10 For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.12 One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” 13 This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14 and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. 16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.
(Titus 1:10-16 NIV)
In yesterday’s passage, the Apostle Paul outlined the character qualities that are prerequisites to being an elder (spiritual leader) in the local church. These character attributes are both internal (what someone believes and holds dear) as well as external (what they say and what they practice through their actions and attitudes). Paul makes it clear that it’s not an “either-or”, but a “both-and”. Our doctrine (what we believe) must match our behavior (what we do).
At the end of yesterday’s passage, Paul told Titus that in addition to possessing the character qualities and integrity outlined prior, church leaders also had to have a certain “backbone” or groundedness in what they believed. This firmness of conviction would be necessary to hold to God’s truth and lovingly refute any and all attempts by others to teach anything other than the truth of God’s Word.
In today’s text, we see the reason that Paul ended with this admonition to stand firm in the truth of God’s Word. There were teachers and leaders in some of the churches that were passing off lies and half-truths as God’s truth. Great discernment would be needed, as well as strength of character and boldness of conviction to refute these false teachers.
It might be easier to sniff out false teachings when the teacher is outside the church. It’s often harder to recognize false teachings when they come from someone inside the church. In these early churches, Jewish followers of Jesus often mixed their long-held traditions of following God’s laws with salvation in Christ Jesus. They taught that you had to become Jewish first, and then follow Jesus. This “becoming Jewish” included keeping certain ceremonies like circumcision for the men and following the dietary laws and observing Jewish religious festivals for all.
Paul called these false Jewish teachings “meaningless talk and deception” (v. 10), and noted that their teachings were disrupting whole families (v. 11). These false teachings were not only wrong and disruptive, but they were wrong morally as well. These teachers were not interested in seeing people grow to be more Christlike; they were only interested in making money from their followers. These false teachers were truly wolves in sheep’s clothing, preying upon the trust of those they were misleading.
Bottom line, these false teachers had to be stopped. This would not be an easy job for Titus. This would not be any fun, either, as the false teachers would do everything they could to maintain their power and control over the people as their source of income.
Paul goes on to quote the Cretan poet Epimenides: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” Paul agrees with him and says their testimony is true – they are all those things, and in fact, this is the only truth that they speak.
So what is Paul’s charge to Titus? To rebuke them sharply – in tough love, of course, but firmly so that they may be sound in their faith in Christ. Remember Paul’s Greek word that he used before – “ortho”, like orthopedist, the doctor who sets broken bones so they can heal? That was Paul’s instructions to Titus. He needed to reset the churches’ broken beliefs and practices so they could heal and be whole in Christ again.
Part of that healing involved learning to ignore (pay no attention to) the false teachers who were telling them to follow Jewish religious practices as the means of following Jesus. Paul called these teachings “myths” and “merely human commands” (v. 14).
So how would Titus know when someone was healed (restored) and firm in their faith in Christ and no longer following the false teachers? Paul says that they would have a new attitude toward food and events. No longer would they follow the Jewish dietary laws, seeing many foods as “impure”, and certain days as “holy” where no activity could take place, including activities that furthered God’s kingdom (v. 15).
Paul concludes this section by saying that the words and teachings of these false teachers would not match. They would claim to know and follow Christ, but their actions would not reflect their beliefs, and would, in fact, deny Christ. Bottom line, the self-righteousness of these false teachers was worthless; there was no inherent good in them, nor could they do anything to merit God’s favor.
Paul’s words to Titus are true for us in our day as well. We must be careful to stay within the boundaries of God’s teaching and truths as recorded in His Word, the Bible. And when someone strays from that teaching, then the church elders have a responsibility to lovingly but firmly correct the teacher.
May we pray for our church leaders as they point us to Biblical belief and practice, both in word as they teach us and in behavior as they demonstrate what it means to follow Jesus in their lives.