THE CHURCH’S CALL TO EXCELLENCE, Part 5

Titus

The Church’s Foundation, Titus 2:11—15

Paul had just given Titus a series of admonitions for various groups of people who made hp the Cretan churches.  If we were to summarize those teachings into one brief, pithy statement, it would be:

Christians are called to a much higher standard of living than those in the world.

Proper Christian conduct must not be motivated by things like fear of punishment; rather, Christian conduct must be grounded in and motivated by Christian truth.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a life-transforming power and a transformed life demonstrates that.  But what is the power behind the Gospel?  That question is answered in this group of verses.

1.  A manifestation of God’s grace, 2:11

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.

At first, this verse seems to indicate that Paul is interrupting his doctrinal admonitions, but in fact “the grace of God” is the very reason his admonitions can be followed.  “Grace” refers to the free, unmerited favor of God which is given to all people through the work of Jesus on the Cross and the personal ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The fact that this “grace has appeared” indicates a couple of things.  First, it indicates an event in history; grace came to all people at a specific point in time.  The word for “appeared” is epephane, from which we get our word epiphany, meaning “to become visible,” or “to make an appearance.”  The point is that God’s grace was made obvious to all people, like a bright light shining in the darkness.  Second, God’s grace flows to all people; it is not conditioned or predicated on an individual’s faith; it is ministered freely to the whole human race as an objective benefit of Christ’s work.  It is literally a universal solution to a universal problem.  The fact that some people may reject God’s manifested grace does not nullify it; provision has been made for every single human being and every single human being may claim it if they will.

Grace offers universal salvation to all people, but we will see that grace also enables every class of believer to live up to its ethical demands.  Grace, then, is universal in every aspect:  it can save all people and it can empower all people.

2.  Trained by God’s grace, 2:12

It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.

Verse 12 is the reason why Paul was able to give his list of admonitions to the various groups of believers:  what is demanded of Christians by God,  HE makes possible.   So then God’s grace not only saves, but it continues to operate in the life a believer as long as that believer is alive.  Grace is living and active.  God is not trying to reform the world; He is actively redeeming a people for Himself, namely, the Church.  The grace of God holds no appeal to unsaved individuals; it does not inspire them to live better lives.  God’s grace in verse 12 is personified as a pedagogue, a teacher who teaches a child how to live step-by-step, gradually, and one step at a time.  A pedagogue’s young charge was his personal responsibility, and his work was done with meticulous care.  That is how grace teaches the believer:  one-on-one.

Grace teaches two ways, negatively and positively.  Negatively, “grace teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions.” This is something no human being can do on his own, although his renunciation begins with an act of his will.  When empowered by grace, the believer is able to repudiate all ungodly behavior and through careful, disciplined living, live up to the high standards demanded by God.

On the positive side, grace enables us to live like this is in “this present age.”  Some think Christians they have to wait until they are living in heaven before they can hope to live the kind of life God wants them to live.  Others think that God excuses continual ethical lapses because He knows they are sinners.  There is merit to both views, yet Paul’s teaching here makes it clear that living the “ideal Christian life” in the here-and-know is a possibility!   This “present age” is really an “evil age,” according to Galatians 1:4 and it poses a distinct threat to the believer, yet the believer, through the work of grace in his life, is promised the ability to live above any dangers of this age.

3.  Expecting Christ’s return, 2:13

[W]hile we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The grace of God trains us so that we may live dedicated lives while we are waiting for the “blessed hope.”  Hiebert puts it like this:

Having renounced their sinful past, they live disciplined lives in the present and look early to the future.

The “blessed hope” was something always on Paul’s mind and served as a powerful motivating force in living his life, which was often a difficult hardship.  In fact, as Paul wrote to Titus, martyrdom was not far behind, yet Paul held to his “blessed hope.”  There are those who view the “blessed hope” as occurring at death when the believers finally see Jesus personally.  However, note the phrase “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”  Clearly, this phrase relates to something more than what happens at death; it must refer to an astonishing event at some point in the future; an appearing of Christ.  Traditionally, this event is the Rapture of believers, when Christ appears in glory to receive the Church to Himself.

Paul’s thought, then, is that Christians ought to live morally and ethically upright lives with their view to future.  They are to anticipate Christ’s coming for them at any moment.  This was a common attitude in the early Church, and it should be a common attitude among believers today.

4.  The purpose of Christ’s work, 3:14

[W]ho gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

From the eschatological future, Paul goes back to the past to mention Christ’s work, which is the foundation of our sanctification.  Jesus “gave himself for us,” is a marvelous phrase that indicates the voluntary, substitutional nature of His work.  This “self-giving” work was done on the behalf of others.  The idea suggested by the wording is that of a “proxy.”  Jesus Christ was our proxy.  The fact that Jesus took the place of sinners shows that His redemptive work had a two-pronged approach.

First, he “redeemed us from all wickedness” or “lawlessness.”  This does not refer to the forgiveness of our sins, which is certainly part of Christ’s work; rather, here Paul refers to our deliverance from the slavery to sin.  Once we were “owned” by sin, but Christ effectively purchased our freedom from sin.  In effect, we have been released from the sphere of sin and its evil influences, and, as Barlett observed, we now have an “impetus to good works.”  Paul never excused sin; he believed and preached deliverance from it!

Second, because we are no longer slaves to sin, we are now able to live sanctified or holy lives, suggested by the phrase:  “to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

We can never imagine what sin does to a human being; it makes him a morally rebellious creature and makes him not only guilty before God but also unclean before a holy God.  Christ’s purification of us is through the washing of His blood—

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  (1 John 1:7)

Thanks to this purification, we are now able to have fellowship with God because “we hare his very own.”  1 Peter 1:18—19 expresses a similar thought—

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Given the incalculable worth of the work Jesus did on our behalf, what is our reasonable response?  Romans 12:1—2 gives the only way for us to express our gratitude to Him—

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

This follows in step with the sentiment expressed in the phrase, “eager to do what is good.”  The word “eager” comes from the Greek zelotes, “a zealot” or “an enthusiast.”  That’s the attitude a believer should have in regards to doing good works; he should be excited about the prospect of it.  He should talk about it, promote it, and encourage others to do good works.  As excited as we may get at a sports event, that is how excited we should be at the possibility of performing good works that glorify God.

Conclusion

The last verse of chapter two serves as a kind of summary statement of Titus’ job.

These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.

Titus must never, ever grow lazy in fulfilling his duty on Crete.  This verse looks back to 2:1 and the same imperative is used here:  Titus must “keep on” doing his work.  He must keep on “talking”, “encouraging,” and “rebuking” those in his charge.  All three duties are to be continuous.  The work of the pastor/elder never ceases.  Whether he is behind the pulpit or elsewhere, he is always an elder of Jesus Christ.

Of course, some folk do not like to be “encouraged” and especially “rebuked.”  Paul knows this, so he warns Titus not to let anybody “despise” him.  Titus is not to let anybody on Crete look down on him, belittle his message or his authority.   This is Paul’s personal message to the young pastor, and it would do well for every pastor and elder to take it to heart.  The ministry can be both rewarding and discouraging at the same time.

To the end of chapter two, then, we now know what the ideal elder, pastor, church, and church member looks like.  If there was ever a doubt that any Christian could live up to such an ideal, this section should dispel it.  What God expects of us, He enables us to do.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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