No, that title is not talking about the nature of politics today. Well, not specifically. More on that in a moment.
We might at times read the New Testament and learn of the great work of the Spirit in the advance of the gospel in the decades after the resurrection and think that it would have been a fascinating time to have been alive. Certainly there would have been some interesting experiences, though you might have been persecuted and executed by the Romans as well!
As we read the book of Acts and the Epistles, we see over and over – as we do in today’s reading – that there was a tremendous amount of oppositional and errant teaching. But you might say that there is a lot of bizarre and wrong theology promoted these days as well. And that is true. But it is different in several ways.
We live in an amazing time in terms of all of the resources at our disposal. As compared to the era of Paul, Timothy and Titus, we not only have the completed Word of God, we also have 2,000 years of commentary and scholarly research upon these writings. We stand on the shoulders of those who stood on shoulders.
Not a bit of this sort of resource was available to someone like Titus on the island of Crete. People were putting together their new theology about Christ and how that related to previous belief systems, be they religions of the time or a mixture with Jewish belief. The latter of these was especially common, with teachers bringing in some new teachings about Jesus while also promoting the necessity of Jewish traditions in order to be in right relationship with God. The end result was a gospel that was not good news at all, not being about grace and imputed righteousness, but rather about works and obligations. And add to this the common mix that those promoting these systems often did so with self-aggrandizing motives, leading Paul to write …
1:10 – For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. 11 They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. 12 One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” 13 This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14 and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. 16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.
Man, that is all pretty rough! The Apostle Paul essentially called the natives of Crete a basket of deplorables – to use some modern parlance. Well, Cretans (sounds like some planetary people from Star Wars) were a pretty rough bunch. The quote that Paul uses is from one of their own named Epimenides, who summarized his countrymen with these words. And Paul agrees! In fact, there is a Greek word for lying and fabrications that comes from the word Crete … it is “cretizo.” They would be known for this, perhaps like people from Missouri need to be shown things, or that people from Texas expect everything to be supersized. So this was the environment that Titus was sent to minister within, dealing with people who had been saved from such a rough background.
A criticism of churches over the years has been that they can be overly authoritative about their belief systems. And there are churches who choose to fight over items that simply are not significant in the big picture of things … not to the extent of parting ways over the divergent views. But there are certain teachings and doctrinal beliefs that are not negotiable, particularly those that are the essential components of the gospel message of salvation. That is what Titus had to deal with in Crete. And there is not a way to just say, “Oh well, we just disagree on the importance of the blood of Christ as a payment for sin.” At this point, it was necessary for Titus to take a stand and break completely from those who taught significant error.
As we have seen over and over in these three letters, there are the nuts and bolts of the gospel message that constitute good teaching and need to be known and emphasized. There is no shortcut to understanding these truths. They need to be studied and learned, supported and taught, and defended from those who would water down the truth. It is all central to the faith and worthy of our most ardent attention and life disciplines.