A man known as St. Laurence, a deacon in the church at Rome whom tradition tells us was martyred for his faith in 258 AD., was once asked by a Roman official to turn over all the treasures in the church’s possession. In response, Laurence, it is said, gathered up all the sick and needy amongst the Christians, brought them to the official, and declared, “Here is the treasure of the church.” As the third century dawned, the persecution of Christians was reaching its climax. Cruel Roman emperors were only too happy to quell the movement of the church and to kill believers in the path of that initiative.
Christians have always lived on the cusp of having to judge when they are required by Scripture to call out social injustice and display civil disobedience; even calling out heresy and corrupt practices within its own ranks….
Martin Luther, the leading face of the Protestant Reformation, when standing before the papal authorities at the Diet of Worms in the 15th century uttered the now famous words, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Luther was of course concerned about the levels of corruption that had taken over the leadership and theology of the Catholic Church of his day.
Martin Luther King Jr., (not to be mistaken with Martin Luther the German reformer) but Martin Luther King called for sanity and dialogue during the uprisings and tensions in the 1960’s surrounding the conflicts within white and black America. He called for organized and peaceful demonstrations that would address civil rights issues and call out social injustice and blatant racism. We could talk about people like the protestant German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well, who spoke out against Hitler and his Third Reich at a time when the church in Europe was largely silent.
It seems that we Protestants have a history of protesting, and so civil disobedience can run in our blood!
And then we come to a passage such as Titus 3 and to the words of Paul reminding the church in Crete to be “obedient” to the ruling bodies of government over them.
Reading Titus 3:1…“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient…”
Paul had already written to Timothy about the need for Christians to pray for those in authority over them (and we do that, right??) Right…! But here the apostle Paul writes to Titus about the Christians’ need to obey their leaders. And Paul was not talking about unconditional allegiance, but rather- that God’s people, in principle—are to submit to the elected state authorities over them because as Paul stated in Romans 13, the state’s authorities have been delegated to be in leadership by God Himself.
And so when we are obeying them, we’re obeying Him.
We’ve seen over the last few weeks in the book of Titus how Paul was concerned with such things as aligning Christian doctrine within Christian duty. And as we close out our sermon series on Titus today we’ll see a bit of shift in the direction in which the apostle counseled Titus and the believers in Crete: now– doctrine and duty in the Church are to take their righteous place in “the world” around them, namely, the populace and cities and communities on the island of Crete.
And perhaps the apostle Paul was concerned with this because of the separation of Church and state and the dichotomy that often exists between secular and spiritual values. Perhaps Paul was concerned about something more specific, namely, the reputation of the Cretan people themselves. The writings of the 1st century Greek statesman Polybius reveal how Cretans “were constantly involved in insurrections, murders…and wars” when it came to the authorities over them.
And we’re living in a time of protests and disruptive, partisan, political propaganda and threats of insurrection, are we not? And these realities can just all seem like madness, beloved of Christ.
We’re seeing this perhaps more than we have in recent times in the United States over the change in government resulting from the recent election there. And we see civil wars going on in various parts of the world. And yet Paul, here, told Titus to “remind” the believers in Crete to be “subject to rulers and authorities.”
So we need to be praying for our government leaders—because wisdom and righteous governing have never been known to grow on trees, right?! Our leaders need the prayers of God’s people, regardless of whether they desire or request them or not. And our political leaders owe their authority to God, whether they acknowledge that fact, or not.
But is there a time– when God’s people should disobey the ruling authorities over them? Is there a time when civil disobedience—because of a biblical conscience and precedent, is called for from God’s people in the church?
In all of this, we have to remember that it’s the job of the president to uphold the constitution of the United States and not necessarily the Word of God, entirely. The same is true of the Prime Minister of Canada. And where the constitution protects religious freedoms- that freedom must be upheld and the government needs to be reminded of that.
But there will be times when we will have to say—like Peter did before the Jewish religious authorities in the book Acts—that we must “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
There will be times when we as believers (whose first allegiance is to obey the will of God), will collide with our duty to also be subjected to the state. On those occasions, our duty, our allegiance to God- must take precedence. This is why many a disciple of Jesus, in the first few centuries, were martyred; for when given an ultimatum to either obey Caesar and hail him as Lord only, or die, the believers chose the cruel teeth of lions in the theatres…
So Paul counseled Titus to remind the believers in all the house churches in Crete to not be reputed as Cretans were known to be- that is, for being insubordinate towards their Roman rulers and causing civil chaos.
BUT notice also how Paul says that it’s not enough for God’s people to be law-abiding (so far as their conscience allows them to be).
The believers in Crete (as Christians are expected to be today) were to be socially benevolent as well, and make righteous contributions to their society.
Look with me at v. 2 of Titus 3 (which is the latter part of the sentence Paul began in v. 1). The Christians were to also…
“be ready to do…true humility towards all men.”
It’s one thing to be good to our own inside the Church—it’s quite another thing to be good to those around us who perhaps are persecuting us, ridiculing our faith, and who are militant towards the church…
Jesus said that God causes “His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). Jesus said as well that “a city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Or, maybe we should say “shouldn’t” be hidden. The Lord was talking about the church, His people… Jesus expects His church to light up the world by their “good deeds” so that the spiritually lost around them, especially, will “praise” our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:14-16).
Then we turn back to Titus and we see the apostle echoing Jesus’ sentiments: that as believers seek to obey and be subjected to the rulers and authorities over them that God establishes, that they also “be ready to do good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.”
Paul was talking about how Christians relate to those in the world around them—not just to those in our Christian, church social circles. Jesus said even the pagans can be good to each other, right? But Christians are to be different, because Jesus was different. Jesus loves all people…and so those who follow Him are to do likewise. There’s to be no limit to whom we will extend Christ-likeness to!
The first Christians certainly got that message.
It was Christians who tended to the sick and dying during the dreaded “Plague of Cyprian” that hit in 250 A.D.; it was the Church who often rescued the abandoned babies of Roman women. I mean Jesus and Christianity afforded women much greater social safety and equality than the ancient world did. In the Roman empire there was a huge economical and social gap between the haves and have-nots. There were no government subsidies or welfare or allowances. The Greco-Roman world appeared to despise the poor, but it was the Christians who gave generously. It was the Christians who organized relief efforts for the poor within the empire.
I read recently about a fellow who was invited to attend a neo-Amish church. After the service there a fellowship time and the fellow who accepted the invite to the church said there was so much food to eat that it all seemed wasteful. He only realized after that the food warming in the big crockpots was designed not primarily to be eaten at the potluck, but to be given away to needy families in their area; enough food that would feed them for a week.
God calls His people to good and righteous actions, Paul remarks here in Titus 3:2, that will result in God’s people being honest and peaceable and considerate and humble to those in their spheres of influence. It’s kind of like the words often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.”
So it’s our testimony as a people of God to not only submit ourselves to the rulers and authorities over them (as far as it is possible for us to do so), but to also follow that up with extending goodness to all people around us—including those in our governments and culture who might seek to harm us.
Jesus assumed that non believers will recognize much of Christian behavior as being “good.” That’s why it stands out to people so much whenever the Church or Christians get embroiled in scandals and in immoral and ethical stuff—because that is not what’s expected of us…
Thirdly, Paul explains to Titus why God’s people are to have a social conscience and why they are to behave responsibly in public life…
Look with me at v.v. 3-8 of Titus 3 – read… “At one time…profitable for everyone.”
In Christian theology, Jesus doesn’t tell us how to live so we can merit salvation. How we live, rather, is to reflect the fact that we in fact possess salvation on the merits of what Jesus did for us at Calvary’s cross and the subsequent coming and ministry of the Holy Spirit.
And Paul presents a sort before-and-after picture of salvation at this point. First he summarizes what we were like in principle prior to our knowing Jesus, and then secondly the apostle follows that up by explaining how the ingredients of our salvation– I guess we could call them, have redeemed us and are changing us to turn us into righteous people who are to “devote themselves to doing good.”
So keeping our context in mind, remember that Paul didn’t really think that highly of the people of Crete; the apostle said as much in chapter one of Titus.
Paul reminded Titus and the church in Church in Crete (but this includes us also) in v. 3 that we “too” were “foolish, disobedient, deceived”, etc.…
By Paul using the word “too” he introduces a comparison and a contrast. For the sake of his argument, the apostle lumped the believers in Crete in with the unsaved around them. Paul said more or less, “Before you (believers) came to know Jesus, you too were like them (your fellow Cretans who are unsaved).” If the people of Crete had a reputation for being disobedient towards the Romans, for being enslaved by all sorts of worldly passions and hating and being hated and what not—what was the only way one could come out from under such character and lifestyles and be gospel light to them?…by a saving faith in Jesus Christ, of course; by being redeemed from the old way of living!
So Paul now says, “This is why you, church, are to be different.” Paul was saying in effect, “To know better is to do better.” And we don’t always get that right in our lives; we don’t always do what’s best. And we’re not talking about perfection or self-righteousness either. But we are talking about striving to live up to what we’ve already attained spiritually and living in the light of the Spirit’s sanctifying work. It’s the same encouragement Paul gave to the Christians and churches he was associated with.
Look with me back at Galatians 5:22-26; then go to Ephesians 4:17-20; 5:1-2, 8-11.
So in God’s eyes, the bar for expected behavior is raised when it comes to His people. It’s not just history that raises that expectation (i.e. the fact that Jesus came and died for us—the whole John 3:16 thing)- it’s not just what happened over two thousand years ago outside Jerusalem on a cross; it’s our on-going experience of God in our daily lives that raises His expectations of us. Remember from the last chapter how Paul wrote that the grace of God—if it does anything for us—“teaches” us to say “no” to ungodliness. It’s a lifetime process, but it’s a process of spiritual progression. To increase in our knowledge of God and His grace is to progress in knowing how He wants us to live- and to live like that!!
Without a personal experience of salvation, we lack the right, the incentive, the knowledge, the confidence and the power to teach and model social ethics and morality to others.
The reason why we can tell the world that it needs Jesus is not only based on history (the events of the crucifixion and resurrection), but on experience. We who know Christ know what it means to know Him; we know the difference. Without a true knowledge of Him we lack the right to tell others that they need Him; we’ll lack the incentive too, as well as the knowledge of how one can come to know Him, etc., etc.
Paul goes on to explain what we could call the ingredients of salvation here in Titus 3:5-6. When we ask a question like how do we bake a certain type of a cake-we’re told to look at the ingredients. Same goes for our salvation and the question: how are we saved.
We were going along our merry way spiritually- down a road leading to everlasting destruction, but then the “kindness” and “love” of God appeared in His Son Jesus…and that changed everything. It gave sinners a chance at a different way of living, a redeemed way; a change at being restored to a right relationship before their Creator and a chance at gaining heaven and shunning hell.
And that didn’t come about because we retained some remnant of righteousness to begin with, right? I mean there was nothing in us, in our spiritually fallen state…that God could have used to save us. It’s not like He could’ve salvaged a part of us that was yet to be corrupted by sin. C.S. Lewis said “Christ died for men precisely because men are not worth dying for; to make them worth it…”
Paul explains why it is possible for us to be saved to begin with before he explains the how we are saved. The apostle gives us the why here in v. 5 of Titus 3—in a word:“mercy.” Yes God is kind and loving and we see that in the ministry of Jesus-esp. on the cross—but that kindness and love is backed up my His mercy.
Why did God not just leave Israel in their misery whenever they disobeyed Him? Well, He made a convent with them and He was faithful to hold up His end. But the Lord is also merciful…and knows that we are but dust. You read the Old Testament and you see how the Lord called His wayward back to Him, called them to “reason” with Him. In the Psalms we read the writers imploring the Lord that in His judgment of His people’s sin, to remember mercy. And then in the books of the prophets you see patterns of God pronouncing the bad before the good—that it would get real bad for His people on account of their idolatry and overall stubbornness to obey Him, before it would ever get better- when the Lord would once again restore the fortunes of His people. That’s mercy!
When it comes to our lives God wills to restore, not destroy!
That is why God sent His only begotten Son. He wasn’t content to leave us in our sin. He reaches out to the spiritually lost and undeserving and calls them to come to Him through Jesus Christ. That’s mercy!
That’s why we can be saved; that’s why it possible to begin with…
But how are we saved? Paul gives the answer to that question as well.
Reading from latter part of v. 5 “He saved us…our Savior…”
So the Third Person of trinity, the Holy Spirit- comes into us and gives us new spiritual life when we confess our sin and put our faith in Jesus. This washing that Paul mentions here is of course signified in our baptism. Nowhere does the NT teach that the act of baptism actually saves sinners; it is rather an outward action that points back to an inner spiritual reality and transaction that’s taking place.
And how does our being saved effect our understanding of and interaction with God? Well, Paul says here in v. 7 that it “justifies” us. What does it mean to be justified by the grace of God? WELL – it means that God declares us righteous before Him through the sin-bearing righteousness of His Son. When we put our faith Christ we gain a new birth and a new status: that being, regeneration and justification. We cannot have one without the other! God will not justify unredeemed sinners and He won’t redeem sinners without justifying them. So God sent His Son and the Holy Spirit redeems us and then we’re justified – and what that does- Paul told Titus, is grant us an inheritance in the kingdom of God. We each become a part of God’s family and that makes us heirs with Christ to inherit the blessings He holds for the righteous. In 1 Peter 1 – Peter more or less reiterates what Paul tells Titus here in chapter 3; we can read about our blessed state as God’s redeemed people in Ephesians 1 as well.
Paul then goes on to implore Titus to “stress” these spiritual realities…Why?…so that the Christians in Crete will put their actions where their faith is, and their duty where their doctrine is, basically.
Because of what God did for them in and through His Son, they were to in-turn live for Him, by devoting themselves to “doing what is good.”—the very righteous behavior that was expected of them.
And that is why, lastly, Titus was to rebuke persons who were doing otherwise.
There were the clusters of false teachers in the churches in Crete, remember, and others who were getting caught up in and arguing over teachings and traditions that were “useless” and spiritually “unprofitable” which could derail the faith of God’s people. Titus was to rise above all that and not get sucked into it. He was to “avoid” it. And there would be some who perhaps would not stop talking about and teaching these things. Such people were to be handled specifically. Notice that they were to be granted a period of accountability by Titus (an allowance of two warnings), and if they didn’t turn around they were to be disciplined: whether that meant excommunication or social ostracism isn’t clear, but as the leading pastoral presence in Crete Titus was to be careful not to sweep such problems under the rug of the church, but rather, confront and deal with them.
Paul closes his message to Titus with personal remarks, as was his custom in his letters. And we won’t examine those comments too closely- but I will point that even to the very end of his writing in v. 14, Paul once again stressed that God’s people be known for their acts of righteousness and good deeds (towards believers and unbelievers alike; in favourable times as well as in trying times I may add).
Christians are to always be cognizant of living like Christ, even when no one is looking—but especially so when the world around us is looking on!
We need temperance in our interactions with our post Christian, post-modern culture says David Koyzis, a teacher of political science at Redeemer University. There’s always the temptation to over-react and lose sight of our ultimate goal to glorify God in all things. Koyzis says, “You don’t cure a bunion by amputating the foot…Not every injustice will lead to genocide. Not every objectionable law or court decision constitutes an emergency (in the church)… The difference requires much wisdom and prayerful discernment…We’re still called to reflect God’s grace in a sinful, hurting world…”
So we finish Titus where we began really, with Paul compelling believers to remember their witness and to live in the light of and live up to the spiritual truth they’ve come to learn and experience through the Word of God and their faith in Christ; that Christians be concerned that the doctrine of the church match their duties in the church as well as outside of it (in the marketplace, workplace, etc.) as Jesus’ ambassadors. As much as the words of Paul in the letter were directed at Titus, his fellow leaders (elders), and every member of the Jesus’ Church in Crete, they extend to point directly at us who make up the Church in the world in the twenty-first century!