Responding to Your Conscience
“All things are clean to clean persons. But to persons defiled and faithless nothing is clean.”—TITUS 1:15.
1. How was Paul involved with the congregations on Crete?
AFTER the apostle Paul had completed three missionary tours, he was arrested and eventually sent to Rome, where he was held for two years. What did he do when he was released? At some point, he visited the island of Crete with Titus, to whom Paul wrote: “I left you in Crete, that you might correct the things that were defective and might make appointments of older men.” (Titus 1:5) Titus’ carrying out that assignment involved consciences.
2. Titus had to deal with what problem on the island of Crete?
2 Paul advised Titus about the qualifications of congregation elders and then pointed out that there were “many unruly men, profitless talkers, and deceivers of the mind.” These were “subverting entire households by teaching things they ought not.” Titus was to “keep on reproving them.” (Titus 1:10-14; 1 Timothy 4:7) Paul said that their minds and consciences were “defiled,” using a word with the sense of being stained, as a fine garment might be stained with dye. (Titus 1:15) Some of those men could have been of Jewish background, for they ‘adhered to the circumcision.’ Congregations today are not being undermined by men with that particular outlook; still we can learn much about the conscience from the counsel that Paul gave to Titus.
Those With a Defiled Conscience
3. What did Paul write to Titus about the conscience?
3 Note the setting in which Paul mentioned conscience. “All things are clean to clean persons. But to persons defiled and faithless nothing is clean, but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works.” Clearly, some back then needed to make changes in order to “be healthy in the faith.” (Titus 1:13, 15, 16) They were having a problem distinguishing between what was clean and what was unclean, and this involved their conscience.
4, 5. What defect did some in the congregations have, and how did this affect them?
4 Over ten years earlier, the Christian governing body concluded that circumcision was no longer required to become a true worshipper, and they informed the congregations accordingly. (Acts 15:1, 2, 19-29) Yet, some on Crete were still ‘adhering to the circumcision.’ They openly disagreed with the governing body, “teaching things they ought not.” (Titus 1:10, 11) With distorted thinking, they may have been advocating regulations from the Law about foods and ritual cleanness. They may even have been embellishing what the Law said, as did their predecessors in Jesus’ day, as well as advocating Jewish fables and human commandments.—Mark 7:2, 3, 5, 15; 1 Timothy 4:3.
5 Such thinking had a negative impact on their judgment and moral sense, their conscience. Paul wrote: “To persons defiled and faithless nothing is clean.” Their conscience became so distorted that it no longer was a reliable guide for their actions and evaluations. Moreover, they judged fellow Christians on things that were personal, matters in which one Christian might decide one way but another might choose differently. In this respect these Cretans were viewing as unclean what really was not. (Romans 14:17; Colossians 2:16) While declaring that they knew God, they proved otherwise by their works.—Titus 1:16.
“Clean to Clean Persons”
6. Paul mentioned what two types of people?
6 How can we benefit from what Paul wrote to Titus? Well, observe the contrast found in this statement: “All things are clean to clean persons. But to persons defiled and faithless nothing is clean, but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” (Titus 1:15) Paul certainly was not saying that for a morally clean Christian, absolutely everything is clean and permissible. We can be sure of that because Paul had made clear in another letter that one practicing fornication, idolatry, spiritism, and so on “will not inherit God’s kingdom.” (Galatians 5:19-21) So we must conclude that Paul was stating a general truth about two types of people, those who are morally and spiritually clean and those who are not.
Different Voices, Different Decisions
9. If “all things are clean,” what is the role of the conscience?
9 But what did Paul mean when he said that “all things are clean to clean persons”? Paul was referring to Christians who had brought their thinking and moral sense into line with God’s standards, which we find in his inspired Word. Such Christians recognize that on many matters not directly condemned, there is room for variation among believers. Rather than being judgmental, they recognize as “clean” things that God does not condemn. They do not expect that all others will think exactly as they do about aspects of life on which the Bible does not give specific direction. Let us consider how this might be the case.