A Commentary by John Stott

Titus: 3:9-15. Final personal messages.

So far in Titus 3 Paul has done two things. First, he has told Titus to remind the Christians in his care to be conscientious citizens (submissive, obedient and public spirited) and to live consistent lives of peace, courtesy and gentleness (1-2). Whatever their national character or individual temperament, that is their calling. Secondly, Paul has elaborated the doctrine of salvation in its six ingredients (3-8), and so given Titus a ground for confidence that the people in his charge can be changed, so as to live the new life to which they are summoned.

Paul concludes his letter with a cluster of miscellaneous messages. What unites them is that they are all requests or instructions to Titus to do something.

a). Titus is to avoid profitless controversy.

Having told Titus to `insist on’ certain things (8, REB), the apostle now tells him to `avoid’ certain others (9). *But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law*. George W. Knight terms these `four errors’ which Titus is to avoid, adding that `each of these four errors is also mentioned in 1 Timothy’.

The first (*foolish controversies*) cannot possibly be taken as a prohibition of all theological controversy. For Jesus himself was a controversialist, in constant debate with the religious leaders of his day. Paul himself was also drawn into controversy over the gospel, and could not avoid it. In addition, he had both urged Timothy to `fight the good fight of faith’ (1 Tim. 1:18-19; 6:12) and told Titus that false teachers must be `silenced’ and `rebuked’ (1:11, 13).

So then not all controversy is banned, but only `foolish’ controversies. The noun is *zeteseis*), which could mean `speculations’; its other occurrences in the Pastorals suggest that Paul is contrasting the false teachers’ speculative fancies with God’s revealed truth (1 Tim.1:4; 6:4; 2 Tim.2:23).

The other three `errors’ are *genealogies, arguments and quarrels about the law*. The references to genealogies and to the law show that a Jewish debate is in view, and the reader is referred to the exposition of 1 Timothy 1:3-11, in which the false teachers are said both `to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies’ and to `want to be teachers of the law’. It is evident that Paul regarded their treatment of the Old Testament as frivolous. Their speculations also led to `arguments’ and `quarrels’, which could be translated `quibbles’ and `squabbles’.

To sum up, whereas good works are `profitable’ (*ophelimos*, 8) being excellent and constructive, foolish controversies are `unprofitable’ (*anopheles*, 9), being pointless or futile; they get you nowhere.

b). Titus is to discipline contentious people.

*Warn a divisive person*, Paul writes. The Greek word is *hairetikos*, which the AV and (surprisingly) NEB translate `heretic’. But this is an anachronism, for the word had not yet assumed this meaning. *Hairesis* meant a sect, party or school of thought, and is applied in the Acts to Sadduces, Pharisees and Christians (Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:14; 28:22). *hairetikos*, however, meant somebody who is `factious’ (RSV), `contentious’ (REB) or `divisive’ (NIV).

Discipline was to be administered to such a person in three stages, beginning with two clear warnings. *Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time*. Only then, *after that*, if the offender remains unrepentant, and refuses the opportunity of forgiveness and restoration, is he to be rejected. *Have nothing to do with him* (10). Whether this refers to a formal excommunication (as in 1 Tim.1:20) or to a social ostracism (as probably in Rom.16:17) is not made plain. Yet to repudiate him is right. For after two warnings and two refusals *you may be sure that such a man is warped*, having ‘a distorted mind’ (REB), *and sinful; he is self-condemned* (11). One is reminded of the several-stage procedure laid down by Jesus (Mt. 18:15ff.). An offender is to be given successive opportunities to repent; repudiation is to be the very last resort.

Tomorrow: Titus: 3:9-15. Final personal messages (continued).

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Titus. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.