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Once again, our three-year Lectionary misses out on essential Bible verses.  Today, we look at Titus 3, most of which is missing from the set readings we have in Catholic and mainline Protestant churches.  Only Titus 3:4-7 has been set as a reading (Christmas Day, all years — A, B and C). 

Our missing verses from Titus 3 qualify them as Forbidden Bible Verses.  Today’s passage is from the New International Version (NIV).

Titus 3

Doing What is Good

 1Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

 3At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

… 

8This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, 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.

 9But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. 11You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

Final Remarks

 12As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there. 13Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. 14Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.

 15Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith.
      Grace be with you all.

——————————————————————-

Compared with verses 4-7, which are quite positive, the rest of the chapter is characteristic of St Paul in that it reminds people of their sinful nature, advises on conduct and living in the spirit of Christ. St Paul teaches Titus (perhaps Timothy — scholars are divided) about that which he should avoid as well as how to deal with a heretic. 

In the first two verses he wishes for Titus to remind the new Christians of their duties, just as a good pastor should.  Christians are obliged to obey those in authority over them, to do the right and honourable thing.  They are also — in the private sphere of conduct — to resist words which damage another person’s character and instead focus on being kind and considerate, peaceable and humble.  They are not to let others pick up the slack but to take the initiative in this regard.

It is important to note that civil powers viewed the Church as threatening to their authority — much as now in some countries of the world.  Paul wishes to emphasise that Christians are mandated to obey laws and ordinances. 

Paul reminds Titus to remember what type of people they were before they became Christians (verse 3).  They did things which were unprofitable to body and soul.  They were rebellious, envious and hateful.  He does this in order that Titus does not condemn his new converts for sins of which he, too, was once guilty.  His intent is that Titus treat his new flock with understanding and mercy, as if to say, ‘Remember, we were once in their shoes, without spritual wisdom and understanding.  We, too, were once headstrong and easily deceived by temptation.  We, too, were once slaves to pleasure instead of to Christ.’

In verse 8, St Paul introduces his next topic by saying his advice is trustworthy.  This expression — ‘This is a trustworthy saying’ — is used often throughout the New Testament. What follows is always intended to be carefully understood and adhered to.  St Paul asks Titus to ensure his flock understand they are to do good at all times.  This benefits everyone around them in greater or lesser ways: quiet households, obedience to civil law, charity towards one’s neighbours, gentle conduct all make for an improved society.

Verse 9 relates generally to Christians but to Titus’s ministry in Crete.  The prominent men around him were well-educated and made much of their factual knowledge as well as of their lineage, both of which some of them believed granted them an exalted place in society.  Such claims to heritage are still stumbling blocks for people in today’s societies and can make them slaves to pride or ambition.  Similarly, an overemphasis on and love of specialised knowledge can lead to gnosticism.  ‘Ahh, if only you knew what I know, you peasant!’ 

Such sentiments and beliefs contradict Christian beliefs.  You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to become a good Christian.  You also don’t need to have a certain family tree to be saved through the blood of Christ, either.  Everyone is welcome to the hope and salvation that a belief in Christ delivers.   

Paul instructs Titus (verses 10 and 11) on how to deal with this type of sin and, when it distorts or denies Christianity, heresy.  Crete had many heretics at the time.  If allowed to spread their opinions and false teachings, these men would have damaged the health and peace of Titus’s church.  The same is true today.  We see it going unchecked in many of our churches and denominations.  It causes strife and discord.  It damages faith and friendships. It corrupts — even destroys — a congregation. 

So, Titus is to warn heretics only twice to stop before disregarding them entirely.  We must stop giving quarter to heretics.  It is the only way to keep the Church pure.  St Paul writes (verse 11) that these men condemn — excommunicate — themselves by their words and actions: ‘You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful’.  Yes, ‘warped and sinful’.  Imagine telling that to some of the emergent church types and seminary professors.  Yet, that is what needs to be done — now.            

Matthew Henry explains in his commentary:

How great an evil real heresy is, not lightly therefore to be charged upon any, though greatly to be taken heed of by all. Such a one is subverted or perverted-a metaphor from a building so ruined as to render it difficult if not impossible to repair and raise it up again. Real heretics have seldom been recovered to the true faith: not so much defect of judgment, as perverseness of the will, being in the case, through pride, or ambition, or self-willedness, or covetousness, or such like corruption, which therefore must be taken heed of: “Be humble, love the truth and practise it, and damning heresy will be escaped.”   

Yet, even Christians can suffer from gnosis, exalted self-opinion and the tendency to quarrel needlessly.  And verses 9-11 pertain to us, too, although perhaps in a more everyday context.   That includes argumentation over Scripture or belief as a sport, particularly online.  There are those — mainly men — in the Christian world who enjoy visiting other people’s websites to dispute and ‘debate’ (I use the term advisedly) confessional and denominational teachings.  Why a Christian would engage in this type of one-upmanship in playing fast and loose with Scripture or Church teachings defeats me.  But women, too, get in on the act — arguing over morality, attire and behaviour in a most un-Christian way. 

Presbyterian pastor’s wife Stacy McDonald of Your Sacred Calling carried a recent post, ‘Smoking Keyboards and Razor-mouthed Christians’:

… let us all avoid dissensions and quarrels about the law, and commit to firmly communicating the truth – firmly, boldly, graciously, and always … in love …

And as far as the Internet goes, keep in mind that unbelievers are watching. We will either hallow His name or cause it to be blasphemed among the cyber-heathen.

Remember, a soft answer turns away wrath. And if you can’t find a soft answer, perhaps you should walk away. I’ve had to do that.

The final four verses give us an insight to Paul’s life as an evangelist.  This is one of the reasons I enjoy reading his Epistles — they contain those glimpses at the end.  Where is he going?  With whom will he meet? 

Verse 12 tells us that Paul intends to send Artemas or Tychicus to take Titus’s place in Crete.  Paul says that this is because he needs Titus’s help in Nicopolis — in Thrace.  Paul will be spending the winter there (although he did not write this letter from there).  Paul makes references to Tychicus in other letters;  he is a pious, trustworthy man. 

In the meantime, Paul asks Titus to help their local friends Zenas and Apollo in their service to the church in Crete (verse 13).  In verse 14 he says that the more good works Titus, Zenas and Apollo can do for the new Christians, the sooner the new Christians can begin doing truly good works of their own.  A Christian’s life reflects upon him.  So, if what he does is good and is useful (profitable), then, that is what outsiders will associate with the faith.

In verse 15, Paul gives his benediction, sending all best wishes — from himself and those with him —  to Titus and his flock, who would hear this letter.  In closing, Paul asks them to greet other Christians warmly and sends wishes that God’s grace be with all of them.     

Further reading:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

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