How to Recognize and Rebuke a False Teacher (Titus 1:10–16)
A church appoints qualified pastors because, if not, false teachers will gladly take their place. Pastors should be godly and gifted to teach (Titus 1:6–9). Many men are the opposite, and Titus 1:10–16 shows us how to recognize and rebuke them.
Realize that there are many false teachers (Titus 1:10).
“For there are many,” Paul warned, and he characterized them in three ways: (1) “insubordinate,” refusing to obey God and His word; (2) “empty talkers,” saying things that lack any Christian substance; and (3) “deceivers,” telling what is not true. These characterizations rang “especially” true “of the circumcision party” (Titus 1:10), those who required adherence to the Mosaic Law for salvation and sanctification (cf. Acts 15:5).
They must be silenced (Titus 1:11).
“They must be silenced,” Paul demanded. Literally, “silenced” is “to put something upon the mouth.”1 The reason is clear—these men were “upsetting whole families” with false doctrine, much like Hymenaeus and Philetus who were “upsetting the faith of some” concerning the resurrection (2 Timothy 2:18). In Titus’s situation, they were “teaching…what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:11), “Jewish myths and the commands of people” (Titus 1:14). These “myths” were likely esoteric stories about people found in the genealogies of the Old Testament (cf. 1 Timothy 1:4), and “the commands of people” may have been denials of good things that God meant for people to enjoy (cf. Colossians 2:16, 21–22; 2 Timothy 4:3–4). These false teachers were motivated by “shameful gain” (Titus 1:11), something that would have immediately disqualified themselves from becoming pastors (cf. 1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 5:2).
Even their own people know how bad they are (Titus 1:12–13a).
“A prophet of their own” (likely Epimenedes) said that his fellow “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). Interestingly, Crete was not known for wild beasts, so Paul basically said that they had been replaced by the false teachers—lying, evil men who were given to their passions.2 Paul agreed with the so-called “prophet”: “This testimony is true” (Titus 1:13).
So, rebuke them sharply (Titus 1:13b–14).
Given this negative influence, Paul commanded, “Rebuke them sharply” (Titus 1:13). Pastors were to rebuke (cf. Titus 1:9), and to rebuke “sharply” meant to not spare anything when using the Sword of the Spirit to tear apart their character and heresy (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:1–2, 10). The hope was that these men would no longer “turn away from the truth” but instead become “sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13, 14; cf. 2 Timothy 2:24–26).
Whatever they might say, they are evil inside and out (Titus 1:15–16).
Paul gave one more description of false teachers by contrasting them with believers. All things that believers do are “pure” because believers are “pure” within (Titus 1:15). To those inwardly “defiled and unbelieving,” however, “nothing” they do “is pure” because “their minds and their consciences are defiled” (Titus 1:15). So, even though these false teachers claim “to know God,” they show otherwise “by their works” (Titus 1:16; cf. 2 Timothy 3:5). At the end of the day, they are “detestable” in their character, “disobedient” to God, and therefore “unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16).
No true church wants a false teacher to worm his way into people’s homes and lead them astray, taking their money in the process. Should we ever detect such a one in our churches, may we rebuke him sharply, and may God grant faith to him and wisdom to anyone under his sway. And may God help us to appoint pastors according to Titus 1:6–9 so that our churches are not misled by men described in Titus 1:10–16.
About David Huffstutler
David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, serves as a chaplain for his local police department, and teaches as adjunct faculty at Bob Jones University. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.