Titus Series: Recognizing and Ministering to False Teachers and Their Followers (Tit 1:10-16)
Recognizing and Ministering to False Teachers and Their Followers
For there are many rebellious people, idle talkers, and deceivers, especially those with Jewish connections, who must be silenced because they mislead whole families by teaching for dishonest gain what ought not to be taught. A certain one of them, in fact, one of their own prophets, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Such testimony is true. For this reason rebuke them sharply that they may be healthy in the faith and not pay attention to Jewish myths and commands of people who reject the truth. All is pure to those who are pure. But to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God but with their deeds they deny him, since they are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good deed.
Titus 1:10-16 (NET)
What are characteristics of false teachers?
Though not a pleasant topic, it is one that the Bible addresses often. In the Old Testament, there were many false prophets. Ezekiel 13:9 says this about the lying prophets throughout Israel:
My hand will be against the prophets who see delusion and announce lying omens. They will not be included in the council of my people, nor be written in the registry of the house of Israel, nor enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the sovereign Lord.
When Christ came to Israel, he also warned about false prophets. In fact, he said that they would increase before his return. Consider the following verses: Matthew 7:15 says, “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves.” Also, Mark 13:22-23 says, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, the elect. Be careful! I have told you everything ahead of time.”
In addition, Paul continually warned of false prophets, and many of his letters were written to confront false teachers and false teaching within the early church. Consider what he said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29-31:
I know that after I am gone fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth to draw the disciples away after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears.
The wolves did, in fact, come to Ephesus and also Galatia, Corinth, Colosse, Philippi, Thessalonica, and even Crete, to which Paul wrote this letter. Titus 1:10 says, “For there are many rebellious people, idle talkers, and deceivers, especially those with Jewish connections.” “Jewish connections” can more literally be translated “the circumcision” (NASB). It seems that the false teaching confronting the Cretans came from a group called the Judiazers. They believed that Gentiles needed to practice the Jewish law and customs, including males being circumcised, to be saved. They mixed faith in Christ with legalism, as necessary for salvation.
This type of teaching was widespread in the early church. Because of its prominence, the apostles addressed this in Acts 15 at a church council in Jerusalem. They declared that Gentiles did not need to practice the Old Testament law. However, this form of false teaching continued to spread throughout the early church, specifically in Galatia, Colosse, Crete, Philippi, and Ephesus. Certainly, forms of it continue today.
Because of the danger of this false teaching, Paul told Titus he needed to set up godly elders within the churches to help silence these false teachers, as they were hurting believers. The connection of this section of verses (10-16) to the previous verses which gave the characteristics of elders (v. 5-9) is clear from the first word of verse 10, “‘For’ there are many rebellious people…” One of the reasons godly elders must be established in churches is to protect them from false teaching and teachers. Verse 9-10 says this about an elder:
He must hold firmly to the faithful message as it has been taught, so that he will be able to give exhortation in such healthy teaching and correct those who speak against it. For there are many rebellious people, idle talkers, and deceivers, especially those with Jewish connections
The elder must not only be a godly man and a teacher, he must also be a protector. He must guard the flock, even as Paul sought to do through this letter.
As we consider this passage, the hope is that we can begin to recognize false teaching and teachers, so that we can both guard ourselves and others. In addition, we need to be equipped to minister to those who are caught in false teaching or under the control of false teachers. In these last days, deceivers and those who are deceived will increase. Lord, may they not be named among us. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Big Question: What are characteristics of false teachers in this passage and how should we respond to this dangerous reality within the universal church?
Recognizing False Teachers
Observation Question: What are the characteristics of false teachers in this passage?
In this passage, there are many characteristics of false teachers:
1. False teachers are rebellious (v. 10)
Paul says, “For there are many rebellious people…” (v. 10). Again, this was widespread in the churches of Crete. They could be identified by their rebellious nature, their lack of submission to authorities.
Interpretation Question: What authorities were they rebelling against?
False teachers, though they don’t often recognize it, typically rebel against all of God’s ordained authorities in the church, home, and government. They rebel against the authorities in the church, the elders. They will commonly criticize and undermine the leadership of the church instead of submitting to them. They will commonly cause conflict in the home by getting control of the wives. Second Timothy 3:6 describes how they “worm” their way into homes and gain control of “gullible women,” no doubt causing conflict with the husbands, who are the spiritual leaders of the home. They will often teach rebellion against government authorities. In every generation of believers, there have been government zealots, teaching rebellion against authorities on various issues that are not clear sin issues. No doubt, many of Christ’s early followers wanted him to rebel against Herod and Rome. Jude 1:8 says this about false teachers, “Yet these men, as a result of their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and insult the glorious ones.” The ones Jude referred to even insulted angels. Because of their great pride, rebellion marked their character.
However, the most prominent way they rebel is through their rejection of the clear teachings in God’s Word. Now, in the church, unfortunately, we will always differ, especially, on minor areas of doctrine, as we continue our process of sanctification—looking like Christ by knowing and obeying his Word. However, false teachers will often be known by their rebellion against foundational doctrines of the faith which unify the church.
Application Question: What are some examples of their rebellious teaching?
• In general, false teachers tend to have unbalanced teaching.
Balanced teaching aims to teach the whole counsel of God. In Acts 20:26-27, Paul said this, “Therefore I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of you all. For I did not hold back from announcing to you the whole purpose of God.” However, false teachers tend to focus on one aspect of doctrine, especially the more comforting ones like God’s love, to the neglect of others. When they focus on love alone, it creates undisciplined people who don’t fear God or hate sin. One of the most popular teachers in the U.S. said that he wouldn’t speak on sin because his people needed to hear about God’s comfort more. The problem is without understanding sin and God’s judgment, nobody can be saved. It is a crucial part of the gospel. One cannot accept the good news without first understanding the bad news. In Jeremiah 6:14, God described false prophets this way: “They offer only superficial help for the harm my people have suffered. They say, ‘Everything will be all right!’ But everything is not all right!” Some versions translate it as they say, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” These prophets focused on God’s love and blessing but neglected other aspects of his character.
Others only teach about God’s wrath, often creating a fear in people which allows them to be controlled and manipulated. Teaching about God’s wrath apart from his love and grace ultimately fosters a works-based salvation and turns people into Pharisees who condemn and judge one another.
• False teachers often have a heretical view of the doctrine of salvation.
(1) Some teach the need to believe in Jesus as Savior without repentance, Lordship, or taking up one’s cross. People can ultimately live any way they want (antinomianism). As long as they profess Christ, it is OK. Jude 1:4 says they turn “the grace of our God into a license for evil.” Bonhoeffer called this “cheap grace”—a grace that doesn’t change us. Some even teach that one can take Christ as Savior first and Lord later. However, Christ said that nobody could be his disciple without hating mother, father, wife, children, brother, sister, and even one’s own life. Whoever does not take up his cross cannot be Christ’s disciple (Lk 14:26-27 paraphrase). (2) Some teach a works salvation like the Judiazers in Crete—one needs to be baptized, practice the Lord’s Supper, or do some other work to be saved. Every religion teaches the need of works for salvation except true Christianity. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith, and that not of ourselves. It is a gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast (Eph 2:8-9). With that said, true faith will always produce godly works (Eph 2:10). But we are not saved by these works. (3) Others teach universal salvation. Christ is the way to heaven, but only one out of many ways. Buddha, Muhammad, and others all speak of the same god and heaven, they would say. However, Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6 paraphrase).
• False teachers often have a heretical view of the doctrine of Christ.
In warning the Ephesian church about false teachers, John said this in 1 John 4:1-3:
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God, and this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming, and now is already in the world.
The cult attacking Ephesus twisted the doctrine of Christ—seemingly denying his humanity. Modern cults do the same thing, either denying Christ’s humanity or deity. Prominent ones often teach that Christ was a created being and is not God or not eternally God. Some even say Christ was an angel. Beware of unorthodox teachings about Christ; they are the fruit of false teachers.
• False teachers often undermine the authority of Scripture itself.
Like Satan in the Garden of Eden, they challenge others with, “Did God really say?” They teach that one can’t believe everything the Bible says. One can’t believe the historicity and/or ethical requirements of the Bible. When Scripture is removed as the only basis for doctrine and living, other foundations can be established. The teacher himself can become the standard by which all things are tested or even one’s culture. Beware of teachers who undermine the authority of God’s Word. When they do this, it is simply an opportunity to establish some other authority—including their own.
The first characteristic we must recognize about false teachers is their rebellious character. Pride leads them to rebel against the leaders of the church, government, the home, and even God. Some will even clearly identify themselves by claiming to be God or the messiah himself.
What are some other characteristics of false teachers?
2. False teachers are idle talkers (v. 10).
“Idle” can also be translated “meaningless” (NIV), “vain” (KJV), “empty” (ESV), or “useless” (NLT). They are often smooth with their words and easy to listen to. They aim to inspire and excite; however, their promises are empty. Their use of Scripture is not holistic. They pluck words and phrases of Scripture out of the context and deceive those with little Bible knowledge. God’s Word will not return void (Is 55:11), but since false teaching commonly lacks Scripture or twists it, the words of false teachers are useless and unfruitful. Jude described them as “waterless clouds, carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit” (v. 12). Like a daunting cloud, which gives no rain, there is not much substance to their teaching. In general, Christians should ask themselves after hearing a sermon, “Do I understand that passage better in context and its teachings and applications for my life?” Unfortunately, most evaluate a sermon by how they feel and not by it being properly interpreted and applied to their lives. False teachers are empty talkers, which is why their words don’t really change people’s lives long term. Instead of healthy food, it’s cotton candy preaching. It may taste good, but it is not good for the person eating it.
3. False teachers are “deceivers” (v. 10, 12-13).
False teachers are deceived by the devil and therefore deceive others. First Timothy 4:1 says, “Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings.” Satan is always seeking to deceive people through the world system, culture, and the abuse of Scripture. These people will take up the enemy’s mantle and become his mouthpiece. What makes their message so difficult to discern is that it is mixed with truth. When Satan said to Eve that she would be like God by eating the tree, he was telling the truth. However, the lie was that being like God by knowing good and evil was actually good for her and her descendants, when it actually was destructive. It would kill them. Therefore, false teachers can be hard to distinguish because, in some areas, they are correct, but they are typically out of balance. Does God want to prosper you? Yes, but it is not always God’s will for Christians to be wealthy and healthy. Are works important to the Christian faith? Yes, but are they necessary to be saved? No. False teachers are deceptive because they teach truths out of balance.
With that said, I don’t believe all false teachers know they are deceiving people. Most are deceived themselves. However, many, in fact, know they are deceiving others. Second Corinthians 11:13-15 says,
For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will correspond to their actions.
4. False teachers typically coerce individuals and small groups of people, including families (v. 11).
In verse 11, Paul said, “they mislead whole families by teaching for dishonest gain what ought not to be taught.” The word “families” can also be translated “houses” (KJV). This could refer to them infiltrating house churches where believers often gathered for worship but probably refers to how they commonly avoided the public gathering of believers to target smaller groups of people which were easier to deceive. In 2 Timothy 3:6-7, Paul described how false teachers would often target women who were apparently at home by themselves while the husbands were off to work. He said:
They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.
John MacArthur said this about their tactics which cults commonly use today:
These particular heretics apparently were not doing most of their teaching during worship services or other church meetings but in the homes of the people. Several reasons for such a tactic are obvious. For one thing, a large group is more likely to include believers who are spiritually perceptive and well grounded in Scripture, making false teaching more likely to be recognized and contested. An isolated small group such as a single family, on the other hand, not only is less likely to include a biblically grounded believer but also, because of its size, is often more easily intimidated. It is largely for those reasons that many cults focus on person-to-person and door-to-door ministries to capture converts.
It should be noted that physically visiting homes is not as needed today because of the advent of the Internet. Many are being deceived by podcasts, YouTube channels, blogs, and social media. Homes, and the faith of the believers within them, are being overturned through the media channels they indulge in; therefore, we must be very discerning when considering matters of faith online. There is certainly lots of good faith resources on the Internet, but bad ones are probably more abundant than the good.
5. False teachers minister for dishonest gain (v. 11)
In verse 11, Paul said they teach what ought not to be taught for “dishonest gain.” Here he is probably focusing on their desire to make money off their followers. Jude 1:11 said this about false prophets: “Woe to them! For they have traveled down Cain’s path, and because of greed have abandoned themselves to Balaam’s error; hence, they will certainly perish in Korah’s rebellion.” Like Balaam rebelling against God by accepting money from the king of Moab to help him trap the Israelite men in lust, false teachers commonly do ministry for the same reason. In considering Jude’s Balaam comparison, Balaam was a false prophet who did have a charismatic experience where he heard God speak to him through a donkey and was even empowered by God to prophesy over Israel; however, he still rebelled against God for the sake of money (Num 22-24). No doubt, some false teachers may have genuine charismatic experiences and will be used to at times do miracles; however, they don’t truly know God, and the overall fruit of their ministry makes that clear. In Matthew 7:22-23, Christ said this:
On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’
The sinful, rebellious lives of these teachers proved that they were never truly saved, even though they apparently did some good works. Maybe, like Balaam and other false prophets, instead of serving for God and others, they served for dishonest gain. Money was always their true god, and therefore, Christ could never be (Matt 6:24).
Certainly, we must consider this reality in comparison with the characteristics of a faithful elder which Paul previously gave (v. 6-9). Titus 1:7 says the elder must not be “not greedy for gain.” Also, in 1 Peter 5:2, Peter said the same thing about elders; they must serve “not for shameful profit.” Elders and other faithful ministers must not be motivated by money, even if ministry is their career. Serving God and others must be their primary motivation. In fact, sometimes, they will have to serve in faith—trusting that God will provide their finances and other needs.
With all that said, money is probably not the only “dishonest gain,” false teachers serve for. Some seek recognition, a following, widespread acceptance, or just a reputable profession. For many, their dishonest gain is more emotional than financial. However, James said many should not seek to be teachers for they will receive a stricter judgment (Jam 3:1). We must carefully weigh our motives, character, and teaching if we are to serve in ministry, because it could actually lead to us receiving greater judgment rather than profit.
6. False teachers are often dishonest, selfish, abusive, and unrestrained (v. 12-13)
Lying, apparently, was a cultural norm in Crete, and the false teachers were living it out. In verse 12-13, Paul said this: “A certain one of them, in fact, one of their own prophets, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ Such testimony is true. For this reason rebuke them sharply that they may be healthy in the faith.” Paul quotes a famous Cretan philosopher named Epimenides who lived around 600 BC and agrees with his statement about Cretans. This may seem harsh, especially in today’s politically correct atmosphere which stays away from generalizations; however, people groups share a culture that typically has both positive and negative aspects. For Crete, lying was a common norm in that culture. In fact, “to Cretanize” became a common Greek figure of speech which meant to lie. One particular lie Cretans were famous for was saying that Zeus was buried in Crete. This obviously didn’t make any sense since Zeus was supposed to be immortal.
This unfortunate, negative cultural reality should be encouraging for many of us who God at times puts in difficult ministries to serve—a difficult workplace, family, or nation. God loves all people, and therefore, he places his Christians as lights in various dark places. For Titus, not only did he have to deal with a culture of lying, but many false teachers who were deceived and deceiving people.
Epimenides also said that Cretans were “evil beasts” and “lazy gluttons.” Again, this was not just reflecting the culture; Paul applied it directly to the false teachers. Because false teachers are void of God’s Word, which changes us and makes us holy, they are often very carnal and worldly. “Evil beasts” refers to them living for their appetites and passions. They commonly don’t restrain their appetites for money, luxury, sex, and power. Because of this, scandals typically follow them. Like animals fighting for food and power, false teachers commonly abuse their subjects to get what they want. Paul not only calls them “evil beasts” who cannot control their passions but also “lazy gluttons.” This means they like to eat and indulge at the expense of others, but don’t like to work themselves. False teachers are often dishonest, selfish, abusive, and unrestrained.
7. False teachers have defiled consciences (v. 15).
In verse 15, Paul said this about the false teachers, “All is pure to those who are pure. But to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their minds and consciences are corrupted.” Some have abused this text to excuse clear sinful living. “If a person thinks it is pure, then it is!” they would say which is a form of moral relativism. But, this is not what Paul was referring to when he said, “all is pure.” He clearly is referring to things that are not sinful in nature. Paul said the same thing in Romans 14:20, “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. For although all things are clean, it is wrong to cause anyone to stumble by what you eat.” “All things are clean” or “pure,” in the context of Romans 14, is referring to the fact that foods are not unclean in themselves. Because of Old Testament teachings, Jews believed that certain foods like pork were unclean and therefore made the person who ate them unclean. But, Paul, in line with Jesus’ teaching, taught that eating certain foods didn’t make a person unclean, but the heart did. In Mark 7:15-23, Christ said this:
There is nothing outside of a person that can defile him by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles him.” Now when Jesus had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Are you so foolish? Don’t you understand that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him? For it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and then goes out into the sewer.” (This means all foods are clean.) He said, “What comes out of a person defiles him. For from within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. All these evils come from within and defile a person.”
This was probably exactly how Paul was using the phrase in referring to the Jewish false teachers in the Cretan churches. They were claiming that eating certain foods, and other practices that were not sinful in themselves, were making people unclean. However, Paul essentially says, on matters not clearly forbidden in Scripture (like drinking alcohol, eating pork, worshiping on Sunday, etc.), there is freedom. However, for those who believe they are wrong, then it is wrong to them. It’s our heart that makes certain things unclean.
And for these Jewish legalists, everything was unclean because their hearts were unclean. They forbade eating certain foods and other practices because their hearts were evil, as they hadn’t been saved yet. They were still trying to be saved by works, and therefore, there was no grace in their lives. They tried to bring everybody else under their legalism because their hearts were unclean.
False teachers commonly have unclean consciences which lead them into all types of legalism (or license), trying to please God by their works. In fact, their unclean, hardened consciences opened the door for demonic deception. First Timothy 4:1-3 (NIV) says this about false teachers in the last days:
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.
For those whose consciences are unclean from practicing unrepented sin, their consciences stop working, and they are more prone to be deceived by demons and demonic doctrines.
Likewise, maybe these false teachers started on the right path, trying to be honest and wanting to serve God and others. Therefore, they started to lead worship or teach a Sunday school class. However, they started to compromise with sin—maybe sexual sin—but continued to lead and serve. In the process, their hearts became hardened by their sin. They could lead in worship and teach and no longer feel convicted by sin. Then, they started to be attracted to teachings that said sexual sin was not sin at all, because it eased their consciences. Their hard hearts accepted the lie, and soon, they started teaching it to others. Because sin is attractive, others followed which made them prideful and seek to spread their dangerous doctrine even more.
False teachers have unclean hearts, hardened consciences. Certainly, this is a reminder to us to not allow our consciences to be hardened by sin. The conscience is a faculty in people which comes from being made in the image of God. It condemns us when we sin and affirms us when we do what is right. However, it is not perfect. It must be informed by Scripture, and it can be hardened by unrepented sin. And this unrepented sin hardens our hearts, so we can be deceived and start to deceive others.
This is the pathway of many false teachers. They have hardened consciences from their hypocritical lives. They practiced sin while professing holiness which seared their consciences and opened doors for demonic deception.
8. False teachers are unregenerate, and their sinful lives prove it (v. 16).
In verse 16, Paul says, “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.” Unlike our conscience and motives which people cannot see, outwards deeds are seen by all and demonstrate what’s really in our hearts. Because false teachers reject God’s Word, their deeds are ungodly and demonstrate their unredeemed natures. Christ said this in Matthew 7:15-20 about false teachers:
Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.
The unhindered, sinful deeds of false teachers prove that they do not truly know God, though they profess him. These deeds may remain hidden for a season, but they will ultimately be revealed. First Timothy 5:24-25 says, “The sins of some people are obvious, going before them into judgment, but for others, they show up later. Similarly good works are also obvious, and the ones that are not cannot remain hidden.” Therefore, we will know them by the fruit of their character, works, and doctrine.
Application Question: What characteristic of false teachers stood out most to you and why? What distinguishes a cult from an accepted denomination or healthy church? In what ways have you experienced false teachers and false teaching? Why are false teaching and cults so prevalent in the church? How should we respond to the pervasiveness of false teachings and cults?
Ministering to False Teachers and Their Followers
…who must be silenced because they mislead whole families by teaching for dishonest gain what ought not to be taught … For this reason rebuke them sharply that they may be healthy in the faith and not pay attention to Jewish myths and commands of people who reject the truth.
Titus 1:11, 13-14
Application Question: How should we minister to false teachers and those caught in false doctrine?
1. We must minister to false teachers and those caught in false doctrine by first evaluating our ability to help them and considering seeking help.
Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too.” Immature believers might not know how to help a false teacher or someone caught in false doctrine. They even might be prone to adopting the false doctrine and evil practices themselves. Therefore, before seeking to help someone caught in serious false doctrine, we must first evaluate our spiritual maturity and knowledge. Oftentimes, we may need to ask someone more mature than us to reach out to a person or to give us advice. We will probably need to research resources that deal with that particular false doctrine, so we can be better equipped. Certainly, we should always ask others to pray for us, as we minister to someone struggling with false doctrine.
2. We must minister to false teachers and those caught in false doctrine with hope—trusting in God’s supernatural grace and mercy.
In considering Paul’s challenge to Titus, William Barclay said:
The Cretans were notorious liars and cheats and gluttons and traitors—but here is the wonderful thing. Knowing that, and actually experiencing it, Paul does not say … ‘Leave them alone. They are hopeless and everyone knows it.’ He says: ‘They are bad and we all know it. Go and convert them.’ Few passages so demonstrate the divine optimism of the Christian evangelist who refuses to regard anyone as hopeless. The greater the evil, the greater the challenge. It is the Christian conviction that there is no sin too great for the grace of Jesus Christ to conquer.
Certainly, we must understand that no person is so far gone that God cannot reach them. Paul himself was caught in Jewish legalism and had even persecuted Christians and yet God miraculously saved him. Therefore, we must minister to false teachers and those caught in false doctrine in hope—trusting in God’s sovereign ability to save and deliver even the hardest hearts. Second Timothy 2:24-26 (NIV) says,
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
Our confidence must not be in our knowledge and persuasiveness. It must be in God’s power and desire to save and restore wandering sheep. We must minister in the hope that God will grant repentance.
3. We must minister to false teachers and those caught in false doctrine by sharply challenging them with God’s Word, so they can become healthy.
Titus 1:13 says, “For this reason rebuke them sharply that they may be healthy in the faith.” “Sharply” comes from a Greek word that means “to cut,” as with a knife. Since the doctrine these false teachers accepted and taught was particularly unhealthy, they needed to be challenged sharply. We are not to condemn them, as though there is no hope for them. Our sharp challenge is so that they can be spiritually healthy—right with God. As it has been said, “The surgeon of the soul only cuts to achieve a cure.” This applies to us as spiritual surgeons.
When Paul says they must be “silenced” in verse 11, the Greek Word meant “to muzzle,” like we do with a dangerous animal; however, it did not mean to physically muzzle them. The word came to mean “to silence by reason.” That reason or logic we must use is God’s clearly explained Word. When Christ was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, he always responded with God’s Word and so should we. When challenging false teachers and those caught in false teaching, we must point out errors in their doctrine and practice by properly interpreting and applying God’s Word like spiritual surgeons.
One positive thing about encountering and ministering to those caught in false doctrine is that it should draw us to study God’s Word more deeply, both to confirm what we believe is true and to learn how to share it with others. In the context of dealing with false teaching and teachers, Jude 1:23 says, “save others by snatching them out of the fire; have mercy on others, coupled with a fear of God, hating even the clothes stained by the flesh.” Lord, help us do the same!
4. We must minister to false teachers and those caught in false doctrine by at times separating from them if they will not repent.
Titus will say this later on. Titus 3:10-11 says, “Reject a divisive person after one or two warnings. You know that such a person is twisted by sin and is conscious of it himself.” This takes a lot of wisdom in considering the danger of a particular false teaching (more on this later) and their sharing it with others. False teaching and other sins are like leaven or yeast in that they tend to spread and infect many. First Corinthians 5:6 says, “Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough?” Therefore, sometimes when a person is unrepentant about spreading false doctrine, he must be removed from the church and separated from. This discipline is not to condemn him but to help him see the seriousness of his sin and repent. This should only happen after church members, including the leadership of the church, have formerly met with the person several times seeking to help him repent, and yet he refused. Matthew 18:15-17 describes this process. In verse 17, Christ said this: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.” Again, the purpose of this is to protect the church from their false doctrine and evil practices, but also so that they will see the seriousness of their error (gospel error) and repent (cf. 1 Cor 5:5, 11-12).
Application Question: What experience do you have with helping someone caught in false doctrine? What are some other wise principles for helping people caught in false doctrine or sin in general? Is there anybody God currently has on your heart to help?
Application Question: What applications can we take from the reality of false teachers and their destructive influence on the church?
1. Because of false teachers and their destructive influence, believers must constantly test the teachings they hear with Scripture.
Church members must be like the Bereans. Acts 17:11 said this about them, “they eagerly received the message, examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so.” God honored the Bereans in Scripture because they tested everything that Paul said to make sure it lined up with God’s Word. Each church must develop a culture of opening their Bible to test the teachings they hear, and not just accepting what they hear. If the sermon is void of Scripture or not primarily based on Scripture, there is a problem. Our spiritual leaders must be held accountable for accurately preaching the Word. Good shepherds will appreciate this and encourage it. It means they are developing Bereans in their congregations which will help them be protected long term.
2. Because of false teachers and their destructive influence, believers must be discerning without being judgmental.
In Matthew 7:1, Christ taught that his followers must not judge lest they be judged. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call out sin or false doctrine. It means we must call it out first in ourselves. We must take the plank out of our own eye before we take the speck out of another’s (Matt 7:3-5). Also, it means we must be careful of our attitudes in seeking to help others. A judgmental attitude takes joy in the failures of others. It’s a way of exalting ourselves, our knowledge and morality, by pulling others down. Though Christ calls us to be discerning, he doesn’t give us freedom to become heresy hunters—attacking every minor doctrinal (or moral failure) of others. All of us have some doctrinal error, since personal sin affects our ability to properly understand God’s Word (cf. John 7:17). Therefore, we must be gracious when others fail doctrinally and help them come to the truth. However, we must not tolerate heretical doctrinal errors that ultimately can be damning. When it came to the gospel, Paul said that anybody who taught another gospel should be accursed—condemned to hell (Gal 1:9). Certainly, there is a need for wisdom in how we handle doctrinal differences. Gospel issues should be handled very differently than secondary or tertiary issues. One distinguishes whether a person is part of the family or not, and the other determines the health of a family member. One can be fatal, and the other only leads to sickness. Wise members must be able to distinguish the difference, so they can minister to others wisely.
3. Because of false teachers and their destructive influence, believers must become mature to protect themselves through deep study and knowledge of God’s Word.
Scripture describes those who are commonly led astray by false teachers and doctrinal error as spiritual children “tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:14). The spiritual child stage is a dangerous stage of life because like regular children, spiritual children lack wisdom and commonly endanger themselves because of it. This can lead them into various false doctrines that stay with them throughout their lives and potentially lead them away from Christ altogether. Whatever we learn in our early childhood often stays with us and that is true with spiritual adults. Many of us have corrupt areas of doctrine that are hard to root out which were planted during our spiritual childhood. When Paul warned the Ephesian elders that some of them would become wolves that taught false doctrine, he closed that teaching with this in Acts 20:31-32:
Therefore be alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears. And now I entrust you to God and to the message of his grace. This message is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
God’s message, his Word, will protect us as we study it deeply. Are we aiming to deeply study God’s Word as though our lives and the health of others depend on it?
4. Because of false teachers and their destructive influence, believers must not only become mature to protect themselves but also to protect others.
Though we all bear the responsibility to protect ourselves through deeply studying Scripture, God has specifically called spiritual leaders to protect the flock (Eph 4:11-14). Few of us will do this from the office of an elder, but many of us will do this from the role of a spiritual mother or father, or older brother or sister (1 John 2:12-14). If we never mature in Christ, we will never effectively protect others or deliver them when they are caught in sin. That is primarily what many of Paul’s letters do. They are written to combat false doctrine, equip those fighting it, and deliver those caught in it. We must all develop Paul’s pastoral affection and skill to effectively help others. During spiritual infancy, we primarily care about ourselves and our welfare. During spiritual adulthood, we become consumed with others and their spiritual welfare. Again, Jude said this in calling us to minister to those caught in false doctrine: “And have mercy on those who waver; save others by snatching them out of the fire; have mercy on others, coupled with a fear of God, hating even the clothes stained by the flesh” (Jude 1:22-23).
Are we willing to minister to those struggling with sin and false doctrine?
Application Question: In what ways have you seen believers simply accept teaching from their parents, pastors, and denominations without truly testing it against God’s Word? Why is this dangerous? How have you seen or experienced an overly judgmental attitude concerning minor doctrinal differences? How have you seen or experienced a general lack of discernment in churches when it comes to doctrinal differences, accepting almost anything? What is the right balance between being discerning and not being overly judgmental when it comes to doctrinal differences?
• Pray for God to expose the error of various false teachings (and teachers) and worldly philosophies, so his church can be delivered from them.
• Pray for God to equip the church through the systematic teaching of his Word and the building up of mature saints.
• Pray for God to expose and deliver his church from wolves in sheep’s clothing and that he would raise up many true shepherds who will protect the flock by teaching truth and refuting error.
• Pray for God to help us love, study, understand, and apply his Word in a greater way than we ever have before.
• Pray for God to give us special grace to minister to those caught in various false teachings and cults.