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This 13 part expository study of Titus was preached at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in 2007. Audio and manuscripts are available for each lesson.

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Lesson 1: God’s People in a Pagan World (Titus 1:1-4)

America is often referred to as a Christian nation. There may be some debate as to whether that label was true at the start of our nation, but it seems to me that now no one would argue that we are still a Christian nation. Thankfully, we still have vestiges of our Christian heritage in our Constitution and laws, but in practice, we are a thoroughly pagan nation.

Over the past 40-50 years, a major moral shift has taken place in our country. When I grew up, TV shows like “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Leave it to Beaver,” “Father Knows Best,” and “My Three Sons,” were standard fare. Now, such shows seem like quaint relics for the museum. Back then, families where the father worked to support the family, the mother was the homemaker, and the children were all from the same original marriage, were normal. Now, such families are statistically in the minority.

While sexual immorality has always existed, back then it was shameful and kept from public view. Now, it is flaunted in the media. It is difficult to find movies that do not assume that sex outside of marriage is acceptable. Back then, homosexuality was almost universally regarded as sinful perversion. Psychiatry journals listed it as a deviant condition to be cured. Now, our culture celebrates “gay pride.” Even many churches do not regard it as sin. If you dare to call it sin, you are viewed as judgmental. It soon may become a hate crime to say anything negative about it.

Since this is the culture that we live in, we face a serious question: How can we live as God’s holy people in such a pagan world? Paul’s short letter to Titus addresses this problem. Sometime after his first Roman imprisonment and before his second and final imprisonment, Paul visited Crete with Titus and left him there to help resolve some problems in the struggling churches and to help them get a foothold in that pagan culture.

Crete is an island about 160 miles long and between 7 and 35 miles wide, situated off the southern tip of Greece in the Mediterranean Sea. The Cretan people had acquired a notoriously bad reputation in the Roman world. Paul cites one of their poets, Epimenides, in 1:12, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This is the famous “Liar Paradox,” where if the Cretan making the statement is telling the truth, then he is lying. But if he’s lying about Cretans always lying, then Cretans don’t always lie. Paul seems to use it tongue-in-cheek, but it shows their reputation. In fact, the Cretans were such notorious liars that the Greek language coined a word, kretidzo, “to play the Cretan,” which meant, “to lie” (A Greek-English Lexicon, Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, rev. by Henry Stuart Jones [Oxford, 1968], p. 995).

The seed of the gospel had somehow sprouted in that inhospitable Cretan soil. Cretans had been present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, where they heard the disciples speak in their language of the mighty deeds of God (Acts 2:11). Probably some of these Hellenistic Jews were converted when Peter preached and later went home to plant churches. But the Gentiles who got converted brought with them a lot of baggage. And, as verse 11 indicates, some of the Hellenistic Jews were promoting false doctrine as well, making for a very difficult situation.

Titus had a commendable track record of dealing with some difficult problems in Corinth. So Paul had left him in Crete to get the church there on solid footing. He wrote this letter to him and the churches to give instruction on how to be the people of God in that pagan culture. To sum up the theme both of the book and of the introduction (1:1-4),

To be God’s people in a pagan world, we who are saved
by God’s grace must engage in good deeds
under the authority of the local church.

The three strands of this statement recur throughout the book: salvation by grace; good deeds as the result of salvation; and, the authority of the local church. Another strong theme is that of sound doctrine, especially as it results in godly behavior. Chapter 1 deals with the need for godly church leaders, especially their role in refuting false teachers. Chapter 2 stresses the importance of various groups in the church practicing good deeds in their daily lives as a result of salvation. Chapter 3 focuses on the church’s godly behavior in the world as a result of God’s grace. While the flavor of the book is very practical, each chapter has a great doctrinal section: 1:1-4; 2:11-14; and, 3:4-7.

Although Titus is one of Paul’s shorter letters, it contains one of his longer introductions. Verses 1-4 are a single, difficult to diagram, sentence. All of the themes that he will deal with in the book are here. Perhaps since Paul intended for the churches to read this letter (not just Titus), he may have felt it necessary to spend more effort setting forth his own credentials and the nature of God’s salvation. Let’s examine these three themes.

1. To be God’s people in a pagan world, we must be saved by grace.

Where sin abounds, God’s grace super-abounds! One of the glories of the gospel is that it is the power of God for salvation, even in the most corrupt cultures. Paul packs a lot of solid theology in these opening verses, where salvation is a dominant theme. As I’ve said before, we need to remember that salvation is a radical term. You don’t save someone who is in pretty good shape and just needs a little help. You save someone who is helplessly, hopelessly lost without outside intervention. The human race is dead in sin. Only God has the power to raise the dead (Eph. 2:1-5). Humanity is spiritually blind. Only the God who spoke light into existence has the power to open blind eyes (2 Cor. 4:4-6).

A. Salvation is of God, not of man.

(1). Salvation is rooted in God’s choice, not in our choice.

After identifying himself, Paul immediately states that salvation is rooted in God’s choosing us and in His eternal promise of eternal life. He calls God our Savior (1:3) and in the next breath he refers to Christ Jesus our Savior (1:4), putting Christ on the same level as God the Father. He does the same thing in 2:10 & 13, where he calls God our Savior, and then refers to “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” He repeats this a third time in 3:4 & 6, “God our Savior,” and, “Jesus Christ our Savior.” In Paul’s mind, Jesus Christ is fully God and the triune God is the only Savior (“renewing by the Holy Spirit, 3:5).

When Paul says that he is an apostle “for the faith of those chosen of God” (1:1), the word “for” is a Greek preposition (kata) that here has the meaning, “for the purpose of” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Walter Bauer, William Arndt, and Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed. [University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 406-407). The idea is the same as in 2 Timothy 2:10, “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.” Paul labored as an apostle and evangelist so that God’s elect would come to salvation through faith in Christ.

Note that Paul begins by stating the fact of God’s election without apology or explanation. He assumes that both Titus and his mostly Gentile readers will understand and accept this truth that is repeated all through Scripture. Today, the American evangelical church largely rejects this clear, important truth, that salvation is not rooted in your choice of God, but rather in His sovereign choice of you.

It is usually explained away by saying that God chose people for salvation because He foresaw that they would believe. But this would mean that God did not choose them, but rather they chose Him! It also would mean that God is not sovereign in determining His plan for the ages, but rather He depended on man to decide, and then He made up His plan accordingly. It really makes man sovereign and God just agrees to whatever we decide to do! But the Bible is clear that God does not choose people for salvation because He foresees that they will believe. That would nullify His grace, because it would make salvation depend on something good in man. Rather, dead sinners come to life and believe because in His eternal purpose, God chose them for salvation.

(2). Salvation depends upon coming to the knowledge of the truth, which only God can impart.

For those who are chosen by God to come to faith, they must also come “to the knowledge of the truth” (1:1). In other words, saving faith must rest on the content of the truth as revealed in the Bible. A person must understand what Scripture teaches about God as absolutely holy and about himself as a sinner. He must understand that Jesus Christ, who is God in human flesh, took the penalty that we deserved when He died on the cross. He must understand that God grants salvation as His free gift apart from any works or goodness in us, and that we must trust in Christ alone to save us. Paul states that the natural man cannot understand these truths unless the Spirit of God opens his eyes (1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:4-6; see also, Acts 16:14). This means that no one can reason his way to salvation apart from God’s revelation in the Bible. And, no one can understand God’s revelation in the Bible unless God opens his eyes to the truth of it.

(3). Salvation is the hope of eternal life, which only God can promise and impart.

Further, Paul states that this faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth rest upon “the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago” (1:2). The Greek word translated “in” means “upon.” The truths stated in verse 1 rest upon the hope of eternal life. “Hope” could be understood in either of two ways. It may refer to our hope in God’s promise of eternal life. Or, it may mean, “the hope which is eternal life.” In other words, God’s promise of eternal life is in itself a hope-filled promise. Eternal life is our hope.

Biblical hope is not uncertain, such as we say, “I hope that I get the job I applied for.” Rather, biblical hope is absolutely certain, but not yet realized. The certainty rests on the character of the God who promises, the God “who cannot lie.” He is constitutionally incapable of lying. He always speaks the truth. That would have been a startling concept to a people that were notorious liars!

Jesus, who is the truth and always speaks the truth (John 14:6; 8:45) called Satan the father of lies (John 8:44). Satan foisted on Eve the lie that God’s word was not true. He told her that if she would eat of the forbidden fruit, she would be like God, able to discern between good and evil. When she and Adam fell for that lie, the human race was plunged into sin and alienation from God. Ever since, people have fallen for the lie that they can find happiness and eternal life apart from the living and true God.

God gave this promise of eternal life through the gospel “long ages ago.” Calvin understands that phrase to refer to God’s promise of salvation to the human race right after the fall, because before that there weren’t any people to give a promise to. But Paul is probably going back to the eternal purpose of God, to show that He planned our salvation even before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4, 11). The promise was there before there were any people that needed it! That makes our hope of eternal life all the more secure. It is rooted in God’s eternal promise!

This salvation that only God could purpose or promise is nothing less than eternal life, which only He can impart. God alone is the author of life. Life is inherent in God. When He created the world, He breathed life into every living creature. Last of all, He created man as a living being, created in His image.

When man fell, he died spiritually. Spiritual death means separation from the life of God. Spiritually dead people cannot will themselves into spiritual life, no matter how hard they try. The fact is, they don’t try because they are incapable of trying. Thus salvation is nothing less than God’s raising us from death to life. William Barclay writes (The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon [Westminster Press, rev. ed.], p. 228), “The Christian gospel does not in the first place offer men an intellectual creed or a moral code; it offers them life, the very life of God.”

Thus Paul strongly establishes that salvation is of God, not of man. But how does God’s salvation come to lost sinners?

B. Salvation comes to sinners through the proclamation of God’s Word.

The doctrine of election does not nullify the need for evangelism, but rather it establishes that need. As we’ve already seen, God appointed Paul as an apostle “for the faith of those chosen of God.” He labored so that God’s chosen would come to salvation. God entrusted Paul with “the proclamation” of His word, that is, the word of the gospel, which centers in the person of Jesus Christ, manifested at the proper time (1:3). “Proclamation” is the word that was used for the message of the king’s herald. He didn’t make up his own message. Rather, he faithfully proclaimed the king’s message. That is our job when we give out the gospel.

Those who deny election often say, “If God chose all that will be saved, then we don’t need to evangelize. They will get saved anyway.” That is fallacious, because God determined that the means for saving His elect is the proclamation of the gospel. Also, because we know that God has many elect who will certainly come to faith when they hear the gospel (Acts 13:48; 18:9-10; John 6:37-40), it should encourage us to evangelize. If, on the other hand, salvation is up to the fallen will of dead, blind, rebellious sinners, the Bible is clear that none will believe (Rom. 3:10-18; John 8:43). They are not able to do so (Rom. 8:6-8). You’d be wasting your time to evangelize. Paul viewed his calling as a preacher of the gospel to be a commandment from God our Savior (1:3). As Paul begins, he was God’s bond-servant (the word means, “slave”). As such, he was under orders to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 9:16-17).

C. Salvation is by grace through faith and results in God’s peace.

Paul greets Titus, whom he calls “my true child in a common faith” (1:4). “True child” (see 1 Tim. 1:2) means “legitimate” child. Probably Paul had led Titus to faith. “Common faith” may refer to the Christian faith as a whole, or to both men’s personal faith in Christ. “Grace and peace” was Paul’s common greeting, but it is always more than a greeting. Grace sums up the gospel, as opposed to all world religions. Every religion apart from the gospel is based on human merit and works. The gospel alone rests on God’s unmerited favor to sinners who deserve His wrath. The gospel alone results in peace with God. As Paul wrote (Rom. 5:1), “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So, if we want to be God’s people in this pagan world, we must make sure that we have been saved by His grace and that we proclaim the gospel of His grace. But, does grace mean that once we’re saved, we are free to sin? No,

2. To be God’s people in a pagan world, we who are saved by grace must engage in good deeds.

This is a second major theme throughout the book, but we see it twice in these introductory verses.

A. All that know Christ are God’s bond-servants.

Paul does not begin, “The Right Reverend Doctor Paul, honorable Apostle, Author, and Christian conference speaker”! Rather, he says (literally), “Paul, a slave of God.” He often refers to himself as a bond-servant of Christ, but this is the only time he calls himself a bond-servant of God. It was a title applied to Moses and several other prophets, so perhaps he is identifying himself with these Old Testament saints to establish credibility with the Jewish critics that were plaguing the church.

But if you’re a child of God through the new birth, you are not your own. You’ve been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). As God’s bond-slave, you are under orders to obey and serve Him.

B. The truth that we now know leads to godliness.

Paul says (1:1) that the knowledge of the truth is “according to godliness.” It is the same Greek preposition (kata) that can mean “purpose” or “intent.” All that have been saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9) are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). In Titus, Paul emphasizes good deeds in 1:16; 2:7, 14; 3:1, 5, 8, & 14. It is the dominant theme of chapter 2, that God’s people in whatever walk of life must live in such a way that their lives “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (2:10). It is a terrible tragedy when someone who professes to be a Christian disgraces the gospel through immorality or dishonesty in business or other ungodly character. God’s people should display godly behavior for the world to see.

Great! But, how do we do it? This leads to the third theme:

3. To be God’s people in a pagan world, we must submit ourselves to the authority of the local church.

Authority is not a popular concept in our day. We are a nation founded on a rebellion, and we value an independent, contrary spirit as a virtue. Authority scares us: we think either of mind-controlling cults or tyrannical dictators or governments. But God instituted proper authority as the necessary structure for civil governments, for the home, and for His church. We will see this more as we work through this epistle (e.g., 2:5, 15). But, note briefly the chain of command in our text.

First, there is God the Father, who gives His commandments (1:3). He is the supreme sovereign of the universe. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, willingly submitted to the Father’s will in order to carry out the divine plan of redemption. The apostles, of which Paul was one, were under the authority of Jesus Christ, with delegated authority over the churches (2 Cor. 13:10). The church was founded on the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). After the foundation was laid, those two offices ceased to exist. Any modern sense of “apostle” only refers to those sent out to plant churches, and their authority is the authority of the New Testament.

As we will see, the authority in a local church is vested in a plurality of godly men called “elders” or “overseers” (Titus 1:5, 7). They are not free to lord it over the church, but rather they serve under the authority of God and His Word, to which the entire church is subject. Just as we need proper parental authority in the home to bring children to maturity, so in the family of God, we need the authority of godly elders to help people grow in godliness.


How may we apply these opening verses? First, have you been saved by God’s grace? I sometimes have people ask me, “How can I know whether I am one of His elect?” The biblical answer is, are you trusting in Christ alone for salvation? If so, that didn’t come from you. It came from God, who opened your blind eyes, raised you from spiritual death, and granted you faith and repentance. If you are saved, there will be evidence of new life in your heart. You will love God and want to know Him better. You will hate sin and want to conquer it. You will love God’s Word and His people.

Second, are you seeking to live a life of good deeds because of what God has done for your soul? Do you live to please Him, beginning at home? Do you seek to be a witness for Christ by your life and words?

Finally, are you committed to and in submission to a local church where God’s Word is honored and His gospel is preached? If so, you are on the path of being one of God’s people in this pagan world.

Application Questions

  1. Why is the doctrine of election emphasized so often in Scripture? What are some of its practical ramifications?
  2. How does the popular man-centered gospel of our day (“God loves you and wants you to be happy and successful”) differ from the biblical gospel? What is missing in the popular approach?
  3. How would you explain the biblical relationship between faith and good works to a person who thinks that we must add works to our faith to be saved (i.e., most Roman Catholics)?
  4. Why are people scared by the concept of authority in a local church? What does authority mean in practical terms? What are its limits?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation


Lesson 2: Who Runs This Church? (Titus 1:5)

I want to answer the question, “Who runs this church?” While this may be a review for some of you old timers, those who are relatively new in this church may not understand how we operate as a church government. Many people wrongly assume that as the pastor, I run the church. One time in California, when my office was at home, a woman from the national headquarters of Pioneer Girls called to ask me how the program was going in our church. Marla took the call and it took her a long time to convince this lady that I didn’t have a clue how things were going, because I didn’t oversee the Pioneer Girls program. She just assumed that the pastor ran everything in the church.

Many people also wrongly assume that our church government is patterned after the U. S. government and operates as a democracy. The pastors and the elders are the elected officers, similar to the President and Congress. At church business meetings, members can voice their opposition to whatever they don’t like and vote according to their preferences.

While that system is fine for America, at the risk of sounding un-American or anti-Baptist, I must say that democracy is not the biblical way to view church government. As shocking as it may sound, God is not an American! He didn’t set up His church as a democracy, where the most powerful factions control the purse strings. We’re not free to impose our American ideas about government onto the church, unless we find those ideas in the Bible.

Another model that has greatly influenced how American churches are governed is that of American business. Most Christians work in the business world and are used to various management and operational procedures. Most businesses have the chairman of the board at the top, with his board of directors beneath him and the stockholders as the voting members of the corporation. When that gets carried into the church, the pastor is viewed as the CEO, the elder or deacon board are the directors, and the congregation represents the stockholders, who have their annual meet­ing to vote on how the business should operate. With that model, the answer to the question of who runs the church is, “The pastor does, along with the board of directors.” But, the stockholders have a say in things, and if the company isn’t going the way that they wish, they can vote those guys out of office!

While there may be a few similarities between the business and government models and the church, the biblical picture of church government is different. One major difference is that the church is not just an organization, but also a living organism. All living organisms are highly organized, so we would be mistaken to throw out careful organization. But as an organism, the body of Christ, is not merely an organization. Webster defines an organization as “an administrative and functional structure.” He defines an organism as “an individual constituted to carry on the activities of life by means of organs separate in function but mutually dependent.” That describes the church. We are a living unity, the one body of which Jesus Christ is the head. Each member is a vital part of that body, separate in function, but mutually dependent on one another and on Christ, the head.

Thus the main idea of biblical church government is to allow Jesus Christ truly to function as the living head of His body. None of us should be seeking or voicing our will about various matters in the church, unless we are very convinced that our will coincides with God’s will as revealed in His Word. And, rather than any one man running the church, God’s way is that…

Christ runs His church through a plurality of godly men who shepherd His flock under His headship.

The situation behind our text was that Paul had left Titus in Crete to “set in order what remains and to appoint elders in every city,” as Paul had directed him. There were a number of fledgling churches scattered across the island, but they were struggling against the pagan culture. And they were plagued with false teachers with selfish motives, who were upsetting whole families (1:10-11). The letter of Titus is aimed at correcting these problems.

We don’t know much about Titus, but he must have been an unusually wise and solid young man. Years before, Paul had taken him along to Jerusalem as a test case, to demonstrate to the apostles that Gentile converts did not need to be circumcised to be saved (Gal. 2:1-3). That would have been an awkward role to play! Later, Paul had sent Titus to Corinth to deal with that rowdy bunch, and he had done well. Now, Paul trusted him to set in order (the Greek word is used of setting broken bones in place) matters in the various churches, to get them on solid footing. Calvin notes that this reveals Paul’s humility, in that he was willing for a younger man to follow up his work and bring it to maturity. He was not trying to hog any glory for himself.

It is significant that a major part of Paul’s prescription for fixing these various problems was to install godly leadership in the churches. Next week we will look at the qualifications for elders, but for now I just want to point out that churches need godly, mature leaders who can stand for the truth and refute error (1:9). Churches will be strong or weak depending on the spiritual maturity and doctrinal soundness of the leaders. Today, I want to answer three questions: (1) What is an elder? (2) What should elders do? (3) How are elders chosen?

1. What is an elder?

My definition: An elder is a spiritually mature man, knowledgeable in the Scriptures, officially recognized by the local church to work with other elders in exercising oversight and shepherding God’s flock. We will unpack that definition as we work through this message.

There are several terms used interchangeably in the New Testament to refer to church leaders: Elders, overseers, pastors, and leaders.

A. Elders

This is the word in our text (and in many other texts). Obviously, they were a clearly defined, officially recognized group of men. I use “men” because the clear teaching of the New Testament is that this office is restricted to men. Since elders are to teach and exercise authority over a local church, to have women elders would violate Paul’s clear directive that women are not to teach or exercise authority over men (1 Tim. 2:11-15).

By the way, in the New Testament, the churches are always described by the city: the church in Ephesus, Corinth, Rome, etc. As we will see, there are always multiple elders per city (as in our text). Due to size, the church in a particular city may have had to meet in several locations (usually homes) on the Lord’s Day, with one or more elders in charge of each location. But the church in each city was viewed as a unit. There were not yet the many divisions over minor (or major) doctrinal issues that exist today. I would like to see that early sense of church unity restored in our day, but frankly, I have no idea how to go about it. I do know how not to go about it, namely, holding “unity” services where we set aside major doctrinal truths in order to come together!

But to come back to our subject, the word “elder” was adapted from the commonly used Jewish term for leadership. It referred to mature men, who by virtue of their wisdom and experience provided leadership in the various communities of Israel. Applied to church leaders, “elder” emphasizes the character of the man. He must be a spiritually mature man as reflected in consistent godly character.

The Bible does not give any age requirement. When Paul told Timothy not to allow anyone to look down on his youthfulness (1 Tim. 4:12), he was probably in his mid-thirties. Also, the term may be somewhat relative to the particular church. A man may qualify as an elder in a church composed of relatively new believers, who would not qualify as an elder in a more mature church.

The New Testament frequently refers to the elders of various churches. The church in Jerusalem had elders (Acts 11:29, 20; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4). Paul and Barnabas were quick to appoint elders in the churches that they founded on their first missionary journey (Acts 14:23). When Peter wrote to the believers scattered throughout the regions of modern Turkey, he addressed the elders among them as a fellow-elder (1 Pet. 1:1; 5:1). The Philippian church had both elders (called overseers) and deacons (Phil. 1:1). (I cannot address the topic of deacons today, but I did devote a message to that, on 1 Tim. 3:8-13.)

B. Overseers

Elder and overseer are used interchangeably to refer to the same office (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7). Overseer (Greek, episkopos) comes from the secular Greek culture, where it referred to those appointed by the emperor to lead captured or newly founded city-states (Answering the Key Questions About Elders, John MacArthur, Jr. [Word of Grace Communications], p. 9). It looks at the function of the elder, namely, to superintend, watch over, and guard the local church. Later in church history, the term came to refer to the singular bishop or overseer of a city, who was over all of the other pastors in that city. The Roman Catholic and Episcopal (or Anglican) churches have that system of church government. But in the New Testament, there is no difference between the elders and the overseers. The two words refer to the same group of men.

C. Pastors

The noun “pastor” (which means “shepherd”) occurs only once in the New Testament with reference to church leaders, where it is coupled with “teacher” (Eph. 4:11). More frequently, it is used as a verb. Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:28; see v. 17), “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Note that the elders are called overseers and they are to do the work of shepherding the church.

The same three ideas occur in 1 Peter 5:1-3, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder, … shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” The elders are to shepherd the flock by exercising oversight. They have authority over those allotted to their charge, but they are not to lord it over them, but rather, to lead by example.

D. Leaders

This term is used in Hebrews 13:17 where the church is commanded, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them also do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (See, also, Heb. 13:7, 24; 1 Thess. 5:12; Luke 22:26.)

2. What should elders do?

In a sentence, the elders should work together to exercise oversight and shepherd God’s flock in a given local church.

A. Elders should shepherd God’s flock.

The picture of the shepherd and his flock gives us many of the functions of church leaders. The shepherd led his flock to rich pasture, where they were fed. The elders must feed God’s Word to the church. While all elders must know the Scriptures well enough to be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2), so that they can “exhort in sound doctrine” and “refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9), this does not mean that all elders must have the gift of teaching publicly. Paul indicates (1 Tim. 5:17-18) that some elders devote themselves to the work of preaching and teaching and should be compensated financially so that they can carry out that work.

Shepherding the flock also involves caring for the flock, binding up the wounds of the injured, nursing the sick back to health, and helping the young to grow in health and maturity. The elders are to pray for the physically ill (James 5:14) and for all the church (Acts 6:4). They are to disciple younger men, to train some to be future leaders (2 Tim. 2:2). They must gently exhort and encourage each one as a gentle mother or a tender father toward their children, imparting not only the gospel, but also their own lives (1 Thess. 2:7-12).

B. Elders should give oversight to the flock.

This refers to general superintendence of the life of the church. The elders must keep their fingers on the pulse of the church, making sure that it is spiritually healthy. This may involve guarding the flock from error, determining church policies, making decisions about the needs and direction of the church, overseeing church finances, coming alongside ministry leaders to give guidance or help, working to resolve conflicts between members, and many other tasks. The elders do not necessarily do all of the work that needs to be done, but they need to make sure that it gets done by delegating it to qualified workers.

C. Elders should work together to exercise oversight and shepherd God’s flock.

This is to say that the leadership of any local church should be plural. Every time the term elder is used in the New Testament with regard to a single local church, it is plural (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 6, 22; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1). While, as I said, individual house-churches may have had a single elder over them, there are no references to a one-pastor church in the New Testament. In one negative case, John calls attention to Diotrephes, who was lording it over others as the leader (3 John 9-10). Watchman Nee wrote (The Normal Christian Church Life [International Students Press], rev. ed., 1962, p. 44:

To place the responsibility in the hands of several brethren rather than in the hands of one individual, is God’s way of safeguarding His Church against the evils that result from the domination of a strong personality. God has purposed that several brothers should unitedly bear responsibility in the church, so that even in controlling its affairs they have to depend one upon the other and submit one to the other. Thus in an experimental way they will have opportunity to give practical expression to the truth of the Body of Christ. As they honor one another and trust one another to the leading of the Spirit, none taking the place of the Head but each regarding the others as fellow-members, the element of “mutuality,” which is the peculiar feature of the Church, will be preserved.

The plurality of elders does not mean that a single man should not emerge as the leader of the leaders. A variety of spiritual gifts, personalities, training, and maturity means that this usually will be the case. We see this with the twelve apostles. All were equally apostles, but Peter clearly was the leader and most frequent spokesman. In the early church in Jerusalem, James, the half-brother of our Lord, was clearly the leader. Between Paul and Barnabas, Paul took the lead. And yet, as we see at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), the leaders worked together to arrive at a unified decision about the important matters at hand.

With regard to making decisions on the local church level, the elders should strive for unanimous consensus in most cases. If four elders are in favor of a decision and three are against it, the majority should not rule. Rather, they should seek through further discussion and prayer to determine the mind of the Lord, based upon any biblical principles that apply. As Paul stipulates here (Titus 1:7), elders must not be self-willed or quick-tempered men. Working together in humility and mutual respect, the elders should seek to be of one mind in shepherding Christ’s flock under His headship.

3. How are elders chosen?

I trust that by this point you are catching the difference between the world’s ways of government and God’s way for His church. The idea of the church voting a man into leadership because he’s a popular, likeable guy or because he is a successful businessman who is willing to “serve a term on the board,” is not God’s way! In the New Testament, the apostles or their delegates (Timothy and Titus) appointed elders in the churches based on discerning (sometimes by prayer and fasting, Acts 14:23) which men met the biblical qualifications. We are not told whether they gave the churches an opportunity to recommend certain men or disapprove of others; but that is a reasonable assumption, in that it represents good leadership.

Rather than “voting” on who should be church leaders, it is better to say that the church should officially recognize men who meet the qualifications for elders, who agree to serve. We will look at those qualifications next week, but suffice it to say here that an elder must be a man of mature, godly character, summed up by the first item on the list, “above reproach.” Also, it should be obvious that such mature, godly men are not sitting around doing nothing, then get put into office and start functioning as shepherds. Rather, they are shepherds by virtue of who they are, so they have been functioning as shepherds. It is their calling from the Lord, not just a task that they agree to do for a term of office.

Our process here is that we as elders look for men who are already doing the work of shepherding and oversight. Anyone in the church is welcome to recommend such candidates to us. We examine candidates in light of the biblical qualifications, the first of which (1 Tim. 3:1) is that he desires the office. We shouldn’t have to push him into it. We try to have any prospective elders start attending our meetings, both so that he can see how we work together and to see if he fits with us. We have him fill out a lengthy questionnaire about his personal life and his doctrinal beliefs. We interview him, going over any of the matters in the questionnaire.

If we approve of him, then we recommend him to the nominating committee, which consists of all our elders and deacons. They must unanimously approve of his being qualified to serve as an elder. Then we announce his name to the church in the bulletin for at least four weeks prior to a congregational meeting. We also post part of the candidate’s questionnaire on the bulletin board (some of the questions are too personal to post publicly). If anyone has concerns about the candidate, they should contact one of the elders during this waiting period.

Then, at the church meeting, the candidate must be approved by at least two-thirds of the members present. Our elders all serve one-year terms and must be reinstated year by year. This gives the men a chance to take a break if they need to. And, it gives the church a chance to bring to our attention any elder who may not be living up to the qualifications, so that we can either help him change or urge him to step down if necessary.

The system is not foolproof, because we are all human and because men can be deceptive hypocrites. As many of you know, several years ago a man who had formerly served as an elder here was convicted and sent to prison for a serious crime that had been kept secret. But, although none of us are perfectly mature, we make every effort to insure that only qualified men are put into office. We ask you to pray and work with us to this end.


Like the Marines, we are looking for a few good men—not to serve as soldiers, but as shepherds of God’s flock. If you are a younger man who desires the office, let us know. We would be glad to work with you in bringing you along to that goal. We also urge you to take many of the courses offered at our Bible Institute, which are designed to help equip potential leaders. We also urge you to be involved in shepherding others, by leading a small group or by taking an active role in discipling others. To repeat: Christ runs His church through a plurality of godly men who shepherd His flock under His headship. The church will only be strong and resist the pressures to conform to this evil world when it has such strong, godly leaders. May it be so here, for the glory of our Lord!

Application Questions

  1. Some say that it doesn’t matter what form of church government you have, as long as it works. Your response?
  2. If the church is not a democracy, what keeps the elders from becoming a power unto themselves, accountable to no one?
  3. How would you answer someone who uses Gal. 3:28 to argue that it is biblically justifiable to have women elders?
  4. Why is it important to distinguish between “voting” at a church meeting versus “seeking the mind of the Lord”? Discuss the implications of this difference.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Biblical Topics: 

Lesson 3: Qualified Elders (Titus 1:6-8)

Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his book, At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends, recalls an encounter that he had early in his career with an officer who had been caught cheating at cards.

When he came in, I had laid out the packs of cards on the front of the desk. “Do you see these cards?”


“Are they yours? Do you recognize them?” He flushed and said, no, he couldn’t.

“Well, I can show you exactly where you have marked them. Would you like me to do it?”

He stammered, “No.”

To end it, I asked, “Would you rather resign at once for the good of the service or would you like to be tried by court-martial?”

“I’ll submit my resignation this afternoon,” he said.

Two or three days later, the congressman from his district came in, accompanied by the officer’s father. The congressman introduced the latter as one of his most important constituents and suggested that I withdraw the son’s resignation and transfer him to another camp. I declined politely; this would be passing the problem on to another commander, and the man would repeat the same offense. After the congressman argued and blustered a bit, he asked whether I could have taken out of the resignation the words, “for the good of the service.” Not as far as I was concerned, I said; the man had been guilty of cheating and he had to take this request to the War Department. (Cited by Doug Cecil in Dallas Theological Seminary “Connection.”)

General Eisenhower knew that leadership requires sterling character. If a man cheats at cards, he is not trustworthy, and if he is not trustworthy, he is not qualified to lead other men into combat. I would guess that if an officer today did what Eisenhower did then, he would be reprimanded for being too harsh. The common view today is, what a man does in private has nothing to do with his performance as a leader!

As we saw last week, the apostle Paul had left Titus on Crete to correct some of the problems in the fledgling churches there. One of his primary prescriptions to get the churches on a solid foundation was to appoint godly leaders. I wonder what would happen if the evangelical churches in America would apply Paul’s prescription by removing unqualified men from office and installing godly men as church leaders. Churches would lose a lot of people, but maybe God would bless us with genuine revival!

We also saw that Christ runs His church through a plurality of spiritually mature men, called elders or overseers, who shepherd His flock. These men are not elected in the popular sense of that term, but rather are officially recognized by the church by virtue of their meeting the qualifications that are given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and here in Titus 1:6-9. Thus it is vital for the health of the church that we all understand these qualifications and apply them carefully in officially recognizing elders.

The two lists are very similar. I do not know why they are not identical, and have not read anyone who answers that question. The lists are probably not meant to be exhaustive. Five items in 1 Timothy are lacking in Titus, whereas the list in Titus adds five items lacking in 1 Timothy. The significant thing about both lists is that except for the ability to teach God’s Word, both lists focus exclusively on godly character, not on spiritual gifts or other abilities. Both lists begin with “above reproach” and both lists emphasize a man’s home life.

Before we examine the list, note that the majority of these qualities are prescribed elsewhere in the Bible for every believer, including women. They describe a spiritually mature person. Also, note that spiritual maturity takes time and effort. You cannot have some dramatic experience and become instantly mature. As Paul told Timothy (1 Tim. 4:7), “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” It’s an athletic metaphor, and as we all know, to succeed as an athlete requires discipline over the long haul.

Also, we need to keep in mind that no one meets these qualifications perfectly. These are lifetime goals and no one can say, “I’ve got them all down perfectly.” But a man who is recognized as an elder in the local church should not have any glaring violations. His overall character should reflect spiritual maturity.

We can group these qualifications under three headings: Verse 6 focuses on spiritual maturity in the home; verses 7-8 on maturity in personal character; and, verse 9 on maturity in sound doctrine. Today we will look at the first two qualities; next time we will look at the requirement of being mature in sound doctrine.

The qualification for being an elder is spiritual maturity as
reflected in a man’s home life and his personal character.

1. An elder must reflect spiritual maturity in his home life (1:6).

The term “above reproach” is used in 1:6 and 1:7, first to sum up a man’s home life and again to sum up his personal character. The Greek word in Titus is different than the word in 1 Timothy 3:2, although the meaning is essentially the same. It means that there is nothing in the man’s life for which a charge or accusation could be brought against him (see R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament [Eerdmans], p. 381). He is a man of integrity. He doesn’t live one way at church and another way at home. His wife and children would affirm that he displays the fruit of the Spirit at home. If he sins, he is quick to confess it and ask forgiveness.

Under this general requirement of being above reproach, Paul specifies two areas in which it manifests itself:

A. An elder must be a one-woman man.

The fact that this qualification is named first after “above reproach,” both in Titus and in 1 Timothy 3, shows its importance. There have been a number of different interpretations of exactly what it means. Some have claimed that it is a prohibition against polygamy. While that is assumed, that is not the main thrust of the term. Some of the early church fathers interpreted it to mean that if a man’s wife died, remarriage would disqualify him as an elder. But that view stems more from false asceticism than from the Bible. Others have said that a man who has ever been divorced cannot be an elder. Most who hold this view limit it to divorce that occurs after salvation, but some apply it even to divorce that occurred before salvation.

But Paul is focusing on a man’s present spiritual maturity, not at sins that he may have committed years ago. For example, what if a man used to be self-willed or quick-tempered or addicted to alcohol? Do these past evidences of spiritual immaturity prohibit him from ever becoming an elder? If so, then who could qualify? In other words, Paul is more concerned with present godly character than with past immature behavior.

The term is literally, “a one-woman man,” and I think that it looks at his character. He is devoted to his wife alone. He is not a womanizer. His thought life is under the control of God’s Spirit, so that he is not enslaved to lust. He does not look at pornography. An elder should be a man who has a track record of being above reproach in mental and moral purity.

This means that a man who has never been divorced and has been married for 50 years may be disqualified from being an elder, because he has not brought his thought life under control. He is not a one-woman man. Or, a man who went through a divorce as a young man may have matured. He dealt with the sins that led to his divorce. He has been married faithfully to his current wife for many years, and he is mentally and physically faithful to her alone. He would be qualified on this requirement.

Also, this requirement does not bar a single man from being an elder, as long as he is morally pure, including his thought life (see 1 Cor. 7:1-9).

B. An elder must have children who are under control.

Again, this does not mean that an elder must have children, but if he does, they must be under his control. But, this qualification also has spawned a lot of debate. Does the Greek word here mean “believing” (NASB, ESV, NIV) or “faithful” (NKJV)? Does it refer to children who are still under the father’s roof, or does it also apply to adult children? John MacArthur (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Titus [E 4 Group]) argues that if even one of a man’s children, whether still in the home or as an adult, is not a believer, the man should not be an elder (or pastor). Others (Justin Taylor, “Unbelief in an Elder’s Children,” 9 Marks web site) say that it only applies to children in the home and that the word means that the children are faithful and under the father’s control. They aren’t rebels.

Due to time constraints, I can’t go into the pros and cons for each view, but in my estimation, the correct view is somewhere in the middle of these two. The view that all of a man’s children, whether younger or older, must be believers, goes too far in that it puts on the elder the responsibility for his children’s genuine conversion, which is beyond anyone’s control. Many godly men have had children who have rebelled against God (1 Sam. 8:1-3, for example), in spite of the father’s example and his conscientious attempts to bring the child to saving faith.

Some will cite Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” They argue that if a child goes astray, it means that the father failed to bring him up properly. But that is to misinterpret that verse. The Book of Proverbs is not a book of ironclad promises, but rather a book giving general maxims about life. Generally, if you train a child properly, he will grow up to follow the Lord. But, there are exceptions. As important as a father’s example and training are, ultimately salvation is a supernatural act of God. While He uses godly parents in this process, no actions on the part of the most godly father can guarantee the salvation of his children.

In my understanding, our text requires that we should look carefully at a man’s relationship with his children. Does he model godly behavior in the home? Is he conscientious to train his children in the ways of the Lord? Does he pray and read the Bible with his family? If so, normally most (if not all) of his children will come to believe in Christ. If all or most of his children grow up and reject Christ, there is probably something wrong in that home. We should probably not recognize him as an elder. On the other hand, if most of his children follow Christ, but one goes astray, in my estimation it does not necessarily disqualify the man as an elder. Each situation must be prayerfully considered.

Whatever view you take, Paul’s overall point is clear: an elder must be a godly husband and father. If his home life is not in order, don’t expand his responsibilities over the family of God. A man who is not devoted to his wife and whose children are unruly and rebellious should not be put into church leadership.

2. An elder must reflect spiritual maturity in his personal character (1:7-8).

Paul repeats the summary qualification for an overseer of being “above reproach” and then adds (1:7), “as God’s steward.” As I explained last week, elder and overseer are interchangeable terms (see 1:5). A steward was a household manager who was accountable to the owner for overseeing daily operations. The church is the household of God (1 Tim. 3:15). Thus elders or overseers manage it under God’s authority and must give an account to Him (a sobering thought!). Also, as a steward, this isn’t “my” church. It belongs to God, not to any man. He purchased with the blood of His own Son! Elders are just His stewards.

Paul goes on to list five negative character flaws that an elder must not have, and then six positive qualities that he must have.

A. Negative character flaws that an elder must not have:

(1). An elder must not be self-willed.

The word literally means, “self-pleasing.” It refers to a man who obstinately maintains his own opinion or asserts his own rights and does not care about the rights, feelings, and interests of others (Trench, Synonyms, p. 349). The self-willed man often takes the contrary view because he loves to assert himself and wield power over others. He never admits that he was wrong. He is not a team player. If he acts in such self-willed ways in the church or with other elders, you can assume that he runs his family like a drill sergeant. Don’t make him an elder!

(2). An elder must not be quick-tempered.

A quick-tempered man is always a spark away from blowing up. He uses anger to intimidate or control others to get his own way. He is also usually a self-willed man. James 1:19-20 commands, “But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Patience, kindness, and self-control are fruits of the Spirit that should govern a spiritually mature man.

(3). An elder must not be addicted to wine.

“Wine” includes all alcoholic beverages. The Bible does not prohibit drinking alcoholic beverages, but it does warn about the dangers of wine and strong drink, especially for leaders (Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35; 31:4-5). Drunkenness and addition to alcohol are always sinful (Eph. 5:18; Rom. 13:13; 1 Pet. 4:3; 1 Cor. 6:12). Church leaders must be especially careful so that they do not cause younger believers to stumble. If a younger believer, who formerly had a problem with drinking, sees me drinking, and my example causes him to fall back into his former ways, I am to some extent responsible. Thus if an elder chooses to drink at all, he must be careful and keep in mind his position as an example to the flock.

(4). An elder must not be pugnacious.

Being pugnacious means physically hitting others. But it may legitimately be expanded to refer to a man who is verbally combative. It should be needless to say that an elder should never strike anyone, especially his wife or children. If he must spank his child, he exercises control and does not abuse the child. I think that it is always wrong to strike a child in the face or to spank when you’re angry. The older the child, the more you use reason and the less you use spanking. The point is, an elder should not be a man who solves conflict by hitting others or being an aggressive bully.

(5). An elder must not be fond of sordid gain.

In 1 Timothy 3:3, Paul states that he “must be free from the love of money.” Money itself is not evil, but it is dangerous. It is like a loaded gun—it can be very useful if you use it properly, but it can hurt others or yourself if you use it carelessly. A greedy man is not qualified to be an elder, because greedy men are not godly. They will be tempted to take advantage of people financially or to embezzle church funds.

A. Positive character qualities that an elder must have:

(1). An elder must be hospitable.

The Greek word means, literally, “a lover of strangers.” Again, this is a quality that every Christian must strive for (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pet. 4:9), but it is especially incumbent on elders. If elders are not friendly and warm towards others, the entire church will reflect that indifference and selfishness. Hospitality means taking a genuine interest in others and making them feel welcomed and at ease. It should be begin here when the church gathers. If you’re talking with someone you know and see a visitor all alone, don’t keep talking to each other. Go to the visitor and make him feel welcome!

(2). An elder must love what is good.

Negatively, he doesn’t fill his mind with all of the violent, sensual filth that is on TV or in movies. Positively, as Paul puts it in Philippians 4:8, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

(3). An elder must be sensible.

For some reason, the NASB translates the same Greek word as prudent (in 1 Tim. 3:2). It means to be of sound mind, especially in the sense of not being impulsive. The sensible man is not swayed to extremes by his fluctuating emotions. He doesn’t give in to impulses that would be sinful or harmful. He is level-headed. He lives in light of his priorities and commitments.

(4). An elder must be just.

This word sometimes means righteous, but in this context, it probably refers to a man who is fair and equitable in his dealings with others. He is not partial to the wealthy and he doesn’t ignore or belittle the poor. He is able to weigh the facts of a matter and make impartial decisions based on the evidence.

(5). An elder must be devout.

This refers to practical holiness, being separate from sin and evil behavior. It does not mean being separate from sinners, because the Lord Jesus was the friend of sinners. But the devout man does not carouse with sinners in their sin. Rather, he seeks to lead them to repentance. The devout man takes God and the Word of God seriously. He doesn’t take the things of God as a joke. He lives in obedience to God’s Word.

(6). An elder must be self-controlled.

Paul uses this word (1 Cor. 9:25) to refer to an athlete who exercises self-control in all things so that he may win the wreath. He doesn’t do anything that would hinder him from his goal. An elder must have control over harmful desires or habits that would interfere with knowing Christ more deeply or with being an effective shepherd of God’s flock. He will be disciplined about spending time alone with God in the Word and prayer. This word is the last of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23), which grow in us as we walk daily by means of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). (You may access my message from December 31, 2006, “Learning to Control Yourself,” which deals with this single topic.)


There has been terrible damage to the church of Jesus Christ because unqualified men have been put into leadership. The pastor of the church that I grew up in was a quick-tempered man who tried to control the deacons (that church did not have elders) through intimidation. My dad served on that board and often was the object of the pastor’s anger, because he wouldn’t go along with things that were not in line with Scripture.

It all came to a head when it came to light that the pastor was using church facilities for his private counseling practice. He was illegally channeling the income he received through a fund labeled “Youth Camp Fund,” to dodge the IRS. When my dad confronted him privately, he blew up. So, my dad confronted him at a church meeting. When the church would not correct the situation, we left the church. Within a few months, the pastor had left his wife and five children to run off with a counselee.

We then started attending another church. We hadn’t been there very long until it came out that the pastor was carrying on wrongful relationships with several women in the church, including the wife of one of his staff members. That staff member and his wife subsequently divorced. The pastor left the church, but the denomination, rather than removing him from ministry, moved him to a large church in another state! He later moved back to California. A few years ago, I saw in a publication from that denomination that the governor of California had named a day to honor him! Somehow I think that God’s view will be a bit different!

Whenever these things happen, many people are wounded. Some, who were shaky in their faith, leave the church and sometimes leave the faith. Unbelievers mock God and the church and find justification to go on in their sins. So it is imperative that we, as a church, only put into leadership men who are spiritually mature, as seen in their home life and in their personal character.

Application Questions

  1. If you had to single out one of these qualifications for church leadership, which one would it be? Why?
  2. What should a church member do who is aware of an elder who glaringly violates one or more of these qualifications?
  3. Often churches choose pastors like Americans choose political leaders: personal charisma, good looks, dynamic vision, etc. How can we avoid this tendency to insure godly leadership?
  4. Should a pastor with an unbelieving, rebellious child (or children) leave the ministry? Why/why not?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Biblical Topics: 

Lesson 4: Elders: Men of the Word (Titus 1:9)

I doubt if there has ever been a time in the history of the church when the enemy has not in some way or another been attacking the Word of God. During the Middle Ages, many if not most of the priests in the Catholic Church were ignorant of the basic teachings of the Bible. Since the Bible was not translated into the common languages, only the priests could read it (in Latin) and teach it, but few of them did. The Reformation was at its heart a revival of God’s Word. Luther translated the Bible into German, so that common people could read it. Both he and Calvin preached expository sermons, explaining and applying the Bible to people’s everyday lives.

Although the Reformation spread to England, by the mid-16th century, things were in a bad way. J. I. Packer (A Quest for Godliness [Crossway Books], 1990], pp. 51-52) writes, “Many churches had not had a sermon preached in them for years.” Many of the clergy were biblically ignorant. In this spiritually bleak time, God raised up the Puritans. They believed that pastors “are responsible for rebuking heresy and defending truth, lest their flocks be misled and thereby enfeebled, if not worse. Biblical truth is nourishing, human error is killing, so spiritual shepherds must guard sound doctrine at all costs” (ibid., p. 64). Packer observes (p. 98),

Puritanism was, above all else, a Bible movement. To the Puritan the Bible was in truth the most precious possession that this world affords. His deepest conviction was that reverence for God means reverence for Scripture, and serving God means obeying Scripture. To his mind, therefore, no greater insult could be offered to the Creator than to neglect his written word; and, conversely, there could be no truer act of homage to him than to prize it and pore over it, and then to live out and give out its teaching. Intense veneration for Scripture, as the living word of the living God, and a devoted concern to know and do all that it prescribes, was Puritanism’s hallmark.

Over the years that I have been a pastor, I have seen the enemy attack God’s Word in two obvious ways. Back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, there was an attack on the inerrancy of Scripture. Harold Lindsell, who had taught at Fuller Seminary, wrote The Battle for the Bible [Zondervan, 1976] exposing the erosion of trust in the absolute accuracy of the Bible among some of Fuller’s faculty. He also showed the same erosion in several denominations and parachurch groups. As a response to this situation, the Lord raised up the International Council of Biblical Inerrancy, which published the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which clearly spells out what we affirm and deny regarding the authority and truthfulness of the Bible.

More recently, the enemy has subtly attacked God’s Word through the Seeker church movement and the Emerging church movement. The Seeker movement is based on a worthy goal, to reach out to unchurched seekers and bring them to faith in Christ. At the heart of the strategy is redesigning the Sunday morning service so that it is aimed primarily at this target audience. Hymns are replaced with upbeat, contemporary music. They often use drama. Services are kept short, to about an hour. Believers are discouraged from bringing their Bibles to church, because that would threaten the unchurched. Sermons are short and almost always topical self-help talks about how to succeed in life. One church growth writer stated that if you want your church to grow, you should not ever preach on anything controversial or negative. (For insightful critiques of this movement, see David Wells, No Place for Truth [1993], God in the Wasteland [1994], and Losing Our Virtue [1998], all Eerdmans.)

Now, the Emergent church finds the Seeker churches too big and glitzy and program-driven. They want to emphasize building close relationships in the church, which, of course, is a good thing. But they buy into the flawed philosophy of postmodernism, which denies absolute truth in the moral or spiritual realm. Experience is emphasized over doctrine. Tolerance and acceptance are key virtues. To have a pastor stand up each week and tell everyone how they should live (even if it is based on the Bible) is viewed as arrogant and judgmental. Doctrine is greatly de-emphasized.

I went to the web site of an Emergent church in Flagstaff. At least they had a doctrinal statement, but to get to it, you had to read a disclaimer that says that doctrine really isn’t important. At another part of their site, they say, “While we do have a brief statement of beliefs, we prefer not to ‘over theologize’ but rather allow the community of faith to interpret the Scriptures and apply its lessons to themselves.” At today’s service, for example, attenders were encouraged to “share a poem, song, picture, sculpture, dance, photo, video, etc. celebrating one of the beatitudes!” They’re saying in effect, “We’re not really into doctrine. If you’re hung up with that stuff, we feel sorry for you. If you’ll get over it, we’ll show you how can experience Jesus with us.”

All of this to introduce our text, a verse that if followed would steer the church back in the much-needed direction of the Reformers and the Puritans. Paul says (1:9) that an elder should be a man who holds “fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” The fact is, everyone that professes to know Christ, including those in the Emergent church, holds to a theology. The question is whether they hold to a biblically sound theology. To the extent that our theology veers from Scripture, we are worshiping a false god of our own imagination.

Thus we all need to grow in understanding the Bible so that we can know God better and follow His ways more carefully. Part of the role of elders is to know Scripture well enough that they are able to keep the church in the truth in the face of Satan’s repeated attempts to introduce error. Thus Paul says,

Elders must be godly men who hold firmly to and boldly teach God’s Word of truth.

Paul gives five requirements for faithful elders with regard to God’s Word:

1. Elders must be men of biblical understanding.

As I did last week, I must differ from John MacArthur, whom I greatly respect. He argues that every elder is called primarily to the ministry of the Word and therefore must have the gift of teaching (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Titus {E-4 Group CD). But in my judgment, he misinterprets 1 Timothy 5:17, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” Because elders must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2) and, as our text states, be “able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict,” he concludes that the elders who did not work hard at preaching and teaching were being negligent.

But it seems to me that Paul is recognizing that some elders are so gifted that they focus on the ministry of teaching the Word and thus (as 1 Tim. 5:18 implies), they are worthy of financial support. Other elders, while capable of teaching, focus on other areas of oversight and shepherding the flock because they are not gifted in teaching. So I would not agree that every elder must be gifted to teach (in a large group setting). But every elder must be knowledgeable enough in Scripture that he could help instruct a younger believer and correct doctrinal error when he encounters it.

But even though preaching or teaching may not be an elder’s spiritual gift, every elder must be studying and growing in his understanding of God’s Word. To hold fast the faithful word (ESV & NIV = “trustworthy word”), you must understand it. To understand it, you must study it. And studying it is a lifelong endeavor. Thus I would say that if a man does not have a desire to study God’s Word diligently and to read books that help him understand sound doctrine, he should not be an elder.

2. Elders must be men of biblical conviction.

“Holding fast” means to cling to or be devoted to. John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], on Titus 1:9, p. 295) brings out the meaning by saying, “In a pastor there is demanded not only learning, but such zeal for pure doctrine as never to depart from it.” Such strong convictions flow out of the first quality. The more you study the great doctrines of the faith, the more you appreciate God’s grace as shown to you in Christ. The more you study, the more you understand why these doctrines are essential. You begin to see how the enemy has subtly introduced destructive heresies. As you study church history, you learn how these errors have damaged people’s lives and their eternal destinies. You see men who have been willing to die tortuous deaths rather than deny these truths. All of this strengthens your own convictions to hold firmly to the truth, even in the face of strong pressure to compromise.

My recent reading has included stories of many that paid the ultimate price because of their convictions. I read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, which in places is gruesome as it describes the torture and execution (often by burning alive) of men, women, and children who refused to deny the gospel. John Bunyan spent 12 years in jail because he refused to agree to quit preaching without the required license. He had a blind daughter, and he said that going to prison and not being able to care for this daughter was like pulling his flesh off with pincers. But he could not be silenced from proclaiming the truth of God’s Word.

John Piper’s Contending for Our All [Crossway, 2006] tells the stories of three stalwarts of the faith: Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen. Athanasius stood strongly against the Arian heresy, which denied the deity of Jesus Christ. At times, it seemed as it if were Athanasius against the whole world. He was forced into exile seven different times, but he stood firmly for the truth. Humanly speaking, we have Athanasius to thank for preserving the vital truth of Christ’s deity (although modern cults still deny it).

We need to temper this point about holding to biblical convictions with two cautions. First, we need to be firm and unwavering on the essentials of the faith, but we need wisdom and discernment about where and when to contend for the faith. There are some doctrines that you must hold to and defend because if you deny them, you are no longer a Christian in the biblical sense of the word. This is not an exhaustive list, but these truths include the trinitarian nature of God; the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ; His substitutionary atonement on the cross; salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone; the inspiration, authority, and veracity of Scripture; the bodily resurrection of Jesus; His ascension into heaven; His bodily second coming to judge the earth; and, the eternal reward of believers in heaven and the eternal punishment of unbelievers in hell.

As I said, that list is not exhaustive, because there are many other errors which, if you buy into them, lead to a denial of fundamental truths. For example, the current “open theism” denies the sovereignty and omniscience of God. That has huge implications for your view of God, how you understand and endure trials, and God’s ability to fulfill His promises.

Another area that causes a lot of heated arguments and division in the body is so-called Calvinism versus Arminianism. While I would not label most Arminians as heretics, their errors have major consequences with regard to how you view God, how you view man as a sinner, and how you understand and preach the gospel. Because the Arminian error robs God of the glory that is due to His name, it is very serious. Many church historians and theologians point out that when the church embraces Arminian theology, it often leads to the rise of liberal theology, because both errors exalt human reason above the revelation of God’s Word. These things are worth contending for.

Second, we need to contend for the truth in love. We must not love controversy or love the feeling of winning a debate, but rather, we must love God and His truth above all and we must love people, including those who are in error. False teaching is cruel because it damages people. John Piper, (Contending for Our All, p. 168), concludes with an appeal for holding to the truth in love. He makes a helpful observation:

For the sake of unity and peace, therefore, Paul labors to set the churches straight on numerous issues—including quite a few that do not in themselves involve heresy. He does not exclude controversy from his pastoral writing. And he does not limit his engagement in controversy to first-order doctrines, where heresy threatens. He is like a parent to his churches. Parents do not correct and discipline their children only for felonies. Good parents long for their children to grow up into all the kindness and courtesy of mature adulthood. And since the fabric of truth is seamless, Paul knows that letting minor strands go on unraveling can eventually rend the whole garment.

Thus, elders must be men of biblical understanding and biblical conviction.

3. Elders must be men of biblical obedience.

It would be sheer hypocrisy, which the Bible strongly condemns, to exhort people to follow God’s Word, yet not to follow it yourself. Paul goes on to expose the false teachers (1:16): “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.” As John Calvin said of pastors (Sermons on the Ten Commandments, ed. and trans. by Benjamin Farley [Baker], p. 126), “For it would be better if they broke their necks while mounting the pulpit than to be unwilling to be the first to walk after God and to live peaceably with their neighbors, demonstrating that they are the sheep of our Lord Jesus Christ’s flock.”

Of course, no one lives in a state of sinless perfection. But, as we saw in verses 6 & 7, an elder must be “above reproach.” He cannot have secret sins or be living a double life. He cannot be a nice, loving man at church and an angry, abusive man at home.

I’ve shared with you before a shocking thing that happened to Marla and me. We had just checked in to a pastor’s conference and were settling into our room when we heard the couple in the next room yelling at one another. He was calling her horrible names and she responded in kind. Marla and I looked at one another in wide-eyed disbelief. Then I said, “I know, I’ll bet they’re practicing for a skit for the meeting tonight.” Sadly, there was no skit. We had just heard a pastor, who should not have been in the ministry, and his wife disobeying God’s Word in a terrible way.

4. Elders should be men of biblical exhortation.

They must be able “to exhort in sound doctrine.” The word “sound” means healthy (our word “hygienic” comes from it). Sound doctrine aims at and results in spiritual health. It does not focus on “Jewish myths and the commandments of men” (1:14). It does not get enamored with speculations about biblical prophecy that do not help people become more obedient to Christ. Rather, godly elders aim their teaching at building up people in the knowledge of God and in practical holy living.

“Doctrine” means “teaching,” and includes both the doctrinal and more directly practical parts of Scripture. Some people do not like the doctrinal portions of the Word. They say, “Just give me what I need to know to have a happy marriage, rear my children, and succeed in my business. Let the theologians delve into doctrine, but just give me the practical stuff.”

But, Paul’s normal pattern in his epistles is to lay out the doctrine in the first half before he moves on to the practical in the second half. Keep in mind that he was writing to many who were illiterate slaves and to the common people who made up the early churches. Yet he thought that the believers in Rome needed to know Romans 1-11 for their spiritual health before he “got practical” in chapter 12. The fact is, the great doctrines of the Bible are immensely practical. Without them, you are building your Christian life with no foundation. Again I will say that you do have a theology. The question is, to what extent is your theology biblical?

“Exhort” may mean either to urge to obedience and change, or to encourage or comfort. It can have the flavor of imploring, appealing to, or entreating. Paul uses the same word in 2 Timothy 4:2, where after urging Timothy to preach the word, he adds, “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” It implies that our hearts must be in our teaching, so that people sense the urgency of these important truths.

Thus elders must be men of biblical understanding, conviction, obedience, and exhortation.

5. Elders must be men of biblical courage to confront error.

Calvin (p. 296) says, “The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both….” Some think that we should always be positive and focus on the positive. But to teach positively is not enough. Paul says that we must also refute false teaching. We must not be purposely offensive, but neither should we be so nice and polite that we end up watering down or compromising the truth.

The apostles sometimes named the names of false teachers or dangerous men (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17; 4:14; 3 John 9). I find that if I talk in general terms, people don’t get it. They go out and buy the books of false teachers. So I have to get specific at times.

When Paul confronted the Galatian heresy, he did not say, “The Judaizers are good brothers and we agree on so much. Can’t we just set aside the few areas where we disagree and come together on the basis of what we share in common?” Rather, he denounced them as preaching a false gospel and pronounced anathema on them (Gal. 1:6-9). John Piper tells the story of J. Gresham Machen, who stood strongly for the truth when the Presbyterian Church was being infested with liberalism. Machen said,

Men tell us that our preaching should be positive and not negative, that we can preach the truth without attacking error. But if we follow that advice we shall have to close our Bible and desert its teachings. The New Testament is a polemic book almost from beginning to end…. Every really great Christian utterance, it may almost be said, is born in controversy. It is when men have felt compelled to take a stand against error that they have risen to the really great heights in the celebration of truth (Contending for Our All, p. 146).


The great reformer, Martin Luther, did not like controversy, but he came to see both from Scripture and history that it is necessary. He wrote,

When Christians are not doing battle with the devil, or him who bites the heel, that is not a good sign, for it means that he who bites the heel is at peace and has his own way. But when he who bites the heel rages and has no peace, it is a sign that he, being under attack, shall be conquered, for it is Christ who is attacking his house. Therefore whoever desires to see the Christian Church existing in quiet peace, entirely without crosses, without heresy, and without factions, will never see it thus, or else he must view the false church of the devil as the real church (from Luther’s Works 34:215, cited by Eric Gritsch, Martin—God’s Court Jester [Fortress Press, 1983], p. 178).

Thus elders must be godly men who hold firmly to and boldly teach God’s Word of truth. You can easily find churches that will give you nice, uplifting, positive messages about how to succeed in life. But such messages will expose you to the many winds of false doctrine that are blowing in our day. To be strong in the Lord, you must be in a church that exhorts in sound doctrine and refutes those who contradict. May all of our elders be men of God’s Word!

Application Questions

  1. How can you know whether or not an issue is worth contending for? What guidelines should govern?
  2. Where is the line between contending for the truth versus being contentious? How can we do the former without the latter?
  3. Since unity in the church is important, how can we take a stand for biblical truth and yet preserve unity? (See Eph. 4:1-6, 13.)
  4. Why must sound doctrine be the foundation for practical Christian living?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Biblical Topics: 

Lesson 5: Guarding the Flock (Titus 1:10-16)

You all know the story of Little Red Riding Hood. When she went to visit her grandmother, the Big Bad Wolf knew that she was coming. So he got rid of Grandma and disguised himself to look like Grandma in bed.

Little Red Riding Hood may have suspected that something was out of order, but she kept inching closer, commenting, “My, what big eyes you have, Grandma!” “The better to see you, my dear,” answered the wolf.

“My, what big ears you have, Grandma!” “The better to hear you, my dear!”

Finally, Little Red Riding Hood said, “My, what big teeth you have, Grandma!” To which the wolf replied, “The better to eat you with, my dear!” He leaped out of bed to grab her, and Little Red Riding Hood barely escaped with her life.

The moral of that story is that without discernment, you put yourself in serious jeopardy. Discernment will keep you from flirting dangerously with enemies who want to destroy you.

Many Christians need to take to heart the lesson of Little Red Riding Hood. Many wolves in sheep’s clothing prey upon God’s flock. Some are masters of deception and disguise. They talk like Christians. They use the Bible. They seem like nice people. They are so loving! But they will draw you in to eat you for dinner!

I recently saw an article from Newsweek (msnbc.msn.com, Feb. 5, 2007) about a Puerto Rican minister who says that he is Jesus Christ. At first glance, his congregation in Florida looks like a typical Hispanic evangelical church. But when Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda walks on stage, the crowd goes wild, shouting, “Lord! Lord! Lord!” They’re referring to him. Someone on stage announces, “It’s Jesus Christ himself!”

You would think that not many would be fooled by such deception, but in fact, Miranda presides over an organization called “Growing in Grace,” which includes more than 300 congregations in two dozen countries. He counts more than 100,000 followers and claims to reach millions more through a 24-hour TV channel, a radio show and several Web sites. The article reported that his organization has many wealthy, generous donors and he lives lavishly, including diamond-encrusted gold rings and fancy cars.

Miranda’s view of himself has evolved over the years. At first, he didn’t claim to be Christ. He was a pastor spreading his mixture of false and true doctrine: that “under a new covenant with God, there is no sin and no Satan, and people are predestined to be saved.” But as his following expanded, so did his claims. In 1998, he claimed that he was the reincarnation of the apostle Paul. Two years ago, he declared himself to be Christ. And, about six weeks ago, he called himself the Antichrist and revealed a 666 tattooed on his forearm. He explains that since he is the second coming of Christ, he rejects the continued worship of Jesus of Nazareth.

Miranda is only one of many false teachers who profess to know God, but by their deeds, they deny Him. Satan has always been active in raising up false teachers to oppose the truth. It was happening in Crete, where there were “many” deceivers (1:10). In our day, the number of cults and false religions that profess some link with Christianity is astounding. Mormonism is one of the fastest growing religions in America, if not in the whole world. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have their tentacles in countries all over the world. Other cults are thriving.

Because the enemy is so active in promoting destructive heresies, elders must be godly men of the Word who vigilantly guard the flock. They must be able to refute those who contradict, “for there are many rebellious men….” In our text, Paul shows that…

Elders must guard the flock by refuting false teachers and by correcting any believers who have followed false teaching.

Frankly, this is never a pleasant task. I would rather focus on the positive. If the world were free of all disease, we wouldn’t need doctors or hospitals and we could all live very happily. But we know that the world isn’t like that. It is pervaded with many serious diseases, and so we need doctors. If the spiritual world were free of spiritual errors, we wouldn’t need pastors to confront and correct these deadly spiritual diseases. But, the world isn’t like that, and so pastors must guard the flock by exposing and correcting the many errors that keep creeping into the church. So,

1. Elders must guard the flock by refuting false teachers.

Paul tells Titus that these men must be silenced (1:11). While it may not be possible to stop them from talking, it is possible to stop them from spreading their errors within the church. This would include guarding the pulpit from false teachers, but also being on guard against their infiltrating smaller groups in the church. Paul says that these men were “upsetting whole families.” Smaller groups give false teachers a more convenient setting in which to spread their lies. The cults today will try to get a believer or a family to “study the Bible” with the cultist. They prey on an individual or a family who are not well-taught and draw them in.

Note two things about such false teaching. First, false teaching always damages people. I have a book titled, The Cruelty of Heresy (by FitzSimons Allison [Morehouse Publishing]), and the author is right. Heresy is cruel because it damages souls. Thus to confront error is an act of love. If you care about people, you can’t let them go into destructive heresies without warning.

As I said last week, those in the Emergent church are saying that doctrine isn’t very important. Rather, we need to experience the Christian faith. But that’s a false distinction. Of course we must experientially know God through Jesus Christ, but if our experience is based on false doctrine, it is not the true Christ that we are experiencing, but some false Christ. Sound doctrine is essential.

Second, the greatest danger for false teaching always comes from within the church. These false teachers professed to know God. No doubt they seemed to be nice men. Satan is smart enough not to use men who look like evil villains. Nice false teachers have you over for a meal. They invite you to their gatherings. Everyone makes you feel like you’re a part of the group. But their teaching is deadly!

Our text reveals at least three ways that elders must refute false teachers:

A. Refute false teachers by teaching sound doctrine.

As Paul wrote (1:9), elders must be able to “exhort in sound doctrine.” He goes on to tell Titus (2:1), “But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.” I sure don’t get the impression that we are to downplay theology or doctrine! But, rather than always focusing on the false, a teaching elder must emphasize the true. I’ve read that when the government trains an agent to detect counterfeit money, they do so primarily by having him study genuine money. If he knows what real money looks like, he will be able quickly to spot a counterfeit bill.

As I said, “sound” doctrine means healthy doctrine. It leads to healthy spiritual growth and maturity. Teaching that does not confront the cancer of sin is not sound teaching. If teaching just feeds curiosity (as much modern prophetic teaching does), it is not sound teaching. Properly taught, Bible prophecy should lead to the fear of God and to holy living, not to mere speculations.

But, sometimes it is necessary to focus on false doctrine as a means of warning the flock:

B. Refute the false teachers by exposing their false teaching.

There is a common notion that it doesn’t matter what you believe, just as long as you’re sincere and believe something. But that is nonsense. You can believe with all your might that you can jump off the edge of the Grand Canyon and fly, but believing that lie will not help you to fly! It is the same spiritually. Certain things are spiritually true because the God of truth has revealed them to us in His Word. Other things are spiritually false because they come to us from Satan, the father of lies. Paul says that these false teachers have turned away from the truth (1:14). This means that spiritual truth is knowable and absolute, not vague or relative. While we don’t know the specific errors of these false teachers in Crete, we can surmise that they were promoting three common errors:

(1). False teachers add works to salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Paul refers to them (1:10) as “those of the circumcision.” This was a group of Jewish people who claimed to believe in Jesus as Messiah and Savior. But they insisted that those who professed faith in Jesus were obligated also to keep the Jewish ceremonial and dietary laws to be saved. Especially, they taught that a man must be circumcised to be saved. They could not bring themselves to accept Gentiles into the church on the basis of faith in Christ alone. They must also live like the Jews.

Paul and Barnabas had great dissension with such false teachers in Antioch, which led to the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). The conclusion reached at that important council was that all people, whether Jew or Gentile, are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus, apart from keeping the ceremonial laws of Moses. But in spite of that decision, these zealous Jews kept promoting their errors. They especially dogged Paul’s steps, going into the churches that he had founded, perverting the gospel of grace. Paul writes against them often, but especially in Galatians. He said there that if anyone preaches another gospel requiring anything to be added to faith in Christ for salvation, then that person is accursed (Gal. 1:6-9).

Satan is always introducing false teaching on the way of salvation. Scripture is clear that saving faith is not merely intellectual assent to the facts of the gospel. Those in the non-lordship salvation camp claim that if you say that repentance from sin is necessary for salvation or that good works are an evidence of saving faith, you are adding works to faith. They think that they are preserving salvation by faith alone, but they are in error about the nature of saving faith. Scripture is clear that genuine saving faith includes repentance and results in a life of good works (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:37-38; 11:18; Eph. 2:8-10).

But most false teaching goes to the other extreme and adds human works to saving faith as a necessary condition for salvation. In addition to faith in Christ, false teachers say that you must add your own good deeds, whether baptism, witnessing, keeping the Sabbath, going to Mass, or whatever, to merit salvation. But Paul is very clear that we are justified by faith in Christ, apart from anything that we contribute (Rom. 3:24, 28; Gal. 3:6-14).

(2). False teachers do not focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Paul says that they paid attention to “Jewish myths” (1:14). This was probably the same error that Paul refutes in 1 Timothy 1:4, where the false teachers paid “attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.” This probably involved fanciful interpretations and stories built around some of the Old Testament genealogies and apocryphal literature. But Paul says that it is mere speculation. It didn’t further God’s administration, which centers on faith in Jesus Christ.

Every false cult from the first century onward has erred on the person and work of Christ. Some have said that He is God, but not truly human (Docetism). Others insist that He is human, but not truly God (Arianism). Others say that He is some sort of hybrid “god-man” (Witness Lee taught this). Many have said that He is our great teacher or example, but they have denied the necessity of His shed blood as the atonement for our sins. All cults supplement the Bible with their own writings or traditions, which invariably contradict the Bible and supersede it.

But as Christians, we must believe in the Bible alone as our authoritative source of truth. And all of Scripture centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is the eternal God, who took on human flesh to die as the substitute for our sins on the cross (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47).

(3). False teachers promote legalism, not God’s grace.

Paul says that these false teachers promoted “the commandments of men” (1:14; see, also, Col. 2:20-23). Legalism involves emphasizing certain non-essential external matters to the neglect of certain essential heart matters. Legalism focuses on outward conformity to man-made rules, rather than on inward conformity to God’s righteous commands in Scripture.

Legalism always appeals to the flesh. It feeds the proud human heart that thinks that it can attain righteousness apart from being humbled before the cross. Legalists congratulate themselves for doing their religious duties and they self-righteously condemn those who do not do these things. But they do not judge the sin in their hearts or seek to please God from the heart.

That’s what verse 15 refers to: “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” Paul does not mean that if you think something is not sinful, then it is okay. Rather, he was referring to the Jewish ceremonial and dietary laws. The false teachers claimed to be pure because they kept these rules, but in God’s sight, they were unclean because their minds and consciences were defiled. Only the blood of Christ can cleanse our consciences so that we can serve God (Heb. 9:14; 10:22).

Paul is making the same point that Jesus made (Mark 7:1-23), where He indicted the Pharisees because they kept all of their manmade rituals, but their hearts were far from God. Jesus said that external things, such as eating certain foods, could not defile a man, but rather, what defiles is the sin that comes from the heart.

The cults today may not be into Jewish dietary laws, but invariably, they are into legalism. They teach that you can commend yourself to God by doing certain manmade commandments. But they do not deal with the defilement of the heart, because they deny the cross.

By the way, legalism and licentiousness are not at opposite ends of the spectrum, with grace as the balance point in the middle, as is often taught. Rather, legalism and licentiousness are the flip sides of the same coin. Both are rooted in the flesh and neither produce true godliness. That’s why when Jesus reproved the legalistic Pharisees, He said (Matt. 23:28), “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” These religious legalists were actually lawless in their hearts! But, God’s grace is opposed to the flesh, because it comes through the Holy Spirit. As Titus 2:11-14 shows, God’s grace results in true holiness both inwardly and outwardly.

So Paul shows that elders must refute false teachers by teaching sound doctrine and by exposing false doctrine. Also,

C. Refute false teachers by exposing their sinful behavior.

Bad doctrine always results in evil behavior. On the surface, false teachers often seem like nice, moral people. Sometimes, the veneer of morality is due to their legalism. But as Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees, legalists look like beautiful, whitewashed tombs, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness (Matt. 23:27).

Note how Paul describes the behavior of these false teachers: They were rebellious (1:10). This is always at the root of false teaching. Sinners refuse to submit to God’s Word, so they invent teaching that fits with their sinful lifestyles. Further, they were empty-talkers and deceivers (1:10). Like a dishonest salesman, they could talk well, but their motive was to deceive for their own advantage. These men were greedy (1:11). False teachers often exploit their followers, milking them for more money while the false teacher goes first class all the way. Furthermore, they are liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons (1:12). They are defiled, unbelieving, detestable (the word means to stink), and disobedient, worthless for any good deed (1:15, 16).

False teachers are not usually so honest as to say that they are atheists or the antichrist. Rather (1:16), “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him.” As First John makes clear, the true test of genuine faith is our behavior. “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4). Jesus said that you can identify these wolves in sheep’s clothing by their fruits (Matt. 7:15-16).

So one of the unpleasant, but necessary, tasks of elders is to guard the flock by refuting false teachers. But, also:

2. Elders must guard the flock by correcting any believers who have followed false teaching.

There are many ways of doing this, but Paul mentions two:

A. Correct by warning of cultural trends and tendencies.

Paul cites (1:12) the Cretan poet, Epimenides, who lived about 600 B.C. By calling him a prophet, Paul does not mean that he was a true prophet of God. He is saying that one whom they recognized as their own prophet denounced them. By quoting a Cretan against the Cretans, Paul strengthens his point. The quote encompasses the famous liar paradox, that if all Cretans are liars and a Cretan told me so, then he was lying, so he must have been speaking the truth. Paul is making a tongue-in-cheek point, that Cretans are generally liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons, as their own prophet confirmed. So he is telling Titus to warn the Cretan believers about their cultural propensity towards these sins, which marked the false teachers, so that they would not blindly fall into the same sins.

What trends would Paul warn us about if he lived in our culture? There is certainly the cultural sin of thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (Rom. 12:3). This week the news reported that a psychologist discovered that American college students are more narcissistic than they used to be. He attributed it to an over-emphasis on self-esteem, where we tell every child that he is a winner, so as not to damage his self-esteem. I have also read that criminals have higher self-esteem than the rest of us do!

There is also the American trend that being tolerant and non-judgmental are the supreme virtues. The main sin is to say, “That is wrong and this is right!” Another cultural sin is our materialism and over-emphasis on leisure. Time forbids further comment, but we’re all prone to swim with our cultural stream. One way to counteract this is to read godly authors from the past. They had their own cultural stream, but since they weren’t swimming in our stream, they often expose the errors of our day.

B. Correct by convincing strongly of the importance and narrowness of the truth.

Paul writes (1:13), “But reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.” “Them” may refer to the false teachers, as the preceding context would indicate. But, being sound in the faith would point to believers. “To reprove” means to convince of the errors. “Severely” means sharply, as one cuts off something with a single blow of an ax. You don’t correct error by hints or nice suggestions. “Being sound” means being spiritually healthy. It implies that if you don’t correct these spiritual errors, like a serious disease, they will lead to spiritual demise. “The faith” points to a well-defined, narrow body of truth. We can know when others or we are in it and we can know when others or we turn away from it.


Christopher Columbus was stranded in Jamaica and needed supplies. He knew that a lunar eclipse was to occur the next day. He told the tribal chief, “Unless you give me supplies, the God who protects me will punish you. The moon shall lose its light!” When the eclipse darkened the sky, Columbus got all the supplies that he needed.

In the early 1900’s, an Englishman tried the same trick on a Sudanese chief. “If you do not follow my orders,” he warned, “vengeance will fall upon you and the moon will lose its light.” The chief replied, “If you are referring to the lunar eclipse, that doesn’t happen until the day after tomorrow.”

That Sudanese chief was protected from deception because he knew the truth. It is the job of elders to protect the flock from deception by teaching God’s truth and by refuting the many false teachings that prey upon the untaught in our day.

Application Questions

  1. Can a person be a member of a cult and yet be truly saved? Why/why not?
  2. Why is a de-emphasis on doctrine (as in the Emergent church) dangerous? Where will it lead?
  3. Some react against an emphasis on doctrine because they have been “beat up” by an insensitive dogmatist. How can we hold strong doctrinal convictions and yet not assault others?
  4. The message mentioned several cultural trends. What are some others? How can we guard ourselves against these trends that often are blind spots?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Biblical Topics: 

Lesson 6: Developing a Beautiful Body – Part 1 (Titus 2:1-5)

We live in a culture that has gone crazy after beauty. You can’t stand in line at the grocery store without being bombarded with beautiful male and female faces and bodies on the covers of different magazines. If your body isn’t so beautiful, magazines and ads promise sure-fire ways to lose weight or get into shape or camouflage with cosmetics the things you can’t change.

While there is nothing wrong with taking reasonable measures to make yourself attractive, we need to keep in mind that physical beauty quickly fades. Many years ago, I worked as a bellman at the swanky Drake Hotel in Chicago. There was a wealthy elderly woman who lived in the hotel. Every day she would cake on about 10 pounds of makeup, come downstairs and strut through the lobby. She thought that she was showing off her great beauty, but all of the hotel staff would snicker at her delusion. She was well past her prime and she needed to face reality!

But while our bodies inevitably lose their youthful beauty as we grow older, there is another kind of beauty that grows better with age. The good news is that this kind of beauty is available to every person, not just to those who have been endowed with the genes for good looks. I’m talking about the beauty of a person who develops godliness in his or her life. God intends for each of us to develop Christlike character and conduct that displays His beauty to this lost and misdirected world.

The church is called both the body and the bride of Christ. The church should be developing as the beautiful body, corporately displaying the splendor of our Savior. As His bride, He is committed to presenting us (Eph. 5:27), “having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” Instead of growing more wrinkled over time, the church grows less wrinkled! In Titus 2:1-10, Paul tells Titus that…

The church should develop into a beautiful body
so as to attract others to our Savior.

The theme of the church’s witness to the world is mentioned in 2:5, “so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” It is mentioned again in 2:8, where Paul tells Titus that his speech must be beyond reproach, “so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.” He mentions it again in 2:10, where he is concerned that slaves “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.” In other words, their lives should beautify the gospel and point people to their Savior.

How does the church develop into this kind of beautiful body that points people to Christ? In a nutshell, through sound doctrine, which Paul mentions in 2:1, 7, and 10. All godly living must be built on the sound doctrine of God’s Word, which reproves, corrects, and trains us in righteousness, equipping us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Then Paul focuses on five groups in the church: older men (2:2); older women (2:3); younger women (2:4-5); younger men, with special application to Titus (2:6-8); and, slaves (2:9-10). For sake of time, we will consider 2:1-5 this week and 2:6-10 next week. Before we look at the various groups, I want to make some general observations about these verses.

*There are legitimate age and gender distinctions in the church. Paul has different counsel for different ages of men and women, and he does not lump everyone into the same category. Radical feminism, which has infiltrated the church, argues that there are no gender distinctions in the body of Christ. While it is true that there are no distinctions regarding salvation (Gal. 3:28 in context), many Scriptures show that there are distinct roles for men and women in the church and in the home. Men are to be the loving leaders in both spheres. Women are to be subject to their own husbands (2:5; also, Eph. 5:22-23; Col. 3:18; 1 Pet. 3:1-6).

It should not need to be said, but if God created you as a male, you should not seek a sex-change operation to become a female (or vice versa). Men should be masculine and women should be feminine. God designed the sexes to complement one another. There should not be any competition between the sexes. Men should affirm the value of women and women should affirm the God-given role and strengths of men.

Also, we are to relate to different ages and genders in appropriate ways. In 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Paul says, “Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.”

*There is to be interaction, not complete separation, between the various ages in the church and family. The church is the family of God, and in the family there are all ages for the benefit of the entire family. The older have wisdom and experience to impart to the younger. The younger have idealism, energy, and enthusiasm that can encourage the older. Yes, having the older and younger together, whether in the church or at home, can create tension. But God’s design is that we learn to live harmoniously and learn from one another.

This is one reason why I refuse to have a “traditional” service for those who want to sing hymns to organ accompaniment and another contemporary service for those who want to sing modern songs with guitars and drums. The younger people need to learn some of the hymns and the older people need to learn some of the newer songs. While it is fine to have a class for young couples or a separate social event for the seniors, we need to work at getting to know one another across age distinctions.

About three years into the pastorate, I had several families in the church that were new in the faith. Many had gone through divorces before they were saved, so they needed to know how to live as Christian families. I began a Sunday morning series on the Christian home. But a few weeks into the series, all of the older people in the church stopped coming. They complained that the series did not relate to their needs.

The elders pressured me to cut the series short so that the older people would come back. But I refused to cater to what I viewed as selfishness. I said, “They should be having the younger families over after church, developing relationships and reinforcing the things that I am teaching. If they can’t get their focus off of themselves and onto the needs of these young families, let them go.” Most of them never came back. Our text clearly shows that the older believers should be imparting principles of practical Christian living to younger believers. There should be interaction, not separation, between the various ages.

*There are different opportunities and different weaknesses and temptations at different stages in life. Younger people often have more energy and enthusiasm to devote to ministry, but if they have young families and busy careers, they don’t have much time. After your kids are out of the nest, you have more time, but less energy. You have to gear your life to the particular phase that you are in.

I do not regret at all that when my kids were younger, I was often unavailable for church ministry in the evenings because I was at home playing with and reading to my children. I can’t recover those few precious years. Some pastors neglect their families for the sake of the ministry, and they lose their families. Some couples neglect their marriage during the child-rearing years and when the nest empties, their marriage is in trouble. These temptations are geared to these different phases of life.

The retirement years present other temptations. It encourages me to see retired people resisting the temptation to live for themselves by going on mission trips and serving in ways that they could not when they had to work full time. Each stage in life has unique opportunities and temptations.

With those general observations, let’s zero in on our text under the overall theme of God developing the beauty of godliness in us so as to attract others to the Savior.

1. Sound doctrine is the foundation for godly living (2:1).

“But as for you” contrasts Titus with the false teachers that Paul has just described (1:10-16). Paul said that these men were rebellious, empty talkers and deceivers, who were upsetting whole families for the sake of sordid gain (1:10-11). They were teaching Jewish myths and the commandments of men, rather than the truth of God’s Word (1:14). Such speculative, unbiblical teaching does not lead to godliness and good deeds (see 1:15-16).

By contrast, Titus was to speak the things that are fitting (or proper) for sound doctrine. “Speak” refers not only to formal teaching, but also to everyday conversation. “Sound” doctrine means teaching that produces spiritual health and growth. Paul uses this word nine times in the Pastoral Epistles, including five times in Titus (1:9, 13; 2:1, 2, 8; see also 1 Tim. 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3). Whereas Titus 1:9 focused on the teaching of sound doctrine and the refutation of error, the focus of 2:1 is more on the practical application of sound doctrine.

Paul always wed sound doctrine with the practical Christian living that flows out of it. To have doctrine without practice is dead orthodoxy. To have practice without the foundation of sound doctrine is just human moralism. Knowing who God is and who we are, and knowing God’s way of salvation as taught in the Bible, provide the proper basis for holy living. For example, if the truth of God’s omnipresence and omniscience grips your life, it will affect how you relate to your family in private, because you know that God sees everything. Sound doctrine is very practical.

2. Older men are to be godly so as to attract others to the Savior (2:2).

Paul’s lists here are not comprehensive, in that every Christian virtue (e.g. the fruit of the Spirit) should apply to each of these age categories. He is just hitting a few salient qualities that pertain to each group. The term, “older men,” is obviously relative. Paul used it of himself when he was in his sixties (Philemon 9; see also, Luke 1:18). The fact that Paul lists these qualities shows that they are not automatically developed with age. If you are older and these qualities do not describe you, then you need to focus on them rather than go on as you are.

(1) Older men are to be temperate. The word literally means not to be intoxicated by wine or strong drink. But it also has the meaning of being sober-minded and clear-headed. It is a qualification for elders and for deaconesses or deacons’ wives (1 Tim. 3:2, 11).

(2) Older men are to be dignified. The word means to be serious in purpose or to have the personal dignity that invites honor and respect. It does not imply being gloomy or lacking a sense of humor. Rather, it refers to someone who lives in light of eternity, knowing that very soon he will stand before God (William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon [Westminster Press], rev. ed., p. 247). It is also used of deacons and deaconesses (or their wives; 1 Tim. 3:8, 11).

(3) Older men are to be sensible. This is a requirement for elders, but also for all believers (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8; 2:12). Paul uses it here for each of the age groups (the verb translated “encourage” in 2:4 is related). It means to be balanced and under control. The sensible person is not impulsive or given over to various passions.

(4) Older men are to be sound in faith. “Sound” means “healthy.” Older men should have the healthy faith in God that comes from trusting God in the practical matters of life over the years.

(5) Older men are to be sound in love. As you grow older, rather than becoming more grouchy or hard to live with, you should become more loving. Rather than becoming more intolerant and hardened towards others, you should become more gracious and compassionate. Measure yourself by the list in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

(6) Older men are to be sound in perseverance. Older men should know how to bear up under life’s trials with a buoyant hope in the promises of God. Rather than dropping out of the race, older men should be running with endurance by fixing their eyes on the Lord Jesus (Heb. 12:1-2). Older men who have these qualities will stand out in the world and point people to the beauty of Christ.

3. Older women are to be examples of godliness, training the younger women (2:3).

Godly older women have an important role to play in God’s beautiful body, the church.

(1) Older women are to be reverent in their behavior. “Behavior” points to their demeanor or inner character. “Reverent” literally means “suitable to a sacred person,” or a priestess in a temple. The reverent woman fears God and lives in His presence.

(2) Older women are not to be malicious gossips. “Malicious gossips” is a single word in Greek that is used 34 times of the devil! It literally means to throw things at people. A godly woman will not repeat damaging stories about others. She will not spread rumors or half-truths that damage someone’s reputation.

(3) Older women are not to be enslaved to much wine. There is a connection between a loose tongue and intoxicating drink. A woman who drinks too much will probably talk too much. As you grow older, it is easy to begin having a drink to block aches and pains or to drown loneliness or depression. Before long, you are addicted to alcohol. That is sin, because you are not relying on the Lord and experiencing the joy of His salvation.

(4) Older women are to teach what is good. The word “good” is often translated “beautiful” or “attractive.” Note that it was the older women, not Titus, that were to teach the younger women how to be truly beautiful, namely, to be godly. The word “encourage” means to make sensible. Younger women sometimes feel overwhelmed by the difficulties of rearing children and keeping house. Hopefully not, but perhaps they sit around watching “Desperate Housewives” and begin to think they would be happier if they abandoned their responsibilities. The older women should help them think sensibly about the importance of those duties.

This is especially important as the church sees younger women coming to Christ from pagan backgrounds. Perhaps they have not had godly role models to teach them how to make their homes attractive places for their families. They don’t know how to love their husbands and children. Worldly feminism tells them to forget their families and find fulfillment in a career or in a new romance. Godly older women are to talk sense to them by teaching what is beautiful and attractive about a godly home. If you’ve never read it, get Edith Schaeffer’s, The Hidden Art of Homemaking: Creating Beauty in Everyday Life. Also, her book, What is a Family? is excellent.

4. Younger women must be godly homemakers so that the word of God will not be dishonored (2:4-5).

Many younger women have no understanding of how important the job of homemaking is. Also, they lack practical training in how to do it. Frankly, sometimes they are undisciplined, sitting around watching TV soap operas or game shows when they should be cleaning or organizing the house or shopping for family needs. I am so glad that Marla has made our home a refuge for me. It is a pleasant place to be because she is pleasant and because of her work and creativity. Paul says that the older women are to make the younger women sensible in seven areas:

(1) The younger women are to love their husbands. This implies that love is not automatic. It takes deliberate effort. The word that Paul uses implies the love of friendship. A husband and wife should cultivate a close companionship. Love for your husband begins in how you think about him each day. If you grumble about his bad habits and run him down all day in your thoughts, you are not loving him. You must begin by thanking God for him and by thinking about his needs and how you can meet them. The love of friendship requires time together, sharing your thoughts and feelings.

(2) The younger women are to love their children. Again, it doesn’t come naturally, especially when they try your patience by their disobedience. You are sinning against God and your children if you slap them around or angrily call them derogatory names. Write down the qualities of biblical love (1 Cor. 13:4-7) and read them over daily so that they begin to describe how you relate to your children. The Greek word here also implies the love of friendship. While you are always your children’s mother, as they grow older you should also cultivate a friendship with them.

(3) The younger women are to be sensible. There is that word again! It means to be in rational control of one’s impulses and passions.

(4) The younger women are to be pure. This refers to sexual purity. You should not watch TV shows or read magazines or novels that feed your imagination with the supposed pleasures of illicit romance. Usually women are tempted to sexual immorality when their emotional needs are not being met. If that is true of you, talk to your husband about those needs. An adulterous affair will not meet your needs in the long run.

(5) The younger women are to be workers at home. Yes, this sounds outdated and sexist, but it is God’s design and wisdom. No woman gets to the end of life and says, “Ah, I’ve had a satisfying life as a corporate executive!” Seeing your family walking with God and loving one another brings true joy. You have to work to make your home a beautiful and pleasant place for your family.

(6) The younger women are to be kind. The Greek word literally is, “good,” but in the context it includes kindness. It means to be a nice person to be around. The kind or good woman thinks of the needs of others and goes out of her way to meet those needs. When a family member is upset or discouraged, she responds with sympathy and kind words.

(7) The younger women are to be subject to their own husbands. This is about as out of sync with American culture as it could be, but it is still God’s word of truth. You have a choice: God’s way or the world’s way. The world’s way asserts self; it stands up for one’s rights. It makes demands on others in order to get one’s own way.

God’s way submits first of all to Jesus as Lord. It judges selfishness. It seeks the good of others ahead of self. God’s way is (Phil. 2:3), “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” God’s way of submission grates against our fallen, selfish human nature. Submission does not imply inferiority or becoming a doormat. “To be subject” is a military term, to put oneself in rank under another. Although Jesus is equal with the Father, He voluntarily put Himself under the Father to carry out the divine plan of salvation. Christian marriage is to reflect the image of God. Husbands and wives are to be an earthly picture of Christ and the church, with husbands loving their wives sacrificially and wives respecting and submitting to their husbands (Eph. 5:22-33).

The reason that Paul gives is, “so the word of God will not be dishonored” (2:5). This probably applies to all of the qualities that he has just listed, including submission. A wife who claims to be a Christian but who does not demonstrate love for her husband and children, moral purity, and being a godly homemaker, is not a good advertisement for the gospel. But a wife who practices these things stands out from the world’s ways. Like the woman in Proverbs 31, she will be praised, and when she is praised, she will deflect the praise to the Lord, giving Him the glory.


God wants all of us to focus on becoming His beautiful people—not the outward, fading beauty of the world, but the inner, lasting beauty of a heart that is obedient to Him. We refer to a beautiful person as attractive, because beauty attracts. A beautiful place, like the Grand Canyon, attracts people to it. The body of Christ should be so beautiful that those who do not know the Savior are attracted to Him through us. So, get to work on helping this church develop into a beautiful body for His glory!

Application Questions

  1. Why must sound doctrine be the proper foundation for godly living? Give some examples of how this works.
  2. Why is it important for the church to include young and old together? What are some practical ramifications of this?
  3. Some argue that for women to be homemakers and subject to their husbands was cultural and not applicable to today. Why is this erroneous?
  4. Does verse 5 prohibit a wife from working outside the home? What if a woman feels more suited to a career than to being a homemaker?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Biblical Topics: 

Lesson 7: Developing a Beautiful Body – Part 2 (Titus 2:6-10)

As you know, it takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but it can be lost in a single foolish action. Once lost, it is a long, difficult process to recover it again.

Over the past couple of decades, the reputation of the Christian church in America has been tainted repeatedly by public scandals: Jim and Tammy Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and most recently, Ted Haggard, not to mention all of the scandals involving Roman Catholic priests. The American public does not distinguish between evangelicals and Catholics. They think that all Christians are hypocrites and this gives them an excuse to reject Jesus Christ.

Many unbelievers justify themselves by thinking, “I may have my faults, but at least I’m not a child molester. At least I’m not bilking the poor out of their money so that I can live in luxury. At least I don’t pretend to be religious like those hypocrites do!” And so the enemy damages the reputation of the gospel.

As we saw last week, we who know Christ are called the body and the bride of Christ. As His body, we are to beautify our lives with godliness, so as to attract others to our Savior. As His bride, we should be growing fewer wrinkles over time as we grow in godliness, not more wrinkles (Eph. 5:26-27). Titus 2:1-10 tells us that,

We who know God as Savior should beautify our lives
so as to attract people to our Savior.

Because of the tainted reputation of the church in America, we’ve got a major job on our hands! It won’t be a quick fix, but we must devote ourselves to the task of lifting up the reputation of our God and Savior by living such holy lives that “the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (2:8). We must live in such a manner before the watching world that we “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (2:10).

Last week, we saw that sound doctrine is the foundation for godly living (2:1, 7, 10). We also saw how older men, older women, and younger women are to beautify their lives so as to attract people to our Savior (2:2-5). In our text today, Paul shows how younger men, exemplified in Titus (2:6-8) and slaves (2:9-10) are to beautify their lives so as to attract people to our Savior.

1. Younger men should be sensible, setting a godly example, so that others will be attracted to our Savior (2:6-8).

In 2:6, Paul sums up the character qualities for young men in one word, “sensible.” Then (2:7-8), he turns the focus to Titus, who was probably a relatively young man, showing how he must be an example of godliness to others.

A. Younger men should be sensible in all things (2:6).

Grammatically, the phrase “in all things” could go either with the preceding or following, but stylistically, it probably goes with verse 6 (Gordon Fee, New International Biblical Commentary, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus [Hendrickson Publishers], p. 188). “Sensible” is a word that Paul has used repeatedly in this letter: elders (1:8); older men (2:2); older women (2:4, “encourage” = “make sensible”); and, younger women (2:5). He will use it again with reference to all believers (2:12). As we have seen, it means to be self-controlled, to have control over one’s passions, or to use sound judgment. It is a single word that captures the main quality that young men need if they are to be godly.

Marla and I read the book, Over the Edge, which chronicles all of the deaths that have occurred in the Grand Canyon. It’s really a fascinating book! The authors conclude that the most vulnerable group at the Grand Canyon is young men, who think that they’re invincible. To prove their bravado, they do foolish things, but the extreme conditions in the Canyon often take their toll. These young men are not sensible.

When I was younger, I used to wonder what David meant when he prayed (Ps. 25:7), “Do not remember the sins of my youth….” Now that I’m older, I understand. The sins of my youth were all of the foolish things that I said and did out of youthful pride. Thankfully, none of them resulted in my premature death, but that is only due to God’s grace! Maybe our youthful propensity to be insensible is why Peter wrote (1 Pet. 5:5), “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” So, through Paul the Holy Spirit urges young men to be sensible in all things.

B. Younger church leaders must set an example of godliness.

Paul turns from the younger men directly to Titus, who was probably in his thirties. I began as a pastor at age 30, with very little experience and a lot of fear and trembling at the task of shepherding God’s flock. There is no age limit given in Scripture for elders, but the title itself suggests that they should have a few miles on their odometers. Charles Spurgeon began as a pastor at 17, two years after he was saved! Somehow he managed to set an example of godliness and sound doctrine even in his youth, but I would not recommend that any 17-year-old follow his example! Paul lists four areas where Titus is to be an example:

(1). Younger church leaders must show themselves to be an example of good deeds.

This stands in stark contrast to the false teachers that Paul exposed (1:16), who “profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.” We are not saved by our good deeds, but we are saved unto good deeds. Many Christians rightly memorize Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” But they should also add verse 10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

Good deeds are deeds done in obedience to God’s Word, out of love for Him and others. They include everything from listening to someone who needs to talk, prayer, or other “spiritual” activities, to very practical things, such as preparing a meal for a family or visiting shut-ins. While church leaders must keep their focus on prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:1-4), they also must not neglect practical good deeds.

(2). Younger church leaders must be pure in doctrine.

The Greek word for “pure” is used only here in the New Testament. It means “not corrupted.” (a related word means, “immortal, imperishable”). It focuses on Titus’ teaching, which was not to be corrupted with false doctrine that would “spoil” and thus not nourish his hearers. Pure doctrine and sound (healthy) doctrine are one and the same.

Purity in doctrine assumes that there is an objective, knowable standard for pure doctrine. The leaders of the emerging church movement promote the postmodern idea that we cannot know or be certain about propositional truth. They make statements like, “By their fruits, not by their theology, you shall know them” (cited by Scot McKnight, “Five Streams of the Emerging Church,” in Christianity Today [Feb., 2007], online at christianitytoday.com/ct/ 2007/february/ [Feb., 2007], online at christianitytoday.com/ct/ 2007/february/11.35.html). They say, “how a person lives is more important than what a person believes” (ibid.). They deny that sound or pure doctrine is the foundation for godly living (ibid.).

I would agree with these emerging church leaders that dead orthodoxy, which beats people over the head with correct theology, but fails to love them, is useless. But in their reaction against such ungodly behavior, they cut the nerve of biblical truth and authority. What good is truth if we can’t know it and identify it when we see it? How can we be obedient to the truth if we can’t know it? So we have to hold on to pure or sound doctrine.

(3). Younger church leaders must be dignified.

This probably is connected with the need for purity in doctrine, emphasizing how pure doctrine is to be communicated. Titus is to teach God’s pure truth in such a manner as to command respect for the Word and submission to its authority. While there is a proper place for a limited use of humor in the pulpit, we should never make light of the Bible or use it as the basis for a stand-up comedy routine. I once listened to a tape of a preacher who kept his congregation roaring with laughter. It was entertaining in that sense. But, by the end of the sermon, the overall effect was to make a big joke out of the Bible. Paul says that those who preach must communicate the seriousness of these eternal truths.

(4). Younger church leaders must be sound in speech which is beyond reproach.

This broadens the spectrum from Titus’ teaching to his everyday speech. As Paul says (Eph. 4:29), “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” A few verses later (Eph. 5:3-4) he adds, “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” Other verses command us to put off angry or bitter words, yelling, cursing, gossip, and slander.

Thus younger church leaders must set an example of good deeds, be pure in doctrine, dignified in how they teach it, and be examples of sound speech that is above reproach.

C. The result of such godly examples is that the enemy will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.

The result of Titus living as such a godly example is not that his critics will vanish. He will still face opposition. The enemy of our souls will see to that! We don’t know whether Paul had a specific opponent in mind here (the Greek word is singular), the ringleader of the false teachers, or if he is generalizing. But his idea is that when opponents of the gospel attack the character of a Christian leader, they should not even have a shred of substance to their accusations, so that others will see through their false charges.

There is an application here for every Christian. If you take a stand for Jesus Christ, you will become the object of attack against your character and your beliefs. Ungodly people are threatened by those who proclaim or exemplify God’s holy standards for living. We see this all the time in our local paper. Unbelievers attack biblical Christians, accusing us of being “Christo-fascists” who are trying to impose our morality, Taliban-style, on our country. So expect to be attacked if you speak out for Christ.

But, also, make sure that there is nothing in your life that would bring shame to the gospel if it came to light. If you secretly go to homosexual bars, do not tell people you are a Christian! If you have a secret mistress, do not profess to be a pro-family evangelical Christian! If you are addicted to pornography on the internet, don’t give the impression that you are a godly family man! It is through these kinds of hypocrites that the enemy has plenty of bad things to say about Christians, and worse, about our Savior.

So Paul first says that younger men should live sensibly, setting a godly example, so that others will be attracted to our Savior.

2. Slaves should be subject to their masters, setting a godly example in their service, so that others will be attracted to the Savior (2:9-10).

For sake of time, I can only skim over the biblical view of slavery. While it was a legally recognized institution in the Old Testament, there were safeguards to protect slaves and means to emancipate them. In New Testament times, slavery was a longstanding and widespread institution in the Roman Empire. Often entire populations that had been defeated in battle became the slaves of the victors. By the first century, it has been estimated that up to one-third of the population of Rome were slaves.

The New Testament does not attack slavery as an institution, but it does reorder the relationship between slaves and masters, making all equal as brothers in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Paul commands masters to treat their slaves humanely, with justice and fairness, remembering that they, too, have a Master in heaven (Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1; Philemon 16-17). He commands slaves to be obedient and render good service as slaves of Christ (Eph. 6:5-8; Col. 3:22-25). In our text, Paul gives five ways that slaves were to relate to their masters (whether Christian or pagan masters), and then the result of such behavior. While the parallel between slavery and being a modern employee is not exact (in spite of what you may think!), every Christian employee should exhibit these character qualities.

A. Slaves are to be subject to their masters in everything.

“In everything” should be qualified by “everything that does not require disobedience to God.” For example, a Christian employee should not lie or engage in dishonest accounting practices to please an employer. But as long as it does not involve disobedience to God, a Christian should be subject to his employer.

As Paul states (Col. 3:22-24), “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do you work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” The words, “from the heart” and “heartily” show that attitude, not just grudging compliance, is required. If those words applied to slaves who were often under cruel, abusive masters, surely they apply to employees today who may have unreasonable, hard-to-please bosses.

We live in a society that feeds our sense of being victims. If we’re being treated unfairly, we will hear, “You don’t have to take that! Stand up for your rights! Threaten to sue that turkey of a boss! Organize a labor union and fight back!” But, to those who were true victims, to slaves who were often mistreated and abused, Paul says, “be subject to your masters in everything.”

As an employee, Scripture would permit you to go through proper channels to seek to get a difficult situation corrected. You may decide to take another job. But, before you tell off the boss and stomp out the door, remember that the testimony of Christ is at stake. Have you demonstrated submission to your boss? If not, to leave that job would be to dodge the lesson that God wants to teach you.

B. Slaves are to be well-pleasing.

This refers to an attitude of cheerful service. The first one that we should seek to please on the job is the Lord. But, also, we should seek to please our employer. While there is nothing wrong with trying to do a good job in order to get a promotion or raise, our ultimate objective always should be to please Jesus Christ.

Some slaves may have been tempted to slack off or not to be so diligent to please a Christian master, thinking, “we’re all brothers in Christ.” But in 1 Timothy 6:2, Paul says that if slaves had believing masters, they should “serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved.” Sometimes Christians who work for Christians rationalize that they can witness or fellowship with other believers on company time, and that the boss won’t mind. That is only true if the boss has told you that it’s okay. If not, you need to work hard while you’re on the job and do your witnessing or fellowshipping after hours.

C. Slaves are not to be argumentative.

They are not to talk back or “mouth off” to an employer or run him down behind his back, which would not demonstrate submission. If there is a proper forum at work to air grievances or offer constructive suggestions for improving working conditions, a Christian employee may do so (although he should always use wisdom and tact). But it is always wrong to oppose the boss or hassle him. Cheerful compliance without arguing should be a Christian employee’s normal response.

D. Slaves are not to pilfer.

Pilfer means to misappropriate or embezzle money or goods for one’s own use. Slaves were often entrusted with managing a family’s funds or with purchasing supplies for the household. It would be easy to rationalize, “I’m living in poverty and they are living in luxury. They won’t miss a little bit if I use it for myself.” As an employee, it is easy to use the same kind of rationale for taking things from the company, especially if it is a large company or the government. But it is wrong.

E. Slaves are to be loyal and trustworthy.

“Showing all good faith” means, demonstrating that you are a dependable, faithful worker. Your boss should know that if he gives you something to do, it will get done on time. He should know that you keep your word. You don’t pad expense accounts. You don’t goof off when you’re supposed to be working. You seek to help your boss and company succeed.

If a slave behaved as Paul sets forth here, he would have stood out from the crowd. Most slaves resented their lot in life and fought back with a sulky attitude, an insolent tongue, petty thievery, or trying to get by with as little work as possible. The same is true of many workers today. But Christian workers should be obviously different. If they are, an obvious result will follow:

F. The result of a slave’s godly example will be that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.

“Adorn” comes from a Greek word from which we get our word cosmetics. It means to arrange in an orderly manner so as to enhance beauty or attractiveness. Paul means that Christians should order their lives with godly behavior so that the world will be attracted to our Savior. Our main motive should be to honor and glorify Him.

This means that you need to think about your behavior and attitude, especially on the job. How will it make others think about the Savior that you profess to follow? Your life must be the foundation for any verbal witness. If your life is not an example of godliness, as Paul spells out here, don’t let anyone know that you are a Christian! If you do, you will dishonor the name of Christ and give excuses to unbelievers to continue in their sins.

While you do need a consistently godly life to beautify the gospel, you don’t have to be perfect. If that were the requirement, none of us could ever be a witness! But when you fail, you need to confess your sin and ask forgiveness of those you have wronged. That also shows the reality of the gospel in your life, and it can be a powerful witness.


An evangelist preached a strong message on the text, “You shall not steal.” The next morning, he got on a bus and gave the driver a dollar bill for his fare. Counting his change, he discovered that he had received a dime too much. He could have thought, “No big deal,” and pocketed the dime. But instead, he went to the driver and said, “You gave me a dime too much.”

The driver said, “Yes, I know. I did it on purpose to see what you would do. Last night I was in your audience and heard your sermon. I’ve always been suspicious of Christians. So when I recognized you this morning, I thought, ‘If he practices what he preaches, I’ll go hear him again tonight. But if he keeps the dime, I’ll know he’s a fake.’” The man did go back to the meetings and was wonderfully saved. A ten-cent testimony won him to the Lord (from “Our Daily Bread,” Fall, 1978).

God wants you to beautify your life by godly behavior so as to attract others to the Savior. God’s beauty program starts when you repent of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. If you haven’t started yet, why not now?

Application Questions

  1. Where is the balance between the “silent” witness of a godly life versus aggressive verbal witness?
  2. Why must we insist (in opposition to the emerging church movement) that truth is absolute and knowable? What are the consequences of yielding on this?
  3. When (if ever) is it right for a Christian to stand up for his rights (e.g., on the job)? Is it wrong for Christians to join labor unions? Why/why not? What biblical principles apply?
  4. Why does the Bible not condemn slavery? Where is the balance between fighting social evil through legislation versus just preaching the gospel?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Biblical Topics: 

Lesson 8: How Grace Works (Titus 2:11-14)

Our subject for today, the grace of God and how it works in our lives, is arguably the most important concept for you to understand and live by in the battle to be godly. Because it is so important, the enemy of our souls has created much confusion and controversy on this topic. But if you can fight your way clear in understanding and applying God’s grace, you will experience a close relationship with God and consistent victory over sin (Rom. 6:14).

God’s grace permeated Paul’s thinking. One scholar writes, “Paul could not think of Christian truth and conduct apart from God’s grace” (D. Edmond Hiebert, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank Gaebelein [Zondervan], 11:439). Another writes, “The expression, the grace of God, may fairly be said to be the key word of Paul’s theology…. He cannot think of Christian salvation apart from the grace of God…” (Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries [Eerdmans], p. 198, italics his).

The classic definition is the best: God’s grace is His unmerited favor. Grace means that God showered favor and blessing on those who did not in any way deserve or earn it. They deserved His judgment and wrath. But He showed them favor.

God’s pure grace gets polluted from two sides. On the one side, grace runs counter to the way the world works, so it’s difficult for us to grasp it and get used to it. The world works on the merit system. If you do well in school, you get good grades and win awards. If you do well in sports, you make the team and get a lot of applause. If you get into college, the merit system continues to reward excellence. This carries over into the business world after college. Exceptional performance earns promotions and raises. Sloppy performance will get you fired.

In the spiritual realm, all of the world’s religions, except for biblical Christianity, work on the merit system. Even the major branches of Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, teach a system of merit-salvation, where you have to add your works to what Christ did on the cross in order to go to heaven. Most believers who die go to purgatory, where after suffering for a while, eventually you will have enough of your sins purged away and enough merit to qualify for heaven. This merit system of salvation permeates the public mind. Ask anyone on the street his opinion of how a person gets into heaven and you will hear something about being a good person. It was at the heart of pharisaic, legalistic religion in the times of Jesus and Paul.

But God’s grace also gets distorted from another side, which mistakes the grace of God for licentiousness (Jude 4). Many professing Christians wrongly think that God’s grace means that He gives out free passes that allow us to sin, with no consequences for disobedience. If you emphasize the need to obey God’s commandments or do good works, they call you a legalist. If you warn them that their sloppy view of sin will result in God’s discipline, they don’t want to hear it. Their mantra is, “I’m not into your rules kind of religion. I’m under grace, not law.” For them, grace means permission for sloppy living.

Our text corrects both of these serious misconceptions of God’s grace. Paul shows that…

God’s grace first saves and then trains His people
for godliness and good deeds.

The word “for” that opens verse 11 links these verses to what he has just said. In 2:1-10, Paul has shown that various groups of believers should beautify their lives with godliness and good deeds so as to attract others to the Savior. Paul’s mention of “God our Savior” (2:10) causes him to elaborate on the theological basis for our salvation and how understanding that inevitably leads to a life of godliness and good deeds. At the heart of everything is this crucial concept of God’s grace.

1. God’s grace brings salvation to all people (2:11).

When Paul writes, “For the grace of God has appeared,” he is referring to the embodiment of grace in the person of Jesus Christ, who was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). It is not that God’s grace is missing from the Old Testament. No one was saved in the Old Testament apart from God’s grace. But as John 1:17 states the contrast, “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” God rightly could have sent His Son to condemn us and judge us. But instead (John 3:17), “For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”

Zecharias uses the verb appear to refer to the coming of Messiah, whom he calls the Sunrise from on high, who will “shine [appear] upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). The coming of Jesus Christ was the light of the grace of God’s salvation dawning upon this sin-darkened world.

Paul says that the appearance of God’s grace brought “salvation to all men.” The KJV and the NIV err by translating that God’s grace has appeared to all men. That never has been true, in that there have always been many that have never heard of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Rather, Paul means that God’s grace that appeared in the person of Christ offers salvation to all that hear of it. In the context, Paul has just spoken of various groups: older men, older women, younger women, younger men, and slaves. So when he goes on to say that God’s grace brings salvation to all men, he means, “to all types of people, including those whom the world despises, even to slaves.” No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace.

This does not mean that all people are saved or will be saved. The Bible is uniformly clear that there are two separate, final destinations for all people. Those who by God’s grace believe in Jesus Christ as Savior will go to heaven. Those who do not believe in Christ will pay the penalty of eternal separation from God in hell.

But the good news of God’s grace is that no sinner is beyond the reach of God’s grace. The apostle Paul was a persecutor of the church. He called himself the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:13, 15). But he experienced God’s grace through the cross. If the chief of sinners found mercy, so can you!

But, there is a major hindrance that will keep you from experiencing God’s grace in salvation, namely, your propensity to self-righteousness. Paul says that God’s grace brings salvation to all people. You don’t need salvation unless you are lost and you know that you’re lost. If you think that you’re doing just fine on your own or that you’re going to be able to make it on your own with a little more effort, you won’t cry out for a Savior to deliver you. As Jesus said (Luke 5:32), “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” By “the righteous,” Jesus meant, “the self-righteous.” The self-righteous Pharisees did not see their need for a Savior. Those who knew that they were sinners did.

Suppose that you were standing in a long line at the bank, waiting to deposit your paycheck. Suddenly, I grab you by the arm, jerk you out of line, and forcibly drag you out of the building. You probably wouldn’t be very happy with me. You’d say, “What do you think you’re doing? You hurt my arm, you tore my shirt, you made me lose my place in line, and you made me look like a fool in front of everyone in the bank!”

But, one simple fact would change your attitude to one of complete gratitude for the rest of your life: the bank had just been taken over by terrorists that threatened to kill everyone inside. In the first scenario, you didn’t yet know the danger that you were in. In the second scenario, you had become aware of the danger and you knew that you were doomed unless someone rescued you.

Before you can appreciate God’s grace, you need to know that you are justly under His wrath and condemnation. You are headed for eternal judgment unless someone intervenes. To use Spurgeon’s phrase, you know that the rope is around your neck. God’s grace cuts the rope, even though you are guilty as charged and deserve to die. Have you experienced God’s grace that brings salvation? If so, you are a changed person. How?

2. God’s grace trains us who are saved in godliness (2:12-14a).

The word “instructing” means, “child-training.” It includes teaching, but also, correcting and disciplining. It is a process that begins at salvation and continues until we stand before the Lord. But, note that grace does not mean, “hang loose and live as sloppily as you please.” Rather, grace trains, disciplines, and instructs us in godly living. Paul mentions three ways that grace trains us:

A. Grace trains us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires (2:12a).

When you experience God’s unmerited favor in Jesus Christ, it motivates you to want to please Him in everything that you do. As you read God’s Word, you begin to realize that there is much in your life that displeases the Lord, who gave Himself on the cross to save you from God’s judgment. So, you begin walking on the path that Jesus described as denying yourself daily, taking up your cross, and following Him (Luke 9:23).

This includes saying no to ungodliness. This refers to a person who does not reverence God and thus lives by ignoring God. It obviously refers to the person who is openly immoral or evil, but it also includes the outwardly nice person who simply has no place for God in his life. His everyday life is organized, motivated, and run by self, with no place for God. The person who has tasted God’s grace will say no to such godless living.

Also, you must say no to worldly desires. This refers to desires that are characteristic of this world system that is opposed to God. John describes them as “the lust of the flesh,” “the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16). They include selfishness, pride, seeking after status and power, greed, lust, and living for sinful pleasure rather than finding pleasure in God above all else. Grace trains you to say no to these things, because God and His grace are far sweeter than anything the world can offer.

B. Grace trains us to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in this present age (2:12b).

It is not enough to say no to ungodliness and worldly desires. You must also say yes to sensible, righteous, godly living. In the present age emphasizes that we do not need to isolate ourselves from this evil world in monasteries or Christian communes. Rather, in the midst of this present evil age, we are to live sensible, righteous, godly lives, so that those in the world will be drawn to our Savior. Many commentators have pointed out that sensibly refers to how you are to control yourself; righteously has reference to your relationships with others; and, godly refers to your relationship toward God.

(1). Grace trains us to live sensibly.

This is the word that we have repeatedly encountered in Titus (1:8; 2:2, 4, 5, 6), which means, living in a self-controlled manner, not yielding to various passions and impulses. It is synonymous with the last of the fruits of the Spirit, which is self control.

(2). Grace trains us to live righteously.

This refers to a life of integrity and uprightness in your dealings with others. It means conforming to God’s standards of conduct, as revealed in the commandments of His Word.

(3). Grace trains us to live godly.

This refers to holiness and devotion to God, beginning on the heart level. It means to live a God-ward life, knowing that He examines your heart. You confess sinful thoughts to Him and live in the love and fear of God. As Paul expressed his concern (2 Cor. 11:3), “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”

If you live in the way that Paul describes in our text, denying ungodliness and worldly desires and living sensibly, righteously, and godly in the midst of this corrupt age, other Christians will call you a legalist. Many in the world will think that you’re weird because you don’t strive for the same things that they seek. But you will experience the joy of close fellowship with the God who rescued you from sin and judgment. His grace motivates you to live differently than the world, and differently than those who profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him (Titus 1:16). But there’s a third way that grace trains us:

C. Grace trains us to live in godliness by looking ahead and behind (2:13-14a).

The forward look is toward the second coming of Jesus Christ. The backward look is toward the cross and its implications on our lives.

(1). Look ahead to the blessed hope of Christ’s second coming (2:13).

God’s grace instructs us to look “for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.” (Some Greek manuscripts read, “Jesus Christ.”) Christ’s first appearing was in grace, bringing salvation. During His first coming, His glory was mostly veiled. But His second appearing will be in glory, bringing salvation to His people, but terrifying judgment to those who have not believed in Him. His second coming is a “blessed hope” for those who know Him, because then we will fully experience all of the blessings of His salvation.

If your focus is set on the hope of Christ’s return, you will purify your life from every known sin (1 John 3:2-3). During his time in the White House, President Carter did something that no other President (that I know of) has done: on several occasions, he stayed in the homes of common Americans. I don’t know how he picked them, but he wanted to convey that he was in tune with the needs of average Americans.

If you got a call this week from the White House, announcing that the President would like to stay in your home sometime next month (meaning that your living room and kitchen would be on national television), I predict that you would do some housecleaning! Your home would sparkle because you knew that the President was coming.

Someone far greater than the President is coming! Paul calls Him, “our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.” Scholars debate whether this refers to both the Father and the Son (as in the KJV), or to the Son alone (NASB). Either view affirms Jesus’ deity, in that He could not reveal the greatness of God’s glory if He were not God. But the Greek grammar, has one article governing both God and Savior, which is best understood to refer to one person, not to two. Also, every other time the New Testament refers to “the appearing,” it refers to Christ, not to God the Father. The adjective “great” is often applied to God in the Old Testament, but it is reserved for the Son in the New Testament (Luke 1:32; Heb. 10:21; 13:20). So this verse is a strong statement of Christ’s deity.

“Looking for” implies eager anticipation. Just as a young bride whose husband is away in the military eagerly looks forward to his return, so believers who have tasted God’s grace look forward to the coming of our Bridegroom. That hope motivates us to clean house on any sins in our lives.

(2). Look back to the supreme demonstration of His love, which redeemed us from sin and made us His own possession (2:14a).

“Who” refers back to “our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.” None other than He “gave Himself for us”! If that thought doesn’t grip your heart, you’re in deep spiritual trouble. Paul shows that this past grace that was shown to us produces godliness in us.

First, Christ “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed” (2:14a). The word redeem would have gotten the attention of any slaves. It was the word used of buying a slave out of the market so as to give him his freedom. Before we met Christ, we all were slaves of sin. He paid the redemption price in His own blood to free us from bondage to sin. How, then, can a believer go back into slavery to sin?

Second, Christ gave Himself for us that He might “purify for Himself a people for His own possession.” Verse 12 focused on our need to purify ourselves, but verse 14 focuses on Christ’s purifying us through His blood. He bought us from the slave market of sin and washed off our filth. Now we belong to Him as His personal possession. He prizes us more than anyone prizes a valuable treasure, because He paid for us with His blood. Again, what a motivation to live to please Him!

One reason that we partake often of the Lord’s Supper is that it reminds us of these precious truths. Before we partake, we are to examine ourselves and confess any known sins. As we think on the great sacrifice that our God and Savior made by giving Himself for us, it will draw our hearts toward Him in love and devotion. It will make us long for the day of His appearing in glory, when we will be caught up to be with Him forever.

Thus God’s grace in Christ brings salvation to us. Then it trains us to live in godliness. Finally,

3. God’s grace trains us who are saved to be zealous for good deeds (2:14b).

“Good deeds” refer to deeds that are done out of sincere love for God and others in obedience to His Word. “Zealous” is a word that Paul used to describe his fanatical zeal for Judaism prior to his conversion (Gal. 1:14). It was also used to describe the fanatical Jewish sect that was devoted to ridding Israel of Roman domination. The Zealots were totally devoted to their cause, even to the point of risking their own lives to achieve their goals. You would not call them lukewarm!

Could you rightly describe yourself as a fanatic for good deeds? It seems to me that the vast majority of Christians dabble at good deeds when it is convenient, when they don’t have anything else that they’d rather do. But if we have been bought out of the slave market of sin by the blood of our great God and Savior, we should be fanatics for good deeds. We ought to be totally devoted to serving our new Master.


A book that has often convicted me of my own lack of love for the Lord and zeal for His work is Elisabeth Elliot’s, Shadow of the Almighty [Zondervan], subtitled, “The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot.” My copy is falling apart because I have thumbed back through it so many times. Elisabeth’s husband, Jim, was only 28 when he and four other young men were speared to death in their attempt to take the gospel to the fierce Auca Indians of Ecuador.

Here are some quotes from his diary that show how he exemplified our text. God’s grace motivated him. At age 22, he wrote (p. 110), “I see clearly now that anything, whatever it is, if it be not on the principle of grace, it is not of God.” Regarding living in light of the second coming, at age 20 he wrote to his 15-year-old sister (p. 53), “Fix your eyes on the rising Morning Star…. Live every day as if the Son of Man were at the door, and gear your thinking to the fleeting moment…. Walk as if the next step would carry you across the threshold of Heaven.”

Or, again at 22 (p. 115), “How poorly will appear anything but a consuming operative faith in the person of Christ when He comes. How lost, alas, a life lived in any other light!” His entire life portrayed intense zeal for the Lord and His work. He wrote (Through Gates of Splendor [Spire Books], pp. 19-20), “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

That’s how God’s grace works. It saves us and then it trains and motivates us to be godly people in this present age, zealous for good deeds, as we look for the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us.

Application Questions

  1. Which is the greater problem in Christian circles today: Legalism or licentiousness? How can we avoid both errors?
  2. Is it legalistic to go against your feelings in order to deny ungodly impulses? How do you obey from the heart if your heart is tugging you toward sin?
  3. God’s grace in salvation is completely unmerited and we are to live by grace. But blessing in the Christian life is contingent on obedience. How do you reconcile these principles?
  4. How can a believer who has lost his zeal for the Lord and His work rekindle it?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Biblical Topics: 

Lesson 9: Understanding Biblical Authority (Titus 2:15)

In a “Frank & Ernest” cartoon, the two bunglers are standing before the Pearly Gates. St. Peter, holding the keys, is scowling at Ernie. Frank whispers to Ernie, “If I were you I’d change my shirt, Ernie.” Ernie’s T-shirt reads, “Question Authority.”

Americans think that questioning or defying authority is our inalienable constitutional right. If our President begins to act as if he were the king, we rally to throw him out of office. It carries down through our society, all the way to rebellion on the family level. We resist the concept of authority. We don’t like submitting to anyone.

When it comes to the church, most American evangelicals do not view it as a place where you submit to the leadership for the purpose of growth and accountability, but rather as a store where you shop as a consumer. If you like the place and it services your needs, you come back. If another place down the road offers a more pleasant experience, you move your business there. Thus pastors who are trying to market their churches don’t dare say anything that might offend or upset the customers. The customer is king. You want to please your customers. With this consumer view about the church, the idea of spiritual authority, of proclaiming, “Thus says the Lord,” seems odd and out of place.

The idea of spiritual authority scares us because of wackos like Jim Jones, the cult leader who killed over 900 followers back in the 1970’s. Or, we think of cult leaders who arrange marriages and demand that followers turn over all their assets to the cult and blindly follow orders. Even in less extreme situations, many Christians have had bad experiences with authoritarian pastors who wrongly lord it over the flock. Often these men mistakenly claim that you can’t “touch the Lord’s anointed,” meaning that the pastor is beyond criticism or correction, even if he is engaging in sinful or unbiblical practices. They label anyone who speaks out as divisive or contentious. But they misunderstand true biblical authority.

So as we approach Titus 2:15, we must avoid these extremes and seek to understand how these words apply: “These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” Titus was the apostle Paul’s appointed delegate, and in that sense, no one since that time is in exactly the same position. But, we have the apostolic message in the New Testament, which states that elders are to rule in the churches and members are to submit (1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:17). Thus we need proper understanding about the subject of biblical authority. Our text is saying,

Men of God must teach God’s Word and lead the church with true biblical authority, and the church must submit to such authority.

Note carefully that Paul does not say, “Let no one disregard the word you preach,” but rather, “Let no one disregard you.” That was written not only to Titus, but also to the church. Undoubtedly Paul’s intention was that the people not disregard Titus’ message. But by stating it as he does, Paul brings out the fact that people who would not be so bold as to reject the Word can nonetheless dodge the pointed application of the Word to their lives by disregarding the man who teaches the Word. If he exhorts or reproves them from the Word, they can say, “Who does he think he is to say such things? He probably doesn’t practice what he preaches!” And so, by disregarding the preacher, they disregard the Word. In reality, they are not in submission to God, but they dodge the serious implications of that by attacking God’s messenger.

I want to make seven statements about biblical authority, based upon Titus 2:15 and a few other texts. My purpose is to help you understand this important concept so that you will submit all of your life to God, who is the ultimate authority, and reap the blessings that come from a life of submission to Him.

1. All authority on the human plane is delegated authority.

All authority on earth comes from the Sovereign of the universe. Note Romans 13:1-2: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” Paul goes on to talk about government authorities, but his statement shows that all authority comes from God.

The Bible makes the same point in Daniel 4, where God humbles the proud Nebuchadnezzar. The chapter emphasizes (Dan. 4:17, 25) “that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes.” All authority is delegated from God and those in authority are accountable to God.

This means that no person, no matter what office he holds, is above rebuke if he strays from the ultimate authority of God’s Word. Daniel had to tactfully, but directly, confront the proud Nebuchadnezzar about his sin. Later (Daniel 5), he directly confronted Belshazzar with his sin. John the Baptist confronted King Herod with his sin of taking his brother’s wife.

In the local church, the Bible states that elders are not to lord it over those allotted to their charge, but rather to be examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:3). Therefore, if a pastor or a group of elders disregard God’s Word and lord it over the church, they need to be confronted in line with biblical guidelines (1 Tim. 5:19-20). If they do not repent, they should be removed from office and put under church discipline. Only obedient men, who acknowledge that they are under God’s sovereign authority, are in a position to exercise biblical authority in a local church.

2. All authority is vested in a plurality of men on the local church level.

We examined this when we studied Titus 1:5, so I will only mention it in passing here. Whenever the New Testament refers to the elders of a particular local church, it always uses the plural. A plurality of elders over a single local church is God’s way of protecting the church against the abuses of authority that may easily happen if a single man runs the church. The elders must submit to the Lord and be accountable to one another and to the church.

Ray Stedman put it this way (Discovery Paper 3500, “A Pastor’s Authority”), “The task of the elders is not to run the church themselves, but to determine how the Lord in their midst wishes to run his church.” He points out that much of this has already been made known through the Bible. Thus, “In the day-to-day decisions which every church faces, elders are to seek and find the mind of the Lord through an uncoerced unanimity, reached after thorough and biblically-related discussion. Thus, ultimate authority, even in practical matters, is vested in the Lord and in no one else.” The Lord delegates that authority to a plurality of men in each local church so that no one man can play God.

3. All authority is designed for our blessing and protection.

When authority is abused, it hurts those under authority. In such cases, God ultimately will judge the abuser. But when it is exercised properly, authority blesses and protects those under it.

God has instituted several spheres of authority. Romans 13 establishes the authority of civil government, which is supposed to punish lawbreakers and protect those who obey the laws. The government should protect its citizens by passing and upholding just laws. When the government fails to do its job, the citizens suffer. If you get frustrated with the U.S. government, go to a place like Sudan or Somalia, where the governments are weak, corrupt, and aiding evildoers! (We looked at authority in the workplace several weeks ago, so will skip that here.)

Another sphere of authority is the local church. In that sphere, a plurality of elders are to uphold God’s standards of holiness and sound doctrine, to correct those who stray from the truth, to remove from the flock those who refuse to repent so as to protect the rest, and to bless God’s people by instructing them in His ways. Paul’s words (Titus 2:15), “speak and exhort and reprove” indicate that different approaches are needed with different people. With some, just a word is all that is needed to get them back on the path. Others need stronger exhortation. Others need to be convinced or convicted of their wrong (“reprove”; see also, 1 Thess. 5:14).

Another sphere of authority is the family. Husbands are to love their wives and children, leading them into godliness by example and instruction. Wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22) and children are to obey their parents, who are to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:1, 4). If a husband is abusive to his wife or children, he should be confronted, first by the wife. If he continues, the elders of the church should get involved. If he is violating the civil law, then the government should be called in to protect the family. By the way, the Bible never commands the husband to be the head of the wife. Rather, it simply states that as a fact. The command to husbands is to love your wife sacrificially, just as Christ loved the church. Put your focus there!

I will also add that in my 33 years of marriage, I cannot remember a single time when I had to “pull rank” and use my authority to go over Marla’s head. In every situation we have been able to talk and come to a mutual agreement about what God would have us to do. With regard to your children, the younger the child, the more you have to exercise raw authority, not to get your way, but rather to protect and bless your children with God’s ways. As children grow older, you reason with them and appeal to them to yield to the lordship of Christ. So as they grow older, the situations where you have to exercise parental authority over them should be growing fewer. By the time they are teenagers, they should be walking in obedience to Christ.

So the point is, in whatever sphere, authority is designed for the blessing and protection of those under authority. It is never to be used for the advantage of the one in authority.

4. Authority does not imply superiority.

Feminists who bristle at the thought of a wife submitting to her husband contend that to submit implies inferiority. But note 1 Corinthians 11:3: “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” (See also, 1 Corinthians 15:27-28.)

If subjection means inferiority, then it would mean that Jesus Christ is inferior to the Father, which is heresy! The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal as persons in their eternal deity, but to carry out the divine plan of redemption, the Son submitted to the Father and the Spirit submitted to the Son. But the Son and the Spirit are equally God along with the Father.

One of the purposes of marriage is that a husband and wife would reflect the divine image and also, the relationship between Christ and the church (Gen. 1:27; Eph. 5:32). The divine image includes the equality of the Father and Son as persons, but also the submission of the Son to the Father for the purpose of function. There is no competition or striving for superiority between the Father and the Son. There is infinite mutual love between them, and voluntary submission on the part of the Son. The same relationship should prevail in the Christian home.

5. Authority does imply responsibility and accountability.

We often see authority as a perk, but not as a serious responsibility. When my brother was a boy, he started a club with his friends. He announced that there were two rules in his club: First rule: I am the boss of this club. Second rule: You don’t boss the boss! While it was funny, it’s the way that many think of authority.

A lot of men try to operate as the boss in their homes, but they don’t accept the responsibility and accountability of authority. The key concept of delegated authority is not that I’m the boss, but rather that I’m responsible and accountable. If a business owner hires a manager, the manager has authority to run the business, but the main thing he needs to keep in mind is, it is not his business and he must give an account to the owner.

To be in authority in any sphere means that someday you must give an account to God, who entrusted that position to you. If you use your authority to abuse those under you for your own advantage, you’re going to be in big trouble someday. If you use it to seek to accomplish the Master’s will by blessing and protecting those under your charge, you will be rewarded (Luke 12:42-48; 20:9-16).

But you can’t blame those under your authority for your own lack of godly leadership. If a seaman runs a destroyer into the rocks while the captain is sleeping, the navy will discipline the seaman. But, also they will call the captain on the carpet for not running his ship properly. The same principle applies to both the church and the home. If a church refuses to follow God’s Word, each member will answer to God. But also He will hold the elders accountable. Why didn’t they confront the errors and lead the church into obedience? If a family drifts away from the Lord, each member will answer to the Lord. But, also the husband will be called to account if he didn’t exhort and correct and set a godly example.

One of the main problems in Christian homes today is that husbands are spiritually passive, while the wives excel in Bible knowledge and spiritual maturity. In a business, if a manager has an employee who knows more about some aspect of the business than he does, if he is wise he will follow that employee’s advice and he will scramble to learn about that aspect of the business. But, he will not abdicate authority to that employee.

The same principle should apply in the home. If a husband realizes that his wife has more biblical understanding than he does, he would be foolish to go against what she says. But, he should not just abdicate spiritual authority to her. Rather, he should remember that he will answer to God for the spiritual direction of the home. And he should get busy studying the Bible and walking with God so that he can manage the home in a biblical manner.

Also, the way authority works is that if the one (or ones) in authority sin, those under authority will suffer for it. When David sinned with Bathsheba, David’s family and eventually the entire nation suffered the consequences. When he later sinned by numbering the people, thousands died as a result. As a husband, one of my strongest instincts is to protect my wife and children. But, if I don’t deal with my own sin (including “secret” sins, such as lust), I am exposing my family to the enemy’s attacks. If as a pastor I am dabbling in sin, I expose the entire flock to danger.

Thus the concept that authority implies responsibility and accountability should strike fear and trembling into the hearts of everyone in authority. We should be careful to confess and repent of all sin, so that those whom we are supposed to bless and protect do not suffer and so that we can give a good account when we stand before the Lord.

6. Authority concerns character primarily and position secondarily.

In the world and, sadly, often in the church, these get reversed. A man seeks the position of authority, but he lacks the character to lead. Once he secures the position, he doesn’t command respect, so he asserts his authority by lording it over others (Mark 10:42-45). They finally get fed up and rebel.

When Paul tells Titus (2:15), “Let no one disregard you,” he did not mean that Titus was to assert his authority by letting people know that they couldn’t push him around. Rather, he meant, “Titus, be such an example of godliness and good deeds (2:7-8) that people will not be able to disregard your message because they know that your life backs it up.” It is the same thing that Paul said to Timothy (1 Tim. 4:12), when he told him not to let anyone look down on his youthfulness. How was Timothy to do that? Was he to let people know that he had authority because Paul had put him in charge? No, Paul says, “but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”

Thus character is the primary thing in authority, because godly character commands respect and a man with respect has authority. But, there is also a secondary aspect of authority, namely, the authority of position or office. Hopefully, the man who fills the office graces the position with godly character. But even if he falls short, we need to maintain a certain respect for the office.

When Paul wrote Romans 13, the supreme authority in Rome was the godless emperor, Nero. He was an immoral, cruel madman, but even so, Paul commanded believers to submit out of respect for the God-ordained position of authority. In a similar manner, Peter told slaves to obey unjust masters and wives to submit to unbelieving husbands (1 Pet. 2:18-3:6). Why? Because we must respect the position of authority, which God ordained. This does not mean that someone who is abusing his position should not be confronted and, perhaps, removed through proper channels. But even such confrontation must be done with respect towards the God-ordained position of authority.

I once heard Pastor Bill Yaeger tell how when he had just become the pastor of First Baptist Church of Modesto, a little old granny came up and started berating him over something that she didn’t like. He shocked her by saying, “Wait a minute! You can’t talk to me like that! I am your pastor and God put me here to lead you spiritually. You can’t talk to me with that tone of voice!” She meekly said, “I’m sorry.” Yaeger said he felt like slapping her on the backside and saying, “Now, get back into the game!”

7. Authority is exercised in the local church through teaching and correcting with God’s Word.

Sometimes (hopefully, rarely) the elders must take correction to the level of public church discipline (I will deal with this further when we come to Titus 3:10-11). When that happens, the church must submit to the discipline by breaking fellowship with the sinning member (1 Cor. 5:1-13).

But, for now note that the man of God must teach the Word of God with all authority. This does not mean beating people over the head with dogmatic views on minor issues. But it does mean that when the Bible clearly commands something, the preacher must not dodge the command or teach it as a helpful hint for happy living. It is the Word of the living God, and it must be preached as His commandment, not as an optional opinion that you may want to consider. Both the preacher and the congregation are under the same authority of the Word. If it steps on your toes, it probably stepped on mine while I was studying the text for the message. We all must obey God’s Word.


Here are some questions to ask yourself to apply the concept of biblical authority:

First, do I have a settled commitment to submit to God’s authority as revealed in His Word? Is Jesus truly my Lord? Selective obedience is really not obedience at all.

Second, am I under proper authority in the various God-ordained spheres? Do I submit to the government? What is my attitude in the church, at home, and at work? Am I only giving outward, grudging compliance, or am I obedient cheerfully from the heart?

Third, if I am in a position of authority, do I wrongly use it for selfish advantage or do I exercise it fearfully because of the responsibility before God?

Fourth, if I am in authority, do I lead with an air of superiority, or by humbly serving and blessing those I lead?

Fifth, if I am in authority, does my character elicit respect or does it undermine my leadership? Am I the first to obey the Word?

May we all take to heart the teaching of God’s Word about biblical authority! He is the supreme authority and we need to make sure that our hearts are in submission to Him.

Application Questions

  1. Why is it important for everyone in authority to remember that he only holds a delegated authority?
  2. Although God designed authority for our blessing and protection, He allows a lot of abusive authority to exist. Why would He do this? What can those under such authority learn?
  3. When, if ever, is it right to rebel against abusive authority? What biblical guidelines apply?
  4. What is the difference between teaching with true biblical authority and teaching with opinionated dogmatism?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation


Lesson 10: Gracious Reminders (Titus 3:1-7)

If you have tasted God’s grace at the cross, you are a changed person. There is simply no way that you can receive God’s gift of eternal life and have your sins forgiven by the blood of Christ, and go on living as you formerly lived. By His sovereign grace alone, God raised you from being dead in your sins, gave you a new heart, gave you new understanding of the truth, and brought you personally to know Him, the living and true God. God’s grace leaves you a different person than you were before.

But, at the same time, there are powerful forces at work to cause you to revert to your old ways. The world bombards you daily with its false messages that promise satisfaction with its pleasures, apart from God. The flesh tempts you from within, promising you fulfillment if you will yield. The devil craftily lays his traps, enticing you to satisfy your needs in disobedience to God. All of these powerful forces make us tend to forget what God has done in our hearts by His grace. And so we need to be reminded again and again of how God’s grace has laid hold of our lives.

In Titus 3:1-8, Paul speaks as a kind father in the faith, giving Titus and the believers in Crete some gracious reminders of how God has laid hold of their lives. His real concern is the church’s witness in a pagan world. It is quite relevant for us. We live in a culture that exalts sin and despises God. There is an increasingly militant mood against those of us who hold to godly moral standards. How should we respond? Should we organize political parties to try to gain power over the opposition? Should we stage protests against the forces of evil in our community? While there is a legitimate place in a democratic government to seek to pass laws that uphold biblical standards of morality, that approach is really only putting a Band-Aid on the cancer.

What our perverted, sinful society needs is the gospel, which alone can change human hearts. But, how do we gain a hearing for the gospel among people who mock God and His people? Paul’s answer is that we must live godly lives in this evil world. We must excel in good works that display God’s grace through us. The changed lives of believers will provide the platform for verbal witness that points other sinners to God’s grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ. But, we need to keep being reminded of how God’s grace changed us. So Paul is saying here,

Being reminded of God’s grace that changed us will motivate us to show His grace to others through our good deeds.

This section runs down through verse 8, but because verses 4-7 are so rich, I didn’t want just to skim over them. So we will go through the main idea of verses 1-7 today, but next time will go back to examine verses 4-8 more carefully. In 3:1-2, Paul reminds us of how we should act towards this ungodly world. In 3:3, he reminds us of how we used to be before we experienced God’s grace. In 3:4-7, he reminds us of the marvelous grace of our loving Lord, grace that changed us on the most fundamental level.

1. Remember how you now are to act towards this ungodly world (3:1-2).

The things that Paul shares here were not new truths to the Cretan church. They had already been taught these things. If you have been a believer for any length of time, they are not new to you. But, as a gentle father, Paul felt the need to remind his children in the faith of these basic ways that they needed to behave in relation to this godless world. William Barclay (The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon [Westminster Press], rev. ed., p. 258) writes, “The Cretans were notoriously turbulent and quarrelsome and impatient of all authority. Polybius, the Greek historian, said of them that they were constantly involved in ‘insurrections, murders and internecine wars.’” Paul lays out seven marks of godly character in relation to that kind of godless society:

A. Christians must be subject to government rulers and authorities.

This is the consistent apostolic teaching about how believers must relate to their government (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). Although Paul lived under the tyranny of the notoriously godless Nero, he did not make exceptions for notoriously godless governments. Although there was much bribery and corruption in the governments of that day at every level, Paul did not specify that the government must be free of corruption before these principles apply (although believers should not engage in bribery). Although the government of that time was not even close to being Christian, Paul did not say that his commands only apply if you live in a Christian-based government. The only time that believers are required to disobey secular government is when the government commands us to do something that would require us to disobey God. At that point, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), and perhaps suffer punishment from the government.

My understanding is that Christians should not participate in a revolution to overthrow duly constituted government except in the most dire of situations. Although I am glad to live in the United States and I appreciate our freedom, I cannot justify biblically the American Revolution. I grant that if I had lived under Nazi Germany, it may have been legitimate to try to overthrow Hitler in order to save millions of Jews from his gas chambers, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer attempted to do. That was an ethical dilemma. But, Paul did not call for the overthrow of Nero to protect the many believers who were being martyred. So except in rare situations, we should submit to our government.

The question arises, to what extent, if any, should Christians get involved in politics or government, especially in a democratic system of participatory government? Some Christians camp on the fact that we are citizens of heaven and that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. They argue that only the gospel can change human hearts. Thus they refuse any involvement with civil government. They do not vote, they will not run for public office, they would never write to an elected official, and they will not join the military.

On the opposite extreme, some Christians seem to think that political power is the key to saving America. In 1984, I heard a well-known Christian leader speak in a church service on, “The Second Most Important Day of Your Life.” He said that the first most important day of your life was the day you trusted in Christ as Savior and Lord. At least he got that right! But then he said that more important than the day that you met and married your spouse, more important than the day that any of your children were born, would be the day that fall when you went to the polls and re-elected Ronald Reagan to his second term! In my humble opinion, that was not the second most important day of my life!

If you’d like a more lengthy treatment of my understanding, I preached a message that fall, “Christians and Politics: How Shall They Mix?” (It is on the church web site.) Briefly, I think that there is a legitimate place for Christians to be involved in civil government as the Lord leads, whether by running for office, campaigning for candidates who stand for Christian values, or in other ways.

But, we must keep in view that it is the gospel that our godless culture desperately needs more than anything else. So in whatever capacity we may be involved in the political process, we need to keep our witness as Christians uppermost in our minds. If we posture ourselves as enemies of the unbelievers that we’re trying to reach, we will alienate them from the gospel that they need to hear.

Paul says here that our witness requires us to be subject to rulers and authorities. This does not mean that we cannot voice strong disagreements or even do everything lawful to try to get godless officials removed from office. But we must show respect for them as individuals and respect for the office that they hold. We must obey the laws of our society, unless those laws would require us to disobey the law of God.

B. Christians must be obedient.

Paul does not specify the object of obedience, but in the context he is probably referring especially to obedience to the government. We should not be law-breakers. We should not foment rebellion or revolution, except in the most extreme situations. Although abortion is a terrible evil, it is a serious sin when professing Christians shoot abortion doctors or blow up abortion clinics. Peaceful protest at abortion clinics is legitimate, if you are so led and believe that you can be a witness in that context. If the government passed a law mandating abortion after one or two children, then we would need to disobey the law.

On a lesser level, whether on a local level or some of the IRS regulations, you may not like or agree with the law, but that doesn’t give you the right to violate the law. Paul says that we must be obedient to the laws of our government.

C. Christians must be ready for every good deed.

“Every good deed” may refer to any deed done in obedience to Christ out of love for others. But in the context, this means that we must be “prepared and willing to participate in activities that promote the welfare of the community.” We “must not stand coldly aloof from praiseworthy enterprises of government but show good public spirit, thus proving that Christianity is a constructive force in society” (D. Edmond Hiebert, Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan], ed. by Frank Gaebelein, 11:443).

When God sent disobedient Judah into exile in Babylon, He said through Jeremiah (29:7), “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.” While our level of involvement will vary depending on our gifts and available time, it is legitimate for believers to be involved in our community. This may include public school activities, scouting, youth sports programs, involvement with the city government, or whatever. We need to be careful not to compromise our convictions by associating with questionable causes. But we should take the lead as Christian people to do good works as a witness to our world.

D. Christians should malign no one.

It is easy to get frustrated with a government official and to react by misrepresenting what he said or did. But that is to malign this person. Or, if a neighbor wrongs you in some way, the human tendency is to build your case against him by running him down when you talk to the other neighbors. But you won’t win that neighbor to Christ if you alienate him by maligning him.

E. Christians should be peaceable.

The earlier edition of the NASB translated this, “uncontentious,” which is more accurate. The Greek word is amacho, which is the opposite of macho. As Christians, we don’t need to act in a macho fashion, trying to prove that no one can shove us around. We shouldn’t take offense easily. If we’re wronged, we should try to conciliate. It is more important to maintain good relations with your neighbor than to stand up for your rights.

F. Christians should be gentle.

The Greek word has the nuance of “forbearance,” of not standing up for your rights when to do so would shred a relationship. There are situations where to stand on your rights would cause such damage toward an unbeliever that he would never want to hear about your Savior. It is far more important in such cases to absorb the wrong and to keep the door open for witness.

G. Christians must show every consideration for all men.

The word “consideration” is the word that is often translated “gentleness” or “meekness.” It is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). It does not mean weakness, but rather, strength under control. It was used of a horse that is broken so that it is completely submissive to its master. The idea here is that in all our dealings with outsiders, we should be under the control of the Holy Spirit, responding graciously and kindly, even when wronged.

Thus Paul says that we who have been changed by God’s grace should be gracious citizens and neighbors towards those who do not know Christ. Then Paul reminds us of what we used to be.

2. Remember that you once were just like the ungodly people of the world (3:3).

“For” shows the logical connection between verses 2 & 3. It is easy to become angry and impatient with unbelievers who act like selfish jerks. But if we want to behave as godly people towards them (3:1-2), then we need to remember that before we met Christ, we acted in the same way that these people do (3:3). Unbelievers are living for themselves. That’s all that they know how to do. Before we met Christ, we lived for self. Keeping in mind how we used to be will enable us to treat ungodly people with grace and compassion. Note that Paul includes himself in this description (“we also”). Again, he lists seven characteristics of unbelievers:

A. We once were foolish.

We were without spiritual wisdom or understanding. We did not know God, and so our foolish heart was darkened (Rom. 1:21). We vainly thought that we were wise, but we were fools.

B. We once were disobedient.

We did not obey God and we only obeyed the laws of our government when it was convenient or when we feared the consequences of getting caught. We were living for ourselves and whatever furthered our interests. We hated the thought of submission or obedience to any authority, including God.

C. We once were deceived.

We did not understand spiritual truth and thus were led astray by Satan. We thought that we were wise to believe in evolution. We thought that we were sophisticated to throw off God’s standards of moral purity. We thought that we could find happiness and fulfillment through the lusts of the flesh or by accumulating material things. We thought that we could violate God’s law without any harmful consequences. But, we were deceived!

D. We once were enslaved to various lusts and pleasures.

Sin, like addictive drugs, always enslaves the one who dabbles with it. At first, it seems as if it will meet your needs. At first, it seems pleasurable. Sexual gratification feels good. Drugs make you feel good. Drinking dulls the pain of problems and pressures. Dishonest business practices may help you to get rich, and money can buy you all sorts of pleasures. But all of these sins enslave you and ultimately destroy you.

E. We once spent our lives in malice.

Malice means ill will towards others. It stems from selfishness and wanting our own way, even if it means harming someone to get it. If you have to lie about a rival to get him fired, well, that’s life in the real world! If you have to cheat someone out of something to get what you want, well, it’s too bad, but that’s the business world! If you have to spread nasty rumors to make your enemy look bad, well it’s a dog-eat-dog world! That is malice!

F. We once spent our lives in envy.

Envy means wanting what someone else has or desiring to be in the position that they are in. It is closely connected with greed. Envy led Ahab and Jezebel to kill Naboth in order to take his vineyard, even though they already had plenty. Envy led the Pharisees to kill Jesus, because He was gaining more followers than they had (Mark 15:10). It is a deed of the flesh (Gal. 5:21; Mark 7:22).

G. We once were hateful.

Very few would admit that they are hateful, because we like to flatter ourselves as being loving people. But hatred is essentially self-centeredness and disregard for others’ feelings and needs. If someone hurts me and I respond by thinking or saying, “He can just drop dead or go to hell, for all that I care,” that is hatred. If I say, “I don’t ever want to talk to that person again,” that is hatred. So even if it doesn’t take the outward form of trying to hurt or kill someone, we all were marked by hatred before we came to Christ, because we all lived for ourselves and were indifferent towards others, unless they could meet our needs.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, I was never like this terrible description in verse 3! I was a basically good person, even before I became a Christian.” It is true that not everyone displays all of these characteristics to the worst degree. Maybe you had a good upbringing, where your parents taught you to be considerate of others and to practice Christian morality. Perhaps your sin was restrained because of your circumstances.

But, if you know your own heart as God sees it, every one of these sins was lurking just below the surface. The truth is, on the heart level we all have violated every one of the Ten Commandments. As Jesus said (Matt. 5:21-30), anger is murder in God’s sight, and lust is adultery. We all have stolen, lied, and coveted. We all have practiced hypocrisy, trying to impress others that we are better than we know we are.

Why is verse 3 in our text? It is there because Paul knows that in order for us to act with love and good deeds towards unbelievers who mistreat us, malign us, and falsely accuse us, we need to remember that we used to be just like they are. We’re made of the same stuff! We would still be acting like that, except for one glorious truth:

3. Remember that it was God’s undeserved kindness and mercy that changed you (3:4-7).

Verses 4 & 5 contain one of the most glorious “buts” in Scripture: “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit….”

We will look at these rich verses (3:4-7) more in detail next time. But for now note that they give the basis or cause of our salvation: God’s kindness, love, and mercy. They give the effects of our salvation: regeneration, renewal, and justification. They give the means of our salvation: the power of the Holy Spirit through the work of Jesus Christ. And, they give the goal of our salvation: heirs according to the hope of eternal life. All three Persons of the Trinity are involved in this wonderful gift of God.

The clear thrust of verses 4-7 is that salvation was not due to anything good in us, but rather it is totally due to God’s abundant grace and mercy. We were just as Paul describes in verse 3, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved to sin. There was nothing in us deserving of salvation. To the contrary, we deserved God’s wrath and judgment. But, because of His great kindness, love, and mercy, He saved us!


Paul’s point is, if you received mercy when you deserved judgment, then show God’s kindness, love and mercy to unbelievers who don’t deserve it. You’re thinking, “But he wronged me!” Well, you wronged God, but how did He treat you? He showed you mercy. Show mercy to the unbeliever who wrongs you. “But she maligned me!” You once maligned God, who is perfectly good, but He still showed you kindness and grace. Rather than getting even, show kindness and grace to that person who maligned you. “But she doesn’t deserve it!” Neither did you!

John Newton was a drunken sailor and an evil slave-trader, but by God’s grace became a great preacher and hymn writer. He wrote a text in bold letters and put it over the mantel in his study, where he would see it often. It was Deuteronomy 15:15 (KJV): “Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee” (cited in, A Frank Boreham Treasury, compiled by Peter Gunther [Moody Press], p. 72). Newton didn’t want to forget that he had received mercy.

Paul gives us the gracious reminder that God has shown us great mercy. In light of that, show God’s mercy to a lost, rebellious world by your godly behavior and good deeds.

Application Questions

  1. Is it ever proper for Christians to engage in revolution against their government? What about the American Revolution?
  2. Is it ever right for a Christian to stand up for his rights on the job or in the community? What if you are being ripped off for a lot of money? What guidelines apply?
  3. What would you say to someone who insisted that verse 3 is not an accurate description of his past? Why is it important to see that it is, and to remember it?
  4. What are some practical ways that you could get involved in our community with a view to being a witness for Christ?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

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Lesson 11: Motivation for Good Deeds (Titus 3:4-8)

Every pastor can tell you about the 80/20 rule in the local church. Eighty percent of the work gets done by 20 percent of the people. This means that 80 percent of the people attend church without getting involved in any form of service. I haven’t validated those numbers here, but I do know that there are many who attend here who never get involved in ministry. We don’t have a waiting list for Sunday School teachers, nursery workers, and small group Bible study leaders!

Why is that? There could be multiple causes. For one thing, life is busy and other things just crowd out serving the Lord. But, we all have the same number of hours in a week, so it really boils down to priorities. Serving the Lord is just not a priority for many that attend church. And so we come back to the question, why is that? Why aren’t God’s people motivated to serve Him?

I cannot judge the motives of your heart. We each need to examine our own hearts. But, I know that there are many that are just cultural Christians. For them, going to church once in a while is a nice thing to do. It makes them feel good. They would claim to believe in Christ as Savior, but He is not really their Lord. They do not let Christ control their use of time and money. They keep Him compartmentalized in a drawer of their lives and pull Him out whenever they feel the need. But other things dominate their daily lives. Serving Him is just not a priority.

If I have just described you, in love I must tell you that you need to examine whether you are truly saved. Jesus does not save you so that you can relegate Him to a drawer of your life, to pull out and use whenever it’s convenient. He is Lord and He demands total allegiance in every area of your life. He will not take a back seat to your career, your family, or your hobbies. So you must ask yourself honestly, “Is Jesus Christ my Lord?” If He is not, you also need to ask, “Is He truly my Savior?” Have I trusted in His blood to deliver me from the wrath of God? Have I repented of my sins? Is Jesus my only hope of heaven?

It may be that you have trusted Christ as Savior, but you’ve drifted into complacency or carelessness in your relationship with Him. You have forgotten your “purification from [your] former sins” (2 Pet. 1:9). You need to remember and think about what God has done for your soul so that you will be both useful and fruitful in your walk with Christ (2 Pet. 1:8). In other words, remembering God’s abundant grace in saving us is the key for motivation to serve Him. That’s what Paul is saying in Titus 3:4-8:

God’s great love and mercy in saving us will motivate us to excel in good works.

Paul’s overall concern in these verses is the church’s witness to a pagan world. How can we gain a platform to tell this world about God’s great love as seen at the cross of Jesus Christ? Paul’s answer is that we must engage in good deeds in our society. To do that, we must remember that we used to be just as unbelievers around us are (3:3). Then he gives us an extended sentence (3:4-7) extolling God’s great love and mercy in saving us. He then comes back (3:8) to exhort Titus to speak confidently about these things (the truths of the gospel of God’s grace), “so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds.” These good deeds are good and profitable for men, in that they may be the avenue to lead them to experience God’s saving grace. The words, “good and profitable,” contrast with the “unprofitable and worthless” doctrines of the false teachers (3:9).

God’s saving grace was the central theme of Paul’s theology. It is the foundation for everything that he says. It was his personal motivation to serve the Lord in spite of repeated trials, persecutions, and setbacks. In 1 Corinthians 15:10, he says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them [the other apostles]; yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” So we should ask God for deeper understanding of His grace, so that we may serve Him joyfully out of hearts filled with love and gratitude.

To understand His saving grace, we must begin by going down, not up. We must see our wretched condition without Christ so that we appreciate what He did in saving us.

1. To be saved, God must open our eyes to see that we are hopelessly lost and cannot save ourselves (3:4a).

The word “but” that begins verse 4 takes us back to verse 3, which we studied last week: “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.” That verse described Paul before his conversion (“we”) and it describes every person before conversion.

Maybe you’re thinking, “But I wasn’t like that! I grew up in the church. I was a pretty good person!” If that is true, it is only because of outward circumstances that restrained your sin. But if God has saved you, He opened your eyes to see that the sins of verse 3 are lurking just below the surface in your heart. As Romans 3:10-12 describes the human race, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.” You were not the first exception to those verses!

Some people don’t like an emphasis on our sin. They want to be positive. They know that God has forgiven their sins, but they just want to focus on His love and not think about the depths of sin from which He rescued them. But, if you do that, you will not appreciate God’s love and grace. God’s grace in saving you was not a matter of His taking a basically good person and giving you a little moral guidance or advice. Salvation is a radical intervention that required the infinite, holy God to send His own Son to be the substitute for sinners. You will never understand or appreciate God’s amazing grace until you see that you were a wretched, lost sinner before He intervened in your life.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones brings this out in his exposition of Ephesians 2:14-16, which states that Christ is our peace, who reconciled us to God through His death. He says (God’s Way of Reconciliation [Baker], p. 201), “In order to measure the love of God you have first to go down before you can go up. You do not start on the level and go up. We have to be brought up from a dungeon, from a horrible pit; and unless you know something of the measure of that depth you will only be measuring half the love of God.”

So Paul begins to tell us of God’s abundant love and mercy with the word, “but,” which takes us back to see the depths of sin from which He rescued us. Then he gives us these glorious verses about God’s grace:

2. When God saves us, it is totally due to His grace and provision, and not at all due to our works (3:4-7).

In verse 3, man is active in sin without God. In verses 4-7, God is active in salvation, changing what man could not. Paul does not mention faith in 3:4-7, because his emphasis is on what God graciously did for us. Our salvation was not due to anything good in us. Salvation is not a joint effort, where God does His part and we add our part. It is all from God, and not at all from us. God did not love us because we were worth loving, but rather because He is love. He did not save us because He foresaw that we would believe in Him. That would make us, not God, the cause of our salvation. Apart from His sovereign intervention, none of us would have believed, because we were dead in our sins. He had to take the initiative. Salvation is totally of the Lord.

These verses give the basis (or cause) of our salvation (first, negatively, not by our works; then, positively, by God’s kindness, love, and mercy); the means of our salvation (regeneration; renewal, justification); and, the result of our salvation (the hope of eternal life). Note the work of all three persons of the Trinity. The Father took the loving initiative in our salvation. The Son provided His gracious merit to secure our salvation. The Spirit effected and abundantly applied God’s salvation to us.

A. Salvation is not on the basis of deeds that we have done in righteousness.

Every non-Christian religion, every cult, and two of the major branches of Christianity (the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church) teach that somehow our good works play a part in our salvation. But, go through the epistles of Paul and note how often he is at pains to deny that our works have any part in saving us. Here are just a few (see, also, 1 Cor. 1:26-31; Gal. 2:21-3:14):

Romans 4:4-5: “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Romans 9:11-12, “for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger.’”

2 Timothy 1:9: God, “who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”

Ephesians 2:8-10: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

Clearly, we are saved so that as a result we will walk in the good works that God prepared beforehand for us to do. But, just as clearly, we are saved apart from any good works, so that we will not boast. So, Paul says here (Titus 3:5a) that God “saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness.”

B. Salvation is on the basis of God’s kindness, love, and mercy.

Note that Paul calls God our Savior (3:4) and then (3:6) calls Jesus Christ our Savior, making Him equal with God. The kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared when Jesus Christ, the eternal God, took on human flesh and entered this world to die as the substitute for our sins. We personally experienced His mercy—His compassion on our pitiable condition—when He saved us. When Jesus commands us to love our enemies and do good (Luke 6:35), He adds as the reason that the Most High “Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” In the next verse, He commands, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” So the foundation for our showing love, kindness, and mercy to others is that we know the love, kindness, and mercy of the Father.

God’s “love for mankind” (Titus 3:4) is the Greek word, philanthropia, from which we get our word, philanthropy. This is the only time this word is used of God in the New Testament. The more usual word is, agape, which occurs in the familiar John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The reason that God loved this evil world and sent His Son was not that the world was so loveable! Rather, it was that God is so loving! The fact that He loved sinful rebels such as we were shows the magnitude of His great love. Thus, salvation is not based on our good deeds, but rather on God’s kindness, love, and mercy.

C. Salvation is accomplished through the washing of regeneration, renewing by the Holy Spirit, and being justified by God’s grace.

There is at least one sermon in each of these phrases, so I can only skim the surface here!

(1). Salvation is accomplished through the washing of regeneration.

Regeneration refers to the new birth, or being born again. When God saves us, He raises us from spiritual death to life (Eph. 2:5). We were as active in being born again as we were in being born the first time. In other words, God is active and we are passive. We do not exercise our free will to be born again any more than Lazarus exercised his free will to come from death to life when Jesus cried out, “Lazarus, come forth!” James 1:18 plainly states, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth….” The new birth is God’s doing, according to His will.

Many commentators interpret the washing of regeneration to refer to baptism, but that is mistaken. In the New Testament, baptism happens after the new birth, as a picture and testimony of what God did in saving us: He washed us from all our sins. The only other time this word is used in the New Testament is in Ephesians 5:26, where Paul says that God cleansed the church “by the washing of water with the word.” In the context, it refers to what happened at the cross.

In Titus 3:5, Paul may have been thinking of Ezekiel 16:4, where God speaks metaphorically of Israel’s birth as a nation: “As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths.” He goes on to say that no one took pity on her, but she was thrown in a field and left to die. Then (Ezek. 16:6), God passed by and saw her squirming in her blood and said to her, “Live!” Later (16:9) He tells how he bathed her with water and washed off her blood. It is a picture of how when we were born spiritually, God washed off the filth of our sins.

(2). Salvation is accomplished through renewing by the Holy Spirit.

Commentators debate whether this refers to the same act as the washing of regeneration, or to something separate. I understand it to refer to the ongoing process of inner renewal that occurs after regeneration. In Romans 12:2, this renewal of the mind is the ongoing process that takes place after we present our bodies to God as living sacrifices. In Ephesians 4:23 and Colossians 3:10, Paul refers to putting on the new man, who is being renewed according to the image of the One who created him. While God creates the new nature by the power of His Spirit, we must walk in the Spirit and be transformed through God’s Word in order to experience this ongoing renewal.

Note also that Paul adds (3:6) that God poured out the Holy Spirit upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. Those who teach that you may be a Christian without having the Holy Spirit are mistaken. Every Christian has received the Holy Spirit: Paul says (Rom. 8:9), “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” Our text says that we not only have the Spirit in a small portion, but that God has poured out the Spirit on us richly through Jesus Christ.

But, having said that, we all need to ask ourselves, “Do I experience this?” Do I know in my daily walk the fullness of God’s Spirit? If not, why not? Is there some sin in my heart that blocks His fullness? Is my focus too much on the things of this world? Is my faith too small, so that I operate more in dependence on my own abilities, rather than relying on God’s Spirit? The main evidence of the Spirit’s fullness in our lives will not be that we babble in tongues or keel over backwards. The main evidence will be the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) manifested in our daily lives.

(3). Salvation is accomplished through being justified by God’s grace.

To be justified is for God to declare the sinner righteous because He imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ to us at the instant we believe (see Romans 3 & 4). God does not justify the sinner by crediting faith to us as our righteousness. Rather, the merit of Christ (His perfect righteousness) is credited to us through faith in Christ. As Paul says here, justification comes to us by God’s grace, and thus it is in no way merited by our faith.

Thus salvation is not on the basis of deeds that we have done, but rather, is on the basis of God’s kindness, love, and mercy. It is accomplished through the washing of regeneration, renewing by the Holy Spirit, and being justified by God’s grace. Finally,

D. Salvation results in our being made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

All that is Christ’s is ours! We do not experience it all in this life, but it is laid up for us in heaven, as secure as the promise of God. “Hope” does not convey any uncertainty, but rather the fact that our inheritance is still in the future, and thus not fully realized. We are heirs, written in the will of God’s Son. Throughout eternity, we will not get to the end of experiencing our riches in Christ!

What is the bottom line? Why does Paul go into this great discourse on our salvation?

3. These doctrines of God’s grace in our salvation will motivate us to excel in good deeds (3:8).

“This is a trustworthy statement” occurs four other times in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11). Here it refers back to the long sentence that runs from verses 4-7. “These things” refers to the same sentence, these great doctrinal truths about our salvation. Paul wants Titus to continue speaking these truths with confidence, so that believers “will be careful to engage in good deeds.”

“Be careful” is literally, “take thought.” It implies that we must give mental effort to the question of how God wants us to serve Him. It also takes a swipe at the false teachers, who loved to speculate on worthless things that did not lead to good deeds (3:9). It also shows us that sound doctrine is not for useless speculation, but for practical application. If you understand the doctrine of salvation by God’s sovereign grace, it will motivate you to take thought about how you may engage in good deeds.

“Engage in” is a Greek word that means, “to take the lead.” It is used of elders leading the church (1 Tim. 5:17). The idea is that believers give careful thought so that they may excel or take the lead in doing good works. The reason is that these things (the truths of the gospel and the good deeds of believers) are good and profitable for men, believers and unbelievers alike. Our good deeds encourage and build up the saints. And, they are often the platform that open the door so that we can tell lost people about the kindness and love of God, who sent His Son to be the Savior of all that believe in Him.


So, are you motivated, like Paul was, to outdo everyone else in serving God? If not, first make sure that you’re trusting in Christ as Savior and Lord. Then, meditate on His great kindness, love, and mercy that sent His Son to die for your sins. The Lord’s Supper is a time to be reminded again and again of what He did for you totally by His grace. Let His grace motivate you to excel in good deeds. Tell the world of what He has done for your soul!

Application Questions

  1. Why do so few Christians excel in good deeds? How can they remedy this problem?
  2. Some Christians would argue that to be reminded of our sinfulness is negative and unhealthy for our self-esteem. How would you respond?
  3. Why must sound doctrine (3:4-7) be the foundation for good deeds (3:8)? Why are the “good deeds” of those in the cults worthless?
  4. Why must we insist that to mingle good works with faith for salvation is to pollute the pure gospel of God’s grace?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation


Lesson 12: Dealing with Factious People (Titus 3:9-11)

There has been a flurry of letters in our local paper lately attacking what they call “exclusivist” Christians who restrict the annual prayer breakfast to those who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Jed Schenck, the pastor at the Federated Community Church, organized an alternative prayer service to include people of all faiths, such as Buddhists, Hindus, Native American religions, Mormons, or whomever. The paper published a letter by Steve Yulish defending the evangelical prayer meeting and affirming that Jesus is the only way to salvation.

It also published several responses accusing Mr. Yulish and those who agree with him of being bigoted, intolerant, and holding “exactly the attitude that fueled the Inquisition” (Melanie Richards, Arizona Daily Sun, 5/13/2007). Rev. Schenck weighed in with a letter (5/15/2007) that read, in part, “God’s spirit works through all cultures and all spiritual traditions; it ‘blows where it will’ and is not the exclusive domain of any one tradition—and never has been. God speaks today, as in the past, through all religions and cultures and faith traditions, none of which is perfect and an exclusive avenue to truth, but all of which can learn from each other. An interfaith identity is a necessary part of spiritual awareness and practice in our time.”

A week before the prayer breakfast (4/29/2007), the paper printed an editorial written by a retired attorney, Mike Chambers, who wrote, “Religious exclusiveness baffles me. I have tried to understand the logic behind a belief that yours is the only religion and that all others are doomed.” He went on to pontificate, “Whether liberal or conservative, exclusivism is what is wrong with religion and world politics.” He then encouraged everyone to pray with someone who holds a different religious belief than yours. He said, “You’ll be amazed to learn that we all pray to the same God for the same things.”

I sent a response to Mr. Chambers, but the editor refused to print it. I pointed out that behind the complaint against “religious exclusivists” is an unstated assumption, namely, that there is no such thing as absolute, knowable truth in the spiritual realm. If that assumption is true, then it follows that one religion is just as good as another. Finding the right religion would be just a matter of personal preference, like finding a favorite restaurant.

But if that assumption is false, then it is possible that one religion is true and that others are false. I pointed out that the founder of Christianity made a rather exclusivistic claim, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). I suggested that at the very least, it would be profitable to examine the truth claims that Jesus made. I even offered to buy Mr. Chambers a cup of coffee and discuss spiritual matters with him, but the editor didn’t want my version of religious exclusivism to be published!

In light of the supreme “virtue of tolerance” that dominates our culture, it is probably no great surprise to read these attacks against we who believe the message of the Bible to be the only spiritual truth. What is shocking is that among professing Christians, 64 percent of adults and 91 percent of evangelical students do not believe in absolute truth in the moral realm (Christian Worldview Network email, 5/18/2007). Apparently, the unbiblical attitudes of the world are not just seeping into the church—they are flooding in and about to sink the ship!

The Bible affirms from cover to cover that God exists objectively, apart from our ideas about Him and apart from our subjective experience of Him. He spoke the universe into existence. He has revealed Himself in the written words of Scripture and supremely in the person of Jesus Christ, who is God in human flesh. God is true whether you believe in Him or not and whether you like who He is or not. You can make up a god who is all love, who never judges anyone, but such a god is not the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. You can make up a god who lets everyone into heaven, no matter what the person believes, but that god is not the God of the Bible. If you believe in this tolerant god, then you have rejected Jesus Christ, who taught something very exclusive and narrow.

All of this is a necessary background to understand what Paul is getting at in Titus 3:9-11. He tells Titus not to get involved in meaningless controversies and theological speculation and to deal with factious people who promote such ideas in the church. Paul’s words are meaningless unless there is such a thing as knowable, absolute spiritual truth. He is assuming that the gospel is true and that it is the responsibility of the leaders in the church to maintain that truth by dealing with those who try to subvert it. He’s saying,

To maintain the truth of the gospel, church leaders must deal properly with factious people.

1. The church is to maintain the truth of the gospel.

This point is not directly in the text, but it underlies Paul’s thought. In 1 Timothy 3:15, he writes that the church is “the pillar and support of the truth.” The main spiritual truth in the Bible is that Jesus Christ is the only Savior for the sinful human race. He is eternal God in human flesh who gave Himself on the cross to pay the just penalty for our sins. God offers a complete pardon and eternal life to every person who repents of his sin and puts his trust in Jesus alone. Believers individually and the church corporately are entrusted with preserving and proclaiming this message of truth, centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Before we look at Paul’s specific instructions for dealing with factious people in the church, note three things:

A. We must affirm that there is such a thing as knowable, absolute truth in the spiritual realm.

If there are many ways to God, then Jesus came to this earth and gave His life on the cross in vain. He could have stayed in heaven and said, “The native spirit worshipers will find Me in their way. The Hindus have their millions of gods, and any one of them is just as good as another. The Buddhists are such peace-loving people, so they’re welcome in heaven in spite of their mixed up views of reincarnation. You’ve got to admire the zeal of those Muslims, even if they don’t believe in Me! Even those doggoned Wiccan people have a good streak in them, so we’ll give them their own section of heaven!” Why should Jesus have gone through the agony of the cross, if there are many ways to God?

Jesus not only claimed to be the truth, the only way to the Father, but also He talked about the Spirit of truth, whom the Father would send to guide the apostles into all the truth (John 14:17, 26; 15:26; see also, 1 John 2:18-27; 4:1-6). He said (John 17:3), “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” He prayed (John 17:17), “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” Jesus was affirming that spiritual truth is narrow, it is knowable, and it is contained in verbal and/or written propositions. In speaking to Pilate (John 18:37) Jesus summed up the reason why He came to earth, “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

These things are important to affirm, not only because unbelievers in our godless culture are attacking them, but also because professing believers in the church are attacking them. The growing “emerging church” movement denies that spiritual truth can be expressed or known in written, propositional form. They disparage preaching and deny that anyone can get up and speak authoritatively in the name of the Lord.

John MacArthur critiques emerging church leader, Brian McLaren, who rejects the exclusivism of Scripture (The Master’s Seminary Journal, Vol. 17, Number 2, Fall, 2006, p. 150). McLaren says that Christians should “see members of other religions and non-religions not as enemies but as beloved neighbors, whenever possible, as dialogue partners and even collaborators” (citing McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy [Zondervan, 2004], p. 35). Maclaren says that we should celebrate the “Jesus” of all theological traditions, from conservative Protestant to Roman Catholic to Liberation theology, much as we enjoy the foods of various cultures. MacArthur rightly concludes (ibid., p. 151), “Only by turning a blind eye to the Bible’s clear teaching, can anyone entertain with any enthusiasm the broad ecumenism of McLaren.”

So to apply Paul’s words to Titus, we must affirm that there is such a thing as knowable, absolute truth in the spiritual realm.

B. Truth matters!

Our culture believes in the exclusivity of truth in the physical realm, but it denies it in the spiritual realm. In the physical realm, it makes all the difference in the world whether you take a cyanide pill or an aspirin to deal with your headache! It doesn’t matter how sincere you are in your belief that the cyanide pill will help or in your belief that we must be open to different theories of dealing with headaches. Sincerity isn’t the issue; truth is. Even if you think that it’s judgmental to criticize the cyanide pill, it will kill you if you swallow it. An aspirin may relieve your headache.

Unless Jesus was a liar or a deceived man, believing the truth about Him is the difference between spending eternity in heaven or in hell. Peter affirms regarding Jesus (Acts 4:12), “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” Paul states (1 Tim. 2:5), “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” John draws the line (1 John 5:11-12), “And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”

It is significant that in Paul’s final three letters to his two helpers, Timothy and Titus, there is a strong emphasis on truth and sound doctrine. Without going through the many references in 1 & 2 Timothy, note these in Titus (emphasis added):

Titus 1:1-2: “Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago.”

Titus 1:9: An elder must hold “fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.”

Titus 1:13-14: “This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth.”

Titus 2:1: “But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.” In 2:7, he mentions “purity in doctrine.”

Titus 2:15: “These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” Obviously, you cannot speak, exhort, and reprove relative ideas with all authority!

So, Scripture affirms that there is knowable, absolute truth in the spiritual realm and such truth matters greatly. The only way to deny this is to deny the words of Jesus and the apostles, written in the New Testament.

C. Truth must be obeyed, not philosophized.

God did not give us His truth so that philosophers and theologians may sit around and speculate about their speculations about God. It is given to change our lives as we submit to it and obey it. As we’ve seen, this is also a major thrust throughout Titus (1:9-16; 2:1-10, 11-14; 3:1-8). Apparently there were many in Crete who loved to speculate about theology. They seem to have been Hellenistic Jews who promoted their fanciful theories about genealogies and disputes about the Law (1:14; 3:9). But Paul said that their foolish controversies were unprofitable and worthless, because they did not lead to godliness.

If our theology does not promote the supremacy and lordship of Jesus Christ and the need to submit every aspect of our lives to Him, it is worthless speculation. This is one reason why I like John Calvin. One scholar writes of him, “Piety was the keynote of his character. He was a God-possessed soul. Theology was no concern to him as a study in itself; he devoted himself to it as a framework for the support of all that religion meant to him” (A. Mitchell Hunter, cited by John McNeill, editor, The Institutes of the Christian Religion [Westminster Press], by John Calvin, p. lii). McNeill adds (ibid.), “Gratitude, love, and obedience are involved in this religious attitude which is the indispensable condition of a sound theology. Since we ‘owe everything to God,’ in Calvin’s pages we are everywhere confronting God, not toying with ideas or balancing opinions about him.” In other words, God’s truth must be obeyed.

With that foundation, we are ready to examine Paul’s instructions on how to deal with factious people in the church.

2. Church leaders must deal properly with factious people.

If there is no such thing as absolute spiritual truth, then we have no basis for any kind of church discipline. If all ideas about God are equally valid, then Paul’s words here make no sense. But, if there is a true gospel and a false “gospel” (Gal. 1:6-9), then we need to apply Paul’s directive here.

A. The problem of factionalism is a sin problem.

“Factious” comes from a Greek word meaning self-chosen, thus, an opinionated person. He tries to defend his opinions from Scripture, but really he is motivated by pride. He tries to gain a following by forcing people to choose between his views and those of the church leaders, thus creating parties or factions in the church. But in Galatians 5:20, Paul lists “factions” as a deed of the flesh, along with “idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, and dissensions.” In Titus 3:11, Paul says, “such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.”

By self-condemned, Paul may mean that when such false teachers attack godly church leaders, they expose themselves for what they really are. Often, they take their followers and leave the church, again showing their true colors (1 John 2:19). Arguing with them about their doctrine is pointless, because the real issue isn’t doctrine. The real issue is sin, especially pride. Often those who promote false teaching are using it to cover up other major sins.

B. Because sin destroys people and churches, to confront sin and remove from the church those who continue in sin is an act of love and obedience.

I add this because invariably when church leaders discipline a factious person by putting him out of the church, some will accuse the leaders of being unloving or unkind. But to preserve the doctrinal purity of the church, to keep sin from spreading, and to uphold the honor of the God of truth, we must remove unrepentant sinners from the church. Our aim should always be to restore them until it becomes clear that they refuse to repent. But when their determination to continue in sin is evident, we must follow the steps of church discipline (Matt. 18:15-17).

C. To deal properly with factious people, church leaders must determine if an issue is worth contending over or not.

Paul says (3:9), “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” “Unprofitable and worthless” refer back to 3:8, where Paul instructed Titus to speak confidently about the truth of the gospel (“these things” refers to 3:4-7), “so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things [the gospel truths] are good and profitable for men.” So Paul’s yardstick for whether a matter is worth debating is, does it relate to genuine conversion, godliness, and good deeds? If it is just a matter of idle speculation that really doesn’t affect these core issues, then don’t waste your time on it.

When Paul tells Titus to avoid these controversies, I understand him to mean that we must not get into public debates over speculative matters that do not center on the gospel or godly living. They will waste our time. In my opinion, many of the debates over the finer points of prophecy can easily degenerate into useless speculation. How does it affect the gospel or godliness? If it doesn’t, don’t spend too much time debating the issue.

But, if someone in our church is promoting such peripheral matters as if they are important, trying to build a following, then he needs to be confronted privately and asked to stop. Our goal is to get the person back to being focused on the gospel and godly living. If the person persists in promoting his views and creating a faction, there may be a sin issue behind it (3:11), which must be dealt with. If the person refuses to stop spreading controversy over peripheral or uncertain matters, then he must be warned a second time. After that, Paul says (3:10), reject him.

Commentators are not agreed on what it means to reject these difficult people. Some say that it means something less than excommunication. But, surely, Paul wouldn’t allow such divisive, sinning men to remain in the fellowship of the church, trying to recruit more people to their cause! In Romans 16:17-18, he writes something similar to our text: “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.” Paul isn’t suggesting that such men be allowed to remain in the fellowship of the church. He wants the church to avoid them by formally putting them out of the church.

So the process here is in line with Jesus’ words (Matt. 18:15-17): “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Since divisiveness and trying to recruit people to join a faction are sins, those who persist in such sins must be put out of the church after a first and second warning by church leaders.

If you think that we as church leaders are being judgmental and unloving if we ever need to deal with someone in this manner, you are probably being more influenced by our tolerant culture than by the truth of God’s Word. Also, you probably need to review my message on Titus 2:15, “Understanding Spiritual Authority.” God wants the elders in each church to maintain the truth of the gospel and godly standards of behavior. When someone deviates in either of these areas, our goal should be to try to restore him to obedience to the truth. But, if the person refuses correction, the Bible is clear that he must be put out of the church. If we as leaders do not do so, we are being disobedient to God’s Word of truth.


It is far easier to debate theology or abstruse points of doctrine than it is to love your wife as Christ loved the church; to love your children and bring them up in the instruction of the Lord; to be a good worker at your job; and, to practice the fruit of the Spirit on a daily basis. This is not to say that theology is unimportant or irrelevant. Quite the contrary! Rather, it is to say that it is easy to use theological debates as a convenient cover for sins, such as anger, pride, selfishness, impatience, and laziness. Properly understood, sound doctrine leads to submission to God, humility, and holiness before God, beginning on the thought level. Speculations about matters that do not lead to godliness and good deeds are unprofitable and worthless. We want to keep our focus on the truth of the gospel that changes lives.

Application Questions

  1. Why is it essential to maintain that spiritual truth is both absolute and knowable?
  2. If you claim that spiritual truth is absolute and knowable, critics will accuse you of being arrogant and intolerant. How would you respond to such charges?
  3. How can we know which issues are worth defending and, if necessary, dividing over versus matters where we should be patient and tolerant with those who differ?
  4. Why do so few churches practice church discipline? How can we practice it without becoming sinfully judgmental and unloving?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation


Lesson 13: Paul’s Team (Titus 3:12-15)

For a few moments, erase from your mind the past 1,975 years of church history. Go back to the first century. Rome ruled the world. If you were to ask for a list of the prominent religions of the world, Christianity would be missing. Perhaps it would be listed as a minor offshoot of Judaism. Its followers claimed that some obscure Galilean Jew who had been crucified was the promised Jewish Messiah and that he had been raised from the dead. But the average man on the street had not heard the good news of Christianity. The world was essentially pagan.

Into that scene, project an obscure little Jewish man named Paul, who hailed from the southern coast of what we call Turkey. He had met the risen Lord Jesus Christ, who had commissioned him to take the gospel to the Gentile world. It was an enormous task! How should he go about doing it?

Remember, he had no mass media. He couldn’t broadcast the message by radio or TV or tapes or CD’s. He didn’t have the printing press, much less the internet. He didn’t even have a post office to send out bulk mailings. Furthermore, there was no rapid transportation system. He couldn’t drive on modern highways or take a train or jet from city to city. He had to walk or take a boat. He couldn’t pick up the phone, push a few buttons, and talk with his key workers. He communicated with them by hand-carried letters that took weeks or sometimes months to deliver.

Yet, in spite of these limitations, Paul pulled it off. He launched the Christian message to the Gentiles and permanently changed the history of the world. How did he do it?

Let’s personalize it: How can we get the message to Flagstaff and beyond? The same way that Paul did it, of course! Titus 3:12-15 provides a window through which we can get a glimpse of how Paul reached the world for Christ. It is not a complete picture, of course, but it is a valuable one. These verses show that…

Paul reached the world through a team of believers committed to ministry.

Paul was not a one-man-show. He always worked with and through a team of people who were committed to ministry. These verses show Paul’s team—not the entire team—but a few significant members of the team. I’m going to go down the roster and introduce you to the team members. Then I will show you a number of principles for team ministry to which these members were committed and which made this team a winner.

The team members:

1. Titus

We have already met Titus, of course. He was Paul’s faithful delegate, sent to Crete to work with a difficult group of people. He was a Gentile, probably in his late thirties. He passes off the pages of Scripture (2 Tim. 4:10) being sent to Dalmatia, modern Albania and the Balkan states. He was a solid, faithful man of God.

2. Artemas

This is the only reference to this man. From his name we can guess that he was a Gentile. From the fact that Paul considered him a worthy replacement for Titus, we can surmise that he was a competent, knowledgeable, faithful, mature man of God. If Paul ended up sending Tychicus to Ephesus and Titus met Paul in Nicopolis and then headed north to Dalmatia (2 Tim. 4:10, 12), then Artemas probably replaced him in Crete. It is significant that Paul had such a relatively unknown, yet qualified man at his disposal. How many other such men he had we do not know.

3. Tychicus

He was another faithful Gentile believer, a native of Asia (western Turkey). He had traveled with Paul, along with some other men, at the close of Paul’s third missionary journey (Acts 20:4). Later, he was with Paul during his first Roman imprisonment. Paul sent the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians with Tychicus, who told those churches about Paul’s circumstances (Eph. 6:21-22; Col. 4:7-9). Later Paul sent him to Ephesus to relieve Timothy, so that perhaps Timothy could join Paul in Rome before his execution (2 Tim. 4:12). Paul calls Tychicus “our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord” (Col. 4:7). He was a valuable team member!

4. Zenas the lawyer

This is the only reference to Zenas in the Bible. His Greek name may mean that he was a Gentile lawyer, but the fact that he was poor enough for Paul to ask Titus to help supply his needs may mean that he was a Jewish expert in the Mosaic law. In any case, he had set aside his career long enough to accompany Apollos on this trip. The two men probably carried the epistle of Titus to Crete.

5. Apollos

He was a Jew from Alexandria in northern Egypt, an eloquent orator, mighty in the Scriptures, and fervent in spirit (Acts 18:24, 25). He came to Ephesus where Paul’s teammates, Priscilla and Aquila, took him aside and taught him the way of God more accurately. The fact that he listened shows that he had a humble, teachable heart. Later, he had a powerful ministry in Corinth.

6. “Our people”

This refers to the Christians in Crete. All believers, even those who go unnamed, even those from obscure villages in Crete, were a part of the team. They were to learn to take the lead in good deeds (the same Greek phrase as in 3:8).

7. “All with me”

We don’t know where Paul was; he may have been in Macedonia or Achaia. But we know that he was not alone. Besides Zenas and Apollos, there was a church where Paul was staying and he fellowshipped with these saints. He did not hole up by himself.

8. “Those who love us in the faith”

These were Paul’s friends and fellow saints in Crete. There may be a subtle allusion to those who did not love Paul in the faith, the false teachers who needed to be silenced. The reason we love one another is because we share a common faith in the Lord Jesus.

Thus you can see that Paul didn’t labor alone. He had a team of believers committed to ministry, who labored with him in the cause of Christ. He viewed every Christian as a gifted member of the team, with a vital role to fulfill. None were benchwarmers. That is true here—if you know Christ as Savior, the Holy Spirit has given you a gift to use in ministry for Him. You need to see yourself as a vital team member, committed to ministry.

That word, “ministry,” may scare some of you because it has taken on a stained-glass connotation. You may think, “Pastors are in the ministry, but I’m just a layperson.” But that is not a biblical distinction. Ministry means service and every Christian is saved to serve Jesus Christ. Ministry should be the overflow of your walk with Christ. If your cup is full to the brim with Christ, you can’t carry it without slopping over on others. That is ministry. It may take on a structured form, such as teaching Sunday School, playing on a worship team, helping with church socials, leading a discipleship group, or whatever. Or, it may mean inviting new people at church over for a meal and encouraging them in their walk with Christ. But there should be no such thing as a benchwarmer Christian. If you’re saved, you are called to ministry on God’s team.

Team principles of ministry:

Although at first glance these verses may seem like irrelevant throwaway verses at the end of this short letter, there are at least ten principles of team ministry embedded here.

1. Every member is responsible to engage in good deeds.

I just mentioned this, but note again Paul’s emphasis on good deeds in this short letter. In 1:16, he denounces the false teachers, who were “detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.” In 2:7, he exhorts Titus “to be an example of good deeds.” In 2:14, he says that Christ “gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” In 3:1, he tells Titus to remind the believers “to be ready for every good deed.” In 3:5, he clarifies that we are not saved on the basis of good deeds, but in 3:8 he again emphasizes that “those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds.” The Greek verbs there are literally, “will give thought to take the lead in good deeds.”

Now, again (3:14) he repeats one last time that Christians must learn to take the lead in good deeds. You don’t get the impression that good deeds are an optional extra that you may want to consider in your spare time! If you’re a Christian, you must be zealous for good deeds!

2. We are interdependent as the body of Christ.

Although Paul was an extremely gifted man, he needed others. It wasn’t just a one-way street, where the Christians needed Paul. Paul needed Titus at his side badly enough that he asked him to leave the work in Crete and spend the winter with him in Nicopolis. You may argue that your brain or your heart are the most important organs in your body, but they cannot function without your nervous system, your blood vessels, and just about every other organ in your body. An untreated cut in your finger can result in the death of your brain and heart! The whole body must function in interdependence. It’s the same in the body of Christ.

3. We must involve others in the ministry and trust them to do it.

If you have worked with people at all, then you know what I know—that it’s often easier to do it yourself, rather than get others involved. D. L. Moody used to joke that the best committee consists of three members where one is sick and the other can’t attend the meeting! But if you are involved in leadership at any level and you don’t get others involved, you are not multiplying your efforts. You will eventually burn out and limit your effectiveness.

Paul had recruited and trained Titus to oversee the work in Crete and now he has two possible candidates to replace him. He trusted these men with this important job. Also, Paul encourages Titus to enlist the churches in Crete to provide financially to help Zenas and Apollos in their travels. Two observations:

*Success is not in proportion to numbers, but rather to faith and obedience. Sometimes we mistakenly think that if we can just get enough volunteers, our efforts will succeed. But Jesus picked the twelve and then the seventy. Paul engaged many in the cause, but he worked through a few good men. John Wesley said, “If I had 300 men who feared nothing but God, hated nothing but sin, and were determined to know nothing among men but Jesus Christ and him crucified, I would set the world on fire” (cited in Paul Tan, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations [Assurance Publishers], # 7671). Ask God for a few faithful, obedient disciples.

*Don’t be afraid to enlist competent people on your team. Sometimes, a leader who is trying to promote himself more than Christ will make sure not to pick team members who may outshine him. But Paul was comfortable having Apollos on the team, even though he was a more eloquent speaker than Paul was. He trusted Titus, Timothy, Artemas, and Tychicus enough to entrust the oversight of key churches to their care. We have to look for faithful men and women and hand things off, trusting them to do the job well.

4. We must promote others’ ministries.

Quite often in his letters, Paul promoted the ministries of others. Here he implicitly promotes the ministries of Artemas and Tychicus. He encourages Titus to help Zenas and Apollos. When the church in Corinth formed into factions, with some saying, “I am of Apollos,” Paul didn’t put down Apollos and promote himself. Rather, he pointed out that he and Apollos were both servants of Christ through whom the Corinthians had believed. Paul had planted, Apollos had watered, and God gave the increase (1 Cor. 3:5-6). Paul was willing to put Apollos on the same level as himself and to encourage others to benefit from Apollos’ ministry.

That is an important principle of ministry: promote your teammates and help them to succeed. We all serve the Lord and our aim should not be to promote ourselves, but rather to see the name of Christ exalted.

5. Every team needs godly leadership.

Of course, the apostle Paul is the supreme example of leadership after Christ Himself. But Paul succeeded as a leader because he raised up other men to lead the churches. On the local church level, leadership should be shared among a plurality of elders, but it is inevitable that on every leadership team, there will be a leader among the leaders. Peter was obviously the leader among the twelve apostles, although they all were leaders. But one of the main jobs of local church leaders is to work at raising up new leaders. The health of local churches is directly proportional to the godliness and competence of the leaders.

6. A team leader must be a servant leader.

Even though the apostle Paul was an important man with an extensive ministry, he always showed practical concern for the needs of others. Here, he is concerned that the churches in Crete help Zenas and Apollos on their way, so that nothing is lacking for them. He also emphasizes the need for the churches to engage in good deeds and meet the needs of others. Paul set that example, working at his trade and paying the expenses of the men with him, so as not to be a burden to anyone (Acts 20:34; 1 Cor. 9:3-18). He was always demonstrating by his own example what it means to serve others.

When my daughter, Joy, was in Bolivia a few years ago, she was bothered because the pastor acted like he was above the others. During meals, he was served first. He didn’t treat those who served the food as if they were on his level. He wouldn’t have thought of helping them in any way. That’s not right! Church leaders need to model humble service to others.

7. A team needs to spend time together to function well.

Paul had some of the team members with him as he wrote to Titus. Probably, he and Titus would not be the only ones spending the winter in Nicopolis. Perhaps they spent that winter talking about biblical issues and about ministry, preaching to the church there, praying and talking about Dalmatia (to the north), where Titus would go. I’ve often been envious of living in Paul’s time, before there were telephones and cars and computers. If someone wanted to talk to Paul, he had to walk to visit him. I’m sure that they had time pressures of a different sort, but life then was a little more conducive to spending time together.

8. A team leader needs to instill a vision for the world.

With such a simple thing as exchanging greetings between those who were with Paul and those in Crete (3:15), Paul was letting the believers in Crete know, “You’re not alone! There are other Christians out here!” Paul wrote to the Romans that he wanted to visit them, but then he wanted to go on to Spain (Rom. 15:23-24). He always had his sights on those who had not yet heard and he imparted his vision for the world to others. Christ came to seek and to save the lost. We are not being Christlike if we isolate ourselves from the world. We must always keep our vision on the Great Commission and those who have yet to hear about Christ.

9. A team leader needs to model living by faith.

God works through our faith. There is no area that requires more faith than that of financial support. While Paul was very open about mentioning the financial needs of others, such as Zenas and Apollos or the needy saints in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8 & 9), you never once find him mentioning his own needs for support, except after the needs have been met (Phil. 4:10-20). He could have written to Titus, “Before you come, I must tell you that if the saints in Crete do not give generously to my needs, we will have to curtail the ministry and thousands of people will not hear the gospel.” He could have bracketed it with a colored pen and offered his latest book in exchange for their contributions. But he never did that.

Paul learned to trust God and be content when his funds were low. When he had plenty, he told his supporters that he had an abundance! He was more concerned about the fruit that was accruing to their account than he was about their gifts (Phil. 4:17). It was in the context of trusting God for support that he wrote, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

10. A team leader needs to promote and live by God’s grace.

Paul closed all of his letters with some mention of God’s grace, but it wasn’t just a polite formality. Here, the Greek text literally reads, “The grace be with you all.” “The grace” is the amazing, abundant, sustaining, all-sufficient grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was His grace that reached down to that angry persecutor of the church on the Damascus Road and changed his heart. It was completely undeserved. Paul deserved God’s judgment, but he received mercy.

God’s grace motivated Paul to suffer hardship and persecution for the gospel. It motivated him to serve Christ with unstoppable zeal (1 Cor. 15:10). God’s grace as shown at the cross was Paul’s only message. If anyone perverted the grace of God, Paul called down anathemas on him (Gal. 1:6-9). If any church turned from God’s grace to a system of works, Paul rebuked it in the strongest of words (Gal. 5:4). God’s grace was sufficient to sustain Paul in trials and keep him from exalting himself on account of the vision of heaven that he had experienced (2 Cor. 12:1-10). Paul’s entire theology and his gospel may be summed up by that one word, grace.

There are so many Christians who may, at best, dabble at serving the Lord in their spare time, if it doesn’t inconvenience them too much. But, how many can honestly say, “I’m a zealot for serving the Lord”? If you are not zealous for good works, it’s because you have lost sight of the right motivation. That motivation is the kindness of God our Savior and His love for us as sinners that appeared in the person of Jesus Christ. He broke into our lives and saved us, not on the basis of deeds that we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy. By His power, He regenerated us from spiritual death to eternal life. He renewed us by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. The result is that being justified by His grace, we now are heirs according to the hope of eternal life (paraphrase, 3:4-7). That’s why we should be zealous in serving Jesus Christ!


That’s how Paul reached his world for Christ—through a team of believers committed to ministry, who operated on these principles of ministry. Let me bring this home by asking two questions: First, are you on the team? By that I mean, have you experienced the kindness, love, mercy, and grace of God at the cross? Have you been justified by His grace so that now you are an heir of eternal life? If not, do not make the mistake of thinking that you can do any good works that will get you into heaven. First, you must come to Christ as a helplessly lost sinner and receive by faith His free gift of eternal life.

If you have done that, the second question is: Are you a benchwarmer or are you committed to ministry? Are you using whatever gifts God has entrusted to you so that one day you will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master”? God wants to reach Flagstaff through a team of believers committed to ministry because they have tasted His abundant grace.

Application Questions

  1. What would you say to a Christian who declined to serve the Lord because “he was too busy”?
  2. What are some practical implications of the definition that ministry is the overflow of the life of Christ in you?
  3. Why is the distinction between clergy and laity unbiblical? What implications does this have?
  4. In A Theology of Personal Ministry [Zondervan], Lawrence Richards and Gib Martin state (p. 201), “The key to effective ministry is never found in its institutional setting, but always in its relational setting. Whenever believers come to know and care for others—and reach out to share, encourage, and help—there is the setting for the most significant ministries that can take place.” Discuss the implications of this.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

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