He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. 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. – Titus 1:9-14
In many, if not most, American Christian contexts, pastors are expected to be the nicest person in the room. Even the word “pastor” or “pastoral” evokes soft images of a shepherd in a peaceful setting (even though the word “pastor” or “shepherd” was also used in ancient times for governmental and military leaders like Pharaoh or Joshua). Common representations of the meek and mild Jesus reinforce this one-dimensional misconception of a non-confrontational Christian leader.
If one wants to understand fully God’s vision of a Christian leader, Titus is one of the best places to look. Titus is one of the New Testament books known as the Pastoral Epistles, which also include 1 and 2 Timothy. In these letters, the apostle Paul gave instructions to Timothy and Titus so that they would know how to lead other Christians in Paul’s absence.
The above excerpt from Titus in today’s devotional paints a different picture of a pastor than what many in our modern American Christian circles might expect. Paul urges Titus “to rebuke those who contradict” sound doctrine. To rebuke means to express strong disapproval of someone’s actions or teachings. Paul reiterates this Christian leadership trait, commanding Titus to “rebuke them sharply.”
Paul’s protege must also “silence” the sheep, or perhaps wolves in sheep’s clothes, when they are insubordinate and deceptive. The notion of insubordination might rub us the wrong way with our democratized church sensibilities. But Paul doubles down on this concept later in Titus, when he urges Titus to “exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15).
Lest we misunderstand, the leader’s corrective authority is not used for personal aggrandizement but to fend off wolves and remove toxic people and teachings that would poison the sheep. Christian leaders are commanded never to use their authority to “lord it over” the flock. On the contrary, they are to sacrifice their lives – their comforts, time, reputation, and selfish desires – for the good of the sheep.
Most pastors, and most people in general, do not like to rebuke others. That was probably the case for Timothy and Titus, which is likely the reason that Paul had to tell them both multiple times to be sure to correct false teaching and wrong-doers. I, for one, don’t like to be confrontational, but the health of the body of Christ requires that all intrusions be dealt with directly and immediately. On the other hand, there are some people who are too quick to rebuke others. Such people should be careful too, that they do not dominate other Christians and assert undue control over the church of God.
I believe that weak Christian leadership is one of the reasons why the church in America has declined dramatically in recent years. Christian leaders need to take courage and confront false teaching and ungodly ways, not merely for the sake of pointing out wrongs, but for the sake of building up the church and protecting the flock.
Heavenly Father, I repent for the ways that I have failed to address false teaching and unrighteous behavior in Your household. Forgive me and empower me to be a leader in Christ that rebukes others as needed. Keep me from abuse of authority. Help me to be bold when I need to be bold, patient when I need to be patient, and wise enough to know how to respond to every situation. Give me Your heart for Your people, whom You purchased with the blood of Your own Son. Raise up strong Christian leaders in every place in this nation, so that Your people would flourish. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
Chuck Hetzler, Ph.D.
Vice President of Biblical Theology, Christian Union
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