Elders must rebuke false teachers
Series: Titus: A Church That Lasts
The big idea of our passage: Elders must rebuke false teachers. Why? 1. They are divisive 2. They are worldly. 3. They are legalistic 4. There is hope.
Titus 1: 10-16Adapted from Mark Dever’s book The Gospel & Personal Evangelism
Titus For You by Tim Chester
1/2 Timothy & Titus commentary in the Pillar series by Robert Yarbraugh
Let’s face it, as Americans, we don’t much like authority. We don’t like anyone telling us what to do or how to do it. In fact, one of the earliest phrases young children in American learn is, “you’re not the boss of me.” But one of the many counter-intuitive things that the Bible teaches us is that God has actually instituted authority for our good. In many ways, God governs the world, not directly, but indirectly, through designated authority. For example, God doesn’t directly govern any one nation directly, rather, God gives nations governments – his designated authority – to govern nations. And what we saw last week is that God gives the church elders – His designated authority – to govern the affairs of the church. And what we’re going to see this week is a specific function that the elders have, one that’s super important, but affects us all, and it’s this: Elders are to guard the church against false doctrine. Titus 1:9-11a: 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. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced… And if you think the Holy Spirit is being uncharacteristically harsh in verse 11, look with me at the main command in the middle of Titus 1:13: “therefore, rebuke them sharply…” This brings us to the big idea of our passage: Elders must rebuke false teachers. Who are false teachers that elders must rebuke? They’re not just anyone in the church who has a difference of opinion from the elders on mask requirements or the legitimacy of infant baptism. Those are matters of error, not heresy, and honest disagreement among genuine Christians. False teachers, on the other hand, are those who have and promote what Danny Akin calls “heretical math”; they add or subtract from the gospel. The gospel is the good news about what Jesus Christ has done to reconcile sinners to God. The gospel is what Christianity is all about. A good way to summarize this good news is to unpack the words God, Sin, Christ, Response. God. God is the creator of all things, is perfectly holy, and worthy of all worship. Sin. All people, though created good, have become sinful by nature, are alienated from God, hostile to God, and subject to the wrath of God. Christ. Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man, lived a sinless life, died on the cross to bear God’s wrath in the place of all who would believe in him, and rose from the grave in order to give his people eternal life. Response. God calls everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and trust in Christ in order to be reconciled to God, receive eternal life, and be saved from eternal judgment. That’s the gospel. False teachers are those who promote additions or subtractions from that gospel. Many false teachers today subtract sin from the gospel and teach that Christianity is about how you can find fulfillment, meaning, and improvement in life or the good news about how we can have a truly just society, rather than the good news about how sinners can be reconciled to God in whom is found life and justice. Others subtract the response of repentance, so you can keep on living contrary to Jesus, but as long as you “believe” in Jesus, you’re saved. Those are false teachers because they subtract from the gospel. Other false teachers add to the gospel. The most common way that false teachers add to the gospel is by elevating a secondary teaching to primary status with the gospel. I’ve seen this a lot in the last year. “To be truly Christian you have to repent and believe in Jesus and embrace this secondary matter of justice in the same way I do.” “Sure, the gospel is important, but what really matters, what true Christians are truly concerned about is….” And then you fill in the blank with something other than the gospel. These days the most common form of false teaching is elevating secondary matters to a status higher than the gospel. False teachers are those who have and promote heretical math. One final thing you need to know about false teachers is that they’re incredibly dangerous because they’re incredibly subtle. False teachers never say, “hey, I am a false teacher.” Jesus calls them wolves in sheep’s clothing. Transition to “why” 1. They are divisive 2. They are worldly. 3. They are legalistic 4. There is hope.
THEY ARE DIVISIVE
The first reason why elders must rebuke false teachers is because they divide healthy churches. Titus 1:10-11: For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. You may notice that the Holy Spirit seems to be intentionally contrasting the qualified elders who are described in the previous passage with the false teachers. The false teachers are insubordinate; they refuse to submit to the church and to apostolic authority. One way you can spot a budding false teacher among us is that they don’t live under authority, they are an authority unto themselves. False teachers are also empty talkers; they talk wildly about secondary matters as though they were more important than the gospel. In the case of the false teachers in Crete, they are Jewish Christians (circumcision party) who elevate matters of pure foods and ritually pure bodies above the purity and forgiveness that is ours in Jesus Christ. We see this today when it comes to COVID, politics, and issues of justice. It’s wonderful to care deeply about these things. It’s false teaching to talk wildly about them in a way that implies that they are more significant than the gospel that reconciles us to God, unites us with one another, and is the only hope for our lost world. False teachers also have false aims; they seek “shameful gain.” One scholar points out that “shameful gain” “may imply financial gain, but that is not certain…It may mean unfair and deceptive advantage in support of an ignoble cause.” False teachers love controversy and gaining people to their cause. The result of all the empty talk from false teachers is identified in verse eleven: they are upsetting, or dividing, whole families. It’s likely that Paul has whole church families in mind. False teachers who add to the gospel by elevating a secondary matter to a status equal to or higher than the gospel divide churches. Division endangers the very thing a local church is meant to be: a compelling community that shows off the power of the gospel of Jesus to unite diverse people who don’t see eye-to-eye on secondary matters, as family. Division destroys our ability to be attractively different, to be a gospel culture that shows off to the world the difference that Jesus makes.
How might you apply this to your life? Two thoughts. First, take an honest look inward. I say this because the Bible says false teachers most commonly arise from within the church. Is there any secondary matter that is more significant to you than the gospel? Secondary matters are important! Masks, race, politics, Calvinism vs. Arminianism all matter. But when you elevate them above the gospel in your heart, you’ll start to divide. Is there anything that needs to be put in its place? Second, when your elders have to openly rebuke energetic contrarians who are contradicting sound teaching, stand with us. Sadly, because there have been so many abuses of pastoral authority, some naturally see any exercise of pastoral authority as abusive. As the old saying, that’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Encourage your elders when we do the gut-wrenching work of rebuking people we may deeply love who are adding to or subtracting from the gospel.
THEY ARE WORLDLY
The second reason why the Holy Spirit commands elders to rebuke false teachers is because the church is meant to be attractively different. We are meant to be different and distinct from the world around us because instead of following the gods of the world, like comfort, approval, beauty, success, wealth, significance, simplicity, intelligence, and power, we follow one true God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The church is to be different from the world around us, but also attractive in the way that Jesus was. Sinners flocked to Christ because He is gentle and lowly in heart and provides rest for our souls. The church is meant to be attractively different, like Jesus. We are meant to be Christian. And that’s why energetic contrarians in the Cretan churches who contradict sound doctrine must be silenced. They are more Cretan than Christians. Titus 1:12-13a: One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply… Titus, elders, and all Christians to a lesser extent, must be firm against false teachers who would make us more Cretan than Christian. As one scholar writes, “Titus must leave no doubt but rather be decisive, forthright, and persistent in laying out the truth regarding what the troublemakers are twisting (Yarbrough.” Another scholar writes, “weak and tentative response to their misdeeds would only make the evil worse” (Schlatter). Why? Because these energetic contrarians who contradict sound teaching are more worldly than godly, they’re more Cretan than Christian and they will draw God’s precious people astray. It’s important to note that Paul is using a rhetorical device and not throwing shade at Cretans. He loves Cretans so much that he risked his life to bring the gospel to them. This is like me saying, “Americans are materialistic and sexually obsessed.” Of course, I don’t mean every single American and I love Americans so much that I’d rather plant churches among them than throw shade. Paul is alerting Titus to the urgency of the situation. False teachers pull the church from being attractively different to no different at all, from being Christian to Cretan, from being godly to worldly. That’s why we must be persistent in laying out the truth regarding what troublemakers are twisting (Yarbrough). The church needs elders who are willing to rebuke.
How might you apply this to your life? I think it’s important for you to know what to do when you notice someone or a small group of people in our church who you suspect may need to be sharply rebuked because their influence is more worldly than godly. The Lord Jesus Christ guides us into a multi-step process of loving confrontation in Matthew 18. The first step Jesus says is to have an honest conversation with the person or people alone, in order to guard against gossip. Matthew 18:15: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. If that doesn’t work, the loving confrontation should escalate by including others. This is often a good time to seek the guidance of one of your elders. Matthew 18:16: But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the person or people will still not listen to a few, the church should be involved so that the weight of the community can bring them to repentance or confirm that they can no longer be called a brother and included in church membership. Matthew 18:17: If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
THEY ARE LEGALISTIC
The third reason why elders must rebuke false teachers is because they’re legalistic. Titus 1:13-16: Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. These verses provide the clearest window into who these false teachers were and what they were teaching. They’re clearly Jewish Christians. Of course, there is no hint of anti-Semitism here. Paul himself was Jewish and had the deepest longing that his Jewish brethren believe in Jesus the Messiah. What these Jewish Christians seem to have been teaching is that to be truly Christian one must both believe the gospel and become Jewish by being circumcised if male and by observing Jewish purity rites and only eating foods that the Law of Moses taught to be pure and clean. That is the false gospel of legalism. They taught Jesus + something not explicitly taught in Scripture is what you need to be the real deal and truly right with God. That’s legalism.
Edit here: legalism doesn’t change the heart. Legalism divides. Obedience is not legalism and obedience unites.
The reason why these false teachers need to be sharply rebuked is because Jesus + _____ upsets and divides entire churches. We see this today. Good Christians love Jesus and are democrats because only democrats care about the poor. And now the church is divided. Good Christians love Jesus and are republicans because only republicans care about morality. And not the church is divided. Just this week I received an email from a gentlemen who doesn’t attend our church asking why I don’t tell all of you what to do regarding the COVID vaccine. Because I can’t draw a straight line from the Bible to whether you should or shouldn’t not get vaccinated. I think you should, but I cannot command it from Scripture and so I won’t divide us over it. It’s a matter of wisdom and Christian freedom. Friends, do not be taken captive by Jesus + ____ voices. Do not be taken captive by those who say that to be a good Christian you have to do anything that isn’t explicitly taught in Scripture or derived in principle from Scripture. Pay no attention to them. Be enthralled by what the Bible is clear on rather than divisively obsessed with what it’s not clear on.
THERE IS STILL HOPE
As we close, I want to return to the heart of our passage. Titus 1:13: Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith… The ultimate reason why the elders and the church members rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine is because there is still hope for energetic contrarians who twist the truth. And that hope is the gospel. Sound faith is gospel faith. The gospel is the glorious news that the creator God is forgiving, redeeming, and adopting sinners from every tribe, tongue, and nation as his very sons and daughters. And God is doing all that redeeming not by Jesus + something, but through the perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, just as the Old Testament promised that he would. The gospel is good news about what God has done not just to save sinners but to forgive false teachers, insubordinates, and energetic contrarians. It’s the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ that solidifies our backbones so that we can rebuke false teachers and melts our hearts so that we’ll give up being false teachers. So, when we rebuke those who contradict the gospel, let us always do so in the spirit of Jesus. We never rebuke to hurt someone. We avoid being overly hard or acting in a way that unnecessarily does irreparable damage because we rebuke in the hope of the gospel. And if you are living as an energetic contrarian, teaching things you ought not to, the gospel is good news that you can turn from divisive, worldly ways, because in Christ there is grace and forgiveness. There is still hope and a gospel culture lives in that hope, gospel-hope, even when we rebuke.