Productive Lives, Powered by Grace
‘Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.’
We can all agree that doing good… is good. As we’ve just seen from that clip, even ‘the world’ knows and tries to pursue this. But I want us to start off by thinking about how what Paul is saying to Titus, and to us, is different to the world’s view of a good and productive life.
[SLIDE: Discussion question]
What is the difference between what the world says is a good and productive life as opposed to a good and productive life that glorifies God?
DIFFERENT MOTIVATION. AND DIFFERENT PURPOSE (DESIRED OUTCOME).
Okay, so we’ve seen that ultimately our motivation for what we do is different to the world’s and we have a different purpose in doing it; we should go into things looking for an outcome that glorifies God. So, let’s bring that to bear on Titus 3.9-15.
First though, if you only read today’s passage in isolation it can seem a bit disjointed, a bit specific to Titus and the Cretan church and therefore difficult to relate to. Maybe the tone of it even feels a bit ‘flat’. “Don’t do this… Instead do that… Learn to do good. And don’t be unproductive!”
It wasn’t meant to be read in isolation – it’s the sign off to a powerful letter! So, let’s quickly retrace the journey we’ve been on. And to give us a focus let’s track some of the things Paul has already said about motivation, purpose and desired outcomes in his letter to Titus.
[SLIDE: Titus 1.1]
This is how Paul introduces himself and explains his main goal and purpose in writing the letter. Knowing what we do about Paul though, I don’t think he just meant in this letter, but rather in his whole life.
So, as servants of God and followers of Jesus Christ ourselves, what are we doing to further the faith of God’s elect (those God has chosen) and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness?
[SLIDE: Titus 2.3-5, 10b]
This is what Paul instructs Titus to teach and promote amongst the women of the Cretan church.
So, as sisters in Christ here in Corsham, are we building each other up, modelling reverent lives to each other, teaching what is good, urging each other to love our family members?
Can it be said of us that ‘in every way [we] make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive’?
[SLIDE: Titus 2.11-14]
This is how Paul describes the grace of God shaping our lives and preparing us for Christ’s return.
So, are we allowing, inviting, desiring God’s grace to teach us and train us in righteousness?
What are we doing whilst we ‘wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ’? Are we even particularly conscious on a day to day basis that we are waiting for Christ’s return?
Is it evident to others that we are part of ‘a people that are [God’s] very own, eager to do what is good’?
[SLIDE: Titus 3.1-2]
Paul makes a point of instructing Titus to remind the Cretan people of their responsibilities as members of society and in their interactions with others. Note Paul’s use of the terms ‘always’ and ‘everyone’… Think about that for a second!
In light of this, what do our public lives look like? Are we ready to do whatever is good? What is our attitude towards others? Is it consistent across everyone we interact with?
[SLIDE: Titus 3.3-8 + image of cake (Vicky’s salvation cake)]
Last month, Vicky presented the mind-blowing message of the gospel. She served up the stunning truth of the gift of salvation as a cake – the most delicious and satisfying cake you’ll ever eat!
Is our response to God’s incredible, undeserved, outrageous love, mercy and grace pouring out of us in praise, gratitude and an unquenchable desire to do good? Or have we become desensitised to the incredibleness of it? Do we need a Paul or Titus figure in our lives – a Vicky Kelly – to be stressing these things and helping us to grasp the enormity of our salvation yet again, ‘so that those who have trusted in God [that’s us] may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good’?
Could the way we live our lives be described as ‘excellent and profitable for everyone’?
[SLIDE: Deuteronomy 6.5]
Basically, are our lives, ALL the different spheres of them, distinctively shaped by God’s grace?
Do we truly acknowledge what God has done for us in our response to him? Is it pouring out of us into everything we say and do? Do we love the LORD our God with all of our heart, all of our soul and all of our strength? Everything we’ve got!
Do we actively share God’s priorities given the sure and certain hope of eternal life we’ve been promised by God?
Now, from this place, let’s read the passage. Let’s imagine Titus and the Cretans are chomping at the bit to get started, motivation fully grasped and goal firmly in mind.
Because Paul is so keen for them not to fall at the first hurdle, what are his final instructions?
[SLIDE: Titus 3.9-15 – Read passage]
We’re going to tackle this passage in two halves. First let’s look at the negative side of things in verses 9-11.
[SLIDE: Negative: ‘Avoid’]
Foolish controversies, genealogies, arguments and quarrels about the law. Perhaps the items on this list seem a bit trifling to you? But do we realise how damaging they are and the impact they have on our Christian witness? Paul’s signalling to Titus just how serious a threat these things are to Christians living useful and productive lives. They must be avoided.
Let’s think about it for a moment:
What is it that sucks us into controversies? What captures our interest? Why do we get so invested in them and het up about them? Does anything useful or ‘profitable for everyone’ come out of them? Or do they damage our relationships with others and take our focus off the things that really matter?
What’s so important about genealogies? Our ancestry or background? In chapter 1 Paul has already warned Titus against ‘Jewish myths’ and ‘rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception’ singling out ‘those of the circumcision group’ in particular. Lineage was important to Jews. Perhaps those who had come to believe in Christ were struggling to let go of old ways of thinking and it was diverting them from the fact that their earthly ancestry meant nothing! Is there anything to be gained in God’s eyes from a prestigious family line or from anything that gives us status in society? Is a sense of entitlement of this kind useful or profitable in any way? No! Last month in Vicky’s talk we heard that what matters is the ‘washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit’ which means that through Christ we’ve been adopted into God’s family. Not because we’re entitled but because of God’s grace!
What is it we’re seeking when we argue and quarrel? If we’re being honest, it’s usually one of two things – firstly, to ‘beat’ the opposition; to be right and to prove the other person or view wrong. OR secondly, to justify something we want to have or do, even though deep down we know it is wrong. Is this useful or profitable? Now I’m NOT saying we should never enter into theological debate! If someone is confused or misled, we should speak up. BUT it comes back to motivation, purpose and desired outcome. When all I care about is winning the argument, I’m not likely to win the other person’s heart! But if I sincerely desire for them to know the truth that will set them free, I’m much more likely to get somewhere.
Whether you recognise these things as problems for you or not, Paul provides us with a key test to help us identify things we should AVOID. Will engaging with this issue be useful and profitable for everyone, including those looking on? And by this he means, will it help to further the faith of the elect and their knowledge of the truth which leads to godliness? If it won’t – avoid it!
[SLIDE: Negative: Deal with…]
Secondly, in this ‘negative’ section, Paul acknowledges that Titus will encounter some difficult or ‘divisive’ people in his ministry. It’s tempting to imagine Paul’s just talking about the odd person here and there, to be dealt with one at a time. Perhaps this is the case sometimes. But if we link back to the verse before, there are probably many more, because who are the divisive people? Most likely those involved in the controversies and quarrels! Suddenly the task of dealing with divisive people looks much bigger!
If Titus doesn’t take action, and show the leaders he’s establishing in Crete how to take action as well, the divisive person will undermine, poison and thwart what they’re trying to do in the name of God. Leaving them be is not an option because more people will be sucked into the situation and the damage will spread further. Perhaps you’ve seen something like this or experienced it in some way. Painful.
So, what should we do? Paul instructs Titus to warn the divisive person once and then a second time and after that to have nothing to do with them. Let’s unpack this a bit. Perhaps the ‘divisive person’ doesn’t initially realise they’re off-track. Perhaps they aren’t aware of the damage they’re doing. Perhaps they don’t think it’s a big deal seeing as nobody has said anything to them yet.
The first warning is about helping them to realise what is happening and how undesirable the impact is. If they refuse to heed the warning – perhaps they feel offended at being challenged or maybe they’re in denial or stubbornly holding onto the issue – they receive a second warning. This would need to be more authoritative and urgent, emphasising why they must stop what they’re doing! After all, let’s remember that Paul is saying the things highlighted in these verses are serious threats to Christians living useful and productive lives.
Perhaps the instruction to have nothing to do with a person who persists after the two warnings seems harsh? But from personal experience I know that no matter how painful the initial fall out, it’s far better to take drastic action to uphold sound doctrine than to just ‘let it go.’
When I came back from university in 2008 and returned to the church I’d grown up in, I was asked to get involved in the youth ministry. Working alongside a lovely young woman who was doing youth ministry training at our church and a wider pastoral team, I got really into it! I came to care deeply about the young people and to be passionate about them coming to faith in Jesus. On Sundays, I sometimes used to lead the worship team, not just singing but sometimes sharing a ‘thought’ relating to the sermon passage we’d be looking at.
Meanwhile, in my personal life I yearned to be in a relationship and to be loved. I wouldn’t like to say my entire life revolved around this goal but maybe in reality it did! Unfortunately, there weren’t any eligible young bachelors at my church and well… God didn’t seem to be answering my prayers in this area. I was single, 24 and my older sister and younger brother were both married. What on earth was so wrong with me?? Then this guy started showing an interest in me at work. He was kind, friendly, easy to talk to, funny. But he wasn’t a Christian.
To cut a long story short, I started a relationship with him.
I knew the Bible’s teaching on not being ‘yoked to unbelievers’ so that wasn’t ideal and I knew I’d have to be on my guard, standing firm in my faith and try to witness to the man I was dating. I knew and considered those things but I didn’t realise I was in fact like one of the ‘divisive people’ Paul was writing about. Not until, whilst in the first flush and excitement of a new relationship, my pastor called to tell me that I must break up with my new boyfriend!
I’d love to tell you that I only needed to receive a pastoral warning once but that’s not the case. I was furious. It was the most uncomfortable conversation I’ve ever had in my life. I listened to what he said but we couldn’t come to a nice resolution because I knew I had no intention of obeying him. I didn’t even pretend that I was going to consider it. My heart was hard! And I had plenty of excuses. I’d been talking about this guy for ages and nobody had said anything to me until now – far too late as far as I was concerned. And I’m sorry to say that it seemed more important to me to stick with the commitment I’d already made in the relationship, than to suddenly do an about-face and do what it said in the Bible. My relationship had a higher value in my heart than pleasing God. I felt a stronger allegiance to my boyfriend who I’d known for ‘5 minutes’ than God who I’d been learning about and following (as I thought) for my whole life.
Because I didn’t respond to the warnings, I was not allowed to be a youth leader or worship leader any more. How could I talk to young people about conducting relationships the way God intended when I wasn’t doing that myself? How could I lead worship when it was clear my highest goal wasn’t pleasing God but myself?
That was a very difficult time for me but looking back it’s got God’s love, mercy and grace written all over it. I thank God for my pastor and the way he handled the situation. I’m so thankful that it was more important to my pastor to please God and glorify him and what he says is good and profitable in the presence of the youth group, and the church congregation and in front of me, than it was to fill the youth leader slot I occupied with all the work that entailed. Whilst I didn’t see it at the time, his treatment of me showed how much he cared about me and my relationship with God.
Praise God, that even though it took me a long time (more than two years) to respond and fully get back on track – I didn’t remain in the warped and sinful state that meant I was self-condemned. That’s just how patient and merciful God is!
This situation really highlights why it’s so important to have godly leadership in a church! That’s why Paul had left Titus in Crete! We must pray for the leadership of this church because this is a big responsibility and dealing with divisive people is an uncomfortable and challenging thing to do. It takes courage!
We must also pray that God will work in our hearts so we will honour and respect our leaders, especially when we are the ‘divisive people’ who need to be dealt with. We need to pray for the humility to be subject to those whose job it is to warn us we’ve gone off-track. Crucially, we need to pray that glorifying God and doing his will, becomes more important than anything else in our lives. Dear Lord, help us to repent and turn back to you when we’re warned!
This is all sounding very serious isn’t it? But I’d like to point out that even in this negative section, what Paul says is GOOD NEWS! Yes, even for the divisive person! It’s good news that God doesn’t just give up on us when we’ve messed up. He uses people to warn us and help us find our way back to him. There is forgiveness and grace. The goal of the sharp rebuke which Paul writes about in Titus 1.13 is ‘so that [the people on the receiving end] will be sound in the faith…’
Again, it comes back to motivation, purpose and desired outcome. The goal isn’t to punish, shame and expose the divisive person! From a place of love and care, not only for the divisive person but those they might influence, the goal is to get them back on track, re-aligned with God and his purposes! This makes all the difference doesn’t it?!
[SLIDE: Prayer prompts – spend time praying in groups about things discussed]
[SLIDE: Titus 3.12-15]
Now onto the second half of the passage. Here, Paul turns the focus of Titus and the Cretan church over to the positive and practical things they must do. In the short term and in the long term. Specifically, and more generally.
We’re reminded that Titus isn’t from Crete and his work there isn’t his forever-job! Paul wants Titus to ‘put in order what was left unfinished’ – establishing leadership in the Cretan church – but he’s also sending reinforcements. Artemas and/or Tychicus. Not only that but he wants Titus to join him in Nicopolis if possible. I love this hint of the importance of fellowship and it stacks up with what Paul’s been saying in his letter. It reminds me of the kind of relationships Titus is supposed to teach as described in Titus 2. We’re to build each other up and encourage each other in the faith.
On a similar note, Paul gives another specific instruction. Zenas the lawyer and Apollos were most likely traveling Christian missionaries – reliant on the generosity of local believers to meet their needs so they could focus on furthering the work of the gospel. The Cretan believers are to do everything they can to help them and see that they have everything they need. What better way for the Cretans to serve and help to further the faith of the elect, than to support Zenas and Apollos who are devoted to doing just that themselves?
I love the way the word everything is repeated. Paul is telling them to be wholehearted in their support and I sense Paul emphasising this wholeheartedness in verse 14 where he says, ‘Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good.’ You can’t really be devoted to something if you’re not wholehearted about it, can you?
With this verse we’ve come full circle back to the ‘big idea’ we started with and I want to pick out a few key points:
1. We need to learn to be devoted to doing good. As our video clip at the start showed, and as we’ll know in our own hearts, doing good doesn’t come naturally! But this is a skill we must learn if we’re going to be productive in our knowledge of Jesus.
2. Living a productive life in our knowledge of Jesus means being changed by the knowledge of what God has done for us. God’s grace transforms us, changing EVERYTHING – our perspective, heart, behaviour and actions.
3. When we’re wholeheartedly devoted to doing good it makes the gospel attractive! It blesses people and causes them to look to God and praise him. And that’s what it’s all about!
Paul is furthering the work of the gospel in writing this letter to Titus, who will further the work of the gospel in the Cretan church by putting leadership in place and equipping them. They in turn will live lives that further the work of the gospel… and so on…
And here we are reading this letter, praying that it will change and equip us to further the work of the gospel today. We’re part of this cycle and we need to be actively involved so it will continue in perpetuity until Christ comes again! Amen!
[SLIDE – Personal reflection]
Let’s take some time to reflect on how we can get actively involved right now! Then we’ll finish in prayer.
I hope that was useful and you’re buzzing with ideas you can get stuck into. It’s important to remember that the key to all this is in Paul’s sign off at the end of his letter. After he’s sent his greetings he writes, ‘Grace be with you all.’ This is a great reminder to us all! We can’t live productive lives without first being saved and receiving God’s grace. And once we’re saved, we can’t go on that journey of learning to be devoted to doing good without God’s grace. Grace will train us to have the right motivations and purposes. And we’ll certainly be made aware of God’s grace time and again as we make mistakes and get back on track. So, it’s really important! ‘God’s grace be with us all!’
Heavenly Father, thank you for speaking to us through this passage. Thank you for the way it exhorts Christians to avoid or deal with anything that threatens to prevent us from glorifying you and therefore pointing others to you. Thank you for the way it prompts and instructs us to actively participate in your work in the world. Lord, if it weren’t for your gift of grace, it would be impossible for us to be made righteous in your sight or glorify you at all. And we can’t live a life that glorifies you without your Holy Spirit working in and through us. Please help us to live for you and because you first loved us, to truly love you with all of our hearts, all of our souls, and all of our strength. AMEN