Be Servants of God
Series: Titus: A Church That Lasts
How can we all together live lives that really matter and last as an attractively different gospel culture in our world? The answer is the big idea of the opening of Paul’s letter to Titus: Be servants of God. Now, the Bible says that God is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything (Acts 17:15). And yet, Paul’s vision for a church that lasts is living as servants of God. So, what do servants of God serve? (1) Faith, (2) Godliness, (3) In hope.
Titus 1: 1-4
Titus For You by Tim Chester
1/2 Timothy & Titus commentary in the Pillar series by Robert Yarbraugh
By any estimation, one of the greatest films of all time is Saving Private Ryan. The film tells the story of a group of soldiers who, following the Normandy Landings in WWII, go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper named Private Ryan because all of his brothers have been killed in action. In the effort to save Private Ryan, nearly all the soldiers sent to find him are killed in action. In one of the final scenes of the movie, the captain of that group of soldiers, played by Tom Hanks, is drawing his final breath and he tells Private Ryan to live in a way that earns the sacrifice that so many made to save his life. The captains final concern is that Private Ryan live a life that outlasts the soldiers that saved him, a life that truly matters. The Apostle Paul’s letter to Titus reminds me a little of that scene near the end of Saving Private Ryan. Most scholars believe that Titus was one of Paul’s final letters. As the Apostle Paul nears his final moments, he writes to Titus, his son in the gospel and gospel-ministry, to tell Titus how to strengthen the churches that Paul planted on the Island of Crete so that those churches will really matter and truly last for generations to come. Crete was one of the largest of Greek Islands in the Mediterranean Sea and had a notoriously dishonest, selfish, and materialistic culture. Years earlier, Paul traveled to Crete, preached the gospel, established several churches, and now he writes to help Titus to strengthen those churches as attractively different gospel cultures that really last and truly shine in a dark world. And that’s why the Citylight pastors believe that Titus is the perfect book of the Bible for Citylight Church right now. Our particular focus as a church this year is strengthening our gospel culture. We are asking the Lord to strengthen us as an attractively different gospel culture that is life-giving for everyone in it and shines as a light in this dark world that we love so much. Over the last three months, the Old Testament book of Nehemiah helped us rebuild gospel culture after the hardship of 2020 and now Titus will help strengthen us as gospel culture that really lasts and truly matters long into the future. It may help to think of Titus as a New Testament sequel to Nehemiah. Nehemiah was about rebuilding and Titus is about lasting.
With that said, let’s begin together in Titus 1:1: Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. Let’s pause right there because it’s unique. When Paul is the sole author of a letter, he almost always calls himself “apostle” first, not “servant of God.” Pastor and theologian Tim Chester says that Paul calls himself “servant of God” first because he’s seeking to provide himself as a model for all Christians and all churches for all times to follow. How can we all together live lives that really matter and last as an attractively different gospel culture in our world? The answer is the big idea of the opening of Paul’s letter to Titus: Be servants of God. Now, the Bible says that God is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything (Acts 17:15). And yet, Paul’s vision for a church that lasts is living as servants of God. So, what do servants of God serve? (1) Faith, (2) Godliness, (3) In hope .
Titus 1:1: Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect… Servants of God serve for the sake of the faith of God’s elect. “Elect” simply means “chosen by God.” Theologian Wayne Grudem defines the biblical doctrine of election as “an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good choice.” As Paul writes in his letter to the church in Ephesus, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the word, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:4-5). The elect are God’s chosen and God’s servants serve for the sake of bringing God’s chosen to saving faith in Christ. God’s servants serve the faith of God’s elect through what’s called evangelism.
Evangelism is an impossible task. Evangelism is speaking the gospel to a non-Christian with the aim to persuade them to follow Jesus. And the reason why evangelism is an impossible task is because the Bible says that we are all by nature and choice dead in our trespasses and sins. Andrea and I love to take our kids on walks and bike rides on the Cynwyd Heritage Trail. On both sides of the trail are massive cemeteries. As morbid as it may sound, our kids love to walk through the cemeteries reading the names on the gravestones, calculating how long the people lived. Imagine if while we’re walking through the cemetery, I start commanding bodies to rise from their coffins. I wouldn’t get far. Impossible. Because all people are dead in their trespasses and sins, evangelism is equally as impossible. Except we have the doctrine of election. The doctrine of election is what provides us with confidence to speak the gospel without fear that we’re going to screw something up. God will bring his elect from death to eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. He’s chosen to do that. It will happen. And God uses our feeble praying and speaking to draw his chosen to saving faith. The doctrine of election is our confidence in evangelism. The doctrine of election is what provided the Apostle Paul, perhaps the greatest Christian evangelist, with his great confidence. On one of his missionary journeys, recorded in Acts 18, Paul was afraid for his life, the Lord Jesus appeared to Paul in a vision and said, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people [elect]” (Acts 18:9-10). Jesus tells Paul not to be afraid to go on speaking because Jesus has many elect in that city that Paul is going to bring to saving faith. Friends, Jesus has many people in our city, in your school, in your workplace, on your street, at your gym, and where you hobby. An attractively different gospel culture that really matters and truly lasts is made of people who serve the faith of God’s elect through confident evangelism. Along with enjoying walks through cemeteries, my children also enjoy planting vegetable seeds. Last year they planted a ton of pepper seeds, which turned into a fantastic pepper plant. My kids didn’t know which seeds would sprout. They planted a ton, watered diligently, and some grew. Servants of God plant the seed of the gospel, water with love and prayer, and we leave the results to God. He will save his elect. When it comes to evangelism, if you’re not sure where to start, begin by praying regularly for three non-Christian friends that live in the Philadelphia area, that God will save them. Start with prayer and take every opportunity to speak that the Lord provides. Servants of God serve for the sake of faith. Secondly, servants of God whose lives really last, serve…
Titus 1:1: Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness. Servants of God, that is Christians, don’t just serve the initial saving faith of God’s elect through evangelism, we serve one another’s ongoing growth in knowledge, which leads to godliness in the everyday details of life. The connection between truth and godliness is going to be a major theme in Titus, so let’s take our time with this phrase “and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness.” “The truth” here refers to the truth of the gospel. The gospel is the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ. The gospel is the good news that the holy, creator God is reconciling sinners as his sons and daughters by grace alone, through faith alone, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone, just as He promised he would throughout the Old Testament. The gospel is not only the news that we believe at the beginning of the Christian life, it is the news that we help one another continue to believe, which leads to godly behavior in the details of life. In other words, the church that lasts and the attractively different gospel culture that shines is full of people who serve one another by helping each other connect the transforming power of the gospel to godliness in the details of everyday life.
How can we grow as a church that serves one another’s godliness? As a monolingual man, I have always been amazed by those of you who are legitimately fluent in multiple languages. It’s amazing to me that anyone can at the drop of a hat have a fluent conversation in a language that isn’t native to them. In order to serve one another’s godliness, to help one another connect the transforming power of the gospel to everyday life, we have to grow in our gospel fluency. Gospel fluency is the growing ability to connect the transforming power of the gospel to everyday life and requires getting the gospel in and getting the gospel out. To help others in the church connect the gospel to everyday life, we begin by getting the gospel into our own hearts every day. We get the gospel into our hearts everyday by relating to God on the basis of grace. By coming to God each day as our Father who has forgiven all of our sins and welcomed us into his beautiful presence not because of our good works, but on the basis of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. We also get the gospel in by responding to our sins and negative emotions with the gospel. I like to do apply the gospel to my sins and negative emotions through what Pastor Jeff Vandersteldt calls the 3C’s: capture, compare, confess. When I sin or experience negative emotions, rather than pretending it didn’t happen or try to make up for it with my performance, I want to approach God on the basis of his grace. I want to capture my sin and examine it. What was I believing and wanting when I did x? Then I want to compare what I was believing and wanting to the truth revealed in the gospel. “I was angry because I demanded approval from that person but didn’t get it. The truth is that in Christ, I am God’s beloved son with whom God is well pleased.” Then I want to confess my sin and the truth to God. “Father, I believed the lie that my identity is found in the approval of others. The truth is that in Christ I am your adopted son in whom you are pleased. Help me to love that person rather than demanding their approval.” That’s getting the gospel in.
Getting the gospel out is serving the godliness of other Christians by helping them connect the gospel to their everyday life, rather than giving them good advice. Our hope at Citylight is that we are “good news-ing” one another all the time in everyday conversations and in one-to-one disciples. That’s what a gospel culture does. The primary place where this happens at Citylight is in the life of our Citygroups, our small groups. Let me give you an idea of how this works. Let’s say you show up at CG this week and ask a fellow attendee how their week is going and they say something like, “work has been really tough and I’ve struggled to be patient with my co-workers, I need to do better.” This is your opportunity to help them connect their knowledge of the gospel to godliness at work, instead of giving them some advice about how to be patient. You might say something like, “what is tempting you to get impatient?” Then you might ask them how the gospel of Jesus reveals God’s patience to us. Maybe you discuss some other ways we see God’s patience. Finally, you help them see how experiencing God’s patience toward us in Christ, rather than trying to do better, is our only hope for treating others with patience. That’s what a gospel culture feels like, it feels like helping one another connect knowledge of the gospel to godliness in everyday life. If you’re not yet part of a Citygroup, please indicate that on your connect card or text ______. Servants of God serve the faith, godliness, we do that serving, third and finally…
Back when I was in seminary, Andrea and I used to watch the show Extreme Makeover Home Edition. On the show, every once in a while, a house was too much of a wreck to be renovated, so they’d knock it down and build again. When they rebuilt a new home, what do you think they did first? They poured a new foundation because only a strong foundation can support a house and all the life that will be lived inside it. Servants of God serve the faith of God’s elect and the godliness of God’s elect all on the basis and strong foundation of eternal hope. Titus 1:2-4: in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; 4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. The foundational daily motivation to serve the faith and godliness of the elect is the sure and certain hope that the God who predestined us before the foundation of the world and began a good work in us when we believed in Christ, will most certainly complete that good work in and bring us into eternal life because he’s the un-lying God.
Why is the hope of eternal life so important for God’s servants? Because love is inefficient. Living to serve the faith of God’s elect by praying for your non-Christian friends, loving them sacrificially, introducing them to your church, and speaking the gospel with the aim to persuade them to follow Christ is not the most efficient use of your time and will require you to sacrifice some things that this world says are more important. Living to serve the godliness of God’s elect by helping them connect the transforming power of the gospel to everyday life is not the most lucrative or efficient way to live. Living to serve one another’s godliness so our church can shine like a gospel-culture requires being consistent at Citygroup and devoting time to one another outside of group time. I’ll level with you, if you live as a servant of God for the sake of one another’s godliness, you won’t have time to have the cleanest or most up to date house, you won’t have time to be as fit as some of your friends, you won’t be able to work as much as some of your co-workers, and your kids won’t always get to bed on time. But that’s ok, because we are living in the hope of being wealthy and healthy, we live in the sure hope of eternal life that touched down in our world through the preaching of the Apostle Paul and is preserved in the pages of the New Testament so that we too can live in eternal hope. Be servants of God for the sake of faith and godliness, but do all your serving out of the done of the gospel that give you certain hope of eternal life, which has been promised by the “un-lying God. That’s a gospel culture that lasts.
Two questions before I pray:
1. Do you have eternal hope?
2. Are you serving like you have eternal hope?