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)
Allow me to repeat our verse from yesterday so we can spend some time with the two words “encourage” and “refute.” What pictures form in your mind when you hear them?
When you think of encouraging others by sound doctrine, you might envision a living room where a small group is gathered for Bible study. Or perhaps you think of a mentor sharing with his student over a soft drink at the local fast-food restaurant. Since I am a preacher, I think of the foundational subjects I have attempted to teach from a platform on Sunday. When we encourage, we teach, reinforce, and praise. And on occasion, we rescue people from one of life’s storms by reminding them of the promises of God.
But how do we refute? This word conjures up images of confrontation and armed conflict. “Repent false prophet, before you burn in the everlasting fires of hell!” Try that one out on your small group leader who accidentally mispronounces “Revelation” as “Revelations.” How and when do we refute?
The word used for refute in the Greek language does not necessary suggest a battle. I say this, but at the same time I recognize this probably is what it meant for Titus. He was facing false teachers who cared more about their selfish ambitions than Christ’s church, and he needed to find elders who could fiercely defend the gospel. Note, they were going to be dealing with people who “opposed” sound doctrine.
On the other hand, there were certainly people in the churches of Crete who wanted to do the right thing, and had no intention of defrauding others or distorting the gospel. If their teaching was out of line, it still needed to be refuted, but in a kind, gentle manner.
You may remember the occasion of Aquila and Priscilla’s meeting with Apollos in Acts 18:18-28. When the meeting took place Apollos was already powerfully proclaiming the gospel of Jesus. However, he had only heard about the baptism of John the Baptist for repentance (Matthew 3:1-7) and had not heard about Peter’s instructions that those on the Day of Pentecost be baptized “for the forgiveness of sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). John’s baptism was to prepare. The baptism practiced in the church was to identify with the good news of Jesus, crucified, buried and risen.
When Aquila and Priscilla discovered Apollos’ teaching was incomplete, they invited him to their home and “explained to him the way of God more adequately.” And then Apollos went right back to preaching, the better for it.
On Crete, Titus and the elders needed to be able to battle a strong opposition, and my guess is they didn’t do that very often at the dinner table. Yet, whether we do battle against false teachers, or gently correct a brother, we need to continue to increase our knowledge of the Word of God, and especially its core message of salvation. If we know it, and if we try to treat people with respect, I believe God will make us effective.
Dear God, use me to keep Your message true and clear. In Jesus’ name, Amen.