Tag Archives: sound doctrine

What is sound doctrine? Titus 1:10-16, Part 3

3 Jul
Photo by Inactive. on Unsplash

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.”

How to have restorative church discipline – Titus 1:10-16, Part 2

2 Jul

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. 

A job description for church leaders – Titus 1:5-9, Part 5

21 Jun

Hey church leader, have you ever thought that you go to a lot of meetings? So often in contemporary American church life, church leadership teams (elder boards, sessions, etc) have a lot of meetings. It can leave church leaders wondering if there is more to their role. There is more to their role! Or at least their should be. Meetings are not wrong or bad. In fact, I believe meetings are very important, and can be extremely life-giving. If you don’t believe me, I urge you to read the book Death By Meeting. Meetings are needed to discuss a variety of situations and decide what to do about them. But as we conclude our study of Paul’s teaching about church leaders in Titus 1:5-9, we see in verse 9, that blameless leaders are to do at least three things that will likely not take place in a meeting (though I suspect there will be necessary meetings leading up to them):

  1. Hold fast to the faithful message that was taught to them.
  2. Encourage/Exhort/Console/Beg/Appeal the church with sound doctrine.
  3. Expose the contradictory ones.

We’re going to look at each task, but I first want to point out that it is notable that the leaders do all these things.  Notice that Titus is not doing these things.  Instead, Paul says Titus is to appoint the leaders, and then the leaders will do these things.  You would think Titus is the leader of the churches and thus he would get in there and handle what needs to be handled. 

But Paul said Titus’ primary mission was to raise up leaders who would do the work. We have seen this principle taught time and time again Scripture.  There are to be groups of leaders who are responsible for the church. Not one person, but a group.  Not one pastor.  Not one leader.  But groups of leaders, of which all are involved in leading. 

So what are these leaders to do?  Three things.

First, they hold fast to the faithful message that was taught to them.

They heard this message from Paul and Titus before.  It is the preaching and teaching of the good news of Jesus and what it means to be his follower.  They are to hold to the way of Jesus.  They are not to be influenced by other ways.  Leaders lead by example, by how they live their lives.

Second, they encourage/exhort/console/beg/appeal in sound doctrine. I list all those variations of the word because the word Paul uses is translated by many different English words. By seeing them all you get a richer flavor of what Paul is saying to Titus.

Last week in our series of posts on Titus 1:1-4, we saw that sound doctrine is one of Paul’s main concerns in this letter.  And it is the leaders who are the stronghold of sound doctrine.  They hold to the message, and then they encourage and exhort the rest of the church to do the same.  They are to lead the church in knowing Jesus and being followers of Jesus, even in the midst of a culture that might not care all that much, or that might even make fun of them, or that might even persecute them.  Leaders tow the line. 

Third, they expose the contradictory ones, the ones who are teaching something other than sound doctrine.  They refute them.  They shine the light of truth, exposing the falsehood.  They speak up.  In the next passage Paul is going to address these contradictory ones.  So we’ll talk more about that next week.

For now, we see the role that leaders have.

Are you a leader?  This is your job description.  These are your marching orders. 

Maybe you are not a leader?  This is what you can use as your goal: blamelessness.  Let us be a people who pursue the blamelessness of Jesus, and let us be a church that only selects leaders who have distinguished themselves as blameless.

Reading other people’s mail – Titus 1:1-4, Part 1

10 Jun

Have you ever accidentally received mail for your neighbor?

It happens to all of us from time to time.  The question is, what do you do with it? Usually just walk it over to their house, right?

Do you ever just throw it away?  Please don’t!  It’s illegal!

Most often misdelivered mail happens when you move to a new house, and you get mail for the people who lived there before you.   Here at Faith Church, we get mail for previous pastors or for churches that rented from us.  It is almost always junk mail from organizations not aware of the pastoral change or that the church no longer rents space here.  So I tend to open the mail and read it, or more frequently just throw it away.  You can tell 99% of all junk mail by the outside of the envelope!  But if it is real mail we make sure it gets in the proper hands.  The USPS says all you have to do is write “Return to Sender” or “Not At This Address” on the envelope and place it back in the mail.

But have you ever read someone else’s real mail? 

That’s a bit more personal, isn’t it?  There are ethical concerns and legalities, right?  It’s illegal to open other people’s mail.  But in our technological age, it happens. 

Have you ever been sitting next to someone with their phone or laptop out, and you glance over and their email is open for all to see? I’ve heard stories about how that has happened and friends have learned shocking things about one another, and it has led to hurt.

You might think, “Well, you should have averted your eyes.”  That is easier said than done. Maybe it was one of those situations where it was unavoidable.  Maybe you’ve been there before.  You aren’t looking for it, and boom there it is right in front of you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  You’ve seen it. 

Starting with this post, that is exactly what we’re going to do.  Actually, for the rest of the summer, we’re going to read other people’s mail.  Letters, to be specific.  Ancient letters.  

In the Bible, in the New Testament, there are a bunch of them.  Letters written from one person to another.  We call them books of the Bible, but they are not even close to what we normally think of when we think of books.  They’re letters.  Many are quite short, more like emails in our culture.  Notes, you might even call them.  This summer we are going to study the short letters of the New Testament.  Formally they are in the genre called Epistles.  Often when we use the word, “epistle,” our minds conjure up really long letters.  In fact many New Testament epistles are long letters: Romans, 1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians, and Hebrews, to name a few.  In our modern Bibles they are all divided into multiple chapters with intricate argumentation, and they frequently get the lion’s share of attention.  Since I have been pastor, I have taught through Philippians, 1st Corinthians, 1st Timothy and 1st Peter.  Maybe someday we’ll get to the 2nds of those epistles! 

There are also a group of short epistles in the New Testament, and they rarely get mentioned.  This summer we’re going to study all of them.  We’re going to read other people’s mail such as Paul’s letter to Titus.  His note to Philemon.  John’s two short notes called 2nd and 3rd John.  And finally the short note written by Jesus’ brother, Jude.  Some are so short, we’ll cover then in one sermon.  Today we start with Titus, which is the longest of the short letters.

Let’s begin with a quick overview of Titus.  There are many theories about when, where and why Paul wrote this letter, and for our sermon series I am going to take the position that Paul is writing later in life, most likely after the events described in the book of the Acts.  By this time, Paul is deeply established in the early church as a missionary statesman who has traveled on numerous long mission trips throughout the Roman Empire, preaching about good news in Jesus, starting new churches, and raising up other leaders.  He regularly brought people with him, and trained them to be new leaders.  One of those guys was Titus.  Peek down at Titus chapter 1, verse 5 and you’ll see that Paul has dispatched Titus to lead the network of house churches on Crete, where Paul had previously ministered and started the churches.  Crete is an island right smack in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.  You can read in Acts 27 when Paul visited there as a prisoner, and based on what we read in Titus 1:5, he visited there again with Titus.  Titus was a close associate of Paul.  Though Titus is never mentioned in the stories in the book of Acts he is mentioned in numerous other letters, where we learn that Paul trusted Titus to deal with difficult situations. And that is exactly what was happening in Crete.

Paul has two main concerns for Titus.  Good works. Sound Doctrine.

One is prophylactic. The other is evangelistic.

Wait, prophylactic? Isn’t that birth control? While it relates to that, prophylactic has a broader meaning.  A prophylactic is something that prevents disease.  In his letter to Titus, Paul is writing a prophylactic letter.  He wants to prevent disease in the church.  And so he will talk about sound doctrine.

Paul also wants the church to reach out, and so he will talk about doing good, which Paul sees as foundational to all outreach. 

What we will see in our series through this letter is how much we need to hear this message today.

Check back in tomorrow as we begin reading someone else’s mail.