He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:9)
In our study of Titus, we must not overlook context. The elder traits we have been considering are vitally important, and they parallel a similar list in Paul’s first letter to Timothy (3:1-7). However, neither list occurs in a vacuum.
In his letter to Titus Paul is concerned about false teaches on Crete, and specifically those who are stirring up trouble between Greeks and Jews by burdening people with unnecessary expectations. It is good to review the issue of the Old Testament Law and why it sometimes created strife in the early church.
The Law was beautiful and good, but no one could keep it perfectly. In the Old Testament, God asked His people to practice a system of sacrifice to demonstrate their sorrow over sin. The sacrificial system was not the means to salvation. Rather, it was the heart of the person offering the sacrifice to God that mattered.
In the same way, the act of circumcision did not make one righteous, but it was performed as a symbol of obedience and to identify with God’s promise to Abraham. God expected His people to be obedient to the sign, but what He desired most of all were sincere hearts. This meant if a child was circumcised, but later refused to worship God, the sign meant nothing.
When Jesus died on the cross, He paid our debt of sin and fulfilled the requirement of the Law on our behalf. Through Him, we can now be completely cleansed of our sin. And we are saved by the same thing that made God’s servants in the Old Testament righteous: our faith. Incidentally, as I have mentioned in earlier devotions, I believe the blood of Jesus was applied retroactively to those who followed God by faith prior to the cross.
This explains why those who considered circumcision and adherence to other Jewish traditions as a sign of righteousness were so destructive. They preyed on the guilt of their Jewish friends who desperately wanted to please God. And they played into the inflated egos of those who were inclined to self-righteousness. It wasn’t that their righteous acts were displeasing to God, but rather that they put more faith in them than in the blood of Jesus. Their sin was in condemning their brothers and sisters in Christ for not practicing things that had been rendered obsolete by the cross.
Leaders needed to maintain a clear head to keep this twisted scandal in check. They also needed to focus on the simple message of Christ crucified and risen from the dead. Leaders today need to do the same, since there are still those who prey on guilt and play on people’s egos.
But this only helps explain the theological root of the problem. False teaching is also driven by one’s desire to be the center of attention. And I have discovered, once someone makes this the ultimate goal, nothing anyone else ever does is good enough.
Dear God, help me remember grace isn’t that complicated. In Jesus’ name, Amen.