How to Deal with False Teachers
When a building is on fire, what is needed is not only an alarm that alerts everyone to the danger but a means of dousing the flames.
In his letter to Titus, Paul didn’t only raise the alarm about those who could harm the members of the congregation with dangerous teaching; he also provided his protégé with instructions for how to put the fire out.
Paul’s instructions are not mild-mannered. First he says, “They must be silenced.” The word “silenced” can also be translated “muzzled.” If a dog barks and bites people all of the time, there’s a clear solution. That is what Paul is instructing Titus to do with these teachers, in no uncertain terms: Muzzle them! He also tells Titus to “rebuke them sharply.” He is not pulling his punches!
When we hear this passage with the ears of an outsider, we can understand why someone might say, “Well, I don’t know much about Paul, but he sounds like a mean guy. There’s a level of intolerance here that I don’t really like. He sounds very judgmental.” Indeed, some may hear Paul’s teaching and reject the truth of the gospel on the strength of its offensiveness—unless we translate Paul’s meaning for them.
For it is the seriousness of the situation that explains the directness of his speech. Paul’s intolerance is similar to the cancer specialist’s intolerance of the cancer that he or she seeks to eradicate from a patient’s body. The problem must be dealt with vigorously so that health might be restored. There’s nothing remotely unkind about this kind of focused, principled opposition. Paul is saying, We can’t allow this disease to spread through the congregation, for it can be spiritually fatal.
God looks for those who will fall down at the feet of His Son and say, “All that I could ever do is love You in response to the majestic nature of Your love for me, which has been revealed in Your cross.” The people in Crete were in danger of losing that appreciation. Whether it is in Crete, Cape Town, or Cleveland, false teaching must be responded to graciously, firmly, immediately, and compassionately so that God’s people will be protected from error. Churches must not give a platform to teaching which denies the gospel, and Christians must not give their ear to it.
In the Bible, even those commands that appear harsh and intolerant are motivated by God’s love for His children and His desire to protect us from harm. He wants us to continue to live in wonder at His love—and as we do so, He wants us to be sure to guard our hearts and our churches.
False Prophets and Teachers
1But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
4For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell1 and committed them to chains2 of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;3 7and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8(for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); 9then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials,4 and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10and especially those who indulge5 in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.
Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones,
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