Titus 3:9-15 Gospel Unity

Sun, 26/07/2015 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

Divisions and arguments are always ugly. They don’t belong in families or in business, but they are especially unseemly in Christian churches. We’re supposed to be the first glimpse of a new humanity, united under Jesus’ gracious rule. We’re supposed to be doing good to others, not squabbling amongst ourselves.

And yet it’s all too common. Churches that are focussed in on themselves, arguing away, tragically divided, doing little good to anyone else.

It’s also nothing new. When the Christian church on the island of Crete was barely a year old, there was a danger that things might go this way.

We’ve been looking at this little letter for a couple of months. Paul visited the island of Crete, and started new churches there. His usual practice was to appoint local people to lead the church. In Crete, he had to leave before he could do this. So he left a man called Titus behind to see to it.

These leaders were needed urgently. Already, there were people on Crete spreading a false version of Christianity. Strong leaders were needed. They had to live out the Christian gospel, and have a firm hold on its teaching. Only then would they be able to silence these false teachers, and encourage this young church to live out its beliefs.

Today we reach the end of the letter, and that subject of church division pops up. We want to be a united church. That’s what Paul wanted for Crete, too. So here are 3 steps to church unity.

Stay away from distracting arguments

First, stay away from distracting arguments. Stay away from distracting arguments.

Titus is told in verse 8: But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.

We’ll only see the relevance of this for today once we’ve pieced together the controversies and arguments Titus was to avoid.

Paul is not saying Titus should stay away from all controversy. He can’t be. He’s already told him to take on the false teachers, to win the argument, to silence them. Jesus frequently went head-to-head with religious leaders, exposing their hypocrisy and wrong ideas.

No, it’s not controversy that Titus is to avoid, but foolish controversy. Pointless discussions. Arguments about things that don’t matter. The word Paul uses may imply that the debates were about things that were pure speculation. Instead of studying God’s word, the Bible, and understanding more of what God’s told us, they were arguing for views that were pure guesswork.

The phrases genealogies and quarrels about the law tell us a bit more. They were reading the Old Testament, but not in the way Jesus taught us to read it. Instead, it was obscure details from some of the lists of names, sprinkled with some imaginative approaches to specific laws. And out came some pretty specious conclusions. A few Jewish documents have survived from around this time that do exactly that with parts of the Old Testament.

Arguing about things that were peripheral, not central. Inventing views by speculation, not humbly reading God’s revealed word. Foolish controversies.

When you first meet someone, you look at their face. That’s how you recognise a person. From their face, your gaze spreads out to take in the whole person. You don’t start by studying the toenail on their big toe. Especially if they’re wearing shoes.

When God caused the Bible to be written, when Jesus lived on earth, God showed his face. In spite of that, some people argue that God is not like he’s shown himself to be. Paul and Jesus were quite willing to argue with such people. On Crete, there were arguments. But they were about God’s toenails, tiny details. And because they were making it all up, it was like squabbling over God’s toenails when he has shoes and socks on.

And all they’re doing is wasting everyone’s time. Paul says that these debates are unprofitable and useless. They serve no useful purpose whatsoever. All you get are arguments and quarrels. If people in churches start inventing random and obscure views, that’s sad. But to quarrel and fight about it, to fall out with each other – that’s tragic.

That was the problem on Crete. And Titus was to stay away from these debates. Stay away from distracting arguments, says Paul.

But what about today? Well I don’t know many people who derive bizarre views about God from the fact that Lamech was 182 when he gave birth to Noah. But I have seen Christians fall out with one another, by arguing over really obscure views on the margins of Christian theology. If they’re also issues that the Bible does not address explicitly, it’s even more tragic.

Should we use the piano, the organ, or sing unaccompanied? Should we have red carpet, blue carpet, or wooden floors? Chairs or pews? Stand or sit for the Bible readings in church? How should ministers dress to lead a service? And does it matter if they have odd socks on?

You know what? In every single case, it doesn’t matter. Or at least, it doesn’t matter that much. It certainly isn’t something to fall out about. And yet this is the stuff of which church splits are made. There may be arguments for or against a particular view. At some point, we have to take decisions about these things. But they are not the most important area of church life, and if debating them is consuming more than the tiniest part of your energy and attention, then you’ve been distracted into a debate that profits no-one, and only leads to arguments.

So stay away from distracting arguments, Paul tells Titus. And we should do the same.

Stay away from divisive people

But second, stay away from divisive people. Stay away from divisive people.

That’s verses 10 and 11: Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing more to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

We’ve thought about distracting arguments – wasting time and energy talking about nothing. Now it’s divisive people. The problem with these people is that they’re not talking about nothing.

Look back to chapter 1, verse 9. The new church leaders “must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught.” There’s a body of teaching that Jesus passed down to his first disciples. They wrote it down in what we now call the New Testament. It’s the job of the church leader to pass this on faithfully.

The trouble is, not everybody does. Verse 10: “For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach.”

The church is being divided. One household after another decides they prefer these new ideas to the ones that Paul taught.

The problem is that they’re not arguing about frivolities. Their topics are right at the heart of the Christian faith.

Titus is to warn such people. Then warn them again. Then leave them alone. Is Titus judging them? No. They’ve done that themselves. They’ve chosen to persist in teaching a Christianity other than the original. They’ve ignored two warnings. So they’re warped, out of shape. They’re sinful, defying the Living God. Self-condemned.

So stay away from divisive people.

Imagine that the Coca Cola company has a new marketing director. He’s been in post for a month, and in that time he’s taken the microphone at several press conferences and high profile product launches. But at every one, he’s been seen drinking from a can of Pepsi. He clearly prefers it. We’d say he’s welcome to drink whatever soft drink he wants. That’s his choice. But he’s in the wrong job, and he has no business promoting Pepsi within the confines of the Coca Cola company.

That’s the trouble with these folk in the Cretan churches. We might say they’re entitled to their views about God. But their views run contrary to those of Jesus and his apostles. So they have no business promoting those views within the Christian church. To do so is divisive. Stay away from divisive people.

Sometimes, it can be hard to see who started an argument. Every parent knows this. Picture Titus and the other church leaders refuting these false teachers. I’m sure some people would have accused them of being the divisive ones: “Look, they’re always arguing. So contentious! If only they’d just leave those people alone, we’d be a happy united church.”

But Titus and the church leaders didn’t start anything. That was the people who branched off on their own. By abandoning the Christianity of Jesus, they sowed division in the church. When Titus and the others seek to reply, they’re restoring harmony, by bringing the whole church back to the unity that comes from following the real Jesus.

So Titus is told: Stay away from divisive people. And it’s the same today: If people start sowing their own brand of Christianity, which is not what Jesus and his apostles taught, they’re divisive. Paul would ask us to ignore them. Don’t give them a platform. Don’t let their views spread. Leave them alone.

Stay away from distracting arguments. Stay away from divisive people.

Soak up the life-changing gospel.

Those are the negative instructions Paul gives Titus. The third is positive: Soak up the life-saving gospel. Soak up the life-saving gospel.

We get this in verse 8: “This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.”

We get it again at the end of our reading. Verse 14: “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.”

If Titus is to stay away from distracting arguments, and stay away from divisive people, he’s instead to stress the gospel, the good news of Jesus, the “these things” referred to in verse 8. That’s what he’ll teach. So it’s what the Christians he teaches will soak up, absorb, and listen to.

Let’s remind ourselves why this message is worth our full attention. Verse 3: As human beings, we’re in a bad way. We live for ourselves. What’s more, we can’t help ourselves. We may be very kind at times, but our selfishness keeps popping up.

But then Jesus appeared on the scene, so did God’s love and kindness. Jesus came on a rescue mission. We hadn’t improved to the point where we deserved a rescue. Not a bit. This was just about God being merciful. Indeed, Jesus died on the cross, so that we could be forgiven. He paid for all of it, so that it’s totally free for us.

And so God invites us to trust him. And as we do so, his Spirit gets to work in our hearts, deep down. He washes us on the inside, and makes us brand new. God declares us “not guilty”. And the future is even better. One day, Jesus will return, and everyone who trusts him will begin the most wonderful life imaginable, and it will go on forever and ever.

It’s the best news in the world. And it needs to be talked about, over and over, stressed, delighted in, never tired of.

Think back to the last time you had some good news in your family. A new grand-daughter. Your godson has just got a place at university. Your sister promoted at work. Your nephew just got engaged. You’re so overwhelmed by such good news that you take every opportunity there is to tell everyone you know. Your neighbours, the hair dresser, the taxi driver who takes you to the station, the person in front of you in the post office queue, random strangers in the street.

The good news of Jesus Christ is so much better than any of that. So how much more is Titus to stress these things.

And here’s the point. The arguments were unprofitable and useless. The person spreading novel teaching is divisive. Whereas the good news of Jesus Christ is excellent and profitable for everyone. Because having a firm grasp on what God did for us in Jesus is how God transforms our lives to be good.

We’re changed. Verse 8 – we are careful to devote ourselves to doing what is good. Verse 14: We devote ourselves to doing what is good, in order to provider for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives. Our lives count for something. The poor among us are cared for. We begin to make a contribution.

The church that puts the good news of Jesus Christ at the centre of its life will be a great blessing to its community. That message will change and transform us. We’ll become like Jesus, and all manner of good things will be achieved.

The church that allows itself to be distracted by petty arguments, or divided by the latest ideas, will only focus in on itself. The poor will be neglected. The community will not be served. Because we’ll all be too busy falling out with one another to have time for such things. And more to the point, we’re ignoring the means God has appointed to transform us into people who are useful, profitable, salt and light, worth having around.

And so the church needs to soak up the life-changing gospel. In our teaching, we stress it. We take every chance to listen to it and respond. And we let it get to work to change and transform us. Soak up the life-changing gospel.


And so, if we’d avoid division, here’s what we must do: The good news of Jesus needs to be central. Central in each of our lives, central in each of our families, and above all central in the life of this church.

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