Meditations in Titus: 25: Beware Folly
Titus 3:9-11 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 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.
Every coin has two sides. We have been considering the call to goodness in the Christian life but goodness excludes folly. I use the word folly here because it means lack of understanding leading to wrong thinking and wrong behaviour. Solomon wrote, “Every prudent man acts out of knowledge, but a fool exposes his folly,” (Prov 13:16) and the word ‘fool’ here means one who lacks judgment or sense So there are ways of thinking and ways of speaking and ways of acting that lack understanding and thus lead to further wrong thinking and further wrong speaking or behaviour.
So on the one hand, as we have been observing in the recent verses, there is a way of thinking, speaking and doing that is good; that is one side of the coin. But we are not robots and so there is the other side of the coin which is doing that which is NOT good. So Paul details some of the wrong things he has in mind: “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law.” (v.9a)
Now, first of all, why should he need to say this? Well, remember back in chapter 1 – “For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group…” and so, “pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.” (1:10,13). The island suffered from Jews who appeared spiritual and could lead others astray by their talking but Paul calls them rebellious and deceivers because they reject the truth of the Gospel as delivered by the apostles and prophets, and distort or add to it, remnants of Judaism. They keep harping back to the faith of their fathers, back to ‘the law’, which probably just means the Old Testament. There, back in the Old Testament, it isn’t always ultra clear which is why we have scholars and commentators, and these wrong thinkers were in that category except they were wrong because they remained in the Old Testament and used it to fuel their speculations over different genealogies and other not-so-clear matters.
But we should be quite clear, they are wrong because they have a wrong starting place, they “reject the truth.” They have never let the truth touch them, convict them and bring them to their knees before God so that their repentance could lead to new birth. I believe the Christian Church suffered in the earlier part of the twentieth century because people listened to German ‘scholars’ of the nineteenth century who demeaned the New Testament and undermined the faith of so many, but their starting place was exactly the same – unbelief.
We should not see these warnings that Paul now brings in a negative sense; we need them. But if that is how the problem arose, why was it so damaging as to need refuting and rejecting? Paul speaks of these wordy, argumentative Jews and says of their activity that it should be rejected, “because these are unprofitable and useless.” (v.9b) As much as we should read and study the Old Testament to see the greatness and wonder of God in it, and the folly and sin of mankind, we should avoid the temptation of getting bogged down in the unclear areas of it because that brings no profit or benefit to our faith. I am one of the first to advocate studying the Old Testament but I always remember the comment, “I trust those parts of the Bible that I don’t understand because of the parts that I do understand.” It is good to study these issues but they are unlikely to be things that are fundamental to our faith today.
The truth is that people who harp on about these things are simply causing division. I remember a phone call I once had with a man who knew me and he started out, “I just wanted to cross swords with you over….” and he named a particular doctrine. I replied, “Well, I don’t want to cross swords with anyone because that is divisive, and I know you disagree with where I stand on that issue, so rather than drive a wedge between us, can we simply agree to disagree and we’ll find the right answer when we get to heaven.” He wanted to pursue the argument but I refused. He was more concerned with division than unity.
Paul was quite clear about these people who were causing trouble on the island: “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.” (v.10) i.e. put the scriptures before them, point out that they are rejecting them and challenge them over them. If necessary do it twice and if then they still refuse to change, leave them to it and have nothing to do with them and ensure they have nothing to do with polluting the church with their untruths. He emphasises what he thinks about such a person who refuses to acknowledge the truth of the Gospel: “You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (v.11) Perhaps for the sake of grace, we should say no more, but the warning is there clearly in scripture and it is real and valid today as it was then. There are truths to be followed and lies to be rejected.