Freedom of speech is a right that we value highly. It is a blessing to be able to make comments about public officials and their policies without lowering our voices to a whisper or looking around to see who may be listening.
“For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God…holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught…” (Titus 1:7ff)
For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth. To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work. (Titus 1:10-16)
Yet even freedom of speech has limits. There are laws against libel and slander. There is speech that is harmful and needs to be curtailed—whether in public, in the workplace, in the classroom, or in the home.
In our section from this epistle to Titus, the apostle Paul shows that speech in a Christian congregation also may sometimes need to be curtailed. There are “mouths that must be stopped.”
Paul was addressing problems in the churches on the island of Crete. He had left Titus there to set things in order, to appoint elders in every city. This business was urgent; action needed to be taken because there were some who were causing trouble in the churches. Paul describes them as “insubordinate.” They refused to submit to the authority of the Word of Christ and the apostles in what they said and taught. They were “idle talkers and deceivers.” They were “teaching things which they ought not.” They were not just one or two but “many.” And they were doing a lot of harm; entire households were being misled.
What were they saying that was so harmful? They were teaching “Jewish fables,” inventing tales about Old Testament biblical characters. These were not helpful for spiritual growth, for they were not part of God’s Word. They added nothing of value and could be confusing and misleading to those who might not understand that they weren’t drawn from Bible history. And even worse, these idle talkers and deceivers were teaching “commandments of men.” They were disturbing people’s consciences by forbidding things that God has not forbidden.
These teachers did not have in mind the best interests of the people they were trying to influence. Paul says that they taught “for the sake of dishonest gain.” The love of money was at the root of their activity.
Therefore stern measures were called for. Paul told Titus to rebuke them sharply, for Paul’s concern was for the spiritual welfare of the people, “that they may be sound in the faith.” The people needed to hear the preaching of law and gospel instead of confusing and misleading stories. They needed to repent of their sins. They needed to be directed to Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection so that they could have peace and rejoice in the gospel of salvation.
Are there teachers in our own day who could accurately be called “idle talkers and deceivers”? One example would be those who teach many unscriptural things about the last days and the return of Christ, drawing interpretations of biblical prophecies from current events rather than from the Bible. They upset the peace of their hearers rather than comforting them with the gospel. They confused their hearers rather than building them up in the faith.
The best way to stop the mouths of idle talkers and deceivers is to
keep them from gaining entrance into the church. It is for this
reason that we are careful about who teaches in our congregations.
We welcome into our pulpits and classrooms only those who teach God’s Word faithfully. Before pastors and teachers are declared eligible for a Divine Call into the ministry, they are required to
go through extensive training and instruction.
Those who have been trained in schools outside of our church body and desire to be certified for the ministry among us are required to go through a program designed to test their fitness for that ministry. Those entrusted with the responsibility of preaching and teaching God’s Word among us need first to be proven among us.
It may sound harsh to say that the mouths of some people in the church need to be stopped—but not if we keep in mind that the reason for silencing false teachers is so that those who hear them may be sound in the faith.
To this help us, dear Father in heaven!