The Foolish Controversies of Titus 3

By Fredric A. Carlson

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 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 3:9-11
In Paul's leter to Titus, he warns the pastor about the damage foolish controversies can inflict on a local church. Along with the church of which Titus was pastor, other churches must have been plagued by damaging controversies, for Paul wrote similar warnings to his protégé, Timothy, pastor of the Christian church at Ephesus. See 1 Timothy 1:4 and 2 Timothy 2:16 and 23.

As to the Titus text, let's start with its context, which begins with the start of the chapter. Paul told Titus to remind the believers of good things to do, and to warn them of some things to avoid (Titus 3:12). Then he reminded them of how ugly their lives were before they received Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord (Titus 3:3). He went on to describe how in God's grace and mercy, through the new birth accomplished by the Holy Spirit, He rescued them from those futile and miserable lives so that they now had hope of eternal life (Titus 3:48a). Then he wrote, "I want you to stress these things (those important things pertaining to hope of eternal life) so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone." It was in light of those good things, the things that are right to figure out, that he went on, "But, avoid foolish (stupid) controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless."

"Stupid controversies" are counterproductive first because they concentrate on divisive controversy instead of maintaining unity. They are self-centered instead of loving, for those involved are mainly trying to prove themselves right rather than seeking common ways to help each other and exalt God. They have nothing to do with building faith in God, or with living truly good, useful, profitable lives that give God pleasure and fame. They do not help believers to make God's grace and mercy known.

The "genealogies" about which believers are to avoid argument most likely were futile attempts to trace so-called spiritual lineage back through either or both of two trees. First, since Jewish property rights and some religious privileges depended on clan ancestry, Jewish Christians could be sidetracked by meticulous tracings and arguments that damaged relationships. Besides, the privileges of life in Christ did not depend on such bloodlines. Second, Gnosticism, a dangerously heretical cult of that day — still circulating, by the way — supposed that people, including Jesus Christ, descended from their god through echelons of angelic emanations. Paul wanted to protect Titus and the people of his flock from having such nonsense lead them away from the true and living God and His salvation.

"Quarrels about the law" most likely were arguments about which of the Old Testament laws must be kept in order for a believer to be sure he was earning and deserving God's love. If you understand the good news about God's undeserved and unearnable grace in salvation (See Ephesians 2:110), you can see that the very idea of trying to gain favor with God by keeping any laws was wrong, let alone trying to do so with behavior that was of no moral consequence. Along with useless and unresolvable arguments about what was legal to eat, and what religious holidays must be celebrated, the most common argument by legalistic leaders was about the law of circumcision. That Old Testament Law required all Jewish males to be circumcised in order to demonstrate relationship with God so as to be included in God's covenant. Paul already had made the main point (Titus 2:11 and 3:46) that under Christ's new reign it was not by vainly attempting to appease God with such ceremonies and good works, but by God's own grace and mercy that He chose to rescue and restore them. Their salvation from sin's guilt and power was God's gift. Circumcision was finished, along with other old ceremonial rules. God had paid for man's salvation with the lifeblood of Jesus Christ. Paul wanted them to continue to live truly free from the foolishness of futile legalistic attempts at self-righteousness. Instead, he wanted them to live by vigorous faith in Jesus Christ.

As I said above, all such stupid controversies are centered on self instead of on God and others. The laws of life that prove most profitable to discuss are what Jesus classed as Number 1 and Number 2: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:3740). Jesus expanded on these life-giving principles in what is popularly known as His "Sermon on the Mount." You will find His view of these matters that are suitable for profitable, useful, collaborative discussion in Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7.

What was worth time and effort to discuss and figure out then was the same as it is now, the true meaning, practice, and enjoyment of life rightly connected with Jesus Christ, life that exalts the reputation of our Savior God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Such effort includes cooperative planning of how to inform others about God's grace in Christ. The brightest and most dedicated believers have yet to plumb the depths of that good life.

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TagsBiblical-Truth  | Church-Issues  | Personal-Relationships

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Published 11-2-15