Perspectives In Titus: Avoid False Teachers

Titus 3 9 thru 11

In the past few weeks our study of Titus has focused on how the Lord has saved us by His grace, causing us to look on non-Christians with compassion and giving us both the desire and the resources to perform good works. We left off last Monday with the thought that the doctrines of grace are profitable.

Today’s passage contrasts those profitable teachings with the unprofitable ideas of false teachers. To introduce these three verses, let’s read them within their immediate context.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. ~~Titus 3:4-11 (ESV)

Paul now instructs Titus to avoid foolish controversies, dissensions and quarrels about Jewish law. Remember that the Judaizers were going into the churches in Crete with the goal of compelling the believers to adopt Jewish law as part of their Christianity. In the process they stirred up controversies because their false teaching deviated from the Gospel that Paul and Titus taught.

Paul gave Timothy similar, more detailed, instruction in 1 Timothy 1:3-7, explicitly specifying that Timothy “charge certain persons” not to teach doctrine that differed from the teaching of the apostles. This parallel passage sheds light on Titus 3:9-11.

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown explain that the genealogies referred to here weren’t simply looking up family trees. Rather, they involved systems that ultimately led to Gnosticism. Regarding this particular verse, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary explains: “These Jews were turning the entire historical substance into mere myth. The genealogies were not treated primarily as historical documents but instead were subjected to a highly symbolic interpretive scheme. Names, dates and places supposedly contained hidden meanings which became the basis for esoteric doctrines.”

To Paul’s remark that such controversies are unprofitable and worthless, John MacArthur comments that “Proclaiming the truth, not arguing error, is the biblical way to evangelize.” Errors, such as those infiltrating the churches under Titus’ care, are best refuted by sound doctrine.

Moving to verse 10, we learn that the person who causes division is, according to Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, one who chooses to follow his or her own way rather than than submitting to Biblical teaching. The Greek word means “to choose,” and it developed into the word “heretic.” The idea is that heretics choose their lies over God’s truth. In writing this command to avoid heretics, Paul definitely addresses the false teachers who disrupted the churches in Crete.

He issued a similar command in Romans 16:17, where he stated that divisive people oppose apostolic doctrine. Those who question things in a church that deviate from sound doctrine often get branded as being divisive, but Scripture makes it clear that true heretics divide themselves from God’s Word.

Paul tells Titus to give heretics a first and second warning (compare with Matthew 18:15-17). Barnes points out that these two warnings provide the offender with opportunity to explain his or her actions and to repent. Continued violation beyond that point demonstrates the person’s commitment to rebellion. Therefore, that person must be separated from the church.

Paul concludes in verse 11 with an explanation of why divisive people should be avoided. To put it bluntly, heretics who disregard warnings prove themselves to be warped. Vincent’s Word Studies defines the word here translated as warped to mean “turned inside out.” It communicates a sense of perversion. As a result, they live in a constant state of sin.

Furthermore, heretics condemn themselves by rejecting correction and sound doctrine. Whereas those whom God saves are justified by grace, false teachers condemn themselves by preaching salvation by works and/or by other deviations from Biblical teaching. The Lord Himself, in John 3:18, made it clear that failure to believe in Him puts a person under condemnation.

Obviously, Titus 3:9-11 should first and foremost be applied to pastors as instruction regarding church discipline. As women, of course, none of us will serve as pastors (at least, not without clearly violating Scripture). Yet we have a responsibility to avoid the false teachers that write books and appear on “Christian” television. Hopefully today’s  study shows the importance of such avoidance.

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6 thoughts on “Perspectives In Titus: Avoid False Teachers”

  1. Hello Debbie Lynn! Hope all is well for you and your hubby going into this busy season. I feel like there is often not a very clear definition of the phrases such as false teacher, false prophet, heresy/heretic, For instance some seem to use false teaching to mean doctrine that doesn’t align with their personal doctrine. I’d be interested in your thoughts on what the Biblical definitions would be. Of interest might be Al Mohler’s Theological Triage article as to where to draw lines of separation. It seems maybe Mohler does not use the terms false teacher in the same way many women in discernment ministries are using it..

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    1. I appreciate your thoughtful question, Celia, and I do think it warrants a response. I’m not willing to use my Comments Section as a venue for answering, however. Perhaps I should write some articles addressing this topic, which is extremely important. I can’t promise you’ll like my answers, but I’ll be as Biblical as possible. I’m interested in reading Al Mohler’s article. Thank you for telling me about it.

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      1. Thanks for the response DebbieLynne. I can not imagine not liking something you write. I thought a post with the phrase false teacher in the title would be an appropriate place to request what you think is the Biblical definition of false teacher. I would be very interested to know if you have areas of disagreement with Dr. Mohler. I know we both agree that we live in a time with much apostasy and false teaching. I do worry that the label false teacher is being used a little too loosely.

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      2. I’m actually glad you raised the issue, Celia. I hope I didn’t discourage you (or anyone else) from discussing matters like this in the Comments Section. To be honest, my Personal Care Attendant schedule in combination with the slowness of typing with a headstick limits the time I have on my computer, and therefore I can’t answer questions of this magnitude as thoroughly as I’d like. If other readers can add brief thoughts or link to helpful articles, I certainly welcome their input. While I believe this question deserves a more complete reply than I can offer in this Section, I have absolutely no objection to readers discussing it here.

        In the meantime, I’d recommend Michelle Lesley’s post, Is She a False Teacher , as a helpful discernment tool. Rest assured, I will read Mohler’s article soon. Hopefully after doing so I can write a thoughtful post about it.

        Remember that I rely on this Comments Section to give me direction for future blog posts. If I can’t answer questions here, I’ll very probably answer them in an essay further down the line. So please never hesitate to ask things, especially if something I write sparks your curiosity. Just understand that I may not be able to answer in this venue. (it took me almost an hour to type this reply). Ask with the understanding that I may answer with a full-blown article rather than a comment on the fly.

        Blessings to you.

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      3. DebbieLynne, I am so sorry that you’ve spent so much time on these answers. You do not have to post a response as I fully believe you are reading and pondering my questions and perhaps you’ll bless us with an article sometime in the future. I don’t always agree with you but I know that you are sincere and earnestly seeking to know God and the Power of HIs Salvation.

        I read the linked article to Michelle Lesley. It’s very well written and though out but it doesn’t actually address the question I’m asking. False doctrine equals false teachers is simple enough and I’m pretty sure we can all agree on that point. The question I’m asking is what causes a teaching to be elevated to the level of false doctrine? There are many different views on eschatology but is a dispensationalist a false teacher compared to an amillennialist or vice versa?

        So this is the place where Dr. Mohler’s “Theological Triage” can be useful I believe. http://www.albertmohler.com/2005/07/12/a-call-for-theological-triage-and-christian-maturity/

        Dr. Mohler posits that there are different tiers in regards to doctrines. First tier doctrines are of primary importance – you cannot disagree on first tier doctrines and still be a Christian (think the Trinity, justification by faith etc.) Anything that goes to the heart of who God is and what is THE GOSPEL are of first tier importance. The rest are sometimes labeled tertiary issues and will determine degrees of separation – can we be in a church together, can we be in a denomination together and yet we are all still part of the Body of Christ..

        So here are the questions I have:

        Are false teachers Christians?

        Are differing views on tertiary issues – that is to say issues that are not of PRIMARY importance to who God is and what is the Gospel – can tertiary issues be labeled false doctrine?

        and related

        What elevates one tertiary issue to the level of false doctrine but not another?

        But again DebbieLynne you don’t have to respond or even post this. These are just questions that i have. If you google the phrase Theological Triage you’ll find charts and triangles and other articles but among discernment bloggers there seems to be different ideas as to what are and are not tertiary issues.

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