Confronting the False Teachers (3:9-11)

The somber tone of these verses reflects the gravity of the situation that Titus faced in the Cretan churches. Paul focuses on the utter uselessness of the false teaching and the depravity of the heretics. Yet a note of hope, however muted, is sounded.

Paul's instruction in verse 9 is to refuse to enter into the false teachers' dialogue (see 1 Tim 4:7; 6:20). Apparently, the arcane nature of their doctrine, which, as genealogies and quarrels about the law suggest, built upon a novel use of the Old Testament (see on 1:14; 1 Tim 1:4 notes; 1 Tim 6:20), led to a great deal of bitter controversy. In fact, throughout the Pastoral Epistles it is controversy (see notes at 1 Tim 1:4) and strife (NIV arguments) that most typify the opponents and their false doctrine (1:10-12; 1 Tim 1:4-7; 6:3-5; 2 Tim 2:23). The final evaluation of the false message and its results as unprofitable and useless stands as the exact antithesis of genuine Christianity (profitable for everyone, v. 8).

Paul's way of dialoguing with the false teachers and those they have attracted is on an individual basis. But rather than talk theology with the divisive person, Titus is to warn (or "admonish") that person "once and twice." As in 1 Timothy 5:19-20 and 2 Timothy 2:25, the purpose of this confrontation is to induce the erring brother or sister to repent, and the admonition is understood to be positive instruction given within the context of a caring relationship. Verse 10 may be the apostle's abbreviated reference to the disciplinary procedure that Christ taught the apostles (Mt 18:15-17; Lk 17:3). If so, then Paul means that an individual confrontation, if fruitless, is to be followed up with a visit to the erring party by two or more believers (see Deut 19:15). If the second attempt also fails, then the recalcitrant one is to be avoided—that is, treated as an outsider to the faith. Although the idea of excommunication is expressed more clearly in Matthew 18:17, have nothing to do with him must mean the same thing in view of the tone of finality of the description in verse 11. Something (presumably acceptance of the false doctrine) has turned the unresponsive one away from God (compare 1 Tim 6:4-5; 4:2). In this "turned" condition, the continuation of sin (the NIV sinful is better translated "he keeps on sinning") shows the rejection of the warning. Finally to refuse to heed the apostolic warning is tantamount to pronouncing sentence on oneself (compare Lk 19:22; Gal 2:11).

There is a warning in this instruction (especially in combination with 1 Tim 4:2; 6:4-5; Deut 32:20) for all who will hear. False doctrine, like the practice of idolatry, will turn one's heart away from God; it may not be possible to detect precisely the point at which the turn becomes permanent, but that this point can in fact be reached is indicated by the descriptions in the verses cited above.

There is also a question to be asked. On the basis of this and other related passages (Mt 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5:9-13; 1 Tim 1:20; 5:19-21), is not church discipline a matter to be taken seriously? The unfortunate reality of sin in the church (see 2 Tim 2:19-21) would seem to call for an affirmative answer. Experiences of excessive and unfair judgments have left their mark on the church. So has the spirit of toleration, which, though positive in many respects, often leads to indifference when practiced uncritically. The fact of the matter is that both the Christian community and the individual must be protected from sin. And the procedure taught in the New Testament is designed for this purpose. Properly executed, it allows the leadership to encourage purity of doctrine and behavior as erring individuals and groups are given every reasonable opportunity to acknowledge their error and turn from it. The process is meant to be a positive one of reclamation, and the church must keep this in mind. Yet it also provides for the judgment of separation to be administered (though still with hopes of reclamation) in cases of stubborn refusal to turn from sin. Paul's letters to the Corinthians show something of the difficulty and stress connected with church discipline; they also reveal how desperately it is needed. Things are no different today.

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