On Being Negative

There it is in Titus 1:10. It’s one of those crucial Bible words: “For.” The apostle Paul has made much of the church finding devout leadership in verses 5–9. He’s listed the required character qualities, behavior, knowledge, and gifts of potential candidates. The “for” of verse 10 means that the next bit (vv. 10–16, NASB) explains why devout leadership is so important. “You must have godly, informed leaders because….”

The apostle goes negative. The reason why finding qualified elders is crucial is because there are lots of bad people out there. They are rebellious, empty talkers, deceivers. Their influence is corrosive; they are upsetting whole families, teaching bad things, and so they must be silenced. He even attacks their ethnicity and lands of origin; some are of the circumcision (Jews) and some are Cretans, and so, of course, are liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons. Those apostles of ours were willing to speak the undiluted truth.

“There are enough people who will call a spade a shovel,” one of my mentors once said, chastising me for using a unicorn when a thumbtack would do. He had a point, one might say. Too many loud, angry Christian voices lack nuance. Too often we are asked to “take a stand” on complex issues that we barely understand. How many times have conservative Christians been made to look foolish because they have firmly planted their feet, not on the solid ground of biblical truth, but in the thin air of political or social opinions and preferences?

Nevertheless, truth may be distinguished from error. The church, indeed, must distinguish truth from error. The church is called to both “exhort,” that is, present its positive teaching, and “refute,” which means to expose and dismantle error (v. 9). I prefer the former to the latter. I like to think that one can preach the truth and error will fall of its own accord. I like to say that there is no need to criticize those with whom I differ. Ignore them. Stick to the positive. No need to go negative. This seems a particularly wise strategy today when so many of our contemporaries find criticism of another person’s religion to be so distasteful. Why do we have to criticize other people’s beliefs? Live and let live. Be content with commending your own convictions and stay away from others.
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