Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning. For you know that such a person has gone astray and is sinning; he is self-condemned.-Titus 3:10-11
Have you ever met someone, who seems like all they want to do is argue?
Have you been that person?
A nice event or gathering is ruined by a person who is obnoxious with their words and tone.
They might be condemning, or judgemental; harsh or attacking.
Some people seem to purposely say things to get others annoyed or angry.
It is one thing to hold a differing opinion, but quite another to purposely stir up strife.
Why would a person want to and even enjoy getting someone’s goat?
This is the kind of thing and the sort of person that Paul is talking about here, to Titus. A divisive person.
What were these foolish debates?
Examples of these kinds of controversies that the Jewish commentaries have preserved are the following. Should a Jew eat an egg laid on a festival day? What sort of wick and oil should a Jew use for candles he burns on the Sabbath? The genealogies in view were speculations about the origins and descendants of persons, which some thought had spiritual significance (1)
Does that sound familiar, if not in content, but in tone, to someone you have met? People came to church and wanted to quarrel over these matters.
I have learned that professed Christians who like to argue about the Bible are usually covering up some sin in their lives, are very insecure, and are usually unhappy at work or at home. (5)
Paul says, “avoid”, which means to turn away from, so as to face away from it. And the reason why, in a nutshell, is that such debates are unprofitable and useless. A waste of time and energy.
But why? Because they are divisive.
Simpson, writes that the word here, translated ‘divisive’, is:
An opportunistic propagandist who promotes dissention by his pertinacity. (2)
The King James Bible has ‘heretic’ here:
If a man is a heretic, after the first and second admonition reject him,
Heretic is an overused word today. I’ve also never liked the misuse of words like ‘highjack’ or ‘crusade’.
Simpson’s definition is closer to the original meaning, than how we use heretic today. The point is the divisiveness of such a person, and not their ‘heresies’.
We need to say, “you are being divisive, and you need to stop”, and not say, “you are a heretic, and you need to leave.” We are quick to call people names: racist, bigot, ____phobe, luddite, liar, nazi, socialist, or misogynist.
Divisiveness is the problem. Debate, differences, discussions, and disagreements are totally normal- a healthy part of life together that we expect and embrace.
But divisiveness is different.
The divisive person can not agree to disagree.
They can not mix in and be part of a family of people who hold different opinions or see things differently or have different traditions- ways and practices to express their faith.
In a group, everyone does not believe everything and all that the others believe. Some have stronger faith. Some have come to different conclusions. Yet we live together and are able to discuss, debate, and disagree on things.
A divisive person is not able to do this.
Not able to live at peace and in love with differences between us, but seeks to constantly divide over those things.
A literal translation of that word could also be sectarian. Sectarianism is a sin. It’s wrong.
Sectarianism is when you do not recognize the body of Christ, but want to remake it after your vision of what it should be.
A sectarian is a person who, when they come into contact with you, notices the differences and wants to fight over them. ‘Chip on their shoulder’, or ‘axe to grind’, are phrases that might describe these people.
We all have differences of opinions. A group of people can all believe in Christ, who he is and what he did, but come from different traditions of how we worship, how we celebrate communion, how church services are run, and how to live out the life.
The divisive (“stirs up division”, ESV) person enters into a group of Christians and divides them in a harsh way.
I think one of the keys is that this person is not making disciples of Christ, but of him/herself and of their doctrine. They make doctrinal arguments, but where is the love for Christ and the desire to see people work out their lives with the living savior?
This is the character of the false teacher that Paul warns Titus about. The key is their character. A person can even have seemingly good doctrine but bad character. Seeming gifts without fruit.
Jesus said, you will know them by their fruit (Matt. 7:16).
Debate, discussions, and learning through questions; are all good. But this is something different.
Have you ever had a discussion in a classroom, or with friends or family. or in a fellowship situation; that was edifying? You enjoyed the company and learning something new. You might be frustrated and say that you understand the other point of view or you may be persuaded to change your mind. You may end the discussion saying, “wow, now I have to think about this”.
But a toxic conversation is something else, where you are not edified. With a divisive person, you walk away feeling bad to worse.
The person to avoid and reject, after two warnings is pertinacious:
a steadfast adherence to an opinion, purpose, or course of action in spite of reason, arguments, or persuasion (Webster’s)
If you say, “he’s obsessed with this”, of “she just won’t listen”, it might be petinacity- an unhinged, twisted obsession with an opinion. Making something, ‘a hill to die on’, that should be set aside, for the sake of unity.
What does it mean to reject this person?
It is a vague term (cf. 1 Tim. 4:7) which does not convey the idea of excommunication, but means merely ‘to leave out of account’. The first approach to these false teachers is to be by means of admonition… The lenience advocated is striking, for it is only on the third occasion of admonition that the more serious action of avoidance is to be taken. (3)
I hear tolerance from Paul. We are not ‘hair trigger’ in kicking people out, of a conversation, of fellowship, or our lives.
But after the third time, they are out. If that seems harsh, here is the reason Paul gives. Guthrie’s further comment:
Titus must realize that the stubbornness of the man is evidence of a perverted mind.(3)
For you know that such a person has gone astray and is sinning; he is self-condemned. -Titus 3:11
- has gone astray (CSB)
- is warped (ESV)
- is twisted (NET)
- are warped (NIV)
- a corrupt (Voice)
- is perverted (NRSV)
The sinning referred to must be understood in light of the previous verse, i.e. the desire to promote dissensions. It is useless to contend with men of twisted minds, and there is no need to condemn them for they are self-condemned. The reference, however, seems to be so much to a deliberate act of condemning oneself, which is admittedly rare, but to the fact that perverted and sinful action in the end automatically condemns the doer. (3)
When I was in seminary, in my preaching class, we had a brother who was a Seventh Day Adventist. We each delivered two sermons. His first one was on keeping the sabbath. We all heard him out and discussed his sermon with him at the roundtable afterwards.
When he was up a second time, he preached the same message, from a different text. This brother seemed to be deliberately divisive.
Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning. For you know that such a person has gone astray and is sinning; he is self-condemned.
When a man or woman resists Christ, but promotes their doctrine about Christ, there is the potential for a problem in that and with that person as far as their teaching goes.
The larger context of the letter to Titus, is that there are a bunch of new churches in Crete, of which Titus is overseeing, for Paul.
The problem for which the letter was written, was the need to strengthen these young churches. An exacerbating problem were the false teachers circulating into these church plants.
The prescription Paul writes is to raise up elders and teach sound doctrine. Weak leadership gives you weak congregations.
Strong leadership means Christlike. Paul gives Titus a list of what to look for in a man who can be an elder in the church. (Titus 1:5-9)
- must be blameless:
- the husband of one wife,
- with faithful children who are not accused of wildness or rebellion.
- As an overseer of God’s household, he must be blameless:
- not arrogant,
- not hot-tempered,
- ot an excessive drinker,
- not a bully,
- not greedy for money,
- but hospitable,
- loving what is good,
- holding to the faithful message as taught,
- so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching
- and to refute those who contradict it.
Elders are leaders and caretakers.
Paul then makes a contrast, showing what an elder is not like, showcasing the false teachers (Titus 1:10-16).
I would argue that the people Paul is upset with are the opposite of the qualities in the elder list. For example, bullies.
False teachers (the Cretan formula):
- rebellious people,
- full of empty talk and deception,
- especially those from the circumcision party. It is necessary to silence them;
- they are ruining entire households
- by teaching what they shouldn’t
- in order to get money dishonestly.
The rest of Titus (ch. 2 and 3) is how to live, based on what God has done, for us through Jesus.
The thesis of Titus is:
The essential connection between evangelical truth and the purest morality. (6)
A false teacher is someone who does not have this. They have a truth, a doctrine; and maybe part of or a lot of the real truth, the core truth about Christ. But that is not what they are selling, and this is the problem.
From a veteran pastor’s perspective, listen to how Eugene Peterson states the passage from chapter three that we opened up to today:
I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone. Stay away from mindless, pointless quarreling over genealogies and fine print in the law code. That gets you nowhere. Warn a quarrelsome person once or twice, but then be done with him. It’s obvious that such a person is out of line, rebellious against God. By persisting in divisiveness he cuts himself off. -Titus 3:9-11 (MSG)
And listen to how Peterson, again, from a long-time churchman’s perspective, handles the rebuke (reprimand NLV) passage in chapter 1:
For there are a lot of rebels out there, full of loose, confusing, and deceiving talk. Those who were brought up religious and ought to know better are the worst. They’ve got to be shut up. They’re disrupting entire families with their teaching, and all for the sake of a fast buck. -Titus 1:10-11 (MSG)
I was struck by the line, “brought up religious and ought to know better are the worst”. Do you know that person? This is Peterson’s take on the line where other translations have it, “especially those of the circumcision party”.
To me, I hear Paul saying that these guys were obsessed with circumcision. Their message was not even about Christ, foremost, but about circumcision. “You must be circumcised”. I am not sure what they said about Jesus, but they were coming into these new churches, with new Gentile Christians, and saying, “you gotta be circumcised”. Paul touches on other things they talked and taught about, but Paul gave them the label, ‘circumcision party’.
What would this equate to today? Imagine a group of new believers, learning about Christ and walking out the life. And then someone joins their fellowship and starts saying, you can’t be a Democrat and must change to Republican; or the opposite.
Some theologians say that circumcision in the old covenant, equates to baptism, in the new covenant.
The false teachers in Titus, might be like believers baptism advocates (propagandists) entering a fellowship of Christians who believe in baptizing children, and arguing obnoxiously, to try to change their minds, or tell them they are wrong, or even tell them they are not saved.
The habitual practice of holding a pet doctrine and then of critiquing the doctrine of other Christians, that is not in the center; is what is going on with these people. I have cited political party and baptism as examples. It could be a dozen other things.
The Cretan agitators may or may not have believed in the right things about Christ, but the point is that they divided what they believed and taught.
And the reason why someone would make something peripheral into ‘a hill to die on’, or to divide over, is rotten character- a personality that is not taken over by Christ and beginning to live in him.
Have you met people that just argue, that find fault, that put people down or peripheral beliefs down, that they don’t hold? They seem to need to attack those beliefs or viewpoints, belittling and smearing.
This is essentially, bigotry:
A stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own. (Dictionary.com)
This is not what Jesus calls us to. They will know we are Christians (that Christ has come and is real) by our love. The Pharisees loved their doctrines so much that they killed Jesus. That’s how we don’t want to be.
I have read some of Eugene Peterson and seen him on video and he seemed to be a gentle (pastoral) man. About this divisive person, he translates Paul as saying, “They’ve got to be shut up” (1:10) and, “Warn a quarrelsome person once or twice, but then be done with him” (3:10).
If you are a leader, in the church, you are going to have to face divisive people, disruptive people, and bigots. These people can be redeemed and reformed, reset, recalibrated, and transformed by God. But, at the moment, they are acting up.
And the proper thing to do, is for the leaders to reprimand them. Peterson bluntly puts it, “shut them up”. Or, “warn the person once or twice, and then be done with them.” Done does not mean irredeemable. It means, done with their antics, done with them doing their schick in your group- done with them being allowed in your fellowship.
I have, more than once, had a disruptive, divisive person in my group; and I pretty much did nothing. It was like at one of those monster truck rallies, their huge tires drove over us. When we are in a group with someone like this, we feel beat up.
We have to say, “stop it”, because it is unedifying and hurtful. They either need to stop or they will have to leave. For myself, I am relieved to have studied Titus and finally seeing this great advice.
It’s neither ‘one strike and you’re out’, nor ‘anything goes’, in that we have to bear with the divisive, disruptive, argumentative person, out of the love of Christ.
I have read Proverbs, and I know about the foolish person who is a brawler, that loves arguing and spouts off about things they don’t know. But, I have always been too tolerant, and thought that the rebuke or reprimand was unloving, or not Christ.
But I was always bothered by this, as in, there must be a better way. And here it is, right here, in Titus.
There are going to be tons of new Christians, soon; and we need to know how to handle this sort of thing.
And here is the irony. The people who do this, who are problems for leaders are not the new ones, but the old ones messing with the new ones. Exactly what Peterson said, from Paul, “Those who were brought up religious and ought to know better are the worst.”
In my experience, I see this. The ones that do this are never the new believers, but people who have been long-time believers.
C.S. Lewis said, “Of all bad men, religious men are worse” (Reflections on The Psalms, p. 32)
And they often would not qualify as elders, because their lives are not in order, not under Christ’s order.
I say this, because the worse case is that the false teacher becomes a leader in the church.
Listen to Hayne Griffin on this:
Failure to confront problems within the church, whether theologically or practically based, may be indicative of a basic indifference with regard to God’s truth or the nurturing of truly Christian relationships. The fear of giving offense and a highly individualized view of personal faith may discourage church leaders from following the biblical mandate to rebuke. The restoration that is possible both in fellowship and in sound doctrine is compromised by this reluctance to confront. Loving, sensitive, yet firm confrontation can result in stronger relationships and restored unity or perhaps a needed purging of those who deny the truth. (7)
I have to care enough to confront (8), be willing to be assertive (9), and set boundaries (10).
Both Jesus and Paul would tell us to look at someone’s life, their fruit. Bad acts, with whatever you want to say: good, interesting, intriguing, thoughtful, moving; teaching, in a life, means a bad person.
A person’s walk, not their talk, really reveals who they are. People can talk up a storm. “Wow!”, we say after hearing them. But what about who they are outside of their ‘show’?
Let me also note this, that it is a lie, a deception to say that what you believe and how you live (act and behave) are seperate.
The whole idea of the Christian life is that obedience comes out of salvation. We live like Christ, because Christ has saved us. To not live like Christ and in Christ, but to believe and preach Christ, is antithetical and deceived.
That person becomes a false teacher, because they are living a double life, and are selling religion, but not the living Christ.
Something terrible happens to a man or a woman who comes in the name of Jesus, but secretly and deliberately does not live their lives in Christ and for Christ.
For you know that such a person has gone astray and is sinning; he is self-condemned. -Titus 3:11
You don’t want to be that person. This is a person that should be warned to stop and if they don’t, asked to leave. Their behavior is not appropriate.
“Gone astray”, means they are more than “out there”, or “free range”, but rather:
- Out of line (MSG)
- Turned away from the truth (NLT)
- Twisted (CEB, CEV)
- Such a one is entwined with his sin (TPT)
The person who gets this way is a Christian in name only.
Because they simply don’t have Christ living through them. They don’t die daily. They have not taken up their crosses and denied themselves, because we can see there is no fruit.
Self-condemned simply means that by their own actions, by their own unbelief, they condemn themselves.
The seemingly harshness of asking someone to stop and then asking them to leave is simply meeting the stubbornness of that person. There are some people that you can not argue with, because they have a closed mind. They only want to change your mind to their mind, instead of arriving at the truth together.
If someone is running people over, we need to tell them to stop. And after warning them twice, and they persist; the only thing we can do, as leaders, is tell them to leave. Their own actions precipitated their ejection. All we are doing is protecting people from abuse.
1. The Pastoral Epistles (The New International Greek Testament Commentary), Knight, p. 353
2. The Pastoral Epistles, Simpson, cited by Guthrie, p. 208
3. The Pastoral Epistles, Tyndale NT Commentaries, Guthrie, pp. 208-9
4. 1, 2 Timothy, Titus: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary), Lea & Griffin, p. 328
5. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2:268
6. Hiebert, “Titus,” in Ephesians-Philemon, vol. 11 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 424.
7. Ibid., p. 290
8. Caring Enough to Confront, David Augsburger
9. When I Say No, I Feel Guilty, Manuel J. Smith
10. Boundaries, Cloud and Townsend
The harsh word for Cretans
Paul tells Titus to be assertive with these people who are ruining the new Cretan churches. Paul even engages in a harsh word for them in these verses:
One of their very own prophets said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. For this reason, rebuke them sharply, so that they may be sound in the faith and may not pay attention to Jewish myths and the commands of people who reject the truth. -Titus 1:12-14
Did Paul (and this is scripture!), just call these people, “always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons”? Think about if you have ever been taken aback by an insult that a leader leveled, and then look at this scripture. Apparently, there is such a thing as sanctified name calling.
Paul (Gal 1:9) and Peter ( 2 Peter 2:12) and Jude (12-13) have very harsh words for false teachers. Why? Because leading people astray about things relating to Christ or how to walk with God, is a very serious sin. Why? Because they lead people astray. James says don’t become a teacher in the church lightly, because we will be judged more scrupulously (James 3:1).
- Titus is one of the three people that Paul called his sons. The other two were Timothy and Onesimus.
- Titus and Tim were not pastors. (D. Edmond Hiebert, Titus and Philemon, p. 7.)
- Titus is Paul’s second to last letter, written between 1 and 2 Timothy (Philip H. Towner, 1-2 Timothy & Titus, p. 19).
- Homer said that Crete had 100 cites (Barclay, p. 268.).