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Titus (long version)

Never Teach a Pig to Sing

Titus 3:9-15

“Never teach a pig to sing – it wastes your time and annoys the pig.” So said Jonathan Swift; there is some Biblical application to it. For there are those of us who love to argue. No point of Scripture is too fine to examine, and if to examine to argue, and if to argue, to force division upon. The Apostle Paul warns us against such people and such behavior:

(Titus 3:9-15 NIV) But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. {10} Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. {11} You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. {12} As 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. {13} Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. {14} Our 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. {15} Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.

Two characters

To clearly understand this passage we must back up a verse, to where Paul tells us that “those who have trusted God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.” This is one of the great thermometers of faith.

  • If you have trusted God – then you have faith.
  • Therefore you will be careful – that is, you will make it a point of particular attention to,
  • Devote yourself – that is, throw yourself whole-heartedly into,
  • Doing what is good. Your trust in God should come out in action, and action which does what is good.

That’s the personality that God wants us to develop as mature Christians. It’s a description of character – and your mother told you that character counts. But there is an opposite character described here, the one devoted to argument. See how this one is described:

  • Such a man is warped – the word is used only here in the Bible. It means “twisted” – or perverted. It is the essence of the methods of Satan that he takes what is good and twists it. This is therefore the good man twisted by Satan into the one who loves a good argument.
  • He is sinful – the word means “to miss the target.” In other words, he knew what he was supposed to be doing (studied the Bible diligently, of course) and didn’t do it.
  • He is self condemned – you cannot but listen to the man to know what he is.
In favor of argument

Unfortunately, in this time where Christian learning is rare and true Christian behavior even more so, many people admire a man like this. Often such a man founds his own denomination and becomes a religious star. Why does he seem so admirable?

  • First, he appears very well educated in the Scriptures. You see a series of mystic visions in Revelation; he sees current events in Israel. It’s impressive! Most of us wouldn’t know “seldom wrong” from “seldom in doubt.”
  • Also, he presents himself as a defender of God’s will and way – up against everyone else. Here’s a hint: does he see everyone who doesn’t agree with him as being the AntiChrist?
A failure of church discipline

In my thirty years of teaching the Bible I have seen several instances of public church discipline. Most of these have been for sexual infidelity. I have never seen an instance where anyone was disciplined under this section of the Scripture. Such men are much more likely to be honored as defenders of the faith than disciplined.

  • Do we not realize that such men are a grave threat to the unity of the body of Christ? Our Lord, in the night he was betrayed, prayed for our unity. Should we throw it away so that we might be on the right side of brilliant, trivial argument?
  • Will we ever wake up and do as instructed? Paul gives us the original “three strikes” rule here. We need to be applying it.

Heretics

The phrase “divisive person” is in one sense misleading here. The word in the original Greek is the one from which we get our word “heretic.” But that’s exactly what a heretic is: one who attempts to divide the church. Please see that for the intelligent member of the church there are two choices:

  • You can be among those who trust God and do good works (including building up the body of Christ), or
  • You can be among those who trust in their own learning and knowledge and use that to argue, and thus divide the body of Christ.
Characteristics of the heretic – the divider

We usually think of a heretic as one who comes into the church from the outside, proclaiming some strange doctrine (“Jesus was a space alien from Mars!”). That’s not the case at all. A heretic is a big frog grown in our own puddle:

  • He has the desire for adulation. He likes to be liked, as do we all. But he likes it when people tell him how much they admire his great learning of the Scripture. The easiest way to achieve this reputation is to “discover” new things about the Scripture – which gets you labeled “brilliant.” Please remember that the new things usually turn out to be the old mistakes.
  • There is the pride in being “right.” Just because you’re the better debater doesn’t make your opinion right. But it feels good to be right, and if everyone else is convinced you are, no one brings down your ego.
  • There is also the pleasure of sneering at those who are wrong (especially if absent). One premillennialist put it this way: “I don’t know any postmillennialists. I don’t even know anyone who eats Post Toasties.ä” (Revelation is fruitful ground for those who would divide by argument.)
  • There is also the numbers game: if my class is bigger than your class, then my doctrine must be right – right? (Don’t mistake the blossoms for the fruit.)

There is a love of argument in such people. May I suggest two even more deadly motives?

  • One is envy. If you are in “the poor church” it is very tempting to blame things on the rich church. The rich church must be a little more discreet about it.
  • Another is anger. Wrath feels good, especially when it is the rage of dreaming sheep.
What does the Scripture say about such men?

The King James version uses two words to describe such men:

  • Unprofitable – the word literally means “fruitless.” They don’t produce the fruit of the Christian life.
  • Vain – the word means useless, of course. But it also includes that self-adulation so necessary to considering yourself more important than the unity of the church.

You have but to look at such a life and realize: it is self-condemned. God will take that man’s own yardstick, the anger of his argument, and use it to measure him in divine wrath.

The Vacuum Principle

The Spirit abhors a vacuum; if you want evil done away with, you must replace it with good. But how can I tell if the argument I’m in is defending the faith, or splitting the body? C. H. Spurgeon gives us a guide to fruitless argument:

  • Neither party comes out the wiser; both come out with the same opinions they started with.
  • As a result, neither knowledge nor love increases in the church. Rather, hard-heartedness grows.

It is foolish to sow in the barren field. Avoid such an argument; if you find such, you have found the spiritual vacuum. Fill it with what is good. How? Why?

  • So that you might not be a burden on the church, work for your daily bread. Do not ask the church to support you so that you can continue to divide the church.
  • Live the productive life: show fruit. Do you see the fruit of the Spirit in your life, or do you see the fruit of argument?
Two characters

The New Testament presents us with two very minor characters who exemplify the problem. Each is mentioned but once in the Scripture, and the comparison is useful:

Diotrephes

John the Apostle tells us of him:

(3 John 1:9-10 NIV) I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. {10} So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

See the very definition of heretic:

  • Malicious gossip – which by its nature causes argument, dissension and hatred.
  • A lack of hospitality – in a time when it was essential for travelers. By this public insult, he caused schism.
  • Finally, he forces others to take sides with him. “My way or the highway.”
Zenas

It is interesting that we have here commended to Titus (and to us) one Zenas – who is a lawyer. Imagine that: the man whose profession consists of argument and debate, the man who gets paid to do this – Paul commends and asks all help for. Is it not clear that we are not dealing with either temperament or talent, but with the will?

The unity of the body is a choice; we should not honor those who choose to tear down that unity.

Implications

I hope you are disturbed by this. I hope you realize that the heretics come from among us, and are often honored as “brilliant scholars” or “geniuses” or “the guy who finally figured it all out.” The test is not brilliance; the test is fruit in your life. But what did you expect? Are you really surprised to find what heretics really are?

  • Did not our Lord warn us to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing? This is what he was talking about!
  • Most important of all: consider that you yourself might be such. Do you love a good argument – even if it tears the body of Christ apart?

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