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This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men. But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself. Titus 3:8-11

This is the last of the five times Scripture speaks of “a faithful saying.” The other times are: I Timothy 1:15; I Timothy 3:1; I Timothy 4:8, 9; and II Timothy 4:8, 9. This expression draws special attention to these points. Additionally, this expression alerts the readers to the fact that the proposition being introduced in this way has stood the test of prior experiences; it is reliable.

The apostle Paul has followed a simple, clear line. He confesses that formerly Titus and he (and all of us) were “foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another” (3). Then the “kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared” (4). We were “justified by His grace” and we were “made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (7). Now Paul calls Titus to “affirm constantly” these truths, so “that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works” (8). While Titus is to affirm certain things, Paul alerts him that there are other things he is to avoid.

The Things to Be Affirmed

Some of the things that Titus is constantly to affirm are found in this third chapter. A faithful pastor is to affirm constantly “the kindness and love of God toward man” (4), that salvation is only by mercy, not by our works (6), and that the grace of God in Jesus Christ is the effective cause of our justification (7). He also is to affirm that it is the work of the Holy Spirit that regenerates and renews man (5), and that the purpose for all these things is that we might become heirs-in-hope of life everlasting (7).

Another thing that Titus is to affirm constantly is that the elders are to hold “fast the faithful word,” so they might exhort and convince the gainsayers (Titus 1:9). And in addition, the fact that a life style is demanded by sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). Especially Titus is to affirm that God’s grace brings salvation, a salvation that teaches us the calling to deny ourselves and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world (Titus 2:11, 12). He is also to affirm that Jesus Christ gave Himself in order to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify unto Himself a people who are zealous of good works (Titus 2:14).

All these things are to be believed, professed, and published. Of these truths Titus is to be assured himself, so that he speaks of them with certainty and boldness. The doctrines of grace are to spur the hearers unto a zeal for good works.

Paul would have Titus affirm these truths strongly, with an assured confidence. Some people speak confidently about frivolous matters or things about which they really know little (cf. I Tim. 1:7). But Titus is to stress those matters of which he has become firmly and rightfully convinced.

The Unprofitable Things

In contrast to the things that Titus and every preacher is to affirm, there are other things that pastors are to avoid. Paul declares that they are unprofitable. Note that this was and is no little matter. In each of his letters to young ministers the apostle is inspired to make the young men aware that there are certain matters they are to avoid and not let themselves be drawn into as legitimate matters to occupy their time and consideration.

First, there are “foolish questions.” These are matters that amount to nothing (I Tim. 1:4). They are man-made supplements to God’s law (I Tim. 1:7), such as myths and fables (II Tim. 4:4) and old wives’ tales (I Tim. 4:7).

Second, Paul speaks of “genealogies.” These are investigations into genealogies as if the truth can be learned from knowing a person’s family. Jewish rabbis were known to take a name and make a story. Always there seems to be some who would indulge in a strange mixture of truth and error, treating their conclusions as all important.

Third, Paul warns of “contentions.” This word refers more to the attitude of entering into argument and debate just for the sake of arguing and debating, as well as to see who can win the argument. Such contentious persons enjoy carrying on lengthy debates about differences. All of this is not only unprofitable for the weaker sheep but also takes valuable time away from things that really matter.

Fourth, Paul speaks of “strivings about the law.” This refers to efforts to discover fine distinctions and to carry on hair-splitting disputes. The result is that the law of God is made of none effect by human traditions. Jesus gives an example of this in Matthew 15:5-9.

It is at this point that the apostle speaks of a “heretic.” Contrary to the way this word is used today, in referring to someone who presents false doctrine, the reference here is literally to someone who is factious and schismatic. One who persists in unprofitable things is factious and schismatic. Originally this word referred to one who chooses for himself. Such a person is more conscious of his own views than he is about the well-being of the body and about his duty to serve the other members of the body. Foolish questions, contentions, and law-strivings make sides or divisions in Christ’s body. Such a person so stands for his own views, even if it brings damage to the unity of the church of Christ. Such a person creates division without biblical justification. This happened in the church at Corinth when one said, “I am of Paul,” another declared himself to follow Cephas, or Apollos, or Christ (cf. I Cor. 1:11-13).

Paul points out the seriousness of this sinful attitude for the church of the new dispensation when he declares that such a person is to be rejected after the first or second admonition (10). The unity of the church is of great importance. It is the calling of every member to seek it according to Romans 12; Romans 16:17, 18; Ephesians 4:1-6; and Philippians 2. It is Satan’s goal always to divide and to separate, while Christ’s is to join and to bind in fellowship (covenant). Lying, murder, and dividing the church are proper works of the devil.

Such people are to be given “admonition” (put into their mind). The idea is that discipline must spring from love, with a desire to heal by teaching. There ought not be the desire to rid the church of the individual, but every effort is to be made to show such a person what they are doing to the body of Christ.

In God’s judgment such a person is to be rejected or refused (cf. I Tim. 5:11 and II Tim. 2:23). The purpose for this sharp action is the welfare of the church (cf. Matt. 12:25), the glory of God (II Thess. 3:14, 15), and the salvation of the individual believer.

An individual who, after repeated warnings, persists in this practice is “subverted,” that is, distorted, perverted, inside out, twisted. He is “being condemned of himself.” He judges against himself because he is rejecting repeated warnings from the authoritative Word as brought by authoritative elders. In this case, such are to be rejected or refused, that is, expelled.

The Good and Profitable

“These things are good and profitable unto men” (8b). This expression refers to that which results in godliness and a zeal for good works (cf. Titus 1:1; Titus 2:1; Titus 2:14). The faithful things (the kindness of the Father and the work of the Spirit) are excellent and beneficial to all men. These truths are not only “good” (excellent in themselves), but they are also “profitable,” that is beneficial and useful to the other members of the church (cf. I Tim. 4:8 and II Tim. 3:16). They are made profitable by the Spirit for reviving, establishing, and building up the saints. When these truths are appropriated by faith, they bring life, light, joy, and peace where there had been death, darkness, sadness, and fear.

Those whose faith is fixed on God in Christ will be careful to apply themselves to these noble deeds. The young ministers (really, all ministers) like Titus should concentrate on deeds of gratitude, applying themselves with diligence to such matters. In fact, the recipients of grace should take the lead in the world to do good works. That is the idea of “careful to maintain” good works. They are not to lag but to be excelling to provoke each other and others to love and good works. They say that they believe. Good! But their faith is to be evidenced in their devotion to excel in all they do.

This is the thought with which the apostle began his letter to Titus. He is a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ in the interest of the faith of God’s elect and of their acknowledging the truth that accords with godliness, based on the hope of eternal life that God promised before the world began (Titus 1:1, 2). And this is how he ends it.

May every minister so labor. And the elders with them. And, by implication, may every believer focus on that which is good and profitable for the sake of the other members of the body of Christ.