Titus 3:9-11 – Dealing with Those Who Disagree

Because of the descriptions of the false teachers in the background of 1 Timothy and Titus, scholars often suggest the letters were written well into the second century. There is some similarity between the description in Titus to the followers of Marcion (explaining why Marcion would not have accepted the books as authentically Pauline) or an early form of Montanism. Montanism was a charismatic revival of the middle/late second century and the Pastorals Epistles do not mention the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit.

Other scholars suggest the description of the false teachers is “generic.” There is no specific threat to the churches overseen by Timothy and Titus, but this is the sort of generic anti-heretic language which could be applied to any number of churches. This is similar to modern political rhetoric, Republicans always accuse Democrats as favoring “tax and spend” and Democrats always accuse Republicans of being in the pocket of the NRA. Whether those things are true or not about a given politician, the accusation will almost always be made. In Titus, Paul could be laying out a laundry list of the typical things his opponents have said and done, whether he has a specific false teacher in mind.

Could the be a an early form of Gnosticism or Montanism? This is always possible, depending on the definition of “proto.” The mixture of Greek philosophy and Jewish asceticism that becomes Gnosticism later in the second century may have its roots in the very churches planted by Paul. But the false teachings that the writer is dealing with is not at all close to the Gnostic teachings of the second century. To argue against “foolish myths and genealogies” as Paul does here is applicable in the first century as much as the second (or third or twenty-first!)

Regardless of the source of false teachers in Ephesus and Crete, Paul provides a three-step method for dealing with these troublemakers. The steps seem reasonably clear, but it is hard to know how to use them in a contemporary context. Paul is not describing a medieval excommunication or some sort of strange shunning-ritual. He wants his churches to be unified around a core yet also to preserve some diversity within the members of the church. How does this work?

The first step is to avoid teachings which create quarrels and dissensions. This cannot include the core elements of the Faith, the things Paul has already defined as “sound doctrine” in Titus 3. What things might be considered “divisive” our context? Paul is talking about drawing lines which include some and exclude others. to a large extent, the modern church has dealt with this by dividing up into a wide range of denominations. This would be intentionally divisive attitude designed to cause quarrels in the church. I have occasionally been asked to preach at conservative a church which used the King James Bible only; if I intentionally preached out of a NIV Bible, the congregation would be so angry they would never hear a single word I said. Imagine if I were asked to preach in a Christian Reformed church and did a classic dispenstionalist sermon on the Rapture!

Second, if there is a person who cannot set their divisiveness aside, then they are to be warned. The text says the false teacher “stirs up dissension,” indicating they are looking for an opportunity to argue over his special doctrine. This too becomes a difficult to apply in a modern context since people want to share their views in a welcoming and affirming environment. But the divisive person is not discussing an issue in order to gain a clearer understanding, they are pushing their agenda in order to make coverts to their fringe position. I understand what it is like to have a view out of step with the majority and I try not to be divisive on the issues I know will cause people to be upset.

Last, if the person continues to stir up dissension, then the church is to shun the person as a false teacher. This is very controversial since ostracizing someone from a group is a very “un-American.” Paul seems very prejudiced and arrogant to force someone who believes differently out of the church! “Shun the heretic” has a positively medieval sound to it which most modern people would like to avoid. We want to have open and honest discussions about our differences and come to a respectful understanding whether we agree or not. But for Paul, the presence of someone teaching unhealthy doctrine or advocating impure practices in the church can only damage the church.

Most likely these steps will look different in different cultures (African churches vs. American churches, for example). I have been a university professor for many years, and every once in a while I have a student who seems to want to argue about everything I say. It is not that they want to learn anything new, they just like to debate and argue (and probably waste class time so the test gets postponed). In a few cases the student was not interested in an open discussion of new ideas, they wanted to shut down anything they disagreed with and force their ideas on the group. I can think of examples from the most Fundamentalist students ever to the hyper-Calvinist (and one really odd Arminian). Although I have yet to shun a student, I have asked them to realize they are not in debate club and other students want to learn.

How do we use this material to preserve the unity and promote diversity within a local church?

Titus 1:5–9 – Damaged and Damaging Pastors

The false teachers described in the book are coming from within Titus’s churches on Crete. They are elders who are not spiritual leaders and have defected from sound teaching and are behaving in a way that brings dishonor to the church. The list of qualifications in Titus are concerned with reputation of the elder outside of the church. The main reason for this is the elder is a model of spiritual life for the congregation. If the elder has a bad reputation in the community, so too will the church become associated with that bad reputation and therefore be shamed.

Keep out of the ChurchNotice that twice Paul says the elder must be “above reproach” (1:6-7). The noun ἀνέγκλητος has the sense of “free from reproach, without stain, guiltless” (TDNT 1:356), even a sense of innocence. Like 1 Timothy, the ideal elder is one who lives the “quiet life” and has a good reputation with outsiders. Perhaps this helps explain the always-difficult requirement the elder be a “husband of one wife.” The emphasis may be less on gender than reputation in the community. If the elder is a womanizer he will likely have a bad reputation in the community or created enmity in the community.

Titus must therefore examine the family of the potential elder as well. His children must be believers and models of Christian faith and behavior. This is another difficult text to apply since most people know a “pastor’s kid” who did not follow in their parent’s faith. Should that pastor be removed from ministry? Paul’s concern is for the reputation of the community. The child of a church leader cannot be open to the charge of “debauchery or insubordination” (ἀσωτίας ἢ ἀνυπότακτα). The first word can have the sense of being wasteful (financially) but is also associated with “wild living.” The second refers to rebels or flagrant law-breakers (BDAG). In short, even the family of the elder ought to live a quiet life that gains the respect of everyone in their community.

Verse nine says the elder must guard the faith. Elder were the people who were especially educated and trained by Titus. Perhaps they are the members of the community who have been Christians the longer and therefore have devoted themselves to more study than the others. The elder was to be a shepherd for the congregation, guarding them from potential threats. They are responsible for teaching proper doctrine and practice to the congregation. This seems to be one of the source of the problems on Crete: elders are not teaching proper doctrine as it was handed down to them from Paul and Titus.

The solution is for Titus to “put things in order” by appointing qualified elders. The current leadership is “broken” and cannot be restored; it must be replaced. Titus is told to appoint qualified leaders, and in doing so, he is replacing the “unqualified leaders” who are destroying congregations.

It seems to me one of the greatest threats to the church are church leaders themselves. Christians are not spiritually damaged by outsiders very often, it is usually an elder, pastor or other church leader who hurts people and drives them from the church. What is more, these damaging leaders create a bad reputation for a local church or denomination. Why attend church if you are going to be judged and treated without respect?

How can Paul’s guidance in the letter of Titus help modern church create a church leadership to build a good reputation in the community?

1 Timothy 6:20 – The Faith as a Deposit

Paul uses an economic metaphor in 1-2 Timothy to describe the content of the Gospel. This faith is a “deposit” (παραθήκη) which has been entrusted to Paul and Timothy to guard until the day when Christ returns as judge.

Timothy with his mother

A problem for us in reading 2 Timothy is the use of the word ‘tradition.”  This is not a tradition in the sense of a longstanding practice that we have “always done,” but rather a body of beliefs and behavioral expectations that define what it means to be a Christian (as opposed to a pagan or a Jew).  The tradition to be guarded is “an unchangeable deposit. Whether the church stands or falls depends upon leaders who are qualified to guard this deposit” (Towner, 294).

What is the Source of this “Deposit”? Paul was “appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher” of the Gospel (2 Tim 1:11). This description of Paul’s ministry is similar to 1 Timothy 2:7.  The “preacher” in the ESV is better a “herald,” or “proclaimer.”  This is a person who is appointed to deliver a particular message, in Paul’s case, from God.  The language is a little different in 1 Timothy 1:18, 6:20 and 2 Timothy 2:2. In these later books, Timothy is encouraged to guard or protect the deposit given to him.

Paul mentions things passed down to him in his earlier letters: Two traditional elements were handed down to him from the apostles, such as 1 Cor 11:2 (the Lord’s table) and 15:1 (witnesses to the resurrection). In 2 Thessalonians 2:15 Paul encourages the congregation to “stand firm” in the traditions which Paul delivered to them.   Even in his earliest letter, Paul considers his gospel a tradition which cannot be modified (Gal 1:14).  Paul is clear, however, that much of what he preached he received directly from Jesus through a special revelation.

For some doctrines, this is a direct revelation that could not be deduced from the Hebrew Bible. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Paul says the Lord himself gave him his teaching on the future resurrection. That Jews and Gentiles are saved into a single body without requiring the Gentiles to keep the Law is a “mystery” which was unrevealed in the Hebrew Bible. In other cases the tradition is handed down from the apostles through Paul, to Timothy and then to the qualified elders in Ephesus. Sometimes Paul is the source, but in either case Paul commands Timothy to guard this tradition carefully.

For some of Paul’s teaching, he may have been led by the Holy Spirit to interpret biblical texts differently, or to combine texts from the Hebrew Bible in unique ways which supported the idea that Jesus is the Messiah or that salvation is apart from works.  Romans 4 implies the story of Abraham could be interpreted in a way that supported Paul’s gospel. This is exegesis guided by the Spirit of God. (Spirit-led exegesis and scholarship which applies Scripture to new situations is in fact a source of proper teaching!)

In any case, the body “tradition” which Paul handed on to Timothy is to be guarded and invested, and passed on to the next generation of Christian leaders.

 

Bibliography:  Philip H. Towner, “Pauline Theology Or Pauline Tradition In The Pastoral Epistles: The Question Of Method,” Tyndale Bulletin  46 (1995): 285-314.  See also  P. H. Towner, The Goal of Our Instruction: The Structure of Theology and Ethics in the Pastoral Epistles (JSNTSupp 34; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1989).

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1 Timothy 6:12-16 – Fight the Good Fight

Paul charges Timothy with the task of to faithfully keep the commands of this letter. This is a solemn charge made before two witnesses: the presence of God and Christ Jesus. Paul uses two metaphors for this pursuit of godliness: fight the good fight and take hold of eternal life.

Boxing GlovesThis may be a sports metaphor since the verb translated “fight” (ἀγωνίζομαι) used for competing in a context ( Cor 9:25). But it can also be used in the context of warfare (John 18:36, 2 Macc 8:16). Paul uses the verb to describe his own ministry (Col 1:29), and Epaphras is described as “struggling in prayer” for the church at Colossae (Col 4:12, cf. 1 Tim4:10)). In 2 Tim 4:7 Paul uses a similar phrase when looking back over his ministry (he has fought the good fight).

“Taking hold” (ἐπιλαμβάνομαι) sometimes has a violent implication as well. It was used when the Romans pressed Simon of Cyrene into carrying the cross of Jesus and twice in Acts for someone being seized or arrested ( Acts 16:19; 18:17). The LXX uses this verb in Prov 4:13, the wise person takes hold of instruction. (There are violent connotations often in LXX Judges, 2 Sam 13:11 it is used for a rape). Taken along with “fight the good fight,” Paul is telling Timothy to compete in a way that will “win the prize.” The victory is not really won until the competitor takes the prize, an Olympic crown, for example.

Timothy is reminded his public confession of faith. What does Paul have in mind with this “confession”? There are three options (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 355-6).  One possibility is Timothy was arrested at some point prior to this and he made a confession of faith before some civil tribunal. This would explain the reference to Jesus making ‘the good confession” before Pilate. The witnesses were those at the court who heard Timothy confess his faith in the face of persecution. The most significant problem with this view is there is not clear reference to Timothy’s arrest in any New Testament literature.

On the other hand, Paul may refer to Timothy’s commission to ministry. In this case, the witnesses are other elders and leaders of the church who heard Timothy make a public commitment to ministry. Paul has referred to Timothy’s commission (1:18-20) and his gift “given by prophecy” (4:14). If this is true, then Paul is saying to Timothy, do not be like Hymenaeus and Alexander, who shipwrecked their faith (1:20), follow through on your commission to ministry.

But Paul may be looking even further back than Timothy’s commission to ministry. Since the “prize” that awaits him for finishing the contest is eternal life, it is most likely that Paul has in mind Timothy’s initial confession of faith in Jesus. If this is the case, then the people in the church who witnessed this confession are the “many witnesses.”

Just as the letter began with a charge to Timothy to guard the faith which was entrusted to him, now Paul once again solemnly charges Timothy to remember what he has already committed to when he began his ministry. Timothy is to keep these commands are to be kept perfectly. Unstained (ἄσπιλος) is sometimes translated as “spotless” in the context of a sacrifice (Lev 4:3, for example). In 1 Peter 1:19 Jesus is described as the “pure spotless lamb.” A “blemish” (σπίλος) is used as a character fault in Hermas, Similitudes 9.4.4. The verb cognate of this word refers to a stain or defilement.

Free from reproach (ἀνεπίληπτος). Paul has already used this word in 1 Tim 3:2 (the overseer must be above reproach) and in 5:7 (widows have to be above reproach). The word has the sense of “above criticism” (Cf., Titus 2:8). L&N suggests the word here means that Timothy ought to keep the commands of this letter “in such a way that no one can criticize it.”

This is a very high goal set for Timothy, but if he is fulfill his commission from God, he cannot have anything when ruins his reputation. Everyone can think an example of someone who was an excellent preacher and servant of God, but they had some behavior or character flaw that changed the way people thought of them and hindered their ministry. Paul tells Timothy here that he has to live his life so perfectly that there is no stain or blemish on his character which drives people away from the gospel.

1 Timothy 6:11 – Pursue Righteousness

There are many examples of people who seem to have started the Christian faith well, but seem to have deviated from the course at some point. In the context of 1 Timothy, these would be the opponents who are troubling Paul’s churches. They stared well, but they have not competed well and are in danger of not finishing the race. When Jesus appears, they face ruin (6:10).

But this collapse of faith is not what Paul expects from Timothy. In the conclusion to 1 Timothy, Paul uses a few sports metaphors to encourage Timothy to continue with endurance to the end of the race and receive the prize to which he was called. Timothy started well by making a public confession of faith, and he has been faithful to that confession as he carried out the ministry to which God had called him. But Paul wants him to also look forward to the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he will finally “finish the race.”

Flee!

Flee!

Timothy is told to flee from the sorts of evil Paul described in the previous few verses and to pursue virtues that are reminiscent of the Fruit of the Spirit. “Fleeing evil” and “pursuing righteousness” is common in the Hebrew Bible. Both are very active metaphors, implying that there are things which can hinder reaching a goal. Flee and pursue are common in both Plato and Aristotle, but Paul reflects several Jewish texts (Flee, Sirach 21:2; Tobit 4:21, and 2 Tim 2:22, flee youthful passions; Pursue Prov 15:19, T.Reub 5:5).

Righteousness (δικαιοσύνη) is one of the most important terms in Paul, in the context of a series of descriptions of ethical expectations Paul probably has “moral uprightness” in mind. To “pursue righteousness” appears in Deut 16:20 and Prov 15:9 (cf., Sir 27:8, but also Herodotus 1.96.2). The righteous person on Judaism was the person who was faithful to the covenant in tangible ways, they doing acts of righteousness.

Godliness (εὐσέβεια) is a very general term which has been used often in the Pastoral letters. Like righteousness, godliness refers to observable responses to God.

Faith (πίστις) and love (ἀγάπη) often appear as a pair in Paul’s letters (1 Tim 1:5, for example). Faith/faithfulness refers to being consistent, keeping one’s promises and commitments. Perhaps the combination of the two terms is more or less the Hebrew idea of hesed, covenant faithfulness. This would be important in the context of Paul calling Timothy to recall the commitments he made when he first began his ministry.

Steadfastness or endurance (ὑπομονή) is occasionally added to faith and love (1 Cor 13:3), the word highlights the sort of attitude one must have in order to complete a task. It is one thing to begin strong, but the one who endures also finishes strong. Again, this is particularly appropriate if Paul is reminding Timothy of his initial commitments.

Gentleness (πραϋπαθία) is rare word in the New Testament although it is related to other words which have the same sense of meaning (πραΰτης is used in Gal 5:23). The word refers to courtesy and humility. In 2 Tim 2:25 Timothy is told to gently correct opponents, and in Gal 6:1 the believer is to gently help another with their burdens. “a willingness to waive an undoubted right” (Martin, Colossians and Philemon, 111).

Like the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, Paul sets a very high goal for Timothy. But if he is going to fulfill the commission given to him by God, he has to be a model leader in the Ephesian churches.  Timothy must make sure his character is virtuous and that he is living his life in order to bring honor to the household of God.