We are studying Paul’s letter to Titus to learn how to ‘live Christian’ in this present world. We invite you to read the introduction to this series for some historical background.
[Podcast version available at the end of this post.]
As we saw in the last part of our study, the first and second steps of living Christian are to –
- be involved in preaching the Gospel
- set in order the things that are lacking
The first step in setting in order the things that were lacking was for Titus to appoint elders who met specific criteria for marriage and family, personality and character, and devotion to God’s Word. Elders were to use sound doctrine to encourage church members in their growth as disciples of Christ and contradict those in the church who opposed their message.
What kind of opposition would elders face in churches on Crete? Any similarities to what today’s church elders face? That’s the next part of our special study and is an important part of living Christian in this present world.
For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. One of them, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth. To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.
Depending on how long you’ve been a Christian, you may wonder what was going on in the churches of Crete almost two-thousand years ago. It’s not that different than what goes on in churches in our country today.
I admit to being somewhat naive during my first year as a Christian. I was saved out of atheism based on the evidence for the truth of God’s existence, the reliability of the Bible and the reality of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. My view of Christianity became very positive. I enjoyed the teaching of elders and fellowship of believers. It was after that first year as a believer that the reality of opposition to the Gospel reared its ugly head. Where did it show itself? Inside the local church.
Why inside the church? Let’s begin with some important insights about what happens after people hear the Gospel.
What Happens When We Preach The Gospel?
Jesus often taught in parables that were difficult for people to understand but He usually explained the meaning to His apostles. Jesus explained that it had been given to them to know the mystery of Kingdom of God.
One of those parables gives an answer to our question – what happens when we preach the Gospel? You can find the parable and Jesus’ explanation in Matthew 13 and Mark 4.
The parable was about a sower who went out to sow seed. Some of the seed fell by the wayside, some fell on stony ground, some of the seed fell among thorns, and some fell on good ground. What happened to each seed depended on where it fell. The apostles asked Jesus about the parable’s meaning.
Jesus explained that the sower was sowing “the word.” That’s the Gospel. How people reacted to the preaching (sowing) of the Gospel (the Word) depended on what kind of heart-soil the seed fell. Here are the four heart-soils and results from Mark 4 –
- “And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.”
- “These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble.”
- “Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”
- “But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”
Paul and Titus had preached the Gospel in many cities in Crete. They sowed the seed of the Word in many directions and the seed fell on many types of soil (ground). Satan attacked the preaching of the Word and was able to take away the Word that was sown in the hearts of some people. Those people would probably not have become members of the churches on Crete because they had not received God’s Word as truth (though some do for cultural or other reasons).
The goal of every church leader should be to disciple church members and guide them to become fruitful. Those are the disciples Jesus pointed out as members of the fourth group. People “hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit.” Fruitfulness is a primary goal of living Christian in the present world. Jesus made that clear many times in the Gospels and the apostles also emphasized fruitfulness in their letters. Paul wrote this to the Colossians –
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.Colossians 1:9-10
Fruitful in every good work: that’s the goal set for us by the Lord Jesus and His apostles. It should be the goal of every elder to see the people of God bear good fruit – fruit pleasing to the Lord.
What Paul addressed in the text of our current study were numbers 2 and 3 above: those who received the Word with gladness, but endured only for a time, and those who became unfruitful after hearing the Word because of the “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things” choking the Word.
Elders need to be aware of this truth and be prepared to contradict those who oppose them. It will happen. Elders who don’t think it could happen in their church are either unaware of what’s written in God’s Word or they are fooling themselves to believe they are exempt from reality.
Just as Paul gave Titus a detailed list of qualifications for elders, he also gave Titus a detailed list of people in churches who would oppose the elders and what the elders would need to do to “contradict” (refute) them using “sound doctrine.”
- For there are many insubordinate … the Greek word for “insubordinate” is ἀνυπότακτοι … this means they are “unruly, not subject to rule, disobedient” … the NIV uses the word “rebellious” … Jesus owns the Church … He bought it with His blood … Jesus is building the Church and uses gifted men to accomplish His goals (Ephesians 4:11-16) … that includes the appointed elders in every local church … Paul also used the term bishop for elders … they “oversee, superintend” God’s people in their role as elders … Christians need to understand that church leaders are there to help them become fruitful followers of Jesus Christ … being subject to the rule of elders is an important aspect of the process Jesus set in motion when He “led captivity captive and gave gifts to men” (Ephesians 4:8) … church members who disobey qualified elders are actually “rebels” to Christ … if a church member believes an elder is unqualified to lead, God gives them ways to address that problem … that’s a different situation than what we find in Paul’s words to Titus 1 …
- both idle talkers and deceivers … in addition to being unruly and rebellious, these church members were also ματαιολόγοι (vain, empty, useless speakers) and φρεναπάται (seducers, self-deceivers, leading others into their delusions) … some of the people who cause the biggest problems in churches are the biggest talkers … listen to what other Christians talk about … do they talk about the Gospel, the love of God, the glory of God or about themselves, things of the world? … many of the problem people in churches, those who oppose the leadership of elders, are often very smooth talkers … they’ve learned how to use their mouths to draw other people into their own delusions … watch out for smooth talkers, especially those who speak poorly of church leaders … don’t fall for their deception … compare what they say to what God’s Word says … walk away or warn, but don’t follow …
- especially those of the circumcision … especially (μάλιστα – mostly) of the περιτομῆς (circumcision) … one of the biggest oppositions to Paul’s ministry came from Jews who tried to hold on to their dependence on circumcision and obedience to the Mosaic Law … that included many Jews who believed Jesus was the Messiah … since Paul used the word “especially,” it’s possible that members of the circumcision were the number one problem in local churches … Paul included members of “the circumcision” with those who were idle talkers and deceivers … what did Paul want church elders to do about it?
- whose mouths must be stopped … the Greek word ἐπιστομίζειν means “silence, stop the mouth, muzzle the lips” … the word is used only once in the New Testament and is one of the strongest words Paul used in reference to dealing with people in churches, and for good reason …
- who subvert whole households … these idle talkers and deceivers, mostly Jewish, subverted whole households with their talk … the word for subverted is ἀνατρέπουσιν and means “destroy, overthrow, overturn, corrupt, ruin” … who did these people destroy? ὅλους οἴκους, “whole households” … the word ὅλους means “all, complete, entire, total” … the word οἴκους means “family, home, household” … the idle, deceiving talk of these people were destroying entire families, possibly including house-churches where a number of families may have attended each Sunday … no wonder Paul told Titus that the elders needed to “silence” them … these destroyers were working against God’s plan to build up His people … they needed to be muzzled … what were these people doing that was so bad?
- teaching things which they ought not … they were teaching (διδάσκοντες – instructing, directing) things which they ought not (μὴ δεῖ) … I’ve been in churches where the elders taught one thing and members taught another … some of these members were Sunday school teachers, children and youth leaders and church small group leaders … I’ve also seen how contradictory teaching can lead to divisions within a local church, even destroy churches … elders must be aware of what’s being taught in every corner of the local church and must be ready to silence those who teach things they shouldn’t … silencing people, especially people who are big talkers and have some position of leadership in churches, is not easy … it takes courage and knowledge … that’s one of the reasons elders must be “blameless” … idle talkers and deceivers will use anything to their advantage … if an elder is not “blameless” in every aspect of his marriage, family and personal life, the opposition will use that to support their opposition to being silenced … however, if church elders are “blameless” and know how to use “sound doctrine” in their ministry, there is a better chance they will be able to prevail in convicting “those who contradict” …
- for the sake of dishonest gain … church members who are rebellious often teach things they shouldn’t “for the sake of dishonest gain … αἰσχροῦ κέρδους (base, shameful, dishonest profit) sounds similar to what Paul said about what elders should not be, “not greedy for money” (verse 7 – αἰσχροκερδῆ, greedy of base, sordid gain) … there are many reasons why an elder should not be greedy for money, but one of them is that they will have to deal with rebellious church members who will teach things they should not for the sake of dishonest gain … how could a church leader silence someone for doing the same thing they (elders) were doing? … elders have to be “blameless” in their attitude about money because money will always be a big challenge in churches … people who teach in churches and are greedy for dishonest gain must be silenced … no good will come from their teaching because it comes from a heart bent on evil …
- One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. This testimony is true” … the Apostle Paul referenced a Cretan philosopher from the sixth century BC … his name was Epimenides … Paul agreed with what Epimenides had written about the Cretan people … Paul made a powerful point from Cretan philosophy that supported his own observation of the people, “This testimony is true” …
- Therefore rebuke them sharply … Therefore (δι’ ἣν αἰτίαν – for which cause) rebuke (ἔλεγχε – expose, convict, reprove, convince through reproof) them sharply (ἀποτόμως – abruptly, curtly, severely) … Paul told the elders to “silence” those who rebelled against them … how do you silence someone? expose them, convince them through reproof … silencing a rebellious person in a church goes beyond getting them to stop talking (muzzling them) … there is another reason …
- that they may be sound in the faith … the reason is that the rebellious people will become “sound in the faith” … ὑγιαίνωσιν means “be healthy, in good working order, working well, pure, not corrupt” … Paul wanted rebellious people to become healthy people … that is the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ … Paul wanted them to be sound, healthy in their ὑγιαίνωσιν – faith and faithfulness … he wanted them to persuaded in their beliefs about what was true and right …
- not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth … that included not giving heed (προσέχοντες – paying full attention to, attending to) to Jewish fables (μύθοις – myths, fabrications, fanciful story) and commandments (ἐντολαῖς – law, ordinance) of men who turn from (ἀποστρεφομένων – turning away from, perverting) the truth (ἀλήθειαν – true to fact, reality) … this supports Paul’s earlier statement that the opposition to church leadership was coming primarily from members of the circumcision … some Jews in the church were teaching Jewish fables as if they were true … they were not true … when taught within a church program, we would call them heresies … though we don’t know for sure which Jewish fables were taught on Crete, there were many from which to choose in the first century AD … fables are sometimes mixed in with truth, similar to Christians today mixing New Age beliefs with biblical beliefs … “commandments of men” may have also been Jewish similar to how rabbis would add their own commandments to the Old Testament … Jesus refuted those man-made commandments when He was on earth and wants us to do the same … (read Isaiah 29:13, Mark 7:7 and Matthew 15:8-9)
- To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure … in order to understand what Paul meant here, we need to keep these words in the context … Jewish fables and the commandments of men often included Jewish ceremonial practices … Paul will address this a bit more later in the letter to Titus, but he also mentioned it other letters (Colossians 2:16-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-5 are examples) … all things are pure (καθαρὰ – clean, unstained, without admixture) to the pure … teaching sound doctrine will include that people are not saved by keeping the commandments of men and continuing to practice Jewish ceremonies … however, to those who are defiled (μεμιαμμένοις – being stained, polluted, corrupted, defiled) and unbelieving (ἀπίστοις – not faithful, faithless, unbelieving) nothing is pure … what does that mean?
- but even their mind and conscience are defiled … Jesus stated this truth beautifully in Matthew 15 – “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” … Jesus was responding to scribes and Pharisees who asked Him, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” Jesus went even further by saying this in the same conversation with the Jewish leaders – “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” We see the same thing in Crete with the unfaithful whose minds and consciences were defiled … their thoughts, understanding and moral judgments were defiled (polluted, corrupted) … wrong beliefs lead to wrong actions … these people were adding to the Gospel of Grace, which is to create a false gospel of works … that cannot and should not be tolerated in a church …
- They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him … these unfaithful people in the churches of Crete professed (ὁμολογοῦσιν – publicly declared, spoke together) to know (εἰδέναι – be aware, consider, perceive, grasp) God, but in their works (ἔργοις – deeds, actions) they denied (ἀρνοῦνται – refuse to confirm, refuse to affirm, refuse to identify with) God … that’s strong language when talking about someone who attends church with you … you might think that everyone in a church service or Bible study group thinks about God the same way you do … don’t be fooled … listen to what they say, how they live, how they act and react to situations in life … the fruit of their life will often speak louder and more truthfully than their words … their works may actually demonstrate that they deny the God they say they know …
- being abominable … βδελυκτοὶ means “detestable, abominable” … it’s a strong adjective, used only once in the New Testament … being abominable (βδελυκτοὶ) is similar to saying what they think and do is an abomination (βδέλυγμα) to God …
- disobedient … they were ἀπειθεῖς, which is similar to what Paul said of them in verse 10 (insubordinate) …
- and disqualified for every good work … they were ἀδόκιμοι (unfit, unapproved, not standing the test, counterfeit) for every good work (πᾶν ἔργον ἀγαθὸν) … the words and behavior of these church members disqualified them for any work in the church … that included everything from teaching to serving in any capacity … being disqualified means they can’t serve, not that they shouldn’t serve … having people serving in churches when they are disqualified by their words and actions is an affront to the truth of the Gospel … elders have to make the tough decisions to not allow them to serve until they repent and become obedient to the Gospel of Christ …
Too many church leaders will give bad people in their churches a pass on what they say, how they say it and how they behave. They often give excuses for bad people because those people are members of their own families or long-time members or big donors to the church. There is no good reason to excuse the words and actions of bad people in church.
Paul’s directive to Titus and elders should make that abundantly clear: stop their mouths! rebuke them sharply! That’s how elders should respond to the bad people in their church. There is way too much coddling of bad teaching and bad behavior in churches today. That’s one of the primary reasons so many churches have shut their doors permanently, become extremely weak in preaching the Gospel and making disciples, or become mouthpieces for false gospels. It’s the reason so many denominations have become disobedient to the Gospel of Christ and an abomination to God. A quick stroll through Christ’s words to five of the churches in Revelation will demonstrate exactly what Jesus thinks about the leadership of elders who put up with disobedient, rebellious people in their church.
… repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.
Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.
I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth … As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.
Living Christian must begin in the ‘household of faith’. Appoint elders who meet the qualifications of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3. Then, support those men as they teach sound doctrine and stop the mouths of those who oppose it. It’s not easy to do and is rarely done in churches anymore, but it is God’s solution to the massive problems we face inside.
We will look at the qualities of a sound church in the next part of our special study about Living Christian in the Present World.
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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