False teachers

The Apostle Paul’s letter to Titus focused on the practical matters of running an evangelistic ministry. Paul started out by warning Titus about people that were in the ministry because of the money they could extract from unsuspecting Christians. Paul used strong language to condemn these false teachers and told Titus, “For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:10-11). Paul’s comment about those who were of the circumcision was not meant to condemn Jews that had gone into the ministry, but those who taught that circumcision was necessary for salvation or sanctification by God. This was a hot topic that went back to the beginning of Paul’s ministry when he and Barnabas had to meet with the elders in Jerusalem to convince them that Gentiles should not be expected to follow the Mosaic Law (Acts 15:1-2).

Paul pointed out to Titus that the gospel was not something that needed to be interpreted by believers. He said, “This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply that they may be sound in the faith; not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth” (Titus 1:13-14). The Jewish fables Paul was referring to weren’t stories from the Old Testament, but unscriptural Jewish myths, something like what we call today old wives tales, things that people believe as a result of customs and practices that have developed over time. These beliefs have no basis in reality or factual scientific findings, but are believed to be true only because someone said so.

Paul’s condemnation of false teachers went so far as to say they were outright liars that should be shunned by believers. He stated, “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16). Paul sought a balance between doctrine and practice, in his own life in in the lives of those who followed his teaching. The thing that Paul detested about false teachers was that they pretended to be something that they weren’t. Paul’s test of authentic faith was a life that was lived consistent with the teachings of Jesus. “The false teachers stood condemned by the test of personal conduct” (note on Titus 1:16). The Greek word Paul used that is translated works, ergon refers to an effort or occupation. The Greek word ergates which is derived from ergon is sometimes used figuratively of a teacher of God’s word. Jesus talked about ergates in many of his parables about laborers or workers in God’s kingdom. In his parable of the worker in the vineyard, Jesus stated, “For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1-2).

Jesus made it clear that there were wages or rewards for working in God’s kingdom. Some people may have interpreted that to mean that teachers of God’s word should receive pay while they are on Earth. It seems likely that Jesus was referring to rewards in heaven, which Paul also eluded to in some of his epistles (1 Corinthians 3:8, 14; Colossians 3:24). What Paul was trying to get straight in his letter to Titus was that seeking financial rewards for preaching the gospel was wrong and anyone that used that as a motive for doing God’s work should be condemned and treated as an unbeliever (Titus 1:16). The Greek word Paul used that is translated reprobate in Titus 1:16, adokimos (ad-ok’-ee-mos) means worthless. Basically, what Paul was saying was that the false teachers good works weren’t worth a penny and didn’t deserve any reward from God.

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