This article is part of an ongoing study. The writer’s intention is to look at each phrase and statement in the letter and to glean a simple understanding of what Paul was writing to Titus about. It might be helpful to read the previous articles either in the printed edition of the magazine or online via www.preciousseed.org
Titus will now be required to emphasize the rock-solid nature of the truths that Paul is teaching. He must also make clear to the believers that doctrine must always be converted into practice, v. 8b.
Here, Paul makes a classic statement of confirmation; ‘this is a faithful saying’. This formulaic phrase highlights truth that is expressed intelligently, and coherently. It focuses on the fact that the doctrine will win over the confidence of the believer because it is valuable truth. It is not an off-the-cuff, quick-response soundbite, but a statement that has been considered and thought through. You might say that the truth carries weight; it is substantial. It could also be described as balanced truth, not in the sense of compromising any one viewpoint, but finely balanced, in that it is exactly what God wants us to know and understand.
Paul only uses this phrase in the Pastoral Epistles, and in each case the emphasis appears to be on the statement that follows.1
In 1 Timothy chapter 1 verse 15, the truth, is the longsuffering of Jesus Christ in reaching extremely sinful people through the gospel, whereas, in chapter 4 verses 9 and 10, Paul is reminding Timothy of the exhaustion and persecution that comes ‘because we trust in the living God’, and that God is the deliverer of His people when facing tough situations. The emphasis of the phrase in this case, is that, believing in God must be seen in the Christian’s attitude and behaviour.
Even if you speed read Titus you still could not miss the themes that run through this small letter. Two of these themes are in this verse.
1. Titus was responsible to do some straight talking, and to confront the Christians in Crete when appropriate.
Unfortunately, some may have an image of Christians as soft, spineless and an easy target – nothing could be further from the truth. To be a Christian takes courage, and that courage is not the result of the absence of fear, but conquering fear through the help that only God can give. Honesty, truthfulness and handling issues as they arise, are all part of Christian life and experience. This is especially so if you are in a leadership role.
Titus had been instructed regularly to act decisively throughout this letter. For example, he was to identify elders, 1. 5, and to confront, stop and rebuke sharply false teachers, 1. 9-14. In chapter 2, he was to address the various groups that comprise the local church; directly to the older men and women; indirectly to the younger women; and as a role model to the younger men. The chapter ends with Paul reminding Titus that he needed to talk about the truth which Paul had written to him about; to get alongside people to help them, and, on occasions, he would need to point out people’s errors (essentially prove them wrong – with the aim of helping them), and rebuke them authoritatively. Paul also feels that it is appropriate to remind Titus that he mustn’t let people look down on him or disregard what he has to say. All of this is in the context of Titus acting wisely as a servant of God.
In our current chapter, Titus has reminded the believers of their civic responsibilities, and now he is going to focus on their good works in the community.
2. Good works are a key part of the life of a Christian.
You cannot ignore this truth! Salvation is not the result of our good works, but good works should be the proof of our salvation. It is a key quality and characteristic of a genuine believer.
‘Good things’ and ‘good works’ are major themes in the letter, and there are many references to Titus’s responsibility to insist strenuously on the importance of the Christians involvement in good works.2 A person who claims to trust in God must show by their life that this is a fact, and James teaches, ‘faith without works is dead’, Jas. 2. 26. While ‘works’ in the New Testament does not only refer to actions to help others, these verses are teaching that a believer must pay diligent attention to doing good works.3
This is a challenge that we need to think about, for if we fail in this area we leave ourselves open to criticism as to the genuineness of our faith!
The blessing that comes from practising these truths is undoubted. J. B. Phillips translated the clause, ‘These things are good and profitable unto men’ as ‘Good work is good in itself and is also useful to mankind’.4 The word ‘good’ carries with it the idea of things that are beautiful, harmonious and complete. So it is that doing good works is inherently good, and beneficial to others.
What a powerful testimony to God and His saving grace when His people do good things which are for the good of society. To use the words of Titus chapter 2 verse 10, it will ‘adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things’.
Our attention is now turned to things that need to be avoided at all costs. Whereas ‘good’ and ‘good works’ add value to the gospel, the issue in this verse is matters that destroy Christian life and testimony.
The word ‘avoid’ is a very strong word, and comes from the idea of people who stood back as they disassociated themselves with someone or something. For instance, in John 11 verse 42, the crowd stood back to see what Jesus would do at the grave of Lazarus. They did not want to associate with Him. In Acts chapter 25 verse 7, the Jewish leadership arrive to put their case against Paul, and it states they ‘stood round about’, that is they stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. Titus is being taught that it would be wise for believers to stand clear of foolish questions, genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law. We should turn away from them, avoid them and shun them.
This was a recurring theme that Paul wrote about and a consideration of other scriptures will give a fuller picture of the problem that the church faced in New Testament times.5 This may not be a big problem in the 21st century, but the principles of debating legalistic, non-biblical issues still apply. We must be firmly glued to what is clearly taught in scripture and avoid debate about legalistic and religious issues.
Many translators simply call them stupid questions – others describe them as speculations. The word seems to indicate the idea of a philosophical discussion with an exchange of words rather than a genuine search for truth. In other words, arguing for the sake of it. We still do it!
This is only mentioned twice in the New Testament, once in 1 Timothy chapter 1 verse 4 and here. Both references are in the context of a warning. The people loved establishing family trees, their ancestry, and their blood lines, and felt these were of spiritual significance to them.
The argumentative mindset and combative spirit reflected in this statement tells us all we need to know. These men were not submitting to the will of God, but debating issues where scripture had nothing to say. We need to beware of this way of behaving in our day!
There is no benefit to be found for the believer in participating in any of these discussions – Paul writes, ‘they are unprofitable and worthless’, 3. 9, ESV. They don’t add value to Christian doctrine and practice. They belong to another era and, even then, are not the core of what the Law was about.
There will, however, be some people whose whole focus will be on these issues and Paul now teaches Titus how to handle them. The aim of these verses is to preserve and help the genuine, to expose the false, and to avoid division in the church.
People who are not genuine believers have to be identified to preserve the church of God. 1 John chapter 2 verse 19 states, ‘They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us’. The word ‘heretick’ describes someone who has made a conscious decision to choose something, in this case, not the truth.6 This is a tragedy, but some people do this. Another idea in the word is that of a person who ‘creates and fosters faction’; this is sometimes translated as a ‘divisive’78.
In keeping with the teaching of the Lord Jesus in Matthew chapter 18, this person must be given an opportunity to sort the matter out. On the third occasion, if there has been no genuine change of mind, the person must be refused. They could not be in fellowship; they cannot have social relationships with believers, and there must be a distance between them and the believers. This is the same word that is used in 1 Timothy chapter 4 verse 7 about the Christians’ response to irreverent and silly myths – have nothing to do with them. This is a sad and serious instruction that is only applied to remove spiritual disease, and preserve the Lord’s people.
There are other passages in the New Testament that give similar instructions in differing situations. They all teach that sin and false doctrine need to be addressed and cannot be ignored; sin, error and bad attitudes, are never ignored in scripture.9
Verse 11 describes the character of the heretic.
He is subverted. This literally means he is turned inside out. His mindset and behaviour is all wrong. He calls wrong, right, and right, wrong. This man has changed; he knows the truth and has turned from it.
See 1. Tim. 1. 15, and 4. 9.
1. 8, 16; 2. 3, 5, 7, 14; 3. 1, 8, 14.
For example, Abraham’s obedience to God in offering Isaac is described as works in James chapter 2 verse 21.
The New Testament in Modern English Revised Edition, J. B. Phillips, pg. 452.
1 Tim. 1. 3-7; 6. 4; 2 Tim. 2. 23; Titus 1. 10, 14.
Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary, ‘Heresy’ & ‘Heretical’
Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, William D. Mounce, Zondervan.
Holman Christian Standard Bible, Holman Bible Publishers, Titus 3. 10.
Avoid them that cause divisions, Rom. 16. 17; put away from among yourselves, 1 Cor. 5. 13; withdraw, 2 Thess. 3. 6; have no company with him, 2 Thess. 3. 14; admonish him as a brother, 2 Thess. 3. 15; from such withdraw thyself, 1 Tim. 6. 5; in meekness instructing those that oppose, 2 Tim. 2. 25; shun, 2 Tim. 2. 16; whose mouths must be stopped, Titus 1. 11.