HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
This morning I want to speak on the subject UNITED AGAINST DIVISION. I will use the text from the letter of Paul to Titus. We will the third chapter and verses 10 to 11. Turn in your Bibles and read with me. Titus 3:10-11
We are to stand united in the church’s testimony of truth by lovingly confronting anyone who causes division within the church family.
We are drawing near the end of our study of Paul’s tiny but powerful New Testament letter to Titus.
There’s been much in this little letter to encourage our church family. It reminds us that we have the privilege being fellow-heirs together of God’s saving grace through His Son Jesus Christ; and along with it, the privilege as a church family of declaring the good news of that salvation to the people of this world.
- It urges us in chapter one to make sure that our church is always served by good, godly, spiritual leaders who will faithfully teach and defend that gospel from God’s word.
- It urges us in chapter two to make sure that each individual in the church family is living the kind of personal life that truly adorns the gospel of salvation that we proclaim.
- And it urges us in chapter three to make sure that we impact the people in the society around us with the sort of good works that spring forth from a genuine faith in that good news.
I have grown to love what this wonderful little letter teaches us. What’s more, reflecting on it all has helped me grow in my love for our church family. And as a minister, I believe that if we faithfully keep hold of the things we learn from it, we will grow to be even more of a strong, fruitful, and blessed church than we already are.
But now, Paul brings us to a final word of instruction about something that—if we don’t watch out—will completely spoil it all. Within the context of the life of the church family, he writes;
10 A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; 11 Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself. (Titus 3:10-11).
I admit that this isn’t a very pleasant passage. It sounds harsh; and certainly doesn’t make for a ‘feel-good’ message. But the fact is that I have personally seen church families that I have loved end up closing their doors—and have even seen their witness to the world destroyed—because of what this passage describes. And I wouldn’t be a good minister to this wonderful Mystical church family if I didn’t make sure we spent some time in these two short verses—learning from them how to protect the truly blessed fellowship that we share together.
I think a good way to begin would be to look back and remember the sort of situation that motivated Paul to write these words.
Paul had written to his ministry assistant Titus that he was to remain on the island of Crete and provide leadership to the several churches that were there. I want you to note here that Paul did not write to the entire church, but to his assistant. He said, “For this reason, I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you” (Titus 1:5). There was a serious need for each church to have a good, competent, spiritually qualified minister, one who was “holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus1:6).
And he went on to tell Titus why this was such a serious need:
For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: 11 Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. 12 One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, the Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. 13 This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; 14 Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.(Titus 1:10-14).
False teachers were creeping in among the community of believers and were bringing spiritual destruction upon entire households. Paul wasn’t indifferent about this. He didn’t treat these individuals as well-intentioned but misguided. He considered these false teachers to be insubordinate, deceitful, subversive and self-serving in their destructive behaviour. They were “church-dividers” who had turned from the truth.
As we look around day by day those same spirits have crept into the church under the disguise of prophets, sucking the very life from the saints as Paul warns us when he spoke to Titus. These days everyone is a prophet, or some title holder proclaiming to be sent by God cussing and claiming they are speaking in tongues. They have taken over most of the groups on Facebook and as Paul said, ministering for money. Well not in my groups. (As soon as I see you I will remove you and block you. My Spiritual Baptist group is not for this generational bad behaviour. Find another forum to be a tinkling cymbal or of sounding brass).
One of the ways that Paul wanted Titus and the leaders he appointed to deal with these aggressive “church-dividers” was to take away from them the kind of environment in which their divisiveness could spread. So, Paul wanted Titus to make sure the church family kept its focus on the essentials of the gospel. He carefully described that gospel to him in Titus 3:3-7, 3 For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. 4 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, 5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; 6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; 7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. and then said “8 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. 9 But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. (Titus 3:8-9).
When I think of this, I think of one of the most important and practical life lessons I ever learned as a young minister. Do not argue over the Scripture, if ever you are approached and ask your understanding or for your interpretation of the Scripture, put the question back in the lap of that person and just listen. When they are finished be polite and say thank you and keep moving. Afterwards, they will realize that they are not getting anywhere with you and they will leave you because they are not getting any energy from you.
I learned that tactic and it works with certain people. And I believe that that’s one way Paul wanted Titus and the church leaders to deal with those insubordinate big-mouths, know-it-all that were dividing and destroying the churches. They were to just refuse to get into arguments about the non-essential issues—that is to say, to “avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless.” Church-dividers thrive on that sort of material; but if we don’t get into such disputes with them, we’ll be no fun to them anymore.
That is an essential part of the solution But note carefully that that’s only half the solution. That first half takes away the sort of environment in which church-dividers do their work. But the second thing that Paul urges Titus and the leaders to do is to directly confront the character of the church-dividers themselves. That’s why, right after instructing the church to stick to the message of the gospel and not get into side-arguments about non-essential matters, Paul then says, “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.”
All the other things that this letter says is very important for our church. But what is said in these two verses is particularly important; because if we fail to heed the warning Paul gives in them, much of the other good things will be lost. This passage teaches us to stand united in our church’s testimony of truth by lovingly confronting anyone who causes division within the church family.
Let’s look closer at these two verses and what they tell us about the church-divider. First, notice . . .
1. WHAT HE PRESENTS HIMSELF TO BE.
In the translation I’m using, Paul calls him a “divisive man”. The New American Standard translation has it that he’s a “factious man”. But it may surprise you to know that the Greek word that Paul uses to describe the church-divider is hairetikos—and that’s the word from which we get our English word “heretic”. He’s literally a “heretical man”.
Originally, that word referred to the idea of taking something up or choosing something for one’s self. By New Testament times, the word was used to refer to “a sect” or “a party” that “took up” or “chose” for itself a specific set of beliefs or thoughts or opinions that distinguished it from others. In Acts 5:17, for example, this word was used to describe the Sadducees—saying that they were “the sect of the Sadducees”. (Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation,) Acts 15:5 likewise uses this word when it refers to “the sect of the Pharisees who believed”. (But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.) In Acts 24:5; Paul was referred to as “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes”. Here is the full verse in Paul words. (For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes:) There you have it and from the beginning of the church Paul was sounding the warning with those that formed themselves in groups to destroy the foundation of the church. Here Paul is speaking directly to Titus his assistant to look for these men and women and deal with them directly and according to the Holy Writ.
Now; what Paul was referring to in this morning’s passage is someone who was operating within the church family, and who was seeking to distinguish himself or herself from the others within the church. They were trying to establish their own little “sect” or “party” within the community of faith. In other words, they were “heretical” in the sense they were “divisive” and “factious”.
A “divisive man or woman” maybe someone who has taken up a cause that is clearly contrary to the teaching of God’s word. Paul, for example, went so far as to name names in 2 Timothy 2:17-18; saying, 17 And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; 18 Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.” But—and this is very important!—it may also be someone who advocates divisions over things that are not necessarily “false”, but that is simply non-essential to the faith. Paul wrote out of great concern for the Corinthians, “For,” he said, “it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.’ (1 Corinthians 1:11-12).
Now; let me be clear, my dear brothers and sisters. There are, without question, some things that are definitely worth dividing ourselves from others over. We are to make sure that we stand rock-solid together on the fundamental truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ as they are taught to us in the Bible. We are to “3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. ” (Ephesians 4:3-6). Those are among the things that constitute our essential unity in Christ, and we must keep ourselves separate from anyone who would deny those things or try to unite the people of God around something else. May I say here that if your teachings are not leading one to the center or to Christ, my brothers and sisters be aware and mark those that cause division and separation. I say here that those teachings that are contrary to the word of God is false and must be rejected. It is time for you to save your souls.
But Paul was also urging Titus to be just as much on the alert against anyone who would seek to make divisions in the church over non-essential things—over such things we would recognize today as which political party you should belong to, or which style of music we should have in church, or whether or not your baptism counts if it was sprinkling rather than immersion, one dip or three, Why you ‘mourn’ and under what authority, what about the cities you travel or over what foods are acceptable. (I’m tempted to make a long list, but you get the idea.)
Paul’s warning, then, isn’t just about people who seek to bring divisions in the church over important theological issues. It’s about people who seek to bring divisions within the church over anything—in open contradiction to the basic unity, we enjoy in Christ!
Now; Paul doesn’t call us to jump in and deal with a church-divider in a reckless manner. We’re all prone to sin; and in a mad effort to ferret out a “divider”, we may—ourselves—easily become divisive.
So, note carefully that Paul tells us . . .
2. WHAT WE OWE TO HIM IN LOVE.
Someone who appears to be a malicious church-divider may—in fact—only be a naive and immature brother or sister in Christ who needs some tender instruction and discipleship. And so, Paul tells us that, before we deal with them as “divisive”, we owe them “the first and second admonition”—that is, the first and second ‘face-to-face’ loving confrontation about the matter.
Paul tells us, elsewhere, that we need to exercise a sanctified “benefit of the doubt” in the matter, and approach an apparent “church-divider” first as a brother or sister. He warned elsewhere that we should not keep company with anyone who lives in an openly sinful way. “Yet”, Paul said, “do not count him as an enemy but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15). I believe that one of the things that open the door for someone to truly hear such an admonition is to make sure they know that they are truly loved first. Approaching them as someone who professes a faith in Jesus Christ, and who is—on that basis—therefore a brother or sister who is worthy of love goes a long way toward gaining a hearing.
We should also be humble and gentle in our approach. We’re not to come with our fists clenched—ready for a fight. With respect to unbelieving people, Paul warned that “24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; 26 And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26). This is to be our approach to unbelievers. We’re never to get into shouting matches with them. We’re never to come across as harsh. And if we’re to be this way toward someone who is an unbeliever who is trapped in the clutches of the devil, we’re certain to be this way toward an erring brother or sister who is trapped in the error of factionism.
And note that we’re not to just settle for a first admonition. If they persist in their divisive activities, we’re to come to them again a second time. I suspect that Paul meant for Titus to understand this in the light of the teaching of the Lord Jesus; where He said,
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17).
It may even be that Paul would say that, at each stage of the process that the Lord gave us, we’re not to trust in just one confrontation. We’re to follow it up with at least one more; saying to them, “Now, dear brother or dear sister; you and I have already talked once before about this divisive behaviour. And I see that it’s still going on. So; in love—before I move on to bring someone else alongside me in this matter—I’m coming to you again and asking that it stop.”
Genuine love for the body of Christ would demand that we admonish the divisive brother or sister. But genuine love for the divisive brother and sister would demand not only a first but also a second admonition. This, I believe, would involve the idea of doing as Jesus commanded and bringing others into the matter—and, if needs be, the whole church body.
But what happens if we confront a divisive person’s behaviour a first and second time, and find that it still goes on? Paul tells us next . . .
3. WHAT WE MUST DO IF HE PERSISTS.
Paul said, “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition . . .” This is hard to do—and I think it’s something that it should be hard to do. But however else we may feel, our love for the unity of the body of Christ must show itself to be greater than our love for the company of a divisive man or woman. Otherwise, we will forfeit the integrity of our witness for the gospel to the world.
To “reject” a divisive man or woman would have to include the idea of no longer keeping company with them as if they were a brother or sister. Such persistent divisiveness is a serious act of aggression against the body of Christ. In fact, it’s a sin that’s so serious that is placed in the same category as others that would keep someone out of heaven! In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul writes;
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).
And elsewhere, Paul wrote, “But now I have written unto you not to keep company if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.” (1 Corinthians 5:11).
Now; it’s painful to have to treat a divisive man so seriously—particularly when they’ve made a profession to be a brother or sister in Christ. It’s painful to say to him or her, “Look; you say that you are a brother or sister. You profess to be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. But twice now, I have come to you about this matter; and you will not turn from it. I’ve even brought others in on the matter, just as Jesus—the one whom you claim to be your Lord—has commanded His people to do; and you still refuse to turn from it. You’ve put me in the difficult position of having to choose between my fellowship with you and my fellowship with those who are united in the Lord Jesus. And I now choose to separate myself from you and adhere—in faithful unity—to the Lord Jesus and the people He loves. I pray you will confess this behaviour as a sin and repent of it so that my fellowship with you can be restored. But until you do, I will have no further fellowship with you.”
It’s hard to do that. But the fact is that an unrepentant divisive person, after refusing to hear a first and second admonition, is thus proving what he or she really is. A genuine brother or sister in Christ would not persist in binging division into the fellowship of others of their brothers and sisters in Christ; and this man or woman, through a spirit of unrepentant divisiveness after repeated admonitions, is giving clear evidence that he or she is really not a brother or sister. And so, this leads us to . . .
4. WHAT WE MUST THEN KNOW ABOUT HIM.
Paul says that we must “reject” such an unrepentant church-divider, “knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.”
The word “warped” means that they have stepped out of the proper path, and are thus “perverted” from God’s way. To persist in a divisive matter in this way, and to refuse to turn from it, is to be “perverted” from the truth. It’s to be “warped”. Not only this, but it is to actually be “sinning” because it is to do something that God has clearly said not to do.
It’s important to understand, then, that it’s not a matter of pushing someone out of the fellowship when they actually belong in it. Rather, it’s a matter of recognizing that they’ve already departed from it on their own volition and have chosen to go on the wrong path. It’s not a matter of judging someone for something that isn’t wrong; but rather of recognizing that he willingly persists in a behaviour that God has already judged as sin.
What’s more, notice that Paul says they are “self-condemned”. To be approached about divisive behaviour by a concerned brother or sister, and then reject the approach twice, is to say, “I choose to remain in a behaviour that knowingly divides the body of Christ. ”And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. (Revelation 20:13).
Now; to show you how serious we’re to take this warning from the apostle Paul, God led him to repeat this same sort of instruction regarding divisiveness more than once in his other letters. In 1 Timothy 6:3-5, for example, he wrote,
If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
Similarly, at the end of the book of Romans, he wrote;
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen (Romans 16:17-20).
I need to tell you that—to my knowledge—our church is not being impacted right now by the actions of a “church-divider”. I praise God for that. But we’ve had to deal with divisiveness in the past; and will very likely have to deal with it in the future. So, I hope you’ll see our discussion of this matter today as I see it—that is, as “preventative” instruction rather than “remedial” one.
So; as a preventative instruction—right now; and at a time before we have to deal with future case divisiveness within our church family—let’s commit ourselves to keep true to Paul’s warning in these two verses. May God keep us on the alert; so that we can defend the wonderful unity in Christ that we enjoy in our church family.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ; Clergy and officers of the church, may God keep us united against dividers!