Tag Archives: Isaiah

Isaiah 1: When It’s All About Me (But Really…It’s Not)

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My husband and another man at our church took our Sunday School class through lessons on the prophets last year. It was (mostly) chronological which I found extremely helpful in placing their prophecies at the correct times in history. Knowing the context opens up our understanding of  the text. For example I learned that Isaiah’s prophetic ministry ran from 739 BC – 681 BC and through four kings (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah). In addition to this, I know that in 722 BC King Shalmanesar V of Assyria attacked Israel and dispersed them into various regions in his kingdom, while also importing other cultures into the northern kingdom (Israel). He mostly speaks to Judah, but still addresses Israel in his prophecies. Interestingly Isaiah was a well educated aristocrat and had access to the king and the royal court. Having this knowledge makes me more aware of certain nuances in the text and provides more meaning behind some of his message.

Now when I read the Bible for my own personal benefit (as in, I’m not reading it to teach to someone else), I like to research the background and then take a long, slow stroll through the text. Sometimes I’ll double back and walk the same path several more times just to make sure I didn’t read it too quickly or miss something. I will underline in different colors (with my new Bible because it is an illustrated Bible), and each color has a purpose (teal for mankind, purple for God, blue for commands, and so on). I will also circle words that are repetitive (Holy One of Israel, Lord of Hosts, a series of I’s and you’s), and I watch for patterns of thought that might meander throughout the entire chapter (burden, sin, evil, fire). I even write main themes for verses and draw pictures if I have a really vivid image in my mind after reading the text (fire). This is how I search the Scriptures. This is how I observe and sift through the details. I’ve been reading Isaiah 1 for a week now if that gives you a clue (and I’m not sure I’m done reading it yet).

Last week, I wrote about the expectant heart when searching the Scriptures. It is approaching the Word with a certain expectation that the Holy Spirit will speak through it and being unwilling to turn back until you have gained a fresh insight. It is bold, and it might border on foolish, but it’s what I do. Sometimes the insights are tiny, and sometimes they are enormous. I’ll take what I can get. Beggars can’t be choosers.

This week as I’ve read through Isaiah 1, I’ve listened for the heart of God for the people of Judah. I’ve listened for Isaiah’s heart as he prophecies to God’s wayward people. And I can’t lie – I heard something for my own heart. No, I don’t mean God audibly spoke to me out of the pages of my new, beautiful, teal Bible. I mean the Spirit provided me with a spiritual perspective that spans the ages. It’s utterly amazing to me that God can use a message written specifically for one group of people at one specific point in history and also speak it into the hearts of His people throughout all time. His Word has life and breath, and it breathes into my life today. Thanks be to God for His Word.

However this Word can break my heart with its raw emotion and dramatic (sometimes gut-wrenching) word pictures. At least that’s where I found myself this week. (taken from ESV)

My people don’t recognize my care for them. (v. 3)

They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the LORD. They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on Him. (v. 4)

Then I got to verses 10-15:

10 Listen to the Lord, you leaders of “Sodom.”
    Listen to the law of our God, people of “Gomorrah.”
11 “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”
    says the Lord.
I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams
    and the fat of fattened cattle.
I get no pleasure from the blood
    of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to worship me,
    who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?
13 Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
    the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
    and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
    I want no more of your pious meetings.
14 I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
    They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
15 When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
    Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
    for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.

There’s an awful lot of you‘s and your‘s in those verses. It actually disgusted me (and apparently it disgusted God too). How do we get so turned around, thinking that even worship is about us? Of all the things that should always and only be about God, worship is at the top of the list. And yet, Isaiah writes that God is repulsed by the sacrifices, the ceremonies, the gifts, offerings, celebrations, special days, meetings, festivals, and prayers. What makes you think I want this? Well, didn’t you tell us in Your law to do these things? You’ve missed the point of the Law then… 

When have I missed the true intent of God’s commands? When have I made even worship about me? When have I done something for God that was more like a burden than a blessing? That wasn’t actually for Him at all? Stop bringing Me your meaningless giftsI want no more of your fake worship

Yikes. That’s bad news. That’s a heart check right there.

Lord, forgive me when I make my life all about me, myself, and I. Reorient my perspective so that my focus is on You. Help me to learn from these moments so that I don’t also find myself in exile (like Israel and eventually Judah).

 

Having an Expectant Heart

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During my college days, I remember reading through the book of Isaiah, and I’m fairly certain that few lines were left unmarked. I have very fond memories of reading through this prophet of old, and so it was with great excitement and anticipation that I decided to read through it again. It has been that long (2004) since I last read through it, so it feels like I’m catching up with an old friend. Life has a way of going on even if you’re not entirely ready for it to move on, and my time in the book of Isaiah during college is one of those times I wish I could bottle up and re-open when I wanted to rekindle the joy of those moments.

Isn’t it all too easy to wish for the exhilarating times in God’s Word where it feels like your spiritual mind is opened up to behold the wondrous truths you had never thought of or known before? We get stuck thinking that these mountaintop moments are the only way we can approach the reading of God’s Word. Well, I get stuck in this thinking anyway. Can I tell you a secret? I was a little nervous about reading Isaiah again, because I didn’t want to “ruin” my favorite memories from my time in it during college. But then I got over it because God reminded me that His Word is living and active. When we get in the Word, the Word gets in us. The Living God actively reveals Himself to His beloved as they faithfully search for Him in His Word. He uses the Holy Spirit to reveal the truths of God as we need those truths. This is why I can read Isaiah thirteen years later and see it with fresh eyes.

Now what to do with that insatiable thirst for the mountaintop moment? I’m convinced that my motives aren’t entirely selfish (of course). I really really want more of God. I don’t want to settle for good when I can have great. This is why I beg and plead and stubbornly wait and feverishly search for that special word or message that’s just waiting to be found. I’m not searching for a high, I’m searching for the One who is higher than I (Ps 61:2). It’s the sentiment from Christy Nockels song “Waiting Here for You”:

If faith can move the mountains
Let the mountains move
We come with expectation
Waiting here for you, I’m waiting here for you
You’re the Lord of all creation
And still you know my heart
The Author of Salvation
You’ve loved us from the start
Waiting here for You
With our hands lifted high in praise
And it’s You we adore
Singing Alleluia
You are everything You’ve promised
Your faithfulness is true
And we’re desperate for Your presence
All we need is You
Waiting here for You
With our hands lifted high in praise
And it’s You we adore
Singing Alleluia
Singing Alleluia
Alleluia, singing alleluia, alleluia
Waiting here for You
It’s that child-like expectancy at Christmas. It’s that thirsty desperation that grips our parched throats. Only in this case, it’s our parched hearts that can only be quenched with the Living Water that is our God.  And I believe He really wants to fill us up.
But then what if He doesn’t? I have to remind myself that His filling may not look like I want it to look. I’m going to write a post about something I learned (or rather was convicted about) that wasn’t pleasant but oh did it fill my soul! It was a message that I sat and waited for and pondered over and read and re-read and underlined and circled and colored. I’m confident that I would not have received this message if I hadn’t been stubborn and refused to give up waiting. However, it should be noted that I am not waiting around in order to make the text say whatever I want it to say. I’m not stubbornly raising my fist to God and telling Him what I think He ought to say to me. I’m not begging for a message I want to hear or that might make me feel comfortable or happy. Far from it! It’s also not a rejection of a truth that’s hard to hear in order to wait longer for a “nicer” truth to come along.
What it really boils down to is patiently seeking to know God, even if it means I learn some ugly truths about myself. Fortunately it can also mean learning life-changing, perspective-shifting truths that enliven my heart and soul. I trust that He’s going to speak – the real question is, will I be humbly submitted in order to listen (hear)?
Perhaps I’ll never give up on this pursuit of the great. Maybe God sees me as a fool sometimes and maybe I’m wrong about this (maybe it’s not really great). I trust that as I’m getting in the Word, the Word will get to me.

Titus: Beware the Deceivers

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Titus 1:10-16

Below you will find the entirety of my talk as well as a link to watch/listen (if you aren’t interested in reading!).

Let’s talk about who these “deceivers” were and what they might have been doing. We are going to watch for 5 characteristics of false teachers:

  1. Their motivation is to promote themselves rather than Christ or the gospel.
  2. They will cause dissension and place stumbling blocks in the way rather than promoting unity and spiritual growth.
  3. Their message is to contradict core Biblical truth.
  4. Their master is their own appetite, not the Lord.
  5. Their methods are to use smooth and flattering speech to deceive the hearts and minds of the naïve.

Titus 1:10 reads:

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.

Paul does some serious trash-talking in these verses. We get a glimpse of the fire in his bones as he unloads on these people. I imagine him here as the redeemed yet angry version of the Saul of Tarsus that everyone feared!

Interestingly, Paul does not even refer to these individuals as teachers, which tells me this could have been anyone! For the purposes of this lesson, I’ll still refer to them as “false teachers” because Paul uses the same or similar language in his other letters when speaking of false teachers. And also because they were teaching” things they ought not to teach (v. 11). However, I do want you to keep your radar up when it comes to being on guard against these deceivers because they could be anyone.

When we read a text in Scripture, we tend to identify with the “good guys”. Do we not? For instance, we feel for the man who was beaten and left to die on the road and we LOVE the good Samaritan. We likely never see ourselves as the religious men who passed by unmoved by the plight of the broken man. Another example is that we see ourselves as one of the disciples but hardly ever identify ourselves as a Pharisee.

Though it might make you uncomfortable, I want us all to consider 2 things: first, in what ways have we been like the deceivers? And two, how should we be on our guard against such people?

To begin, we’ll break down each of those descriptions, first technically (speaking of the words themselves in the Greek language) and then we’ll expand on the meaning of the words.

Insubordinate/rebellious people

In the Greek Lexicon (BDAG) – Anupotaxtos meant “pertaining to refusing submission to authority, undisciplined, disobedient, rebellious”

  1. Here in v. 10 used of spoiled children
  2. Also used in 1 Tim 1:9 of flagrant law-breakers.

This one is not difficult to understand. But it does leave some room for imagination. How exactly were these men rebelling or being insubordinate? So were these rebellious men initially a part of the church that Paul started but later had trouble submitting to Titus’ authority? The Greek indicates that they were acting like spoiled children which begs the question, were they used to getting their way and then started acting up when Titus began to organize the church as it was intended to be?

Regardless of the details, Paul’s concern is for the unity of the church. So if you have any who are trying to disrupt it by refusing to follow the authority that is in place, you have a problem that needs to be handled quickly.

Idle or “empty” talkers

  1. In the Greek Lexicon (BDAG) – Mataiologos means “an idle talker, windbag
  2. In interlinear bible – meant “one who utters empty senseless things”
  3. You may have heard the word Logos before. “In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word (logos) was with God, and the Word (Logos) was God.” John 1:1
  4. This word is only used in Titus 1:10
  5. Similar word (mataiologia) (same root) found in 1 Tim 1:6 “empty, fruitless talk; turn to fruitless discussion”

This description struck me the most as I read this passage. I really love how both the Hebrew and Greek often paint word pictures for us. As you read those words, you imagine what an empty talker is like. It’s rather like an oxymoron. Full of words but the words are empty.

A funny (or rather cute) example of this would be how a one-year-old speaks to his family. I’ll never forget my youngest son rambling on and on as if he were carrying on a complete conversation, but to us, he said absolutely nothing that made sense. His words were empty, senseless.

A more serious example would be the person who talks for five straight minutes but never actually says anything. You have heard the statement, “he’s just full of hot air.”

They are senseless, fruitless windbags. The imagery of a windbag is both sobering and comical. What is the point of catching the wind? What good would a windbag do you?

Just as these deceivers were speaking empty words, Isaiah 41:29 speaks of the emptiness of worshiping idols. He says

Behold, they are all a delusion; /   their works are nothing; /   their metal images are empty wind.

So if idols were delusions which produced nothing, what does that say about those who worshiped them? The false teachers were no better than an idol worshipper. JESUS plus anything equals nothing. Vanity. Emptiness. Windbags.

In contrast I think of a person whose words are filled with meaning. Colossians 4:6 tells us

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

And also Ephesians 4:29,

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

I wonder if we’ve ever considered the source of our words. Those words which are gracious and full of meaning likely originate from the Holy One! Think about what the Scriptures say about God’s words. Isaiah 55:10-11 says,

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Can you picture that?! God’s word goes out and does return to Him void. Talk about words that are FULL of meaning. They accomplish exactly what He sent them out to do. They are never empty, senseless, fruitless. No windbags here.

In contrast, when our words are empty, when they tear down their hearers, consider the source of those words. Perhaps they come from the evil one. This is the case that both Jesus and Paul make on several occasions. We will come back to this briefly later on.

To wrap up this section on empty talkers, I want us all to consider the importance of our words. Jesus speaking to the scribes and Pharisees in Matt 12:36-37 said,

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

Will our words be empty? Or will they give life and grace to those who hear? Will they build up or tear down? Will they be a fruit-bearing product of the Vine? Or a windbag that has its source in the deceiver?

That brings me to my next point on the false teachers! They are…

Deceivers

  1. Phrenapates In the Greek Lexicon (BDAG) “deceiver, misleader”; also “seducer”
  2. Again this word is only used in Titus 1:10
  3. A similar word phrenapatao is found in Gal 6:3 and meant to “mislead concerning the truth, deceive (oneself).”
  4. Webster’s Dictionary 1828 defines the word deceive this way: “To mislead the mind; to cause to err; to cause to believe what is false, or disbelieve what is true; to impose on; to delude.”

There’s something very sinister about a person who purposefully and knowingly leads someone away from truth and toward destruction. However there’s also something terribly tragic about the person who deceives even himself.

I already began the discussion about the evil one being involved in the words we speak. We all know how the evil one deceived Eve in the garden (Gen 3:4-5; 2 Cor 11:3). Revelation 12:9 tells us that Satan deceives the whole world. There are over 40 passages that refer to Satan as a deceiver or to his deceitful work. (https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/dictionary-of-bible-themes/4123-Satan-as-deceiver)

Jesus had a heated discussion with the Pharisees in John 8 concerning their origins with Abraham and His origin with God the Father. They make several accusations about Him, but He responds with this in v. 44:

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a LIAR and the father of lies.

You want to know where the false teachers get their insubordination? Their empty words? Their deception? They got it from their father, the devil, the father of lies.

We read the passage in 2 Cor 11:13-14 which refers to the false teachers as

deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ [who get this from Satan who disguises himself as an angel of light]

Jesus spoke of false prophets as those who would come in sheep’s clothing though they are actually hungry wolves (Matt 7:15).

The Pharisees are rather like those insubordinate, spoiled children Paul speaks of to Titus. Jesus disrupted the way of life they were used to living and that life involved deceiving people and weighing them down with empty and useless words/rules. Perhaps these false teachers in Crete were some of the old faction of Pharisees who just wouldn’t let go of their idols.

On that note, let’s talk about…

The Circumcision party

The term “circumcision party” is mentioned three times in the NT – Acts 11:2 (against Peter), Gal 2:12 (with James), and here in Titus 1:10. This was a legitimate religious faction.

Thinking back to Pentecost, we know that there were Jewish brothers from Crete who were present and had heard the message of the resurrection. But there were also Jews on the island who held to their man-made traditions. These are the “circumcision party” or the Judaizers.

John MacArthur (Bible Handbook) writes,

The younger elder [Titus] was already familiar with Judaizers, false teachers in the church, who among other things insisted that all Christians, Gentile as well as Jew, were bound by the Mosaic law. Titus had accompanied Paul and Barnabas years earlier to the Council of Jerusalem where that heresy was the subject (Acts 15; Gal. 2:1-5). (p. 451)

If you aren’t quite familiar with what happened at this council, let’s turn there to clarify. Acts 15:1, 13, 19 says,

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” [much debate v. 2-12] 13 After they finished speaking, James replied,…

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,…”

After this the council sent Paul and Barnabas as well as Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas to all the Gentile churches with the full details. Later in Gal 2:1-5 we learn that Paul had taken Titus with him on his missionary journey where they were pressured by “false brothers” to have Titus, a Greek man, circumcised.

 For Paul this [circumcision party and their message] was an alarming development because it undercut the core message of the gospel; if salvation could not be attained without embracing Judaism, then the death of Christ was insufficient. (Archeological Bible footnote)

Once again I’ll repeat the equation. JESUS plus ANYTHING equals NOTHING. Thus the reason Paul takes no time to correct these deceivers as they crop up.

Moving on to the next verse, Paul writes,

11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 

You can imagine why Paul tells Titus that they must be silenced! This word is epistomizo and meant to “bridle or stop up the mouth” (interlinear). Not only were they teaching for their own personal gain, but they were teaching things which were not truth and in so doing were upsetting entire families within the church.

The word for upsetting is

  1. Anatrepo and can be translated as “to overthrow, overturn, destroy, and subvert” (interlinear).
  2. The Greek Lexicon says it meant “to jeopardize someone’s inner well-being, upset, ruin”.

This meaning is even more ominous than to simply upset someone. The goal is their destruction or ruin. Paul’s concern, therefore, was for the truth to win out and for the church not to be harmed or divided.

The text does not specify exactly what these false teachers were teaching, but they were teaching things which they “ought not to teach”. We might assume that this is at least part of the reason for Paul writing about certain doctrinal truths to Titus. We can also assume the false teachers had fallen away from these truths.

Not only were these deceivers teaching false doctrine but they were also doing it for some sort of “shameful gain”. {Remember the Cretans had no problem with greed or shameful gain.}

The emphasis is their motivation. They taught from selfish motives. It was not for the benefit of those who hear. Or even because they loved God and wanted others to know about Him.

In stark contrast to these false teachers, Paul is very intentional about pointing out how he preached the gospel to people. In 2 Cor 2:17a he writes,

17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

In 1 Cor 9:18 Paul tells the people that he presented the gospel “free of charge”. In all of his teaching on the Body of Christ, Paul encourages believers to do nothing from selfish ambition but to consider others above ourselves and for us to use our gifts for the edification of the Church, the Body (Phil 2:3; Eph 4; 1 Cor 12:7, 14:3; 1 Thess 5:11).

These guys were bad news! In fact, one of their own people, Epimenides of Crete (according to tradition), said this about the Cretans:

Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons… (v.12b)

Epimenides was a poet and philosopher in the 6th century B.C. who was native to Crete. He was held in high esteem by the Cretans and was credited with several predictions that were in fact later fulfilled. (Arch. Bible footnote).

Cretans were known for their immoral living. Liars. Evil beasts. Lazy gluttons. They are believed to come from the ancient Minoan civilization which undoubtedly involved worship of multiple deities. (from Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology by Ilse Schoep  “The Minoan ‘Palace-Temple’ Reconsidered: A Critical Assessment of the Spatial Concentration of Political, Religious and Economic Power in Bronze Age Crete”)

LIARs

During the Roman times the Cretans likely worshiped the common Greek gods, including Zeus and Hera. (from Wieland, 346) Zeus was known for his ability to deceive and apparently Cretans followed after their idol because they too were known for their ability to

deceive but also [had a] proclivity to be deceived. Josephus tells of Crete’s Jewish community being hoodwinked by a pretender to Herod’s throne.

In fact the nations surrounding Crete began using the Greek term kretizo (“Crete-ise”) because of the island’s reputation for deceit and cunning. (Wieland in “Grace manifest: missional church in the letter to Titus” in The New Zealand Journal of Christian Thought & Practice).

Dishonesty in public life continued under Roman rule. In fact, Mark Antony attempted to wrest Crete from Rome with a forged document and between the time of 20-70 A.D. no less than five governors were recalled to Rome to face corruption charges. (Wieland, 345-46)

The term “evil beasts” was rather ironic for this people group who enjoyed the reputation of being “free of wild animals.” (Wieland, 347 quoting 1st century Pliny and Plutarch) The irony was that the beastly characteristics were exhibited not by animals but by the people, including their practice of herding the young men into groups like cattle.

Finally the term “lazy gluttons” is rather telling as Paul exposes the false teachers’ motivation for deceiving others was their own appetites. Lazy gluttons engorge themselves on food and have no self-control to reign in their appetite.

Paul continues,

13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 

Rebuke sharply

Paul instructs Titus to rebuke these men SHARPLY. This word is apotomos and meant to be “severe, rigorous.” Even abrupt and curt. The word rebuke is elegcho and meant to “reprehend severely, to chide, admonish, reprove, to call to account, show one his fault, demand an explanation” with the idea of bringing conviction.

This word for rebuke is the same word used in John 16:8 of the Holy Spirit’s work,

And when he comes, he will convict (elegchō) the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.

Paul has in mind that Titus’ rebuke would convince them of their sin in order that they might repent and be sound in the faith.

To be sound in the faith

The word sound carries with it the idea of being well and in good health. Those who are sound in the faith, who speak sound words, sound teaching, sound doctrine will be speaking healthy words. They would be speaking Truth to their hearers because those words will be grounded in the Word of God.

Jesus said this of His words in John 6:63:

The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

Healthy words are words that speak truth but in love. They are words that encourage and don’t condemn. Healthy words do not ask something of you that would be unhealthy for your spirit or your body. Sound words are healthy words.

We could probably all think of “false teachers” in our culture today who have spoken lies to thousands of people and have committed all kinds of spiritual abuses. They are unhealthy people acting in unhealthy ways and feeding off of already broken lives. A SHARP rebuke is what’s in order for these people. Not soft, marshmallow, indulgent comments of agreement or even apathetic leniency.

Here is another great way to think of this: J. C. Ryle was a champion for the truth in the Church of England during the 19th century. In Warnings to the Churches (p. 110, ch. 5 “Controversy in Religion”), he wrote about how difficult yet necessary controversy in the church is. Then he added,

But there is one thing which is even worse than controversy, and that is false doctrine tolerated, allowed, and permitted without protest or molestation.

After acknowledging that many would view what he writes as exceedingly distasteful, he states (p. 111),

Three things there are which men never ought to trifle with—a little poison, a little false doctrine, and a little sin. (from Steven Cole at bible.org)

The key is being sound in the faith, with both feet firmly planted in the Word of God. You can bet that every false teacher out there has stepped one or both feet out of the Word and into something else. Be on your guard.

Hopefully we have expressed our passion to you for the Word of God in such a way that you also see the necessity for it in your lives. We are not aiming to stuff you with a bunch of knowledge from God’s Word as if you were the next Thanksgiving turkey. What good is knowledge for knowledge’s sake? The knowledge of His Word means a knowledge of who God is and who we are in relation to Him. We believe that the Bible is God’s holy Word and has the power to change our lives, making us look and act more like our Savior.

How can we have Christ without His doctrines? We must LOVE the doctrine of God our Savior! (Spurgeon “Adorning the Gospel”) Sound doctrine rightly applied produces holy living.

Paul continues that he wants Titus to rebuke them so that they would be sound in the faith…

14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.

Before discussing myths and commands of men, let’s first address what we should be devoted to. To be sound in the faith requires one to be firmly planted in the truth (Psalm 1:1-3). Jesus told His disciples in John 8:31,

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.

And later in John 17:17 he prayed to the Father,

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

Paul tells us in Col. 3:16,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly

Paul also warns in 2 Tim 2:15,

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

These men were doing anything but handling the truth correctly. They were TURNING AWAY from the truth. Now let us look at what Paul meant by…

Jewish myths

Paul also uses the phrase in 1 Tim 1:3-4 saying,

…stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. (NIV)

Paul states that the problem with these myths is that they promote controversial speculations and don’t actually advance God’s work at all. I think of that image of EMPTY windbags. Myths and speculations are empty and senseless, of little value.

The footnote in my Arch Bible for this verse 1 Tim 1:4 says:

’Myths’ may refer to mythical stories built upon OT history (‘genealogies’) that later developed into intricate Gnostic philosophical systems.

One of the most popular groups of false teachers in Paul’s day were those who called themselves the Gnostics.

From Arch Bible article “The Gnostics and Their Scriptures”:

From the Greek word gnosis, meaning “knowledge”, Gnosticism was a movement that claimed to provide secret knowledge about God. Its adherents considered the Biblical God, the Creator of the world, to be an inferior god. In Gnostic teaching the material world was innately evil and thus its Creator a lesser deity. The Gnositc Savior, rather than providing atonement for sin, brought the knowledge of humanity’s ‘true’ divine origins, thus freeing people from their ignorance and enslavement to the material world.

You can see how this myth about God would promote all kinds of controversial conversations among the church!

So let me translate this for you in today’s terms. Stay away from the person who wants to argue and debate about the latest hot topic of religion. They’ll give you all sorts of opinions and rants but nothing will be grounded in the Word and the motive will be to either stir you up in anger or tear you down in your beliefs. Most importantly it does nothing to advance the gospel. It’s just a bunch of empty speculation resulting in ZERO fruit/good works.

The Commands of People

Jesus speaks to the problem of following human tradition in Mark 7:6-9, 13 (NIV):

[v. 1-5 disciples eating with unwashed hands and Pharisees question Jesus] He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! [Jesus’ example of their lack of obedience to God’s original intent v. 10-12] 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

The Jewish teachers of the law had added so many “commands” to the actual Law that they became more important than the Law itself. They would often set aside the true intent of the Law just to abide by their own traditions.

Originally their motives were simply to be extra careful to observe all that was written in the book of the Law. Remember when the serpent asked Eve what God had told her about the trees of the garden in Gen 3? She told it that God had said not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden AND not to touch it. We know God didn’t add that extra command, not to touch. But this is an example of what the rabbis did to the Law. They called it building a “fence around the Torah”. They added extra measures to the Law in order to keep themselves and others from disobeying it. If they couldn’t even touch the fruit, then they certainly couldn’t eat it. (Michael Heiss)

Because these men wanted to understand the Scripture and know how it applied to their lives, the rabbi’s came up with a way to interpret the Scripture known as midrash. Midrash is an exegetical process or technique the rabbis used to creatively explain the meaning of the Scripture which made use of certain interpretive tools such as etymology (word origin), wordplay (prophets using puns), catchwords (words that grab your attention), analogy, and so on. They sought knowledge of the Scripture by using logical inferences, combinations of different passages (cross references), and the like.  (Sound familiar? We do this too!) The

“main purpose of Jewish scriptural interpretation was to make Scripture comprehensible and applicable to particular communities.” (p. 99 Joel Green in The World of the New Testament)

However, the rabbinic interpretation was often raised to the same level as Scripture, and you can see how this kind of elevation of the “commands of men” resulted in all sorts of doctrinal issues. You can also imagine the kind of religious atmosphere Paul and Titus were dealing with. Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 23:2-4,

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”

Please note that Jesus does not fault these religious leaders for having too much knowledge but rather that all the knowledge never made an impact on their hearts. Those facts didn’t travel from the head to the heart to become actions. Thus they became hypocrites, whose knowledge of the Word made no difference in their lives.

Be wary of the person who completely discards the pursuit of the knowledge of God’s Word. Os Guiness writes in Dining with the Devil,

Today theology is rarely more than marginal in the church-growth movement at the popular level. Discussion of the traditional marks of the church is virtually nonexistent. Instead, methodology is at the center and in control. The result is a methodology only occasionally in search of a theology.” (p. 26)

He continues on to explain that worship and discipleship are often subordinate to evangelism, and all three to that of entertainment which he calls “the Achilles’ heel of evangelicalism.” (p. 27) Guiness further describes the trouble of offering milk and never meat to a growing congregation:

‘all things to all people’ means it is perfectly legitimate to convey the gospel in cartoons to a non-literary generation incapable of rising above MTV and USA Today. But five years later, if the new disciples are truly won to Christ, they will be reading and understanding Paul’s letter to the Romans and not simply the Gospel According to Peanuts.” (p. 28-29)

Keep in mind that one of the spiritual gifts God gives to His Church is knowledge which often goes along with discernment. (1 Cor 12:8) If it were a bad thing, why would He give it for the benefit of His Church? Like any gift, it can be misused or abused, but it is not in and of itself a bad thing.

How can a believer live a holy life apart from knowing what the Holy God prescribes for His children? His Word is meant to be studied for it contains direction for our lives.

Neither let us make knowledge the end point nor forsake the study of God’s Word.

Too many people are afraid of knowledge and claim “we don’t want to fall into legalism.” However, this kind of thinking is just another form of legalism (excessive adherence to law or formula). Rather than adhering to a strict following of the law of God, these people follow a strict law of correct practice (orthopraxy) divorced from orthodoxy (correct belief). It leads to a faith devoid of doctrine which is ultimately ignorant and misinformed.

The Cretan deceivers had strayed from God’s Word and had been following Jewish myths and the commands of men, elevating their knowledge above the Scripture. Not only that, but as Jesus said, they likely required the people to follow these myths and commands as well, though they themselves were unwilling to live what they preached.

Do we ever place burdens on other people that we ourselves do not even require of ourselves? Or taking this a step further, do we project our perfectionism onto another, expecting an impossible standard that we ourselves cannot even attain to?

Now for our last verses: v. 15-16. 

15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

DEFILED

  1. Interlinear – miaino (me-ah’-ee-no) meaning “to dye with another colour, to stain; to defile, pollute, sully, contaminate, soil; to defile with sins
  2. Greek lexicon – to cause the purity of something to be violated by immoral behavior; refers to the mind of the faithless in v. 15

Note in Lexicon:

The primary sense ‘to stain’ (as of dye) prepares the way for the transforming sense of causing defilement through socially or cultically unacceptable behavior. It is well to keep in mind…that in the Greco-Roman world [to have a harmonious relationship with the gods and nature, all people were expected to observe certain moral and ritual laws]. Individuals were subordinate to interests of the community and violations of standard moral and ceremonial expectations could jeopardize the delicate balance between an entire populace and its deities.

In other words, you were obligated to maintain moral or ritual purity for the sake of the community so as not to “offend the gods”!

In light of this cultural custom, one way to think of verse 15 is in the context of food laws and ritual purity.

Purity in the NT

Footnote from ESV:

To the pure, all things are pure echoes Jesus’ teaching in Luke 11:39-41 (39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.) and Paul’s earlier writing in Rom 14:20 (20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.).”

Another way to think of this verse is in the context of morality and holy living in general.

Both mind and conscience are defiled. A great example of this can be found in John’s gospel. John 18:28 tells us,

Then they [chief priests and Pharisees] led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.

Did you catch the irony? They didn’t want to “defile” themselves by going into the Gentile man’s headquarters because they wouldn’t be qualified to eat the Passover according to their man made traditions. Yet they were already defiled by their sin and blind to their crime of handing over Jesus, an innocent man.

Both their mind and conscience were completed stained or tainted by their own appetites and agendas, and they would view their own behavior as pure and religiously motivated and justified as a result of their completely twisted concept of morality.

Profess to know God

Verse 16 tells us the false teachers professed to know God. I want to recall a passage from 1 John 2:3-6 which referred to knowing God:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandmentsWhoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

The one who knows God will do what He says. The one who keeps God’s Word walks the same way Jesus walked. So how did these men of Crete measure up?

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul writes about this false knowledge (1 Timothy 6:20-21)

20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble (godless chatter NIV) and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” 21 for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.

Remember what I said about the Gnostic heresy? They claimed to have a “special knowledge” about God. These false teachers professed to KNOW God, perhaps claiming this special knowledge of the Gnostics OR claiming their heritage as Jews meant that they automatically knew God. They professed to know God, but their hearts were far from Him (From Jesus’ words in Mark 7: *Isaiah 29:13 “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me…”).

DENY Him by their works

While their words appeared to express a love or knowledge for God, Paul says their works tell another (TRUER) story. Matt 7:15-19

15Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Jesus also addresses the fruit concept in Matt 12:33-37 (the tree is known by its fruit.” v. 33). In both passages He connects words with works/fruit. Those who love Him obey Him and walk like Him because as they ABIDE in the Vine, they begin to look and act more like the Vinedresser who faithfully produces fruit (good works) in the lives of His image-bearers.

James writes at length on the importance of faith and works working together. In fact he makes the bold statement that faith without works is DEAD (James 2:26).

The false teachers said “yes we know God” with their words but in all that they did, Paul says they denied God.

Peter also speaking about false teachers says this: 2 Pet 2:1

But false prophets also arose among the people… who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

Similar to Paul’s theme of denying God by living immorally, Jude writes this v. 4,

For certain people have crept in unnoticed … ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

John puts it way more harshly in 1 John 2:22,

Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichristdenying the Father and the Son.

As we think about this term to deny, I want to take you to Isaiah 59:12-15:

12 For our transgressions are multiplied before you,
    and our sins testify against us;
for our transgressions are with us,
    and we know our iniquities:
13 transgressing, and denying the Lord,
    and turning back from following our God,
speaking oppression and revolt,
    conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.

14 Justice is turned back,
    and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
    and uprightness cannot enter.
15 Truth is lacking,
    and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

Isaiah was speaking to the Israelites in that day, but you can see how his words applied very much to those false teachers at Crete, and even to those walking among us today.

I can’t help but think of these sobering (serious?) words from Jesus (paraphrase), “if you acknowledge Me, I’ll acknowledge you before the Father. If you deny Me, I’ll deny you.” Matthew 10:32-33

Without sound doctrine, we are just another deceiver – defiled, detestable, disobedient. Unfit for good works.

Unfit for good works

  1. Greek lexicon – word is adokimos (ad-ok’-ee-mos) and meant “not standing the test, unqualified, worthless
  2. Interlinear bible – “not approved (properly used of metals and coins); unfit for, unproved, spurious, reprobate”

Let me put it this way : 2 Tim 2:15 tells us we must be diligent to present ourselves as workmen APPROVED to God who accurately handle the Word. And remember what Job said after all of his horrific trials, “when He has tried me, I shall come forth as pure gold“ (Job 23:10).

The refining process for silver involved the metal worker heating the silver to its melting point, skimming off the dross/impurities, and ending his labor once he saw his reflection in the pure silver. When we, like the precious metal, have gone through the affliction, we come forth qualified, approved, as those who have stood the test. They are fit for good works.

To tie this all together, remember God has created us for good works (Eph 2:10) but these works are a privilege and a gift for those who have stood the test and have been approved.

This is exactly opposite of the false teachers. They are unfit. Not approved. Unproved. Did not stand the test. Not ready for good works.

Characteristics of False Teachers 

In closing let me take just a moment to summarize some characteristics of false teachers. (From bible.org Steven J. Cole – https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-107-final-warning-beware-false-teachers-romans-1617-20)

  1. Their motivation is to promote themselves rather than Christ or the gospel.
  2. They will cause dissension and place stumbling blocks in the way rather than promoting unity and spiritual growth.
  3. Their message is to contradict core Biblical truth.
  4. Their master is their own appetite, not the Lord.
  5. Their methods are to use smooth and flattering speech to deceive the hearts and minds of the naïve.

To expound on this last characteristic, I wanted to read to you from Steven Cole’s article on false teachers. He writes:

Arius (d. 336), was a heretic who denied the deity of Christ and was the forerunner of the modern Jehovah’s Witnesses. He gained a huge following. But the courageous Athanasius battled against him. Parker Williamson describes Arius:

‘Here was a bright, energetic, attractive fellow, the kind of citizen whom any Rotary Club would welcome. Singing sea chanties in dockside pubs and teaching Bible stories to the Wednesday night faithful, this was an immensely popular man. His story reminds us that heresy does not bludgeon us into belief. We are seduced.’ (Standing Firm: Reclaiming the Chastain Faith in Times of Controversy [Lenoir, North Carolina: PLC Publications, 1996], p. 31, cited by John Piper, “Watch Out for Those Who Lead You Away from the Truth,” on DesiringGod.org)

So to recognize false teachers, watch their motives, their message, their master, and their methods.

What does this mean for us? Know your Truth people! The Truth sets you free from all the false doctrine the world contains. (John 8:32) This is no war against flesh and blood. Those deceivers/false teachers are not the enemy. The evil one is our enemy. {KATNISS! “Remember who the real enemy is”}

Therefore put on the whole armor of God so you can stand against the devil’s schemes! (Eph 6:11) Fasten the belt of truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, put on the shoes of the gospel, take up the shield of faith, wear the helmet of salvation, and finally keep that sword sharp. Then just pray pray pray. (Eph 6:14-18)

As for what we must do to guard against false teachers, Paul tells us, “Keep your eye on them and turn away from them.” (Rom 16:17) The noun related to the verb “keep your eye on” is used in Ezekiel 3:17 (LXX) to refer to the watchman on the wall. His job was to keep his eye peeled for the enemy and to sound the alarm when he saw them coming so that they could prepare for battle. Since these false teachers often disguise themselves as “servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:15) or as “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matt. 7:15), you have to be discerning to spot them.

Paul also says, “I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” Or, in Jesus words (Matt. 10:16, ESV), “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Our focus should be on being wise in the Scriptures. Knowing the truth will equip you to refute the errors of false teachers.” (From bible.org – https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-107-final-warning-beware-false-teachers-romans-1617-20)

Finally, watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Tim 4:16 (NIV)

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