Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 84: Handling Religious Fools
Titus 1:15-16, 3:9-11
August 5, 2012
SCRIPTURE READING: Titus 1:12-16 (Peter T.)
I have been following the CHRISTIAN PUBLISHING industry for obvious reasons. There is this one small publisher...took over from the owner...threatening Chip.
* The name of that church was “SOUND DOCTRINE Church.”
Q How many RELIGIOUS BULLIES have you known?
You know the kind I am talking about: They know their THEOLOGY, debate all the finer points of this and that, and are FANATICAL about some obscure point of doctrine.
From this study, I have adopted a new name for these guys, “RELIGIOUS FOOLS.” A fool doesn’t mean a stupid person:
Psalm 53:1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good.
This does not simply mean a LITERAL ATHEIST, but a PRACTICAL one, one who acts as if there is no God. Compare that to Titus:
Titus 1:16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.
* A religious fool is a person who hides their practical atheism behind RELIGIOUS TALK or RULES.
They claim to know God, in fact they know quite ABOUT HIM. As a pastor, I deal with these sorts a lot. They are ATTRACTED to the CHURCH. Worse yet, they are attracted to the pastor.
* These people can do MORE DAMAGE than any number of immoral people in the church because they sound so good.
TITUS tells us something we really need to know: How to RECOGNIZE and DEAL with religious fools, because we all know some religious fools.
* Even more importantly it tells us how to recognize the religious fool INSIDE of us.
INTRO TO TITUS
The book of Titus is a LETTER of ADVICE that Paul sent to young Titus as he was building the fledgling church in Crete, an island in the middle of the Mediterranean.
This was a TOUGH ASSIGNMENT. Imagine sending a young HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER into an inner-city school known for violent students and a belligerent, unsupportive administration. It’s always tougher when you are hit on both sides.
The CRETANS themselves had a BAD REPUTATION, “Cretans are always LIARS, evil BRUTES, lazy GLUTTONS.” In fact, Crete had been a haven for pirates, so this is a rough place.
But on the other side are the “good guys,” other supposed Christians who are coming to help and teach lots of obscure, interesting doctrine, “foolish CONTROVERSIES and GENEALOGIES and ARGUMENTS and QUARRELS about the LAW.”
With that in mind, let’s reread the passage:
Titus 1:12-14 Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.
RECOGNIZING RELIGIOUS FOOLS
There are two dead GIVEAWAYS for religious fools:
1. Excessive interest in religious talk.
There is something very interesting here that is not obvious at first:
Q WHO does Titus need to “REBUKE sharply,” the ex-pirates or the religious fools? The Cretans.
Q WHO are TELLING them the Jewish myths that are distracting them? The religious fools.
Here is the interesting part: Why are JEWISH MYTHS so INTERESTING to the ex-pirates? It wasn’t for the culture experience.
* Because it was way EASIER to OBSESS over obscure details of a theological theory than God changing your heart and actions.
It’s easier to argue over CALVINISM or the eating KOSHER than LOVING your NEIGHBOR.
It’s easier to make elaborate THEORIES about the sons of God marrying the daughters of men than to LOVE your WIFE.
It’s easier to become an EXPERT at APOLOGETICS than to live a life that is ATTRACTIVE to non-Christians
I have learned that this is a COMMON PATTERN. It’s not like “Here is a person who is really into eschatology AND lacks humility and spiritual depth. That’s weird.”
* FAR SIDE comic: Don’t touch.
Whenever you see a person who is FIXATED on theological, watch their life closely to see if he is a RELIGIOUS FOOL.
WATCH YOUR LIFE AND DOCTRINE
Q Does that mean that DOCTRINE doesn’t matter? Absolutely not!
Doctrine is VITAL, in fact NUANCED DOCTRINE is usually BAD doctrine that needs to be CORRECTED:
Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
SOUND DOCTRINE is only HALF the picture. One of the most important pieces of advice for a pastor:
1 Timothy 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
* THEOLOGY must be LIVED OUT. If we don’t live it, then we don’t actually believe it.
This is why the religious fools tend to focus on the OBSCURE stuff. They don’t have to live it out in a way that requires HEART CHANGE.
Q Do you have an UNHEALTHY INTEREST in theological details?
Q Do you take PRIDE in what you know?
Q Do you ever use your theology as a WEAPON?
This is a challenge for me at times. I am most TEMPTED when I am TIRED and WORN. I can get in a bad mood and want a fight. I wouldn’t survive a bar fight, so I want to debate.
* I am most inclined to INDULGE RELIGIOUS FOOLISHNESS when I am LEAST DEPENDENT on God
I am not saying don’t care about theology, but make sure that living it is just as important as knowing it.
2. Excessive interest in religious rules.
Titus 1:15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.
This is an INTERESTING passage: Does this mean that a person with a pure heart can’t sin?
That is not what Paul is saying. He is using a PLAY on WORDS. First you need to understand the CONTEXT. The religious fools spent a lot of time OBSESSING over the DETAILS of JEWISH law.
* He calls them “the circumcision party,” with sounds as much fun as a PartyLight Candle party!
Many the Jewish Laws focus on what is RITUALLY CLEAN or UNCLEAN. The Greek word translated “pure” can either mean ritually clean or morally pure. Likewise, the word translated “defiled” can mean ritually unclean or immoral.
What Paul is saying is that those who are MORALLY PURE – actually know God and are obeying him – don’t need to worry about RITUAL PURITY. Their real morality makes it irrelevant.
* On the other hand, if you MORALLY IMPURE, no amount of rule following will change that fact.
Q Why is this so important?
Religious fools have an unhealthy interest in list of RULES that LOOK RIGHTEOUS but don’t go down to the HEART. They work harder on obey rules and regulations than MOTIVES.
* That is why JESUS focused so much on motives: Lust is like adultery, anger like murder.
There is something else really attractive about rules: You know how you STACK UP against others. You can say “I obey the rules 89% of the time, but you only obey them 63%, so I am better.”
* For some reason, GOD’S GRACE just doesn’t feel like ENOUGH, we need something to make us a little better.
But it is much HARDER to COMPARE the INTERNAL STUFF: You don’t know what is going on in your HEART, let alone someone else’s. You don’t know what their STRUGGLES are.
* HOW are you supposed to know? You aren’t. It is not your CONCERN.
I don’t see our church being in great danger of being religious fools by INTEREST in DETAILS. We work too hard to keep central things central and peripheral peripheral.
But whenever you work to do the RIGHT THINGS, there is always the danger of doing it for the WRONG REASONS. Check your motives for why you do what you do:
Is it to LOOK BETTER to others?
It is to FEEL BETTER about yourself?
Is it is get God to LOVE you?
Why should you do what is right? It should be an OVERFLOW of what GOD is DOING IN you. It should be an expression of LOVE for GOD and OTHERS. It should be a desire to AVOID the PAIN of sin.
* You can avoid being a religious fool by WORRYING LESS about following RULES and more about LOVING GOD and OTHERS.
Q So there are ways to recognize religious fools. But how do you HANDLE them?
HOW TO HANDLE RELIGIOUS FOOLS
Okay, so let say you KNOW a couple of religious fools who take too much interest in the wrong things. Let’s you are RELATED to them. How do you deal with them?
Titus 3:9-11 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
Of course it has a lot to do with the nature of your RELATIONSHIP to them. If one comes into the church and wants to become a leader, the ELDERSHIP will deal with them one way.
If it is UNCLE JOE, it’s another matter, but we can draw lessons from Paul to both:
1. Warn them.
Last sermon I talked about my FAVORITE PROVERB:
Proverbs 26:4-5 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.
There is little hope of CHANGING them, but ultimately you warn them in HOPES that they will LISTEN. There just might be some hope that GOD will be able to BREAK THROUGH.
Q How can YOU respond to a religious fool?
If you are in a POSITION of AUTHORITY you may need to take DECISIVE action. Titus is in a place of authority.
This is vital for COMMUNITY GROUP leaders, if one person keeps steering the discussion to their pet theology or rules.
* It needs to be stopped before it can at best WASTE TIME, but at worst MISLEAD PEOPLE.
Q But what if you DON’T have AUTHORITY?
The best way to warn a religious fool is to try to DEBATE them. Not really. That is just about the worst way.
Q Have you ever tried to STOP your KIDS from YELLING at each other by YELLING at them?
Instead of STOOPING to their level, invite them to step UP to your level:
a. Ask PROBING QUESTIONS: “Hmm, that is interesting, but how does this affect your relationship with God? Your relationship with others?”
* If you keep asking questions like that, chance are good they will stop talking to you about the subject.
b. Don’t ENGAGE in the CONVERSATION. Get good at non-committal grunts.
2. Avoid them.
But, Paul says, after a couple of warnings, Paul says to simply AVOID them. This is a Biblical call to GIVE up.
* Remember, you are dealing with a FOOL, which CANNOT END WELL.
Unless you see some REAL INDICATIONS that they are willing to leave their foolishness, don’t waste your TIME or risk your own SANITY.
I remember one particularly frustrating and unproductive meeting and afterward Marilyn asked if we were again, I said “Either that or I could BEAT my head with a HAMMER. I am kind of torn.”
Not only that, but FOOLISHNESS is CONTAGIOUS. You risk your own spiritual well being. Of the HUNDREDS of TIMES I have engaged a fool in CONVERSATION (usually on FACEBOOK), I can’t recall ever thinking “I feel CLOSER to God because of that interaction.”
* If they don’t respond after a COUPLE of TRIES, chances are pretty good they never will.
* Please text “Sunday School Teacher” ; service is almost over
A HARSH BUT FREEING TRUTH
This is HARSH but FREEING truth in Paul’s command: You CAN’T help EVERYONE. They may be UNWILLING to stop being a religious fool. They like feeling so SMART with their religious thoughts or superior with their religious rules.
* Some people you just have to LET GO.
As a PASTOR it might mean inviting them to find ANOTHER CHURCH. As FRIEND, it might mean not responding to them on Facebook. It might mean keeping CONVERSATIONS SUPERFICIAL.
* This does not mean that you don’t LOVE or PRAY for them, but you need to LEAVE them in God’s hand.
THE RELIGIOUS FOOL WITHIN
But I want to close by talking about the MOST DANGEROUS religious fool of all: The one INSIDE of you. That is the one you really need to deal with.
* RUN to Jesus. WANT him, FALL IN LOVE with him.
At the core of this is submission and humility – recognizing our weaknesses, no longer hiding them, the throwing ourselves at his feet.
When Jesus is TRULY your LORD, when you clearly understand your desperate need for God’s GRACE, you don’t need the RELIGIOUS TALK to make you FEEL GOOD, you have ACCEPTANCE.
* You don’t need RULES to guide your every ACTION because you want to do what is bring God glory.
Q & A