Summary: Troublemakers are in every church. St. Paul advices Titus to ignore troublemakers and focus on good works. Good works seen as best way to focus community and combat dissention.
Do you remember growing up and receiving unsolicited advice from your parents? I always hated listening to these lectures on life because I thought I knew infinitely more that my folks. I thought they knew nothing. Certainly it was they who needed enlightening by me. Mark Twain sums up my point best when he said, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
The willingness to take advice is the sign of maturity. It’s been my experience that high achievers listen carefully to others and are willing to accept constructive advice. Today, our world is complicated, integrated, and changing. No one person can know all facets of each situation and we’ve become a society of experts. In order to harness the knowledge and experience of others we must be willing to accept advice and change our behavior. In the workplace new employees are wise to heed the advice of their co-workers. For example, it’s always good to know company policy and learn what are the boss’ pet peeves. New employees that want to get ahead are advised to find a mentor to guide their professional development. Mentors are invaluable resources because they assist new employees establish critical relationships and they articulate behaviors that are rewarded and frowned upon by the organization. Mentors also point out who are the problem people in the company. It is always good to know who you can trust and who are the backstabbers, the opportunists, and the slackers.
Today in St. Paul’s letter to Titus 3:8-15 we see the mentor, St. Paul giving advice to Titus on the island of Crete. St. Paul advises Titus on how to handle difficult situations and neutralize the troublemakers that are disrupting the newly formed church on the island. Titus was the bishop of Crete and this pastoral letter outlines guidelines for godly church leaders. Previously in this pastoral letter, St. Paul spoke about establishing church unity and order for the Cretan Christian churches. St. Paul spoke about qualifications for church leadership. Church leaders should maintain a godly lifestyle, they must be excellent teachers, and be inspired by the Holy Spirit. While all of these qualities are necessary, unfortunately most leaders encounter opposition and these destructive forces can derail their ministry. These destructive forces can cause disharmony, corrupt the vision of the community, and hamper the effectiveness of the Gospel through undo attention to petty arguments.
St. Paul first advises Titus to avoid getting involved in foolish controversies. It’s interesting to point out that the Greek word for foolish is moros, from which we derive the word moron. Titus was to avoid having anything to do with moronic controversies. The word controversy in it’s Greek context means that one should avoid theological speculation. Throughout church history there have always been religious “know-it-alls”. These false teachers speculate that they have the inside track on “divine” revelation and claim to “really know” what God is trying to tell his people. Some examples include controversies involving the “Second Coming” or false teachings about new knowledge not included in the bible. A specific controversy is the supposed lost “Gospel of Judas” that was mysteriously found last year. It’s interesting to point out that there is nothing new about this gospel. The false gospel was not lost, but simply thrown away by the Church hundreds of years ago because of its false, speculative theological content. Titus and the modern church are advised that it is a waste of time to discuss these meaningless controversies because they take the church away from its main mission to nurture the faithful and spread the Gospel.
False teachers claiming that they had superior spiritual standing with God also infiltrated the Church of Crete. These false teachers modified the Old Testament genealogical lists by inserting the names of mythical people. False teachers would then claim that that they were related to these mythical people and would assert that their ancestors were part of the Messianic lineage. The false teachers would also fabricate stories about these mythical people to enhance their standing and credibility within the Christian community. St. Paul advised Titus to avoid people insisting on genealogical lists and condemned the allegorical interpretations made by these false teachers. As Christians, we know that we are responsible for our own actions and are judged based on our own application to the Gospel message. We are told that the greatest among us is the servant of all. Our birthright and our ancestry do not affect our salvation. Instead, our salvation is entirely based on the choices we make using our free will.
The Cretan Church was bogged down in petty arguments and quarrels over the Mosaic Law. Titus was told to avoid these dissentions and quarrels that were based in self-centered rivalries. Within any organization there are always dissenting opinions and arguments on how things should operate. Unfortunately, petty arguments can divert a church from its mission to win people over for the Gospel. I understand that sometimes there are legitimate, constructive disagreements within the church regarding doctrine and the church’s particular calling or mission. These discussions are constructive because they challenge believers to articulate the faith and to call upon God for guidance and strength. Self-centered arguments, however, seek to divide the fellowship and are a power grab by the dissenters. Troublemakers need to be lovingly neutralized so that the overall mission of the church is not compromised. In Titus’ case, dissentions arose over the Mosaic Law whereby Jewish Christians sought impose the legalities of the Mosaic Law on the Christian Church. Ancient dissenters and modern day legalistic troublemakers must be exposed if their arguments are not consistent with the spirit of the Law. Too often people become obsessed with legalistic, petty arguments on Church procedure and ignore their sacred calling. Our theology, tradition, governance, and worship were developed so that we can be united in the Body of Christ in the Spirit of God. God’s laws and traditions are in place to bring sinners to Christ rather than drive them away. Our Gospel is testimony to Jesus Christ coming to save the world and legalist arguments that do not support this basic Christian message are unprofitable and futile.