When you discover troublemakers in the church, what is a faithful way to respond to them? Confrontation is difficult, so we might be tempted to avoid the troublemakers and think the problem will work itself out on its own. It rarely does, though. Instead, as we will see in our continuing study of Titus 1:10-16, Paul teaches Titus that he (Titus) and the leaders in the churches in Crete will need to confront the troublemakers. Paul has some very specific guidelines for this action, and it might surprise you to learn that it is filled with grace.
First in verse 11, Paul says, “They must be silenced.” This is a bold claim, and it doesn’t sound gracious, does it? Shouldn’t there be freedom of speech in the church? Yes…and no. Let’s see what Paul has to say about this.
Having heard Paul describe the rebellious circumcision group in verse 10, we can see why Titus had to be so careful about who he picks as church leaders, and why it is so important that those church leaders are strong in the faith, self-controlled and blameless. Those church leaders are going to have to implement church discipline. In verse 9, for example, Paul said the church leaders will refute those who oppose sound doctrine. Now in verse 11, he is saying that the church leaders silence the people in the church who are teaching false doctrine. This is a very picturesque word. It is the idea of putting a muzzle on an animal.
Our dog is so loud when he barks. If you pull into our driveway, he immediately hustles to our backdoor like a sentry, barking incessantly. He will not stop until whoever has arrived enters the house and greets him. I can understand why muzzles were invented. Paul is saying that when there are rebellious, idle talkers in the church, deceiving people, they have to be muzzled.
Why? Look at how Paul describes the consequences of their teaching in the rest of verse 11: “They are ruining whole households.” Here I suspect he is talking about the fact that the churches were house churches. But how could it be that false teaching was breaking up families? How many of you have families where you can’t talk about certain things without starting a shouting match? My guess is that relates to just about every family, and Paul knew the same thing could happen in these families who were new Christians, hearing conflicting doctrines because these idle talkers were teaching things they ought not to teach. He’ll explain the content of what they were teaching when we get to verse 14. For now Paul teaches Titus, and the leaders Titus will appoint, “Muzzle those people.”
Paul goes on to say that the idle talkers are teaching false doctrine for the sake of dishonest gain. He doesn’t explain how they get money from their teaching, but we know from the historians that Cretans were known for their greed. One of those ancient historians, Polybius, said this about Cretans, “So much in fact do sordid love of gain and lust for wealth prevail among them, that the Cretans are the only people in the world in whose eyes no gain is disgraceful.” Cretans were known for their love of money. That still doesn’t tell us how the false teachers gained wealth through their teaching. All we need to know is that it was an issue, revealing their selfish desires rather than a commitment to Jesus and his Kingdom.
In verse 12 Paul supports his claim about the character of the greedy Cretans, using a quote by one of their own, Epimenedes, describing how rough the Cretans were. We do not need to read Paul as saying that every single person on the Island of Crete was like this. But this tendency of Cretans being wild and unruly was prevalent enough that Paul says, in verse 13, this quote is true. He is saying, Epimenedes knew what he was talking about, it is true. Sadly, that wild rebellious spirit was present in some who were in the church. So Paul builds on what he said in verse 11. There he said, “Silence them,” to stop the false teaching, and now in verse 13, he adds: “Rebuke them sharply.”
Those are strong words. It is the idea of a public, audible statement to the person, saying to them, “You are wrong. Here is the proof.” When people are wrong, church leaders are to silence them, and to correct them. Paul adds the qualifying word, “sharply,” which can be translated “to deal harshly with someone.” When I read that I think, “Really, Paul? Are you saying that when someone is acting sinfully or teaching false doctrine, we can be mean to them?” I doubt that’s what Paul is saying. Here’s why:
Paul could have suggested that these people should just be put out of the church immediately. See Paul’s heart here. It is not a heart of shunning and just getting rid of people. Instead his heart is for reconciliation and growth, so that the people who are not dwelling in the truth would be corrected and become healthy.
Again, we need to refer back to verse 9 where the leaders are to encourage others by sound doctrine. Paul wants the rebellious ones to be encouraged. He wants the leaders to see their task of correcting as a task of encouragement. I love that. If we encounter those with whom we disagree, or those who we believe are rebellious, Paul has now said that those behaving badly in the church must be silenced and they must be rebuked. While those sound like harsh words, remember that he is also saying that the posture of the one doing the rebuking should have a heart and a tone of encouragement.
Rebuking is for the purpose of healing. How do we know this? Because he says in the next phrase, “So that they will be sound in the faith.” What does it mean to be sound in the faith? Sound doctrine. What is sound doctrine?
Paul first explains what it is not. Look at verse 14. He wants the false teachers rebuked so that they will pay no attention to Jewish Myths or the commands of those who reject the truth. Here again we can make the connection that Paul is talking about Jewish Christians who believed that Christians needed to follow the OT Law. But he is saying that they need to be rebuked so that they don’t pay attention to that stuff anymore.
Turn over to Titus 3:9 briefly and notice how Paul reiterates his teaching. There were numerous speculative teachings within Judaism, some pertaining to the genealogies the OT Law, and Paul says that disciples of Jesus should avoid all that. Sounding very much like he does in 1:10-16, in chapter 3, he says, “warn a person about this.” He calls them “divisive” meaning that their teaching was dividing the church. So warn them to stop. If they keep going, give them a second warning. If they keep going, he says in verse 10, “have nothing to do with him.” Again, these are very strong words from Paul to Titus and the church in Crete. Paul is taking decisive action against false teaching to the point of breaking fellowship with people who are unwilling to repent. But note that he teaches a process, and it is not quick. As we saw above, church discipline should involve grace and multiple chances to help restore people.