Identifying False Teachers | Titus 1:10-16

This sermon was originally preached in 2016.

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.
One of the Cretans, 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 devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.
To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

Titus 1:10-16 ESV

We have now discussed for two weeks Paul’s idea of church leadership. First, we established that the New Testament ideal for leadership was a plurality of elders, working and serving together for the good of the local church. Second, we analyzed the qualifications and responsibilities of being an overseer. Though he listed many requirements, they could all be summed up into saying that elder must be above reproach. As for the responsibilities, Paul calls the elder God’s steward and emphasizes the responsibility to teach the Scriptures.

We close out chapter one and our discussion of leadership today. Yet where we previously discussed how a leader should live, we now discuss what an elder should not look like. The primary topic of these final verses of chapter one is the need to properly identify and rebuke false teachers within the church, since they are able to lead away people from the truth by teaching what they ought not to teach.

Throughout this section of text, Paul jumps back and forth between listing characteristics for the false teachers and reminding Titus to rebuke them. Writers across the New Testament warn for us to be watchful of false teachers. Jesus Himself warned: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits (Matt. 7:15-16).” Paul aims in these six verses to help us know what fruits to look for in a false prophet’s life.


The word for ties this section of text to the proceeding one. Verse nine presented the pastor’s need to teach sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict, and we now learn why doing so is important. We could easily exchange for with because as that is Paul’s intent. Teach and rebuke because there are many who are insubordinate. The presence of false teachers serves to accent the importance of defending sound doctrine.

Insubordinate, Empty Talkers & Deceivers

The apostle begins this section of text by briefly describing the false teachers that threatened the work of the gospel. First, he calls them insubordinate. While this may not immediately appear to be a defining characteristic of false teaching, some consideration will show otherwise. Insubordinate is synonymous with disobedient. Anyone guilty of insubordination is accused of refusing to submit to authority. At its core, all false teaching is insubordination, not merely to human leaders, but to the Scriptures. Because the Bible, as God’s revelation to humanity, is our ultimate authority, any contradiction to its teaching is insubordination. All false teachers are disobedient to God.

Second, the false teachers are called empty talkers and deceivers. These two descriptions seem to go hand-in-hand as they both pertain to teaching. Empty talking is speech that is void of any real significance. Whether nefariously and blatantly avoiding the truth or side-stepping it out of personal ignorance, God will judge teachers both by what they say and do not say. A lack of truth is no better than a complete lie, which is where deceivers excel. If empty talkers are noted for the absence of the gospel, deceivers present a false gospel.

One example of deceivers presenting a false gospel is the circumcision party that Paul references. Most theologians now call these men Judaizers. Essentially, the Judaizers taught that before anyone could become a Christian they must first become a Jew. This meant observing the Mosaic law and having men be circumcised. Though circumcision was created as a sign of God’s covenant between Abraham and his descendants, over time many Jews placed salvific importance upon the act, believing that circumcision ensured inclusion in the people of God. Paul appropriately rebuked this teaching as false because in making circumcision necessary for salvation, salvation would then be contingent upon circumcision, not the grace of Christ. Essentially, the Judaizers were adding to the gospel. They were teaching that Jesus saved, along with circumcision. This presents us with one of the easiest tests for identifying false gospels: if it presents anything else as necessary for salvation beside Jesus, it is not the gospel.

They Must Be Silenced

Like a shepherd did not take a lurking wolf lightly, Paul saw false teaching as deathly serious, yet unlike a regular wolf, false teachers were able to bring spiritual and eternal death. Thus, the apostle does not mince his words; rather, he commands Titus to silence them. For Paul, shutting their mouths was an imperative. A shepherd displayed love for his sheep by driving away the wolves, so must the pastor do with spiritual wolves. Further evidence of Paul’s motivation of love is seen in his reason for ordering their silence: they are upsetting whole families. This likely meant that entire families were being swayed to believe the heresy that came from the mouths of those teachers. When brothers and sisters in Christ begin to fall away, it is unloving to remain silent.


Here Paul uses barbed tact in making his point. Cretans were infamous throughout the ancient world for being morally repugnant. Daniel Akin writes that “the inhabitants of Crete were so characterized by lying that ‘to Cretanize’ meant to lie” (248). However, Paul chooses to let the Cretans speak for themselves rather on this matter. He does this by citing Epimenides, an ancient poet of Crete. The poet pronounces a brutal generality upon the Greek island’s inhabitants, calling them liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons. It should go without saying that these qualities have never been valued in any society. Blatant dishonesty, laziness, and wickedness are absolute immoralities. Paul, however, tactful agrees with Epimenides’ conclusion on the matter.

Rebuke Them Sharply

In response to the Cretans’ immorality, Paul exhorts Titus to rebuke them sharply. Given that present society is quite fearful of rebuking others, we might conclude that this is unduly harsh on Paul’s part, yet the apostle would have viewed his exhortation as very loving. Notice that his desired outcome from the rebukes is given at the end of verse thirteen and in fourteen: that they would be sound in the faith and not devote themselves to Jewish myths or commands of people who turn from the truth. For Paul, rebuking a brother or sister in Christ should never be done without love or out of sheer meanness; instead, it should always be done in order to make them sound in the faith. The biblical notion of rebuking one another very easily shifts between extremes. It is incredibly difficult to be neither overly harsh nor sinfully passive and silent, yet we must strive for that balance. It is just as unloving to remain silent as it is to deliver an unloving rebuke. Instead, let us exhort and rebuke one another in humility, acknowledging the log in our own eyes first before lovingly revealing our brother’s speck (Matt. 7:1-5).


By presenting a maxim of sorts, Paul is outlining a biblical principle for living and for viewing the world around us. Purity and defilement are opposite terms of one another. To be pure is to be one hundred percent free of corruption or impurities. Biblical purity means being perfect before God. Defilement is impurity. Sin is the ultimate defiler. Paul first speaks of a person being pure or defiled. Ultimately, everyone belongs to the defiled category, since all have sinned. However, through the saving work of Christ, His followers have been made pure before God, not by their own works but by Jesus’ death and resurrection. So everyone is defiled, except for those whom Jesus has made pure.

Paul then proceeds with his principle for our the pure and defiled view the world. He claims that to the pure, all things are pure, and to the defiled, nothing is pure. This means that when seeing the world from a pure heart, the pure will see things with purity. Everything that they do will be devoted and dedicated to the LORD. But the defiled are the opposite. Because they themselves are defiled, nothing they do or see is pure. Some try to argue against the doctrine of man’s depravity by citing examples of sinful people doing good deeds. While there are plenty of examples of this, Paul is stating here that their good deeds are still defiled. Evil people can do good things, but outside of Christ, they cannot do them in purity and with the right motive. In fact, people will often do altruistic works purely for their own pride, image, and/or accomplishment. Good works done with such motives are detestable to God, as Paul will declare in verse sixteen.

Verbal Profession vs Practical Denial

Again we return to the letter’s theme. Verbal profession must align with our physical actions. Our doctrine must proceed into good works; otherwise, we may find ourselves professing God but denying Him by our works. Why are works so important? They display the reality of our faith in God. James presents this principle by saying, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (2:19)! Mere belief and profession are not enough; they must also lead into a life of living for God. Too many who claim Christianity are fool described in Psalm 14:1 as saying in their hearts, “There is no God.” They would never deny God’s existence aloud, but their lives tell the full story. They live as though there is no God or, rather, that they themselves are gods.

Unfit for Any Good Work

What does God think about men and women like this? How does God view people who are defiled, teaching for shameful gain, and denying God with their lives? They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. Detestable is an incredibly strongly connotative word, conjuring synonyms like sickening, repugnant, vile, revolting, and loathsome. In short, God despised the half-hearted because of their disobedience.

But they are not only detestable and disobedient, they are also unfit for any good work. This means that they are incapable of doing anything in a godly manner. Once more, this does not mean that they will never do good works, but it does mean that their works will never actually be good. In Isaiah 1, God addresses Israelites who were bringing sacrifices and offerings into the temple simply because they had to do so. There was no true obedience in their actions. Thus, even though they were doing correct things, God was disgusted with their works: “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. You new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them” (v. 13-14). God rejected the good works of the Israelites because their hearts were not right before Him, and it can be the same with anyone. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned of people who would claim on the day of judgment to have followed God, but Jesus responds, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23). Because they were defiled, everything they did was defiled. Let us then cling to and receive our purity from God, knowing that are works will then be acceptable and pleasing in His eyes.


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