Titus 1:9 in my amplified translation:
[An elder must be] Continuing to hold fast / grasp / embrace / protect the word of faith according to The Teaching, so that he is able, on the one hand, to encourage in healthy teaching and, on the other, to prove to opponents their error.
The word for 'holding fast' is elsewhere translated "grasp" (Dt 32:41); "embrace" (Prv 3:18) "protect" (Prov 4:6); "hold fast" (Is 56:2,4,6); "make refuge in" (Is 57:13); "be devoted to" (Matt 6:24).
Interestingly enough the teaching which we are to embrace is (Rom 6:17) the teaching which embraces us. We hold fast this gospel and at the same time it is this gospel over to which we have been handed.
The Christian's (especially the Christian teacher's) relationship to the gospel is portrayed in almost marriage terms of mutual cleaving. We serve, honour and protect it - and it serves, honours and protects us!
But why? My almer mater's motto was "Be right and persist." Not the warmest, fuzziest motto you've ever heard! And even if you agree with the sentiment, why be right? For the sake of doctrinal precision itself?
Titus 1:9 continues... To what end do we 'cleave' to the apostolic gospel? So that
1) we can encourage with healthy teaching and
2) we can prove the error of those who would corrupt it.
William Taylor, speaking on this verse, gave a striking illustration of both the gospel's health-giving quality and the need to guard against all corruptions. I have adapted it a little:
Imagine you get a job as a courier for a pharmaceuticals company. And one day you are called to the lab to pick up a very special delivery. You arrive at the lab and you are told ‘We have discovered the cure for AIDS. Here it is in this vial. We want you to take this immediately to Africa so they can duplicate it and save the lives of millions.' Well you take hold of this fragile vial which is covered in yellow tape saying ‘Do not open' and ‘Do not break the seals.' And you get on the next flight to Johannesburg.
But imagine sitting on the plane and thinking: this cure doesn't look very promising. I'm not sure it'll be attractive to the folk in Africa. So you think ‘I'll spruce it up a bit.' You tear off the yellow tape, break the seals, open the vial and decide to pour in the rest of your drink. You stir your Coke in and put some sweetener in for good measure. Shake it up, lose a bit. Doesn't matter, you've made the whole thing much more tasty.
As you arrive in Johannesburg you're met by a scientist desperate for this cure. She sees that the seals have been broken and her face falls. You've turned the health-giving cure into a toxic poison- and lives are lost.
That scenario is just unthinkable isn't it? And yet many people entrusted with passing on the gospel tamper with it in just this kind of way. They add or they subtract or they sweeten according to their own tastes. They feel it is their job to concoct their own elixir, rather than pass on the bona fide cure. But no! It is the job of the elder NOT to mess with the bible's teaching. It is the job of the bible teacher to simply embrace it, rejoice in it, protect it, and deliver it unadulterated. The bible teacher must be absolutely and utterly unoriginal. We must treat the good news about Jesus like the health-giving cure for AIDS - embrace it, rejoice in it, protect it, and never, ever change it! And if you see anyone else changing it you say ‘In the Name of Jesus Christ stop. Return to the original, life-giving message!' Because the gospel saves people from a fate far worse than AIDS.
This is adapted from a sermon on Titus 1:5-9 I preached yesterday.