Clearly, Paul had given Titus a hopeless assignment, or at least it appeared that way.
For this reason, I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you. – Titus 1:5
In the best of circumstances this would have been a challenging task, to appoint qualified elders in every city as Paul instructed him, but Titus was not going to the best of circumstances. Far from it. Paul left Titus in Crete, and the Cretans had a well-deserved reputation for being an ornery and belligerent lot.
One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. – Titus 1:12-13
Even the Cretans themselves acknowledge that they are pretty incorrigible, almost as if their gross behavior is a badge of honor. Thus, Titus’ task appears hopeless. For how can “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” ever become “above reproach” (Titus 1:7) so that they can serve as elders? How can these Cretans, who are by nature vile sinners, become just, devout, self-controlled overseers of a local assembly of the church of the living God?
How, indeed! But this shows Paul’s and Titus’ confidence in the power of the gospel. “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” The apostle believed in the power of the gospel not only to save from condemnation, but also to transform into righteousness. Through the power of the gospel, slaves of sin are changed into slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18).
HOW DO YOU DISCIPLE A CRETAN?
But we now need to consider the practical challenges of discipling Cretans. Paul knew the nature of the men of Crete (Titus 1:12-13), and he also knew the qualifications of men who could serve as elders in the church (1:6-9), and, for most of the men on Crete, there was a large chasm between their character and the character of the biblical elder. How was Titus to help these men become elder material?
Paul’s instructions to Titus are direct and unambiguous:
For this reason, reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith. – Titus 1:13
Because “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons,” the training program for the Cretan who would grow in grace, who would walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, and who would be sound in the faith is simple. The disciple maker must reprove the Cretan severely. This sounds harsh to our American ears, but these are the divinely inspired instructions of an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.” Sin is driven out of hardened sinners by severe reproof, not by gentle pleading or by appealing to reason. Before the gospel came, the Cretans had long indulged in degrading and disgraceful sin (Ephesians 5:12; 1 Peter 4:3), and now that they were in Christ, it was time for them to be reproved severely. If they would be sound in the faith, and if the church in Crete would display the holiness that the church is called to display (Ephesians 5:27; Hebrews 12:15; Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15, 16), then their sin needed to be exposed and they needed to be reproved so that they would abandon their evil practices and would embrace obedience to the truth. The Cretan disciple repeated the sequence of reproof-confession-correction-repentance over and over again until holy obedience began to replace open rebellion. Prior to Christ, the life of the Cretan was like an open sewer, but through severe and loving reproof and the power of the Holy Spirit, the moral sewer slowly runs as a clear flowing stream.
But for the Cretan, the key to sanctification is severe reproof, loving reproof that calls sin, “sin,” and insists that the one who names the name of Jesus must walk as He Himself walked (2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 2:6).
“For this reason, reprove them severely.”
MODERN DAY CRETANS
The reason that I spent so much time talking about Cretans is that these types of believers are near to my heart. You see, when I came to Christ at 31 years old, I had long indulged in sin and my life was a moral sewer. Essentially, I was a Cretan and the best thing that could have happened for my sanctification and for my growth in Christ would have been for a brave man to come alongside me and begin to reprove me severely so that I would be sound in the faith. In God’s providence, that did not happen and, as a result, my sanctification suffered.
Because of our increasingly wicked society, many of those who come to Christ, especially men who come to Christ, come to Christ as Cretans. The days are evil, the sins of the flesh are available at an alarmingly early age and, without the power of the Holy Spirit to restrain them, many give themselves over to the desires of the flesh. Without knowing it, they become Cretans, and when they come to Christ, they need to be reproved severely. Sin has firmly established its residency in their flesh and the way to drive sin out is through severe reproof. The discipler sees sinful habits and reproves severely, and the disciple actively repents, and those who were formerly demoniacs are found seated at Jesus’ feet and are useful to the Master. In all this, God is glorified.
For those who would make disciples in our Cretan-creating world, learn to reprove lovingly but severely the ones you are helping to grow.
For those who realize they are Cretans and who need help in displaying the holiness which believers are called to display, seek out one who would be willing to reprove you severely so that you may drive the sin out.
SDG rmb 6/2/2021 #412