Study in Titus. Presentation 02. Refuting Error Chap 1v9-16. Presentation 02. Introduction.
I was once trying to locate a street that I had never visited before. I had been given clear instructions. When I thought I was near the location, I asked a couple of the locals just to make sure. My heart sank. They told me I was miles away! I then
asked a passing a postman who contradicted
their instructions. He said with astonishment, ‘That address is just round the corner’ and
so it was! I suspect that at times we have all
been sent off in the wrong direction. Often
it is no more than a mild inconvenience but
sometimes it can be a matter of great consequence - a life and death issue.
Nothing is more important than being given the correct spiritual directions. Our eternal destiny is at stake. For this reason both Jesus and the apostles have some particularly scathing things to say to those who offer spiritual misdirection – people who claim to know the way to God but simply lead people astray.
Because clear spiritual direction is so important, Paul tells Titus that an elder must cleave to apostolic truth v9. Much more than mere orthodoxy is in mind. The verb ‘cleaving’ used by Paul describes the way that a man would cleave
to his master or, a wife to her husband. The elder is to
hold tenaciously to his doctrinal convictions with a
particular purpose in mind.
First, the elder was to possess the ability to refute those who opposed the truth. He was required to be able to distinguish between truth and error and so lead to safety those trapped in a maze of error. This was particularly important in Paul's day because at the time no canon of scripture existed. Christians could not turn to their N.T. to verify apostolic doctrine.
However, this ability to refute error is no less important today. Hardly a year goes by without news of some new, false teaching or the emergence of yet another sect, whose goal is to influence men’s minds.
Secondly, part of the function of the elder is to encourage others in sound doctrine. There is a wholesome, healing quality in the truth of God's word. When Christians come to their elder or, minister with problems and difficulties it really is quite impossible to provide them with any long term benefit without communicating biblical truth.
People need something substantial to build on and only the foundational truths of scripture can provide that. Hence the importance of the elder’s working knowledge of apostolic doctrine..
The main emphasis here rests on the ability of the elder to discern false teaching that would harm the flock. False teaching can do immeasurable damage. Some say, "It doesn't matter you believe as long as you are sincere". One can be sincerely wrong and that can be dangerous. Others advocate"religious tolerance". A phrase that sounds very commendable, but it attempts to muzzle those who teach certain things with any conviction. Indeed, today conviction is equated with intolerance! We are told we must not say that the teaching of Islam is wrong, or that spiritualism is wrong, or that Jehovah Witnesses are wrong.‘We mustn’t be exclusive!’
How do we answer? By pointing out that Jesus’ teaching was exclusive. He said, ‘I am the way the truth and the life. No man comes to the father except through me’.The other so-called plans of salvation tend to present an erroneous view of God and a perverted view of man. Why was Jesus so critical of the Pharisees? They taught men to trust in themselves, in their best religious efforts. Theirs was a man-centred, man-exalting, God-debasing religion. Jesus described them as, ‘blind leaders of the blind”. He did not encourage his disciples to be tolerant of teaching that contradicted his own. Theirs was an exclusive proclamation: "There is no other name under heaven, given among men whereby you must be saved". Acts 4v12
This does not mean that there is no room for differences of opinion on secondary issues within the church. Matters like church government or, the mode of baptism, come immediately to mind. Where we stand with regard to these matters will not distort the gospel of salvation. We dare not brand as ‘false teacher’ those who differ from us on matters not explicitly spelled out in scripture.
But other things are crystal clear. Matters such as the deity of Christ, his virgin birth, his sinless life, his
atoning death, his literal resurrection, the authority
of scripture, the sinfulness of man, salvation by grace through faith alone, and the certainty Christ’s return
and final judgement.
The enormity of the task facing Titus in Crete, is seen in the terms Paul uses to describe the false teachers they were, "rebellious people“ v10.A rebel refuses to recognise the rightful authority of another. In this instance it was the authority of God, God's truth and God's servants that was being called into question. They are also called “mere talkers”, implying the smooth talk associated with winsome personalities. They have a lot to say but their talk is empty. They are also called "deceivers" for their goal is the seduction of others. They do not possess the transparency of character that one expects from those who are committed to the truth. The effect of their teaching was to lead others astray.
Paul focuses his attention on one particular group that plagued the church wherever he went - the circumcision partyv10. They are sometimes identified as Judaisers. They taught that faith in Jesus was not sufficient for salvation. More was needed. And in particular Gentile believers were told that they would have to submit to certain Jewish practices including the rite of circumcision in order to be "real Christians". Alarm bells should ring whenever anyone one says we need to add to Jesus’ death in order for God to accept us and whenever we are told that faith in Christ’s accomplishments is not enough.
Today, many of the sects teach that in order to satisfy God’s requirements you must add to what Jesus has done. He has paid a kind of first instalment for your salvation but there are certain things you must do to earn God’s favour and so top-up what Christ has done.
Throughout church history there have been those who have taught that we must add to Christ’s work by becoming our own saviours; ‘Live a good moral life, and add that to what Jesus has done, and God will accept you!’ Do not misunderstand me. Of course we must pursue godliness of life but we should do so not to earn salvation. Complete salvation has been freely and graciously made available to us in Christ Jesus. We pursue godliness to please our Saviour not to top up our salvation.
How are these false teachers to be dealt with? Paul answers in two parts. First, v11 they need to be ‘silenced because they are ruining whole households’. Error has a destructive quality about it. What a person believes affects the way they behave. Let me illustrate: Years ago in the North of Scotland a man exerted great influence over those under his care. He persuaded his flock that it was sinful for them to eat at the same table with members of their family who did not belong to his group - they were told to keep themselves ‘separate and unspotted from the world’. [How he explained Jesus eating with publicans and sinners defies me]. Great damage was done to many families as a result of that teaching.
Another man who has influenced young people on both sides of the Atlantic, told young people to leave their families an join his Christian communes. From there young girls were encouraged to prostitute themselves in order to win new converts. What is it that motivates false and imbalanced teaching?
One answer Paul provides here is a thirst for "for dishonest gain". A thirst for power and a lust for recognition can also motivate false teachers. But the main motivation that Paul highlights is a craving for a self-indulgent lifestyle. Group members are encouraged to pour their wealth into the church treasury but there is often little evidence of sacrifice on the part of the leader. Unsurprisingly
the world looks on and mocks.
Paul recognised that if the church was to survive and grow in Crete it would not only have to silence false teaching but take a stand against an atmosphere and ethos within society that gave false teaching its support cf. v12. Indeed, the term "Cretinism" employed in C1st meant, "to deceive".
One of the philosophical paradoxes of Paul's day stated, "All Cretans are liars, I am a Cretan". Clearly the whole ethos in which the church was fighting for its survival was one that was opposed to truth!
Paul wanted not only to silence false teachers but to rebuke them. Why? In order that they might become sound in the faith. He wants to see them converted. When truth rebukes error it often accomplishes remarkable results.
Was Paul thinking of his own verbal confrontation with Stephan before his martyrdom? Did the persuasive truths of Stephen’s arguments have a haunting effect upon Saul, the persecutor of the early church? Paul knew that the God, who transformed him on the Damascus Road, could transform these men! Do not underestimate the grace of God!
Paul’s claim in v15, "To the pure all things are pure" is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied verses in the Bible. Paul is not saying that it is possible to arrive at such a morally and spiritually pure state that we are able to do bad or immoral things and call them good.
Some teach, ‘it is only if we think a thing to be bad that it becomes bad’. The girls I mentioned earlier, who were encouraged to prostitute themselves to win converts, were conditioned by this kind of thinking. Paul is not saying that morality is a subjective thing. He is not attempting to blur the distinction between right and wrong. He is however, seeking to uphold Christian liberty.
Paul’s opponents in Crete were fastidious in their adherence
to Jewish ceremonial laws. They would only eat certain
types of food or, eat without first washing their hands or,
touch a sick person lest they be contaminated. Their stress
was on outward cleanliness. Paul’s point is that it is inward
cleanliness that matters - an inward cleansing from our sin.
If Christ has cleansed us inwardly we are not made unclean
because by drinking out of a dirty cup or eating with unwashed
hands. Things that are morally neutral cannot make us impure. Conversely, those who see purity in a purely ceremonial terms and disregard the need for uprightness of heart before God, have no experience of real purity, for whatever they touch is contaminated by an impure heart.
The ultimate tragedy of the false teachers’ life is found in v16, "they claim to know God but by their actions they deny him." What a person teaches is important but ultimately it is how he lives that reveals what he truly believes.
This brings us round full circle to our introductory remark, what a man believes, determines how he will behave. Can you think of anything more tragic than to claim to know God, to claim to be able to point others in God's direction and then to live a life that makes it abundantly plain that God is a complete
stranger to us?