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Fight Valiantly! Crystal Clear Courtesy

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 27 Mar 2019

In Paul’s letter to Titus, we hear how heresy must be refuted and heretics given time to repent, in a dignified and courteous way. Watch the video podcast of today's episode on our YouTube channel.

Titus is another of Paul’s co-workers, like Timothy. Paul left Titus on Crete in order to make sure elders were appointed in every town where they had proclaimed the gospel. Paul outlines certain qualifications for those elders, which particularly mention the ability to interact with false teachers. So he says in Titus 1:9, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

The NIV (2011) translates this as “and refute those who oppose it.” The key verb there means “to state that someone has done wrong, with the implication that there is adequate proof of such wrongdoing — ‘to rebuke, to reproach.’” It appears also in verse 13; Paul says there are “insubordinate deceivers” in Crete upsetting whole families with their teaching, and so Titus is to “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.”

So Titus is to be crystal clear about the errors of these people and rebuke them, so that the divergence between what they teach and the truth is made clear cut. The pastoral aim of this is to make them and their hearers “sound in the faith.” Again, we note however that Titus is told to do this as Paul’s apostolic delegate in Crete, and not simply as a fellow Christian or elder, just as many of the commands to Timothy in the other pastoral epistles are particularly addressed to him as a sort of bishop over the elders in Ephesus.

Indeed, in Titus 2:1, Titus himself is urged to “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” This is particularly in a context where his teaching may be opposed, so as well as outlining what a healthy Christian lifestyle looks like for older men, older women, younger women, and slaves, Paul adds, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8).

Clearly Titus’s teaching, lifestyle, and manner of interaction with the false teachers must fit together, so his calm and dignified example will be seen to contrast with the behaviour of his opponents. It is in fact the behaviour required of all Christians, as Paul reminds him in chapter 3: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

Titus, like Timothy, is directed to particularly avoid certain activities and have nothing to do with certain people, in Titus 3:

“But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-11).

The word for quarrels here is a word that speaks of hand-to-hand personal combat. It is not used positively of the struggle demanded of a believer. Indeed, Christians are to be the very opposite (peaceable, not brawlers) according to Titus 3:2, just as a minister should also not be quarrelsome (1 Timothy 3:3, using the same word, amachos). Macho machismo is not a Christian virtue, but something we should give a wide berth. Stirring up division has always been an example of “bad contending” which God hates, along with all Machiavellian “ends justify the means” approaches:

“There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19).

It is important to note in Titus 3 that the divisive person (in Greek, hairetikos, from which we get “heretic”) is given a warning, and not dismissed at once. Just as in Jude 22-23, an attempt ought to be made to have mercy and snatch people from the fire, warning them as brothers before treating them otherwise (2 Thessalonians 3:15). Classic definitions of heresy include the idea that a person should only be classed as a heretic and therefore avoided if they persist in their false teaching after careful instruction and time for repentance (a repentance also hoped for in 2 Timothy 2:25-26).

Questions for Reflection
1. Why do people in our society find it hard to accept refutation or rebuke for their ideas?
2. What are the effects of false teachings on Christian families that you have observed?
3. Why is it difficult for Christians to be dignified and courteous in their discussions of heresy, which often descend too quickly into quarrels?

Catch up with the whole series here.

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society and the editor of Gospel Flourishing in a Time of Confusion, the latest book from Church Society.

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