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SOUND DOCTRINE: (4) Holding the Faithful Word


Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must 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. – Titus 1:7-9

Two things in this passage relate specifically to sound doctrine and the overseer, or elder. The first is that the elder is to do God’s work. This is the work described in 1 Timothy 1:3-11 that is in keeping with sound doctrine. I will come back to this in a later post.

Encourage Others by Sound Doctrine

In this post, I want to discuss the other responsibility of the elder with regard to sound doctrine. This is in the last part of this passage: “encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” The overseer-shepherd-elder must be able to use sound doctrine to encourage others, as well as to refute those opposing sound doctrine.

This means much more than seeing that the preacher does not present unsound teaching in his lessons. This is an individual responsibility of each elder. This is not something the eldership collectively must do. The “he” in Titus 1:9 who is to “encourage others by sound doctrine” is the same “he” who in v. 7 is to be “blameless – not overbearing” etc. This says nothing about public teaching, though that would be included. Much encouragement is one-on-one, but each elder has responsibility in this area.

Hold Firmly to the Trustworthy Message

Did you notice how he is empowered to do this? The first part of verse 9 tells us. “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught….” This will enable him to encourage others with sound doctrine and refute its opponents. This passage suggests three things:

  • This is the same thought that is in 2 Timothy 2:2. “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” The elder is, evidently, one of the “reliable men” whom Paul has in mind in this admonition to Timothy.
  • “Sound doctrine” is “the trustworthy message” that has been taught. This is what Timothy heard Paul say, which he was to teach others so they could in turn teach still others.
  • The “sound doctrine” in not merely a body of teaching to be handed down as instruction, but is teaching that encourages others and builds them up in faith and practice.

The Trustworthy Message

The expression “the trustworthy message” is an important term in the letters to Timothy and Titus. This expression appears only one time outside the Pastorals. That is in Revelation 22:6

The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”

The only difference in the usage here and in the Pastorals is that here it is plural, the word order of trustworthy and words is reversed, and true is added to trustworthy, and the pronoun These introduces the two words. The six times the words are together in the letters to Timothy & Titus they are singular.

Here in Revelation, you can see a solemn affirmation of the truth and trustworthiness of these words. In Timothy and Titus, five times Paul introduces an important statement with this formula. It is as if he is underlining them with a call to pay special attention to what follows.

I cannot stress the importance of these “Trustworthy Sayings” too much. They are not only at the center of the Christian message, the gospel, but also important statements of our faithful response to that message. These are not trivialities but are vital essentials of sound doctrine.

Here is the “trustworthy message” the elder-bishop-pastor must hold firmly:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. – 1 Timothy 1:15

Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. – 1 Timothy 3:1

This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. – 1 Timothy 4:9-10

Here is a trustworthy saying: if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him. If we disown Him, He will also disown us; If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself. – 2 Timothy 2:11-13

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. – Titus 3:8

The similarity of these five verses in their format is even more striking in the Greek than it is in English. The English structure varies in the NIV between “Here is a trustworthy saying” and “This is a trustworthy saying.” In Greek, each of these begins with pistos ho logos, which could be literally translated, “Faithful [or Reliable or Trustworthy] the word [or Saying or Message].

The structure is a little different in Titus 1:9, which does not introduce a specific trustworthy message; it includes the entire message proclaimed. The same words are there, however, except for the article, which makes the charge in Titus more generic. Each of the five passages above speaks of a specific trustworthy saying, but together they make up the key points of the message that has been taught, which the bishop is to hold firmly.

I plan to discuss each of these five times Paul says this is a trustworthy saying (the KJV translation of the expression is faithful saying) over the next several posts.

In the meantime, consider what a difference it would make if each leader in God’s family would take these to heart and let these be the center of our proclamation of the gospel.

NEXT: Sound Doctrine (5) – Christ Came to Save Sinners

PREVIOUS: Sound Doctrine (3) – Conforms to the Gospel

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