Holding Firm to the Word
Robert Wurtz II
For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:7-9 ESV).
Paul had given Titus the task of fixing a number of problems that were happening at Crete. One of his tasks was to appoint overseers. In giving instruction along this line, Paul explains to Titus why it is necessary to have the above criteria for leadership. The leaders who have the oversight must deal with difficult people who, if left unchecked, would destroy the church and the faith of those in it.
For this entry, I want to focus on verse 9 that reads, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” The words “holding firm” in the Greek mean to cling to face to face. I can almost envision two people hugging very tightly so as not to let go. This is the confident dependence that we must place in the trustworthy word of God. We must honor the word as the final and absolute authority.
Why? “So that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” This is two things: teach and then confront those who rebel against the truth. This is vitally important. For example, as a young Christian and in the early years of ministering, there were individuals who rejected the truth of God’s word. They were always undermining the teaching and offering an alternative that was a compromised version of the truth.
If I might simply refer to these types as “contradictory persons,” it is imperative that we recognize the danger that these people pose to the churches. These are not people who have minor variations in viewpoint, they are people who have done damage to the Gospel in such a way that they must be dealt with. Titus and others were preaching the truth of God’s word, but “contradictory persons” would follow behind them and challenge what was being said. This is the great evil that the Serpent did in the Garden of Eden. God gave instruction, and he followed behind to contradict.
This pattern reveals that what these contradicting Cretians were doing was actually diabolical. They were being used by Satan on this level and probably many others to destroy the church. They may have undermined the teaching by using phrases like, “that’s just Titus’ opinion” and then suggest a watered-down alternative. They were liars. Not merely in the sense that they were pathological liars, but in the sense that they falsified God’s word by distorting it. They fabricated lies though they probably viewed themselves as honest people.
What was Paul’s counsel to Titus in this regard? He told him that their mouths must be stopped because they were subverting entire households (v. 11). They were leading people astray. How would he stop them? “Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.” This is more than a rebuke, it is a sharp rebuke. The late great Greek scholar A.T. Robertson commented on this Greek word that could be translated, curtly or abruptly. It is necessary to appear rude sometimes for safety, if the house is on fire and life is in danger.” (Word Pictures)
Notice that Paul wants these deceivers to repent and receive sound doctrine that they might be “sound in the faith.” It is better for the person(s) to be saved and their influence turned for good and not evil—to convert rather than subvert whole houses. Yet it will never happen unless leaders are themselves clinging to the trustworthy word with a willingness but to teach and correct those who contradict. Paul’s design to set things “in order” must begin here. And what happens if the contradictory person doesn’t repent? Paul answers:
As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned (Titus 3:10-11).