“The Cretians are… slow bellies” (Titus 1:12)
“Slow bellies” is a figure of speech that is generally taken to mean lazy gluttons, and that could be. But the Greek word for “belly” is usually translated “womb” by our KJV translators, and the word for “slow” is usually translated barren. And the Bible says that “the barren womb” is “never satisfied” (Pr. 30:15). Women who long to have children and don’t have them are often never satisfied with any substitutes.
So in calling the Cretians “slow bellies,” it is possible that the Bible is saying they were never satisfied, that they were people who always desired more, who always wanted what they couldn’t have. The Bible calls that covetousness, and the law of Moses forbad it:
“Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour’s house, his field… or any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (Deuteronomy 5:21).
This was probably the verse that the “vain talkers… of the circumcision” were quoting to Titus (Tit. 1:10), the men who were like those who had “turned aside unto vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the law” (I Tim. 1:6,7). Men who teach the law believe that the only way to help God’s people overcome covetousness is to put them under the law that prohibited covetousness.
But Paul says “we are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:15). The law cursed all who could not keep it perfectly (Gal. 3:10; James 2:10,11), and we can’t do that any better now than we could before we were saved!
But you don’t need the law to help someone who is struggling with covetousness, for grace forbids this sin just as surely (Eph. 5:3). That’s why Paul agreed that the Cretians were slow bellies, but prescribed a different remedy for their covetousness:
“This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13).
Rather than tell Titus to remind the Cretians that the law says “thou shalt not covet” (Ex. 20:17), Paul told him to rebuke them to “be sound in the faith.” And he defined what it means to be sound in the faith when he told Timothy,
“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me…” (II Timothy 1:13).
Being sound in the faith means to hold fast the form of sound words that we’ve heard from Paul. He’s the apostle to whom the Lord gave “the dispensation of the grace of God” to give to us (Eph. 3:1,2). So in the dispensation of grace, being sound in the faith means being Pauline! Being unsound in the faith means anything “that is contrary to sound doctrine; according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God” which Paul says was “committed to my trust” (I Tim. 1:10,11).
That means if you’re not Pauline in your theology, you’re not being Biblical! As the editor of the Scofield Reference Bible wrote about Paul, “in his writings alone we find the doctrine, position, walk, and destiny of the church” (Page 1252).
So if you’re a covetous slow belly, don’t look to the law for help, look to Paul’s epistles! He’s the one who went on to tell Titus,
“…the grace of God… hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:11,112).
The way to deal with ungodliness like covetousness is to learn more about God’s grace, not beat yourself up with the law!
To the Reader:
Some of our Two Minutes articles were written many years ago by Pastor C. R. Stam for publication in newspapers. When many of these articles were later compiled in book form, Pastor Stam wrote this word of explanation in the Preface:
"It should be borne in mind that the newspaper column, Two Minutes With the Bible, has now been published for many years, so that local, national and international events are discussed as if they occurred only recently. Rather than rewrite or date such articles, we have left them just as they were when first published. This, we felt, would add to the interest, especially since our readers understand that they first appeared as newspaper articles."
To this we would add that the same is true for the articles written by others that we continue to add, on a regular basis, to the Two Minutes library. We hope that you'll agree that while some of the references in these articles are dated, the spiritual truths taught therein are timeless.