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Holding fast the healthy teaching

Titus 1:9 in my amplified translation:

[An elder must be] Continuing to hold fast / grasp / embrace / protect the word of faith according to The Teaching, so that he is able, on the one hand, to encourage in healthy teaching and, on the other, to prove to opponents their error.

The word for 'holding fast' is elsewhere translated "grasp" (Dt 32:41); "embrace" (Prv 3:18) "protect" (Prov 4:6); "hold fast" (Is 56:2,4,6); "make refuge in" (Is 57:13); "be devoted to" (Matt 6:24). 

Interestingly enough the teaching which we are to embrace is (Rom 6:17) the teaching which embraces us.  We hold fast this gospel and at the same time it is this gospel over to which we have been handed.

The Christian's (especially the Christian teacher's) relationship to the gospel is portrayed in almost marriage terms of mutual cleaving.  We serve, honour and protect it - and it serves, honours and protects us!

But why?  My almer mater's motto was "Be right and persist."  Not the warmest, fuzziest motto you've ever heard!  And even if you agree with the sentiment, why be right?  For the sake of doctrinal precision itself? 

Titus 1:9 continues... To what end do we 'cleave' to the apostolic gospel?  So that

1) we can encourage with healthy teaching and

2) we can prove the error of those who would corrupt it.

William Taylor, speaking on this verse, gave a striking illustration of both the gospel's health-giving quality and the need to guard against all corruptions.  I have adapted it a little:

Imagine you get a job as a courier for a pharmaceuticals company.  And one day you are called to the lab to pick up a very special delivery.  You arrive at the lab and you are told ‘We have discovered the cure for AIDS.  Here it is in this vial. We want you to take this immediately to Africa so they can duplicate it and save the lives of millions.'  Well you take hold of this fragile vial which is covered in yellow tape saying ‘Do not open' and ‘Do not break the seals.'  And you get on the next flight to Johannesburg. 

But imagine sitting on the plane and thinking: this cure doesn't look very promising.  I'm not sure it'll be attractive to the folk in Africa.  So you think ‘I'll spruce it up a bit.'  You tear off the yellow tape, break the seals, open the vial and decide to pour in the rest of your drink.  You stir your Coke in and put some sweetener in for good measure.  Shake it up, lose a bit.  Doesn't matter, you've made the whole thing much more tasty.

As you arrive in Johannesburg you're met by a scientist desperate for this cure.  She sees that the seals have been broken and her face falls.  You've turned the health-giving cure into a toxic poison- and lives are lost.

That scenario is just unthinkable isn't it?  And yet many people entrusted with passing on the gospel tamper with it in just this kind of way.  They add or they subtract or they sweeten according to their own tastes.  They feel it is their job to concoct their own elixir, rather than pass on the bona fide cure.  But no!  It is the job of the elder NOT to mess with the bible's teaching.  It is the job of the bible teacher to simply embrace it, rejoice in it, protect it, and deliver it unadulterated.  The bible teacher must be absolutely and utterly unoriginal.  We must treat the good news about Jesus like the health-giving cure for AIDS - embrace it, rejoice in it, protect it, and never, ever change it!  And if you see anyone else changing it you say ‘In the Name of Jesus Christ stop.  Return to the original, life-giving message!'  Because the gospel saves people from a fate far worse than AIDS.


This is adapted from a sermon on Titus 1:5-9 I preached yesterday. 

Audio file hereRead it here.


0 thoughts on “Holding fast the healthy teaching

  1. codepoke


    I cannot sign on to this one.

    I mean, I with you on not sweetening the gospel, and I'm with you on the purity of God's sacrifice, but it is not communicated in vials apart from us.

    The gospel is injected into us, and it is utterly mixed with who we are. We cannot transmit the cure in any pure form. We can only transmit the antibodies as they have been carried within our own bodies.

    It gets down to the controversy around inspiration. Were The Writings inspired by dictation or did the authors contribute their own personalities to the "cure." I think you'd agree that God used the personalities of the "carriers" in writing the scriptures themselves. So wouldn't you agree that the teacher of the bible must add to the cure as well?

  2. glenscriv

    Hi Code,
    Certainly the 'vials apart from us' analogy has many limitations. Paul wrote as Paul, Peter as Peter, James as James, John as John - they didn't simply read out pre-approved sentences from Jesus. They 'delivered' the word in their own very distinctive ways.

    Paul's a good example because Peter makes a point of highlighting how different his teaching may sound (2 Pet 3:15-16). But at the same time Paul kept making it explicit that he wasn't 'going beyond what Moses and the Prophets said would happen' (Acts 26:22). He was able to set before the other apostles the gospel that he proclaimed (Gal 2:2ff) as a thing to be assessed by them and about which he could claim 'they added nothing' (Gal 2:6). In 1 Cor 15, he could summarize his teaching as 'his gospel' but still he lays out the concrete details of it and insists that this is the gospel by which you are saved (and none other). In the pastorals we see Paul again and again highlighting *the* teaching (often the healthy teaching) to which Timothy/Titus's teaching must conform. (a bible search on didache or didaskalia is very useful)

    Or think of 2 John 9-10:

    "Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. atch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him."

    This doesn't sound a million miles away from the vial illustration I don't think?

    I think your parallel with inspiration is instructive. You could read the bible's teaching on inspiration from two perspectives - on the one hand yes everyone speaks in their own style (2 Pet 3:15-16). Yet in the same letter we see 2 Pet 1:20f which, by itself, would give you a kind of 'straight-down-from-heaven thunderbolt' view.

    Peter knows that people internalize the gospel and that their person is bound up with their writing / proclamation of the word. But he still is able to say 'they spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.'

    Perhaps my next post needs to have a 2 Peter 3 flavour, but I still think it's ok to give a 2 Peter 1 flavour at times.

    Yes? No?

  3. bobby grow


    good post! I couldn't agree with you more! In fact I become easily burdened and conflicted with this issue. I read systematic theology, and then I read the Bible, and vice versa; typically what I find in scripture, is not corollary in systematics. I hear people talk about positive theology/Christ-centered, but then when it comes right down to it; so often I wonder if we are really talking about the Jesus of the Bible. There is no sense of His presence, so often, when I hear 'scholars' (Christian Evangelical ones, even) explicate a Christ-centered trinitarian theology proper. There is no sense of urgency, apparently. Yet when I read the scriptures, this is exactly what I find. A very relational tone, an intimate dialogue between God and His people.

    Anyway I'm ranting, I think your points are spot on . . . and systematicians would do well to heed your voice here. Sola scriptura certainly is not the mantra of modern theology; even though there is a head-nod to it every now and then ;-).

  4. glenscriv

    What are blogs for if not for a good rant?

    One of the things that's striking me very much at the moment is the need to walk with Jesus Himself rather than appeal to an intellectual Christ-principle. My theological musings are always prone to wander towards the latter. I need the Scriptures to tie me to *Him* - that Nazarene who did and said *those things* and who remains the same yesterday, today and forever.

    Look, now you've gotten me ranting too...

  5. bobby grow

    Ah yes . . . as someone once said, "What are blogs for if not for a good rant?" ;-)

    Amen, Glen! I know some want to characterize one approach as 'Pastoral theology' vs. Systematic . . . but I think this is dangerous, and your points and rants are well taken!

  6. codepoke

    Interesting. It's way past my bedtime, but 2 Pet 1:20 seems to be misused by a lot of people, including me for a long, long time. The right of private judgement is hard to defend when this verse is interpreted as many do.

    The prophets did not privately interpret with the Spirit moved them to say. And yet we know Jeremiah sounds completely different and is wholly differently motivated than Isaiah. It sounds to me very much like Paul writing with wisdom given to him as opposed to transcribing.

    2Cr 2:4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you.
    2Cr 3:3 [Forasmuch as ye are] manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.

    It's the precision that gets me. Over the years I've come to value imprecision much more than I ever did. Christ often ministered by expressing His needs. He wanted water from the Samaritan woman. Relationship is sloppy like that, but we minister to each other from the fleshy tables of our own hearts.

    Anyway, I hear your point, am quite blessed by everything you write. Thank you for keeping on. God speed.

  7. glenscriv

    Thanks Code,

    For the sake of balance I should have summarized my message on verses 6-8 of Titus 1 also. My sermon was on verses 5-9 and in the sermon the *character* of the elder got much more of the airtime than the teaching of the elder - which is the case in Titus also! So I'm not at all surprised by your corrective, it's a right and scriptural one.

    Paul emphasizes what you're talking about in verses 6-8 - ministry from the heart, reaching people in the context of relationships which are messy. There we see exactly this kind of incarnation of the truth that we know must accompany its proclamation. In the context of that godliness *then* Paul says 'hold fast the word of faith according to the teaching'.

    So can I be very Anglican and say we're both right?



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