In this series of posts on Titus 1:10-16, Paul has been talking about redemptive church discipline. He has described how to practice faithful confrontation that seeks to encourage people away from divisiveness toward sound doctrine. But what is sound doctrine? What is going on with these people? In today’s post, we’re going to focus on verses 15-16, where Paul gets to the heart of the church discipline issue that needs to be addressed in the churches in Crete.
If you haven’t already, turn to Titus 1:15. Let’s break it down phrase by phrase. First Paul says, “to the pure, all things are pure.” What does that mean? The people in the churches in Crete who Paul points out as divisive were Jews who said they were Christians, and they also said that all Christians should follow the stipulations of the Old Covenant that God made with the ancient nation of Israel, as described in the Hebrew Bible.
Paul taught something very different, however, when he and Titus had spent time ministering on the island of Crete. Paul taught the good news of Jesus, that anyone who believes in and follows the way of Jesus is no longer under the Old Covenant. Even Jews. Paul’s way of describing this is to say, “Those followers of Jesus are pure.” They are not to categorize foods, for example, as clean or unclean, which was something that God told the Jews to do, as described in many texts in the Old Testament. Instead, to the pure, who are the followers of Jesus, all things are pure.
That is so different from what the Jews were used to. You might remember in our Deuteronomy series that we covered texts like Deuteronomy chapter 14 where God listed clean and unclean animals, and the people of Israel were only allowed to eat the clean animals. There were rules about cleanliness and ritual purity and washing. But fast-forward a thousand years or so to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and it was a new day. Paul taught that in Christ we are free from the law, and all things are pure.
For many Jews who became Christians this freedom in Christ was scandalous. Paul, therefore, had to respond to Christians around the Roman Empire, as the Jews followed Paul, disagreeing with him, saying that Christians needed to follow the OT Law.
Paul wrote about this numerous places in his letters. Here are a few examples :
- In 1 Timothy 4:4 he says that everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.
- In 1 Corinthians 8:8 he says that food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
- In Romans 14:14, he says “no food is unclean in itself.”
In other words, we Christians are free from the OT Law. Or as Paul describes in Titus, “To the pure all things are pure.”
But there remains a problem. Not everyone thinks this way. Look at the next phrase in Titus 1:15, “to those who are corrupted, and do not believe, nothing is pure.”
Paul is saying that the people in the church, who were teaching that Christians must follow the OT Law, were actually corrupted. They did not believe in Jesus. They are still thinking about life through the lens of the Old Covenant. Paul even goes on to describe them, at the end of verse 15, as having minds and consciences that are contaminated! This is his way of saying that they do not believe in the sound doctrine or the true message of Jesus. Instead they believe in a false message.
Notice how Paul concludes in verse 16. Scholars tell us this verse is critical for understanding the whole letter: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” Strong language from Paul, isn’t it?
Even though they were in the church, even though they might have called themselves Christians, Paul reveals how they were not so. His words couldn’t be clearer. By their actions they deny God. They show they that are not Christians by what they teach and by how they are living.
This correlates with what he says over in chapter 3:11, “You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”
In other words, the “circumcision group” (see verse 10 where Paul gives them this name) has not made the jump from an Old Covenant way of thinking to true faith in Jesus. They are wrapped up in the rules and regulations of the OT Law. They are teaching the people in the churches in Crete to follow the OT Law, and that is a major threat to the teaching of sound doctrine, which is the good news of new life through Jesus, life, death and resurrection. Paul’s conclusion? Muzzle it. Give them a chance to repent, and even give them a second chance, but after that, move on. The true teaching of the Gospel must be preserved and undiluted in the church.
Check back in to the next post as we search for ways the church in 2019 might be like the “circumcision group.”