Our Ongoing Devotion
Series: Titus: A Church That Lasts
There are some things we should oppose, but our lives need to be guided by what we are for. For Christians, our ongoing devotion is to good works.
The Letters to Timothy and Titus, Philip Towner
This morning we’re finishing our series in Titus, and then the next 2 weeks we’re going to have a couple special sermons before we start a series through Psalms for the summer. Today we’re wrapping up Titus though, continuing a theme that began last week, and it’s this idea of devotion. Devotion speaks to not just what you do, but what you are for; what’s your aim in life? Many today are functionally if not formally defining themselves by what they aren’t or devoting themselves to a cause against something: Anti-abortion, anti-racist, anti-gay marriage, etc. The Christian church often presents itself with a similar image. And certainly there are some things we ought to be against, but beneath that you have to ask this: What are you for? Titus 3 gives us one answer to that question for Christians. It’s an answer we began looking at last week, and that we’ll continue looking at this week. Last week we saw the incredible good news of how God saved us, and Paul told Titus positively to insist on that news, so that the people would devote themselves to good works. The next thing he does though, which we’ll look at today, is he shows us how to continue in our devotion to good works without getting sidetracked by what we’re against. So once again, Devote yourselves to good works, and here’s how to do that in a way that lasts, as a church that lasts: Avoid useless controversies, meet needs, and greet one another.
Avoid useless controversies
You can’t insist on everything. We’ve all only got 24 hours in a day, a set number of days on earth, and a certain amount of time with people. Paul’s instructions to Titus here face that fact and tell him that in order to insist on the most important things, he will have to avoid some unimportant things: Foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law. As we read Titus, we have to always keep in mind the situation in Crete: There were false teachers upsetting the faith of whole households by teaching some sort of Jewish mythology that required people to observe the ceremonial Old Testament law in order to be saved. Though Paul never gives a lot of the details of this false teaching, it seems here that part of their mythology involved genealogies, and we know it involved a quarrel about the law, insisting on the observance of those elements of it that are ceremonial.
In chapter 1, Paul told Titus to rebuke them sharply, so that they might turn and be sound in the faith, and also to protect those households they were upsetting. So Titus can’t ignore them, nor can we ignore false teaching. That said, we learn here that Titus also can’t spend all his time arguing with them. The job of the Christian minister and the mission of the church is not first and foremost to make sure every falsehood out there is sufficiently disproven. The job of the Christian is not first and foremost to make sure every falsehood on social media is sufficiently disproven. We have good news to insist on, and good works to which to devote ourselves. If a false teaching is affecting your church, you rebuke it sharply, clarify why it’s false, and then you get back to preaching good news and doing good works.
And here’s why, verse 9: They are unprofitable and worthless. In verse 8 we saw that Titus should insist on the gospel so that people will devote themselves to good works, for these things are excellent and profitable for people. Useless controversies on the other hand: Unprofitable and worthless. Paul doesn’t say, “Avoid all controversies”; that’s cowardice. But those controversies that help no one besides yourself you should avoid. So here are some guidelines on when a controversy is useless for you, and therefore one you should avoid: If it’s not upsetting the faith of a fellow church member or anyone else for whom you have some responsibility, it’s typically better to avoid it. If you can’t honestly answer, “Here’s who it will profit for me to engage in this,” you should avoid it. If it’s a falsehood that’s already been sharply rebuked and now the person is just trying to drag you further into it, avoid it. When we find ourselves feeling a need to jump in on such things, it’s often because we feel threatened by them, and so we feel a need to eliminate all threats. But guys, we’ve got nothing to be afraid of: We’ve got such good news to proclaim and such good works to do; let’s not waste our time chasing down every controversy. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, don’t waste your life wrestling with pigs. You’ll both get dirty, but the difference is the pig will like it.
That said, such people do exist, so Paul turns next to tell Titus how to handle them in verses 10-11. He tells him as for such a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him. The word there for “stirs up division” is the word from which we get the word heretic. We usually use the word to refer to a false teacher, and that’s certainly relevant here, but originally it had more to do with their impact on the community. Believing falsehood is a problem, but it’s another matter to then be recruiting a faction to it. The latter is possible even apart from false teaching, though they often come in a package.
Stirring up division is not the same thing as disagreeing. Disagreement is inevitable and healthy in a church. Rondell Trevino, founder of the Immigration Coalition, put it this way: “Biblical kindness says, ‘I highly disagree with you, but I still want you at my dinner table because you’re my friend and I love you.’” But a person who stirs up division says, “I highly disagree with you, so not only am I now going to exclude you from my dinner table, but I’m planning a dinner and inviting others from the church to try to win them to my side.” If you disagree with someone in your church, you should be talking to them about that, not to others about them. If you disagree with the pastors of your church, you should talk to them about that, rather than first trying to rally up a coalition of others to agree with you.
And all of us need to own that sometimes even if we handle our disagreements in a godly way, the church may move in a different direction than the one in which I wanted them to move. Even I as one of the elders here am part of a plurality of elders, and I’ve lost votes before. Once that happens, the decision of the elders has been made, and I’ve now really only got a few options, as do any of us in such a situation: I can happily submit to it and receive it as God’s leading through the leaders He’s set over my church, I can refuse to submit to it by staying angry about it, dropping hints of my dissatisfaction at every chance I get, pulling back from relationships, or, at its worst, trying to recruit a band of fellow members to agree with me, or I can decide this is a sharp enough disagreement that I can no longer in good conscience submit to these elders, and therefore I need to resign my membership. Assuming your elders are biblically qualified, the first option should be the norm, and it’s the route I’ve taken when I’ve lost votes here. However, the third option is sometimes a godly option, especially when you are really convinced the elders are acting in disobedience to Scripture. At that point, in rare cases, it may even be appropriate to tell other church members why you’re resigning and encourage them to do likewise. But if you’re thinking about going that route, you better be ready to explain to God on judgment day why His words in Scripture compelled you to do it, and if so, you can trust that the judge of all the earth will do right by you.
That said, the second option, the one where you stay but just resolve to be grumpy about it and try to win others to join you, that’s what it means to stir up division. And here’s how the church is to handle such a person: Warn them once, then warn them again, and then excommunicate them. And here’s why, verse 11: Such a person is warped and sinful; they are self-condemned. So we aren’t talking about someone with honest questions and doubts here; Scripture actually commands us to be patient with such people. These are those for whom the ordinary, patient means of prayer and persuasion aren’t working. We’ve warned them twice, and they’re still stirring up division. Their actions have already condemned themselves, and so we must acknowledge that with the decree of excommunication, in hope of their restoration, and for the protection of the sheep they are trying to lead astray.
I alluded to this last week, but can I just say again how thankful I am for you all in this regard? We aren’t perfect, but we are not a congregation that gets bogged down in useless controversy. Masks, gathering restrictions, vaccines, politics: I know we’ve got disagreements on them, but we’ve avoided stirring up division over them, and honestly just haven’t spent a lot of our time debating them. If anything, we may need to be aware of the opposite error: Keeping our disagreements to ourselves so as not to disturb the peace. That will prevent us from truly knowing and loving one another. But even there, a few of you have expressed disagreement to me on decisions I’ve made recently, but you’ve done so with such respect, often accompanying it with expressions of your thankfulness for my and Michael’s leadership and understanding for the difficulty of the decisions. Let’s continue to avoid useless controversy so we can devote ourselves to good works. And next, let’s consider a specific example of good works: Meeting needs.
In verse 12 Paul turns to instructions about Titus’ return, but then in verse 13 he tells him to do his best to send Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way. Zenas and Apollos were what we might call missionaries or Christian workers, people sent out specifically to proclaim the gospel. Paul wanted Titus to ensure not just that they had the bare minimum, but that they lacked nothing, and the way he wanted Titus to do that, verse 14, is to teach the people to devote themselves to good works, and here’s the specific: So as to help in cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. The urgent need in this case, of course, was to materially support Zenos and Apollos, to ensure that they lacked nothing, ostensibly the way churches ordinarily did, by taking up an offering, then the elders or perhaps Titus in this case giving it to the workers.
At Citylight, this is what we still do today. We have 5 units of international workers we currently support; 3 of whom work directly with unreached people groups, all of whom are trying to get the gospel to every nation. 1300$ per month of our budget goes to them, and then another $3300 per month goes to our denomination’s Great Commission Fund, which is used in large measure to ensure our denomination’s international workers lack nothing. We also give $3700 per month to church planting in the U.S. Your giving to Citylight is what makes that possible. It meets a need, and it’s the clearest example we have in the book of Titus of a good work. It is a way, as the text says, to not be unfruitful. If you have income, you have money. And you may not personally go to the unreached peoples of the world, but if we’ve really seen the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior in the gospel, of course we want to make sure they see it too! And they won’t unless someone goes. If you don’t, you can still be fruitful by using your money to see that those who do lack nothing. That is a good work in the sight of God.
More broadly, helping in cases of urgent need is a great way to think of what good works are. It’s been a frustrating thing for me actually as I’ve been studying Titus; good works appear all throughout the book, but God never gives a list of the good works. No doubt that’s partially intentional: In chapter 2 He said Christ died to redeem a people who are zealous for good works, not people who grab the checklist so they can do them and put their conscience to rest. Nonetheless, we have to at least have some picture of them if we are to be devoted to them, and here’s a picture: Helping in cases of urgent need. There is no list, but if you live your life with your eyes open to the needs around you, and start asking, “Lord, how could I help?” you’ll start to see that there are good works God has prepared in advance for you to do.
Think of the mothers who work at home that were addressed in chapter 2. They see a need: Their child is hungry. They feed her. That’s a good work. Many of you here today have jobs outside the home, and probably the reason you do is because that job meets some kind of human need. To the degree it does, you are doing good works. What if that’s why you went to work? What if that’s how you decided which job to take? I think of those of you who when one of our members, Sonya, was in a physical rehab facility recently, took her a change of clothes and food. I think of Michael and Tyrone who helped mover her new mattress into her upstairs apartment. I think of Jess Morgan, who works as a dental hygienist, who when the pandemic began, asked the Lord how she could help, and began passing out dental supplies to kids in her neighborhood, and that’s now grown into a non-profit called Jess’ Kind Little Smiles. I think of Selasie, who shared her story at our last member meeting, who because of visa issues wasn’t able to work the job she was hired to do over the past year, but asked the Lord what she could do, and began tutoring a boy in her neighborhood. I think of Alyson, who became a volunteer leader at Small Things over the past year to get food to households in the city who needed it. I think of course of the Compassion Initiative, where you all along with the other Citylight congregations devoted over $100,000 to meeting needs created by COVID-19. Let’s continue to devote our time and money to meeting needs, and especially to seeing more churches planted and getting the good news of Jesus to the unreached peoples of the world. And finally, in closing, greet one another.
Greet one another
The letter to Titus closes with Paul sending greetings to Titus from himself and all who are with him, and he asks Titus to greet those who love him in the faith, then prays that grace would be with them all. Verses like this are easy to overlook, but the mere frequency with which they appear in Scripture should give us pause before we skip them. Why does Paul end his letter this way? At the simplest level, he just wants to express his love to Titus and through Titus, to all those who love him in the faith. A greeting expresses, “Hey, you matter.” A greeting is a means of inclusion: “Hey, you’re welcome.” Titus is out there on an island, literally on the island of Crete, without Paul and his companions, and Paul wants him to know: “Hey; we’re with you.” And Paul wants Titus to let those who love him in the faith know that too, which could even mean people who don’t know him, but people who love him anyway because of their common faith. Paul says, “Please greet them too; let them know they matter and they are welcome.”
I know I stand at the door there and greet people on Sundays and we even have a greeting team, but really, when you join the church, you join the greeting team. If we are in the faith together, that common faith should create in us a love that actually gets expressed in warm greeting of one another. I see you. You matter. You’re welcome here. And in fact, because the door of the church is wide open to whoever would believe, we should be able to greet anyone who comes to our church, to our home, or even who we see on the street with a sense of, I see you. You matter. You’re welcome here. Won’t you come in?
Isn’t that how Jesus has greeted us? In fact, it’s better. When we were outsiders who didn’t love Him in the faith, He came to us and said: You matter. And you’re welcome in my people. You want to talk about a case of urgent need? Here’s how we’re described earlier in chapter 3: Foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice in envy, hated by others and hating one another. God created us for lives devoted to good works, and that’s what we gave our lives to instead. That’s what we brought to the table, and there is nothing on that list that entitled us to anything good from God. We lacked everything, but the one who had everything gave everything for us on the cross, so that we might lack nothing. Believe in Him, and He will meet your deepest need. He has it all: A full payment for sin, perfect righteousness, eternal life, all there in Him, and He looks at you and says, “Come. Take.” And all who do He welcomes and forms into a new people, united in Him, zealous for good works.
So let’s not waste the new life He gave us on useless controversies. It’s ok if we don’t chase down every argument. We’re righteous in the sight of God; who cares if we’re vindicated in the sight of people? Let’s not break up the unity Jesus died to purchase. With our deepest need already abundantly provided for in Christ, let’s open our eyes to needs around us and ask, “Lord, how can I help?” You can’t do everything; you don’t need to do everything. Jesus did it all for you! He is your righteousness. Lay that burden on Him and devote yourselves to the good works He has prepared for you.