Freedom to speak is a treasured privilege. As Americans, we pride ourselves in the fact that we are free to speak our minds about any subject as long as we do not cross the line into illegal activities such as slander or libel. However, this does not mean that messages which oppose common decency and goodness should be allowed to stand without opposition. People are free to say what they will, but so are we free to counteract that which we believe to be egregious or evil. Such were Paul’s directions to Titus in today’s focus text.
He wrote: “For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain.” (Titus 1.10-11). The entire tenor of the gospel message does not allow Paul’s message to mean that such people ought to be physically restrained from speaking. He is not telling Titus to cut out their tongues or force them to be silent under threat of bodily harm. Rather, his instruction to “stop their mouths” is intended to be understood in a different way.
Paul’s instructions must be understood in light of the character and motives of those about whom he speaks. Note that they are insubordinate, idle talkers, and deceivers. Further, note that they do what they do for the purpose of dishonest gain. The stately language of the King James Version translates the phrase dishonest gain by the descriptive term filthy lucre. These are not nice people and the actions that Paul recommends might not be characterized as nice either. Sometimes nice is not possible when the stakes are as high as they were in this case. And speaking of stakes, what were they?
According to Paul, these talkers subvert whole households. Their objective was to overthrow the faith of otherwise faithful believers. (cf. 2 Timothy 2.18). This was not a war of words regarding politics or philosophy; it was a war over the hearts and souls of mankind. The drastic action that Paul recommended in order to stop their mouths was commensurate with the drastic result if their words were allowed to go unchecked. For this reason, He told Titus to “rebuke them sharply.” Again addressing their character, Paul stated “…They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.” (see Titus 1.13-16).
There truly is a time for gentleness and there is a time for strictness. Paul recognized that our tactics as believers should fit the circumstances. Much like a policeman is trained to respond to threatening situations with an appropriate amount of force, so believers are instructed to meet the world with an appropriate response. Not all false teachers are dishonest. Some teach error simply because they have not learned the truth. Both common sense and biblical principles indicate that our reaction to one who teaches error out of ignorance should be entirely different than our reaction to one who knowingly and willingly teaches error! Our response should always be metered as opposed to a “one size fits all” gospel message! There are times when radical surgery is needed to remove cancer but there are also times when nothing more than a loving word of understanding and encouragement will yield the desired results.
Just because we are expected to be stern on occasion does not mean that we ought to be stern on all occasions. As teachers, preachers, and leaders, discernment and wisdom are expected. Consider the life of Jesus. Think of the variety of ways He reacted to the people He met. No two people were treated the same. I think this is why Jesus told His apostles, “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10.16).
1. List the words and phrases that describe the character of the people whose mouths should be stopped?
2. What motives prompted them to act? What result was seen among their hearers?
3. How, specifically, was Titus to counteract their teachings? Would this be equivalent to stopping their mouths?
4. Ought we to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves? Would you say that Jesus had this disposition? If yes, list some occasions that demonstrate these characteristics in His ministry.
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