Pastor Scott Andrews | October 3, 2021
Most of us have heard it – believers and unbelievers alike. Many of you memorized it at some point. You read portions of it on coffee mugs, or on cards – especially condolence cards – you see it in funeral bulletins, you hear it at graveside services. I’m speaking of the 23rd Psalm.
1 The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Words of comfort and hope from that Psalm of David, the shepherd-king – especially in times of loss. We should note several things about a good shepherd – who, don’t miss, is the Lord, God Himself. He makes us lie down in green pastures – that is, He takes us to places of sustenance and rest. He leads us beside quiet or still waters from which me can drink. He restores my soul – He cares for me not only physically, but spiritually. He guides me in paths of righteousness – as we follow Him, the good shepherd leads us in right ways – notice, for His name’s sake – for our good and His glory.
Even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death – even as I face death, I fear no evil, because He is with me. This is appropriately the reason we print the passage on condolence cards and funeral bulletins, why it’s read at graveside services. It brings immeasurable peace.
But it’s the next line I want you to notice: Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. What does that mean? Well, King David, the Psalm’s author, grew up as a shepherd. He knew the tools of the trade for good shepherding – a staff and a rod. They are not the same tool. The staff was a long, slender stick, often hooked at one end, used primarily to direct the flock. Sheep are notorious wanderers, and once away from the shepherd’s watchful eye, they could get into all kinds of trouble. With the staff, the shepherd guides the aimless, wandering sheep – to prod them to right places, to rescue them with the hook from dangerous places. That comforts us – gives us confidence that the shepherd knows what he’s doing. Philip Keller in his famous work, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, writes:
“In a sense, the staff, more than any other item of his personal equipment, identifies the shepherd as a shepherd. No one in any other profession carries a shepherd’s staff. It is uniquely an instrument used for the care and management of sheep—and only sheep. It will not do for cattle, horses or hogs. It is designed, shaped and adapted especially to the needs of sheep.”
The rod? Well, that was an instrument, more, a weapon of protection. It was a solid stick – think 2×4 – by which he would ward off attacks from predators, from wolves and lions. It wasn’t used against the sheep – it was used against predators who would harm the sheep. That too gives us comfort and confidence. The shepherd will protect me.
And so we note, then, the tasks of the shepherd – on the one hand with the staff to lead and feed the sheep – on the other, with the rod, to protect the sheep. That’s what good shepherds do – that’s what our Good Shepherd does. He leads, feeds and protects. And He expects His under-shepherds to do the same.
We’ve begun a study of Titus – a pastoral epistle – one of three Paul wrote – I and II Timothy, and Titus. In those letters, Paul writes to two young protégées – not really pastors, but apostolic delegates to churches to help them organize and strengthen. So Paul writes, encouraging Timothy and Titus in their duties in Ephesus and Crete, respectively – which please notice were not far apart – about 225 miles by sea – about the distance from here to Raleigh. That’s important.
As per his practice, Paul encouraged these young men to appoint elders in every church. We’ve seen elders are overseers, whose job is to shepherd – to pastor God’s people in the flock called the church. And a good shepherd leads the sheep, feeds the sheep, and protects the sheep. Because wolves – some in sheep’s clothing – have always been a problem in the church. Paul told the elders of Ephesus – after my departure, wolves will creep in, not sparing the flock.
We’ve seen that happen, haven’t we? We spent years in Paul’s epistles, where he regularly addressed the issue of wolves – false teachers. Not just in the Pastoral Epistles – but in Galatians and Colossians, for example. In Acts, the very first church council called the Jerusalem Council, was called to deal with the teaching of Judaizers. Who were they? Jewish “Christians” who were teaching that for Gentiles to become Christians, they needed to believe in Jesus and they had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses, too. That was a problem – the gospel, salvation was to be by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The council rightly rejected that teaching and decided keeping the Law was adding to grace – not only unnecessary, but entirely wrong. Later, when Paul wrote Galatians, he said, if anyone comes to you with a gospel other than what I’ve preached, let him be accursed. Then he wrote in chapter 2:
2:16 – nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
Why? Because the Law could never justify anyone. That’s not why it was given. It was given to expose and provoke sin. Having exposed sin, the Law was given to magnify the need for a Savior. It was given not to justify, but to drive the sinner to Christ, who alone could justify. And so later, in Galatians 5, Paul wrote these stunning verses:
1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. [what yoke? The yoke of the Law – the Law you could never keep. Stop trying to earn your salvation.]
2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.
3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.
4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. [Grace is of no value.]
Please understand, false teaching – even keeping the Law of Moses – actually the Law of God given to Moses – trying to keep the Law for salvation along with faith in Jesus to be saved – is egregious – it severs you from Christ, it keeps you from His grace. False teaching is eternally damning. It’s not just a small error – it will keep you from Christ and eternal salvation.
It’s why we find warnings against false teaching all over the NT – not just in Paul’s epistles – we found it in the General Epistles – in Hebrews, I and II Peter, I, II and III John – and we haven’t even covered Jude yet – and that’s what the whole letter is about. Jude says, I wanted to write to you about our common faith – but I couldn’t – too many false teachers running around. And so he wrote to encourage us to earnestly contend for the faith.
So also on the island of Crete. It’s one of the main reasons Paul told Titus to appoint elders – who are to shepherd the church – to lead, feed, and protect them. So Paul gave the qualifications of elders in 1:5-9. And the last verse we looked in those qualifications a couple weeks ago was verse 9, an elder is to be “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching [that is, the apostolic teaching handed down to us; it’s what Jude wanted to write about, our common faith] in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict.”
Don’t miss it. Hold onto the Word faithfully preached, so the Elder can feed the sheep with sound doctrine – healthy doctrine – green pastures and still waters; and protect the sheep from those who contradict – from false teachers. The elder as a shepherd is to carry the staff for the sheep, and the rod for the wolves. Because, wolves are all over the NT, and all over our world today. That’s what he goes on to tell Titus in verses 10-16 of chapter 1. Who are those who need to be refuted? Read it with me.
That’s nice, isn’t it? Once again – because it’s all over the NT – we have to talk about false teachers today. Oh, I know what you’re thinking – can’t we just skip it? Well, we could, but we won’t for two very important reasons. First, it’s in the Bible, and we don’t skip verses around here. And second – guess what? False teachers are still running around today – multiplied many times over. And they have access to you they didn’t have then – through social media, the internet, podcasts, TV, conferences, books, etc. And they are wolves, seeking to devour the sheep – and I want to be a good under-shepherd. Paul goes off – they are rebellious, empty talkers, deceivers, upsetting the church – in it for the money. They are liars and evil beasts, lazy gluttons, unbelieving, defiled, professing to know God, but denying Him by their deeds. They are detestable, disobedient and worthless. Do you think Paul has any room for these guys? Do you ever get upset when I get a little irritable with false teachers? You see, he’s taken out the rod – and so should we, if we want to protect the sheep. Why – if you don’t hear anything else, hear this – Paul goes off because they are disrupting the gospel.
You see, can I suggest this is one of the challenges in the church today. Our churches have embraced the lie. They have become so weak, because our culture has embraced tolerance and acceptance as the new and highest virtues. I say new, because they’ve actually redefined tolerance. Tolerance actually means, I have an objection to what you say, what you believe, how you act. But you have the personal freedom to do so. I will tolerate those words and actions for which I have an objection, but I still have the objection.
But that’s not what tolerance means today. Tolerance has been redefined to mean, not just acceptance, but affirmation. And not just affirmation, but celebration. So I can have no objections to your words and values and actions – that’s considered intolerant and unkind. And that kind of thinking has infiltrated the church. Who am I to speak against an action or a belief? That sounds so judgmental. Freedom says they can act that way, believe that way – and I should accept, affirm and celebrate them. And to do so is to lay down the rod and allow wolves free reign among the sheep. Can I suggest when we start calling good evil, and evil good, we are in a mess. We have abdicated gospel truth.
Now, there is a reason I talked about Crete’s proximity to Ephesus. There is a reason I talked about the first Jerusalem Council dealing with the Judaizers. There is a reason I talked about the letter to the Galatians warning of the Judaizers’ false teaching. It seems we have the same problems on Crete. Let me give you the outline of the text as we jump into it.
- The Identity of the False Teachers
- The Character of the False Teachers
- The Teaching of the False Teachers
- The Response to the False Teachers – that’s what I want us to get to. Please notice, we do not tolerate them.
Now, there are not verses behind each point, because they overlap – again, I think Paul gets rather passionate here. This outline is just an attempt to organize our time through the text, starting with the identity of the false teachers. In verse 10, don’t miss Paul says there are many false teachers out there – today too. We see further, they are those of the circumcision. That’s why I read Galatians to you – these seem to be Jewish professing believers – but by the nature of their false teaching, it’s clear they are not believers at all. Which is why Paul goes off – he’s taken out the rod.
Don’t miss that. Is it possible to say you believe in Jesus, even use the Bible – the NT – throw around a few verses, and still not be a believer? It seems so. You see, if you say you believe the gospel of Jesus, you understand that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. But, if you add anything to the pure and unadulterated gospel, you don’t truly know Jesus – even if you can quote some verses. Further, if you say you know Jesus – you’re a preacher of Jesus – you have a big church, a big following – but your life and lifestyle doesn’t back it up – if you’re rebellious and an empty talker and a deceiver, you don’t know Jesus. Listen, just because there are people out there with Bibles and suits and big crowds doesn’t mean they know Jesus. If they are in it for the money – if that’s their motivation, they don’t know Jesus.
What was their character? Paul uses several very descriptive terms and phrases:
They were rebellious – insubordinate is the word in the sense that they had departed from the authority of the apostolic truth of the gospel – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus alone for sinners. They were insubordinate – rebelling against God’s truth. (received document this week)
And because they didn’t preach the truth, their talk was merely empty. Oh, they might have some convincing words – they might be good communicators. Funny TED talks. They may tell you just what you want to hear. They may say some helpful things. But the bottom line is, because they are not coming from a place of truth, they were empty talkers.
Further, they were deceivers. Deceitful. Untrustworthy. And what was the proof of that? The end of verse 11 – they were only in it for the sake of sordid gain. They were only in it for the money – your money. Listen, when the likes of Kenneth Copeland stand up and scream money, when they live lavish lifestyles in multi-million dollar homes in multi-million dollar jets with multi millions in the bank – that ought to be a clue – they’re in it for the money. Even in poor and impoverished countries – those who only do ministry to make an easy living – live off the money of other poor people – if that’s the motivation – they don’t know Jesus.
Paul then quotes one of their own prophets, who said, Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. You can’t trust them because they lie, they have brutish, evil behavior, and they are undisciplined – lazy and gluttoness – self-indulgent. This saying is attributed to Epimenides, a 6th-5th century philosopher, prophet from Knossos in Crete who moved to Athens and was considered one of Greece’s seven wise philosophers, among Plato and Aristotle. He was held in high esteem by the Cretans. He had apparently prophesied the invasion of the Persians 10 years before it happened – and proved to be right. At any rate, he said of his own countrymen, they are always liars, evil beasts and lazy gluttons.
He wasn’t the only one to say this of the people of Crete. One said, “So much in fact do sordid love of gain and lust for wealth prevail among them, that the Cretans are the only people in the world in whose eyes no gain is disgraceful.” Cicero wrote that among the Cretans, highway robbery was considered honorable. In fact, the word Cretanize meant to lie. There was obviously a serious character flaw among this people. Notice in verse 13, Paul says, this testimony about them is true. He wasn’t unnecessarily castigating the people – simply reminding Titus of their cultural character and what he was up against. Just like today, I may speak of our culture as being pleasure-loving, immoral, wealth-seeking, self-centered, liberal, etc. It would be true, and helpful to know as we minister among them.
We’ll come back to their character in verses 15 and 16 shortly, but what did they teach? I’ve already suggested, being of the circumcision group, they were likely Judaizers – suggesting salvation was a matter of believing in Jesus and keeping the Law. Verse 11 says they taught things that should not be taught – that is, they’re wrong. Which is interesting. Again, in our tolerant, pluralistic, relativistic society, we don’t think, religiously-speaking, there is anything wrong with what others might believe and teach – everyone has their own truth. Paul says otherwise.
Verse 14 suggests they were also teaching Jewish myths. That’s why I mentioned Crete’s proximity to Ephesus earlier. We know from history there was a large Jewish population on the island, which explains their engagement with the Law. But they also held and taught Jewish myths. This was quite similar to what Paul said to Timothy in Ephesus. In I Timothy 1, we read:
3 As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines,
4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.
You can see the similarities. Their teaching focused on myths or fables and endless genealogies, which Paul references in Titus 3. Please notice, Paul had a problem with myths or fables – made-up stories. He thought they did damage to the faith. Now, in Titus, Paul calls them Jewish myths. From history, we know there was a Jewish movement of filling in the blanks of Old Testament stories and coming up with all kinds of fabulous fables – some of which contradicted the truth of Scripture. The issue is, they were products of the imagination and distracted people from the truth. The genealogies became endless or exhausting guesses, producing more names – which gave rise to more myths and more made-up stories – which further distracted from the truth.
And notice, they became commandments of men who turn away from the truth. The teaching of men always contradicts the teaching of God. It turns people away from the truth. Put that all together – Jewish myths, genealogies – and we get the idea these were aberrant Jewish teachings, perhaps propagated by Jewish teachers who were professing believers. But we shouldn’t get the idea that these were harmless. In I Timothy 4, Paul says these teachings came from deceitful spirits and he actually called them doctrines of demons.
Which brings us to Titus 1:15-16. We have this enigmatic statement, “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” What does that mean? Back in I Timothy 4, we find these teachers were ascetics. They forbade things which created for our good. They made marriage bad – abstain from marriage. They made certain foods bad – abstain from certain foods. That’s likely what Paul is referring to here – to the pure in heart – all things God created for our good, are pure. He said it this way in I Timothy 4:3, “men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.”
I don’t want to get bogged down in this – the point is, the false teachers – likely Judaizers – were adding all kinds of things to the truth of the gospel of Jesus. If you want to be saved, be circumcised and keep the law. And abstain from marriage and certain foods which God created for our good. By all this, they showed they didn’t know the gospel, they didn’t know Jesus. They were simply tying heavy loads on people. So Paul goes on to say, while they profess to know God, by their deeds they deny Him – they’re detestable, disobedient and worthless.
So, last point and conclusion – what do we do with such people? If we want to be faithful to the Scripture, to Jesus and His gospel, we get out the rod. Verse 9 says they must be refuted. Verse 11 says they must be silenced. Muzzled is the idea. One author writes, “Paul’s recommended course of action here is not patient dialogue or peaceful arbitration for the sake of unity in the church; these opponents must be silenced, that is, their public teaching activity must be stopped, presumably in the form of church discipline or public rebuke.” One prominent pastor in Atlanta recently said, “Church unity is more important than being theologically correct.” Wrong. There is no place to allow false teaching in the church. They simply upset households – possibly referring to churches which met in houses at this time. Verse 13, reprove them – the false teachers – severely so that they – the people of the church – may be sound in the faith – not paying attention to false teaching and false commandments of men.
A challenging text – no doubt. Paul is passionately fighting against those who would mess with Jesus, His gospel, and His people. Don’t do that – if you do, you will be faced with the rod. You will be refuted, you will be silenced, you will be reproved severely. Because, we can’t allow wolves among the sheep.
On the first Sunday of each month, we observe communion. The Lord’s Supper. You see, in symbol, it communicates the truth of the gospel – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for sinners.
I struggled with this passage all week – not only teaching about false teachers, yet again – but on communion Sunday, no less. How would such a text prepare us for communion? Well, it does, since all the Scripture points to Christ. Paul was irritated – impassioned – because the gospel was being sidelined. False truths regarding how a person is justified was being taught. What was important for followers of Jesus was lost.
So, there is a sense in which communion preserves and protects the truth of the gospel. It reminds us who we are – blood-bought followers of Jesus Christ. Is that who you are? Do you remember that you have been saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? Are you depending in any way on your own goodness to make you acceptable to God? Then remember, it is Christ’s blood that saved you and sanctifies you. Eat and drink, remembering Christ’s work on your behalf. Communion calls us back to the gospel.