We’ve been following this very brief but brilliant little book of Titus for a few Sunday mornings. This is a book in the New Testament, no more than a page in length and written by the Apostle Paul to a pastor, but he expects believers to be reading over the shoulder.
Last week, we saw in the first few verses that God is a God who provides. He provides, first of all, eternal life for everybody in the world who puts their faith in his son. The mere putting of faith in Christ brings this immeasurably wonderful gift of eternal life. And the other thing we saw last week is that God is a God who gives to the Church, the teaching elders who will build or bless the church with God’s words.
This week, we come to the section of God rebuking or bringing down the proud in order to bless the humble. I want to say how important it is to appreciate that God is a God who warns, corrects, rebukes, as well as he encourages, supports and comforts.
The beautiful balance of God’s words, keeping us from danger and encouraging us in the right way is wonderful. And the fact that God will look on us when we’re in our callous moments, or disobedient, or foolish, and rebuke us is a very great gift from him.
There’s a story of an MP who’s looking over a new hospital. This is a hospital that has been built to care for those with dementia. And the MP says to the matron who’s showing him around, “How do you decide who gets a place in the hospital?” And the matron says, “Well, we fill a bath with water. And on the table, is a bucket, a cup, and a spoon. And we ask the person, “What is the fastest way to empty the bath?” And the MP says, “Well, of course, I would say the bucket, so I’m fine.” And the matron says, “Actually, it’s by pulling the plug. Would you like a bed near the corner or under the window?” That’s the sort of the swift rebuke, isn’t it, to the person who’s just needing to be slightly taken down a peg or two.
We saw last week in Chapter 1 of Titus verse 9 that the pastoral leader needs to encourage and refute or rebuke. Now, we do need both, don’t we? Imagine you’re in a small group or a home group. Imagine you’re in a church congregation like this and the bulk of the gathering of believers is that it is all correction. You’re always wrong. You’re always wrong. There is no comfort. It’s a very depressing group to be part of. But imagine the alternative. Imagine you’re in a small group or a congregation where the emphasis is to complete tolerance. It doesn’t matter what is being said. It’s wonderful. There’s no warning. There’s no challenge. That’s a very dangerous group to be in because you’ll stay immature and you’ll just get thrown around.
We saw last week in Chapter 1 Verse 1 that God’s desire is people come to faith in Jesus and then to assurance or knowledge or certainty, and then they come to Godliness. This is not only God’s plan for his people, but he puts Godly leadership in place to help that process take place.
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Today, we’re looking at Titus 1:10-16. And we’re going to look at it under two headings.
- God Rebukes to Silence the Troublemaker
- God Rebukes to Bring Transformation
God Rebukes to Silence the Troublemaker
First of all, God rebukes to silence the troublemaker. And I’d asked you to look at chapter 1 verse 10 or listen very carefully if you’re not looking at the text. And this is what we read. Paul says to Titus, and he’s in Crete. And Crete is a difficult place to be a Christian. And he says, “There are many rebellious people, many rebellious people.” No doubt in the island of Crete, there were many rebellious people. And the problem is that there are many in the church who are now rebellious. Incidentally, we get our word syncretism from the word Crete, the bringing together of a whole lot of ideas almost as sort of a mess. So Crete was proverbial for its problems.
The word rebellious means that the person does not like to comply or cooperate. They don’t like to take their place. They don’t like to take orders. One translation says they are unruly. And it’s the same word as appears in verse 6 to talk of the child who’s out of control. So watch the family to see whether a child is out of control through negligence, not through hard work and prayerfulness. But then you see there’s the problem of this unruly behaviour among an adult in a church. Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Well this gives out our minister tremendous opportunity to say, ‘It’s time for you all to be obedient to me.’”
I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying here. I believe he’s saying that there are people who fight the leadership of God. And I’m not talking about fighting the leadership of God in an occasional moment of rebellion. We all have moments of defiance and rebellion and unruliness moments. But Paul is talking about this kind of sustained rebellion, sustained disobedience. It’s like it’s a policy of mine not do what God wants. This refusal to surrender. And it’s almost always seen by somebody who thinks that they’re better than the Bible and who is very, very resistant to the leadership of others. And we could spend months talking about how this type of rebellious behaviour which is so a part of our human heart shows itself in the home, the church, and the community, God’s institutions.
But before we look at what Paul asks Titus to do about the unruly person who’s coming to the church. Look at, again, what he says in verse 10. “This rebellious person loses the ability, his good taste to speak profitably.” You see in verse 10; they become mere talkers. They become empty talkers. Their talk becomes more and more unhelpful, more and more worthless. And I think this is a crucially profound insight from the Apostle Paul because if you fight the word of God, your words become less and less helpful. Fight his words, lose useful personal words. That’s what Paul is saying.
We’ve all experienced something of this. You notice like when you’re talking to someone who’s particularly hostile to Christ. And you discover as you talk to them that what they’re saying as a substitute for Christianity is so empty. Or you think of the person you’re talking to, and you’re just concerned for them, perhaps they’re part of your family or your small group, and you sense that they’re backsliding, things are not what they were, and their speech has become so much more superficial and vacuous. And then bringing it right home to ourselves, we know what it’s like when the heart is rebellious that so often our speech is unedifying. The heart is out of control; the speech is out of control.
So this is what Paul says, you need to watch for these people who come very much into the church, and they have an unruly or rebellious spirit, and they’re unhelpful in their speech. And then the third thing, look at verse 10, the third thing is that they become deceivers, either to boast of their sinfulness or because they want to do damage in the group, they start to lead people astray.
You can imagine how this works. Imagine that I, myself, I’m rebellious to God. I’m committed to going a different direction. My speech becomes more and more unhelpful. I’m fighting the will of God, and I spent my time and used my energy to spread ideas which will boast of my position because I want people to agree with me that I’m on the right track and that God’s track is the wrong track. And this is so I can continue my disobedient way.
Why do you think the church over the years has been filled with so many heresies, hundreds and thousands of heresies? Is it really because God is unclear or confusing? No, the reason is that so often what lies behind the heresy is a person who is rebellious to the word of God and the will of God and is wanting to spread something which will enable them to do their will.
Paul warns about these people who are unruly, unhelpful in speech, and end up being deceptive especially, he says, verse 10, those of the circumcision group. Now, the circumcision group is a shorthand in the New Testament for those people who tend to be legalistic. I don’t just mean strict and disciplined; I mean those people who tend to bring into the church an essential which is not faith in Christ. These are the people who bring or import compulsory rules in order to be saved or to be secure.
And again, and again, the Apostle Paul had to fight so many who came into the churches where he had brought the Gospel. And these heretics had come in and had an insisted on a ritual in order to be saved, or secure, or a ceremony, or an experience. And what they were saying is not enough for you to just believe in Christ. You need to add to your faith in Christ, and then you’ll be really saved, and then you’ll be really secure.
Now, if you think this is insignificant, just look at verse 11. This adding to the gospel, this legalism ruins households. And the motive, verse 11, is often personal gain. So suddenly, the gospel fellowship, the small group is divided or divided into a number of groups because somebody has come into the group who says, “It’s crucial that you add to what Jesus has done this extra rule.” And some people believe it, and some people don’t believe it and the small group, the church, is split. Hence in the middle of this, the heretic has worked out a way to be paved. It’s unbelievable.
Now, you may be sitting there thinking to yourself, “I think we’ve had this a lot and it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me.” So I want to give you a couple of illustrations you might like to think about. The first is I was interviewing a person this week for a job as a scripture teacher, and I said, “Imagine you’re in a primary school class and one of the little children comes up to you and says, “Sir, could you tell me what is a Christian?” What would you say?” And quick as a flash, he said, “Somebody who loves Jesus.”
Now, some of you will be sitting there this morning thinking, “That’s pretty good.” I want to suggest to you that it’s not very helpful to talk like that because it is quite legalistic. To say to a small child who’s come and said, “What is a Christian?” “You need to love Jesus,” could leave a whole lot of questions in the child’s mind like, “Who is he? Why is he lovable? What has he done? Where do I find him? How do I love him? How much do I love him? How do I know I’ve been loving him?” I think you’ll have to agree those of us who are here this morning that we will say our love for Jesus Christ is poor. And if our salvation depends on our love for him, we’re in a precarious position.
You can see also how divisive this is because one person says, “You know, I love Jesus.” And the other person thinks, “I’m not very good at loving Jesus. So this person is great, and I’m not so great.” I think this kind of language is unhelpful. What we should be saying to the child who comes and says what is a Christian is a Christian is a person who knows that God loves them. And the way that he’s done this is he, although we don’t love him, he has loved us by sending Jesus to forgive us and to make us part of his family forever. In other words, our security is his downward love to us and not our upward love. And I think the upward love pressure is legalism. It’s saying, “Come up with a performance.”
Another example is preaching which always leans to moralism, whether it’s a lesson to the Sunday school, or you’re talking to your children, or you’re running a youth group, or you’re taking a Bible study, or your preaching a sermon, and the end result is always you do better. You produce more. You perform more highly. This is legalism. We need to be taught the gospel from which flows a response which is always ordinary but under God, increasing. So these are Samarians.
In a little commentary of Tim Chester on Titus, which is a good little practical commentary. He makes some very helpful comments on legalism which easily sneaks into our brain, easily sneaks into the small group, easily sneaks into the church because it is a tendency of the human heart to go to personal performance. And he says in his commentary that legalism is particularly unhelpful because you can be very legalistic, but not godly.
For example, he says, “You have your quiet time, tick, and you then think, ‘Okay, that entitles me now to be ungodly and go and do my secret sin.’ Or you attend church this morning, tick. ‘Now, that entitles me to slander somebody.’ Or you listen to Christian music, ‘Yes, I love Christian music,’ and then, tick, ‘I’ve listened to Christian music, now I can fiddle my time sheets, or fiddle my finances.’ Or he says you keep your rule about food and drink and how discipline you are, tick, and then you’re selfish at home.”
There’s no power in legalism. Legalism doesn’t give you any help to be faithful. And it can set you up actually for hypocrisy. It’s a very serious problem. And Tim Chester says, “We should understand that the law says to us you should not, which is depressing because it gives you no help. But the gospel says you need not; he will help you.” And I think that’s a very helpful distinction. We should be teaching ourselves again and again when we’re faced with a very difficult situation, especially a very strong temptation, the law comes at us and says, “You shouldn’t, you shouldn’t.” But the gospel comes and says, “You know, you needn’t, he will help you.”
But what to do with the false teaching when it comes, well, look at verse 11, Paul says, “Titus, you must silence them.” He doesn’t say excommunicate them. He says you must silence, you must muzzle them.
I suppose what that means is take away their opportunity, take their microphone away, take their role away, take their apparel away, and put in place, as we see in chapter 1 verses 1 to 9, those who are able and willing to teach well. So you remove the troublemaker’s opportunity, and you create the truth teller’s opportunity. That’s the work that Titus is being given to do. It doesn’t sound all very sweet, does it? It doesn’t sound like the good sheep Anglican where the rule is that you’re just nice to everybody about everything.
But you see, the Apostle Paul says the issues are much too big. We’re talking about people being ruined in this world and the next. And so he quotes in verse 12 one of their own local writers, a man from the 6th Century, probably a man called Epimenides. And he was revered as a prophet. The Apostle Paul is, I don’t think, calling him a prophet literally. He’s saying, “You know, you’ve got somebody you regard as a prophet, and he says that the Cretan people are brutal, lazy, dishonest. And this is what has come into your church.” And therefore, says Paul, verse 13, “Rebuke them sharply.” There’s more at stake than just friendliness. There’s more at stake than a false peace. What we really need is the truth that liberates and that saves.
Earlier in 2017 in London, they chose a new bishop. The last one had been there for 21 years. And it’s interesting to read some of the press articles about choosing a new bishop for London which is quite a significant role in the global church. The secular press doesn’t really understand spiritual issues. So people will write on the subject in a very confused and unhelpful way. One person had written that we’ll never be able to replace the present bishop who’s on the move because he had such a beautiful voice. The fact that maybe nothing much was said doesn’t seem to have crossed his mind. But there you are, the beautiful voice is the key.
One writer said, “It looks as though actually there’s no one very exciting for the job.” Now, the prime minister has no say in the choosing of a London bishop anymore because one of the former prime ministers Gordon Brown ruled himself out of the process which was a very wise thing for him to do recognising that the prime minister may have no spiritual discernment whatsoever. So it’s now down to a committee. And the committee faces four candidates who are meant to come and talk to the committee in a way that shows their suitability with that as the article says “showing off.”
The Apostle Paul at that point would just get the razor blades out, and he would say, “Let’s get back to the beginning of Titus 1:1-9.
- Does he have faith in Christ?
- Is he a man of conviction?
- Is he a man of Godliness?
- Does he have the hope of eternal life?
- What is his character like?
- Is he able to teach sound doctrine and refute the false doctrine?
Because then it doesn’t really matter whether he’s got a golden voice, or he’s funny, or articulate, or imaginative, there will be some safety with him.” That’s what Paul is saying. Because God rebukes the troublemaker.
God Rebukes to Bring Transformation
Again, you need to work with me this morning. If you have come for a little holiday, I’m asking you to think with me. This is slightly concentrated, and you need to put your thinking cap on. But look at verse 13. This is what a godly rebuke is for. A godly rebuke is not a power struggle. A godly rebuke, ideally, is that there might be soundness of faith. That’s what Paul says in verse 13, literally, healthy faith. And verse 14, a Godly rebuke is so that a person will be set free from a myth or an error or a lie and especially from the commands of men. Now, do you understand what he’s saying? When God rebukes, it’s not because he’s just in a bad mood. When a godly person rebukes, it’s not just because they’re in a bad mood. Ideally, they want to see a person healthy, well, and free.
We know of course that an ungodly rebuke can come from an ungodly motive and bring an ungodly result. But a godly rebuke is for a person to be well and free. And if we submit to our motives when we need to speak to somebody and we occasionally do need to speak to somebody, if we submit our motives to the will of God and to the Spirit of God, we can be instruments under God for some good. And sometimes before we go to say what we think we ought to say, we need to spend a little bit of time placing our hearts and our mouth under the authority and the influence of God in order for our words to be constructive.
I want to spend our last few minutes this morning by showing you that this transformation which I’m talking about means that God is doing work in the world which is different from every other group in the world. God is not doing something which is just painting over rust or papering over cracks. God is not interested in me getting up this morning and telling you that you almost, you know, row a little harder in your boat and I’m going to push you a little harder so your boat will row a little faster. That is not God’s interest at all. God is in the business of transformation, supernatural miraculous changing the person from the heart so that everything is changed.
This is what we see in these last few verses. Just look with me at verse 14. The troublemaker, the person who opposes Christianity, is interested in human opinion, either their opinion or someone else’s opinion. And the Apostle Paul warns here, “We want people to be free from the commands of men.” Okay, here’s the first test. I was reading this week that when Andre Agassi was playing Boris Becker at tennis that he worked out that if Boris Becker was serving with his tongue hanging out on the side, he would serve to the side, and if he served with this tongue hanging out in the middle, he would serve down the middle. And Agassi learned to prepare himself for what was coming, and he had to miss a few so that Becker didn’t pick up what he’d worked out.
I’m asking you to recognise these signs in these verses of the troublemaker because the first mark of the troublemaker is that they’re interested in the commands of men, but the mark of God at work is that he is interested in the transforming word of God. That’s the point. Now, where have we heard the phrase, verse 14, commands of men before? It comes in the Old Testament in the prophet Isaiah who rebukes the people for being interested in the commands of men and not the word of God. Who takes up this phrase in the New Testament in Mark’s gospel chapter 7 verse 7? Jesus? To tell people that they’re too interested in the commands of men and they’re not interested in the word of God. If you live by the word of men and you elevate yourself above the Bible, if you reject the word of God, you will find that the separation between you and God just widens and you miss out on the transforming power of God’s word. If you do take the word of God and you recognise its authority over you, and you begin to read it humbly, even though it might be difficult, you will find that it will bring light and liberty and life.
We had somebody in the church not too long ago, and they were pointing out that the bible is a big fat book and it’s a difficult book to read, and that’s true. But if the inclination is there if the interest is there, those people will find a way, and they will find themselves lapping up and in will come the light, the life, and the liberty. So that’s the first thing. God is interested in a word that transforms people’s hearts.
Second, verse 15, massive contrast. People who are opposed to Christianity focus on the externals. God is interested in the internal and the eternal. So look at verse 15, “To the pure, all things are pure. To the defiled, all things are defile.” This is a very famous verse, isn’t it? It’s usually used by people to date to mean, “Gee, you’ve got a dirty mind. I have a much purer mind.” But that’s not what Paul is talking about. In the context, this is what it means. The person who God has made clean, the person God has made new, free, pure, because of their faith in Jesus, sees life very differently. They see life in terms of clarity and God’s generosity and wisdom. To the pure, things are pure. But to the defiled, those who have rejected or resisted trusting Christ, things look very messy, difficult, legalistic.
I think it is true that the mark of religion in the world today, you think of the world religions around the world today is so much interest in the outward. The outward show, the outward dress, the outward performance. And Jesus criticised people who were only interested in the outward. And so he would say to the Pharisees, “You know, you’ve cleaned the cup beautifully on the outside, the inside is filthy.” Or, “You look like a beautiful tomb so well polished, but there’s death inside.” Now, what Jesus was interested in is discovering somebody like the woman at the well who he can say to her something like this, “I will give you living water. A spring will well up in your heart, and it will never end. Put your trust in me, and I will give you living water, internal, eternal, not just external.” That’s the second mark. God is interested in transformation.
And the third mark, verse 16, is that the mark of the person hostile to Christianity, the troublemaker is that if they come into the church, their faith is very nominal. They’re unconversant. Verse 16, “They claim to know God; their life says the opposite.” I’m not talking, again, friends, those of you with the sensitive conscience about the occasional lapse. I’m not talking about the person here who says, “Well, that’s me. I’ve failed. I cannot be a Christian.” I’m talking about the person who says, “Basically, I run my life, and God can fit in on some shelf somewhere. So I’m a believer, but I dictate.” That’s normalism. That’s to be unconverted. That’s to be a person who is false, false in life, false in influence, false in effect. And I don’t think Paul could put this more strongly. Could you put this more strongly than verse 16, “This kind of person who is rejecting Christ but playing religion is detestable to God, disobedient to God, and is disqualified from anything useful.” Very strong, isn’t it?
But when God makes a person new because they admit their sins to Christ, and they believe in the saviour Christ, and they commit to following Christ, when God makes them new, everything changes.
The word of God is important, the internal heart is important, and the reality is important. Well, that’s because God is a God who transforms. I want to finish by just reading you a couple of sentences from C.S. Lewis. One of his essays is called “Man or Rabbit?” And it’s an essay; it’s only three pages, I think. And he wrote it in response to the question, “Can you be a good person without Christianity?”
This is what C.S. Lewis says in his brief essay. He says, “Well, first of all, you should work out of it’s true because Christianity is claiming to be offering the secret of the universe. If it’s true, you need it. If it’s not, forget it. Second, you need to realise that the good life is beyond you. You’re morally incapable of living the good life. Therefore, think again. Third, have the integrity to listen to what Jesus says.”
And C.S. Lewis says this; this is why he’s so brilliant.
He says, “To evade the son of man, to look the other way, to pretend you haven’t noticed, to become suddenly absorbed in something on the other side of the street, to leave the receiver off the telephone because it might be him who is ringing, to leave unopened certain letters in a strange handwriting because they might be from him, this is a different matter. You may not be certain yet whether you ought to be a Christian, but you do know you ought to be a man and not an ostrich hiding your head in the sand.”
And then he says, “And don’t be a rabbit because rabbits settle for small things.” And he says this, “Morality is important, but the divine life which calls us intends us to be remade. The rabbit in us is to disappear, the worried conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handful of fur come out, and then surprisingly, we shall find underneath it a thing we have never yet imagined drenched in joy. Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb lacking the wings with which the rest of the journey is to be accomplished.”
No wonder Paul in these punchy verses is wanting to rebuke the troublemaker and point people to Jesus who brings transformation infinitely and eternally more wonderful.
Let’s pray. We thank you our gracious God this morning that you are concerned for the person who is rebellious, unhelpful, deceptive. And we pray that in your goodness and power, you would remove this influence from our own fellowship and heart. We thank you, Heavenly Father, that you’re interested in a word that brings transformation, a heart that is made new, and that you are one who leads us into reality and not mere nine. We ask our gracious God that you would do a deep and lasting work in each one here this morning and that you would take and use us this week to be your representatives in your world and we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.