Devote Yourselves To Good Works
Series: Titus: A Church That Lasts
Titus 3:8: The saying is trustworthy and I want you to insist on these things so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. That brings us to the big idea of our passage: Devote yourselves to good works.
Titus For You by Tim Chester
1/2 Timothy & Titus commentary in the Pillar series by Robert Yarbraugh
ESV Study Bible
Love him or hate him, I think that it’s probably time that we all agree that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback in NFL history, except for maybe Nick Foles who wiped the floor with Mr. Brady in Super Bowl LII. All kidding aside, I am mature enough to admit that Tom Brady is the GOAT. His greatness is neither surprising nor accidental because Tom Brady is uncommonly devoted to football. If you ever listen to Tom Brady describe his diet, his workouts, his mental preparation, and all the rest, then you know that Tom Brady’s life is devoted to football. And the reason I bring up Tom Brady is a model of devotion and our passage in Titus is all about devotion. Tom Brady is devoted to football, but there is something far great that Jesus calls every one of his followers to be devoted to. Listen to the culmination of our passage: Titus 3:8: The saying is trustworthy and I want you to insist on these things so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. That brings us to the big idea of our passage: Devote yourselves to good works. In Titus 3, the Lord specifically calls Christians to devote themselves to good works out in the world among those who don’t follow Jesus. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, let your light shine before people so that they will see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in Heaven. Our desire at Citylight Church is to grow strong as a gospel culture. A gospel culture is a church that makes the good news about Jesus visible, and we make the gospel visible by devoting ourselves to good works before a watching world. One final note before we dig into the details of our passage: We are not saved and brought into a right relationship with God by our good works, but we are saved unto our good works. As Martin Luther once said, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.” We are saved by grace alone but the grace that saves doesn’t remain alone, it leads us to do good works among our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates, and in our world so that people will see the good we do and glorify our Father who is truly good. Devote yourselves to good works. To get to the heart of our devotions to good works we are going to focus on what God calls us to do out in the world and why God calls us to do it.
Titus 3:1-2 lists what the Lord calls us to do out in the world. Let’s take the list one piece at a time. Titus 3:1: Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient… Though this is only one part of what we are called to, I am going to spend a significant amount of time here. The term “rulers and authorities” describes those who “constitute and enforce government.” Christians are, so to speak, to clear the ground for good works out in the world by submitting to and obeying governing authorities to not be written off as selfish troublemakers. This is not an isolated NT teaching. In Romans 13:1-2 we read, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God…” In 1 Peter 2:13-14 we read, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” In a day when many religious leaders taught that it was morally wrong for God’s people to pay taxes to a godless government, Jesus commanded his disciples to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Christians are, so to speak, to clear the ground for good works out in the world by submitting to and obeying governing authorities in order to not be written off as selfish troublemakers are be struck by a guilty conscience.
Now, it’s very important to recognize that God, not governments and rulers, is our highest authority. Sometimes it is necessary to go against earthly authorities to uphold God’s authority in acts of civil disobedience. NT scholar Robert Yarbrough points out numerous examples of civil disobedience in the Bible, like in Exodus when the Hebrew midwives disobeyed Pharaoh’s directive to murder every firstborn Israelite boy because they feared God, like when Daniel prayed to God despite the king’s edict to stop, and when Peter and John kept preaching when commanded to be silent because we must obey God rather than man. Over the past century history offers numerous examples of godly, justifiable civil disobedience, like when Corrie Ten Boom illegally hid Jews from the Nazis, like when North American Christians defied racial segregation laws in the 1960’s, like when pastors and church members alike have been thrown in jail for advocating for the right to life for the unborn, and when Christian martyrs in numerous nations accept death rather than renouncing their faith. But we cannot rush quickly to civil disobedience given the repeated command that Christians obey governing authorities as part of our witness that this world is not our home, and that Jesus is Lord. So, what is the threshold for civil disobedience? How do we know when we should obey or disobey governing authorities. Historically speaking, here is the Christian answer: Christians should submit to governing authorities unless the government forbids us to do that which God commands, or requires us to do that which God forbids. In such cases, we must obey God rather than men. Christians devote themselves to good works toward all people by obeying governing authorities as our default posture, but courageously going against authorities when they forbid us to obey God or require us to do something that God forbids.
The Christian view of government raises two important questions. First question: In what circumstances would Citylight Church be justified in disobeying the governments protocols related to COVID-19, specifically the current mask mandates, gathering size limits, and social distancing guidelines? A Canadian pastor named Paul Carter has helped me see that there are three main circumstances in which we would be justified in practicing civil disobedience. First, if the restrictions obviously and maliciously targeted the church. For example, if movie theaters in Philly were allowed 80% capacity, but the church was allowed 30%, I think we’d have good grounds for civil disobedience. Second, if the restrictions indefinitely forbade or significantly hindered public worship, we would have to practice civil disobedience. Over the last 500 years, reformed theologians have agreed that church gatherings can be temporarily suspended for the sake of public health. However, if the government were to require indefinite cessation of gatherings, we would eventually have to disobey. This brings up the subject of masks. Your pastors believe that masks are an impediment to worship. If masks were permanently required, they’re enough of an impediment to public worship that eventually, we would have to disobey, but we don’t believe they’re enough of an impediment to justify civil disobedience. This is a judgment call based on wisdom that I know not all of you agree with, but I am so thankful for the significant amount of unity we’ve had despite differing opinion because some churches have been torn apart by this. Thank you! Finally, if the restrictions were said to be made in the interests of containing the virus but were in fact discovered to have been made in pursuit of other unstated and illegal aims, then obviously it would be appropriate to engage in civil disobedience. Your elders see no credible evidence that all these restrictions are in bad faith. So where has that left us as a church? Where do we stand? We believe that we best reflect the teachings of Scripture in this season by honoring the spirit of most of the government protocols, though at times not every letter. For example, when the City of Philadelphia has urged churches to not allow singing, but we’ve chosen to sing with masks on because of the high value Scripture places on singing when we assemble. Here is my heart for us: Far from raising a cry of protest, I long for Citylight Church to be setting an example of cheerful, patient endurance so that others see our good deeds and give glory to God!
A second question that the Christian view on government raises is: Does bad government deserve to be obeyed? In Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, after being commanded to obey governing authorities, we read that governments have been designated authority from God to reward good and punish evil. So, do we get a pass from obeying governing authorities when they’re not rewarding good and punishing evil? The simple answer is “no.” New Testament scholar Tom Schreiner writes, “The text simply does not qualify the exhortations…In addition, virtually every person could exempt themselves from the exhortations found here by pointing out the injustices present in all governments.” It’s important to keep in mind that Paul and Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit commanded obedience to governments during the godless reign of Roman Caesars. If they believed that Christians only have to obey just governments, then they would have never written the exhortation, because their audience wasn’t living under such a government. Friends, let’s clear the ground for good works by submitting to governing authorities so that we won’t be labeled as selfish troublemakers, unless we are required to disobey God or forbidden from obeying him.
With that said, let’s briefly press into what else the Lord calls Christians to in Titus 3:1-2: Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases Titus 3:1-2: Remind the people to respect the government and be law abiding, always ready to lend a helping hand. No insults, no fights. God’s people should be bighearted and courteous. Question: what good things has God called you to in this passage that you can begin to or be refreshed to walk in? How can you let you be ready to let your light shine in every circumstance, specifically in the ways that the Holy Spirit directs us in Titus 3:1-2? Ok, it’s now time for the million-dollar question…
Using some of the richest theological language in the New Testament, Paul provides two reasons why Christians ought to respect the government and be law abiding, always ready to lend a helping hand. No insults, no fights, bighearted, and courteous toward all people, not just Christians. We read the first reason in Titus 3:3 – For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. Christians should submit to authorities and live graciously toward all people because of the kind of people we used to be. Foolish means to exercise poor judgment and behave senselessly. Christian, you can submit to senseless governments and show courtesy to senseless people because we too were once senseless. Disobedient means not conforming to God-ordained norms. We can show perfect courtesy to the disobedient because even you goody-two-shoes were once enemies of God because of disobedience. Led estray conjures up the image of a wandering sheep. We all like sheep had gone astray, and so we can treat the wandering souls in our lives with love and courtesy. Enslaved to various passions and pleasures refers to what we truly once were, slaves to the power and tyranny of sin. We can be courteous and loving even toward the most grotesque and annoying sinners because we were enslaved to sin ourselves. The final cluster of words refer to a lifestyle of hatred. We can treat those who hate us with perfect courtesy because we once passed our days hating and envying others. The reason why we can respect the government, be law abiding, be always ready to lend a helping hand, level no slanderous or false insults, take part in no foolish fights and be bighearted and courteous toward even the worst of people is that apart from the grace of God we were the worst of all people. And there is an even greater reason than who we used to be and it’s who we are now by the grace of God.
Titus 3:4-7: But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. We were once foolish, disobedient, led estray, enslaved to worldly passions, passing our days envying and hating people, BUT the God’s goodness and loving kindness appeared on our behalf and his name is Jesus. Jesus is the radiance of the invisible God’s goodness and loving kindness. God is love and his love appears and is made visible in that when we were yet disobedient, hate-filled, worldly, envious fools, he sent Christ to save us! And how did He save us? Not because of our works of righteousness, because after all we already know what we were when Christ saved us: fools, haters, envious, and on the list goes. God’s love appeared because God is loving. We contribute nothing to being saved then the condition of needing to be saved. We are saved because we need saving and because God is full of mercy toward sinners like us! How have we been saved? According to God’s heart that is full of mercy through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Regeneration refers to the new birth that occurs in the human heart through faith in Christ. This new life is pictured by water baptism, when we rise out of the water signifying a rise to new life. Renewal refers to the fact that when we are reborn through faith, we are born with new tastes for God, rather than a hatred for him. He does this to us by the Holy Spirit, through the finished work of Jesus. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have all intervened to save us not because of any goodness in us, but because of love in Him! The result of God’s gracious saving work is that sinners like us who were once alienated from God are declared forever not guilty and adopted children of God, forever, no doubt! Friends, if you’re in Christ, that’s how Almighty God, who is the personification of moral perfections has treated you. You were once his enemy and he’s made you his son through pure and unadulterated grace, mercy, kindness and love all purchased for you by His true Son who submitted to death on a cross for you.
Now, remind me again who you can’t submit to? Remind me again who you can’t treat with perfect courtesy? Remind me again who isn’t worthy of your devoted good works? Exactly. Grace changes everything. It creates a gospel culture devoted to every good work for all kinds of people so that others will see our good deeds and give glory to God!