment to mean those who are in the church and claim to follow Christ. He quotes from the Old Testament to provide direction—“Remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (1 Corinthians 5:13; quoting Deuteronomy 13:5). Unrepentant evil people must be confronted and removed from the church otherwise their behavior will bring harm on the entire church. The risen Christ graphically speaks to this reality in Revelation 2:20-23 when he is speaking to the church at Thyatira. He speaks of a false prophetess Jezebel who “teaches and leads my bond-servants astray” (Revelation 2:20). In light of her failure to repent Christ himself will enter into judgment with her by throwing “her on a bed of sickness.” He then speaks in powerfully loaded language by saying, “And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am he who searches the minds and hearts” (Revelation 2:23). Jesus Christ places a high premium on the purity and protection of his church. He will act to confront evil and hold accountable those who would promote evil designs in his church.
In light of the need to confront evil in the church it is imperative that leaders in the church understand their role and authority in the church. Church leaders must wisely wield their authority to protect the flock of God from evil persons. Paul spoke sober words directing the Ephesian elders to such a task:
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Acts 20:28-30
Elders must understand their distinct authority and use their office to protect the church from these “savage wolves.” In giving direction to Titus regarding the role of elders in the church Paul again speaks of this theme. He mentions rebellious men “who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families” (Titus 1:11). Evil unchecked and unchallenged will run through the church and destroy people and families. Elders need to rise up and protect the church. At times there is a tendency in the contemporary evangelical church to seek to be overly “nice.” When this leads to a refusal to properly confront evil then this leads to damage in the body of Christ. Elders and other appropriate church leaders must understand their authority and use it wisely to confront evil so that the church is kept safe.
Evil people exist—even in the church. Thankfully God has given revelation to understand and identify the marks of evil so that we are not left defenseless. Among the clear marks of evil is a manifest deception. Evil people lie so that they can engage in their selfish devices. This is often combined with an arrogance that results in division in the church. Sad to say, this deceptive and arrogant evil can be cloaked under the guise of religion. In light of the reality of evil persons in the church leaders must recognize their God-given authority and actively confront evil for the protection of the body of Christ. Leaders ought to do this in a communal manner that, at times, may involve the entire church. God’s Word gives us the resources both to understand evil and confront it in a way that brings glory to God and protection to his people.