‘Hold firmly to the trustworthy message … so that (you) can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.’ (Titus 1:9) My first reaction to this is that it sounds quite confrontational. I like to know what I believe, and have confidence in it, but I also like hearing and playing with unfamiliar ideas, weighing them up and then discarding them if they don’t fit with the facts. I don’t mind discussing and debating with people who hold different views, but this passage moved quickly to ‘rebuke them sharply’ and ‘they must be silenced’.
Paul gives one clear example, the circumcision group who were stirring up trouble by teaching that faith was not enough in itself, and that people had to do other things to in order to be one of Jesus’ followers (particularly getting circumcised, and probably also following other aspects of Jewish culture and law)
OK I can see that this needed to be cleared up, and if they have started the ‘we’re right, you’re wrong’ debate, Paul, Timothy and others needed to weigh in and defend the truth. Fair enough.
There are a few other types of people described teaching wrong things:
- ‘rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception’. I think that when we do not want to do what God says, we look for distractions, arguing about unimportant things to keep our attention away from the big important thing that we don’t like. It is always easy to drag people into pointless discussions on insignificant things, using up their time and energy. We are probably better off not engaging at all as these are only distractions.
- ‘teaching for the sake of dishonest gain’ – people simply getting something out of it, and therefore teaching what benefits them rather than the truth. I can think of some teachers / preachers that seem to be running scams purely to get very rich. I can think of others, more so in the past, who gained a lot of power and used their teaching to protect their power and influence – and yes, when I think about these examples, I have no difficulty with the idea of taking them on head-on and arguing for the truth.
- People who have rejected the truth themselves, and can only offer ‘merely human commands’. There are plenty of options out there in any bookshop or on TV that claim to make our lives meaningful or fulfilled. Each are offering their best route to fulfilment, and some are even compatible with a life of faith, but none can replace it, and therefore will never be enough by themselves.
Paul continues his advice to Timothy in chapter 2, starting with ‘You however, teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine’. We should focus on the things that are important, that help us to grow as Christians and allow us to help others to grow, and avoid wasting time on arguments and discussion about unimportant things even if they are creating a lot of debate.