There are certain things you should never do. Some such things might be obvious, like don’t stick your head in a lion’s mouth, or perhaps less obvious, like walking and texting at the same time (believe it or not, you can get fined for this in Los Angeles County). I remember growing up, being seven years older than my brother, I had the physical advantage to easily pin him down while holding his hands above his head with one hand, and tickling him mercilessly with the other. Completely helpless, he’d often do the only thing he could do in retaliation – spit. But, alas, here too gravity worked in my favor, and the spit would always wind up on his own face. The moral of the story? Don’t spit when gravity works against you I guess (also illegal in some places in CA). But all that to say, approaching a wolf might be one of those things we lump into the “don’t do that” category.
Of course I’m speaking of spiritual wolves. This doesn’t lessen the danger involved. Scripture wouldn’t use wolves as a synonym for false teachers if the illustration wasn’t suitable. The problem is, although it might perhaps seem more sensible not to approach such a dangerously described individual, for pastors, this is not what they are commanded to do. In fact, quite the opposite. Fortunately, Scripture tells the pastor just how he’s supposed to do it. This post really is just going to serve as an introduction to the topic, “How to Approach a Wolf,” Next time well take a closer look at what Paul says in Titus 1:10-16, where we’ll see, first, he’s got to muzzle him, and second, he’s got to drive him off. Take a look:
10 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. 12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. For this reason, reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.
This is tough. Symbolic or not, it’s no easy thing to approach a wolf. You’ll be bitten and clawed. You’ll probably be wounded. The pastor who is faithful to fulfill this responsibility will be scorned, ridiculed, alienated, mocked, and so on. Furthermore, he will be falsely accused and his character questioned. This is why it is so important that the pastor meet the standards listed in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9), he must not be appointed hastily (1 Tim. 5:22), and accusations by individuals against pastors shouldn’t even be entertained unless there are multiple witnesses (1 Tim. 5:19). Succinctly stated, he must be above reproach! Paul commands Timothy and Titus to be careful to appoint men for pastoral ministry who were men of integrity, men of character, men of the faith, and men of the Word.
But many people wonder, “Can’t we just ignore the wolves altogether?” Others cry, “Foul! This is unloving and divisive!” It’s interesting though, that in Titus, immediately after Paul lays out the qualifications for the pastor, he says why in 1:9: “so that he will be able to both exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” Unfortunately, most pastors are unwilling to get bitten, and they hide under a mask called “unity” to excuse themselves from their duty in the second half of that verse.
At the same time, however, this is not done maliciously, which can also tend to be the case. Unfortunately, it’s probably true that most of the pastors who really don’t care if they’re bitten, are also themselves excessively rough. 2 Tim. 2:24-26 must be kept in the forethought when confronting a false teacher.
24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
Wait, did you read that? This is really important! First, Paul is making an obvious distinction between “rebuking” and “quarreling,” since he wouldn’t command us to do something that’s contradictory. Secondly, he’s also to be kind, patient and gentle. But the reason is astounding… so that they might repent, come to their senses, and escape from the snare of the devil! Paul is saying that there are some who are teaching who are unknowingly held “captive” by the devil to do his will! It’s a scary thing to be so deceived as to think you are God’s spokesman when really you’re the spokesman of the devil!
But again, this doesn’t mean that the pastor is to remain silent! By no means (cf. 1 Tim. 5:20)! Too much is at stake, and the pastor cannot roll over and stay quiet for the sake of some form of superficial unity. False teachers must be confronted, but the manner is qualified by the nature of the confrontation’s goal.
Shepherds are to be gentle, but there are times for the sake of the flock, when a shepherd must show his strength – when he must draw the battle line, when he must attack the wolf, and that’s what’s happening in Titus 1:10-16.
But does this sow disunity in the church? Even worse, does this hinder the Gospel when we evangelize? The answer is NO. We’re not hindering the Gospel. We’re promoting it by clarifying it.
We’re telling the world, “Now. We do not affirm what this person teaches or what this person does.” We’re telling the world that the wolf is not one of us, so when that pastor’s true colors show, when he falls morally or proves himself a hypocrite, the purity of the church is still intact since the world knew that we rejected him all along. There’s no need to back-pedal. No need to say, “Oops! We didn’t know,” or “Well, we just didn’t want to be seen as being divisive or unloving.”
So, that’s where we are. “How to Approach a Wolf.” That’s the question I want to answer next time.