A Religious Problem
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A Religious Problem

Titus 1:10–16  (ID: 2872)

Why is it so important that elders be men who know, teach, and live the truth? Paul explained that godly leadership is a matter of spiritual life or death for the church. Elders must teach God’s Word clearly so that the people under their care may be sound in faith and able to confront counterfeits in their midst. Warning against shallow religiosity, Alistair Begg helps us see that God desires not external lifestyle changes but heartfelt devotion and love.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Titus, Volume 1

Get It Right Titus 1:1–16 Series ID: 15603

Sermon Transcript: Print

Well, we’re going to read from Titus and chapter 1. It’s page 989, if you would like to use the church Bibles. And we’re going to read from verse 10 to verse 16. Verse 10 to verse 16. We continue our studies in Titus. That’s why we’re here. Chapter 1 and verse 10:

“For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they[’re] upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”


I want to read it again for you, this time in the paraphrase that the late J. B. Phillips has left to us:

“[For] there are many, especially among the Jews, who will not recognise authority, who talk nonsense and yet in [doing so] have managed to deceive men’s minds. They must be silenced, for they upset the faith of whole households, teaching what they have no business to teach for the sake of what they can get. One of them, yes, one of their prophets, has said: ‘Men of Crete are always liars, evil and beastly, lazy and greedy.’ There is truth in this testimonial of theirs! Don’t hesitate to [remind] them sharply for you want them to be sound and healthy Christians, with a proper contempt for Jewish fairy tales and orders issued by men who have forsaken the path of truth. Everything is wholesome to those who are themselves wholesome. But nothing is wholesome to those who are themselves unwholesome and who have no faith in God—their very minds and consciences are diseased. They profess to know God, but their actual behaviour denies their profession, for they[’re] obviously vile and rebellious and when it comes to doing any real good they are palpable frauds.”

Well, I think that makes it fairly clear, doesn’t it? I find Phillips often very helpful, just adding a little bit of bite by the way in which he paraphrases some of the phraseology.

Well, we ended last time in verse 9 by noticing the vital importance of the elders appointed there in Crete to be men who “hold firm[ly] to the trustworthy word as taught.”[1] And Paul tells Titus the reason that that is so important is in order that those men then may be able to give instruction in sound or healthy doctrine and at the same time will also be able to rebuke those who contradict it. And it is with this issue of the contradicting of the teaching that is sound and healthy that Paul then goes on to speak. The conjunction there—“for,” that little three-letter word “for”—that opens verse 10 is the hinge taking us back to what he has just said in verse 9 and taking us forward into the paragraph that now addresses this issue that is so prevalent amongst the church congregations in the island of Crete.

There is a problem that is confronting the church. You might say, “Well, of course, there are always problems confronting the church in every generation,” and that, of course, is true. And there are multiple problems, and that is equally true. The primary problem which Paul is addressing here is not a problem that comes from outside the church but one that is represented within it. He’s not addressing here the problem of irreligion, of those who are so clearly opposed to the truth of Jesus, to the gospel, to the good news, to the trustworthy message.

That they live in an environment that is alien to these things is obviously clear, as verse 12 points out. He very skillfully quotes one of the Cretans themselves. It’s always good to use one of the people who are part of the establishment in order to criticize the establishment. So it’s much easier for me to tell you that Scotsmen are notoriously stingy than for you to tell me that Scotsmen are notoriously stingy. I can take it easier from myself than I can from someone on the outside. And so he says, “Even one of the Cretan prophets, he is able to identify the problem that is represented in the community.” And they have quite a résumé, these people: they are “liars,” brutes, and “lazy” bellies. It sounds like a contemporary rock band, actually: Liars, Brutes, and Lazy Bellies. It’s not a nice picture at all of any kind of community, and he is pointing out the fact that when you find these people who, on the one hand, have a lot of God talk and then, on the other hand, have very little God life, then you realize how close they’re living to the fringes of faith and how the description of the community and the culture itself may actually be beginning to filter in to those who should know a lot better than they do.

So, the problem that he is tackling is, if you like, the religious problem, not the irreligious problem. I think many people today would say, in the strength of everything that goes on in an average week within the framework of contemporary America, that the real problem for the church is the problem of those who are not in the church, the problem of those who are so obviously opposed to it—the societies for New Atheism, or the agnosticism that is fairly rampant, or the syncretism and the humanism that is represented in the surrounding culture. Well, there’s no question that those things are significant challenges, but neither the present day nor church history would bear out that thesis. But rather, a careful reading of church history and a careful reading here of Titus would point actually to the problem being a vastly different problem: namely, the problem that emerges from people who “profess to know God”—those who “profess to know God,” verse 16, “but … deny him by their works.”

“The problem here,” he says, “is a religious problem we’re facing.” These people have a routine, but they have no reality. These people have a creed, but their conduct does not match their creed. These people have faith talk, but there is no fruit that is seen in their lives. In fact, they are not dissimilar to those that he mentions when he writes in his second letter to Timothy, in chapter 3 of 2 Timothy, concerning those individuals who have an “appearance of godliness, but [deny] its power.”[2] An “appearance of godliness, but [deny] its power.”

That’s why I often say to you that church is a dangerous place to be: because a church like this provides an opportunity for individuals to make certain external changes in their lifestyle. So, for example, attending as opposed to previously not attending; listening as opposed to previously not listening; beginning to try and change certain things about what we do and why we do them. In other words, moving, if you like, from a position of irreligion to a position of religion—and then discovering that it is the religion that is actually keeping that individual from entering into the truths that we were just singing concerning Jesus, from entering into the reality of the fact that our standing before God is never on the basis of what we have done by external changes but must always be on the strength of what he has accomplished in his death in making a propitiation for our sins. And until that penny drops, then a church family will be susceptible to those who want to do what was being done here on the island of Crete.

Now, if you look at it with me, you will see that Paul first of all identifies these folks; he points out the impact—the dangerous impact—of their influence; and then he gives clear instructions as to how they’re to be handled. And we’ll use that as the template for going through the passage.

Paul’s Identification of His Subject

First of all, Paul’s identification of those that he is addressing. In other places he uses names, but in this instance he doesn’t provide any names at all. It may be that he’s unfamiliar with individuals themselves. But what he’s doing is he’s describing the characteristics of these folks so that when this letter is read out, if you like, people will be able to say, “Well, if the cap fits, I should wear it. If this describes me, then it describes me.”

It is also very straightforwardly clear that, in verse 10, this was not a marginal problem—it’s not that there were just one or two people that were moving around the congregations—but you will notice it says that “there are many who are insubordinate.” “There are many who are insubordinate.” These folks are marked by rebellion. They are like individuals who had enlisted in an army, they submitted for duty, they took their uniform, they put it on, but as soon as battle commenced, they refused to obey their commanding officer. So they were just a walking contradiction. Why, then, would you ever clothe yourself in the uniform if you’re not going to obey your commanding officer? It’s a perfectly legitimate question, isn’t it?

And he says, “There are many of these individuals. They are insubordinate”—they are rebellious—“and particularly,” he says, “those who are attached to the circumcision party.” Now, he doesn’t exemplify that, and it’s probably wise for us to leave it as he leaves it. It is clear, as we will see looking on, that there is a distinctly Jewish dimension to the problem that he is addressing.

The big danger is in the subtle interweaving of that which appears to be godly and true with that which isn’t.

But these individuals who are “insubordinate” are also, he says, “empty talkers.” They are like those he writes about in 1 Timothy 1:6 who have “wandered away” from the truth and are engaged in “vain discussion[s].” “Vain discussion[s].” So they basically just talk about nothing, but they make it sound like it’s the most important thing you’ve ever heard in your life. They are always the masters of intrigue. They’re always the masters of the esoteric. They’re always the individuals who want to deviate from the main things and the plain things and get everybody off on the sidelines of their peculiarities.

And what makes it so staggering is that despite the fact that they are “deceivers,” they are able to bring people into line with them. They’re insubordinate, they’re empty talkers, and they draw people after them.

Now, let’s just be honest and recognize that there are people who are peculiarly susceptible to this kind of nonsense. You see, it’s not possible to have a product unless you’ve got a market. And if a congregation is not versed in the truth, if it doesn’t have elders such as have just been described here up to verse 9—if these local fellowships in Crete are not, then, instructed in the truth, are not, then, led by those who are able to refute error—then they will be susceptible for individuals who will be prepared to rise among them and seek to draw people after them.

That was the problem in Ephesus. That’s why Paul, when he left Ephesus in Acts chapter 20, remember, he gathers the elders with him on the beach, and he says, “Now, listen here. After I leave you”—“after I leave you”—“there will arise from among you”—“from among you”—“wolves who will seek to eat you up. And that is why I am commending you to God and to the word of his grace. That is why I am urging you to make sure that in your leadership of the church, you stand in the gap for this.”[3] Because as we noted a couple of Sundays ago, where we are is between the apostolic and the post-apostolic church. Paul and Peter and the rest of them are all going to go away by death. And therefore, it is imperative that those to whom we entrust the responsibilities of leadership are men who are able to say, “Hey, wait a minute, that’s not right,” and then to be able to help those under their care to have the same kind of antennae so that they don’t find themselves susceptible to the kind of nonsense that is proffered.

The Impact of Untruth

Now, the danger in it, of course, lies—as we’ve suggested, by way of introduction—the danger of it lies not in the sort of flat-out onslaught approach but in the creeping approach, in the subtle approach. The biggest danger to contemporary Christianity in America is not to be found, as I say, from the onslaughts that come from without. The preoccupation of so many of us with those things is understandable, but we ought not to spend too long on it. It ought to provide an opportunity for us to become increasingly skillful about how to engage people in conversations concerning the gospel rather than giving us an opportunity to just bemoan everything the first time we manage to grab a cup of coffee with some of our friends tomorrow morning and launch into some great diatribe about how dreadful everything is, and how it’s all going to pot, and it was never like this before, and “Who knows where our grandchildren will end up?” and all that kind of thing. What else do you expect, for goodness’ sake? That’s not the big danger!

No, the big danger is in the subtle interweaving of that which appears to be godly and true with that which isn’t. So, for example, Mormonism is a cult. It’s not politically correct to say it, but it qualifies. Look up the definition. It is deviant on the person of Jesus Christ, and therefore, it is not Christian.

Now, to say that is not to say anything unkind about any Mormon friends or neighbors. It is simply to say, “If you don’t understand that, then you are susceptible to the notion that we’re all actually the same, and as long as somebody mentions God or mentions Jesus, that’s really all that matters.” Well then, you may be just as happy in the Christian Science Church. Why don’t you slip in there for a while as well? Because you’ll be stupid enough to buy that one. Because, again, you’ll have your Bible, and you’ll have Mary Baker Eddy with you, with Mary Baker explaining to you your Bible. Without her, you cannot get where you need to be. That’s not true! Or why not try the Jehovah’s Witnesses for a little while? After all, they’re very zealous people, and nice, and diligent, and far more diligent than most of us in seeking to tell other people about their story; therefore, admirable on so many fronts—but deviant in relationship to biblical truth.

You see how the danger presents itself. And even when you step from that into a congregation like this, the danger that is represented is not the danger of those who are standing up to say, “I don’t believe that in the doctrinal statement,” and “I am opposed to that.” No. It is the danger that is represented by people who love to live on the fringes of things with fanciful stories (“fairy” stories, as Phillips paraphrases it), stories that intrigue, stories that draw people away, in this instance stories about your Jewish ancestors and so on—which would have very little impact today, I’m sure—and they combine that, you will notice: “Devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people.”

“The commands of people.” Not the commands of God. These are not people who are being told constantly, “Now, I hope you’ve got your Bible, and I hope you’ve have it open, and I hope you’re looking in it to see whether what I’m saying is actually in it.” That’s not what they’re facing. No, they’re facing people saying, “Don’t you worry about your Bible. You keep your Bible closed. You just listen to me. I’ll tell you what’s in the Bible, and furthermore, I’ll tell you what to do.” And there is a peculiar susceptibility on the part of folks who just basically want somebody to tell them what to do.

And they then will be led astray by “the commands of people”—notice—“who turn away from the truth.” “Who turn away from the truth.” But they don’t say, “Follow me. I’m turning away from the truth.” They have swerved from the truth, and they say, “Follow me, because the truth that you think you have is not the truth you need to have, and you need to understand this about that particular part and this particular notion, and you need to make sure that you’re doing this, this, this, this, and this and that you’re definitely not doing this, this, this, this, and this.” And so what it does is it caters to our sense of achievement. It caters to our sense of self-fulfillment: “If I do this, this, and this, then I’ll be accepted. If I do this, this, and this, I’ll be accepted in the community.” And that’s what you get with congregations that have never understood the grace of God, congregations that have never understood the gospel. You’ve got congregations, then, that are trying to make themselves acceptable to God as a result of doing all these things instead of a congregation that says, “I do all of these things because, in Jesus, I am acceptable to God.” There’s all the difference in the world. It changes everything. And that’s what makes this so difficult.

Not only is their message wrong, but you will notice their motive is off skew as well. Why are they doing what they’re doing? Well, it says there in verse 11: “for shameful gain”—teaching “what they ought not to teach” for a profit that they ought not to have.

Now, it’s an ugly concoction. It’s there for your consideration: a form of externalism that fails to recognize that the problem is on the inside. And that’s why he says, “Listen, you should realize that to the pure all things are pure, but to the defiled and the unbelieving, nothing is pure, because their minds and their consciences are defiled.”

Now, Jesus had to deal with that as well, didn’t he, when he dealt with the Pharisees in Matthew 15? If you want to turn to it, you’ll just see, in his day, he’s tackling the very same problem. The Pharisees came and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition[s] of the elders?” “Tradition[s] of the elders.” Do you notice what that is? That’s “the commands of [men].” “For they do[n’t] wash their hands when they eat.”[4] And Jesus says, “Well, let me ask you a question: Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”[5] Turns the thing entirely upside down. They’re there to ask why they break the traditions of men. He says, “Forget the traditions of men for a moment. Why do you break the commandments of God? If you want to talk commandments, let’s deal with God’s commandments, not your inventions.”

And then he goes on to say to them, “You know, you’re actually just hypocrites, and Isaiah prophesied well when he said, ‘The people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. In vain do they worship me’”—and here’s the phrase—“‘teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”[6] “Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” “And so,” says, Paul, summarizing it at the end of verse 16, “professing to know God, denying him by their works, they are detestable, they’re disobedient, and they’re disqualified—unfit for any good work.”

He then just very briefly mentions that the impact of these people is such that they have to be dealt with properly. And he tells us what’s going on: that they are unsettling—verse 11—unsettling “whole families.” In the NIV, I think it is “ruining … households.”[7] Now again, Paul—and it’s just one page over, if you want to turn to it, one page back—Paul addresses this same problem in Ephesus. And I wonder, when he writes 2 Timothy, if he doesn’t have in the back of his mind the problem that was there in Crete. There’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to these things, because in 2 Timothy 3:5, he’s talking about those who have an “appearance of godliness, but [deny] its power.” They’re shams! They’re hypocrites. They’re vacuous. And they’re to be avoided: “Avoid such people.”

Now, it’s very important to recognize he’s not saying avoid non-Christian people. He’s saying avoid hypocrites. Avoid people who are suggesting by their words that they are orthodox and yet they are denying him by their lives. And he says, “Let me tell you what they’re like: they are the kind who creep into households and capture weak women.”[8] Now, that’s not a description of women per se. That’s a description of a certain kind of woman: the kind of woman, he says, who’s burdened by her sins, who is vulnerable—presumably emotionally, certainly spiritually.[9] The kind of person who’s perhaps sitting in the afternoon, and going on the religious TV, and signing up for everything, and phoning the 800 number, and calling in all the lines, listening to all kinds of things, ordering all the different books, paying attention to all kinds of notions, and yet somehow or another is just completely at sea. She’s like a cork on an ocean. She has no settled conviction. She has no fundamental grasp of the truth at all. It’s a tragic picture.

We’re alienated from God in our rebellion, in our wandering. Our forefathers started in the garden; we live in the jungle. And Jesus has come to bring us back to the garden in all of its wholeness.

And here in Crete, he says, these kind of characters prey on these kind of people. This is how they get into homes like this. They don’t come through the front door announcing the fact that they’re opposed to the truth of the gospel. They come in through the back door suggesting that they know the key to the gospel, and it has to do not with the plainness of the gospel itself, but it has to do with the elements that they bring to it.

So, we meet these people all the time. I had a conversation—I told the people in the first service—I had a conversation with a lady that my wife and I know that… We see her in the community regularly. She may even be here this morning, and I hope she is. But we’re very frank in our interchange with one another. I would never speak behind her back. But she always has the hardest questions for me. I meet her in the store, and she asks… I say, “What’s the question of the day?” The last one was “Why is the name of God being taken out of all the Jewish Scriptures?” That was her question.

I said, “Well, who told you that?”

She said, “Well, it was a man on the radio, and he was explaining it.”

I said, “Well, it sounds like a question for him, because I don’t know what you mean.” And I said, “Well, why do you even care?”

She said, “Well, I care about everything. I mean, I don’t care if it’s Christian or Jewish or whatever it is, I’ve got to find things out.”

I said, “Well, how’s it helping you?”

She said, “Not very well.”

I said to her, “You know, the Bible talks about people like you, who are ‘always learning’ and ‘never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.’”[10] They’re fascinated by this notion, and that notion, and this view, and they get the charts, and the diagrams, and the CDs, and the everythings. I said, “You know, why don’t we just start with Jesus? Who he is; why he’s come; that he is the one who provides the reconciliation that is absolutely essential because of the fact that we’re alienated from God; that your sense of alienation from your family, as you’ve mentioned it, from your psyche, as you’re prepared to acknowledge it, spiritually—all of these things are subsumed under the fact of the great alienation: that we’re alienated from God in our rebellion, in our wandering. We’re exiles. We’re wilderness wanderers. We’re strangers. Our forefathers started in the garden; we live in the jungle. And Jesus has come to bring us back to the garden in all of its beauty, in all of its symmetry, in all of its wholeness. But can’t we just start with Jesus?” And I think that we’re going to have to be having these conversations a lot. I don’t think I run into these people and they’re unique. I think you run into them as well: earnest people, seeking people, “learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Novelty, subtlety, and the commands of men are a really bad concoction. The people start to drink… They drink that potion. It’s really dangerous. And it can be drunk right here at Parkside Church. Listening but not learning; investigating but never believing; seeing the teaching of the Bible as a form, a mechanism, of rearranging our external lives as opposed to discovering in the teaching of the Bible this immense story of the inside-out revolution that has been brought about as a result of Jesus and his work upon the cross—of the amazing upside-down transformation that he makes when he takes hold of a life and changes it. Until the reality of that grips a heart, grips a household, grips a church, then those who attend that church will be susceptible to the intriguing, alluring, appealing concoction of novelty and myth combined with very authoritarian rules and regulations.

Instructions for Handling the Problem

Paul says, “Titus, you need to understand this, so that your elders understand it, so that the members of the congregation will be able to deal properly with those that they find who are inviting them to drink of this ruinous potion.” And that is what he then says to them. He says, “Let me tell you how they are to be handled.” And you can see it just in two phrases.

First of all, “They must be silenced,” or the word could be translated “muzzled.” “They must be muzzled.” Why? Because they’re “upsetting whole families.” Whether he means household churches or whether he means families—nuclear families—doesn’t really matter. It could be both. Maybe it is both. So you’d have to silence them. You just… The dog has to be muzzled. If the dog bites people all the time, if the dog yaps all the time, if the dog’s a jolly nuisance, then muzzle the dog! That’s what he’s saying: “Muzzle them!” Not “Mazel tov!” but “Muzzle ’em!” Alright?

That doesn’t sound very nice; I admit that. He says, “Just tell ’em to shut up. Shut them up! Silence them.” How are they to be silenced? By compelling argument? By the approaches of church discipline? I don’t know. But you daren’t appoint them to lead small groups in your church. Don’t let them loose with a with a small company of your congregation there in Crete. They’ll ruin the entire thing. Now, not because they’re wearing a baseball hat that says, “I am opposed to the fundamental doctrine that is represented in the truth of the Bible,” but because they say, “When I get my little group together, I’m going to explain to them that this little element here is absolutely the key to it, and that if I can bring them into line with these external commands that I’ve come up with and bring them all into subjection to this…” That’s how it goes. And don’t put them in your Sunday school either. Silence them.

And then, “Rebuke them sharply.” That doesn’t sound any better either, does it? “Therefore rebuke them sharply.” Why? So “that they may be sound in the faith.” Now, the “them” there is difficult. It’s difficult in English, and it’s difficult in Greek. Who’s the “them”? Who’s “them”? Is he saying rebuke them, the teachers, or is he saying rebuke them, the listeners? I’m not sure, to tell you the truth, but both of them will do well to be rebuked. The teachers should be rebuked sharply if that’s the kind of nonsense that they’re spewing, and the congregation that is susceptible to buying that potion should be rebuked sharply so that they then may actually become healthy, that they may become sound Christians, so that they may devote themselves to the gospel, not to Jewish myths, and so that they will not be on the receiving end of the commands of people who are actually turning away from the truth.

That’s why he began as he did in verse 9, and that’s why he’s going to continue in 2:1. Isn’t it interesting that verse 9—that the two slices of bread around this rather distasteful sandwich in the middle, the ingredients in the middle—the two slices of bread are teaching? Verse 9: “Make sure that your elders hold firmly to the message so that they can convey the truth, so that they can refute error.” And then what is he going to say in verse 1 as he goes into chapter 2? “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” Teaching, teaching. And it is the teaching of God’s Word, the understanding of it, the learning of it that then provides the antidote to the kind of confusion that is represented in the middle.

A Note on Intolerance

Now, our time is gone. I just want to make one point, perhaps, by way of application.

When you read this passage—and I’ve read it a lot this week, and maybe you have too—if you listen to it with the ears of an outsider, then you’ve got to say that it’s understandable that someone will say, “Well, I didn’t know much about Paul, but I always thought he was a mean guy. And unlike Jesus, who was apparently a nice guy, I’ve heard about Paul, and he’s a mean guy. And actually, now I read this thing, I think he is a mean guy.” Kind of mean, isn’t it? “Shut up. Rebuke ’em sharply. Deal with this. Deal with that.” Is he just a mean guy? “And furthermore, there’s a level of intolerance here that I don’t really like. It’s not politically correct at all.” So the ears of the outsider hear this kind of thing, and we’re going to have to translate for them if they are not then to reject the actual truth of the gospel because of their misunderstanding of what’s being said.

Now, this came to my mind yesterday when I pulled up behind a car at 91 and Cannon Road. I was immediately struck by the fact that it was in my way, and it was covered with stickers. And so I had to wait, and I figured, “I’ll read the stickers,” and that there were some there that I hadn’t seen. But my favorite was right there on the back bumper: “Coexist.” “Coexist,” and all the symbols of the various religions. And I was sitting there, and I was thinking about this morning’s address, and I was thinking about the driver of the car, and I thought, “I wonder what the fellow in the car would think of what Paul is doing here, and speaking so sharply. And I wonder how I could then communicate this to this fellow, who I think would probably say, ‘I don’t like the sound of that. It’s mean. And I don’t like mean people.’ Or who would say, ‘That’s the kind of intolerance that I expect from the Bible. You see? That’s the reason I don’t believe the Bible.’”

I said, “Well, so, how am I going to talk to my ‘coexist’ friend that I don’t know yet, because he’s in his box and I’m in my box?” And I say, “Well, we’d have to start a little bit back. We’d have to start and talk about revelation rather than human speculation. We’d have to talk about the fact that Christianity is a revealed truth, that God has disclosed himself. We’d have to start working on that. We’d have to speak about Jesus and his distinction amongst religious leaders of all time and so on.”

But we would also have to address this idea of coexistence. And I would want to say to him that I like the idea of coexistence, because I actually kinda like getting on with people. I mean, I speak to English people, as a Scotsman. That’s coexistence. Scottish nationalism says, “We don’t want to deal with England at all.” It’s in the forefront at the moment. I’m not doing that. I want to coexist. I’ll include the Welsh, and even the Irish as well. I want to coexist. I want to coexist with the Muslim doctors that I meet at the hospital when I’m visiting. I want to coexist with the fellow in the Dairy Mart who’s a Sikh. I want to as well. I want to do all of that.

What Jesus has accomplished in his death on the cross challenges all of the commands of men.

Now, you may think, “No, you can’t want to do that, because your thing says you’re right and they’re all wrong.” So let’s talk about that just now. Let’s just talk about the fact that we want to coexist. But let’s talk about toleration. It really is quite intolerant, isn’t it, of Paul to say what he says. Why does he say that? We’ve only got one or two options. If the Bible is just a fabrication and a monumental lie, then frankly, let’s just go do something else, ’cause there’s no point in conversation anyway. But if, actually, it is a record, an accurate record, of who Jesus is and what he’s done and why he’s come, then we ought to view this intolerance as the kind of intolerance that is represented in the cancer specialist who is eradicating cancer from the body of his patient. There’s nothing remotely unkind about the intolerant perspective that they’re taking on the cancer. They’re seeking to deal with it as vigorously, as strenuously as they possibly can in order to heal and to make new.

And so what Paul is doing here is saying, “We can’t allow this disease to spread through the congregation.” It’s not a matter of collapsing truth into error and finding the middle ground. We can’t do that, he says. The reason we can’t do that is because this is who Jesus is, and what Jesus has accomplished in his death on the cross challenges all of the commands of men, challenges not only the irreligion of a world that has rejected him, but challenges the religion of people who profess to know God but have no fruit in their lives.

Now, I don’t know how well that would go, but I would hopefully have a chance to say to him…

And you know, it’s Mother’s Day, and the love that God looks for from us is not the love of external religious orthodoxy; it’s the love of a son for his mom that is not marked simply by the tidiness of his room, by the generosity of his spirit, by his commitment to punctuality and attendance at school. All of that could be in place with no real living relationship between the mother and the son. The son may be gone now, living on his own, and he wants his mother to know that he’s still tidy, he’s still punctual, and he never would miss sending her a birthday card. It’s all tidy. It’s all sort of right. It’s all sort of external. But he does not give to her the love that her generosity of spirit and her self-sacrifice as a mother deserves. She doesn’t just want his tidiness or his punctuality. She wants his heartfelt devotion and love.

God is not looking from heaven to try and see if there are a bunch of people on the east side of Cleveland that want to commit to tidiness and punctuality and external religiosity. He is looking 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 that has been revealed in your cross.”

The people in Crete were in danger of having that truth snuffed out. And I think you would agree that whether it is in Crete or in Cairo or in Cleveland, it is the duty and responsibility of church leadership to ensure that every time that ugly concoction raises its head, that it is responded to graciously, firmly, ruthlessly, compassionately, so that the ethos of the church becomes an ethos of people who are embracing one another out of the wonder of God’s goodness to them, who are doing what God says in the Bible not in order that they might discover it to be a means of acceptance but who are doing it because of the reality of their acceptance. And that is what we long for here at Parkside, so that when our friends from the “coexistent” party come among us—they may want to react vociferously to what is said as they encounter the clarity of the Scriptures. And it may well be, then, that it is in the abiding presence of Christ within his people that they discover, if you like, not just the counterbalance but the context in which that kind of clarity is worked out.

Loved ones, we need to pray to this end. This is not an easy time, you know, to articulate these truths. This is not an easy time to live this out. And many of you will have come and said, “Goodness gracious! It’s Mother’s Day, and Begg—he’s got a thing in there; it’s about evil brutes and lazy gluttons and everything. And couldn’t he have come up with something nice for Mother’s Day?” That’s not my job. That’s your kids’ job. You’re not my mother! If you don’t know today, one day you’ll wake up and go, “Thank God he didn’t do the funny stories and the sentimental claptrap. Thank God he cared enough to tell us what would ruin our households.” It’s just what the Bible says.

Let’s pray together:

Father, thank you that “your word is a lamp to [our] feet and a light to [our] path.”[11] And, you know, that’s a long way away to Crete, both geographically and chronologically. And yet it rings true. We’re all susceptible to high-sounding, authoritarian, dogmatic commands that come from the lips of someone who gives the appearance of godliness and yet turns his back on the truth. O God, save us from these people and from these things, and make us the kind of people that understand the gospel so that the gospel then may become the pervasive flavor of our relationships with one another and our desire to reach out to others. Come and abide with your church, we pray. Fill us with your love. Grant that our commitment to, our desire to remain true to the doctrine will be more than matched by our desire to live in the light of your love. We desperately need your help; all of us do, leaders and followers alike. We’re all followers. We’re all learners from the one who knows the answers, Jesus. We all bow at his cross. We all submit to his headship. Hear our prayers, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

[1] Titus 1:9 (ESV).

[2] 2 Timothy 3:5 (ESV).

[3] Acts 20:28–30, 32 (paraphrased).

[4] Matthew 15:2 (ESV).

[5] Matthew 15:3 (paraphrased).

[6] Matthew 15:7–9 (paraphrased).

[7] Titus 1:11 (NIV 1984).

[8] 2 Timothy 3:6 (paraphrased).

[9] See 2 Timothy 3:7.

[10] 2 Timothy 3:7 (NIV).

[11] Psalm 119:105 (ESV).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.