A Good Rebuke

Or, So Many Tainted Personal Brands

Scripture: Titus 1:10-16

Date: June 16, 2024

Speaker: Sean Higgins

Just when you think you’ve finished the difficult thing by finding qualified bishops/elders and gotten them set up, you find that there’s no time for them to settle in slowly. “Hello, glad you’re here, we’ve got a bunch of problem people we’re going to need you to deal with.”

And, alright, there isn’t a local church that doesn’t have some issues. The towns on Crete had Cretans in them, and the Cretans had culture problems.

The adjectives to describe the problem-people are not pretty, not quite as polite/politically correct as modern ears expect. It’s bad the whole way through this paragraph, from the start (insubordinate, empty talkers, deceivers in verse 10) in the middle (liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons in verse 12) and to the end (detestable, disobedient, unfit verse 16). It’s also very personal. We’re usually told to criticize ideas, not persons; that has some wisdom. But here the persons (the many, the seven “they”s and those and them/selves and their) need a good rebuke.

In our day we’re bombarded by pastors with “personal brands,” selling the Christian life a special way. Too often these are tainted, contaminated, even if it’s just a trace, and it affects the whole package.

Tainted Personal Brands (verses 10-14)

Titus needed to find men who held fast to sound doctrine, who had backbone to rebuke those who contradicted sound doctrine (verse 9), because there are many who need corrected.

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. (verse 10)

The insubordinate are rebellious (which an elder’s kids shouldn’t be per Titus 1:6). Empty talkers have no actual substance to their words; all promo and no product. Deceivers use true-enough-sounding words to mislead. There is a little more in verse 14 about the sort of particulars of these persons were selling, but it’s bad that there are many .

Some of the many were of the circumcision party , which is quite a thing to be known for. It’s a reference not just to Jews, but to ritual-loving Jews (and probably not that dissimilar to the dualism pushers in 1 Timothy 4:1-5 who forbid certain foods and marriage). Paul was a Jew (Titus was not), there was nothing wrong with being a Jew. Jews were not the only ones contradicting sound doctrine, but especially those who acted as if circumcision was it, they could make the KEY to the Christian life about something other than Christ.

So the instruction:

They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. (verse 11)

“It is necessary” that they be silenced , a word that has the idea of shutting their mouths and so stopping their influence. Yes, take away their microphone, but also use a muzzle. How? Through teaching, exposure, rebuke.

The results and the motivation fill out the rest of the verse. They upset or overthrow whole families /households. It’s not a one off, here and there, but pulling the entire train off the tracks. And they’re doing it for the money. Tyndale has one of the great translations, even if it has added some baggage; he calls it “fylthy lucre.” The money itself is not filthy, but their financial lusts were.

One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true. (verses 12-13a)

If a Cretan said that Cretans are always liars, can we believe him? Well, yes. It’s a generalization, a prophetic, poetic proverb. It’s meant to say that Crete is not the place one would go to learn moral conduct.

The prophet of their own seems to be Epimenides, who lived in the 6th century BC, and was referenced by Plato, Plutarch, and more. We apparently don’t have his original work, but he was quoted in writes we do have by Clement of Alexandria (c. AD 200).

The Cretan reputation trio is really no good: liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons . One commentator put it: “Liars ever, men of Crete / Nasty brutes that live to eat” (Jerome Quinn quoted by William Mounce). It sounds like us, bending the truth, acting like animals, wanting others to serve us and make us happy with the least amount of effort on our part. Paul says this is true , apparently not worried about offending his audience of Cretans.

The instruction is repeated:

Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoted themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. (verses 13b-14)

Rebuke is the same word as in verse 9; disapprove and show what is wrong. Sharply means clearly and to the point, not playing around, severe. Some people need a verbal two-by-four.

Who do we want to be sound in the faith ? Are the men who are upsetting whole families in the faith but in a bad way? Or are they not yet in the faith but we want them to be? Or is this a reference to the church people who will be spared if the false teachers are silenced? Anyone can repent, even those held captive by the devil to do his will (see 2 Timothy 2:26).

Jewish myths and the commands of men don’t have to be from the same group of the unsound, though they could be. The myths were also extra-biblical stories (some in the Apocrypha), some White Space Specials. The “extra” standards added by some Jews to the Mosaic Law became “law” though they weren’t from God. These are things that made people feel more spiritual but didn’t actually make them more godly (see also 1 Timothy 1:4).

Tainted Personal Behavior (verses 15-16)

There are two inescapable principles that can’t be denied.

Principle: Tainted Hearts Infect Everything

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; both their minds and their consciences are defiled. (verse 15)

Pure is not only repeated, but being “clean” is the concern. Following the commands of men were thought to make a man pure, but by themselves they never can. What goes into a man is not what ruins him and what a man avoids is not what makes him clean (see Mark 7:14-19; 1 Timothy 4:1-5). What is his heart condition? If his heart is right, then all the (lawful) things are open to him. But if he is still defiled and unbelieving , it doesn’t matter what religious “right” things he does. Their minds and their consciences matter most, and pollute/taint everything they touch. Their way of thinking and their moral sense always goes with them.

Some of the Cretans were selling “clean living,” but you can’t get away from who you are.

Principle: Tainted Hearts Show Out

They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. (verse 16)

This is similar to 2 Timothy 3:5. Your talk talks and your walk talks but your walk talks a whole lot louder than your talk talks. It’s true.

Another triad of no good finishes out the paragraph. These are detestable stirring up feelings of repugnance (BAGD), disobedient , and disqualified/ unfit .

“If one is ‘detestable’ because he judges the work of Christ inadequate for attaining true purity, and ‘disobedient’ because he rejects the good gifts of God’s creation, then that person is also so ‘disqualified’ in God’s sight that his unfitness extends to (πρός) anything and everything (πᾶν) that he does (cf. again v. 15b), with the result that no deed (ἔργον) of his can be good (ἀγαθόν) and acceptable to God.” (George Knight)


Do we have any of these issues today? I would say not in our local body at TEC. Does The Church? Yes.. We certainly have some empty talkers, some filthy lucre lovers, some white space story tellers.

What is the jurisdiction of an elder? What is our responsibility outside this body? How far do we send rebukes?

Remember: the gospel was good for just such an island of creeps.

What does being fit for good works look like, according to sound doctrine? We’ll see at the start of Titus 2. In some ways, the rest of the letter is devoted to being fit for good works.


Thank God for fathers who lead and protect their households, thank God for fathers who both profess to know God and who live it out. If you didn’t have one of those, BE one. If you’re a woman, pray that our church would be full of them for the next generation. May we ALL be made fit for good works.


And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9–11 ESV)

See more sermons from the Titus - Adorning the Doctrine series.