A leader's rebuke
When we study the Bible, one way that we know the importance of a subject is how many verses the author uses to talk about it. If he talks about it more, then the subject matter is being emphasized in relation to the other topics within the book.
Paul’s letter to Titus is no different. While spending the entire first chapter describing the expectations for those who lead in a church, Paul spends about 5 verses discussing how a leader should treat his family, conduct himself, and interact with others…and then spends the next eight verses discussing one topic: How a leader handles God’s message and the reasons why it is such an important topic.
We saw that Paul warned for Titus and the church leaders to be on the lookout for those who would come and distort the good news that Jesus came and paid the penalty for our sins, thus restoring our relationship with God. However, Paul wasn’t only concerned with direct opposition to the leaders, he also showed concern for the Cretan believers.
Titus 1:12-13 Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true.
This quote is attributed to Epimenides, from about the 6th century BC. And Paul agrees with the philosopher’s assessment! In the ancient world, to “Cretonize” someone meant to both “double-deal” and “to lie”, all rolled into one. Paul recognizes that the Cretan reputation had not improved for hundreds of years, and that Titus would have to watch out for this kind of behavior as he appointed leaders for the churches. If Cretans acted like that on their own, imagine what would happen to the church if its leaders adopted the teachings of those who were
Titus 1:11 …ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach – and that for the sake of dishonest gain.
This kind of situation would damage both the local believers’ relationship with God, but also God’s reputation to those outside of the church. Paul’s solution to the Cretans’ default behavior was clear and direct:
Titus 1:13 Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.
In this “sharp rebuke”, Paul was not giving Titus the license to simply blast another believer and then walk away. The word used for rebuke also carries the idea of exposing, showing fault, and convincing. Paul is directing Titus to deal with false teaching directly and swiftly, however, he is not giving permission to “hit-and-run” someone who is incorrectly presenting the gospel. Exposing, showing fault, rebuking, and convincing someone will likely take some time and patience. It will be hard, but the health of the church depends on it.
The Cretan church leaders must be rooted in their relationship with God through the Scriptures. Only then would they be able to handle these upcoming situations with those who reject the truth or with those who were more interested in Jewish myths than teaching the gospel. Clearly this is why Paul spends so much time on this subject; the emphasis he gives it is absolutely necessary.
Are our leaders rooted in Scripture? How do they handle false teachings and cultural pressures? These are important topics to consider, as they affect both our individual relationships with God, but also God’s reputation to those outside of the church.