titusheader2Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk through the book of Titus and learn what the Lord would have to teach us through this great book.

Titus 1:10-16 (ESV), “For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”

Growing up near Houston, Texas, I have been familiar with the ministry of Joel Osteen ever since I was young. At first I knew he was an extremely popular and successful minister. Over time I began to see that Osteen was, though successful according to numbers, was not teaching in line with the Scriptures. Now that I live in East Tennessee, I have seen something arguably more dangerous than Osteen’s ministry. It is the “wolves” in this area, and nationwide, that are keeping quiet, not making headlines or nationally televised interviews, that are silently devouring the sheep distorting the holy Word of God. These teachers proclaim their own ideas instead of Scripture with the result that the people of God are led into a life of deception, instead of being taught by word and example to live life to God’s glory alone.

False teaching is a consequence of indwelling sin and living in a fallen world. The stakes are high, even eternal for many. There are a plethora of motivations for why false teaching happens. Paul in his letter to Titus has given us some practical ways to think and act in light of these situations in Titus 1:10-16.

First we must recognize and determine what should be considered false teaching. In order to be discerning in the biblical sense of the word, we must not make snap judgments, but rather learn to be slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:19). Teachers of the Word will be judged strictly (James 3:1). Paul agrees with James in this regard, even in his letter to Titus. We must “show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (Ti. 2:7). Only after a faithful examination of a false teacher’s doctrine and practice can we move to the next step of dealing with false teachers.

What is false teaching? Paul says in this passage that false teachers are “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers” (1:10). They are “upsetting whole families” or “teaching for shameful gain” (1:11). They also “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works” and prove to be “disobedient, unfit for any good work” (1:16). All of these factors should be considered when evaluating false teaching. In order to evaluate false teaching we must ask ourselves the following questions: “Are these teachers distorting God’s word or preaching against the inerrant, infallible truth of Scripture?” “Are they sharply hurting their flock with their teaching, or teaching for the sake of self-promotion or success?” “Does their lifestyle go against their teaching?” All of these factors are red flags. Some may exhibit all of these qualities, some may only have one of these issues, but all of these are problems that must be addressed, as we’ll see soon enough.

The next step, after one has determined something is “false teaching,” is the process of rebuke. It’s important to note that this passage takes place right after Paul addresses the qualifications of elders and deacons. Paul’s inclusion of this particular passage at the end of a discussion of eldership is significant, because it shows that this is a natural and expected action elders and overseers should be taking. To serve as a pastor, elder, or church leader and not deal with false teaching is to fail to protect the people of God. Laypeople are elsewhere called to rebuke false teaching in their context. There is a command throughout Scripture for every Christian to be active in the process of rebuking false teaching (Mt. 7:15-20, Eph. 4:25, 1 Jn. 4:1)

How do we rebuke? It’s interesting that Paul says that we “rebuke them sharply.” Not gently, but sharply! Paul does not mean “sharp” in the sense of assaulting a person with a sword, but rather slicing their deceptive teaching with the blade of the true gospel. We must attack the deception, not the deceiver. In rebuking another, however, we do so on the sole motivation of helping them become “sound in the faith” (Ti. 1:13). When a believer rebukes a false teacher, the idea is to bring this teacher to the truth, not simply downcast them to judgment. Rebuke, then, must be a gentle, edifying, and sanctifying work.

There is no distinction made here about appropriate environments for rebuking false teachers. Does this mean both public and private rebuke is acceptable? Yes and no. The private rebuke of Joel Osteen’s teachings, for example, is difficult for a faithful pastor serving thirty hours away in New York. Public rebuke is helpful, especially when dealing with the insatiably popular false teachers of our world. But it must be done still according to Paul’s outline in Titus 1:10-16. Before we get on social media to make public rebuke known, however, private rebuke should be pursued if at all possible (see Mt. 18:15). We take gentle rebuke even further, according to Paul in Galatians 6:1-2, by bearing “one another’s burdens.” This means we not only labor to help them in their offense, but also let them in on how they can help us in our own. That’s profound!

Our ultimate goal is to make sure “all things are pure” (Ti. 1:15) in our ministry. We can help false teachers strive for the same purpose with godly, gentle, sharp, and clear rebuke. Taking this passage to heart as believers in our pursuit of dealing with false teaching will certainly aid us in making sure we are handling the Word of truth carefully and silencing dangerous and threatening doctrines as best as we can by God’s grace.