Please read Titus 1:10-16 in your Bible before reading this post.
Years ago, when we lived in Vermont, we were in the habit of taking cross-country vacations to South Dakota pulling our pop-up tent camper. On one of these trips, we stayed at a campground on Lake Michigan. The campground had a beach that was extraordinary because of the shallowness of the water. We had to walk in water quite a way before the sand began a gentle descent into deeper waters. We’ve never experienced anything like it, before or since.
I think of that beach in connection to the adage about hypocrites and superficial people being “a mile wide but an inch deep.” That’s how that shoreline felt; wide but not deep.
The Apostle Paul wrote to a young pastor named Titus, someone he had trained and left in charge of the church on the island of Crete. First things first in this letter, Paul dealt with “mile wide but inch deep” people who were causing trouble in that church.
Verses five through nine are about ELDERS, people selected to lead a local church. The “rebels” are a contrast to the ELDERS, people who are in a church but destabilize it because they behave in a selfish manner. Paul said he left Titus on Crete to APPOINT ELDERS in the usual fashion. Part of Titus’ responsibility was to be able to tell the difference between those who were qualified to be an ELDER and those who disqualified themselves by their rebellious behavior. These “rebels” were clearly church people, not outsiders.
Do not rebel against God.
1. There were MANY REBELLIOUS PEOPLE in that church. (10)
Their rebellion was more serious than a disagreement with church leadership or differences over doctrine; they were actually guilty of rebelling against God. They rejected all forms of control, even self-control. Paul offered two forms their rebellion took.
The rebels rebelled in their teaching; they were MERE TALKERS AND DECEIVERS. “MERE TALKERS” meant they were capable of persuasive speech, but as there was no truth there, it amounted to nothing. Their teaching was also deceptive. As DECEIVERS, their talk wasn’t merely empty of truth, it was more malign than that. It was intended to deceive.
Their rebellion also took the form of advocacy for legalism. They rebelled against the good news of God’s grace and liberty in Christ. For their own selfish reasons, they argued for a return to the Jewish understanding of the Law of God. The text does not explicitly identify them as legalists, but there are two clues that indicate this tendency among the rebels.
First, in verse ten Paul referred to them as THE CIRCUMCISION GROUP because they had formerly been Jews and/or argued that some of the Law still had to be observed. The ancient Jewish Historian Josephus tells us a number of Jews made their home on Crete, so we have it on good authority there was a good supply of Jews about.
Second, in verse fourteen, Titus was instructed to PAY NO ATTENTION TO JEWISH MYTHS OR TO THE COMMANDS OF THOSE WHO REJECT THE TRUTH. This cannot mean to ignore them as Titus was charged in v. 11 to SILENCE them and in v. 13 REBUKE them SHARPLY. Rather, this means not to be influenced by them.
JEWISH MYTHS may refer to interpretations of Scripture or to MYTHS that had developed in the Jewish faith (there are a lot of these). Whatever Paul meant by this expression, he wanted Titus to know these MYTHS had no authority over him or anyone else in the church because they were man-made and not from God.
People who have rejected the TRUTH are disqualified from leadership in the church. No matter how aggressively they told their lies, Titus was not to be intimidated by these rebels. These people rejected the word of God in favor of a more profitable lie. Titus was not to allow himself or anyone else in the church to be influenced by such people.
2. The rebels could be identified by their attitudes and actions. (11-16)
It is a consistent trait of human nature that our attitudes betray what is in our deepest self, including our rebellious hearts. Paul’s Spirit-given insight revealed four attitudes that revealed the true nature of the rebels’ hearts.
First, their motive was greed; they sought DISHONEST GAIN. (11) Notice that GAIN is not identified here as a bad motive here; it is DISHONEST GAIN that is vilified. A person receiving “honest gain” might be called a “professional.” A person seeking DISHONEST GAIN might be called a “scam artist, con man or thief.” The rebels had materialistic motives, making material wealth at the expense of the spiritual welfare of their victims.
Second, in v. 15, Paul wrote that people who are PURE of mind - having an uncorrupted conscience - tend to see or assume purity in others. This tendency to positivity, generosity, and giving others the benefit of the doubt, all point to a pure, godly attitude.
In contrast, people who are IMPURE of mind - who have a corrupted conscience - tend to see or assume impurity in others. Their tendency to negativity, selfishness, and skepticism, point to an impure, ungodly attitude. This is Paul’s use of Jesus’ teaching regarding Jewish food laws (Matthew 5:10-11; Mark 7:14-19; Luke 11:37-41) along with the vision Peter received in Joppa (Acts 10:9-15, 28). Knowing this should motivate us to watch what we say because our words indicate what is in our heart.
A third insight was to refuted the notion that following God was only a matter of attention to ritual and other details of the Law. Grace has set us free from mere externals, free to pursue a relationship with God that is internal, personal, spiritual, and deeply real.
Fourth, contrary to the rebels’ claims of possessing an authentic, even superior, faith, they were corrupt in both mind and conscience. Their superficial devotion was a veneer intended to cover evil hearts.
We’ve seen how our attitudes are on display and reveal our basic commitments; now we’ll see how our actions betray our rebellious hearts.
Verse twelve comes at the truth sideways, but we see how Paul accused the rebels of taking advantage of normal disposition of the average Cretan. In verse twelve Paul cited ONE OF THEIR OWN PROPHETS whose testimony of his own people was harsh. He said Cretans were ALWAYS LIARS, EVIL BRUTES, and LAZY GLUTTONS. LIARS is the Greek word kreitzo. The similarity in sound and spelling is not accidental; across the ancient world Crete was the epitome of lying and cheating. EVIL BRUTES indicates that their self-indulgence was so constant and they so often resorted to evil that they operated on a selfish instinct akin to mere animals. LAZY GLUTTONS is a description of persons who want every material sensation without exerting any effort to earn them.
The “prophet” he quoted was a man named Epimenides, who wrote these lines in 600 B.C. The people of Crete held Epimenides in high honor as a poet, prophet, and religious reformer. Six centuries later, Paul came to Crete and founded a church there. His experience of their “culture” was the same as Epimenides’. In verse thirteen Paul wrote simply, THIS TESTIMONY IS TRUE.
To our modern (especially “politically correct”) ears, this may sound like prejudice on Paul’s part. In Paul’s defense we should note four things. First, Paul here made an accurate assessment of human nature: it is easier to defraud sinful people than righteous people. Second, this observation fits with Paul’s teaching about purity in verse fifteen (see below). Third, we need to discard the false notion inherent in political correctness that all cultures are morally equal and with it, the worse notion that morality is merely opinion, one opinion being as good as another. Fourth, Paul’s point was that there were MANY REBELLIOUS PEOPLE in the church because on Crete, because that’s how most Cretans behaved. This observation serves his point about the rebels and their numbers.
The rebels’ claims to KNOW GOD were disputed by evil ACTIONS that proved they did not know Him at all. Anyone who truly knew God would not choose to behave in the ways these people behaved. Not only are they not qualified to be ELDERS, but they not qualified to be involved with the church!
Paul unilaterally condemned the ACTIONS of the rebels in verse sixteen. A truly godly person lives a truly moral life. Though we all err and sin occasionally, God’s people are not characterized by DETESTABLE, DISOBEDIENT or UNFIT behaviors. DETESTABLE meant “vile,” or “abominable,” behaviors nearly everyone finds disgusting. DISOBEDIENT is a key term. After all, it’s no good claiming to belong to God and not obey His commands; that is hypocrisy. Paul pronounced the rebels UNFIT FOR ANYTHING GOOD, especially eldership in the church. Like counterfeit money, they have an appearance of value but are worthless.
3. Discipline of rebels was required to protect the faithful. (11)
The rebels had to be SILENCED because they were ruining WHOLE HOUSEHOLDS. (11) SILENCED is a strong word in the Greek; it literally means to gag someone by putting something in their mouth. It also referred to the bit put in a horse’s mouth (part of a bridle) or a muzzle. Paul left the means of silencing these rebels to Titus, but the context might favor exposing their lies with the truth. God will back up His truth with His power.
If the rebels were allowed continued access to the church, they would continue to bring division: they were already RUINING WHOLE HOUSEHOLDS. The fact that they had access to these HOUSEHOLDS may imply the rebels had previously held leadership positions in the church. Their illegitimate eldership would give another explanation for Paul’s description of true ELDERS in verses five through nine.
The rebels had to be REBUKED SHARPLY to restore them to SOUND FAITH. (13) This fits with the job of an ELDER who, in verse nine, was charged with responsibility to REFUTE (the same Greek verb as REBUKE) THOSE WHO OPPOSE sound doctrine. Paul had not yet given up on the rebels, as he hoped the REBUKE would restore them to SOUND (“healthy”) FAITH. But he had to limit the damage to the church. Following Jesus’ teaching, he wanted to exhaust every effort to save them, to turn them to the truth. Putting them out of the church was a last resort.
Contrary to the post-modern philosophy that drives American culture these days, the truth is not up for grabs. A person cannot affirm the Bible as the word of God and then claim that there is no single source of authority to decide what is true and what is not. It is not up to us to define the Christian faith by picking and choosing what we like and rejecting things we do not like. True faith is to be received by faith, not created by wishful thinking. Anyone who is saved by faith in Jesus Christ must confess that there is no other means of salvation. This is a foundational truth, a point on which there can be no compromise.
Do not rebel against God.
Last Friday the major league baseball team in Cleveland, Ohio announced that after more than a century of being the “Indians,” they will change their name to the “Guardians,” a reference to a local landmark. I don’t care what the team calls itself: I only want the Twins are ahead of them in the American League Central division.
I mention this only as an example of a nonissue becoming an issue because people who are a “mile wide but an inch deep” making it an issue. This is a modern example of the kind of nonsense the rebels of Titus 1 were pulling.
Some folks who fancy themselves more righteous than others because they championed the cause of a sports team’s nickname are guilty of the same kind of superficiality practiced by the rebels exposed by Paul. It fascinates me how political correctness is a secular version of religious legalism. It spawns all kinds of hypocrisy and is utterly unworthy as a basis for one’s life and behavior.
Paul knew there was a problem in the church on the island of Crete. There were false teachers taking advantage of lazy, immature, and gullible people with divisive and disastrous results. Those folks had an indirect influence on what happened in the local church that had serious negative consequences.
Paul’s response was two-fold. On the one hand, he gave Titus a set of qualifications that had to be met before anyone might be put in a leadership position in the church. This set such a high standard that false teachers would automatically be excluded.
On the other hand, he identified with unflinching detail what was wrong with the false teachers. There is no “diplomacy,” subtlety, or room for “hurt feelings” here. Paul is eager to give Titus all the information and encouragement he needed to deal with the problem.
Our application of this truth must be personal first: don’t be that kind of person. Second, congregationally, we need to confront this attitude and curtail these actions. Third, culturally, we need to take our stand on the word of God to counter the lying that goes on, particularly in politics and the media.
Zondervan Bible Commentary, (One-Volume Illustrated Edition), Titus, Alan G. Nute
Titus and Philemon, D. Edmond Hiebert
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 11, Titus, D. Edmond Hiebert