- Law Or Grace?
One of the ongoing debates of the early church was of the division between Old Testament Law and New Testament Grace (a gift from God – generous, free and undeserved). Is Grace above the Law? Does being saved by Grace mean that I can live a life without rules and regulations?
In 3:1, Paul encourages Titus to: Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient and how they have a duty and responsibility to uphold the law – even if they don’t agree with it! How do we walk the fine line between submitting to the teachings of scripture and belonging to a church that is inextricably linked to the state and where acts of parliament are assimilated into our doctrine and practise?
It’s not always easy to be subjective to those we have no respect for. However, in being subjective to authority we are actually honouring God. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:21: … give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Paul’s letter to the Roman’s sets out exactly what our attitude should be to ensure an orderly, disciplined, and functioning society 13:1-7: Everyone must subject themselves to the governing authorities … which God has established … give everyone what you owe … revenue … taxes … respect … honour. And you can add road tax, community charges, VAT, observe speed limits etc. We may be saved by Grace, but we are still accountable to the Law!
Victor Hugo’s classic novel Les Misérables first published in 1862 tells the story of the relationship between prisoner Jean Valjean (24601) and Police Inspector Javert. Hugo, it seems to me, paints a remarkable picture of the dramatic theological confrontation between Old Testament Law and New Testament Grace. Valjean, offered a second chance by a kindly Bishop, vows to change the way he will live and as he is transformed by forgiveness, Javert is consumed by a thirst for vengeance and it destroys his life. Grace always wins.
- Contributors Not Consumers
The suggestion here, in Titus 3, is that we are to be contributors not consumers. That is, we are to give something to society instead of taking out. Involvement in community affairs, service organisations, or local government, even politics. God needs and wants Christians in all areas of society. We are called to be a Christian witness whatever our circumstances. We are called to be salt and light in a dark and dying world – on the factory floor, the supermarket, the office …
3:1: … be obedient, and ready to do whatever is good. We often talk about Christians serving the common good, don’t we? It isn’t enough for Christians to be law-abiding; we are to be public spirited as well. In 3:2 Paul reminds Titus that the mark of a true believer in the community is: To slander no-one, to be peaceable, and considerate, and to show true humility towards all men.
How many of us can say we are that way inclined? I’m sure we can all remember times when we have failed to live up to God’s expectations. We’ve talked behind someone’s back, we’ve been arrogant, argumentative, quarrelsome, hot-headed, insensitive, intolerant – that’s me all over!
- Living Godly Lives
The Cretans had a reputation for being an insubordinate and rebellious people (1:12&16). In 1:16, we read that the heresy of the Cretan’s was that: … they claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. If the early Christians had been no different to them, what impact would their witness have had on the society around them? In the same way, if we have no integrity in our witness, we give the impression that we are only paying lip service to God with our intellect and not serving him with our heart.
3:3 reminds us that, we too, were once: … foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. That’s a fair description of who I was before I became a Christian. It’s sometimes easy to look down on non-Christians because of the way they live their lives. But we can’t expect non-Christians to live by God’s standards if they don’t know him. It’s also easy to forget exactly how we lived prior to Jesus touching our hearts and lives.
Perhaps it’s worth remembering that we too, at one time were, as Paul writes in Ephesians 2:12: … separate from Christ … foreigners to the promise … without hope and without God in the world.
- Devotion To Doing Good
The recurring theme in Titus is one of doing good. 3:8: … I want to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. It was obviously a great concern of Paul’s, that Titus would grasp fully exactly what he was writing to him.
How do we show good works in our lives today? Think for a moment about what you could do this week, to show something of the love of Jesus in you, to your neighbour or colleague – something practical perhaps? I don’t wish to be condescending, but even talking to someone that everyone else ignores, or doing someone a favour, or taking time out to visit someone, can all have a positive impact on a person’s life.
Why not make a determined effort this week to do something for a non-Christian! It will cost in time and effort – even money. It’s easy to do things for others in the church community – they are our brothers and sisters in Christ – but it’s so much more difficult to serve those with whom we have nothing in common. Church text for 2015?
And, as vs8 reminds us, doing good is: … excellent and profitable for everyone. Indeed, recent research suggests seven benefits of doing good:
- Doing Good Decreases Stress;
- Doing Good Increases Life-Expectancy;
- Doing Good Makes Us Feel Better;
- Doing Good Makes Us Happier At Work;
- Doing Good Promotes Mental Health;
- Doing Good Leads To Happiness;
- Doing Good Will Motivate You To Do Good Again.
- To Rebuke Or Not To Rebuke
So far in this chapter, Paul has reminded the Cretans, and us, to be conscientious citizens and to live consistent Christian lives. But, in vs9-11, Paul reverts back how to on how to deal with false teachers. And it’s one of rebuke and discipline: Avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law. Why? Because these are unprofitable and useless. Eugene Peterson puts it this way in The Message: Stay away from mindless, pointless quarrelling … it gets you nowhere.
Paul is referring to those who cause divisions in the church from within. In 1:10-16, we see that people were ruining whole households as a result of this. Now, I don’t believe Paul is advocating the exclusion of theological disagreement. Indeed, both Jesus and Paul could be said to be controversial figures in their own way! There is a place for the questioning Christian. Much of it can be interesting, exciting, and challenging. We need to be balanced Christians of Word and Spirit. Only then, can we truly guard ourselves against extremism.
In vs14 Paul reiterates his main concerns for the church on Crete: Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.
Notice the words learn to devote. It’s not something that comes easily or naturally – it has to be worked at. It’s to be an ongoing lifestyle, something that we put into practice on a daily basis – prayer, bible reading etc. Listening to and agreeing with the fundamentals of our faith isn’t enough and being full of good intentions isn’t enough – we need to put it into practise.
We are not to live, vs14: … unproductive lives, both in the spiritual sense and in what we offer to the society in which we live. I have a poster in my study which says: You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk? Based on 1 John 2. We must learn to walk, talk, live, teach, and pray the Gospel, by devoting ourselves to, and trusting in, God.
Perhaps that is an appropriate thought to finish on, as we reflect on all that we have examined this morning to: be conscientious citizens, living consistent Christian lives and devoting ourselves to good works through having our faith firmly rooted in the Lord Jesus.
This is a copy of a talk I gave at Saint Mary’s in Billericay High Street at midweek Communion on Wednesday 10 November 2021. The Bible Reading was Titus 3:1-11.