Thursday 12 August
With Rev Dr Chris Wright
Chris is leading our morning Bible Teaching exploring the theme of “Shalom” throughout scripture.
Today we move on to Act 5 of the great drama of scripture – which runs from the Day of Pentecost to the Return of Christ! It is the great era of the mission of God’s people – in the light of the coming of the Messiah Jesus, His death and resurrection, and His ascension to the seat of God’s government of history. This is the part of the drama of Scripture where we ourselves participate as actors. How then, are we to live within this part of the Bible’s own story. How then are we to live as people of peace?
I thought of various NT texts that would help us answer that. We could take Romans, for example, where Paul instructs us, within the fellowship of believers,
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Romans 14:19
And on the other hand, in our relationships with the outside world, the rest of society, Paul urges us:
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
However, for today I’ve chosen to focus on Paul’s instructions in Titus chapter 2. Paul is concerned in this letter about how the gospel will be perceived in the outside world. How Christians behave will either commend the gospel in the public arena, or bring it into disrepute. That’s what’s at stake.
And in order to help us grasp and remember the message, I’m calling this a five-four-three-two-one sermon! Paul addresses five groups of people; he gives four commands for “self-control”, he motivates us by three “so-that’s”; he speaks of two “epiphanies” or appearances of Christ; and he has one overriding and repeated message – which is “do good stuff!”
Five groups of people
So Paul has been telling Titus that he needs to appoint elders for the churches in Crete and make sure that they are teaching the true message of the gospel to counteract so much false teaching that was going on. And then, at the start of chapter two, he says that it’s not just a matter of “sound doctrine”. What also needs to be taught is how believers ought to live in a way that is “appropriate”, or fitting, or consistent with that teaching. There is a truth we need to know, and there are things we need to do – and not to do!
Then Paul illustrates his point by mentioning all the typical groups of people that would be there in the house churches – older men, older women, younger women, younger men, and slaves. And what is interesting is that in each case he calls for behaviour that would have been generally approved of for people at those stages of life, at least as ideal standards, by the ethical writers and traditions of the Greek and Roman culture of that time.
Some of the words Paul uses here are well documented in other writings. Like: older men to be sober and dignified, older women to be reverent, not gossiping or drinking too much, younger men to be self-controlled, younger married women to be good wives and mothers (which, by the way did not mean that Paul thought a woman’s place was only in the home – remember his first convert in Europe was Lydia, a wealthy merchant trader and traveller with a household capable of supporting Paul’s ministry later on), and slaves to be hardworking and trustworthy.
Of course, Paul will go beyond these “secular standards”, as we’ll see in a moment. But he does want Christian believers to at least live up to the best of what the culture thought was right and proper. Christians would get enough opposition and suspicion for their faith, without bringing it on themselves just by offending their neighbours with what everybody in that culture would regard as unacceptably bad behaviour in public or at home.
So, as I said, Paul lists some culturally approved ethical ideals. BUT, in reality the standards of actual pagan behaviour were a lot lower than those ideals – Paul knew that well and describes in other places. You can see the way he describes the surrounding culture in places like Romans 1 and Ephesians 4. Greed and gluttony were the marks of the rich, while dishonesty and theft were rife from top to bottom. Sexual immorality of all kinds permeated society, some of them condemned but others socially acceptable. Sensuality, impurity and drunkenness – those are just some of the marks of a fallen society that Paul observed in his day and not a lot has changed, has it.
Four demands for self-control
That may well be the reason for Paul’s emphasis on “self-control”. Four times he insists on it – That’s my number four. To the older men (v.2), the younger women (v 5), the younger men (v6), and all of us (v.12). The word Paul uses here can mean moderation, sound and healthy thinking, or self-discipline (as in 2 Timothy 1:7).
Self-control is also the last in Paul’s list of the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit (a different word but the same basic meaning). And there, in Galatians 5, the way Christians should behave if they are bearing the fruit of the Spirit is in stark contrast to the ways of the world. Far from living up to even their own best standards, Paul says:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
And we can easily see that those marks of a life filled with the Holy Spirit and bearing His fruit go way beyond the secular standards of acceptable behaviour or good citizenship. So the self-control Paul urges on old and young, men and women, in the church, is not just a kind of rigid conformity to the idealistic social norms of good etiquette. It is the transforming power of God’s Spirit, which they would need in order to resist the pressures and temptations of the actual moral corruption that surrounded them every day. And the same is true for us today, isn’t it? Whether old or young, male or female, we need the Holy Spirit’s power to exercise the self-discipline and self-control and real courage that is going to be needed for living as Christians in a culture that is not only blatantly unchristian but is increasingly becoming anti-Christian.
But why? That leads me, from five groups, and four commands for self-control, to…
Can you see them there in verses 5, 8 and 10?
- so that no one will malign the word of God (v. 5)
- so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us (v. 8)
- so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive (v. 10).
Paul has very strong reasons for the instructions he is giving – two of them negative and one gloriously positive. And all of them relate to how the church is viewed in the world outside. Paul’s concern is for the impact of Christian behaviour in the public arena. In other words, these are thoroughly missional reasons.
“Our lives either adornJohn Stott
or discredit the gospel.”
The first two negative “so thats” focus on what people may say if Christians live badly. If, for example, the younger women assert that because of what they may call “the word of God” – i.e. the gospel that has generated their Christian faith – they are now liberated, free to live as they like, breaking free from their marriage or neglecting the care of their own children and household, then their non-Christian neighbours are going to say, “Well, if that’s what the word of this so-called god they worship tells them to do, we want nothing to do with such a god, or whatever he says.”
And then in v 7-8 Paul tells Titus himself to make sure that his teaching is backed up by his own example. Here he is touching on one of the most painful issues even in our own day – when great and famous Christian leaders are caught in conduct that totally negates all they’ve been preaching and teaching. Then they are rightly and deservedly “opposed” and “shamed”. But when Christian leaders like Paul himself and Titus set an example of all they teach and cannot be faulted on the grounds of hypocrisy or inconsistency, then it is those who malign them who should be ashamed.
But the wonderfully positive “so that” is – paradoxically – the one given to slaves! It seems that there were many slaves who responded to the good news of the gospel and became followers of Jesus, and so the house-church gatherings would have included slaves alongside free men and women. That in itself was unusual and quite a countercultural thing – part of the reconciling power of the gospel we were thinking of yesterday. And many of these slaves would still have had non-Christian masters and owners.
Paul addresses slaves in four places. In Colossians and Ephesians, he exalts their status and work by saying that it is the Lord Christ they are serving – they are His slaves now, even while serving their human master. So they should do good work for Christ’s sake – that is a transforming perspective on even the most degrading status humans could be subjected to. In 1 Timothy 6, he tells them to respect their masters (to avoid slandering God’s name and gospel teaching), and he adds that if their master is also a Christian, to respect them even more.
Here in Titus, he adds another motivation, which is so encouraging for anybody in such circumstances. They are to submit to their masters, to please them, not to become insolent and recalcitrant, not to engage in petty pilfering – “perks of the job” but to be fully trustworthy with all their master’s affairs and property. Why?
“…so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.”
That word “make attractive” is the Greek word that gives us our word “cosmetics” – it means to decorate, adorn, make something beautiful and desirable. So here’s a pagan Greek or Roman slave owner and one his slaves become a Jesus-follower, and starts talking about the “salvation” he has received from his “God”. And his life and work has changed so much for the better. He doesn’t talk back any more. He doesn’t have to be watched all the time in case he’s nicking the silver. He can be left in charge of the house and kids while the master is out, and he keeps everything in order. He’s become honest and doesn’t tell lies all the time. He’s stopped picking fights with the other slaves and tries to make peace when there are quarrels in the home. Hey – I like this guy! Or rather, I like what’s happened to him. He says it’s to do with his new religion – well, let me have a look, it seems pretty attractive if it changes people like that. Tell me more.
Well, those three “so thats” are powerful reasons for living in a good and acceptable way before the world. But Paul has an even more powerful motivation. It begins in verse 11 with the word “For” – that means: what Paul is about to say next is the major reason and foundation for all the instructions he has just given. “This is how I want you to live… and here’s why!”
And that brings us, from five groups of people, through four commands to self-control, and three “so thats” to two epiphanies.
Or two appearances. The word epiphany means just that – when something appears that was always there but had been hidden – like when the sun appears from behind a cloud. What two appearances? Look at verses 11-14. It has such a ringing tone and reads like it might have been a piece of early liturgy, perhaps used in baptisms, summarizing the Christian faith. Let me read it again:
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who 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 Titus 2:11-14
Can you see the two appearances – the two epiphanies? One is the epiphany of grace in verse 11 (“the grace of God has appeared”), and the other is the epiphany of glory in verse 13 (“the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour”), and both, of course, refer to the Lord Jesus Christ. First of all His incarnation, His earthly life, death and resurrection, and then His second coming in glory.
Paul wants us to live our lives in the light of these two appearings. And this, of course, is where Paul’s teaching to Christian believers goes way, way beyond mere secular ethics – just be nice people and good citizens. This is where his teaching is rooted in the gospel itself (the grace of God, the person of Jesus Christ and the cross), and rooted in the biblical story (the past – God’s redemption; the present – “this present age” (v12), and the future – the coming of Christ in glory). Let’s look at each of the two epiphanies.
The epiphany of grace (vs. 11-12)
This doesn’t mean that there was no grace before Jesus came, any more than we imagine the sun didn’t exist before it appears on a cloudy day. The OT is very clear – Yahweh introduced Himself by name to Moses, saying, The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love. (Exodus 34:6-8). And He had shown His grace in redeeming them out of Egypt, making His covenant with them, and giving them His law for their guidance. All of that was “grace already given”- as John puts it in John 1:16. But when the Word became flesh, then grace and truth also “became” (it’s the same word) through Jesus Christ – they became visible and tangible in the life and teaching and work of Christ. God’s grace was always there, like the sun but now in Jesus, God’s grace “appeared” – i.e. came out, shining brightly, bringing joy and hope. And that grace of God that has “appeared” in Christ does two things.
First of all, of course, it “offers salvation to all people”. Not just to the Jews who knew God’s grace in their own history but to people of any nation and all nations – just as God had promised to Abraham, and as Paul was now preaching and teaching to the Gentiles. By God’s grace, you too can be saved and belong to God’s people, as he said to the Galatians and Ephesians – and to you and me, most of us probably Gentiles, here in this little island of Ireland on the very edge of the known world in Paul’s day. It is by God’s grace that we’ve been saved – and how often we need to remember that and give thanks for it.
That’s what Paul repeats and emphasises in v. 14 “who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own…” Paul is talking about Jesus of course, but his language is straight from the OT story – when God redeemed Israel out of slavery in the exodus, consecrated them to Himself and called them “His very own possession” – that’s the language of Exodus 19. Jesus has done for us what God did for Israel, through His redeeming grace in both cases.
But secondly, notice that Paul speaks not just of saving grace, but also of teaching grace. “It goes on teaching us,” he says in v. 12 (the verb is a present participle). And God’s grace curriculum is both negative and positive. There are things we must say “No” to – “ungodliness and worldly passions” – the ways of the world around us. And instead, it teaches us “to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” which is so characterised by the opposite.
So the question to us is, not just, have you been saved by grace but are you being educated by grace? Are you allowing the grace of God in your life to be your teacher, telling you off when you do wrong, and encouraging you to live in ways that are pleasing to God? Is God’s grace evident not just in the fact that you are saved as a Christian but also in the way you live as a Christian. The tragedy is that there seem to be so many people – often in the public gaze or on social media etc. who claim to be saved by grace but there’s so little evidence of God’s grace in their lives, certainly no self-control or godliness in the way they talk or write, or behave.
The epiphany of glory (v. 13)
Paul looks to the future, as he so often does, looking forward to the return of Christ, which not only gives us hope for the future but also summons us to live now in the light of what will happen then. Now the language Paul uses here to speak of the second coming is significant. We are waiting, he says, for the appearing of “our great God and Saviour”. Those precise words were used by some of the Roman Emperors of themselves, or by those who applauded them. “Caesar, our great god and saviour…” Those words are found in ancient scripts.
Now, if you knew that the emperor was going to make an appearance in your city – was coming to visit – then you’d better get ready. The place would be cleaned up. You’d want to make sure you were known to be an admirer and loyal follower, his obedient servant. If the emperor is coming you need to be on his side, or face trouble.
So Paul takes over that kind of language – our great God and Saviour is coming, he says, but it’s not Caesar; it is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Jesus is Lord, not Caesar. And in the light of His coming in glory, how then should you live? Whose side are you on? Are you living by His standards and commands?
Can you see how in this passage, as so often, Paul is urging us to live within the story – that is the biblical story as we participate as God’s redeemed people in what God is doing in the world? We need to keep looking in both directions – looking back to the gospel events, God’s grace made visible in Christ’s incarnation, life, teaching, death, resurrection and ascension; but we also look forward to Christ’s return in glory. We are to live today, in the light of God’s past and God’s future. That is why, in the Anglican communion service, we proclaim the past, present and future, when we say: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
Are you living in the light of those great gospel facts and truths? Is your life shaped by the grace of past redemption and the hope of future glory? Is that the story you are living in as you go to work each day, as you make your choices and decisions, as you act and react, in your private thoughts and your social conversations?
For you see, only this solidly Christ-centred, gospel-centre, grace-filled motivation will be sufficient for any of us to live in all the ways Paul mentions, and by living that way, to be agents of God’s peace in this broken world. And that leads us to our final point. You can see it there at the end of verse 14 – a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.
One repeated message – Do good stuff!
This is such an important point for Paul that he repeats the words six times in this short letter. In fact, Paul’s letter to Titus could be called the epistle of good works. Now that may surprise you because many evangelical Christians are suspicious of the whole notion of “good works” because we know rightly that we are saved by grace, not by our good works. And that is absolutely true and Paul insists on it. But have you ever really taken seriously the way Paul puts the sequence of salvation and good works in Ephesians 2?
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We are not saved by good works but we are saved in order to do good works!
And that is exactly what Paul says again here in Titus – look at chapter 3:8. Paul says to Titus, 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.
Can you see how the NIV understands this one central message? Look at the subheadings: Appointing elders who love what is good; Rebuking those who fail to do good; Doing good for the sake of the gospel; Saved in order to do good. Saving grace must be evidenced by lives changed for good. Those headings do stress the core message.
But I think the NIV’s constant translation, “doing what is good”, rather weakens the sharp and concrete words that Paul actually uses – “good works”. In fact, he uses those precise words six times. That’s why I call this “one repeated message”. Here they are.
- 1:16 – the false teachers are “unfit for any good work”
- 2:7 – Titus was to be “an example of good works”
- 2:14 – Christ redeemed us to be a people “eager to do good works”
- 3: 1 – So believers should be “ready to do good works”
- 3:8 – Those who have trusted in God are to “devote themselves to good works”
- 3:14 – his very last instruction – the same message, “our people must learn to devote themselves to doing good works.”
Can you miss it? Paul is in complete agreement with Peter here, who emphasised throughout his letter – 1 Peter – repeatedly that Christians should be “doers of good” even if they suffered for it. The verb that Peter uses there was a secular word that had a social and cultural meaning in the Roman society. It referred to people who made some contribution to the common good, some public service, or generous benefaction (benefactor is simply the Latin translation for Peter’s Greek – good doers).
Christians, say Paul and Peter and James, following Jesus Himself, of course should be people who are visible and known for doing good as salt and light in the community. Well? Are we?
There are so many ways in which this can be worked out in our society in our day and age. We as Christians can be doers of good in the world around us – in our daily work, in volunteering, in acts of kindness and service, in ministries of compassion for people in need and in seeking justice for the poor and oppressed, in managing our homes and nurturing children, caring for the sick, and so on and so on. None of these of course make us any more Christian, or saved or justified that is entirely by God’s grace through faith. But all of these and many more can be ways of living as “people of peace”, and simply through doing good we can be adorning the gospel, so that others may see, and believe, and come to faith and salvation. And may God help us to be such people for Christ’s sake and for God’s glory.