For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth.
It’s been many years now, 15 at least, since I found myself working in a congregation that had a great many problems. The Senior Pastor was a great guy who had been in the ministry quite successfully for 40 years or so, but in this particular group, he was really struggling. There were certain individuals there who were causing all sorts of problems, mainly in being resistant to any kind of change. I was asked to speak to the “problem children” from time-to-time, and my preacher friend always said afterward that I lack grace in my teaching.
In spite of this, I always thought that I was being terribly diplomatic in these sessions. He would say that Jesus was full of grace and truth, and that I had the truth in abundance, but the grace was in short supply. The funny thing was, I thought that his way was loaded with grace, but that he always ran out of time before getting to the truth.
The truth is there must be a balance, but that balance is found in a larger picture and not in the handling of one incident, at least not entirely, for certain perils require immediate action to avoid disaster, and immediate action can seem to be a bit harsh when seen in a vacuum. I think this passage is one of those.
Paul clearly isn’t pulling any punches here; something must be done, and if it seems a bit harsh, those involved have it coming. The key is that the individuals Paul is speaking of are “of the circumcision group”. We know from Paul’s other letters that he has no patience with those who swoop into a new congregation claiming to be Christ-followers and telling the Gentile men that they can only be Christians if they are circumcised Jews first. The reason is simple: Not only is it false teaching, but no grown man is going to hand a knife to another man and ask him to start cutting him up, particularly in that region- men are funny like that.
Of course, the result of this teaching is that the new church blows apart. Yes, something must be done.
Notice in verse 14 that Paul’s hope is that these individuals will come to know the truth and in so doing, be saved by God’s grace in spite of their grievous error: that is the grace in the equation.
To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.
They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.
Summing up here, Paul offers his view of the current condition of the false teachers, and once again to our ears this seems a tad harsh; this is the truth. Yet even though this is the starting point, things can change if swift, decisive action is taken; that is the grace.