By Pastor Glenn Pease
A sophisticated social leader was expecting a large group of friends at her home one evening. Knowing her husbands habit of using guests towels indiscriminately when he came home from the office, she put a note on the ones she put out for the occasion. It read, "If you use one of these towels, I'll slay you in cold blood." Even the most insensitive husband would get the message loud and clear. The problem was that she got busy and forgot to remove the note before the guests arrived. At the end of the evening she found, to her shock, that the note was still there, and not one towel had been touched. Here was a message that called for interpretation. A discerning guest should have known that in this context the note was a warning to the husband and not to the guests. They should have felt free to use the towel without fear.
Life is full of messages that have to be interpreted wisely or they make no sense, or they lead to consequences not intended. It is like when Mrs. Grand instructed her old servant, "Now Maggie, for the first half hour you stand at the drawing room door and call all the guests names as they arrive." "Thank you very much ma'am," she replied, "It's what I've been wanting to do to some of your friends for the last 10 years." Maggie was getting a message that was quite different from the one Mrs. Grand was sending.
Sometimes messages are deliberately made difficult to interpret. Like the man who said to another, "I have two and a half dozen children." The man was amazed, but the father explained it so that it was not that amazing. "I have 2, and then a half dozen more, which is 6 plus 2 making 8. I have 8 children, or as I said, 2 and a half dozen." Without explanation the words carry a different message.
At other times people read into a message more than the speaker intends to say. The disciples did this with Jesus. In John 21 Jesus said, "If I want John to remain alive until I return that is my business and not yours. You just follow me and don't worry about John." The rumor spread among the disciples that John would not die, but Jesus did not say that at all. John had to write and put a halt to this misinterpretation, and tell people that Jesus did not say that he would not die, but only that if it was His will that was His business and not theirs. Even the Apostles could interpret the words of Jesus in a way that did not convey His true message. This means that correct interpretation is absolutely vital to the understanding of truth. The Bible does not mean whatever you or I feel it means. It means only what the author intended to convey when he was inspired to write it.
It is true that people get many different impressions as they read the same words, and there can be a variety of perspectives, but the bottom line is that only the message the author intended to convey is valid. The reason this is important is because without this principle the Bible can be used to support all kinds of nonsense that contradicts what it clearly means to convey.
We have come to Titus 1:15 which is an ideal example of how important it is to know what Paul intended, and not just let any interpretation be acceptable. Paul makes a startling claim when he says, "To the pure all things are pure." This verse can be used to justify every form of evil and folly known to man. It has been used to justify polygamy, stealing, and even murder. Is that what Paul is saying? There is nothing impure to the pure, and so all evil becomes pure?
Sirhan, the assassin of Robert Kennedy, read Madam Blavatsky, the founder of theosophy. She taught that every man has the right to interpret truth in his own way regardless of what others think. The New Age religion teaches this to children. If something seems right for them, than it is right for them, even if it is contrary to the value system of their parents or society. If it's right for you, than it is right. Sirhan concluded that he was doing the will of God when he murdered someone he felt should be eliminated, for it seemed right to him.
Do you think for a moment that this was the message Paul was trying to convey, and that he was teaching that everything was right and pure to certain people? Was he saying that they can do anything the Bible forbids if they just have the right spirit? You can see how this appeals to the fanatic. I am pure, and so I can violate all the commandments of God, for now everything is pure and right for me. If ever there was a text calling for proper interpretation, this is it. This verse does not mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. It means only what Paul intended it to mean, and we know he did not intend it to eliminate all that he has just written. It is easy to see what Paul does not mean, but it takes some thought to discover just what he does mean.
We need to interpret this in a way that is confirmed by other passages where Paul uses this same word for pure. Paul said that all God made is pure in the sense that it is valid for food and not to be rejected because of some legalistic or superstitious tradition. Men contaminate a lot of food by adding to it what is not healthy, but God never created a bad food. In Rom. 14:20 Paul says that all food is clean. So to the pure all food that God makes is pure. It is good and not forbidden. There is no forbidden food to the pure.
Mark has Jesus teach this very truth to eliminate all the legalistic restrictions of Judaism. Jesus taught that nothing going into a man can make him unclean, but only what comes out of him. In Mark 7:19 he adds this comment: "In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean." Both Jesus and Paul make an issue out of this, and they make it clear that if you really believe in Jesus and His rejection of all the food legalism of Judaism you will not have hangups with any food. To the pure all foods will be pure. Only to the unbeliever will there be fears, doubts, and corruption connected with food. The bottom line is that there is no natural food that is forbidden by God, and so the pure Christian can enjoy anything God has made with thanksgiving.
This is not a major issue with most of us, but it was a major issue in the Reformation period, and John Calvin made these strong statements: "They do wrong, who impose religious scruples on conscience in this matter... Accordingly, this must be true till the end of the world, that there is no kind of food which is unlawful in the sight of God. Thus, if any law binds the conscience to any necessity of abstaining from certain kinds of food, it wickedly takes away from believers that liberty which God has given them."
If you carry this through in all areas of life, you get Paul's point. Whatever God has made is good and pure. Did God make marriage and sex? Then it is pure, and as Hebrew says, "The marriage bed is undefiled." Did God make desire, appetite, and the love of competition? If so, then the world of work and recreation are pure as well. It can be good to work to make money and possess things. It can be good or pure to play and enjoy exercise and sports. If these are seen as God given blessings, then they are pure, and they will not defile the man who loves God all the more for his chance to participate in these aspects of life. He does so with thanksgiving because to the pure all things are pure, and they are from God.
The pure live life based on this sound doctrine: If God made it, it is good. If God approves it, it is good. If God recommends it, it is good. If God commands it, it is good. This means that even in this fallen world so corrupted by sin the vast majority of reality is still pure. There is goodness everywhere. Even in the hearts of fallen men there is an abundance of truth, wisdom and value. The world is loaded with good things, and the pure in heart see it and enjoy it, and they praise God for it. The Christian does not say that this tastes so good it must be sinful. They say that it tastes so good that it must be from God.
But there is a constant battle in the minds of those who see only evil and pessimism. They try to rob Christians of the good life in time. Paul writes to Timothy about this very thing in I Tim. 4:1-5, "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything God created is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving."
If you can give thanks for it, it is good and pure, and we are to give thanks in all things, and so it follows that to the pure all things are pure. In the mind of the faithful Christian there is already a taste of things to come. There is a heaven on earth with daily joy and pleasure. The abundant life is now and not just in the sweet by and by. Not all things are actually pure, but all is potentially pure to the pure in heart. They see the putrid and say it can become pure. Jesus saw the prostitute as a potential saint, and because He did He saw some of them come to sainthood. The same was true of the tax collectors and all other sinners. Jesus saw their potential to be pure and righteous. He saw in Saul the potential to become Paul the Apostle, and He made him such by grace. To Jesus all things and all people were potentially pure and so worthy of being loved.
The impure see the potential in all things and all people for evil, and so they are pessimists, and they do not have the mind of Christ. A Christ like mind sees the potential for the good, the true, and the lovely in all. When Florence Nightingale was called to the Crimea to help the English Army that was being decimated by the Russians, and even more so by malaria and cholera, it looked hopeless. Dirt, disease, and disorder were dominant everywhere. The make shift hospital was infested with vermin and rats. No wonder the death rate was 60%.
She saw this mess as a potential place of hope and health. She began to get teams to scrub, launder, and make the environment pure. Then she began to cook good food for the wounded. In 10 days she reduced the death rate from 60% down to 1%. To the pure all things are pure. Even a death trap of corruption can become a life giving sanctuary to those with eyes to see it. Jesus used this same word that Paul uses here in His beatitude, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God." They will see Him, not just in heaven, but in time, for they will God at work in the most awful places and lives bringing forth beauty, order, and purity. The pure see the world and fallen man with the eyes of Christ. They see the saint and the sinner, and the diamond in the mud.
In contrast, Paul says, "To those who are corrupted and who do not believe, nothing is pure." Paul here describes the pathetic reality of a Christian who is so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. He actually ends this chapter by saying that they are unfit for doing anything good. They are part of the church, but all they add to it are corruption and confusion, for they are totally negative, and if they are allowed to spread their pessimism they will destroy the church completely. That is why Paul says they must be silenced. Christians need to be protected from other Christians who have a bad influence on them, and who hurt their faith. Their own faith is corrupted, and they are carriers of pessimism.
Paul says that to them nothing is pure. They are like the woman who thought her neighbor's wash was always still dirty because her own windows were unwashed and full of spots. The history of the church is full of this kind of nonsense where nothing is pure. We know there has always been a lot of impure sex in the world, but for centuries Christian leaders taught that even married sex was impure. They became so pessimistic about the lust of men that they decided that the whole business of sex was of the devil. This is what led to monks and the monastery, and the total escaping from the realm of sex even in the marriage bond.
Christians need to beware of over reacting to the sinful nature of man. It is true that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that all of our righteousness is as filthy rags. We need to be honest about sin and recognize it has infected everyone and everything. Nevertheless, the creation of God is good, and all that He made is good. Sinfulness cannot destroy the beauty of God's original plan and purpose. Sex is God's plan, and no matter how vile man makes it, it is still good and beautiful when used as God intended. To the pure, that is to those who love God and all He has made, it is pure, and it is a wonderful gift. It is only to those who reject God as its author who see it as impure.
The point of Paul is this: Once you reject sound doctrine based on God's revelation you are going to corrupt everything with man-made doctrine. Nothing will be purer, for the fact is, when God is left out of anything it is impure. The Jews who were legalists even made the good works of Jesus to be evil. They said the Sabbath law is more important than people and their health. Every time Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath they criticized Him. They made His miracles of compassion impure. They said they were the works of the devil. This is how blind people can get who operate on unsound doctrine. They can take the best gifts of God and make them acts of evil. Jesus was crucified because people have the ability to make every thing impure.
The people of God in the Old Testament made the Sabbath impure, the sacrifice impure, the temple impure, and even praise and prayer impure. Every thing that God made for good they were able to corrupt, and God said that he detested their worship because they made impure all that He had made pure. Just as there is nothing the pure cannot make pure, so there is nothing the impure cannot make impure. You cannot talk of higher values than prayer and worship, but they can be made impure by the impure.
Paul says in verse 16 that these people claim to know God, but by their actions they deny Him. Paul is confirming the proverb that actions speak louder than words. Doctrine that does not lead to deeds is worthless. Belief that does not change behavior is of no value. Faith without works is dead. In the culture of Crete where lying was habitual there were professing Christians who were even lying about their faith in God. This was a problem in the early church, and John in I John 2:4 wrote, "The man who says I know Him, but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him."
The New Testament is quite clear. The professing Christian who does not follow up his profession with a life of obedience to God's commands is good for nothing. That is how Paul ends this first chapter. This is strong and shocking language. Saddler writes, "No words worst than these could be applied to the lives of the heathen, and yet this is all said of unworthy Christians. The Christian has the capacity to make this evil world a better place, and even a wonderful place. But they also have the capacity to make it even worse than what it already is. The plan of God is that Christians add light to the world so that even in this darkness there can be a taste of heaven on earth.
If Christians have a rotten negative attitude toward life they will make the world a place of negatives. These impure Christians will take even the blessings of life and make them impure. They will, like Peter, in his unenlightened state call unclean what God has made clean. They will by their narrow and legalistic minds make good things evil. But the pure who let the mind of Christ be their mind will find the world filled with things for which to give God thanks. They will find blessings everywhere, and people to love everywhere. They will experience the abundant life Christ came to give His people in time as a foretaste of heaven. There will no end to thanksgiving, for to the pure all things are pure.