The Double-Edged Sword Used to Contend for the Faith – Titus 3:8-11
We are drawing to the close of Paul’s letter to Titus and in fact these verses conclude much of Paul’s overarching argument. The whole of this letter has developed certain themes. The need for sound doctrine or healthy teaching permeated Paul’s instructions for the elders in chapter one. The need to be sensible was repeated throughout chapter two in Paul’s exhortation to church members. And the emphasis on good deeds/works seems to be the thread that runs the whole length of Paul’s instruction to Titus.
As we look at these themes in the context of Paul’s purpose statement in 1:5, we can say that Paul’s overall emphasis to Titus and the Cretan churches is that theology informs and motivates our practice. With these concluding verses, Paul reminds Titus how to use the double-edged sword of the Spirit to contend for the faith and exhort holy living.
Promote Healthy Teaching (v. 8)
“This is a trustworthy saying. And concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be intent to lead in good works. These things are good and profitable for men.”
Any student of Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus should recognize this opening phrase. This is the fifth time Paul has used this phrase “faithful saying.” We could compare this verse to 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; and 2 Tim 2:11. In all of these cases Paul is exhorting the reader (whether Timothy or Titus) that what he is about to say or what he has already said is a tried-and-true statement that can be taken to the bank. The question before us is: what is “the faithful saying?”
Affirmation of what is trustworthy – Most of these other references are used to introduce the faithful saying, but in 1 Tim. 4:9 it seems that Paul used this phrase as a conclusion rather than an introduction. The same is true here. It is specifically the strong doctrinal statement of salvation by God’s mercy and not of our works that marks the contents of this faithful saying, but in reality, Paul is pointing to the totality of 3:1-7. The whole gambit of Paul’s exhortation to live in submission and humility based upon the power of transformation found in the gospel of Jesus Christ is the faithful saying.
Exhortation to continue teaching – Paul states very plainly what he desires Titus to do with this faithful saying. He wants Titus to take all these things (i.e., all that he has already proclaimed regarding the humility of Christians and the implications of the merciful gospel) and to speak them confidently. This term speak confidently (διαβεβαιοῦσθαι) only appears one other time in the entire NT and in a very interesting context. In 1 Timothy 1:7 Paul is warning Timothy about the false teachers in Ephesus and describes them as men who do not understand anything that they say and yet they make confident assertions (διαβεβαιοῦνται) about them. In contrast to the false teachers who speak boldly about things that they are ignorant of, Titus is commanded to speak with the same force and confidence. The difference being is that Titus will speak a faithful, true, and trustworthy word (πιστὸς ὁ λόγος) instead of speaking of things to which he has no understanding.
Purpose of healthy teaching – The purpose of all preaching, all theology, and all instruction has the end goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Titus’ mission on Crete is no different. He must contend for the faith so that those on Crete who are actually believers in God (those who have already repented of their sin and placed their trust in Christ alone) will be intent to engage in good deeds. There is no use for theoretical theology nor instruction that never ends in application. The reason why Titus must proclaim these things with confidence and boldness is so that Cretan believers will be moved to put their theology into practice.
These good deeds/works again reflects the Greek term καλός (good/wonderful/beautiful). This is the term that the LXX uses to describe the good work of God’s creation. The purpose of Christian theology is to produce Christian living; lives indicative of the coming new creation by creatures who have been made new. Errant theology not only teaches what is factually incorrect, but it also carries implications that lead to lives that are not good. Right living is only produced by right teaching. Therefore, the place to address wrong living (clearly an issue in ancient Crete [1:12-13]) is by correcting wrong teaching. There is a wedding of faith and practice strung throughout this book that we must not divorce. We do not prize theology over practice nor vice versa. Both are necessary. But orthopraxy is only begotten by orthodoxy.
Explanation of healthy teaching’s benefits – This verse concludes with an explanation of the benefits of this right and sound teaching. “These things” points back to the “things” of which Titus is to speak confidently. Titus is to speak confidently of the things found in the faithful saying. In other words, the entirety of chapter 3 up to this point is both good (καλός) and profitable (ὠφέλιμιος – beneficial/useful/advantageous) to mankind. Paul uses the exhortation for humility and also the reason for humility in this statement. The good news of God’s mercy on wicked sinners and the life that redeemed saints are to lead is most certainly good and profitable for all men because this not only displays but also declares the righteousness of God revealed (Rom. 1:17).
Avoid False Teaching & False Teachers (vv. 9-11)
“But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and conflicts about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.”
The sword of the Spirit used to contend for the faith truly is a double-edged sword and thus cuts both ways. What follows is a natural contrast. If Titus is to continue to boldly and confidently exhort what he knows to be true, he must put forth the same energy into avoiding false teaching as well as false teachers.
False Teaching (v. 9) – It is important to notice that the false teachers themselves are not in view in v. 9, though Paul will certainly address them in vv. 10-11. What we see here is a brief summary of the false teaching surrounding the early churches. Foolish controversies (lit. moronic debates) indicates the fashion in which these false teachers bring their ill-founded theology to the town square. The term debates/controversies (ζήτησις) is only used three times by Paul (1 Tim. 6:4; 2 Tim. 2:23; Tit. 3:9). In 2 Tim. 2:23 he calls them ignorant/uneducated debates (ἀπαίδεουτος) and here he calls them foolish/stupid/moronic (μωρός). False teachers love to argue even though the contents of their arguments are quite ridiculous.
Genealogies are the content of these moronic debates. Foolish speculations about the origins and descendants of persons for who knows what purpose. These naturally lead to strivings and fights in regard to the law. The “law” here is likely a reference to the Mosaic Law. It seems that the opponents on Crete have much in common with their vile counterparts in Ephesus.
This is hardly an exhaustive description of the false teachers on Crete. Paul simply brushes over the highpoints in order to show the ridiculousness of their position. They guard tightly the things which Scripture either speaks nothing about or of things which Scripture overtly speaks against. There’s a word that describes these sorts of teachers, and we see it in the next verse. For now, note what Paul commands Titus to do with this sort of teaching.
What our English versions call “avoid” might be more vividly translated as “shun” (περιΐστημι). The idea is to circle this teaching with a wide berth so as to never come into contact with it. The reason for this is obvious; this teaching is useless and worthless. This teaching has the exact opposite effect from sound and healthy teaching which is intrinsically good and beneficial. False teaching always has this fruitless and worthless result. If words are vain and carry as much weight as the wind, then what else could they produce but useless and worthless lives?
False Teachers (vv. 10-11) – Paul then moves from the teaching to the teachers. Again, our English versions produce a rather tame rendering of the original. What we read as “a factious man” is literally “a heretical man” (αἱρετικόν ἄνθρπον). A heretic (αἱρετικός) describes one who is part of a sect or group. By calling these teachers heretics, Paul states plainly that they belong to some group other than the church. It’s really much more simple than modern Christianity tends to make it. If one teaches, believes, and affirms what is not found in Scripture or what obviously and objectively is contrary to Scripture, then one cannot be part of the Christ’s church. As such, that one is in a sect wholly other than the church and is by very definition, a heretic. The term factious is used here because if a heretic is teaching within the church, he will naturally produce factions.
There is a point here that we must take some time to consider. The one in error is always the one who is making divisions and factions in the church of Jesus Christ. It matters not if the one in error is in a position of authority or celebrity. The one teaching error is the one making divisions, not the one who is correcting error. It is an impossibility for one to divide Christ’s church while speaking and teaching truth.
With this in mind, it may be easier to understand Paul’s strict instructions regarding such a person. He is to be rejected or put out of the assembly after a first and second warning. Paul is referencing Jesus’ own words as recorded by his fellow apostle, Matthew (Matt. 18:15-20). These warnings (νουθεσία) refer to instruction and admonition to cease and desist. These fellows have been warned regarding the implications of their teachings and have been begged to repent of their views. If they have not repented after being privately counseled and then publicly rebuked, then they are to be put out of the church.
Verse 11 is important for Titus to understand, for it gives the basis for such a seemingly harsh sentence. If a man is suspected of teaching error, the elders must confront him in order to make certain that he is indeed holding to error. If it has been determined that he is indeed teaching error, he must be corrected and asked to repent. If he refuses on multiple occasions, he has condemned himself. By his own words he has proved that he is set in his perverted ways and is currently in sin. By his steadfast adherence to his heresy, he has affirmed that he is no teacher of righteousness or the gospel and has proverbially signed his own death warrant. The sword of the Spirit is double-edged indeed. With this same sword Titus must defend the faith, but with it he also prunes the dead branches.
If the modern church has proven anything it is that she is extremely tolerant of heresy. Heresy is that which is foreign or contrary to Scripture and thus a heretic is one who holds to such heresies. By definition, heresy includes (though is certainly not limited to) doctrines such as female pastors, liberation theology, critical race theory, the replacing of Israel by the church, baptismal regeneration, theistic evolution, and many other teachings that are widely accepted in most evangelical circles. None of these are found in Scripture and in fact all of them run contrary to the plain meaning of Holy writ. None of them produce godliness nor encourage the saints to abound in works fitting a new creature. All of them are worthless and useless and must be shunned along with those who propagate them. Some may not realize the gravity of their error and are in need of a first and perhaps a second warning. But if they continue to cling to their heresy, then they must be set adrift so as to preserve Christ’s bride. She is to be holy and unblemished. It is the duty of the minster to keep her clean until the Bridegroom returns for her. Soli Deo Gloria!