Responding to a Fool and His Folly

by Mike Ratliff

10 αἱρετικὸν ἄνθρωπον μετὰ μίαν καὶ δευτέραν νουθεσίαν παραιτοῦ, 11 εἰδὼς ὅτι ἐξέστραπται ὁ τοιοῦτος καὶ ἁμαρτάνει ὢν αὐτοκατάκριτος. (Titus 3:10-11 NA28)

10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11 ESV)

Secular humanism, relativism, pluralism, et cetera are worldly philosophies that have invaded the visible Church. These ways of the world when applied to the Church are some of the things that “stirs up division” within the Body of Christ. Other things that cause this would be majoring in minors such as taking things from the Bible that are not explained in detail enough to be taken literally because they are given to us in an arbitrary fashion. Some take these minor points and make them major points in the gospel stirring up division. Also, some simply want to argue. They hate the truth and are not interested in it being explained to them in detail. All of these are the ones Paul was speaking of in Titus 3:10-11 (above). It is a total waste of time to contend with these people continually. There comes a time when, through God’s wisdom, that we move on and have nothing to do with these divisive people.

Carefully read the passage I placed at the top of this post, which is Titus 3:10-11 from the English Standard Version of the Bible. The first eight words in English here are actually only two Greek words, αιρετικον ανθρωπον. The first word, αιρετικον or hairetikon, is the word from which we get the English word “heretic.” However, the word is used to describe those who have made a choice to be divisive. A good English translation of this word would be “sectarian” for this describes one who causes division by the creation of a sect. The second word, ανθρωπον or anthrōpon, is the Greek word for man, a generic name in distinction from gods and the animals. However, in the New Testament it is used to describe sinful men, whose conduct, way, or nature is opposed to God. Therefore,  “as for a person who stirs up division…” is describing those who through their opposition to the truth cause division in a church by leading some into error.

How does Paul tell us to deal with these αιρετικον ανθρωπον? We are to warn them once and then twice, then have nothing more to do with them. Why? Their continued rebellion is a marker that they are warped (εξεστραπται) and sinful (αμαρτανει) being (ων) self-condemned (αυτοκατακριτος). The word translated here as “warped,” εξεστραπται or exestraptai, refers to one who is “perverted” or “subverted” in relation to the truth. He or she is sinful (αμαρτανει), which refers to those who have “missed the mark” of God’s Righteousness, which is sin. Because of their being (ων) self-condemned (αυτοκατακριτος), we are to turn from and have nothing more to do with them. This describes those who voluntarily have condemned themselves by cutting themselves from the Church by an open revolt.

Several years ago a former friend referred to me in an article he had written. I was portrayed in a very negative light for doing exactly what Paul was commanding Titus to do here. In that article, this former friend made some statements that lined up almost exactly with Paul’s warning here. He was in full revolt against the Church, calling Orthodoxy a farce, and attempting to draw others into his sectarian “group.” While I am not attempting to defend dead ritualism or religious externalism, I know that God’s plan for the Church is to be united and not divided by sectarianism. However, we must obey Him in standing firm in His truth while we rely totally on the power of God in our ministries to work through us to accomplish His will. We do not have the power or ability to do anything good. It is only as we obey God that He uses us.

There is a parallel passage to these two verses in the book of Proverbs. Here they are.

4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes (Proverbs 26:4-5 ESV)

At first glance, it looks like we have contradiction or a paradox here. However, these two verses must be taken together. When we read them and study them correctly we learn that they teach us the appropriate way to answer a fool, which is a word that describes an unbeliever who rejects the truth. We should not answer a fool with agreement to his or her own ideas and presuppositions. Why? If we do that then he or she will think they are right. Instead, he or she should be rebuked on the basis of their folly and shown the truth so they see how foolish they are. We should always pray for their repentance as God opens their hearts as we do this. We must make sure to not let this devolve into unfruitful arguing as we obey Titus 3:10-11 as we rely on the power of God to change people as we simply preach and teach the truth.

Withholding the truth from an unbeliever in some sort of warped idea that to speak the truth may offend them is conformity to the doctrines of demons. The gospel is offensive my brethren and not giving it to the lost is an act of rebellion on our part. I pray that we will not be guilty of that.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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