Avoid Foolish Disputes (Titus 3:9-11)

May 19, 2024

Book: Titus

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(Transcription of the Sermon)

May 12, 2024

Well, the words to which I’d like to draw your attention to this morning come to us from the third chapter of the book of Titus, so let us stand for the reading of God’s Word.

This morning we are in Titus chapter 3 and we’re going to be looking at verses 9 through 11. So again, turn over there to Titus chapter 3 verses 9 through 11.

Hear the word of the Lord:

But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, intentions, and strivings about the law, for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, and self-condemned. Amen.

Thanks be to God for the reading of his holy and this perfect word.
Let us pray.
Gracious heavenly Father, as we come together this morning in the nature of your providence to hear these words, to God we do pray, to the power of your Holy Spirit, that you will use the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart to bring the good news of Christ to bear on this day. And in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Please be seated.

As we noted last week, Paul is closing out this letter, and as Paul’s normal mode of operations, he’s using the scattergun approach to get everything that he hasn’t talked about. You know, it’s almost like Paul had a word limit in the book of Titus, and so he’s writing here and as he is giving the last bit of details of advice to young Titus, he tells him these three or four things. First of all, avoid foolish disputes and don’t get an argument about things that don’t matter because they’re unprofitable and useless. Second thing he says is, look, not only am I telling you not to do this, but if there’s somebody at the church at Crete who won’t stop arguing with everybody, what are you to do?

You are to use Matthew 18, you are to take him to the elders, and if he will not receive admonition after one or two admonitions, then you are to take him out of the church. And lastly, he tells them, look, because what do we know about somebody who won’t listen to wisdom? They are warped, they’re sinning, and they’re self-condemned. So as he lays this out he is giving them wisdom which is not anything new under the sun. Solomon in the Proverbs talks more about how we speak to one another than just about any other subject. And in the New Testament version of the Proverbs, what we call the book of James, is much of the same mind. As James is writing to the people he’s writing to, he is very concerned that we use our tongues well.

Because what do tongues do?

Well we hear in chapter 1 of the book of James, verse 26, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s Religion is useless.” In other words, how you treat one another, how you speak to one another says everything about how your heart actually operates. And if that’s the case, then whatever else you do is quickly and easily destroyed by the way you use your mouth. And I think this is one of these examples in the Bible that doesn’t take a whole lot of thinking when it comes to application.

I’m sure there are people that you’re thinking about right this second who fit this picture, who whenever you get together can’t but bother to give their opinion about everything under the sun and especially can’t wait to tell you everything that’s wrong with how you are doing things.
Now I’m not going to point any fingers, but that person may even be you and you may not even realize it. And so what Paul is telling Titus here is first of all, who’s the first person that needs to learn this lesson?

Remember this letter is from Paul to Titus.

And so Titus needs to be the first one to point the finger at himself. He needs to be reminded as a minister of the gospel that he needs to be concerned with keeping the main thing, the main thing. And he needs to ensure that as he is doing his work day-by-day that he is not spending
all his time on Facebook and Twitter and wherever else arguing with bots on the internet. And why is that? I’m sure some poor Russian dude sitting in a basement somewhere needs to hear the gospel. But the problem is he doesn’t speak English and he doesn’t understand anything you’re saying to him in all of that time. Now the question here that Paul also has for Titus is not just obviously about the way that applies in 2024, but it’s really again something about the nature of Titus’ own heart. Because often the person that we deceive the most is not our neighbor. It’s not the person down the street. It’s not somebody online. It’s ourselves.

And one of the ways we deceive ourselves is that we get in arguments with our own heart about things that don’t matter. Because that way we don’t have to deal with the things that actually matter.We do this a lot when we see something and we get kind of built up in anger about it. We see something and we’re offended by it. We’re troubled by it. And the first problem is nobody else knows about it. And what happens when we get welled up in our heart about something that we only know about? Well, the Bible tells us that that is the seed of destruction. Because as that thing wells up in our hearts, it eats away at our heart. Now the Bible again is keen on this because it tells us is if we are offended, if we are troubled by something somebody said or something somebody did, what are we to do about it? We are not to foolishly argue with ourselves our own heart about it. The Bible tells us we are in love to go to that person and confess and speak unto them as brothers and sisters and be honest and up front with him. Because again, the Christian faith, if it’s about anything, it’s about the community of faith that we live in.

The nature of this again is laid out for us in the book of Proverbs, Proverbs 15.1, says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Again, that applies just as much to our own heart as it does to the way we speak to one another. If you are troubled, if you have something that is burning a hole in your heart, well what’s the best way to deal with that? Well as the book of Proverbs tells us, is to speak a soft answer under your own heart. And what is that soft answer do you think that Solomon has in mind? Well again, Solomon has in mind here the gospel itself. The idea here is that as you are drawn into these things, as you are driven in your heart to anger, to destructive behavior, you are to first be reminded that how has Christ dealt unto you? He has dealt with you with a soft hand. He has dealt with you as one who loves and cares about you and has sent him in the Father to die for you at the cross and to provide for you the righteousness that you do not have. And so as you are deceiving yourself, as you’re tearing yourself up about this foolish matter, you are no good to anyone around you, but you’re most especially no good to yourself.

And so Paul here is telling Titus that if he’s going to preach the gospel, if he is going to be a good minister to the people at Crete, then he has to first of all be a good minister unto his own heart. He needs to make sure that he is caring for his own spiritual walk, his own spiritual needs and for the reminder here that as he goes about his daily work that he does not depart from the soft answer. From the reminder that Jesus Christ has died as much for him as he has for any who will hear the preaching of the truth. And the reason why Paul is interested in telling Titus about this is because unfortunately those who have fallen in the ministry as Paul has dealt with all have had the same problem. You see the problem that often comes in ministry is that ministry becomes all about you and it’s easy for that to happen because even in a Presbyterian church, even in a church that does not put the minister out front per se as the leader, as the decision maker and all that, even in a Presbyterian church it’s easy again for the minister to make the ministry all about himself because he’s the one who’s doing all the talking. He’s the one doing all the praying, he’s the one doing all the organizing, he’s the one coming up with the activities and all this kind of stuff. And so it’s important for Titus to be reminded as he’s telling him here in these words in verse 9, avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law for their unprofitable and useless. Titus needs to keep in his heart, in his soul, in his mind that God has called him to do one thing. God has called him to be a believer, a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.

And there are certain things that come from that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that bear itself out of his ministry, but if he’s not a believer then he’s no good to anyone around him. Again, the same is true for each one of us. Again, as we think of our various callings, our various purposes, our various jobs that we have. Again, can you be a good father or a good mother? Can you be a good aunt or uncle? Can you be a good employee? If your heart is warped and full of sin and self-condemned, well, no. Because what are you spending all your time doing? Condemning yourself. You’re spending all your time destroying your inward parts. And usually when that’s happening, eventually what takes place? Eventually that centrifuge that’s turning and turning loses its ability to maintain the fire within itself. And then everyone else gets to hear about your self-condemnation because you blow up at it. That’s the warning really at the heart of this calling that Paul is lying upon Titus and that the people of Crete. But again, as those who are given the gift of eternal life, those who are provided the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we first of all need to be watched for our own hearts before we think about what it is we can do for others. And we usually don’t think of it that way, but remember when Jesus is summarizing the law in Matthew 19, you remember what does he say? The first table of law is what? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And what’s the second table of law? Love your neighbor as who? As yourself. You can’t love your neighbor if you don’t love yourself. The way that you love your neighbor is by loving yourself and how do you love yourself, but by loving the Lord Jesus Christ. By being at peace and at comfort with the forgiveness of sins and the goodness of the grace that we have received in Jesus Christ. That’s why it’s so vitally important for us to be reminded of the gospel regularly. Because there is an old man within you every day telling you that you are condemned, telling you that you are worthless, telling you all of the things that are wrong with everything that you do each and every day. And so what is the solution to that self-condemnation that’s referenced here in Titus chapter 3 verse 9 through 11? Well again, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is the remembrance as the Holy Spirit speaks under your heart as you read the word of God. As you read the word of God, whether it be the first chapter of Genesis, whether it be the last chapter of Revelation, every portion of God’s blessed Holy Word is given to you to remind you of two things, that you’re a sinner and that you need Jesus Christ. And that as you rest in Jesus Christ, what do you receive? You receive again this soft answer that turns away wrath. As the Proverbs also say, Proverbs 29:22 testifies, “An angry man stirs up strife and a furious man abounds in transgression.” You see again, the nature of the heart comes into play about how again we deal with ourselves. If we are self-condemning ourselves constantly, if we are destroying ourselves for our disobedience to the word of God, then what are we going to do? We’re going to stir up strife. Because we are people of strife. Being at peace in our own hearts is how we are at peace with others. How was it that Jesus was able not to respond in anger at those who spoke so wickedly of him? It wasn’t just because he was the second person of the Holy Trinity, it wasn’t just because he was a man without sin, it was because he knew who he was.

He knew that he had been sent by the Father to do the Father’s business and it didn’t matter what people reviled against him, it didn’t matter what people said about him, it didn’t matter what people were doing to him because he had something more important to do than argue about foolish things. You notice how whenever Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees with some jot or tittle of the law, he doesn’t sit there and argue with them about it. How he uses it is that an opportunity to teach those around him what God actually says in his word. He uses that opportunity to witness under that person the nature of true faith. Now sometimes, like with Nicodemus, we see God in his grace work in and through the peaceable response to bring a man to Christ. Most of the time, how do the people react when Jesus speaks grace under them? They respond with anger, they respond by putting him to death. And again, the nature again of what Paul is telling Titus in the midst of this warning to avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strives about the law, they are unprofitable and useless, is that Paul recognizes that Titus has a limited time in his ministry. He’s not going to be the minister at Crete for thousands of years. And none of us are going to be alive for thousands of years, and that’s why the Bible tells us to do what with our time? The Bible tells us to redeem the time that God has given to us, and to use wisely the opportunities that God provides for us in this life.

And so if we’re spending our time in foolish conversation, if we’re spending our time disputing things that are unprophetic and useless, then what are we not doing? Things that are useful and things that profit. And what do the scriptures say is a profit to a man’s soul? Psalm 119 is one long testimony to this from the very mouth and hand of David. If there was anybody who knew anything about unprofitable living, it was David. Whenever David is caught in gross idolatrous sin, it’s because he was not redeeming the time. The reason why he was on the roof to see Bathsheba is because he was not where he was supposed to be. He was supposed to be leading his men in battle, but he was back in Jerusalem being a layabout, being lazy, being slothful, and God gave him over to his passions.

Psalm 101 verse 4 says, “A perverse heart shall depart from me, I will not know wickedness.” Proverbs 12, 18 says, “There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health.” These distinctive differences are central again to how we live our lives day-by-day. Are we using the time God has given to us to promote peace among the brethren? Or are we using it to drive up strife? Are we using the time God has given to us to bring soft answers to those who are wrathful? Or are we giving opportunity to stick our finger in the hornet’s nest just to see what happens? Our flesh tells us to do that stuff because it’s fun for a moment to get somebody riled up, to get somebody going crazy, get somebody who’s going to rant and rave. We all have that aunt or uncle who comes to family functions who we knew beforehand and we say, you know what, I wonder what they’re going to say this time. You know, you kind of take bets and you kind of, not that I’m advocating gambling or anything, but you kind of, you know, you take questions, I wonder what’s going to set them off this time. And I’m sure it’s native to your heart to want to be the one who sets them off. Because there’s a little bit of perverse joy that comes from that, I think, if we’re being honest with ourselves, but is that the best way to spend our time or anybody else’s time at a family event?

And the answer is no, because what do we usually have to deal with when aunt or uncle gets going? We usually have to deal with all the fallout from it and that’s not nearly as much fun, is it? And the same can be said, of course, for our spiritual families as much as it can be said of for our human families. Yet are we known as one who speaks a soft word in a time of trouble within the body of Christ? And is that, you know, when people think of you, are you the person that people know will come into a situation and provide calm and wisdom? Or are you the person that people are kind of worried you’re going to speak out at a Congressional meeting? Again, these things sound a little bit silly, but they’re very true, aren’t they not? There’s a reason why, again, going back to James for a second, that he gives wisdom unto the people that they are to do what? “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath.” Now, why does he say that? Because what’s the nature of our heart? I know what the nature of my heart is. If you’ve ever spent five seconds around me, that’s one thing I don’t have any trouble doing is talking. It would probably benefit me to be slow to speak at times, to be quick to hear.

 

Because what’s the nature of that again? Why should we be in that order? Why should we be slow to speak and quick to hear? Because one of the problems many of us have in conversations is when we’re talking to people, what are we actually doing? We’re trying to figure out what we’re going to say in response. And if we’re doing that, what are we not doing? Not listening. We’re not actually hearing anything. And again, is that an act of love? Because again, as was said in the children’s lesson, sometimes we’re just more concerned about being right than we are about loving our neighbor. And yes, truth needs to be defended. We shouldn’t allow people to live in sin just because we’re afraid of the consequences of calling them out of their sin. But again, there is a nature and a way to do that that is laid out for us here in this passage in Titus 3, verses 9 through 11. We are to not avoid disputes. We’re not to avoid contentions and strivings about the law completely. Again, notice the word that’s used there. We’re to avoid foolish disputes. And we’re also to avoid fools when it comes time to dispute things. Because do fools have any interest in truth? Do fools have any interest in being won over to right and to good things?

 

There’s a reason why Jesus, when he’s teaching the disciples about earthly ministry, that he tells them when they go into a town and they refuse to hear, what are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to stay there and argue with them for the rest of your natural life? No. And if they are not willing to listen, not willing to hear, then you are to shake the dust off your feet and move on. Now that is as much true about people as it is about towns. Now it’s harder to apply to people than it is towns because the cool thing about towns is they can’t pick up and come after you. Towns are made of wood and brick and stone and dirt, and if towns are following you, you probably got bigger problems than you know. The thing is with people is that this is a much more difficult conversation. Because the natural thing we have is that we want to fix everyone. We want everyone to be right and good with the Lord. We want everyone to be on the straight and narrow. We want everyone to do that which is good and true and a blessing under them. But the fact of the matter is that sometimes the righteous thing to do is to leave them alone. As the Word of God says here in verse 10, I rejected the incorrigible man after the first and second admonition.

First Corinthians chapter 5, when they are dealing with the man who was sleeping with his mother-in-law, what was the advice, what was the wisdom that Paul gave to them? They were to go to him, they were to confront him with his sin. If he refused to repent after the first and second admonition, then they were to send him out and give him over to Satan. And in fact, in one of the rare examples of the people at Corinth listening to Paul, that’s exactly what they did. Now the good news is, in 2 Corinthians we hear that the man comes back unto the Lord. Now again, that’s God’s timing, that’s God’s purpose, that’s God’s work. Again, we have to be reminded that sometimes the right thing to do with people who do not listen is to send them away. It is to not get involved in foolish arguments with foolish people. Now that’s hard, that’s difficult, but it’s necessary because we’re called to redeem the time. We are called again to do these things because as the Proverbs also say, if you’re standing there arguing with a foolish person and somebody walks by, what are they going to say? And what are they not going to know? Which one of you is the foolish person. And so sometimes quietness, sometimes leaving things be is the best form of action. It’s the best way to love someone. And so again Paul is giving this advice to Titus, he says there again, but avoid foolish disputes, neologies, contentions, and strivings about the law for they are unprofitable and useless, rejected a vice of man at the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped in sinning, being self-condemned. Now part of the way again as we think about the calling that’s given unto us in dealing with such people is that does that mean we quit praying for them? Well no, in fact it’s probably when you need to double up praying for them. Because at that point in time, right, who are you talking to about that individual? You’re talking to God about them, right? Well who’s the only one able to do anything about it? God’s the only one able to do anything about it and one of the ways that we deny the power of God is that we don’t trust God to do something about it. We tell ourselves that, you know, I’ll pray and fix it, but we need to remember that sometimes again as the Bible tells us, the best thing to do is to let them be, keep them in the Lord’s hands, and rest and trust that the Lord worked in his time, in his ways, and in his purposes.

We don’t give a hope for that person, right? We don’t forget they exist, but we give them over to the one able actually to change the situation. And again, this is again just as much for our own health as it is for the other person. You know, I guarantee you that every one of you has somebody like this in your life. Somebody that, you know, you wake up in the morning worried about, you go to bed at night worried about, you’d worry about them all day long. Somebody that you’ve expelled time and energy over and over and over again, and you are wore out about it. Now is that good for your health, spiritually or physically? You know, there’s a lot of truth to the testimony that we are to give things over to the Lord, so we are to give things over to the one who is sovereign over all things. “Therefore as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long suffering, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another, even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.

You see, part of the witness here of giving someone over to the devil is that you are again recognizing that this forgiveness that you have received is their only hope as well. Because again, we can think about other people, but how many of us can testify to being that person at one point in our life? Right? That person that people spent all kinds of time trying to fix, you know, spent all kinds of time trying to turn away from evil and wicked things, and were we very good at listening to people who are pleading with us? Of course the answer is no. And I can only testify about my own life, but it wasn’t until my parents quit, you know, beating me over the head with things and kind of let me go that there was space for God to speak. But there was space and opportunity for me to find that out of my own through the grace and mercy of the living God. And again, especially as parents, that’s the hardest thing in the world to do, because not only do you feel that responsibility, not only do you feel that you have been given again that responsibility to watch over, but also, again, we are called in 2 Thessalonians 3-6, “but we command you, brethren, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.” Ephesians 5-11, “…have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” Again, these warnings that Paul gives in his letters about those who are disorderly, those who are troublesome, those who are foolish, those who are walking in the ways of evil is because one of the things that we need to do about our own souls is we need to protect ourselves from wickedness and evil. We need to be careful to be watching over our own walk with Christ, that we not be dragged into a wickedness and evil trying to save someone else.
Again, that is a very difficult thing to consider. It’s a very difficult thing to even come to terms with. It comes all back again to our resting and trusting in the power of God, in our belief that God is able to move mountains, that God is able to change even the most wicked of people into the most blessed of saints.

 

Again, we are called to rest and trust in the means of God’s grace. We are called again to not just pray for these individuals, but to notice again the way in which Colossians chapter 3 testifies to this. We are to take these individuals and we are to bear with one another because you can’t carry that weight on your own. You can’t carry that weight in your own soul. You cannot carry that burden on yourselves. God has given to you a family, a church family, to come alongside and to help one another as we walk in these difficult ways. Maybe you even need a friend just to take your phone away from you, to almost physically restrain you from enabling the sin of those who are near unto you. Of course, enabling sin is not love. That’s not caring for someone to allow them to have the means to destroy themselves. Again, love, tenderness and true care is born out of the love that Jesus has shown to us in his life, death and resurrection.

And so as we close this morning, as we think again about this warning and about this calling that Paul has given to Titus in verses 9 through 11, again, we are reminded in this to be wise every day to think about everything that we do. Is this something that is profitable for the kingdom of God or is this something that’s foolish? Is this something that’s a waste of my time and the waste of the Lord’s time, to be honest? We are reminded that the Lord our God is full of compassion, gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in mercy and truth, and the reality is that we’re not. We don’t have the fullness to carry the burdens of everyone on earth, but God does. And so we give them over to Him to carry, to be anxious about it, to be watching over that we might care for our own souls in the midst of these things, that we might be strengthened by the good news of Jesus Christ who has come to give us peace and comfort. And we are not to be anxious for we have received the blessings of Christ both this day and forevermore.

Well, let’s pray.