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6. How To Be A Blessing To Society (Titus 3:1-11)

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Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work. They must not slander anyone, but be peaceable, gentle, showing complete courtesy to all people. For we too were once foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved to various passions and desires, spending our lives in evil and envy, hateful and hating one another. But “when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.” This saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on such truths, so that those who have placed their faith in God may be intent on engaging in good works. These things are good and beneficial for all people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, quarrels, and fights about the law, because they are useless and empty. Reject a divisive person after one or two warnings. You know that such a person is twisted by sin and is conscious of it himself.

Titus 3:1-11 (NET)

How can we be a blessing to society to ultimately draw them to Christ?

In Titus Chapters 1 and 2, Paul focused on the relationship of believers with those in the church, including raising up elders, silencing false teachers, and instructing older men, younger men, older women, young women, and slaves. In Chapter 3, Paul focused on their relationship to broader society. Twice he repeats the need for good works in this passage. In verse 1, he says, “to be ready for every good work,” and in verse 8, he says for Titus to “insist on such truths, so that those who have placed their faith in God may be intent on engaging in good works. These things are good and beneficial for all people.” Good works are mentioned six times throughout the book and is its major theme (1:16; 2:7, 14; 3:1, 8, 14). Christians should always seek to engage in good works. Paul also mentions the word “Savior” twice in verses 4 and 6. Though our beliefs may anger people, God desires the church to bless society through good works so that they may be drawn to Christ our Savior. The following verses reflect these same truths:

and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears… For God wants you to silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good.

1 Peter 2:12, 15

In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

With that said, the truths in Titus 3:1-11 are not new. They are reminders. In 3:1, Paul said this: “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.” The word “remind” is in the present tense1, meaning Titus needed to continually remind the Cretans of these truths. It’s often been said that the secret to the Christian life for most people is not learning a bunch of new things, it is simply remembering and practicing what we already know. Like a professional athlete in a slump, often the best thing for him to do is to re-focus on the basics. For a basketball player, that means continually training his dribbling, shooting, and passing. Therefore, in this text, we are reminded of truths that we must always remember, no matter how mature we get. Part of the reason they are so important is because we are so prone to forget them. Consider a few other times in Scripture when the saints were reminded of basic spiritual truths. In Deuteronomy 8:11-14, Moses reminded believers of their need to not forget God when they became wealthy. He says,

Be sure you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments, ordinances, and statutes that I am giving you today. When you eat your fill, when you build and occupy good houses, when your cattle and flocks increase, when you have plenty of silver and gold, and when you have abundance of everything, be sure you do not feel self-important and forget the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt, the place of slavery,

Also, in Philippians 3:1-2, Paul warned believers of their need to rejoice in the Lord and to beware of false teachers. He says,

Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! To write this again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!

These were simple truths they had heard previously, but they needed to be reminded again as a protection. As born again, new creations in Christ, we have much more powerful forces than aging and the tendency to forget against us. We have the temptations of the world outside of us, the flesh and its desires inside us, and Satan and his demons who surround us. Therefore, we all need reminders so we can faithfully live out our Christian lives.

In light of this, in Titus 3:1-11, Paul gives the Cretan believers reminders to help them be zealous for good works and therefore good witnesses to society. These are reminders that we need to continually hear as we seek to fulfill our mission of being lights and blessings to the world (cf. Matt 28:19-20, Matt 5:16).

Big Question: According to Titus 3:1-11, what reminders do believers need to be a blessing to society?

To Be A Blessing To Society, We Must Remember To Obey Our Authorities And Be Good Citizens

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.

Titus 3:1

The word “submit” means to put oneself “under authority.” It was a military term used of the chain of command.2 When Paul called for the Cretans to submit to their authorities, this probably had special ramifications for them. Historically, Cretans were known for their rebellious nature. Paul agreed with a Cretan philosopher’s quote about their culture in Titus 1:12, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Polybius, a Greek historian, said they were constantly involved in “insurrections, murders and internecine wars.”3 Most likely, the Cretan Christians still struggled with authority in the church, the workplace, and especially the government, which probably was corrupt. Even if the government authorities were corrupt, they still needed to submit to them.

Interpretation Question: Why should believers submit to corrupt governments and when should they not submit?

When writing the Roman Christians, Paul said this in Romans 13:1: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” All authorities are instituted by God, including corrupt ones. When Paul wrote this, Nero was on the throne, and he was known for corruption and persecuting Christians. The Roman Christians probably struggled with Paul’s instructions just like the Cretans did.

How can God institute unjust authorities? For at least two reasons: (1) Rulers are often a reflection of their subjects in that we often get the rulers we deserve. In Isaiah 3:1-4 and 6-7, God said this through Isaiah:

Look, the sovereign Lord who commands armies is about to remove from Jerusalem and Judah every source of security, including all the food and water, the mighty men and warriors, judges and prophets, omen readers and leaders, captains of groups of fifty, the respected citizens, advisers and those skilled in magical arts, and those who know incantations. The Lord says, “I will make youths their officials; malicious young men will rule over them… Indeed, a man will grab his brother right in his father’s house and say, ‘You own a coat— you be our leader! This heap of ruins will be under your control.’ At that time the brother will shout, ‘I am no doctor, I have no food or coat in my house; don’t make me a leader of the people!’”

As a judgment, God removed good leaders from Israel and gave them youth and malicious leaders. When they were desperately looking for a leader, they found a person with a coat and decided that qualified him to lead (v. 6-7). Tragically, many of our national elections are filled with people who have all types of corruption charges against them. Certainly, many citizens say to themselves, “Isn’t there anybody else better qualified to lead?” God commonly gives us the leaders we deserve. When Israel rejected God, he gave them Saul who not only disobeyed God but oppressed good citizens like David. Before that, when Israel stopped following God’s laws, God gave them a bunch of corrupt judges in the book of Judges. The worst judge was Samson who married the enemy, was a drunk, and a playboy who continually visited prostitutes. Often, we get bad leaders as a result of our unfaithfulness. God simply gives us what we deserve.

(2) But, secondly, when considering the question of how all authorities can be established by God, including bad ones, God knows that any government is better than complete anarchy. Certainly, bad leaders make things worse, but even worse than their leadership is having no leadership at all, where everybody does what they want. When people rebel against their parents, their teachers, their bosses, and government officials, it leads to total chaos. Where there is anarchy, the most corrupt, rebellious, and ruthless people have power. Even a corrupt government is better than total anarchy. Therefore, Christians should always submit to their governing authorities and not be known for grumbling and rebelling against them. Danny Akin, the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said this:

Christians are not anarchists or rebels. We do not subvert the government or disobey the government unless it brings us into direct conflict with the commands of God (Acts 5:29). And even then our disobedience is passive not active, and we willingly accept the consequences of our actions. This submission is evidence of submission to and trust in God.4

Observation Question: In what ways should believers submit to their governments?

In the rest of verse 1, Paul gives further admonitions which seem to reinforce our submission to the governing authorities.

1. Christians should submit to their governments by being “obedient” to them, including obeying laws they don’t like.

As Christ said, we should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Mk 12:17). We must pay taxes and give honor to our government officials. We should obey them in everything unless their decrees make us disobey God. As with the apostles when they were commanded by the Sanhedrin to stop speaking in Christ’s name, we must reply, “We must obey God rather than people” (Acts 5:29). But, even when we disobey, we must still be respectful of the office, as it reflects God’s authority. When Saul was trying to kill David, David still respected his office by saying he would not touch the “Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam 26:9). We must do the same when evil people rule in government and at times persecute us.

2. Christians should submit to their governments by being “ready for every good work.”

Christians should not just be law-abiding citizens, which is the minimum we should do, but as much as possible, we should also be public-spirited, ready to do good both to the government officials and the citizens they oversee. Though heavenly citizens, Christians must be good earthly citizens as well by seeking to bless their community in various ways, including by the occupations they choose. Sometimes, they should choose to work in government agencies like public schools, the military, the police, or even hold political office. At other times, they should choose a vocation or volunteer to focus on serving the most vulnerable in society. Christians should not just be involved in church; they should be good citizens by eagerly serving their communities. The Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible said it this way:

Every community is filled with needs, the needs of the lonely, poor, shut in, elderly, orphaned, homeless, sick—an innumerable list of needs that cry out for community attention. It is the duty of Christian citizens to take the lead in reaching out to meet these needs. The Christian citizen is to be ready and diligent, taking the lead in every good work within the community and nation. Keep in mind that a person’s employment, his day to day job, is a major work that contributes to society. No matter how mundane, routine, and unimportant a person may feel his work is, it is not. It is very significant, for it contributes and helps to meet the needs of his fellow citizens and community.5

Likewise, when God exiled Israel to Babylon, he said this to them in Jeremiah 29:7: “Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the Lord for it. For as it prospers you will prosper.” He calls them to “work” for and “pray” for Babylon’s prosperity. Also, in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, Paul said this:

First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanks be offered on behalf of all people, even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior, since he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Praying for the salvation of our national leaders and citizens and their temporal needs, like righteousness and deliverance from corruption and war, is one of the ways we seek the prosperity and peace of the nation we reside in (Jer 29:7). Certainly, God is pleased with these prayers and acts on their behalf. In response, he commonly distributes his grace and blessing. As Christians are good citizens, they glorify God and draw the lost to him (cf. 1 Pet 2:12).

Application Question: What are some possible ways for Christians to bless their communities both vocationally and from a volunteer standpoint? How can Christians keep the balance of seeking to bless their communities by contributing to their temporal needs and yet still emphasize their spiritual need—which is salvation through Christ? How is God calling you to seek the prosperity and blessing of your community?

To Be A Blessing To Society, We Must Remember To Be Kind To Everyone

They must not slander anyone, but be peaceable, gentle, showing complete courtesy to all people.

Titus 3:2

After talking about the believers’ relationship with rulers, he talks about the believers’ relationship with people in general. In order to win the unbelieving world to Christ, believers must be kind to everyone by demonstrating various virtues often lacking in the world.

Observation Question: According to Titus 3:2, what virtues must believers practice to demonstrate their kindness to everyone, even those who persecute them?

1. Believers must be kind by not slandering anyone.

In not slandering anyone, this certainly has applications for the believers’ relationship with their leaders. Whether in the school, work environment, or government, leaders always bear the brunt of criticism. It’s the difficult part of serving in leadership. Unfortunately, much of the criticism goes farther than recognizing what’s right, wrong, or best. It commonly turns into slander—speaking evil of a person’s intentions (which we can’t know perfectly), exaggerating their failures, or simply lying about them. This is especially true when it comes to political elections or the decisions of our political leaders. Slander is thrown between the various political parties and those who adhere to their beliefs. Unfortunately, Christians have often fallen into the slanderous culture of the world and therefore dulled their witness for Christ.

Scripture clearly forbids speaking evil of not only people in general but leaders specifically. Exodus 22:28 says, “You must not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.” Also, in Acts 23:5, after Paul unwittingly criticized the high priest, Paul apologetically said, “I did not realize, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You must not speak evil about a ruler of your people.’” Certainly, there is nothing evil about pointing out and condemning wrongs done by our leaders or others, but the manner is very important. It must always be done with respect and honor for their position which reflects God’s authority and their personhood, as God’s image-bearers. In 1 Timothy 5:1, Paul said this to Timothy about how he rebuked older men in the church: “Do not address an older man harshly but appeal to him as a father.” Timothy was to faithfully point out sin and yet still be respectful of the older men. Also, in line with this, James rebuked Christians (including himself) for their abuse of the tongue by saying, “With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse people made in God’s image” (Jam 3:9). Essentially, he says, “How can we worship God and tear down his children with the tongues he gave us?” Again, Christians should call out sin, since Scripture very clearly tells us what is right and wrong, but we must be careful of how we do it.

Application Question: How should we call out potential sin in others, especially our leaders, without sinning against them?

(1) First, we need to make sure it’s actually a sin issue and not a preference or wisdom issue (which should be treated differently). (2) We must realize that it’s very possible (and probable) that we don’t know all factors that accompany a leader’s or any other person’s decision. (3) We must never ridicule them and share rumors and shaming reports that we can’t verify. If for some reason we think it’s best to share an unverified report, we should clarify that it is unverified and therefore the story needs further research. (4) Most times, we should be gentle in our rebuke of others, unless they refuse to repent. Ephesians 4:15 says we should speak the truth in love. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.”

In a society where people are constantly tearing each other apart and lying about one another for their own benefit, believers must be different. We don’t slander, gossip, ridicule, or verbally abuse people, especially those in leadership. When we do so, we hinder the work of redemption. If unbelievers hate us because of our ridiculing and slandering them or others, our unwise words build a barrier that might keep them away from Christ. Our priority must be the eternal mission of our Savior and not the petty, temporal battles of our worldly culture.

2. Believers must be kind by being peaceable.

Instead of being known for starting or continuing conflict, believers must be peacemakers (Matt 5:9). It always takes two people to fight. In light of this, in Romans 12:18, Paul said, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people.” This means instead of returning evil for evil, we must forgive those who hurt us and even seek to bless them. In 1 Corinthians 4:12-13, Paul said this about his ministry: “… When we are verbally abused, we respond with a blessing, when persecuted, we endure, when people lie about us, we answer in a friendly manner…” Romans 12:19-21 says:

Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Again, the natural response to being criticized or hurt is to get even, to hurt them back; however, when we do that, we escalate the problem and make it worse. Instead, like our Lord, believers must bless those who curse them. On the cross, Christ died for those who put him to death (in hopes that they might be saved) and in his last breaths prayed for them to be forgiven. We must do likewise. Though we should never compromise biblical values, we must always endeavor to make peace with others as a hope to be a bridge to Christ. Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”

3. Believers must be kind by being gentle.

“Gentle” is a difficult word to translate to English, but it has the sense of “forbearance.”6 As mentioned in considering being peaceable, rather than harsh with others, especially those who hurt us, we must be gentle in response. It’s the same word Paul used in Philippians 4:5 to the Philippians who were being persecuted (cf. Phil 1:28-29), “Let everyone see your gentleness.” In a society where people commonly treat others harshly to get their own way or when offended, believers should be known for their gentleness to others.

4. Believers must be kind by showing complete courtesy to all people.

The word “courtesy” can also be translated “humble,” “gentle,” or “meek.” Christ epitomized meekness. In Matthew 11:29, he said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Therefore, his followers should be. In Matthew 5:5, he said, “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.” Meekness is far from being weak. It was used of a wild horse that was trained by his master. It is power under control. Believers are meek in the sense that they submit to their master’s rule over their lives, and one of the ways they do this is by being courteous to all. William MacDonald, in the Believer’s Bible Commentary, said this about the believers’ call to show “complete courtesy to all”:

It seems so proper that courtesy should be taught as one of the Christian virtues. Essentially it means humbly thinking of others, putting others first, and saying and doing the gracious thing. Courtesy serves others before self, jumps at opportunities to assist, and expresses prompt appreciation for kindnesses received. It is never crude, vulgar, or rude.7

When dealing with others in society, believers must never speak evil of others by gossiping, slandering, or sharing abusive or untruthful words. Instead, they must be peaceable, gentle in response to being mistreated, and courteous to all by putting others’ needs before their own, even their enemies’ needs. By being kind to everyone, they are a blessing to a society that is the complete opposite of these characteristics. Secular society slanders others and spreads misinformation to stir others up to anger; they promote conflict with both their words and actions; they are harsh in response to those who get in their way or disagree with their views; and instead of putting others first by being courteous, they seek their benefit before others. When Christians are kind to all, they bless society and ultimately point them to Christ. Lord, let that be true of us! Help us be courteous and kind to all!

Application Question: Why is it so important for the church to be kind to everyone by not slandering, being peaceable, gentle, and courteous to all? How does the broader society commonly reflect the opposite of these characteristics, such as being slanderous, contentious, harsh, and selfish? In what ways has the church at times reflected these same negative characteristics, especially when it comes to politics, and therefore, hurt the church’s witness?

To Be A Blessing To Society, We Must Remember Our Past Lives Before Christ

For we too were once foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved to various passions and desires, spending our lives in evil and envy, hateful and hating one another.

Titus 3:3

The word “for” in verse 3 establishes a logical connection with verses 1-2. It’s easy for Christians to turn into self-righteous Pharisees who pridefully judge the failings of their government leaders and unsaved neighbors. However, if we’re going to be a blessing to the secular societies in which we live, we must humbly remember our lives before Christ and how we constantly fail him now. In verse 3, Paul says, “For we too were once foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved to various passions and desires, spending our lives in evil and envy, hateful and hating one another.” He gave six characteristics that defined us before Christ, and likewise, define the unbelieving world today.

With that said, many of us may have come to Christ at a young age, or even before we met Christ, we lived somewhat moral lives. Based on our backgrounds and God’s common grace, many of us have been protected from various levels of depravity. However, Paul’s point is not that we all were as bad as possible before Christ and neither is each person in the world. His point is that because of our sin nature, which includes all the mentioned negative traits (Tit 3:3; cf. Gal 5:19-21), we were self-focused, sinful, in rebellion against God, and commonly in conflict with others.

It's important to remember our desperate situation before Christ, so we will be more merciful to our neighbors who don’t know Christ. They live like unbelievers do. In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul said the “god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God.” They are blinded, which affects all their decision-making, and we used to be blind as well.

For this reason, it’s important to remember our past failures before Christ to effectively minister to the world, less we become prideful Pharisees who bash unbelievers (for acting like ones) and push them away from Christ.

Observation Question: As mentioned in Titus 3:3, what are the six vices that defined us before our salvation and therefore characterize the world now?

1. Before salvation, we were foolish just like the world.

When Paul says that we were foolish, he is not referring to one’s intellect. People are made in the image of God, and therefore, many are very intelligent. However, with their intelligence, they do not seek to know and submit to God; they often instead seek to deny him by their intelligence or rebel against him. This is what Scripture deems as foolish. To deny the existence of one’s Creator, to live like he doesn’t exist, or to defiantly disobey him is foolish. Psalm 14:1 says, “Fools say to themselves, ‘There is no God.’ They sin and commit evil deeds; none of them does what is right.” Before our salvation, we were just like the world. We lived as though God didn’t exist, and if we did seek God, it was only his hand for our own selfish benefit. In describing the foolishness of unbelievers, Paul said this in Romans 1:21-23:

For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

In our foolishness, we created our own gods, whether that was famous people, gods of other religions, or ourselves by making our satisfaction and pleasure the chief end of our existence. We, like the world today, were foolish—spiritually blind to God and the things of God.

2. Before salvation, believers were disobedient just like the world.

We were born with a rebellious nature towards God and others. Romans 8:7 (NIV) says, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” Before Christ, there was an innate rebellion in our hearts to God and his ways. Ask parents trying to train little children; rebellion is innate in their hearts. They are consumed with what they want and when stopped from getting what they want, they tantrum and rebel. As we’ll see later in this passage, Paul says that’s why we need to be born again. We need new hearts which God gives us through his Spirit when we believe in God. At birth, we had a natural bend towards rebellion against God and other authorities, and we still have to be careful of this tendency. That’s why Paul reminds the Cretan believers, and us, to submit to our governing authorities and be kind to everyone. Though saved, we still have a flesh that wants to criticize, slander, and rebel (cf. Gal 5:17).

3. Before salvation, believers were misled just like the rest of the world.

The word “misled” can be translated “deceived” (NIV) or “led astray” (ESV). We deceive ourselves by thinking that our way is the best path for us, even though it may contradict Scripture. Likewise, the world culture which is antagonistic towards God often leads us astray. It teaches what is beautiful, desirable, and successful, so we’ll go on a path that is antagonistic towards God’s way. Often, friends, family, and church members may approve of these paths because they are culturally acceptable. However, in God’s kingdom, the way down is often the way up. Christ said in his kingdom the first will be last and the last will be first (Matt 19:30), and whoever wants to be greatest must be the servant of all (Matt 19:30). God’s way is often the exact opposite of the world. In addition, we were deceived by Satan who rules the world. Ephesians 2:1-2 says this about us before Christ,

And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience,

We were deceived by our flesh, the world, and Satan. Like our mother, Eve, before us, we were led astray from God and his ways and still have this tendency. In fact, Scripture describes us as sheep prone to go away from God (Is 53:6). Before Christ, we were previously led astray by our flesh, the world, and Satan. Therefore, we should be merciful to unbelievers when their opinions and actions don’t make sense to us or even hurt us. They’ve been deceived just like we previously were and at times still are.

4. Before salvation, believers were enslaved by various passions and desires just like the world.

Part of the world’s draw is to try to satisfy people with various passions apart from God. Some of these passions are intrinsically evil (like indulging in illegal drugs and hurting ourselves or others); however, many of them are simply the misuse of good things. It’s possible to indulge in good things like video games, social media, or alcohol to the point they become idols that hurt us, our relationship with God, and other people. Because these things never ultimately satisfy, we typically get into a cycle of brief satisfaction that leads to unfulfillment and depression. In order to get brief satisfaction or joy in a world that is ultimately unsatisfying, we keep going back to wells that leave us dry. As mentioned by the Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible, these lusts include but are not limited to:

• having more and more • having bigger and better • partying • lusting • having recognition • having money • owning property • having possessions • intoxicating drugs • having power • exercising authority • indulging in food • getting attention • attaining position • displaying fashion8

Many of these things are not bad in themselves but pursued apart from God or instead of God are sinful and enslaving. In John 8:34 and 36, Christ said, “… everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin … So if the son sets you free, you will be really free.” We previously were enslaved to various lusts and at times still fall victim to them. Though free, we at times find ourselves enslaved again because we fail to seek our satisfaction in Christ and therefore fall back into the same unsatisfying cycles. Because of this reality, we can understand and at times even relate to the world which is bound to various passions and lust. This should make us merciful and even more so seek to point them to Christ. Christ said to the woman at the well, whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drank of the water he would give would never thirst but instead have fountains of overflowing water in them (John 4:13-14).

5. Before salvation, believers spent their lives in malice and envy just like the world.

“Malice” can also be translated “evil” (NLT). In the context of Titus 3:3, it seems to refer to desiring others to suffer injury or pain. Because we are innately selfish, we often desired our own way even if it meant hurting others to get it, and we wanted to hurt those who hurt us. We wanted them to get in trouble, lose their job, get embarrassed, or for others to hurt them like they hurt us. Our hearts were full of malice.

But not only did we desire ill towards others, we also envied others. Envy means we want what others have—their job, car, spouse, or success. Envy can lead us to hate others because we don’t think they deserve what they have achieved or been given, and we deserve it more. Envy for Naboth’s field led Ahab and Jezebel to have him set up and killed. Before salvation, we struggled with desiring to hurt others, especially those who hurt us, and envied those who had what we wanted. These two vices lead to much of the sin and corruption in the world, including within government and other institutions. We knew these attitudes even if only in infant form and at times still struggle with them today.

6. Before Christ, believers hated others and also were hated just like the world.

This is a sad reality of the world we live in, and whether we believe it or not, at least in minute form, it was in us. In our world, races commonly hate other races, nations hate other nations, employees hate their employers, children at times hate their parents, and many wives end up hating their husbands. We live in a world of hate, and before Christ (and commonly after), aspects of this hate were in us and at times directed towards us. However, in Christ, there is no room for hate within our hearts. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Jew and Gentile commonly hated each other in the ancient world; however, in Christ, they are one. Also, in the ancient world, free people commonly looked down on slaves and separated from them, as they were part of a lower social class. However, in Christ, the barriers between various social classes are no more. In addition, there were separation, stigma, and disdain between the genders, as men looked down on women. However, in Christ they are equal. In Christ, there is no room for mistreating or looking down on those of a different race, socio-economic status, gender, or even political affiliation. This is certainly common in the world, but it should not be true of those in Christ. Our Lord came from a poor family who lived in the ghetto and yet is Savior and God of this world. Before Christ, we commonly hated and were hated. Therefore, we should be gentle with the pagan world around us who still commonly struggles with these things. We understand them and at times have still fallen to these sins in our hearts.

Application Question: How should remembering our sinful pasts affect us, especially in considering the sinful world around us?

Remembering these sobering truths should create these four things in us:

  • gratitude in our hearts for how God changed us.
  • humility as we remember what God changed us from.
  • kindness to others in the same place.
  • faith that God can change those who are still in that place.9

Are we thankful that we’re not who we used to be? Are we humble because we realize God set us free from enslavement to various lusts and is changing us daily into his image? In response to these realities, are we being kind to the sinful world around us, realizing they need Christ just like we do? Finally, are we believing that Christ can change anybody, just like he changed us? We should never give up hope and never stop reaching out and doing good to others in the hope that Christ might save them.

Application Question: Why is it so important for us to remember our past struggles with sin before salvation (and after) to better minister to others (cf. 1 Tim 5:15)? In what ways have you experienced and seen the negative vices in the world which Paul mentioned in Titus 3:3?

To Be A Blessing To Society, We Must Remember Our Great Salvation

But “when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.”

Titus 3:4-7

The “but” in verse 4 signals our great transformation from rebels of God to his followers. “But ‘when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us.” God’s kindness and love appeared to mankind 2,000 years ago when God’s Son, Jesus Christ, came to the earth, died for our sins, and rose again. Because of this, God offers all the precious gift of eternal life if we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Romans 6:23 says, “For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” John 3:16 says, “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” Paul’s argument is that we must not only remember our past, in how far we were away from God, but also God’s gracious salvation of us. As we remember our salvation, it helps us be grateful to God for saving us, merciful to others who have not experienced God’s salvation, and hopeful that they will. In fact, this hope helps us to actively share the gospel with them and live lives that make the gospel attractive to them. If we’re going to be a blessing to society, we must remember God’s great work of saving us.

In fact, Paul seeks to help us remember by giving us one of the greatest summaries of salvation in Scripture. In Titus 3:4-7, Paul breaks down the various elements of our salvation. Each element could be a sermon series in itself, as many books have been written over them. Therefore, we will only cover them briefly to help us remember the greatness of our salvation and provoke us to bless the world, so they may ultimately experience it.

Observation Question: What are the essential elements of our salvation as listed in Titus 3:4-7?

Titus 3:4-7 says:

But “when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.”

1. God saved us because of his benevolent character.

In this summary of our salvation, Paul says:

  • God saved us because he is kind (v. 4; Rom 2:4). This means he is good and benevolent in disposition. He is not mean and uncaring; he is kind and wants us to experience his blessing.
  • God saved us because he is loving (v. 4; John 3:16, Rom 5:8). He has a deep and intense affection for us. God loves us so much that he gave up everything to deliver us from the consequences of sin. He sent his very Son to die for us. In Scripture, God is the initiator of salvation. We ran away from him through our sins. However, he came after us because he loves us.
  • God saved us because he is merciful (v. 5; Eph 2:4-5). This means he is compassionate and forgiving towards us. Though God is just in that one sin deserves eternal wrath, he is also compassionate and forgiving, and that’s why he provides a path to salvation. In being merciful, God does not give us what we deserve which is eternal separation from him in a very real fiery judgment.
  • God saved us because he is gracious (v. 7; Eph 2:8-9). If mercy means that God does not give us what we deserve, grace is when he gives us what we don’t deserve. We deserve hell, but he gives us eternal life and makes us co-heirs with his Son (Rom 8:17). We will rule with Christ throughout eternity. From slavery in prison to one-day ruling in a palace. That’s the story of our salvation. It’s full of God’s grace—his unmerited favor.

Our salvation is based on God’s character. He is kind, loving, merciful, and gracious.

2. God saved us despite our character.

Titus 3:5 says, “he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done.” This is the problem with every religion in the world, including Catholicism. They believe that we can be saved by our works—that humanity can contribute to God’s work of salvation. However, that is not what Scripture teaches. Romans 4:5 says, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Also, Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.”

In the Galatian churches, there was a group of Jews who taught faith and works were needed for salvation. They taught that Christians had to practice the law to be saved, including men being circumcised. This was probably being taught in the Cretan churches as well. In Titus 1:10 (ESV), Paul talked about there being rebellious people full of deception, “especially those of the circumcision party.” With the Galatians who were being tempted by this cult, he said this in Galatians 5:2, “Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you at all!” Likewise, we must say to those who believe baptism, church attendance, giving to the poor, taking the Lord’s Supper, or any other good work is necessary for salvation: “If you do those works to be saved, Christ will do you no good! You cannot be saved.” In Luke 5:32, Christ said this to the Pharisees who thought they were good enough to receive salvation: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Christ can only save those who know they cannot save themselves, those who know they are under God’s eternal judgment for just one sin (Rom 6:23). Therefore, those who proclaim to be followers of Christ but are trusting in Christ plus their baptism, church membership, or other good works, cannot be saved. God cannot save those who are trusting in some other savior. In John 14:6, Christ said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It cannot be through Christ plus works; it can only be through Christ alone. God did not save us because of our works but despite them. Isaiah 64:6 says all our righteousness are like filthy rags before God—they repulse him, only Christ’s righteousness, as our substitute, will do.

3. God saved us through the new birth.

Paul says God saved us “through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit” (v. 5). In John 3:1-6, Christ told Nicodemus that nobody could enter the kingdom of heaven unless they had been born again by the Spirit. According to John 1:12-13, John said the new birth happens when we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior. He says,

But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children—children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.

This is what Paul is talking about in Titus 3:5. When God saves us, he doesn’t leave us the same, caught in sin. He radically changes us. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” When a person is born again, they go from spiritual death (cf. Rom 8:7, 1 Cor 2:14)—no response to spiritual stimuli, the things of God—to being spiritually alive to God and the things of God. Ephesians 2:5 says it this way, “even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!” When someone is born again, they start to demonstrate the characteristics of their heavenly Father. They will find that they have, what has been called, “religious affections.” Where before they had no interest in reading the Bible, attending church, worshiping God, praying, and evangelism, now they do. They desire to read and obey God’s Word and worship with the saints. In fact, they will be marked specifically by love for other believers. In 1 John 3:14, John said this: “We know that we have crossed over from death to life because we love our fellow Christians. The one who does not love remains in death.” Supernatural love for other believers marks those who have been truly born again. Like God, who so loved the world that he gave his Son for them (John 3:16), born again believers start to have a deep affection for other believers. They become family that they want to worship with, pray with, encourage in the faith, and meet their needs in practical ways. Christ taught the same thing that John did. In John 13:35, he said: “Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.” This supernatural love which happens at salvation and matures throughout life marks born again believers. In Acts 2:45, those who had just accepted Christ as Savior began to sell all they had to give to the poor among them. They were truly born again.


The “new birth,” also translated “regeneration” (ESV), is described as a “washing” (v.5). What does the “washing” refer to? It does not refer to baptism, since baptism is something we do after salvation (cf. Acts 10:44-48). The metaphor of washing was used by Christ when he washed the feet of the disciples. In John 13:10, Christ said: “The one who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” The initial “bath” in Christ’s metaphor seems to refer to the washing at regeneration. The bath which washes us seems to have both a negative and positive connotation. In a bath, there is both a getting rid of dirt and a making one clean. Likewise, in the new birth which is described as a “washing” in Titus 3:5, there is a cleansing from sin and a receiving a righteous nature (cf. Gal 5:16, 22), which both happen by the Holy Spirit. This looks back to the promise of the new birth to Israel in Ezekiel 36:25-27, where God says through the prophet:

I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols. I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations.

With that said, in continuing with Christ’s metaphor of a bathed person needing his feet washed in John 13, though we are bathed at salvation, in the sense of deliverance from the penalty and power of sin (cf. John 15:3, Rom 6:1-11), we need continual washings of our feet after, in the sense of confessing and repenting of sins to God for forgiveness (1 John 1:9), to stay cleansed. At regeneration, we have our initial bath, and then after, we need continual cleansing.


When Paul says, “and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (v. 5), this seems to be a part of what Ezekiel and Paul were referring to. At the new birth, we are born again through the Spirit and empowered to continually get rid of sin and become more righteous. Therefore, this “renewing of the Spirit” happens at spiritual birth but continues throughout a believer’s life, as he submits to the Spirit. For example, Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.” As we reject the philosophies of the world and submit to God’s Word, the Holy Spirit renews our mind and leads us into God’s perfect will for our lives. Likewise, Colossians 3:9-10 says, “Do not lie to one another since you have put off the old man with its practices and have been clothed with the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it.” Again, by repenting of sins, like lying, and practicing righteousness, the Holy Spirit renews us into the image of our heavenly father.

God saves believers through the new birth. He washes them from sin, empowers them with a new nature, and continually renews them into his image, all through the work of his Spirit. God makes us new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), and therefore, there will be definite changes in the life of someone who is truly born again which is a proof of their salvation. Obedience to God (1 John 2:3-5), a decrease in sin (1 John 3:6, 9), and a love for believers (1 John 3:14), among other positive virtues, will mark them (cf. Matt 5:3-10, 1 John, etc.).

4. God saved us by justifying us.

Justification simply means “to declare righteous.” This, like regeneration, happens at the moment of a person’s conversion, when one accepts Christ as their Lord and Savior. An easy way to remember justification is “God makes us ‘just’ as though we never sinned.” There are two parts to justification. (1) It includes God forgiving our sins because of Christ’s death on the cross to pay the penalty for them, and (2) God declaring us as righteous based on Christ’s righteous life. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.” On the cross, Christ was our substitute. God declared that our sins were his and punished him in accordance with them. By Christ’s death, he appeased God’s just wrath for the sins of the world. In the same way, God looked at Christ’s righteous life and declared it as ours. Christ never lied, stole, or sinned in his heart, and he always did God’s will. God now looks at us as having the righteousness of his perfect Son.

What does this mean for us? Practically, justification means that we will never be condemned for our sins because Christ was condemned for us. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Also, Romans 8:33-34 says:

Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us.

In our salvation, God not only forgave our sins, delivered us from the power of sin, and gave us a righteous nature through his Spirit, but also declared us righteous because of his Son’s substitutionary perfect life and death for us (2 Cor 5:21). Therefore, we will never be condemned eternally, even for our present sins and the continual accusations of the evil one.

Recognizing this aspect of salvation is important so that we don’t accept Satan’s condemnation when we fail or fall into sin. The enemy will seek to keep us in our sins by his repeated accusations: We’re not good Christians. We’re hypocrites. We should stop coming to church and stop reading our Bible. We’re probably not even saved. However, in response, we must not defend ourselves. We must recognize our sin, but also, Christ’s perfect life. We are accepted by God not because of our righteousness but because of the Son’s. Therefore, we must reject the condemnation of the devil and our flesh, and run back to God, run back to his people, run back to righteousness because God has declared us righteous in his Son. Satan condemns us to keep us in sin and push us away from God, but the Holy Spirit convicts us to turn us away from sin and back to God.

5. God saving us includes becoming heirs of eternal life.

In verse 7, Paul says, “since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.” Eternal life is something that begins at conversion, as we are brought into a right relationship with God. In John 17:3, Christ said, “Now this is eternal life—that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.” It is a quality of life that we have now, as we worship and obey God. It includes growing in righteousness, peace, and joy. Romans 14:17 says, “For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” However, our present experience of eternal life is only a foretaste of the eternal glory that awaits us. We have a confident expectation of this, a sure hope. This hope should give us strength when going through the temporary trials of life and when we face death, ours, and that of other believers. In Romans 8:18, Paul said this: “For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.” Thinking about the glories of eternity made him less consumed with his present sufferings. The sufferings on earth are incomparable to the glory that we shall experience in eternity. God saved us to give us eternal life which should give us confidence while going through the temporary trials of life and experiencing the weakening of our earthly bodies. This might in part reflect Paul’s command to put on the helmet of salvation as part of the armor of God (Eph 6:17). This includes a confident expectation of eternal life that helps us navigate temporary attacks, sickness, the crosses we bear in life, and even death. Knowing our eternal destination helps us stand and not quit in the difficulties of life.

Interpretation Question: In what ways does remembering our salvation, and the various aspects of it, help us be a better blessing to the unbelieving society around us?

Steve Cole’s comments are helpful in applying the reality of our great salvation to enable us to bless society more effectively:

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!10

Often instead of being merciful to lost unbelievers around us, we’re like the merciless servant who was forgiven much by God but was not willing to forgive the little failures of others and therefore came under God’s discipline (Matt 18:23-35). For this reason, it’s important for us to continually remind ourselves of the greatness of our salvation, including how much God forgave us. If we don’t, we’ll be merciless and joyless Christians who push others away from Christ instead of near him.

Application Question: How can we constantly remind ourselves of our great salvation so we can live in light of it, as we seek to bless the world?

  • We should give God thanks often for our salvation and all its blessings, through both prayer and worship, including singing songs which explain and remind us of the greatness of our salvation (i.e., Amazing Grace).
  • We must continually read God’s Word, as the major theme of it is salvation. In short, the story of the Bible is creation, fall, and redemption. The Bible is the story of redemptive history. Throughout it, from Genesis to Revelation, God is seeking to save a people from sin and destruction and restore creation. If we are weak in our time in God’s Word which has the theme of salvation, we will lack the joy of our salvation and the mercy it promotes in us towards others.
  • We should practice the Lord’s Supper often where we remember Christ’s death for our sins and look forward to his return.
  • We should often pray to the Lord as David did, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Ps 51:12 ESV), since we commonly lack it.

As we consider this reality, we must ask ourselves, “Are we still joyful about our great salvation or has it become a common thing, simply the ABCs of our faith?” Without a continual wonder of it and recognizing the depths we were saved from, we will lose our joy in it and therefore not share it with others nor show them the mercy we have received.

Application Question: What aspect of the essential elements of salvation that Paul mentioned in Titus 3:4-7 stood out most to you and why? Why is it important to remember God’s mercy in saving us to be a blessing to the unbelieving world around us? How can we practically demonstrate the favor we received from God to others? What is the danger of forgetting God’s grace to us in salvation and how will that negatively affect us and our relationship with others? How is God calling you to continually remember your great salvation?

To Be A Blessing To Society, We Must Remember Our God-Given Mission And Remind Others Of It

This saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on such truths, so that those who have placed their faith in God may be intent on engaging in good works. These things are good and beneficial for all people.

Titus 3:8

When Paul says, “this saying is trustworthy,” it seems to refer to our great salvation in the previous verses (4-7). The phrase is used five times altogether in the pastoral epistles (1 Tim 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim 2:11; Titus 3:8). These sayings may have been creedal statements or hymns in the early church.11 They were repeated verbally and probably sung to catechize the church members—to help them memorize and live out the truths. Titus was to “insist on” or “stress” (NIV) the “truths” of our salvation to help the Cretan churches live in light of them. The “truths” may refer not only to the teachings on salvation, but also the practical exhortations Paul gave in Chapter 2 to the various demographics in the church (older men, older women, slaves, etc.) and Chapter 3:1-7 on how Christians should behave in broader society.12 Believers should live in a godly manner within the church and outside of it. Paul says these “truths” should be emphasized, “so that those who have placed their faith in God may be intent on engaging in good works. These things are good and beneficial for all people” (v. 8). Salvation in Christ is not just to deliver us from judgment and to have an eternal relationship with God. God saved us for a mission—to do good works that benefit all people. Though not saved by good works, we are saved to good works which should be directed to both believers and nonbelievers. Ephesians 2:8-10 says,

For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.

What are these good works? In short, they can be summarized in the mission statement, “Edifying Believers and Reaching Unbelievers for Christ.” With the church, we must seek to disciple believers and help them grow in the faith, so they can fulfill God’s calling on their lives. With unbelievers, we must share the gospel with them, pray for them, and seek to love them in practical ways to show them the love of Christ, in the hope that they will get saved. In order to bless society, we must continually remind ourselves and others of our mission—to edify the local and broader church and reach unbelievers for Christ.

Titus was to insist upon these truths by continually repeating them to the Cretans. Likewise, we must repeat the mission to ourselves and emphasize it to other believers as well. Parents must continually teach their children the mission—that Christ has gifted them and called them to serve their local church and reach the world for Christ. We must continually insist on this reality with those we disciple one on one or in small groups. We must emphasize the mission because we are so prone to get side-tracked and consumed with other things. It’s easy to become consumed with our jobs, trials, family, comfort, and even retirement, and therefore neither bless God’s church nor the world he is trying to reach. In 2 Timothy 2:4, Paul used a military metaphor to help Timothy not lose focus on his mission in serving Christ. He said: “No one in military service gets entangled in matters of everyday life; otherwise, he will not please the one who recruited him.” We must constantly remind ourselves of the mission and insist on it with others, even as Paul did with Titus and Timothy.

Application Question: How should we find good works to engage in to benefit both the church and broader society?

When Paul says that the Cretans “may be intent” on engaging in good works (v. 8), it means to “be mentally intent on, concentrate on” or “to think and give careful attention to.”13 Good works don’t happen by accident. They take intentional thought and planning. This includes asking ourselves questions like, “How has God gifted me? What are my passions? How can I use these gifts and passions to bless my church, community, nation, or the world in general?” It also includes thinking about, “What ways am I weak? How can I partner with others who have gifts that I don’t to complete what God has put in my heart?” With that said, certainly, we don’t just think about ourselves, we think about others. We ask ourselves, “What are weaknesses of my church and how can I get involved to help out? How can I be a blessing and show God’s love to my neighbor or co-worker? Who are the vulnerable in my community and how can I get involved to meet their needs?” If we are going to be a blessing to the church and society, we must take time to think and plan, so we can maximize our gifts, passions, and time to the glory of God. The writer of Hebrews said it this way in Hebrews 10:24: “And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works.”

Again, this is something we must constantly remind ourselves and others of because we’re so prone to forget. Our natural tendency towards selfishness and comfort makes it easy to forget God and his mission to build the church and reach the world (cf. Matt 28:18-20). Lord, help us to not forget the mission. Continue to remind and guide us and help us to do the same with others. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen!

Application Question: Why are we so prone to forget our mission to build God’s church and reach the world? Why are good works so important to that mission? What gifts and passions has God given you and how can you use them to bless a church member, neighbor, co-worker, friend or even more broadly to bless our church, community, nation, and even the world? What are weaknesses and strengths of your current church and how can you supplement them? What are weaknesses and strengths of your broader community (city/nation) and how can you support, even if only through prayer?

To Be A Blessing To Society, We Must Remember To Avoid Foolish Fights And Divisive People

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, quarrels, and fights about the law, because they are useless and empty. Reject a divisive person after one or two warnings. You know that such a person is twisted by sin and is conscious of it himself.

Titus 3:9-11

Finally, after sharing positive ways believers must bless society, he shares two negative things believers must be careful of which hinder their ability to bless others. They must avoid foolish fights and divisive people.

Foolish Fights

As seen throughout the letter, there were false teachers in the Cretan congregations causing discord by their teachings. In Titus 1:10-11, Paul said this about why elders should be established in every city (1:5):

For there are many rebellious people, idle talkers, and deceivers, especially those with Jewish connections [or “circumcision party” ESV], who must be silenced because they mislead whole families by teaching for dishonest gain what ought not to be taught.

The predominant faction of these false teachers were Jews who focused on aspects of the law that were no longer required in the New Covenant, such as males being circumcised and how eating certain foods made a person unclean. They caused conflicts in the church by misleading whole families and making money off their followers (1:11). They were to be silenced (1:11) and rejected (3:10).

In Titus 3:9, Paul says the reason debates with these teachers, or their followers, must be avoided is because the debates are “useless and empty” or “unprofitable and worthless” (ESV). Unlike doing good works which are “beneficial for all people” including believers and unbelievers (3:8), divisive arguing hinders the mission of the church. In fact, Christ emphasized the importance of unity in the church when praying in John 17:23. He prayed that his church would be “completely one, so that the world will know” that God sent the Son. The unity of the church is a blessing to society because it confirms the gospel. Disunity makes the gospel unattractive, pushing believers away from the church and keeping unbelievers from being drawn to it.

Unfortunately, divisive arguing, especially about the finer points of theology, is a plague on the church that commonly destroys its witness. William Barclay said this in describing a religious tendency towards unfruitful and divisive theological debate in many churches:

It has been said that there is a danger that a man may think himself religious because he discusses religious questions. There is a kind of discussion group which argues simply for the sake of arguing. There is a kind of group which will argue for hours about theological questions. It is much easier to discuss theological questions than it is to be kind and considerate and helpful at home, or efficient and diligent and honest at work. There is no virtue in sitting discussing deep theological questions when the simple tasks of the Christian life are waiting to be done. It is indeed true that such discussion can be nothing other than an evasion of Christian duties. Paul was quite certain that the real task of the Christian lay in Christian action. That is by no means to say that there is no place for Christian discussions; but it is to say that the discussion which does not end in action is very largely wasted time.14

Now certainly, Paul is not referring to fruitful biblical discussion amongst two believers or a small group. He is referring to “foolish controversies” that must be avoided. In general, when considering the merit of a biblical debate (or debate in general), we must ask ourselves, “How does this promote the gospel which is our mission to share and sanctification which all Christians are called to grow in?” This is what Paul said to Timothy when encouraging him to tell the Ephesians to avoid the useless speculations in 1 Timothy 1:4. He said for them not “to occupy themselves with myths and interminable genealogies. Such things promote useless speculations rather than God’s redemptive plan that operates by faith.” God’s redemptive plan is to save us through the gospel and sanctify us through God’s Word. Applying this principle to various situations or topics takes tremendous wisdom. However, clearly, with things that Scripture does not explicitly address, we should be careful about debating and most times even speculating about. Deuteronomy 29:29 says: “Secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those that are revealed belong to us and our descendants forever, so that we might obey all the words of this law.” Personally, when asked various theological questions in my role as a pastor and professor, I commonly say Scripture does not address that or God does not tell us why he did this or that. Then, I may share some logical possibilities which have little authority. When applied to things outside of Scripture (such as government policies, etc.), we should be firm where Scripture is clear (like with abortion and marriage being between a man and woman) and less firm where Scripture is not.

Divisive People

In Titus 3:10, when Paul says to “reject a divisive person after one or two warnings,” the Greek word for “divisive” is where we get the English word “heretic” from. However, in the first century, it didn’t have a theological connotation; it simply meant “to take sides” or “to choose for oneself.”15 It referred to a self-focused, opinionated person who would not listen to reason; consequently, there was no point in arguing with him. Instead, we should warn him once or twice, and then have nothing to do with him.

Interpretation Question: In rejecting a divisive person, is Paul’s warning referring to excommunication or ostracism?

There is some debate over whether rejecting a divisive person refers to a formal act of church discipline or simply social ostracism.16 It probably is a general statement which could refer to either depending on the situation. Some divisive people will need to simply be avoided (at least for a season; cf. 2 Thess 3:14-15), while others will need to be disciplined by the church for the person’s spiritual health and that of the church (1 Cor 5:9-13). The need for church discipline will depend on (1) the seriousness of their doctrinal error, (2) their persistence in sharing it, and in general, (3) how divisive they are. The full process for church discipline is described in Matthew 18:15-17. Christ says a person in sin should be approached one on one; then with two or three others. If he still won’t repent, then the church should reach out to the person in hopes of his restoration. However, if he persists in sin, he should be separated from—meaning excommunicated. In Matthew 18:17, Christ said: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.” Jews avoided Gentiles and tax collectors; they would not even walk by them nor talk to them. Christ was not condoning their mistreatment but simply using an illustration that would help the Jewish Christians understand how to treat believers living in rebellion. Likewise, Paul warned the Corinthians to do the same. In 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, he said this:

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you.

Application Question: Why should unrepentant believers be disciplined?

1. Unrepentant believers should be disciplined in hopes that they would repent.

When the church separates from them, it shows the seriousness of their sin in hopes that they might be ashamed and repent (cf. 2 Thess 3:14). In 1 Corinthians 5:4-5, Paul said this about a professing believer having sex with his father’s wife:

When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, along with the power of our Lord Jesus, turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

The believer was to be disciplined in the hopes that he may repent and ultimately be saved. In fact, his repentance would be evidence that he was truly saved and not just a professing believer who was never really born again.

2. Unrepentant believers should be disciplined to protect the church from the spread of sin.

In 1 Corinthians 5:6, Paul said this in the same context: “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough?” When dishonesty, gossip, or sexual immorality is happening in the church without discipline, it begins to spread. Therefore, it must be disciplined so that all may be corrected.

3. Unrepentant believers should be disciplined to preserve the witness of the church to the world.

In 1 Timothy 3:7, Paul said this about the selection of a potential pastor/elder: “And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap.” If a pastor has a reputation for sin amongst the world, it gives them opportunities to mock the church and the God of the church. It’s one of Satan’s traps. He loves to parade Christians, especially Christian leaders, who fall into sin amongst the public to destroy the church’s witness. When the church is worldly, it cannot be light to a dark world. Church discipline helps preserve the witness of the church to the world.

With all this said, the call for believers to not engage in foolish fights or with divisive people should not just be applied to our relationships with other church members. If Christians are constantly arguing with and fighting with the world over temporal matters, including political issues, they will push away those they are called to bear witness to. In addition, they may find themselves not desiring the salvation of their unsaved opponents, as seen with Jonah and his animosity for the Ninevites. If believers are going to bless the world, they must stay away from foolish fights and divisive people in general. It only dims the light of the gospel and risks pushing people away from Christ altogether.

Application Question: In what ways do Christians engaging in divisiveness hinder its mission to build up the church and reach the world? How have you seen this negatively affect the church? Why is church discipline important? How have you seen or experienced it? Why is it often neglected? What types of sins, if not all sins, should the church formally discipline?


How can we be a blessing to unbelieving society, so that they can be drawn to Christ?

  1. To Be a Blessing to Society, We Must Remember to Obey Our Authorities and Be Good Citizens
  2. To Be a Blessing to Society, We Must Remember to Be Kind to Everyone
  3. To Be a Blessing to Society, We Must Remember Our Past Lives Before Christ
  4. To Be a Blessing to Society, We Must Remember Our Great Salvation
  5. To Be a Blessing to Society, We Must Remember Our God-given Mission and Remind Others of It
  6. To Be a Blessing to Society, We Must Remember to Avoid Foolish Fights and Divisive People

Application Question: What stood out most in the study and why? How is God calling you to apply this study to your life?

Prayer Prompts

  • Pray for grace for the church to submit to government authorities and be good citizens instead of irritants of the state, especially in places where their views are mocked and they are persecuted.
  • Pray for grace for the church to excel in good works to bless society by working in the public sphere and caring for the most vulnerable, including the elderly, the sick, poor, and orphans.
  • Pray with thanksgiving for our salvation and his continual changing us through his Word, people, and Spirit.
  • Pray for the lost around the world to hear the gospel and, in response, repent of their sins and put their faith in Christ, so they can be saved.
  • Pray for unity and reconciliation in God’s church instead of division and that the church would wisely avoid unedifying conflicts with the world that distract from our mission.

Copyright © 2023 Gregory Brown

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1 MacArthur, John F., Jr. 1996. Titus. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press.

2 Utley, Robert James. 2000. Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey: I Timothy, Titus, II Timothy. Vol. Volume 9. Study Guide Commentary Series. Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

3 Stott, John R. W. 1996. Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

4 Platt, David, Daniel L. Akin, and Tony Merida. 2013. Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. Nashville, TN: Holman Reference.

5 Leadership Ministries Worldwide. 1994. Titus & Philemon. The Teacher’s Outline & Study Bible. Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide.

6 Leadership Ministries Worldwide. 1994. Titus & Philemon. The Teacher’s Outline & Study Bible. Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide.

7 MacDonald, William. 1995. Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. Edited by Arthur Farstad. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

8 Leadership Ministries Worldwide. 1994. Titus & Philemon. The Teacher’s Outline & Study Bible. Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide.

9 Adapted from David Guzik’s Titus Commentary.


11 Platt, David, Daniel L. Akin, and Tony Merida. 2013. Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. Nashville, TN: Holman Reference.

12 MacArthur, John F., Jr. 1996. Titus. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press.

13 Yarbrough, Robert W. 2018. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. Edited by D. A. Carson. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; London: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos.

14 William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, 3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 297.

15 Robert James Utley, Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey: I Timothy, Titus, II Timothy, vol. Volume 9, Study Guide Commentary Series (Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 2000), 128.

16 John R. W. Stott, Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 211.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Evangelism, Relationships

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