Titus 1:10-16 Gospel Denyers

Sun, 14/06/2015 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

One of the buzzwords of modern society is tolerance. Whatever else we believe or do, we must tolerate other people. We mustn’t be intolerant.

In passing, I’d point out that ironically Britain is becoming more intolerant. There’s nothing more intolerant than a society that has tolerance as its mantra. But that’s an aside. This morning I want to think about the church.

Because this has all affected the church. The church in this country aims to be tolerant.

At its best, it’s a wonderfully Christian virtue. Jesus loved those who were different, who society delighted to exclude. The Christian church should be a place like that. For all our variety, we’re family, and we don’t fight and fall out just because someone’s different from us.

This applies to what we believe to. Christians hold different views on a whole range of issues. Again, we live with that variety; we don’t fall out. Which means you’ll hear different things taught from the front as well.

But in all of this, we need to ask where the boundaries are. Do we tolerate anything? Specifically, where are the boundaries in what someone can teach?

Some Christians believe it’s wrong to drink alcohol; others believe it’s not wrong, but it is unwise; others would say it’s fine – in moderation. Can we live with a range of views there? I think we can. Last month, a vicar in South London allowed Muslim daily prayers to be held in his church. He concluded the event, reading part of Psalm 139, replacing God’s name with the word Allah. Is that a practice we tolerate, accept the variety? No, I don’t believe it is. And this week, his Bishop has said that he won’t tolerate it either.

But where are the boundaries? It’s not my plan this morning to give you a definitive list. What’s acceptable, and what’s crossed the line. You have to take each issue on its own merits, and we don’t have anywhere near long enough.

What Titus chapter 1 does is insist that there are boundaries, and that they matter.

You’ll remember if you’ve been here that the church on Crete was young; Paul started it not long before this letter was written. He hadn’t had time to set up leadership of the new churches, so he left Titus behind to see to this. We learnt last time that part of the job for these leaders was to teach the faith, and also to correct those who teach falsely.

And then today we learn why this was so important. There are lots of people on Crete who were teaching, but who had crossed that line.

So I want to show us two things from these verses this morning. Firstly, I want us to look at what Paul says about these false teachers. He seems to think this is really serious, so we need to understand why it’s so important to have those boundaries in place.

And then I want us to look at the particular ideas being taught. We might not be able to draw every line in the sand, but we can at least learn from Crete about one boundary.

False Teaching Ruins Christians

Here’s our first heading: False teaching ruins Christians. False teaching ruins Christians.

Verse 10: For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced.

“They must be silenced” is strong language. It’s how you might talk of muzzling an animal. Literally Titus is to put a stop to it, make them put a sock in it, stopper them up, silence them – stop them talking.

Why is it so crucial that these people stop teaching?

5 things about these people and their teaching.

First, their teaching is empty. He calls it meaningless talk. Babble. There’s nothing to it. It’s a load of rubbish.

You might think nobody would be taken in by something so hollow and meaningless, but second their teaching is deceptive. People confuse it for the real thing. The teachers talk about God and Jesus, the cross and the empty tomb, God’s love and kindness. There might be nothing there when you peel away the layers, but superficially it looks real – so that people are being taken in. It’s deceptive.

Which means, third, it’s successful. Verse 11: They are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach. This might be talking about families going along with all this. Or it might be referring to the fact that early Christians met in each other’s homes, so that it’s more like what we would call a house group. Either way, the teaching was successful. If you went to a church in Crete, you were watching one family after another, one homegroup after another, embrace this new teaching.

But fourth, it’s damaging. Paul doesn’t pull his punches. As these households go along with it, they’re being disrupted. It’s another very strong word. Literally overturned. It’s the word used when Jesus overturned the tables in the temple. Families, households, homegroups, turned on the their head. Let me put it in modern English for us: They were being trashed by it.

And fifth, it’s selfish. They’re teaching things they ought not to teach – and that for the sake of dishonest gain. What drives these teachers is what they can get out of it. There are all kinds of ways to line your own pocket by teaching falsely about Jesus. But in a nutshell, if you teach what’s popular, what people will like, the latest thing, they’ll happily pay your salary, the book deals keep coming through, and so on. If the truth is going out of fashion, but you insist on sticking to it, those things might start to dry up.

That’s what was rampaging Crete. Empty. Deceitful. Successful. Damaging. Selfish.

A load of rubbish, that looks confusingly like the real thing, so that people and households are being taken in, to their great ruin, all peddled by people who want to line their own pockets.

That’s why it’s so serious. It’s why they need stoppering up. False teaching ruins Christians.

Picture the person who has always wanted a Rolex watch. They save for years, and finally go to a glitzy shop on the high street and spend their hard earned cash. Only later do they find they’ve bought a fake.

They now own a knock-off from a Chinese factory, with nothing Swiss about it. The trouble was it looked confusingly like the real thing, which is why people by them; it’s why the sellers make enough to pay the rates on that glitzy shop. But it’s too late. The money’s been spent, and they won’t get it back. They’ve lost their chance to buy the real thing. And all because a crook ran a scam that lined their own pocket.

That’s what’s going on here. Only it’s not a watch, it’s Christian teaching. The message about how to be saved from hell, for heaven for all eternity. The ruin is not a lost chance to buy a watch, but jeopardising a place in heaven. The knock-off copy of Christianity is just as hollow as that fake Rolex, and just as convincing. So Paul asks Titus to shut down the shop on the high street. To do what it takes to make sure this thing stops, the rot stops spreading.

Now, just to remind us – not every issue is as serious as this. There are plenty of areas where Christians disagree, and our duty is to love one another in spite of our differences.

But in a culture where tolerance is the prime virtue, we are tempted to think that every issue is of secondary importance. That there is no view for which the right response is to ensure the view no longer gets a hearing, that the person is silenced.

This passage cuts across that. Yes, we need to work out where the boundaries are, and not treat every issue in this way, but we need to be clear: False teaching ruins Christians. A big responsibility for this falls to those who lead.

But we all have times when we need to be discerning, and not just believe the first thing we hear that calls itself Christian. Not everything that glistens is gold. Move to a new town, look for a church on holiday, pick up a best-selling Christian book to read. Look for the real thing, and avoid the fake.

False teaching ruins Christians.

False Teaching Focusses on the External

Well, as I say, we can’t look at every issue, but let’s look at the one they were up against. Here’s one example.

False teaching focusses on the external. False teaching focusses on the external.

We find out what the issue was on Crete in verse 15: To the pure, all things are pure, but those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.

There are two kinds of people. On the one hand, we have “the pure”. On the other hand, we have “those who are corrupted”. You’re either pure, or you’re corrupt.

If you’re corrupt, the problem is in your heart. Or, as that verse puts it, in your mind and your conscience. The problem is deep inside you, at the level of how you think, and in the way your moral compass is set. You simply don’t love and cherish those things that are most good. Your thinking, your way of assessing what’s good and bad in the world, is not lined up with God’s heart. That’s where the problem lies. In your heart.

Wonderfully, that’s also where the solution lies as well. We can move from being “those who are corrupted” to being “the pure”. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” said Jesus. That’s what Paul’s talking about here. In chapter 3, he’ll explain in more detail. We’ll get there in July. Because of the kindness and love of God our Saviour, God offers the gift of having our hearts washed, of being born again, of being made new.

So here’s what follows from that. If it’s the heart that matters, it follows that external things don’t matter. They can’t corrupt you. They can’t purify you either.

On the one hand, external things cannot corrupt you.

To the pure, all things are pure. If you’re pure in your heart, nothing you eat, or touch, or drink can corrupt you. If God’s made your heart new and clean, then you’re clean to the very core of your being. Whatever the beer advertisements say, no food or drink goes deep enough to rob you of that.

But on the other hand, external things cannot purify you either.

To those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. If your mind and conscience are corrupt, you can’t mend it with anything external. Nothing is ritually pure, for you. No food, no drink, no rituals, no festivals, nothing external can cleanse an unclean heart.

The problem is that you don’t believe. Paul has two equivalent ways of describing someone. Those who are corrupted. Those who do not believe. If you haven’t received a new heart by faith. If you don’t trust and follow the risen Jesus for yourself. Then external things cannot help you.

Here, then, is one common characteristic of false Christianity down the centuries. A focus on the externals.

You may remember in Mark chapter 7, Jesus was criticised by the Pharisees. They had ritual ways of washing dishes before cooking and before eating, to make sure the food did not defile you. “Why do your disciples not follow those rituals”, they wanted to know.

And Jesus said this: It’s not what goes into you that defiles you. It’s just passing through, on the way to the sewer. No, he says, what defiles you is what comes out of you. Whenever something angry, unkind, or untrue comes out, it’s betraying the problems in our heart. That is where the problem really is found. And that’s where it needs to be addressed as well.

In fact, Jesus said, this focus on externals goes back even before his time. The prophet Isaiah prophesied about this, exposing how people were more concerned with human traditions than with God’s commands.

And so in Titus’s day. Verse 14, this is the problem with the teachers on Crete. They pay attention to Jewish myths and to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth.

And so in every century since, and in our own day. People who say that the externals are what matter. That the being a good Christian is about the services you go to, the rituals you take part in.

It’s the mistake that almost every GCSE RE text book makes. Compare the world’s religions. Christians are those who celebrate Christmas and Easter, who have baptism and Communion, and so on.

The reality is that Christians are people who have been given a new heart by the risen Jesus. It changes everything. It makes you clean and pure before God, to the core of your being. It changes the way you think and behave in every area of life. And nothing you eat, nothing external, can rob you of it. And nothing you eat, nothing external, can imitate it if you haven’t got it.

False teaching focuses on the external.

Conclusion

So how tolerant should the church be? What are you allowed to teach, and it’s all part of the rich variety of the Christian church? And where are the boundaries?

Well, we’ve not pinned down every boundary. But we’ve seen how important those boundaries are. Because there are people, plenty of them, talking empty words, who nevertheless look genuine and take people in, to their ruin. They must be silence, and we must not be deceived. And, in particular, don’t fall for those who would say that the externals are what really matter.

True Christianity is where we follow Jesus. His teaching is what counts, and it’s a matter of the heart.

 

Website Section: 
Sermon Series: 
Additional Terms