THE CHURCH’S CALL TO EXCELLENCE, Conclusion

Titus 3

Up till now in this short letter, the apostle Paul had been giving detailed instructions to Titus concerning setting the Cretan churches in order.  Through a series of admonitions, we, along with the young pastor Titus, have learned what constitutes ideal elders and ideal church members.  So far, Paul had been dealing with believers’ relationships with each other in the context of the local church, but Christians have lives that extend beyond the boundaries of the local church; we have jobs, we have neighbors, and we live in a society.  How do we as Christians relate to the secular world in which we live?  What is our ideal conduct outside of the Church?  These are the things Paul deals with in chapter three.

1.  Christians as citizens, 3:1, 2

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

Although believers are to be “heavenly minded,” living our lives with a view to the glorious return of Christ, we must keep our feet firmly planted on the earth and remember that we, like all people, have certain duties as citizens and neighbors.

These two verses are a kind of summary of Paul’s theology of citizenship, which is seen in greater detail in Romans 13:1—7, which begins like this—

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

In Paul’s view, the State derived its authority from God, that is, man in society needs some kind of governance and God has provided for that in the form of “governing authorities.”  God does not favor one form of government over another.  In Paul’s day, it was the Roman Empire and Christians were called to be subject to it.   Through the course of time, the Roman Empire has dissolved, to be replaced over and over again by various kinds of governments, all over the world.  To those political leaders in power, Paul says—

Remind the people to be subject to [them]…

“The people” refers to the believers.  Christians, more than any other citizens, should excel in citizenship; we should set the example in cooperating with local authorities, abiding by the laws of the land, and participating in all areas of good citizenship.  “To be subject” is written in such a way as to suggest the our obedience to the State is voluntary; we understand that in order to live at peace, as we are called to do, means that we should first be at peace with the State.

However, as Christians our responsibilities as citizens go beyond merely obeying laws; we are called to—

Be ready to do whatever is good.

This is something separate and distinct from obeying the governing authorities.  A Christian must be prepared to serve his community in whatever constructive ways they can.  Christians should never stand passively by when their community needs any kind of help.  Christianity is a positive force, and that should be demonstrated in how we live.  How do we “do whatever is good?”  We don’t know what Paul had in his mind, but the short list may involve things like:

  • Running for political office;
  • Being involved in worthy enterprises that help people in the community;
  • Resisting political oppression of any kind in a peaceable and legal manner
  • Voting, etc.

Believers not only have duties to governments, pagan or otherwise, but also to their pagan neighbors.  Again, we are to set the moral and ethical example for others to follow.  Christians are to reminded to do four things:

  • Slander no one.  This means that we should avoid any kind of hurtful speech.  In regards to how we talk about one another, J. Glenn Gould gives three tests we should employ before talking about somebody else:  (1)  Is what we are about to say about a person true?; (2)  Are we being kind to that person in what we are saying about them?; and, (3)  Is it really necessary to talk about that person?
  • Be peaceable.  In the Greek, this is written negatively, meaning that Christians should be “non-fighting.”  In other words, we shouldn’t engage in arguments, quarrels, and conflicts.   We should strive to “get along” with others in the world as much as possible.
  • Be considerate.  Believers must be gentle and willing to yield to others when it means keeping the peace.  Of necessity, this may mean suspending our rights in certain situations for the sake of others.  It also means that Christians should be polite and considerate.
  • Show true humility.  Here is the climax of Paul’s theology of citizenship.  “Humility” can also mean “mildness.”  A Christian should “show” or “demonstrate” all mildness or humility to all people, not just to some.  It is easy to have the right kind of attitude toward fellow believers, but the acid test of truth faith is having that kind of attitude toward pagans, as well.

2.  Motivation, verses 3—8

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us.  (vs. 3—5a)

The connective “for” is not in the tNIV, but it is clear that the believer’s motivation for good citizenship should be based in his faith, not in fear of punishment.

(a)  The motive from out past, verse 3

Thinking about how we used to be should be a powerful motive for how we treat others.  This verse reminds us of John Bradford’s famous utterance:

There but for the grace of God go I.

We once lived in a world of darkness, just like our neighbors.  The light of Christ’s love dawned upon us, perhaps through the kindness of a believer, revealing our need of salvation.  Who’s to say that Christ’s light, shining through our graceful living, won’t have the same effect on another lost soul?

(b)  The motive from the present, verses 4—7

Our salvation has its roots in a definite act of the past.   The salvation that “appeared” points back to the grace of God revealed in the Son of God and is presented in stark contrast to the bleak darkness of the previous verse!  This salvation consists of two powerful aspects of God’s nature:

  • His kindness.   The word for “kindness” can also means “benignity.”   In pity, God acted kindly toward sinners; this kindness is why He bestows grace and forgiveness on them.
  • His love.  The Greek word used here is philanthropia, meaning God’s affection for sinners is manifested in His love for us.  What does God’s love look like?  It looks like how He treats Christians, which is revealed in how we treat others.

In verse 5, Paul declares that Christ saved us objectively; we deserved no good thing from Him.  The phrase “he saved us,” in the aorist tense, means that our salvation was an accomplished fact and we now possess it.   Paul stresses the fact that we were saved because of Christ’s kindness and that our salvation was not earned by us in any way.

How did this salvation come about?   Paul describes God’s two-fold method like this—

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. (verses 5b, 6)

Paul first speaks of “the washing of rebirth,” which is figuratively portrayed in water baptism.   The apostle frequently used the baptism illustration as a way to describe how we were cleansed.  Note Romans 6:4—

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

To be saved is to be given a “new life,” a life based on the Spirit of God, which is the second part of God’s method.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who is “the Lord and Giver of life,” is how our lives are remade; this is His unique work in us.   This work of the Holy Spirit in remaking us is wholly His, but we bear a responsibility in it as well:

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.  (Romans 12:2)

So while the Holy Spirit creates a new life in us, we are renewed by our own activity; our thinking must change, which will naturally lead to the way we live.  If there is every any doubt about the Holy Spirit’s work in us, Paul adds—

…whom he poured out on us generously…

God made ample provision for the development of this new life.  The believer has no excuse in living below God’s divinely ordained standards!  We as sinful people may be weak and not up to the task, but the Holy Spirit in us is able and He makes it possible for us to be the kind of ideal people He calls us to be.  This is, of course, a lifelong process that begins the moment of our conversion.

Sin brought only guilt and condemnation upon us, but the work of Christ brought us justification and a declaration of righteousness.  Verse 7 is an amazing verse—

[S]o that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

From man’s perspective, justification is passive; we play no part in it for it is wholly an act of God on man’s behalf.  This magnanimous work is motivated by God’s boundless grace.   The purpose of our justification is beyond our wildest imaginings!   That “we might become heirs” points to a glorious future, but is also a present reality.  As members of God’s family, we are already heirs.  Our inheritance, though, is yet future, and our experience of all the aspects of our salvation is just a foretaste of what that inheritance will be like.

(c)  Doctrine and conduct, verse 8

This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

The “trustworthy saying” looks back, not forward.  Paul is referring back to his doctrinal teachings of verses 3 to 7 inclusive.  Some Christians cringe when they hear the word “doctrine,” and some are even proud when they declare that doctrine is unimportant, yet here the primacy of doctrine is stressed.  Titus was to stress it!  Knowledge of sound doctrine is sure to lead a believer in living right.  Where knowledge of doctrine is absent, so is knowledge of how to live right; the two go hand-in-hand.

3.  Proper response to wrong teaching, verses 9—11

An over-zealous young pastor might be tempted to take Paul’s admonitions further than he intended them to be taken, so Paul adds a warning—

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. (verse 9)

This looks back to 1:10—16; arguing about all things Jewish is useless, says Paul.  As bad as false teaching is, arguing about it is worse.  If arguing about the false teaching was to be avoided, how was Titus to confront it?

Warn divisive people once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.  (verse 10)

Here is sage advice in dealing with false teachers, whom Paul refers to as “divisive people”; that adjective is found only here in the Bible, and indicates a proud, self-chosen opinion.  The word translated here as “divisive” is the Greek word hairetikos, from which our word “heretic” is derived.  Because of their propensity to teach only their own ideas, these kinds of people, devoid of a Scriptural foundation, cause only problems.  The Word of God always unites believers, but man’s ideas have the effect of driving a wedge between Church members.

These people need to be “warned” or “admonished” in a faithful and loving way by Titus, making sure that their error is pointed out to them.  If, after a second warning they refuse to stop their teaching, Titus is to, literally, “reject them.”  Barclay comments:

A heretic is simply a man who has decided that he is right and everybody else is wrong.  Paul’s warning is a warning against a man who has made his own ideas the test and standard of all truth.  A man should be careful of any opinion which separates him from the fellowship of true believers.  True faith does not divide men, it unites them.

Concluding thought on “the ideal”

In our journey through this brief letter, we have studied all that goes into making a Church “ideal.”  We may be tempted to ask ourselves, “Are there any ideal churches today?”  Of course there are!  Unfortunately there are many more that fall far short of God’s ideal.   It’s a fact that man is moving further away from God, not closer; the Bible teaches that man is getting more and more corrupt the farther way from the Fall time takes us.  Yet in the midst of this, we have the promise God’s help in reaching “His” ideal state for us.  The ideal state is not the perfect state, though.  Perfection comes in the next life, not in this one.

As we grow in grace we allow the Holy Spirit to gently yet firmly remake us into the kind of people God wants us to become.   We are given the privilege to participate in this remaking process by immersing ourselves in sound doctrine, namely, the Word of God and living sound lives.  As we do so, we are striving toward that ideal life God has in mind for us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  (Hebrews 12:1, 2)

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