Avoiding foolish controversies
We like to argue and debate. From the local bar to nationally televised Presidential campaigns, we love to discuss the issues. Even those of us that avoid conflict will tune in to a radio broadcast or to TV shows “just to hear what they’ll say next”. Controversy also drives our 24 hour “news” networks. We’ve even gotten to the point as a society that if there isn’t controversy, then we’ll make a situation into one. We gripe about it, but then we turn around and eat it up like junk food.
However, when the levels of controversy we observe in society is found within our homes, life gets messy real quick. Lines are drawn and feelings are hurt…finding consensus is difficult, if not sometimes impossible. Relationships break down due to prolonged arguments and quarrels. While there are subjects that are critical to a family’s foundation, we must guard against making mountains out of molehills. As our children have grown up, my wife and I are constantly checking with each other to ensure that main things are still the main things…and that we’re not having controversies over subjects that, in the end, really don’t matter or don’t have a significant impact on how our family functions.
The same trouble with minor topics becoming major controversies can be found within the church family, and it is not a new problem for God’s family. After encouraging Titus to instruct the Cretan believers to devote themselves to doing what is good, Paul immediately follows up with this warning:
Titus 3:9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.
Within the immediate context of Paul’s letter, these arguments and quarrels about the law were most likely coming from those in circumcision group Paul noted in Chapter 1. These were the people who wrongly insisted that the gospel was “Jesus + the law = salvation from sin”. However, they would often argue about what, exactly, adherence to the law really meant. They would debate things like “How many steps a person could take on a Sabbath before walking becomes work and you break the commandment of keeping the Sabbath holy?” or “Should a Jew eat an egg laid on a festival day?” or “What sort of wick and oil should a Jew use for candles he burns on the Sabbath?”
While debating these kinds of questions may seem silly to us, the vast majority of church splits in modern times have nothing to do with doctrinal issues. Churches have split over the color of the carpet in the sanctuary, the pronunciation of a Hebrew letter, the style of worship music, and even a piano bench…just to name a few examples.
Paul is instructing Titus not just to avoid these pointless arguments, but to confront them head-on:
Titus 3:10-11 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
They were warped, sinful, and self-condemned because the controversies they were wasting their time with were ultimately self-centered endeavors – these divisive people were motivated by pride and self rather than by a relationship with God. The same rings true for those involved in most modern-day church splits, too.
Let’s keep the main things as the “main things” and not waste our time on minor-level preferences that focus on our individual wants. Instead, let’s follow Paul’s instruction:
Titus 3:8 I want you to stress these things [healthy teachings of salvation from sin], so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.