Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Theology Should Not Divide – Titus 3:8-11



This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. But shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law; for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned. (NASB)

Speak Confidently

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, "I believed, and so I spoke," we also believe, and so we also speak. (2 Cor 4:13 ESV)

After Paul explained the work of the Trinity in our salvation along with previous statements of good theology, he tells Titus that he wants him to speak confidently. What is written for Titus applies to all Christians who are growing in good works and in the knowledge of God (Col 1:10). If we are truly saved, then we have the Holy Spirit in us because we believe. Since we believe, we speak about that which we believe. If we can’t clearly voice our theology, then there are two possibilities. There is something wrong with our theology or we have become lazy babies requiring milk and not solid food (Heb 5:12). 

You may say that the theology is beyond your comprehension because you are not an intellectual type. My answer is that theology doesn’t have to be wrapped in lofty sounding words based on the Latin writings of the Church Fathers or philosopher. I spent two years getting my Masters of Arts in Theological Studies and that taught me a great deal. One of the things it taught me is that many theologians complicate things way beyond the simple faith that is required to clearly articulate why we believe, why we are saved, and the resulting good works. Anyone can speak confidently about what they believe, even a newborn Christian. That is good theology.

Engage in Good Deeds

Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. (Philem 11 NIV)

Works are a reoccurring theme in Titus. There is a contrast between the detestable works of those who deny God by their behavior (Titus 1:16) and the model of good works we are to demonstrate in our lives (Titus 2:7, 3:1). While bad works reveal a person’s ungodliness, good works do not save anyone (Titus 3:5). Rather a person must first be saved then be devoted to good works (Titus 3:8, 14). That is the pattern, bad works versus good works. Bad theology usually shows up in bad works. The slave Onesimus was a perfect example of bad works and good works. Before he became a Christian, he was useless to his master and even ran away. In the same way, as unbelievers, we are useless to our Master and are running in the wrong direction. After salvation, we become useful to God and to others. Our theology teaches us that our devotion to good deeds is the natural outcome of our salvation and this is profitable for others as well as ourselves. If we are not engaged in good deeds or are engaged in bad deeds, then there is legitimate reason to question our salvation. Jesus put it this way, “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad” (Matt 12:33, NLT). 

Shunning Foolishness is not Dividing

Should he [a wise man] argue with useless talk, Or with words which are not profitable? Indeed, you do away with reverence And hinder meditation before God. (Job 15:3-4 NASU)
Eliphaz accused Job of useless talk. Reading Job and understanding exactly who is right and wrong is a difficult job. It seems that much of it is useless talk because God eventually reprimands Eliphaz and exonerates Job. However, this is a gem among Eliphaz’s statements. Paul indentifies three categories of useless talk, controversies, genealogies, and arguments about the Law. According to Eliphaz, these things do great damage because they “hinder meditation before God.” Instead of drawing us closer to God, they do the opposite. 

Controversies

In my previous blog, I mentioned my Calvinistic bent toward the way we are saved. This could easily become a controversy if it were my goal to argue with each person who has an Arminian bent. Instead of using our theology to help us draw closer to the Lord and meditate on His goodness in saving us, we would be stirring up strife and wasting time that could be put to better use. However, it is OK to discuss our theology without animosity and not make it a point of conflict or division.

Genealogies 

If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:  circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. (Phil 3:4-5 NKJV)

Paul ran into some of his opponents who used their heritage to try to undermine his work. They looked to their genealogy to show how they were much superior to Paul. In this instance, Paul must have been fed up with their boasting and revealed his own genealogy. But he readily admits that it is of no gain (Phil 3:7). As he instructs us through Titus, Paul makes it clear that none of this helps our spiritual growth or salvation. Today, we often point to our religious upbringing instead of our personal relationship with Jesus. Our spiritual genealogy may explain how we came to Christ when witnessing to other, but it is Jesus who saves us, not our membership in a church or a long line of preachers in our family tree. If someone is insisting that membership in a particular group (a modern genealogy), that is a theology that divides and should be avoided.

Arguments about the Law

I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. (Gal 2:21 NLT)

Why do people argue about the Law? In the Bible, the biggest issue about the Law was how much of it had to be kept in order to be saved. Some taught that a person must be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15:1). They took this teaching to Gentiles in Antioch where Paul had taught and guided the church. Because Paul and Barnabas could not convince them about their error, the first all-church council was held in Jerusalem to address the issue. The council supported Paul and Barnabas spurred on by Peter’s contention that Christians have their hearts cleaned by faith, not by keeping rules and regulations (Acts 15:9). However, the letter they sent to Antioch included instruction to live godly lives (Acts 15:29). This wasn’t something to earn salvation. Rather it is what they should do because they were saved. 

It seems that there has been a struggle in the Church ever since its beginnings trying to determine what one should do to live godly lives. The arguments are not necessarily about obedience to the Law for salvation but obedience to please God and live lives that please Him. The early Church developed monastic orders where monks and other separated themselves from the world living ascetic lives. Some continue to this day. The instructions to the church in Antioch were quite simple. Today we have a great variety of people who believe that godliness comes only if you adhere to dietary restrictions, abstinence from movies, worship on Saturday, doing no work on Sunday, or other practices that afflict the body. In many cases, these fit into Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition” (Mark 7:9 RSV)! What were the commandments Jesus gave and reiterated? Love God and love one another (Matt 22:37-40; John 13:34, 15:12-13).  All the other arguments over the law, controversies, and genealogies are worthless. Fighting over these things should be avoided.

Reject a Factious Man

Take special note of that man and do not associate with him, so that he may be put to shame. (2 Thess 3:14 NASB)

Several Bible translations render Titus 3:10 much harsher than others. Some say the factious person should be rejected, others tell us to have nothing to do with them. Paul expressed the same concept in 2 Thessalonians 3:14, but he used a very different word. In Titus, the word is paraiteomai, which in this case means “to beg off, i.e. deprecate, decline, shun.”[1] In 2 Thessalonians, the word is sunanamignumi, which means “to mix up together, i.e. (figurative) associate with.”[2] The action in Titus is much stronger than in 2 Thessalonians. It appears rather harsh, but it suggests that Paul is saying we should make an effort to remove him from the church. 

Why would Paul advocate such a harsh penalty? There are at least two reasons. The first is because his continued association with the church would be a deterrent to others coming to Christ. Paul says he is “warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:11 NIV). We must distinguish between those who were this way and have repented (1 Cor 6:11) and those who continue in their sinfulness and still claim to be Christians (1 Cor 5:11). The former glorify God and the latter disgrace His name. The second is the seriousness of the sin that causes division or leads people away from God instead of to Him. Jesus was really tough on those who would cause people to follow the wrong path (Matt 23:15). These people need to be identified, warned about their behavior, attitude, and teaching. Then, they must be quarantined so that they don’t infect the rest of the church. 

Good theology will not divide but bad theology almost always will cause divisions. It is better to take the steps to remove the one pushing the error than it is to let him drag many down with him.


[1] Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary, s.v. “NT:3868”, (Seattle: Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc. 2006).
[2] Ibid., s.v. “NT:4874.”

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