For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 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. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. – Titus 1:10-16 ESV
Like Timothy, Titus was one of Paul’s protégés. He was a Greek Gentile whom Paul had evidently led to Christ. This young man had actually accompanied Paul on several of his missionary journeys and had gained the great apostle’s trust, so that Paul was confident in sending him out on his own on numerous occasions as his representative. In fact, Paul had sent him to the island of Crete in order to help establish some sense of order within the churches there, including appointing elders to help him lead. “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5 NLT). As in the case of Timothy, Paul provided Titus with advice on how to deal with false teachers who had become a real problem within the fledgling churches on Crete.
Titus found himself ministering in a place where the reputation of the inhabitants was far from stellar. Paul even quoted Epimenides, a 6th Century BC philosopher and religious prophet who happened to be a Cretan himself. He said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12 ESV). Paul went out of his way to paint a less-than-flattering picture of the people of Crete. He described them as “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party” (Titus 1:10 ESV). Evidently, not only were the false teachers considered men of poor repute, so were some of the members of the local churches on Crete. So, Paul spent a great deal of time in his letter talking about good works. He wanted Titus to understand just how important good character and moral behavior should be in the life of every believer. Paul commanded Titus to deal harshly and firmly with those whose lives were marked by laziness and lying. He didn’t want his young disciple to tolerate the disorder and chaos these kinds of people were bringing into the church. He told Titus to “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13 ESV). Rebuking and restoration were both to be a part of Titus’ ministry on Crete.
Paul’s objective was to make these individuals “sound in the faith”. There was a real problem with false and deceptive ideas regarding the faith taking place on Crete. The faith refers to salvation as expressed through belief in Jesus Christ as Savior. The false teachers were confusing and even contradicting what Paul, Titus and others had taught regarding what it means to have faith in Christ and enjoy forgiveness of sins and a restored relationship with God. Rather than faith alone in Christ alone, new and confusing gospel messages were being taught, and the result was weakness in faith among the people. They didn’t know what to believe anymore. One of the qualifications for elders that Paul gave Titus was: “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” (Titus 1:9 ESV). These men were to be knowledgeable of the truth so that they might refute falsehood and rebuke those who taught it. As far as Paul was concerned, sound faith was totally dependent upon sound doctrine.
But these false teachers were teaching “what they ought not to teach” and all “for shameful gain” (Titus 1:11 ESV). Paul refers to them as being from the circumcision party. This is a reference to Jews who had expressed faith in Christ, but who held to the idea that Gentiles who became believers in Christ must also keep the Law of Moses and undergo the rite of circumcision in order to be truly saved. Paul fought this heresy with every fiber of his being. And Paul’s fear was that, based on the reputation of the Cretans, they would easily accept this false teaching, and end up “devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 ESV). The Cretans were easily swayed by the “commands” or teachings of these people, readily accepting what they had to say about circumcision, abstinence from certain foods, the keeping of Jewish feasts and festivals and adherence to the Mosaic law. But Paul warns Titus that these false teachers “claim they know God, but they deny him by the way they live. They are detestable and disobedient, worthless for doing anything good” (Titus 1:16 ESV). Paul makes it clear that the real problem with these false teachers was their hearts. He says, “Everything is pure to those whose hearts are pure. But nothing is pure to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, because their minds and consciences are corrupted” (Titus 1:15 NLT). They were obsessed with the externals: keeping of laws and commands, and adherence to rituals and religious rules.
There was an occasion when Jesus was approached by a group of Pharisees and religious leaders, who wanted to know why His disciples didn’t follow their man=made tradition of ceremonial hand-cleaning before they ate. Jesus responded to them:
“And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,
‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:3-9 NLT
Jesus went on to say: “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth” (Matthew 15:11 NLT). The Pharisees had missed the point. They were so busy keeping external rules that they missed the real problem: The condition of their hearts. And Paul knew that the false teachers who were so negatively impacting the churches on Crete had the same problem. Their minds and consciences were defiled. Their hearts were hardened to the truth regarding faith in Christ. They were convinced that there had to be more to salvation. Faith alone in Christ alone was not enough. Works of self-righteousness were necessary. But Paul describes them as defiled and unbelieving. They were wrong and they were dangerous. So Paul tells Titus to rebuke them sharply. He was to deal harshly with the false teachers, and he was to rebuke the Cretans who were so easily buying into their lies. Sound doctrine and sound faith go hand in hand. The Word of God is not open to our interpretation. We are not free to add to the gospel or alter the truth in any way. And we are not to tolerate those who attempt to mislead by misinterpreting what God has said. Again, that is why Paul told Titus an elder must “have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong” (Titus 1:9 NLT).
Paul had also written to Timothy, telling him that the purpose for his letter was that “you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 NLT). The church and its leaders must adhere to and uphold the truth of God, especially as it relates to the message and means of salvation. There is no other gospel except the one we have been given: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31 ESV).
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.