9 But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. 10 Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned (Titus 3:9–11, NKJV).
We need spiritual discernment to successfully identify and avoid foolish disputes, contentions, and strivings (v. 9; 1 Cor. 2:15; Phil. 1:9-10). Not every disagreement is about contending for the faith. Some are only about competing and maintaining one’s pride and position. Such are “unprofitable and useless” and fail to strengthen and stabilize souls. Striving over them causes “the ruin of the hearers” (2 Tim. 2:14; 1 Tim. 1:3-7). The divisive person is factious, choosing to disrupt unity instead of encouraging unity in Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10-12). Sadly, this person rarely sees himself as “divisive” (Titus 3:10). So, we must have clear eyes to see the damage caused by the factious. They are perverted in faith and condemned by their divisive behavior (v. 11). Factiousness refuses the authority of Christ for self-defined constraints (binding where the Lord does not bind) or unscriptural allowances (loosing where the Lord binds). The factious press their distortions of truth through “selfish ambitions, dissensions, (and) heresies” (Gal. 5:20). Failure to identify and reject the factious person will infect and destroy a congregation. Therefore, if the factious refuse to repent, they must be marked and turned away from, not shielded and coddled in their sin (Rom. 16:17-18). Paul commanded Titus to reject them after a first and second warning (v. 10). We must do the same.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13, NKJV)
The Christians to whom Paul wrote these words were troubled with “disputes over doubtful things” (Rom. 14:1). The urge to demand others conform to our conscience over matters of liberties is strong. Left unchecked in our hearts, it leads to contempt and condemnation of each other (Rom. 14:3, 10). Critically condemning personal liberties had to stop to avoid being stumbling blocks and promote unity (Rom. 14:13; 15:1-3). Paul is not advising and advancing doctrinal and moral unity in diversity in Romans 14. He is advancing unity by respecting the consciences of each other in matters that are “clean,” “good,” “acceptable,” “pure,” in things God does “not condemn” (Rom. 14:14, 16, 18, 20, 22). By focusing our faith on God through His word guiding us, we avoid factiousness over different consciences toward God-allowed liberties. Christians glorify God by hearts filled with joy, peace, and hope by the power of God’s Spirit guiding us in truth (Rom. 15:5-7, 13).
3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, 4 he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, (1 Timothy 6:3–4, NKJV)
Are you obsessed with disputes? Some see to hanker for an argument. (Note, we did not ask whether you are willing to contend earnestly for the faith, Jude 3. There is a huge difference.) Let your eyes gaze upon the contrasting words in today’s passage. On the one hand, there are the wholesome (sound) words of our Lord Jesus Christ – the “doctrine that accords with godliness” (v. 3). On the other hand, there are words of dispute that arise out of pride and ignorance that foment obsession with words (teachings) of men (v. 4). These words tear down faith as they elevate self and generate conflict that gives way to envy, quarrels, slander and evil suspicions. So, before you speak, be sure your words agree with the godliness that is produced by the sound doctrine of Christ, not words of strife that expose pride and a failure to understand the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, “It is honorable for a man to stop striving, since any fool can start a quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3).