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.
We ended the last article by stating that we would discuss the action that needed to be taken to deal with these false teachers and by suggesting that we shouldn’t be tempted to think that we don’t have to deal with false teachers today. So let me pose some questions before we look at the scriptural way to deal with people who teach false doctrine.
I used to think that we did not face many of these types of issues! I am not so sure now. Across the so-called Christian world there is a major attempt to water down the gospel message. Many preach a false gospel that promises success and prosperity but fails to teach that ‘in this world we will have tribulation’. Many people who claim to be Christians malign the character of the Lord Jesus Christ by teaching false things about His sinlessness, His humanity, His deity etc. Some very persuasive teachers in charismatic circles are adamant that all Christians should practise early church-age gifts and signs and, as a result, classify Christians who don’t as less spiritual in some way. I could go on! There is a lot of false teaching still around and one of the responsibilities of an elder is to protect the people of God from this.
The question is, ‘how should they handle it?’
First, Paul speaks plainly about what needs to be done. These false teachers must be silenced. He then states the effect of the false teaching – it is destroying families, indeed whole households. This probably covers more than just a family but, in some cases, the people who worked for them as well. Paul also expresses the fallacy of what they are doing – ‘teaching things which they ought not’, and he ends with their motivation – they do it for financial gain.
Here is an important point that we must consider. Error and wrong teaching are extremely damaging. The apostle is warning Titus that this wrong teaching is disruptive, it is misleading people, it is ruining lives and it is extremely upsetting to all who are involved. It might be that the teaching was being given in the homes of the Lord’s people, which would explain how these men were undermining the authority of the leaders of the local church and managing to deceive the people. When Peter writes his second letter he reminds us that false teaching often appears acceptable and plausible because the person who is giving it is nice and seems trustworthy, 2 Pet. 2. 2. Paul, when he warned the elders from Ephesus about future trouble, stated that one of the two sources of the problems will be men they know and trust becoming ‘personality preachers’ and drawing a ‘celebrity following’ after themselves, Acts 20. 30. As always the Bible is absolutely up to date!
Back to the problem! These men had no authority to teach what they were teaching as it was not from God. We are also given an insight into what motivated these men. Their aim was to make money. We have already discovered from verse 10 that they were driven by the need for power (they rejected authority), and now we discover that they were driven by greed. These are characteristics that are normal in unsaved men.
As these verses are written in the context of elders, I would like to make a few observations that, hopefully, will be helpful about the work of an elder:
Another general observation before we leave this verse: it is not just important to have good teaching, but to have trustworthy teachers who are free of corruption, not self-seeking, not in it for the money, and men of high integrity.
Paul is here addressing the sensitive issue of national character. It is a brave man who addresses these issues without courtesy and tact. Paul does not address it directly but quotes a local ‘prophet’ to confirm the reputation of the Cretans. Paul quotes a prophet called Epimenides. He was a native of Gnossus in Crete and lived around 600 BC. The Cretans recognized him as a prophet, and so Paul quotes him without disputing or discussing his claim. The description that Epimenides gives of his own people is not very flattering, but Paul, nevertheless, confirms that it was a truthful description.
Cretans were, sadly, habitual liars, evil beasts, gluttonous and lazy!
One can hardly imagine what it was like to live in Crete. You couldn’t trust what people said. Truth telling was unusual. You would never know whom to trust. The norm was to tell lies! But the gospel had an amazing effect when it came to Crete! It transformed lives and was contrary to the norms of society. The words of the Spirit of God in Romans 12 verse 2 ring so true, ‘be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind’. It is the will of God that these changes take effect when souls are saved; ‘this is the will of God, even your sanctification’, 1 Thess. 4. 3. It is noteworthy that this small epistle is packed full of references to truth, sound doctrine and sound speech. This is the effect of the gospel.
There is no polite way to explain what these words mean. The people of Crete were savage, animalistic, cruel, worthless, depraved and wicked. The sad reality is that there have been people like this in every society and there are still people like this today. There are no depths to which human beings will not go when God and His word is jettisoned. Many years ago, Hosea wrote, ‘my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge’, Hos. 4. 6. When people reject truth, the depth to which they can fall is unlimited. It is significant that this letter is saturated with statements about peace, non-violence and godliness.
Many societies have been noted for their decadence and self-indulgence. This was part of the lifestyle in Crete – pleasure seeking and pleasure loving. They loved to eat, feast and indulge themselves. We would be wise to note that this is a characteristic of last days. Paul, when writing to Timothy, warned that humanity in last days would default to being, among many things, ‘lovers of their own selves … without self control … lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God’, 2 Tim. 3. 2-4. A long time before this, Ezekiel had been given a commentary on the moral state of Sodom. When their iniquity is described, some characteristics are highlighted which might surprise us. ‘Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good’, Ezek. 16. 49-50. Did you notice that two of the problems in Sodom were the same as in Crete – fullness of bread and abundance of idleness? As with the other two sad national traits, this epistle is full of teaching to counteract this sin; teaching about self-control and good works.
God is going to preserve the new believers in Crete through this letter to Titus. The false teachers will seek to take advantage of these natural, debased features and Paul is warning against it. The teachers themselves have displayed the same characteristics as the Cretans – they lie as they deceive, v. 10, they are unruly just as the people of Crete are evil beasts, v. 10, and they are lazy and self-indulgent as they sought to profit from their teaching, v. 11.
Paul concurs with this description of the Cretans and gives his Spirit-inspired advice, ‘Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith’. We must note here that the false teachers have to be rebuked so that the believers will be sound in the faith. I know some feel that the pronouns ‘them’ and ‘they’ relate to the same people but I feel that the context does not support this view. Everything about these false teachers turns people from the truth, v. 14. The emphasis of their teaching promoted fables and man-made rules, v. 14. They are described in verse 15 as being defiled and unbelieving. They made pure things impure, much like the men Jude described as ‘turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness’, Jude 3, with the added disgrace that both ‘their mind and conscience is defiled’, v. 15. In verse 16 it states that they professed the knowledge of God, but, in practice, they denied Him, plus the way they behaved demonstrated that they were reprobate, worthless and not saved. These terms do not describe genuine Bible teachers who have unintentionally misled the people of God, but unregenerate men whom God describes as abominable (detestable or idolatrous), and disobedient (they had wilfully disobeyed God), and who had to be dealt with severely to protect and preserve the people of God. Sound (healthy) doctrine, v. 9, and the truth, v. 14, produces Christians who are sound in the faith. They are healthy when it comes to their understanding of and practice of the truth of God in His word.
The false teachers needed to be rebuked in order that they would stop their false teaching. In verse 11 Paul stated that, ‘their mouths must be stopped’, this, literally, means that it was necessary to silence them. The silence was the result of the sharp rebuke, v. 13. The word ‘sharp’ here is interesting. It has the idea of the surgeon using a scalpel to skilfully remove what is diseased. God deals gently with His people but He deals severely with evil doctrine and those who teach it.
The result of this sharp rebuke will mean that godly teachers such as Titus could then feed the believers. Their good, healthy teaching will ensure that the believers are ‘sound in the faith’.
May the Lord help us to be discerning and decisive when we are faced with error and those who openly teach it!