Last week we looked at verses 5-9, in which Paul reminded Titus that his purpose in Crete was to put the church in order and appoint elders is every town. He laid out quite specific characteristics that these elders must possess. We noted that the primary role of elders is to teach sound doctrine.
“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.”
This morning, we learn more about these false teachers. Who are they? How can they be recognized? What should be done about them?
- The false teachers
- How to recognize them
- Rebuke them!
The False Teachers
There are MANY (vs 10). Even in these relatively new churches, Paul says there are many who are trying to lead them astray. It’s really kind of alarming!
They are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers (vs 10)
They are upsetting families (vs 11)
They are teaching for shameful gain (vs 11) They are seeking to make money off of what they are teaching. They are not primarily concerned with the gospel and the kingdom of God, as contrasted with the elders mentioned in the previous verses.
They are liars, evil beasts and lazy gluttons (vs 12)
Are false teachers abundant today? Yes! There are kinds of false teachers around us today. Some are very easy to identify. Some are less so.
Easy to identify – false religions, spirituality that isn’t biblical
Harder maybe – Mormonism, universalism
Still a little harder – prosperity gospel
Even harder – the little nuances that can pervade even primarily biblically sound churches.
Paul says that the teachers in Crete are teaching for shameful gain. The same is true today. What kind of shameful gain? Perhaps not financial. Perhaps it is the shameful gain of compromising sound doctrine in order to be a church or a pastor or teacher that is well liked. Not rocking the boat.
How to Recognize Them
They are upsetting whole families (vs 11)
They teach what ought not be taught (vs 11) – something “new”
They are devoted to something other than Scripture (vs 14)
They’re not living like they know Jesus. They deny him by their works (vs 16)
Practically – false teachers may not always be easy to spot. If they were so obvious, it is doubtful that there would be many of them being allowed to teach in the church at Crete.
But, “when their attitudes, methods and motives are exposed”, there can be little question that they are evil. These false teachers are called rebellious, deceivers, liars, evil beasts and lazy gluttons in Titus. Paul, in 1 Timothy, says that they are “puffed up with conceit and understand nothing.” (1 Timothy 6:4).
I think we are at a disadvantage as Christians living in this century. It seems that we tend to one of two extremes: we either are over judgmental, too quick to condemn, and unloving in the process. Or we are too accepting. It is not an easy thing for some of us to identify others as liars, deceivers and evil beasts. It is easy to kind of let things slide. And then once an issue gets too big, we all of a sudden see it for what it is and overreact. Paul is warning against all of this. He is urging the church at Crete and Titus in particular to PAY ATTENTION. To know their teachers. To listen discerningly to what they teach. And to not allow anything that falls below God’s standards.
How will we know false teachers? By knowing sound doctrine. By being sound in the faith ourselves. By asking the Lord for wisdom and discernment as we listen to teaching. By heeding the whisper of the Holy Spirit that tells us that something seems a little “off.”
And then, when we come across false teaching, what are we to do about it?
Did you notice the number of pronouns here in these six verses? Paul is writing in true Paul style! It can be tricky to follow pronouns through if they are used a lot. As we were preparing the study guide, we were seeing the pronouns “them” and “they” in verse 13 as referring to those who were listening to false teaching. In preparing to teach this passage, I think we can safely read the first pronoun “rebuke them sharply” as referring to the false teachers. However, theologians differ in whether they read the second pronoun “they’, “that they may be sound in the faith” as referring to the false teachers or those in the church that are listening to the false teaching. Either reading would be biblically sound in light of the rest of Scripture.
And though this passage itself may not directly instruct us to rebuke those who are listening to false teaching, this principle is also sound throughout our study of the rest of Scripture. Perhaps instead of saying “rebuke them sharply”, we might say “rebuke them gently”. So, the elders of the church must rebuke false teachers sharply, and should correct false teaching among the churches by gently rebuking and correcting errant teaching.
For now, let’s focus on these verses, and what they say about rebuking false teachers:
They must be silenced. They are leading people astray. The church cannot allow this to happen. Rebuke them sharply.
It’s important to point out that silencing and rebuking is reserved for those who qualify as false teachers – those who desire and purpose to lead people astray. This is not speaking to a well-meaning teacher who doesn’t get it quite right. One of the roles of a healthy church is to be raising up new elders, i.e. teachers. Being a teacher is really intimidating, because it is a huge responsibility. And we may not always get it right. If there is an inexperienced or immature teacher in the church, we should exhort, instruct, correct and encourage this teacher. The last thing that we want to do is shut down someone who might have great potential as a teacher because they taught something wrong.
But those who would seek to lead the church astray by teaching what is not right belief must be silenced and rebuked.
Call an elder, right? Isn’t that what Paul is saying here? The elders are responsible for teaching sound doctrine and rebuking false teachers. Ok yes, but we are not so quickly off the hook.
False teaching is a sin and should be dealt with as such in the church. If someone is preaching from the pulpit what is not sound doctrine, that is one thing. I think this would be a situation for the elders to deal directly with. If someone is teaching false doctrine in a Sunday school class or at Women’s Bible study, the leadership of those classes should be addressing the teacher. But what about in our conversations with one another? I think this is often where false teaching creeps in, and where it can be done more subtly. It takes great courage to stand in front of a room of sound believers and preach what is false. It is much easier to share those false beliefs with one or two close friends.
So ladies, we are not off the hook! Yes, we have a responsibility to silence and rebuke. Because this is a sin issue in the church, we can use the principles that Jesus laid out in Matthew 18:15-17.
First, you and I are responsible for addressing the problem.
If that doesn’t silence the false teacher, we are to bring others into the situation. These others should be trusted, godly individuals, perhaps with some degree of authority in the church.
Third, we would get the elders involved.
Fourth, if the false teacher will still not repent of the sin of false teaching, the elders would exclude the teacher from membership in the church.
Let’s just say for example that you come to Bible study and are in a conversation with another woman from your discussion group who is very excited about this new understanding she has of the gospel. She goes on to tell you that Christians have traditionally misunderstood that salvation is by grace alone. That there are actually these things that we can do to ensure that we really will go to heaven. She shares that she is so happy because she has this new-found peace and assurance.
This rings the “not okay” bell in your head, and you gently correct her. You lay out the gospel for her and show her where her beliefs are in error. Maybe she nods her head and smiles, but a little while later, you overhear her telling another woman the same thing. Now is when you get others involved. You meet with Mary-Alice and your discussion group leaders to share your concerns about this woman. The four of you prayerfully and gently confront her about her what she has been sharing with others. She becomes a little belligerent, and becomes frustrated that you don’t see how important this information is. And she proceeds to continue talking with women in the church about this new insight into salvation.
It is then that you take your concerns to an elder. The great thing is that you aren’t alone, you have three other ladies backing up your concerns. Maybe the elder seeks out this woman on Sunday morning and hears the same false doctrine. The situation is now in the hands of the elders.
Let me be quite honest here, I don’t want to have to do this. I don’t enjoy confrontation. I would be happy to let someone else do it. But…
Why do we rebuke? What should be the end goal? “That they may be sound in the faith (vs 13). The desired outcome of rebuking is restoration. If our motive for rebuking a false teacher is that we want to be “right” and we feel indignant and want to make the false teacher pay, we need to repent ourselves. Paul is so optimistic about the power of the gospel. He assumes that they outcome of such a rebuke will be that the one rebuked will repent and be sound in the faith. We should take a cue from Paul, and foster such healthy optimism!
If this pronoun “they” is referring to those listening to false teaching, again the end goal makes the confrontation worth it. We confront because lives are at stake! We have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Christ to ensure that sound doctrine is being proclaimed in our churches, and that no one adds to or takes away from the beautiful message of what Christ has done for us, though his love and mercy.
My experience with not loving and accepting sound doctrine, and putting more time and energy into listening to false teaching. I began to doubt some of the key principles of the Bible. I was having dinner with a dear, lifelong friend and mentioned these “radical new ideas” I was mulling over. I am so grateful for godly relationships! My friend listened for a few minutes and then put me in my place. She asked me where I saw that in Scripture and how it fit in with biblical truth. And then she told me that it didn’t. I was embarrassed and offended. But I knew she was right. I heeded her rebuke and her advice, and I went back to reading my Bible. It was still a dry time in my life for some time after that, and I struggled to listen to sermons and to feel passionate about the Bible. But I started praying that the Lord would change my heart. He faithfully did so. If not for the kind rebuke of a trusted friend, a friend who didn’t need to prove anything but cared about my spiritual wellbeing enough to risk our friendship, I may have drifted farther into false beliefs.
Ladies, this is life and death. And it is not popular. Our culture, more and more, tells us to be accepting. It screams at us that there is not right and wrong, there is only what makes us feel good and makes us happy. Michael rightly pointed out on Sunday that our society is extremely tolerant of everything, except those they deem intolerant. What should our reaction be? Should we feel offended by the state of our society and get mad? Should we cave and keep our intolerant views to ourselves? No and no! We should live according to biblical principles and sound doctrine. We should immerse ourselves in good, right teaching. We should ask the Lord to give us a hunger for biblical truth. We should uphold the gospel. And we should obediently rebuke those in our midst who do not.