Thursday, July 03, 2008

Titus 3:9-11

9But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. 11You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

In v8, Paul told Titus to “stress these things,” speaking of fruitful faith, right behavior in light of God’s grace and mercy (Romans 12:1). That’s a positive command. Wrapping up, Paul gives Titus negative commands beginning in v9 – Avoid unprofitable and useless teachings (and questions) that would not contribute to godly living, and warn the divisive folks within the local congregations. Paul basically has a two-fold strategy with dealing with those in the local church who are going to oppose sound doctrine, the teaching of the apostles – God’s word for us. First, they are to be avoided, or shunned; they are not to be engaged as to bring the minister down on their level to dispute and debate about their particular theories. Second, they are to be given a “three strikes and you’re out” rule. They get two warnings. A third offense leaves them rightly rejected, ruined by self-condemnation through failure to repent.

This instruction is not meant to stifle growth; it is meant to prevent heresy from mixing with sound doctrine. We need to be like the Bereans, testing everything with the word of God (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22). It is good to ask questions, but knowing the reason for the question is just as crucial as the question itself; as Calvin declares, “Paul does not wish that the servant of Christ should be much and long employed in debating with heretics… In short, every person who, by his overweening pride, breaks up the unity of the Church, is pronounced by Paul to be heretic.” But we aren’t to call folks heretics until two warnings pass and the divisive behavior continues.

For example, one may ask, “What’s the difference between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism?” That’s fine. An initial response might be a question in return, “Why do you want to know?” Is it to start a speculative debate about the order of the pre-creation decrees of God? Don’t go there; avoid it. Is it because an individual simply wants to grow in the knowledge of God and consider the support of Scripture regarding a couple of prominent views of how He made decisions prior to creation? Okay. We can talk about it – but slowly and with caution.

Ligon Duncan says, “Paul is very concerned that the local church not become a free-thought society, a debating society where the apostolic teaching is just viewed as one of many valid options. No, the local church isn’t there to debate about the possibility of absolute truth. It is there to proclaim what is absolutely true,” despite accusations of narrow-mindedness, and to guide people to faith and through discipleship.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Titus 3:3-8

3At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8This is a trustworthy saying. And 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. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

In v1-2, Paul issues some commands regarding our behavior in the world. In v3-7, he gives motivation, or reason, for exhibiting such virtuous behavior. In these verses, we see the human problem, God’s solution for the problem, the method for solving the problem, and the reason for solving the problem. And v8 offers a trustworthy saying.

In v3, notice first our situation (Ephesians 2:1-4). We ought avoid arrogance toward the world by living rightly in the world, because we were once like the world. Ligon Duncan says, “Paul is saying, ‘Look, Christian, if you say ‘Well, I’m not going to live with this kind of kindness and generosity towards the world because the world is sinful…wicked…filled with wrongdoing…’’ Well, Paul has this to say to you: that’s just like you.” And he points to v5 – God’s mercy. When we were like the world (dead in trespasses and sin), God dealt with us mercifully (He made us alive in Christ “through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit”). So in our approach to the world, we ought to deal in mercy. We shouldn’t give the world what it deserves, because God didn’t give us what we deserved.

Calvin says, “Nothing is better adapted to subdue our pride, and at the same time to moderate our severity, than when it is shewn that everything that we turn against others may fall back on our own head… Ignorance of our own faults is the only cause that renders us unwilling to forgive our brethren. They who have a true zeal for God, are, indeed, severe against those who sin; but, because they begin with themselves, their severity is always attended by compassion… In order that believers, therefore, may not haughtily and cruelly mock at others, who are still held in ignorance and blindness, Paul brings back to their remembrance what sort of persons they formerly were.”

Look further at Paul’s description of the world: Calvin comments, “First, he calls unbelievers foolish, because the whole wisdom of men is mere vanity, so long as they do not know God. Next, he calls them disobedient, because, as it is faith alone that truly obeys God, so unbelief is always wayward and rebellious.” Third, Paul says they are deceived. And fourth, they go astray, and can do no other, being estranged from God and hostile to Him, enslaved to passions and pleasures that are not what they seem. These four descriptions are of the nature of unbelief. But what of its fruits? In Romans 1, Paul gives a lengthy list. Here he mentions malice, envy, and hatred, and contrasts those fruits with the kindness, or goodness, and love of God in v4.

Notice the solution (2 Timothy 1:9-10) to the human problem in v4-6. God does it all; it’s our problem, but God fixed it. He has saved us (John 5:24). The Trinity is mentioned in v4-6 and reveals the Covenant of Redemption. It’s the kindness of love of God the Father, our Savior, who saved us because of His mercy, and not because of anything we did; it’s the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (the symbol of which is baptism), whom God the Father poured out “generously,” or abundantly, speaking of fullness, to save us (Ezekiel 36:25-27); and it’s through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that our adoption and partaking of the Spirit came to pass.

When Paul speaks of the grace of God having appeared, he is speaking of the moment that believers were enlightened in the knowledge of the gospel, for he could testify that, though chosen from his mother’s womb (Galatians 1:15-16), he was a stranger to God, hostile toward Him and His people, until that grace did shine in glorious appearance to him on the Damascus Road (Acts 9). And then v7 gives God’s reason for solving the human problem by the application of God’s grace by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ. It is so that we (His people) might become heirs through adoption. God wants an eternal living relationship with us, and so He solved our problem. The only way our problem of sinful unrighteousness could be solved justly was for God to justify (forgiveness of sins and imputation of Christ’s righteousness) us by His grace. Calvin says, “The meaning may be thus summed up. ‘Having been dead, we were restored to life through the grace of Christ, when God the: Father bestowed on us His Spirit, by whose power we have been purified and renewed. Our salvation consists in this; but, because we are still in the world, we do not yet enjoy ‘eternal life,’ but only obtain it by ‘hoping.’’”

Finally in v8, Paul refers to a trustworthy saying. He tells Titus to “stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” Essentially, Paul issues some commands, tells us why we ought to obey them, and then says what will be the result – that those who trust in God will devote themselves to good works, or more literally, “that those who trust in God, the hyper-conquerors of Romans 8, the pre-eminent ones as co-heirs with Christ, would strive and go forward in the work of God.”

Live rightly because of the grace of God, and you will be devoting yourself to good works. Ligon Duncan says, “Grace does not free you from obedience: it frees you to obedience… The grace of God which saves us does not free us from obedience, it frees us for obedience… Christian freedom is delighting in doing what God delights in.” Saving faith is a fruitful faith – that’s the trustworthy saying of Paul here, and teaching “these things” is “excellent,” “profitable for everyone.”

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Titus 3:1-2

Paul has written to encourage Titus in his efforts to bring the Cretan congregations to live Christian lives in the midst of a very immoral society. Paul’s repeating theme is that Christians should uphold the doctrine of God their Savior with the way they live, so that God’s word would be honored in the eyes of their contemporaries, and so that they would see evidence of the divine work of grace that God had done in their hearts, thereby bearing witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Chapter 3 breaks down like this: v1-2 is a command to right behavior (1 Peter 2:12); v3-7 offer a reason, a motive, for living rightly; v8 reiterates what Paul said in v1-7 as a “trustworthy saying;” finally, v9-15 offer summarizing positive and negative exhortations – don’t do this, but do this – along with final greetings.

1Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

Paul begins this chapter with a command to Titus. Paul wants Titus to remind the Christian congregations on the island of Crete to keep living their lives on earth. They are to be in the world but not of the world. They are to be good earthly citizens under Roman government, even as they are members of God’s heavenly kingdom in Christ. Though their unbelieving Cretan friends and neighbors may resent the yoke of Roman authority, they as Christians are to have a proper attitude of respect to civil authority.

In fact, Paul lays out seven civic virtues, God-wrought and gracious virtues, for these Christians to display in their earthly relationships. They include: being submissive to authority (outwardly respectful of the lawful commands of lawful rulers and authorities), being obedient (inwardly willing and obedient to the particular commands of that government), being ready to do good (having a spirit of love and cooperation even with unbelieving neighbors), being slanderous of no one (to not revile or insult or abuse or malign with language), being peaceable (not to be contentious or quarrelsome, so far as it depends on us), being considerate (meek and gentle, to be genial and ready to yield personal advantage for the sake of others), and being humble toward all men (to show every consideration to every person, a generous, indiscriminate kindness). As we exhibit these God-given virtues, we make the doctrine of God attractive. See Romans 13 as well.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Titus 2:15

15These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.

Paul says to encourage (speaking of v2-10) and to rebuke (speaking of v10-16 of chapter 1). Calvin says, “[Paul] makes ‘sound doctrine’ to consist of two parts. The first is that which magnifies the grace of God in Christ, from which we may learn where we ought to seek our salvation; and the second is that by which the life is framed to the fear of God, and inoffensive conduct… the former, which includes faith, is far more excellent, and therefore ought to be more zealously inculcated.”

So to summarize this chapter, Paul tells Titus that he must teach sound doctrine. He must “dwell continually on that doctrine of edification, and never to grow weary, because it cannot be too much inculcated” (Calvin). It is through sound doctrine that people learn how to live rightly in their sphere of influence, whether young or old, male or female, slave or master. Sound doctrine is the how; grace is the why, the motivation for right living. And grace does it all. Grace saves (justifies), transforms and teaches (sanctifies), brings hope (of glorification with Christ), and finally works (effectual for effectuality) in us that we might do the work of God, “faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). Titus is to teach sound doctrine with authority, the doctrines of grace applied to the lives of the Cretan congregations, without letting anyone despise him (This last sentence is likely written as an admonishment for the Cretan readers, not for Titus himself, confirming, as in several other places, that this letter was written to all of the Christians in Crete and not to Titus alone.)

Paul says, “Titus, teach people that if they really understand grace, they will be the most zealous, willingly committed, faithful, Bible-believing, Bible-obeying Christians, because grace trains us and teaches us to deny ungodliness and to live sensibly and righteously and godly in this present evil age.” Titus is not to teach all of this because it sounds good to him. He’s not the authority behind all of this instruction. Neither is Paul. God is the authority through His word and His people. The prophets in the Old Testament spoke the word of God on His authority, not their own. This is what the Lord says. And all the people said, “Amen.”