Unprofitable Works

“Avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.”

- Titus 3:9

Good works are emphasized repeatedly in Paul’s letter to Titus as the apostle is guiding the church in how to live in a way that would not unduly offend the surrounding culture but rather show outsiders the worthiness of biblical doctrine. Elders must love what is good both in doctrine and behavior (1:8). Older women are to teach younger women what is good, which includes works of service toward their families (2:3–5). Titus, as a church leader, is called to model good works (v. 7), and all believers are to be zealous for good deeds, eager to find opportunities to serve other people (2:14; 3:1, 8, 14).

The apostle also mentions good works repeatedly because the false teachers on Crete were evidently known for everything but their devotion to service. Such men were unfit for any good work (1:16), being thoroughly devoted to Cretan culture that esteemed “liars, evil beasts,” and “lazy gluttons” (vv. 11–12). Lacking a saving relationship to Jesus Christ, these teachers did not hold fast to biblical wisdom but turned from the life it gives to destruction (Prov. 4:10–19).

Paul returns to the false teachers in Titus 3:9. His admonition to avoid “foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law” is not only sound advice from the Word of God but also a parting shot at the falsehood of Titus’ opponents. These teachers were trying to stay connected to a perverted form of Judaism, speculating about minor figures in biblical genealogies, like Timothy’s Ephesian enemies (1 Tim. 1:3–4), to promote esoteric and erroneous doctrines. Our generation is not the first to encounter those who major on the minors or who embrace rank heresy, and it will not be the last. Dealing with such problems now, as in Paul’s day, means that we reject as church leaders those who prefer their own ideas to the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

The apostle frequently condemns quarreling and strife (Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 3:3), so it is no surprise that people who foster such things are likewise to be avoided (Titus 3:10). We must stand for the truth but never be the kind of people who are always itching for a fight. Otherwise, we will sacrifice good works for the sake of finding new and “exciting” battles to wage.

Coram Deo

John Calvin says, “In doctrine, therefore, we should always have regard to usefulness, so that everything that does not contribute to godliness shall be held in no estimation.” This means that we must discern when it is useful to debate a fool and when it is pointless to do so (Prov. 26:4–5). It also means that we know which matters are essential for growth in godliness. May we never be guilty of majoring on the minors in our teaching and study.

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 20:3
Matthew 23:23–24

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.