Sunday, June 22, 2014
Sermon: Titus 3: 8-15 Devoted to good works
Have you ever heard a cd skipping? A cd skipping? A cd skipping? Something has gone wrong and you get the same little bit of music over and over again, until you give the cd player a dunt, or else move it on to the next song. Or perhaps you’ve heard about someone going on like a record player with the needle stuck. The same thing again and again.
You might be tempted to think that’s what’s happening in our reading today. Paul keeps saying the same thing a couple of times. Can you see it in verse 8 and verse 14? Twice he talks about being devoted to good works. Is his needle stuck?
When you’re writing a letter today, paper is relatively cheap. You can pick up a whole pad for a pound, and you could write on that whole pad, pop it in an envelope and post it. That is, of course if you’re still writing letters by hand. Email is even easier. Type as much as you want; copy and paste and edit as you go, click send, and the message pops into their inbox straight away. But when Paul was writing, papyrus or parchment was more expensive. Every square inch was valuable. Words were carefully chosen. So why does Paul (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) repeat himself on being devoted to good works, twice in quick succession? What’s so good about good works?
It’s the question the puzzled me as I studied the passage this week. But then I realised that this focus on good works is the key to the whole letter. You see, Paul has mentioned good works already - look back at 2:7, where Titus is to be a model of good works for the church; and in 2:14 where Jesus gave himself to redeem us from all iniquity and ‘to purify a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.’ (Same phrase ‘good works’ in Gk).
As we’ve seen all through the letter, the message Titus has to teach in the church in Crete is this: what you believe affects how you behave. Right belief must lead to right behaviour. In chapter one, we saw how church leaders must be people who hold to the truth and live it out. In two, the focus shifts to the home, where younger and older men and women and slaves are to live out what is consistent with sound doctrine, adorning the gospel of God’s grace. And now in chapter three, we focus on life in the world, relating to the state and to people around us.
Because the gospel is true, Paul wants Titus to ‘insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone.’
Once again, Paul is showing the order. The way you do things and the order you do them in can be vital. Just think of the laundry basket. You’ve got some dirty clothes. You wouldn’t iron them, then put them in the tumble drier, then put them in the washing machine, and then wear them straight away. The order is important. So it is here. First of all: ‘those who have come to believe in God’ - so you have already done that (it’s in the past tense) - ‘may be careful to devote themselves to good works.’
Good works won’t bring you to God. But when you have believed in God (trusted him), then good works are essential. But more than that, they are also ‘excellent and profitable to everyone.’ Doing good is an excellent thing to do; and even more so because it profits everyone. Just think of the benefit to others if you do good rather than evil.
So if you have believed in God; if you’re one of his today, then the command is clear - be devoted to good works. Always be doing them; always be looking out for ways to do good. Devoted brings to mind a devoted husband or wife; constantly attending to and helping; or think of the devoted England fans, willing to pay thousands to fly to Brazil for the World Cup, now facing an early trip home.
If there are things that we are devoted to - good works - then there are also things to avoid. Look at verse 9. ‘But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.’ Good works are profitable, helpful, useful; but these quarrels and debates are unprofitable. Plenty of hot air, but not much benefit.
Causing division in the church is a serious business. We’re here for each other, to build up each other; not to start petty divisions over unimportant things. It’s so serious that Titus is told not to have anything to do with those who cause divisions.
Those verses seem to be clear. Be devoted to good works; avoid stupid controversies. They’re the main teaching point from the passage. We can all take it on board. From the start of verse 12, you might think that Paul is just winding down. There are some personal remarks that only really have to do with the situation of Titus as he opens the envelope and reads it on that day. What could there possibly be for us, two thousand years later?
But look again. We have our second occurrence of the needle being stuck. In these specifics, we get an example of how being devoted to good works will work in practice. Here’s part of what it will look like to be devoted to good works.
Have you ever seen one of those battlefield maps with the toy soldiers lining up? The commander of the army moves the regiments and plans strategy. Or maybe you play chess. You line up your pieces for maximum advantage to checkmate the opponent. That’s what Paul is doing here. He’s sending Artemas or Tychicus to Crete to replace Titus. Titus is to move to Nicopolis to be with Paul over the winter. Zenas and Apollos are on Crete, but they are to be sent on their way ‘and see that they lack nothing. And let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive.’
Being devoted to good works in these verses is all about supporting God’s work of mission. The good works of the church on Crete will be seen as they send Zenas and Apollos, lacking nothing. Not everyone will necessarily go away on mission, but we can all give to those who do. It seems like the Lord’s perfect timing that we are today announcing our new mission partnership.
But being devoted to good works is something that we need to learn. It doesn’t come naturally. But when it comes as a response to all that God has given us; when we realise that it’s all his; and when we realise we can make a difference for others, then how could we not?
What is it you’re devoted to? What is the pattern of your life? Paul urges Titus to insist on being devoted to good works. We all need to learn how to do it. We need to be brought from our selfishness to service. This week, ask God to open your eyes to see the ways you can do good, for those near at hand; and for those serving the Lord far from home. It’s not easy. It’ll not come easily. But God gives us something that will help us do it. As Paul closes: ‘Grace be with you all.’ Amen.
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Church on Sunday 22nd June 2014.