Dealing with the Disgruntled
October 10, 2004 | Brian Bill
Every morning an older woman would go out on her porch, raise her arms to the sky and yell, “Praise the Lord!” An atheist bought the house next door to her and quickly became irritated with these expressions of exaltation. After putting up with it for about a week, he couldn’t take it anymore. The next morning after she shouted, “Praise the Lord,” the man yelled back, “There is no Lord.” This went on every day for quite some time. Then one cold, wintry day she went out on her porch, raised her hands to the sky and said, “Help me Lord, I have no more money, its cold, and I have no food.”
The next morning she went outside and found three bags of food on her porch. She quickly raised her hands and cried out, “Praise the Lord!” Just then the atheist stepped out from behind the bushes laughing and said, “There is no Lord…I bought those groceries with my money!” The woman immediately dropped to her knees and exclaimed, “Praise the Lord! You sent me groceries…and you made the Devil pay for them!”
As we continue in our teaching from the Book of Titus, today we come to the end of chapter one. We spent the last two weeks going over the qualifications for Elders and concluded last Sunday with what is perhaps their most important role from verse 9: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Elders must be glued to God’s Word, in order, as someone has said, to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. Just as this wise woman responded to her nagging neighbor, Elders are to deal directly with the disgruntled.
When we come against those who come after us, sometimes we should ignore them, and other times we must speak succinctly to them. Titus 1:10-16 will help us know what to do. First, we need to know who they are. Second, we must know how to respond. And third, we must remember the ultimate solution.
We’re going to follow this simple outline.
- A Detailed Description – who they are (10-12)
- A Prevailing Prescription – what to do (13-14)
- A Commitment to Conversion – the ultimate solution (15-16)
1. A Detailed Description (10-12).
Paul wastes no time describing those whom the Elders are to deal with in verses 10-12: “For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach-and that for the sake of dishonest gain. Even one of their own prophets has said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’” The word “for” links verse 9 to verse 10. The reason Elders are to be men of the Book is because there are “many” who are not. This is a widespread problem today and not just something that was isolated to the island of Crete. Let’s look at this 9-part description phrase-by-phrase to see who it is that must be silenced.
- Rebellious people. This word refers to those who were literally “uncontrolled,” and unwilling to submit to authority. It’s also translated as “unruly” and “insubordinate.” This is the same word that is used to describe rebellious children in verse 6. Jude characterizes uncontrollable people in 1:6 who “reject authority.” The apostle John describes a devious man in his third letter: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church” (3 John 9-10). Another example of a rebellious man is Alexander the metalworker, whom Paul referred to in 2 Timothy 4:14 as one who did a “great deal of harm.”
- Mere talkers. The New Living Translation provides this paraphrase, “they engage in useless talk.” Jay Vernon McGee refers to them as “empty chatterers.” Do you know of anyone who talks but doesn’t really say anything? Mere talkers were very common in Crete and are also common in most churches. This reminds me of the character called, “Talkative” in Pilgrim’s Progress. As Christian and Faithful are walking along, Talkative comes up and engages them in dialog. Faithful is enjoying the conversation but notices that Christian is quiet and walking several feet away. While Faithful likes Talkative; Christian is more perceptive when he says, “This with whom you’re so impressed will beguile with his tongue twenty people who don’t know him.”
Faithful eventually sees that Talkative is full of words but empty in his heart. Christian advises that the best way to be rid of him is to begin a serious discussion about spiritual matters. Sure enough, Talkative doesn’t want to talk about what’s really important and says goodbye. Christian is pleased with Faithful’s straightforward style and says something that sounds a lot like Paul’s teaching to Titus: “It was a good thing you talked to him plainly as you did…I wish everyone would deal with them as you’ve done. Then they would either be made to conform to religion, or the Fellowship of the Saints would be too hot to remain.”
we’d all probably sin less if we talked less
We’ve all used venomous verbs and noxious nouns and we’d all probably sin less if we talked less. Proverbs 13:3 links our lips to our life in a very unsettling way: “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” Proverbs lists several examples of how the tongue is used to hurt, destroy and kill. Let me mention just three.
- Gossip. Proverbs 20:19: “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.” Proverbs 18:8 tells us that some people feed on gossip like others enjoy food: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.” Gossip is usually fun and interesting because it appeals to our desire for information and details. The danger is that when we gorge ourselves on gossip we’ll always crave more.
- Angry words. Some of you have experienced the pain and destruction that can come from being around someone who spews volcanic verbiage. Proverbs 29:22: “An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered man commits many sins.”
- Impulsive speech. Proverbs 29:20: “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” We’ve all experienced the horror of saying something too quickly as we open mouth and insert foot.
- Deceivers. This word literally means, “Mind deceivers.” Paul warned Timothy of something similar in 1 Timothy 4:1: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” Often those who talk too much are also the ones who have deceptive demeanors as Romans 16:17-18 says: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”
- Members of the circumcision group. This term doesn’t resonate in our culture like it did in Crete but it essentially refers to those who were insisting that people follow all the Old Testament rules and regulations. In short, they were giving Moses primacy over Jesus and they were determined to propagate their teaching as Acts 15:1 makes clear: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul’s ministry was plagued by these legalists and he dealt with them severely in verse 2: “This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.” Paul recognizes the danger here because legalism sucks the life out of grace.
Listen to his words in Galatians 3:1-3: “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” When we watch political debates on TV, we like to see who won. And the one who wins is usually the one with the best responses and the most cutting lines. It’s pretty clear that no politician today could even come close winning a debate with the Apostle Paul. And yet, when he writes to Titus, he tells him in 1:11 to “silence” these teachers. The job of Titus is not to dialog or debate or discuss. The idea is to literally close the mouth by means of a muzzle and was used in the noun form to describe a “stop” in a water pipe.
- Those ruining whole households. The word “ruin” means to undermine or overthrow, and was used to describe what Jesus did when he overturned the tables in the Temple (see John 2:15).
- People seeking dishonest gain. Teachers only after money have motives that are selfish. The Cretans had a reputation for having prophets who just wanted to make a profit. Just this week, MinistryWatch.com issued a “donor alert” regarding a well-known TV ministry because its founders receive combined annual salaries in excess of $750,000. This ministry holds more than $230 million in U.S. Treasury bonds and more than $30 million in cash reserves, and yet still continues to solicit donations. In a refreshing contrast, Pastor Rick Warren was on Dateline NBC this past Sunday night and mentioned that he doesn’t even take a salary from his church and gives 90% of his book royalties back to the ministry.
- Always liars. Paul now quotes a Cretan philosopher named Epimenades who was widely respected. Having lived 600 years earlier, Paul wisely used the words of someone they esteemed. This poet referred to his own people as “always” lying. The verb “to Cretize” became synonymous for telling lies.
- Evil brutes. Next he refers to them as antagonistic animals. This phrase was used in Acts 28:4 to describe a venomous viper that attached itself to Paul’s hand. Sometimes unruly people can bite and won’t let go.
- Lazy gluttons. The final description is quite graphic. Cretans were known to hate work and to love food. Paul gave a similar description of false teachers in Philippians 3:19: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” These “slow bellies” were like those described in Proverbs 26:15: “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.”
2. A Prevailing Prescription.
Paul not only tells Titus what these people are like, he empowers him to do something about it by prescribing a course of action. Verses 13-14 are very clear. Before we look at these verses, let me tell you why Paul was so adamant that these false teachers not be allowed to spread their venom. They were advocating that the only way someone could be saved was by keeping the Old Testament Law. In other words, they were teaching that salvation does not come about by the death of Jesus on the cross, but rather that people can save themselves by keeping the Law. Paul had no tolerance for a “works-based” theology because he knew first-hand that it didn’t work and that it essentially gutted the doctrine of God’s grace. Therefore he tells Titus to “…rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.”
The word “rebuke” is in the present tense, meaning that this is something that must be done continuously. Paul gave Timothy similar instructions in 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction.” Titus is to make sure that he rebukes “sharply” and not softly because of the stakes. The picture is to knock down a door with an ax when a house is on fire so as to save the occupants.
I want you to notice that the goal of a rebuke should always be restoration. Paul tells Titus to rebuke sharply “so that they will be sound in the faith.” We’re not to blast someone just because we’re angry. A rebuke should lead to realignment and repentance. The word “sound” is the word we get “hygiene” from and is used metaphorically to describe someone who is spiritually healthy. A spiritual rebuke should have as its motivation a return to spiritual health. Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” Jesus taught in Matthew 18:15 that we are to go to someone when they have sinned against us, not to destroy them, but to rebuild the relationship: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”
When you confront fellow Christians, do you vomit all over them, or is it your desire to see them become healthier and holier?
Is that your goal when you discipline your kids? Are you just yelling or are you striving to help them make changes? When you confront fellow Christians, do you vomit all over them, or is it your desire to see them become healthier and holier?
Verse 14 also helps us see that a well-done rebuke will hopefully dissuade disciples from following “Jewish myths or the commands of those who reject the truth.” A myth is a fictional tale that often takes on a semblance of truthfulness because it becomes popular. Paul warned Timothy about the same thing in 2 Timothy 4:4: “They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” There were Jewish myths and fables circulating on the island of Crete, just as there are myths masquerading as truth today.
It’s not easy to confront error, is it? This past week I received an email from a pastor who reads our sermons from the church website. He was kind in his initial remarks but then stated that our church was wrong for worshipping on Sunday. He asked for some justification from Scripture so I wrote back and gave him several passages to ponder. He replied with some pretty strong words, “You have not been able to help me justify honoring Sunday as the Lord’s Day. How can you, an honest man of God, keep on with your deceptive ministry? Why not share with me why you continue observing Sunday when it is not biblical?” I wrote him back and made another appeal to Scripture. I didn’t get very far because this is how he responded on Thursday: “Come on Brian, get a life…Jesus is coming soon and I would like to believe that we could be together in heaven…” This gentleman is essentially locked into the Law of the Old Testament and is disregarding Paul’s argument from Colossians 2:16-17: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”
Doctrine matters, and while I will probably never meet this particular pastor, I do want to communicate my convictions. Sometimes we should ignore; at times we must overlook; and in other situations leaders must rebuke sharply.
3. A Commitment to Conversion (15-16).
After describing rebellious individuals and then prescribing how to deal with them, Paul concludes by establishing the need for conversion in verses 15-16: “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” The context here refers to those who are so devoted to certain days and certain foods that they interpret everything else through this grid. The word translated “pure” is the same word used to describe those who have been washed clean by Jesus Christ.
The great distinction between those who follow Christ and those who rebel is not found in outward activities, but in the mind and conscience. Both intellectual and moral capacity is defiled in those who have not truly been converted. Jesus said in Matthew 15:11 that “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’”
Verse 16 shows that even though an individual may claim to know God, how he or she lives can cancel out their confession. A changed character leads to changed conduct. Proper belief must express itself in proper behavior. Isaiah 29:13: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” What Paul is saying here is that people do what they do because of what is in their inner nature. In short, even though they speak spiritual language, they are not saved.
He then uses some vivid language in the second part of verse 16.
- Detestable. This comes from a word that means, “to emit a foul odor” and was used to describe that which is an abomination to God.
- Disobedient. This word literally refers to one who refuses to be persuaded. There are those who don’t believe not because of insufficient evidence but because of proud hearts.
- Unfit. The basic meaning here is of not standing the test and was used of metals that were rejected by refiners because of impurities.
I wonder this morning if you’ve convinced yourself that you’re a Christian, but in reality you’re not. Paul gave a very serious challenge to church people in 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you-unless, of course, you fail the test?” Have you ever really examined yourself? It was Plato who said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Have you taken the time recently to take a faith test? One of the dangers of coming to church is that over time, you can start believing that you’re a Christian simply because you’ve exhibited some outward expressions of religion.
Maybe you’ve even professed to be a Christian at some point in your life, but if you’re honest, you’d have to admit that you don’t possess Christ. For many years John Wesley professed to be a believer and yet when he took the time to examine himself, he came to the conclusion that he was not a Christian. This is what he said in his sermon called, “The Almost Christian.”
“I did go thus for many years, as many of this place can testify; using diligence to eschew all evil, and to have a conscience void of offence; redeeming the time; buying up every opportunity of doing all good to all men; constantly and carefully using all the public and all the private means of grace; endeavoring, after a steady seriousness of behavior, at all times, and in all places: and God is my record, before whom I stand, doing all this in sincerity; having a real design to serve God; a hearty desire to do his will in all things; to please him who had called me to ‘fight the good fight,’ and to ‘lay hold on eternal life.’ Yet my own conscience bears me witness, in the Holy Ghost, that all this time I was but almost a Christian.”
Could that be your story? Are you almost a Christian? I’ll never forget the spiritual shock waves that rippled through Moody Bible Institute, when during my senior year, one of my classmates stood up in chapel and said that she had been living a lie and had never committed herself to Christ. That morning, she stood before us and said that she had finally been converted. She had gone through years of church, and many semesters of Bible and theology, but she was detestable, disobedient, and unfit for doing anything good until she was converted.
What about you? Have you been more focused on religious rites than a relationship with the Redeemer? Listen to these words: “Once God enters the picture, your life will never be the same again. Until then, you may be religious and you may be a very good person and you may obey all the rules of the church, but you have not been converted. Religion is one thing; conversion is something else entirely…it is the certainty that what you were does not determine what you are, and what you are does not determine what you will be. You can be changed, you can be different, your life can move in an entirely new direction…everything we believe is built upon one fundamental and revolutionary premise: You don’t have to stay the way you are.”
As we close this morning, I want to make sure that you have the opportunity to put your faith and trust in Christ. It’s time to make a commitment to Christ and be converted.
Here’s a suggested prayer that may help you verbalize your commitment: “Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life. I admit that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. I repent of my sins by changing my mind about the way I’ve been living. I don’t want to be detestable, disobedient and unfit any longer. I’m not going to close the door when I hear you knocking. I believe and gratefully receive your gift of salvation. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. With all my heart I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I believe your words are true. I receive you into my heart. I confess that you are now Lord in my life. Make me into the person you want me to be. Amen.”
Once you are converted, then you can identify those who expound error, you can speak to them directly and when you do, never forget that their greatest need, like yours, is for conversion. Only then can you wake up each morning and shout, “Praise the Lord!”