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. There will not be a lengthy introduction to each article so it would be advantageous to read the previous articles either in the printed edition of the magazine or online via www.preciousseed.org.
Handling the word of God, v. 9.?’holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers’.
There are a number of issues that this verse raises. I want us to consider them before looking at what the verses teach about elders. ??Number 1 – God’s word can be trusted. This is because the author is trustworthy! His word reflects his character! Think about it like this. As you get to know someone, you develop an opinion about him or her. If they let you down regularly you begin to feel that you would find it difficult to believe what they say. If they are dishonest, always exaggerate, or are just plain deceitful you would be forgiven for being careful in your dealings with them. Our God is the exact opposite of this. He is trustworthy in the extreme; He has no dark side; He can always be depended upon. His word reflects His personality and character.
Number 2 – All believers are in full-time education. Older people often talk about the ‘school of life’. Part of this process is our day-today experience with God, the things that we can only learn as we face each situation.
The other part of the cycle of learning is more formal but it has two dimensions, personal or internal and public or external.
Personal learning requires your time and discipline in reading and studying the Bible. This is a ‘lifelong’ process and, to make the most of it, you need to keep at it! You also need to regularly take time to pray about what you learn.
The second dimension is listening to others teach God’s word. In 2 Timothy chapter 2 verse 2 Paul describes the process by which truth is passed on from generation to generation. God has called certain men to teach His word and exposure to good sound Bible teaching is essential for a Christian to grow in their faith. We should grasp every opportunity we have to learn from the teaching and experience of others who know God and His word. This is a privilege some believers do not have, but, if you do, take advantage of it.??Number 3 – There are things in a believer’s life that are worth holding on to. We are reticent to give up things that are really special to us and rightly so. If we meet someone and learn to love them we will want to cherish them, love them and ensure that we can have their lifelong friendship. The best example of this is marriage, but it is also true of other relationships and friendships. There are other examples of things of value that we give priority to and ensure that they are carefully preserved. Paul is teaching Titus here that the word of God falls into this category; in fact, the word of God takes the ultimate priority in this sense, along with our relationship with God. We must cling tenaciously to the ‘faithful word’; there is nothing else in life that has a higher value.
Let us go back and think about this teaching as it applies to the elder.
He must be a man who so values the word of God that he will not let it go. He is clinging to the word; he is holding on firmly; he has a real grip on it. The word of God has so gripped him and blessed him that he will not become detached from it. He is not willing to disregard its teaching or to change it. He is going to keep a hold of what he has been taught because it has become a blessing to him and will be a blessing to other believers. In 2 Timothy chapter 1 verses 13-14, Paul instructs Timothy to ‘hold fast the form of sound words’ that he had heard from Paul. In the verse we are considering, the word of God is described as ‘faithful’; that is, it is to be trusted, it is dependable, it is reliable. If elders have this high view of the word of God then it will encourage other believers to adopt the same attitude.
Next, we are reminded that the elder is a man who has learned from others – ‘he has been taught’. So elders are men who have learned from God’s word. They have had it explained to them. There are a variety of ways of being taught. Sometimes it is teaching in a church gathering, as seen in Acts chapter 11 verse 26. It could also be in the form of individual learning from other wiser believers, 1 Tim. 4. 12, but sometimes you get it on your own, 1 Tim. 4. 15-16. Never forget that the elder is a man of experience who has learned and been taught from the word of God.
Now we get to the crux of why the elder should be well taught and value the word of God highly. He must be able to do two things with the word of God; by the way, did you notice how the current verse describes the word of God – ‘sound doctrine’. It is effectively being described as wholesome healthy teaching. Anything that is wholesome and healthy is good for you! Give me some of that, I hope I can hear you say! Now back to the two things:
1 Use the word of God to encourage and stimulate God’s people. God’s word is not depressive but stimulating. The instruction of scripture is not mere information but truth that lifts up the believer, builds up the believer and leaves them in a better state of mind after they have listened to it. Do our elders use the word of God to do this for the Lord’s people? I trust that they do – it is what the Lord expects of them!
2 Use the word of God to counteract those who are opposed to it. The elder is capable, with the word of God in his hand and the Spirit of God guiding him, to convince the opposition, to show them the error of their ways. Titus is reminded in chapter 2 verse 15 that he must do the same thing and do it with authority.
The elder, therefore, must be a man who can handle the word of God. He is described in 1 Timothy chapter 3 verse 2 as being ‘apt to teach’. This means that he is skilled in teaching and capable of giving instruction. This is applicable to all elders. There are also some elders who have been called to ‘labour in the word and doctrine’, 1 Tim. 5. 17. These are men who expend much time and effort in teaching the word of God. I must, however, clarify that nowhere in the New Testament do we find one elder/shepherd/pastor doing this work in a local church; there is always more than one. What a great provision God has made for His people when he provides men capable of feeding the saints and defending the word of God.
Verse 10 – The people
The people that the elders have to confront are now described. As their character is defined, we begin to see why the men that God chooses to care for the Christians have to be so godly and well taught. The competence and qualities of the elder reflect the character of God and the task that they are asked to deal with. Things aren’t really much different today. Elders and assemblies face a wide range of difficult issues and situations. False teaching is often very subtle and persuasive and false teachers are dangerous and often very smart and cunning. It takes a lot of godly wisdom and experience to know how to handle them. We really should pray carefully and consistently for the elders of the assemblies where we are in fellowship.
Paul describes these false teachers in three ways:
1 Unruly or Insubordinate – they kick against authority and are rebellious;
2 Vain or Idle talkers – they make empty, unsupported claims and threats and are known for the fact that they come out with what we would call nowadays, hot air;
3 Deceivers – they mislead people, i.e., they deceive themselves and in turn deceive others as well.
This is not exactly a flattering description of any group of people. These are people we would be wise to avoid if at all possible. It is not as if there was only one or two of them. Paul writes that there are ‘many’. To make matters worse, the most active opponents of the truth were those from a Jewish background – those of ‘the circumcision’. The Jewish false teachers were especially aggressive and hard to handle. They were not prepared to accept the revelation of God in the Lord Jesus Christ and submit to the will of God. They refused to accept the authority that God and Christ had vested in the apostles, they badmouthed the truth of the gospel and they actively sought to discredit the gospel and those who preached it. Their aim was to deceive people and keep them from the truth.
In the next article we will discuss the action that needed to be taken to deal with these false teachers. Please don’t be tempted to think that we don’t have to deal with false teachers today. In Acts chapter 20 Paul talks to the elders of the assembly in Ephesus. As he talks, he reminds them of a number of facts that are pertinent to the teaching in the passage that we are looking at:
1 Elders must guard themselves and God’s people;
2 Elders must feed and shepherd God’s flock;
3 The church (local and dispensational) belongs to God;
4 The Holy Spirit appoints elders.
Then, Paul dropped a bombshell! He told the elders that false teachers would come in among God’s people. They would be destructive and vicious like wolves. They would have no consideration for anyone.
But it gets worse! Paul then told them that some men who were already in fellowship would rise up and distort the truth with the primary aim of creating a following.
Our challenge today is twofold – to ensure that we maintain good sound teaching of biblical doctrine in the gatherings of God’s people and to preserve believers from being confused by false teaching that is so easily accessible through the internet, channel TV, etc. The potential for taking on-board false doctrine is probably greater today than it has ever been.
This is why we need men of God as shepherds in each local assembly.
To be continued