But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.Titus 3:4-11
This passage in Titus is an interesting one, especially when it comes to 3:10,
“Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.”
The issue with this verse is that it is the very thing used to divide one against the other. If you have two disagreeing sides which one claims this as their right?
What tends to get missed when people cite this verse as a way of protecting their view against those who disagree with them is the way the letter to Titus is collapsing the foundation of division. Even in chapter 3 we see the premise beginning with the notion of submission. Submission to the rulers. Why? Because of what “the kindness and love of God our Savior” means for us. Before we were called out from our former life and set apart to live in the way of the kingdom of God we were once “foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” Here we need to be careful not to rush forward and apply this as a universal statement about how indiviual salvation works. This is describing a community who’s story reflects a specific context. This is speaking about a community set apart to image the kingdom of God in the time and place where they find themselves. Thus what we get is a portrait of a divided people. How can they be image bearers if they are fighting with one another?
This is where chapter 2:1 says, “You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.” This is connected to chapter 1:9 where it says to 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.”
So what is this sound doctrine? It is the trustworthy message. What is the trustworthy message? That is outlined in 1:1-4, cited as the hope of Jesus and His work which is anchored in the promise of eternal life (which they would understand as the restoration of the whole creation). This is what is said to be the the knowledge that leads to godliness, or knowledge that invites us to participate in the kingdom of God in Christ as ones who bear the image of God through Christlikeness (based on what Christ has done for us). This is what shapes chapter 2 as the collapsing of these divisions, speaking to older men, older women, younger children, slaves ect and calling all to follow in the way of Christ, to live in relationship to others in the same way that Christ lived in relationship to us- by serving one another. This is the connection between the sound doctrine (the work of Jesus and the hope it represents) and the fact that this doctrine is meant to actually call us to live in the Kingdom not opposed to it.
Which or course is where we come back around to the tension inherent within this idea of a unified community. If the context of this community in Titus is division between the circumcised and uncircumcised (1:10), as is the conflict in most of the NT, then this letter is a call to bring both Jew and Gentile together over and against the question of whether one needs to become Jewish to follow Christ. As Paul says elsewhere, the Law (circumcision) is important to those under it, but not necessary to those not under it because the whole point of the Law is to point to the story of Gods faithfulness (now made known and fulfilled in Christ) which calls us to faithfulness. This circumcision is not the point, living in the kingdom as faithful participants trusting in the promise of Gods faithfulness to the covenant is.
So how do we navigate 3:9? Seems to me that the inference there is that those who are taking away the hope of Christs work by denying others the right to free participation in the kingdom is the problem. How can others freely participate in the kingdom of they see a community of christ followers denying their own community the right to free participation. If this is the whole point of the “right doctrine” then it is this sort of division that needs to be left behind