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Titus 1:10-16: Instructions Concerning False Teachers Print E-mail
Sunday, 04 September 2011

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Many false teachers throughout the history of Christianity have been attempting to ‘fix the faith.’ They do not necessarily set out to destroy Christianity or the Church. Rather, they identify so-called problems in what we believe and try to eliminate these problems (so that more and more people could ‘believe’). For example, when we were looking at 2 Timothy, we identified three examples of false teaching that are prevalent today: open theism (‘God does not know the future’), naturalism (‘The miracles in the Bible can be explained naturally’), and pluralism (‘There are many ways to God’). In each of these false teachings we can identify an attempt to ‘fix the faith.’ Open theism, by denying God’s knowledge of the future, seeks to solve the problem of evil (how could a good and sovereign God allow evil). If God does not know the future, then He cannot be charged with allowing evil. Naturalism wants to appeal to the man who simply cannot believe that God parted the Red Sea or that Jesus came back from the dead. Thus, they explain these events away and deny the miraculous. Pluralism fears that the exclusivity of the gospel (Jesus is the only way) will sound arrogant and therefore encourages people to believe that Jesus is a way, but not necessarily the only way. Thus, all of these false teachings are, at least to some degree, seeking to fix Christianity.

But we know the truth: the gospel that is delivered to us in the pages of the New Testament does not need fixing.  It is not broken or damaged.  Yes, it is offensive and if left to ourselves we would never believe it.  But the true gospel, when proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit, is strong enough to break through our doubts and unbelief.  Thus, it does not need smoothing over.  No, it needs to be preached in all its fullness and all its scandal and all its glory to lost and dying world.  It does not need to be fixed, it needs to be (demands to be) believed and proclaimed.

Paul wrote to Titus to give him instructions concerning the false teachers that were troubling the young Churches on the island of Crete.  As we noted last week, the main reason why appointing elders was important was to protect the Church from false teaching.  John Stott adds: “When false teachers increase, the most important long-term strategy is to multiply the number of true teachers, who are equipped to rebut and refute error.” 1  Paul tells Timothy to appoint elders to deal with this problem (1:5-9).  In our passage this morning (1:10-16) Paul goes on to give Timothy some further instructions concerning false teachers.  From these verses we can identify Paul’s description of the false teachers, his commands for Timothy, and his hope for them, which we will consider in turn this morning.

The description of false teachers:

Paul uses a number of adjectives to describe the false teachers in these verses.  But, in light of the issues that were brought up concerning the elders, let me group his description into two major categories: their character and their teaching.

So then, how does Paul describe the character of the false teachers?  Again, he uses a number of different words, but I think one major issue is their deceit.  Look at verse 10, 12, and 16.  In each of these verses Paul points out that the false teachers are deceitful.  They are deceivers.  Not only do they believe false ideas, they want others to believe them as well.  They are (like the pagan Cretans) liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.  Paul quotes here from someone that the Cretans would recognize.  He agrees with this general description in that it applies to the false teachers.  He says in verse 16: They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.  Here the idea is hypocrisy.  They claim to know and follow God but their conduct betrays them.  To this idea of deception, Paul adds that they are insubordinate, empty talkers (v. 10), defiled and unbelieving (v. 15), detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work (v. 16).  These are strong words and make it clear that these teachers are anything but above reproach (v. 6, 7).  Since their character is so bad, Titus needs to be sure that the elders are not like them.

What does Paul say about their teaching?  In one sense, we must say that Paul does not give us many details concerning exactly what they were teaching.  Yet, some of his descriptions do give us a general idea.  In verse 10 he describes them as part of the circumcision party, which would mean that they are Jewish.  He later adds that they devote themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.  Obviously, this points to them being Jewish people, who are continuing to hold on to certain ideas from Judaism.  In fact, Paul then turns to a discussion of purity in verse 15.  Look at that with me. 

It is likely that these false teachers believed and taught that a person could become pure by refraining from eating certain foods or enjoying certain activities (like those addressed in 1 Timothy 4:1-4 and Colossians 2:16-23).  Purity was found not through faith in Christ but through certain actions (or avoiding certain actions).  Paul corrects this notion by pointing out that to those who have turned from their sins and trusted in Jesus Christ for their salvation and purity, all things are pure.  The issue is not what goes into the body.  Rather, it is a heart issue (as Jesus taught, see Mark 7:14-23).  The false teachers thought that they could be pure by refraining from eating certain foods or doing certain activities.  But this is not what Jesus taught and not in accordance with the true gospel.  Added to this error is the fact that they taught these ideas for shameful gain.  Again, this contrasts with the teaching of the elders, who are to teach the true gospel and not be greedy for gain (v. 7).  In both their character and their teaching these men were unfaithful.

The commands concerning false teachers:

So then, what is Titus (and the elders) supposed to do about the false teachers.  Paul gives two similar commands.  First, they are to silence them for the good of others.  Look at verse 11.  Not only were the false teachers making it plain that they were not true followers of Christ, but they were also leading others astray.  And not just individuals, but whole families were being deceived.  This is why silencing them is absolutely necessary.  They are not to be given a platform to propagate their errors.  They are not to teach on occasion.  No, they are to be silenced for the sake of others.  Second, Titus and the other elders are to rebuke them for their own good.  Paul does not give up on these false teachers at this point.  Look at verse 13.  These teachers must be rebuked.  They must be told that they are wrong.  They are to rebuke them sharply.  This may sound mean or over the top until you finish the verse: that they may be sound in the faith.  This is not just Paul trying to win an argument over secondary matters.  No, according to Paul’s description of these men, they are outside of the faith.  They are defiled and unbelieving.  Thus, the sharp rebuke is not vengeance but mercy.  It is not motivated by hate or anger but by love and grace.  These false teachers need to be corrected for their own good, for the sake of their own souls, so that they can be sound in the faith.

Let me just pause at this point and apply this to us.  Because of our tendency to avoid conflict at all costs, we often miss the importance of a sharp rebuke.  Granted, many of our disagreements within the Church involve secondary issues and are not addressed by Paul in this passage.  Yet, sometimes, especially as we deal with those in our community who profess to know Christ but give no fruit of their repentance, we need to heed Paul’s command.  Again, we must remember what is at stake.  Yes, it is hard to rebuke someone.  It is difficult to tell them that they may be wrong.  But we are talking about salvation.  Eternity hangs in the balance.  Thus, if we need to rebuke them for their own good, then we need not shy away because we feel it is unloving.  No, we need to love them by speaking the truth to them and pointing them to the true gospel.

The hope for false teachers:

As we noted above, Paul still holds out hope for these men.  What is the basis of such a hope?  Paul’s hope for these men rests squarely upon the foundation of the gospel.  His hope is that they will not continue down the path that they have begun.  He hopes that they will not harden their hearts to the truth.  And he hopes that the preaching of the true gospel (by Titus and the elders) will open the eyes of these men (and those they have led astray).  Again, this is why faithful elders, men of character and sound teaching, are needed.  By God’s grace, the ministry of the elders, the faithful teaching and preaching of the gospel, will lead to the repentance and faith of these false teachers.  Paul’s hope for them is the gospel.  And our hope for the lost around us should always be the same.

The threat of false teaching will always be there.  There will never come a time (until Christ returns) when the Church will not be battling against false teaching.  They may have decent motives, they may simply want to see more people ‘profess faith,’ they may feel that they only need to ‘fix the faith’ just a little bit, but we must be prepared to show them their errors.  We must be ready to silence them for the good of others and rebuke them for their own good.  How can we do our best to fight against false teaching?  In light of all that Paul had said in Titus 1, let me close with just a couple of ideas.

First, we need to pray for and recognize faithful elders.  We need to pray that God would raise up men of character among us who can faithfully teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and defend it when necessary.  We need to pray for such men and recognize them in our Churches.

Second, we need to know the gospel.  We need to know that God created us and we have rebelled against Him.  We need to know that He sent us His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross for our sins.  We need to know that three days later God raised Him from the dead, declaring His sacrifice enough.  We need to know that by turning from our sins and trusting in the work of Christ we can be forgiven, we can be pure.  We need to know these truths so that when men come along and try to take anything away or add anything to the gospel, we will quickly recognize it as the error that it is.  The only hope that the lost world has is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  May we be faithful stewards of it as a Church.  May we recognize and encourage men who faithfully teach it and by God’s grace know it well and proclaim it faithfully.  Amen.

1 John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus TBST (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996), p. 179.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 13 September 2011 )

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