One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith. (Titus 1:12-13)
More than 50 years ago, the musicians Simon and Garfunkel wrote in a song that “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls.” That’s really not true in the way they probably meant it, but there is something in the idea that God can speak His truth through some unusual sources.
We see this in Titus 1:12-13, where Paul explained to Titus why the need was so great on the Island of Crete – because the Cretans were a difficult people, well-known for being “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”
As evidence of this, Paul quoted a Cretan poet whom he called “a prophet of their own.” This shows us that sometimes God can use something despite the source. It also shows that Paul knew enough of these pagan poets so that he could analyze and understand the people he tried to reach with the gospel.
But Paul did not mean that the Cretan writer he quoted was an inspired prophet of God. That writer did have it correct when he described the character of the people of Crete. As Paul wrote, this testimony – not the entiretestimony of this writer – is true. That Cretan author told the plain truth about his own people. According to one commentator, this Greek poet was named Epimenides.
Notice that Paul didn’t say to Titus, “Cretans are liars and cheats and gluttons, with one of the worst reputations of any group in the Roman Empire. You should look for an easier group to work with.” Instead he said, “I know how bad they are. Go out and see them changed through the power of Jesus and for His glory.”
Yet it wouldn’t be easy, and it could not always be done gently. That’s why Paul told Titus, therefore rebuke them sharply. Because of the generally hardened character of the people of the island of Crete, they must be dealt with directly. Titus himself must rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, and he must also appoint leaders who will do the same.
Do you live in the midst of a challenging people? Maybe the people you live around don’t have the same character faults as the Cretans, but maybe they have different faults. It’s important that you learn what you can from the culture, but always bring the truth of God’s word up against the faults of the culture. Sometimes you can do that gently, sometimes it needs to be done sharply—but either way, we can do it in love and wisdom. God helping us we will, even among a difficult people.