Motivating and warning - Titus 3:5-15
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Has anyone here heard of Steve Urwin? Well if you haven't, then you should, because Steve is one of Australia's greatest recent exports. Forget Kylie Minogue ladies and gentlemen because Steve Urwin is better. Over the last ten or so years Steve has made his fortune by going on television and bringing to life a northern European tourist's worst nightmare, namely coming into very close, intimate contact with just about every single Australian animal that has the capacity to make you die a very painful death.
Steve is a very unique bloke. He is probably one of the only people in the world who will address an enormous, filthy, hairy, great spider as... "Oh, your beautiful. Hello darlin' aren't you gorgeous, take a look at her beautiful legs..." whilst referring to his beloved wife with close intimate title of "mate."
Anyway, one of Steve's greatest skills is the handling of Australia's most poisonous snake, the King Brown, or Pseudechis Australis. Now the King Brown grows to about three meters long.
It is described as a "ready biter" and is responsible for human deaths largely due to it's highly haemotoxic venom which kills you by causing all of your blood to clot. There is good reason to be very afraid of the king Brown. In fact if you have any sense as all, you will stay as far away from this snake as you possibly can.
But Steve, bless him, likes to pick these snakes up by the tail and whilst lavishing the angry snake with the most endearing of compliments and addressing it all the time as "sweet heart", he allows all of it's three meter body to swing about in the air whilst holding it by the tip of it's tail. It's amazing to watch.
Now Steve assures his viewers that this activity is not as easy as it looks and should never be tried at home. Understandably, the snake handler does not want to get bitten by this three meter monster and to ensure that this doesn't happen, the handler must be completely focussed on the snake. Steve, can't allow himself to be distracted by anything. If he is to carry out the exercise successfully then he needs to be completely focussed. He must be fixed on just one thing... the snake.
Now I hear that there is a group of Christians somewhere in the
U. S. A. that are convinced that basic Christian living involves the handling of poisonous snakes, but you will be relieved to know that this is not where I'm heading with this.
But I do want to say this. All Christians are called to undertake a difficult task. Something which is just as difficult as snake handling. Something that is not as easy as it looks and that is simply this, the living out of the Christian life. And what's more if we are to be successful in our endeavours to live as Christians in this world, we too must be completely focussed on one thing. There is something that we must fix our attention on and we mustn't allow anything to distract us, and you'll be relieved to know that it's not Pseudechis Australis.
So please turn with me to Titus 3 and we'll take a look at that which is to be the sole object of our focus.
1) Truth That Leads to Godliness
In verse 8 Paul speaks of a trustworthy saying, that must be stressed and the second part of the verses tells us why this is important.
The trustworthy saying must be stressed so that ..
Those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
In other words the trustworthy saying needs to be stressed so that the people of God will live out Christian lives.
So what is this trustworthy saying that Paul's speaking about? Well Paul tells us in verses 5 - 7. In short it is the Gospel.
Look down at verse 3..
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. Now this is a damming, but very accurate description of all of humanity.
And when you read over it and really think about what it's saying, you can't help but notice that it's very bad news. I mean how can a perfect just, pure God possibly have anything to do with creatures such as us. How could a perfect God ever accept such people?
When you really think about it the idea of a pure, perfect, just God keeping company with such creatures is unthinkable!
but look at verse 5..
He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of re- birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our saviour, so that having been justified by his grace we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Now that is a gospel! That is good news (which is what the word gospel means)! It's absolutely incredible and it involves the whole trinity Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Look at the beginning of verse 5.
He (that is God the father) saved us, look down to the end of verse 5, by the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, verse 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our saviour!
These verses reveal God's incredible act of salvation, in which the whole of the Trinity works, to give hopeless, filthy, rebellious humans renewal and re - birth. A new start!
Now That's truly amazing news isn't it? But Titus 3 doesn't stop there. It goes on there's verse 7. This passage is a bit like those
T. V. sales program where they try to sell you something like a food processor, but then you have to wait because there's more, and then they throw a cutlery set in with it, but wait it gets better...
And this is what Paul does here there's verse 7, as if verses 5 and 6 weren't good enough, we see that we have been saved for a purpose, verse 7 begins with a so that..
He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. There is an amazing future hope contained in the Gospel message. It doesn't end with you walking around on earth forever with the rest of the planet's inhabitants thinking your a weirdo, some kind of religious Steve Urwin.
He saved us through the washing of re- birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our saviour, (verse 7) so that having been justified by his grace we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
It doesn't end with you living forever in a world of suffering and hardship, the Gospel message ends with a perfect eternal life.
Look if you have been saved, then you are an heir (verse 7) and you will inherit!! It's great news! It's not all in the past, there is a future element as well.
So why is this truth, this trustworthy saying to be stressed. Why must we focus our attention on it? Well the answer to this question is one of the big recurring themes of the letter. We saw it all the way back in 1: 1, we've seen it last week in 2: 11 and now we're seeing it again in 3: 8.
We must focus on this truth, because it is a truth that leads to Godliness!
This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. You see as we saw last week, the teaching of the gospel motivates people to live a Godly life. It spurs us on to Godly living.
When we reflect on the wonderful things God has done for us, and when we look forward to the wonderful things he has in store for us, isn't that going to move us to want to follow him and obey him? When you look at the life you used to live, when you look at your disobedience and enslavement to sin your filthiness, doesn't that make you want change? When you look at the glorious gospel message, do you really want to go on living in a way that God hates?
I read a story recently about how two men were travelling in a rail carriage and suddenly one of the men started to convulse and rant and rave. The other man quickly got up pinned him to the ground and calmed him down. While the sick man was recovering the other man told his worried fellow passengers the story. "We had been soldiers in Korea during the fifties. One day we were being attacked and the I was wounded. So this man picked me up and ran to safety. But just as we were getting away a bomb exploded and we were knocked out. The next thing I knew I was in a hospital and the other soldier was nowhere to be seen. Well the years passed and I recovered. And years later I discovered that this man was still alive, but he was in a terrible condition. He had received permanent fits after the explosion as a result of shell shock and needed constant supervision. So I decided to sell my house and leave my job and commit myself full time to serving and looking after him for the rest of his life.
He did that for me. There is nothing I wouldn't do for him."
When we think of the Gospel, we will be driven to live God's way. The Gospel leads us to godly living.
It pushes us to live as Christians. That's why it's so vital that we focus on it and let nothing distract us from it. If we are to stand any chance of living godly lives, then it will need to be the centre of our focus all the time.
The problem is that sometimes, this is not quite as easy as it looks because the distractions are many. Now when we read on in chapter three we see that this is an area in which the Cretan church struggled, and Paul's words to them are words that we need to hear too. So let's spend a bit of time now looking at this problem.
2) Distractions that Lead to Condemnation
In Verse 9, Paul lists a number of things that appear to be issues in the Cretan church.
He then goes on to contrast them with the gospel and Christian living (which are excellent and profitable for everyone), by saying that the things in verse 9 are unprofitable and useless and Titus is told to avoid them.
First of all, Paul warns Titus to steer clear of foolish controversies. Now there are many people who like to take verses such as this one and use it to say that we must avoid controversy at all costs.
They would cite the verse as a prohibition on any kind theological argument. They would claim that if we take issue over any theological point then we're foolish controversialists. This then means that we can't disagree with anyone and to disagree with a Catholic, Liberal or even Islamic theologian is therefore out of order. But this is not what Paul is saying.
After all Jesus himself was a man of controversy and was always disagreeing with the religious leaders of his day. Not only is this so but Paul himself was drawn into controversy over the Gospel and told Titus that false teachers must be silenced and rebuked. So it's clear that Paul isn't forbidding all controversy, but rather foolish controversies.
It is interesting to note that that the word used in this passage for "controversies" can also mean "speculations".
The same word also occurs in the letters to Timothy and it seems that Paul uses it to contrast the foolish ideas and speculations of the false teachers with the truth of God. The Cretan Christians were not to get caught up in these foolish ideas and spend their time arguing about them.
Next Paul speaks about genealogies, arguments and quarrels about the law. Now these might be referring to special Jewish legends that were in existence around the time Paul was writing, we even have records of 2 of these legends today. These legends are based around Old Testament genealogies and laws.
So Paul may be referring to legends such as these. It may have been that people were beginning to focus on such things and as a result getting themselves into foolish speculative arguments about the law and genealogies and other fanciful spiritual ideas making these things the focus and in doing so losing sight of the vital, life saving truth of the gospel.
Now this sort of behaviour is still very much alive today.
For example there are millions of people around the world who live in countries dominated by Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, who seem to spend more time thinking about various legends and speculations than they do the Bible. So various saints are prayed to, people revere sacred mountains and puddles of water and bits of wood and all sorts of things and these things certainly receive more attention and devotion, than God's word.
In one Greek village I was sitting with a man who had spent much of his life working for a church and was well up with all of the traditions and stories surrounding his Christian tradition. But when he caught sight of my Bible which was open to the letter to the Romans he didn't even recognise that Romans was part of the Bible!
Now he had just spent the day digging up the body of a person who had been buried for five years because in their tradition you have to do this and wash he bones and stuff like that. And he knew all the ritual associated with that. He even knew the exact number of people who should be present and some weren't able to attend because it would be the wrong number and that was against the tradition.
He knew all about that sort of stuff, but he didn't even know that the book of Romans was in the New Testament.
You see many of these legends and traditions seem pretty good. They appear to based off biblical things and all the right people seem to recommend them! But they shift the focus!
But it's all to easy to criticize others isn't it and we need to be aware that this sort of thing can creep into our circles too in a less obvious but equally dangerous way.
You only need to take a very brief look around the various types of Bible believing churches in the world to notice that many differences exist. Now provided that the Churches in question are Biblically based, these differences are not concerning the major issues. All of these Churches would agree about what the Gospel is and the need for non - believers to hear it. They would agree on the centrality of God's word.
But when it comes to the more secondary issues, for example do people need to be completely dunked when they are baptised, or will just a sprinkling do? Or what kind of church government should we have? Or how exactly are we supposed to have communion and how often? How should we run our Church meetings etc.? When we come to these issues there are disagreements.
Now there is nothing wrong with this and there is nothing wrong with debating these things and trying to nut them out..
But they so easily become the thing! And they become the centre of every conversation and God forbid we ever have fellowship with those who disagree with us! They become the big issue and the Gospel is forgotten. And not surprisingly our godliness goes out the window because we have lost our focus.
In one Church I know of, there was an elder who passionately loved his Presbyterian tradition, and he seemed to know the Presbyterian rule book better than he knew his Bible, and this was an elder in a "Bible based " Church.
We mustn't let these side issues distract us from that which we are to fix our focus upon. The Gospel.
Now Paul leaves no room for this kind of behaviour. He takes this sort of thing very seriously indeed. Look down at verses 10 - 11:
Warn a divisive person once, after that, have nothing more to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful;
he is self condemned.
Now this all sounds harsh doesn't it, but we must put the divisive person in perspective. The divisive person is one who is focused on genealogies and the law and foolish controversies and arguments and of course their contemporary equivalents. The reason that they are divisive is because they draw others to follow them and their distractions! They pull others away from the Gospel. Now this is very serious. They are shifting the focus of others and pulling them away from godliness!
So they are to be given chances to repent and if they remain unrepentant, then we should have nothing more to do with them. They have turned from the Gospel and have condemned themselves.
It's pretty serious isn't it? don't be side tracked by distractions that lead to destruction.
Let me finish by saying this. As Christian people we have plenty to rejoice about. For something glorious has happened to us in the past!
God has shown us mercy, he has washed us clean and now we have a glorious future! We have the hope of eternal life, we should be over the moon.
But we have also seen that as Christians we are to live radical lives! We are to be godly, we are to live as God's people and I think we all know that this is not as easy as it looks.
But Paul tells us here in Titus 3 how to live lives that are devoted to doing what is good. We are to be focussed!
Focussed on that trustworthy saying, focused on the gospel and we're to let nothing distract us.
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