In the opening verses of Titus chapter three, Paul the Apostle will identify seven distinguishing characteristics that should serve to designate those who follow Christ. The first of these characteristics involved the relationship of the Christian community on the Island of Crete to the governing authorities of that area…
“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1).
Given Paul’s earlier observation regarding the local inhabitants in Titus chapter one, its easy to imagine that some discord existed between the people of Crete and their government. Nevertheless, Paul counseled Titus to remind God’s people of their responsibility to “…respect the government and be law-abiding” (MSG).
Paul’s counsel here in the opening verse of Titus chapter three is reminiscent of a similar message found within his epistle to the Romans and provides us with an opportunity to take a closer look at the relationship of a Christian to his or her government…
“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1 NIV).
Governmental forms such as theocracies, monarchies, dictatorships, democracies, and aristocracies represent just a few of the different forms of human government that have been implemented over the years. While some of these models have clearly been better than others, each has been far from perfect. This idea was cleverly illustrated by the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who is reported to have once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government — except for all the others.”
But before we begin to consider a Christian’s relationship to government, it might be wise to spend some time examining God’s relationship to these various forms of human government. You see, Romans 13:1 tells us that there is no government anywhere that God has not put into place.
This suggests that an accountability exists between God and whatever governmental form He has allowed to come into existence. That accountability works like this: a citizen is subject to the governing authorities of his or her country while the governing authorities are subject to the God who has established their authority.
Although the failures and shortcomings of human government are often subject to various criticisms and complaints, one commentator invites us to consider the alternative…
“A regime might be very unchristian or even anti-christian, but any government is better than no government at all. The absence of government is anarchy, and people cannot survive for long under anarchy.” (1)
(1) Believer’s Bible Commentary, William MacDonald, edited by Arthur Farstad. Thomas Nelson Publishers Nashville
“Remind your people to obey the rulers and authorities and not to be rebellious. They must always be ready to do something helpful” (Titus 3:1 CEV).
As mentioned previously, Romans 13:1 establishes a structure of accountability that exists between God, human government, and the citizens of a particular nation: “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (NLT).
Jesus Himself illustrated this truth in a dialog with the Roman governor Pontius Pilate just prior to His crucifixion…
“As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw (Jesus), they shouted, ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ But Pilate answered, ‘You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.’ The Jews insisted, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.’
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. ‘Where do you come from?’ he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. ‘Do you refuse to speak to me?’ Pilate said. ‘Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’
Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin'” (John 19:6-11 NIV, emphasis added).
Pontius Pilate may not have recognized the fact that he was subject to God’s authority but as Jesus reminded him, he was still subject to that authority whether he realized (or accepted) it or not.
In light of this reality, Paul drew the following conclusion in Romans 13:2-5…
“Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.
For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience” (Romans 13:2-5 NIV).
“Remind people to submit to the government and its officials, to obey them, to be ready to do any honorable kind of work” (Titus 3:1 CJB).
Titus 3:1 serves to remind God’s people of the need to submit to the various forms of civil authority. The reasoning behind this principle is as follows: when we obey the law, we are obeying God indirectly for it is God who establishes human government and provides that government with the power to enact laws and ordinances according to Romans 13:1.
The Apostle Peter also provides us with some additional insight in this regard as he discusses this subject in 1 Peter 2:13-17:
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.
Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (NIV).
Nevertheless, the Scriptures are also realistic regarding the problems and challenges that often reflect the interaction between a citizen and his or her government. For instance, Israel’s King Solomon (the wisest man who ever lived according to 1 Kings 3:11-12) once remarked, “Don’t be surprised when you see that the government oppresses the poor and denies them justice and their rights” (Ecclesiastes 5:8 GNB). Whether that oppression filters down through layers of civil bureaucracy, corruption, or incompetence, those at the bottom of the societal chain (such as the poor) are often made to suffer the most.
It also appears that King Solomon held no misconceptions regarding the possibility that human beings might form an ideal political system apart from their Creator. Instead, he faced a cold, hard reality that exists within many forms of human government: “One officer is cheated by a higher officer who in turn is cheated by even higher officers. The wealth of the country is divided up among them all” (Ecclesiastes 5:8 NCV).
With these things in mind, we might question God’s relationship to the dictatorial, tyrannical, oppressive, or totalitarian forms of human government that have existed throughout the course of human history. What is God’s responsibility in permitting the establishment of such unjust regimes? We’ll consider the answer to that question next.
“Remind your people to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey them, and to be ready to do good in every way” (Titus 3:1 GNB).
In addressing the relationship between God and an unjust form of human government, the great 17th century commentator Matthew Henry once observed, “God… hath appointed the ordinance of magistracy, so that all civil power is derived from him… The usurpation (or wrongful exercise) of power and the abuse of power are not of God, for he is not the author of sin; but the power itself is.” (1)
This represents an important distinction for while God has established the authority of each particular government, this is not to say that He approves of those who abuse the governing power they have received or those who exercise that power in an ungodly manner.
Remember that “…The authorities that exist have been established by God” according to Romans 13:1. However, when a government engages in practices that are Scripturally unjust or refuses to protect the right of its citizens to acknowledge and follow God, then that government (in whatever form it takes) forfeits it’s authority to govern for human responsibility to obey the Creator must take priority.
Although the authority of human government proceeds from God, a government oversteps that authority whenever it seeks to enact laws and ordinances that fail to recognize God’s standards for humanity. For instance, when governmental law begins to conflict with clear Scriptural teaching, the effective result is that government has wrongfully assumed a position greater than (or equal with) God.
So while it’s true that Christians are responsible for obeying the laws of their country, it is also true that a Christian’s ultimate responsibility rests with the highest authority- God Himself. We can find an illustration of this concept in action by examining an incident that is recorded for us within the New Testament book of Acts.
In Acts chapter four, the Apostles Peter and John were brought to trial before the Jewish High Council in connection with the healing of a disabled man. Following a period of testimony, Acts 4:18 tells us, “Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard'” (NIV).
This passage is followed by another instructive portion of Scripture. We’ll look at that Scripture and see what it can tell us regarding our relationship to human government next.
(1) Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible Volume VI Romans Chap. XIII
“Remind your people to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey them, and to be ready to do good in every way” (Titus 3:1 GNB).
In Acts chapter five, we find an important exchange that sheds additional light on our responsibility to human government…
“Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,’ he said. ‘Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.’
Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men!'” (Acts 5:27-29 NIV).
So if forced to make a similar choice, we should follow the example of Peter and the apostles in following God’s precepts even if those precepts are in conflict with human law.
Nevertheless, its important to emphasize that God’s people have a general responsibility to respect the laws of the nation in which they live. For some additional insight on this subject, we can turn once again to the pen of Israel’s King Solomon as found within the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes…
“Obey the king since you vowed to God that you would. Don’t try to avoid doing your duty, and don’t stand with those who plot evil, for the king can do whatever he wants. His command is backed by great power. No one can resist or question it. Those who obey him will not be punished.
Those who are wise will find a time and a way to do what is right, for there is a time and a way for everything, even when a person is in trouble” (Ecclesiastes 8:2-6 NLT).
This passage tells us that we are not to follow governmental edicts out of loyalty to the government but out of loyalty to God: “…Keep the king’s commandment for the sake of your oath to God.” In another portion of Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells us, “Never make light of the king, even in your thoughts. And don’t make fun of the powerful, even in your own bedroom. For a little bird might deliver your message and tell them what you said” (Ecclesiastes 10:20 NLT).
This passage reminds us of the need to demonstrate respect in our relationships with those who hold positions of governmental leadership or others with such authority. As we’re told in the New Testament book of Romans, “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:7 NIV).
“…be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men” (Titus 3:1b-2).
Having addressed the need to show the appropriate degree of respect for those holding positions of governmental authority, Titus 3:2 goes on to discuss the kind of characteristics that should serve to influence our interactions with others: “…slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone” (NIV).
This short list of positive characteristics helps remind us that our actions should confirm our professed beliefs in all our relationships. For instance, consider Paul’s admonition “to speak evil of no one” here in Titus 3:2. In commenting on this idea, one source observes, “Elsewhere the Bible specifically forbids speaking evil of a ruler (Exo 22:28; Act 23:5)… But here the injunction is broadened to protect everyone from ridicule, slander, insult, or verbal abuse.” (1)
Then there is “to be peaceable,” a characteristic that helps direct our conversations away from things like arguments, quarrels, and disputes. While Paul will go on to address the proper way to approach contentious individuals later in this chapter, we should keep in mind that “being peaceable” does not necessarily mean that we prohibited from engaging those who are adversarial or confronting those who are in the wrong.
We can illustrate this idea with two examples from Paul’s own life…
“Some of you are saying, ‘Paul’s letters are harsh and powerful. But in person, he is a weakling and has nothing worth saying.’ Those people had better understand that when I am with you, I will do exactly what I say in my letters” (2 Corinthians 10:10-11 CEV).
“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong” (Galatians 2:11 TLB).
“To be peaceable” implies that we should avoid things like personal insults, ad hominem attacks, name-calling, bullying, and other such negative behaviors in our conversations with others. It means that we should allow the God-honoring characteristics of Titus 3:2 to influence our contacts with others, even those with whom we may vehemently disagree.
For example, gentleness is a characteristic that can often diffuse a potentially confrontational situation. Humility is a positive personal characteristic that involves courtesy, respect, and a modest self-opinion. Taken together, these God-honoring characteristics should help govern the manner in which we interact with others, even those who are combative or adversarial.
We’ll consider some strategies that can help us maintain peace with others next.
(1) Believer’s Bible Commentary William MacDonald Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers Nashville pg. 2143
“Tell them not to speak evil of anyone, but to be peaceful and friendly, and always to show a gentle attitude toward everyone” (Titus 3:2 GNB).
There are a number of variables that may potentially impact our ability to maintain peace with others, both inside and outside the church. Some of those variables might include…
- The specific action or response of the person involved.
- That person’s level of spiritual maturity.
- If the person is aware that he or she is responsible for causing difficulties yet still continues to do so.
In other words, its important to recognize that circumstances often play a significant part in determining how to best maintain peace with others. For example, if an offense is small or inconsequential, it might be appropriate to simply overlook it. Paul illustrated the validity of this approach in his Biblical letter to the church at Philippi…
“And because of my imprisonment, many of the Christians here seem to have lost their fear of chains! Somehow my patience has encouraged them, and they have become more and more bold in telling others about Christ. Some, of course, are preaching the Good News because they are jealous of the way God has used me. They want reputations as fearless preachers!
But others have purer motives, preaching because they love me, for they know that the Lord has brought me here to use me to defend the Truth. And some preach to make me jealous, thinking that their success will add to my sorrows here in jail! But whatever their motive for doing it, the fact remains that the Good News about Christ is being preached, and I am glad” (Philippians 1:14-18 TLB).
This passage tells us that Paul was able to overlook the questionable motives of these fellow believers in light of the end result- people were still hearing the Word of God regardless of the motivation involved. This was something that enabled Paul to follow his own advice: “Be humble and gentle in every way. Be patient with each other and lovingly accept each other. Through the peace that ties you together, do your best to maintain the unity that the Spirit gives” (Ephesians 4:2-3 GW).
Another variable involves our interaction with those who don’t share the same spiritual beliefs. For instance, a person who is known as Christian at school, on the job, or online would do well to recognize that others with differing views may seek to test his or her “Christianity” for various reasons. We’ll look at some important Biblical counsel in this regard next.
“They shouldn’t speak disrespectfully about anyone, but they should be peaceful, kind, and show complete courtesy toward everyone” (Titus 3:2 CEB).
In addition to the admonition found here in Titus 3:2, the Scriptures provide us with a wealth of practical advice that is valuable for use in guiding our interactions with others.
For instance, there may be those who aggressively seek to challenge a self-professed Christian in support of a particular agenda or simply to justify their own personal inconsistencies. Because of this, the Scriptures tell us that we ought to live…
Wisely: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders…” (Colossians 4:5 NIV).
Prudently: “I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. Be as wary as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
Attentively: “Therefore, pay careful attention to how you conduct your life — live wisely, not unwisely” (Ephesians 5:15 CJB).
Honorably: “If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13 NLT).
Its also important to self-assess our own attitudes in dealing with others…
“Dear brothers, if a Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help him back onto the right path, remembering that next time it might be one of you who is in the wrong. Share each other’s troubles and problems, and so obey our Lord’s command” (Galatians 6:1-2 TLB).
These concepts go hand in hand with the idea of humility or “courtesy” as quoted here in Titus 3:2. One commentator offers a helpful observation in defining this concept when he says, “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.” (1)
The King James Version of the Bible communicates this idea with the word “meekness,” a word that is often misunderstood in our 21st century culture. This word simply refers to “power under control” and it describes the kind of person who chooses to defer to an authority rather than insisting on his or her own way of doing things.
A meek or humble person is someone who is “coachable,” a person who can accept instruction from those in authority rather than seeking to act in an autonomous fashion. A meek person is someone who looks for opportunities to work with others (and not against them) whenever possible. A person who possesses these qualities is someone who is sure to fulfill the Scriptural directive found here in Titus 3:2.
(1) Believer’s Bible Commentary William MacDonald, Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers
“Don’t tear down another person with your words. Instead, keep the peace, and be considerate. Be truly humble toward everyone” (Titus 3:2 Voice).
In contrast to the idle talkers and deceivers mentioned earlier in Titus 1:10, Paul reminded Titus (and the readers of this letter today by extension) of the need for God’s people to conduct themselves in a God-honoring manner. Having previously expressed this concept in terms of marital, interpersonal, civil, and working relationships, the Apostle expanded this idea to cover all forms of personal interaction here in Titus 3:2: “to slander no one, to avoid fighting, and to be kind, always showing gentleness to all people” (HCSB).
In Romans 12:18 we read, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (NIV). This often represents a difficult responsibility because living at peace with everyone may sometimes mean taking a personal loss, even if we are in the right. It means that we may need to seek reconciliation and forgiveness even in those instances when we might prefer to stand our ground. It may sometimes mean accepting a defeat in order to keep the peace.
For example, consider Paul’s sharp rebuke to those within the Corinthian church who did not grasp this concept…
“How is it that when you have something against another Christian, you ‘go to law’ and ask a heathen court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other Christians to decide which of you is right? …I am trying to make you ashamed.
Isn’t there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these arguments? But, instead, one Christian sues another and accuses his Christian brother in front of unbelievers. To have such lawsuits at all is a real defeat for you as Christians.
Why not just accept mistreatment and leave it at that? It would be far more honoring to the Lord to let yourselves be cheated. But, instead, you yourselves are the ones who do wrong, cheating others, even your own brothers” (1 Corinthians 6:1, 5-8 TLB).
The point is that it may be more honoring to God if we simply accept a loss instead of demanding “our rights.” Living in peace with everyone may sometimes mean that must overlook faults, ignore slights (whether they are deliberate or unintentional) and forgive others even when we are convinced that those others were actually in the wrong.
As Jesus Himself once said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
“They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone” (Titus 3:2 NLT).
Before leaving this portion of Scripture, we should take a moment to examine the relationship between the characteristics mentioned here in Titus 3:2 and the concept of “tolerance.” To do so, we can look at the use of the word ‘tolerate” as found within the following portion of Scripture…
“But I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and who teaches and leads my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20 ISV).
The word “tolerate” as used here in Revelation 2:20 means “to allow one to do as he wishes, not to restrain, to let alone.” (1) In light of this, we can say that the Christians mentioned here in Revelation 2:20 knowingly allowed a person with a number of aberrant viewpoints to continue as a leader (or quasi-leader) within the church. Jesus expressed His great displeasure with this display of tolerance by saying, “…I have this against you.”
Now before we continue, we should be clear that the idea of “tolerance” is something that’s very important when talking about things like freedom from bigotry or the ability to be patient and fair with others. The Bible supports this concept of tolerance in Scriptures like Titus 3:2 (quoted above) and Ephesians 4:2, a passage that tells us that Christians should, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (NIV).
The problem is that people may sometimes equate the meaning of “tolerance” with the idea that we are somehow obligated to accept or endorse any kind of attitude or belief that others may possess. The issue is that this definition of tolerance overlooks the fact that real love may sometimes involve being intolerant of things that can bring harm to others.
You see, love always seeks another person’s highest good. Although the Christians mentioned here in Revelation chapter two had been earlier commended for their love (Revelation 2:19), it was wrong for these believers to tolerate a person who claimed to speak for God but misrepresented Him by teaching that it was acceptable to act in a Scriptually inappropriate manner.
In this instance, it would have been far more loving and appropriate to speak the truth with an attitude of humility and love by correcting the person who was responsible for these false teachings rather than tolerate such spiritually harmful precepts and allow them to continue.
(1) G1439 eao Thayer’s Greek Definitions
“For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).
Titus 3:1-2 provides us with a list of seven virtues that should characterize the life of a God-honoring man or woman: “be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.”
In a similar manner, verse three follows with a list of negative characteristics that can often be found among those who have little use for Jesus or His teachings: “…we, too, were foolish, rebellious, and deceived—we were slaves to sensual cravings and pleasures; and we spent our lives being spiteful, envious, hated by many, and hating one another” (Voice).
A closer look at these characteristics uncovers a number of unseemly attributes…
foolish, or lacking in understanding. A number of translations render this word as “stupid.” (1)
disobedient or “un-persuadable,”(2) much like a donkey that stubbornly refuses to move.
deceived, or led astray. One source develops this idea by observing, “That is, deceived, either by false systems of religion, our own lusts and appetites, or by the foolish arrogance of our own conceit.” (3)
serving various lusts and pleasures. “Lust” carries the idea of someone who uses another person to meet his or her own needs. But also notice Paul’s use of the word “serving” in this description. Those who serve various lusts and pleasures are subject to such things and submit to them, not the other way around (see also Romans 6:16).
living in malice and envy. Malice refers to a desire to inflict injury, harm, or suffering upon another (4) often in a vengeful fashion. Envy involves a feeling of discontent and resentment when others succeed. It can also refer to a covetous desire to possess the belongings or qualities of someone else.
hateful and hating one another, a phrase that describes a feeling of contempt for the shortcomings that we despise within ourselves and others.
One commentator summarizes this list with the following thought: “The servants of sin have many masters, their lusts hurry them different ways; pride commands one thing, covetousness another.” (5)
These realities should generate a sense of humility and respect for the God who is capable of altering the course of such lives. If it were not for such life-changing work, every human life would be consumed with such characteristics.
(2) G545 apeithes Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries
(3) James Burton Coffman, Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible, Titus 3 http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/print.cgi?bk=55&ch=3&vs=1
(4) “malice.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 07 Oct. 2014. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/malice>.
(5) Mathew Henry Mathew Henry’s Concise Commentary, Titus 3:1-7
“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).
In the midst of this description of God’s superlative grace, it may be easy to overlook the small but critically important word that begins this passage: “But…”
This conjunctive pause forms a bridge that connects the idea of what we once were and what we now are in Christ. You see, if it were not for the gracious outworking of Christ in the life of a believer, he or she would still be in the same state described within the previous verse: “…foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3 ESV).
In other words, the only reason that a Christian is different from anyone else in these respects is due to the fact that “…the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared” (NET). This stark reality is one that should help temper and influence our interactions with others who conduct themselves in the manner described earlier within Titus 3:3.
The fact that we did not rescue ourselves from such desperate straits serves to remind us that God has initiated the opportunity for humanity to enter a relationship with Him through Christ. In other words, God reached out to us and not the other way around. One explanation for this benevolent outreach can be found in Ephesians 2:8-9, a well-known portion of Scripture that tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
Psalm 53:1 tells us, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity; There is none who does good.” But now in the words of Titus 3:4, “…the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior (has) appeared” (ESV) with the message of salvation through Christ.
As one commentator has observed, “How thankful we can be for these nick-of-time conjunctions that signal God’s marvelous intervention to save man from destroying himself! Someone has called them God’s roadblocks on man’s way to hell” (1)
(1) Believer’s Bible Commentary William MacDonald, Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7 ESV).
Although the Scriptures clearly tell us that God has “…saved us because of his mercy, and not because of any good things that we have done” (CEV) here in Titus 3:5, it is not uncommon for people to reject this idea in favor of the belief that God will accept people into heaven as long as their “good works” outweigh their “bad works.”
This Apostle Paul addressed this erroneous belief in greater detail within the Biblical book of Romans…
“…no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with Him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are” (Romans 3:20-21 NLT).
In the next chapter, Paul made use of an illustration to clarify this point…
“Now, when you work a job, do your wages come as a gift or as compensation for your work? It is most certainly not a gift—you are only paid what you have earned. So for the person who does not work, but instead trusts in the One who makes the ungodly right, his faith is counted for him as righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5 Voice).
A paycheck has little to do with an employer’s generosity- it is an obligation that’s owed to an employee by virtue of the work that he or she has done on the employer’s behalf. In contrast, the Scriptures tell us that people cannot enter heaven on the basis of their efforts for salvation is a gift of God. If a person could earn his or her salvation, then it would no longer be free nor would it be a gift. It would instead be an obligation owed by God, a viewpoint that the Scriptures clearly reject.
So salvation is not a matter of what we can do for God- it is a matter of what God has already done for us through Christ.
“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7 NIV).
Titus 3:4-7 begins by emphasizing the fact that salvation cannot be achieved through our own personal efforts (or the works we have done), but is something that finds its origin in God’s mercy towards us. While things like prayer, church attendance, financial giving, and other such actions may serve to reflect a genuine relationship with Christ, those things in and of themselves do not save us.
The same might be said of the act of baptism. While there are a number of different viewpoints associated with the significance of this ritual, the act of baptism is perhaps best seen as an outward indication of the inner reality of Jesus’ work in someone’s life. Baptism serves (or should serve) as an open identification of a person with Jesus Christ and a witness of the inner spiritual change that has taken place in the life of someone who has accepted Jesus as Savior.
One Biblical version expresses this idea in its vivid translation of Colossians 2:12: “…you were placed in the tomb with Christ through baptism. In baptism you were also brought back to life with Christ through faith in the power of God, who brought him back to life” (GW). In this respect, the act of baptism symbolizes the death and burial of our old lives and our “resurrection” to a new life in Christ.
The Apostle Peter also expands on this concept in 1 Peter 3:21 where he says, “…this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (NIV). In light of this, we can say that the act of baptism best serves to represent the inner work of Christ that has already taken place in someone’s life.
So whether the phrase “washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” is symbolized by the act of water baptism or represents a specific act of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian, one thing is for certain: if our salvation is not rooted in God’s mercy towards us in Christ, any external effort on our part is to no avail.
“And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life” (Titus 3:7 NET).
This passage of Scripture provides us with an opportunity to examine an important spiritual concept: justification. “Justification” is simply the term we use to describe the manner in which sinful human beings are made acceptable to a holy God. (1) We can illustrate this fundamental principle by using the familiar imagery of a courtroom featuring a judge, a prosecutor, and a defendant.
In the days of New Testament, a judge would hear a plaintiff’s case against a defendant and examine the evidence presented against that person. If the judge found in favor of the accused, he or she would then be declared to be “justified.” This judicial decision affirmed the defendant to be “righteous” (or “without guilt”) and enabled that person to be acquitted and set free.
This scenario is useful in illustrating the concept of spiritual justification as well. For instance, the Old Testament book of Ezekiel tells us, “It is for a man’s own sins that he shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). This death penalty represents the sentence imposed upon all who “sin” or miss the standard of perfection established by humanity’s Creator.
But in speaking of Jesus, the Scriptures tell us, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV). Because this penalty has been satisfied through Jesus’ death, those who place their faith in Him are acquitted of all charges and declared to be justified. Furthermore, Jesus’ righteousness is imputed (or transferred) to those who accept His sacrifice on their behalf (see Romans 4:5-8).
The New Testament book of Romans explains this idea in the following manner…
“We see, then, that as one act of sin exposed the whole race of men to God’s judgment and condemnation, so one act of perfect righteousness presents all men freely acquitted in the sight of God.
One man’s disobedience placed all men under the threat of condemnation, but one man’s obedience has the power to present all men righteous before God” (Romans 5:18-19 Phillips).
Romans 4:25 tells us that Jesus was “…delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification…” and as one commentator observes, “A justified believer emerges from God’s great courtroom with a consciousness that another, his Substitute, has borne his guilt and that he stands without accusation before God.” (2)
(1) “Justification” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
(2) “Justification” The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright © 1988.
“This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men” (Titus 3:8).
Actors rehearse. Musicians play scales. Athletes participate in exhibitions and training camps. Students take mock tests to gauge how much they’ve learned. While each of these activities are very different, they all have something in common: they each involve the idea of practice.
While practicing is not always an enjoyable pursuit, an athlete, student, actor, or musician knows that it represents a critically important activity. You see, the best way to get better at doing something usually involves practice and people who don’t like to practice usually don’t get much better at what they do.
Just as a good coach emphasizes the fundamentals involved in his or her sport, Paul urged Titus to emphasize and re-affirm a fundamental practice of Christian life as well: “I want you to insist on these things so that those who believe in God can concentrate on setting an example by doing good things” (GW). In other words, Paul asked Titus to emphasize the practical application of those spiritual truths he had previously discussed.
In noting that “This is a trustworthy statement” (NASB), Paul used an expression that he would repeat four additional times within his other pastoral epistles. (1) This affirmation may have represented a phrase employed by the early church to emphasize a concept of particular importance.
In this instance, the idea was simple: since we have been delivered from lives of foolishness, disobedience, deception, lust, malice, envy, and hate (Titus 3:3-5), we now ought to live in a manner that is worthy of the God who has delivered us from such things.
This was also reflective of another statement that Paul made to the church at Philippi when he said, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27 NIV).
So just as an athlete receives the benefits associated with regular practice, the members of the Christian community on the island of Crete would benefit from this recurring message and constant reminder of the need to live out their faith in a practical manner. In the words of one commentator, “When the grace of God towards mankind has been declared, the necessity of good works is pressed. Those who believe in God, must make it their care to maintain good works, to seek opportunities for doing them, being influenced by love and gratitude.” (2)
(2) Matthew Henry, Titus 3:8-11 Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
“But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3:9).
A closer look at the original languages used to author the Scriptures may often yield important information that can broaden and deepen our understanding of God’s Word. Titus 3:9 provides us with one such example in its use of the word “foolish” as mentioned here.
This word is translated from the Greek word moros, a word from which we derive the modern-day word “moron.” Depending on the context in which it is used, other possible translations of this word include “dull,” “stupid,” absurd,” and even, “blockhead.” (1) In light of this, we can understand this passage to mean that we should avoid getting caught up in moronic controversies.
This becomes important when we stop to consider that a Christian’s primary responsibility does not necessarily involve winning arguments or out-debating those who hold different beliefs. Instead, we should seek to demonstrate why others should believe in Christ through our words and actions. If our actions line up with what we profess to believe (as implied within Titus 3:8), we then have an opportunity to represent Jesus in a manner that is both good and appropriate.
For instance, those who have spent time viewing or participating in online forums or other forms of social media have surely observed a number of “foolish debates” (HCSB) taking place in such venues. Paul’s counsel here in Titus 3:9 can help us set good, God-honoring parameters when engaged in such activities.
We should also recognize the difference between a simple disagreement and the type of foolish dispute that is mentioned here within this passage. For example, two people with contrary viewpoints can still discuss and exchange ideas in a cordial, two-way manner. This kind of profitable interaction is spoken of in Proverbs 27:17 where we’re told, “In the same way that iron sharpens iron, a person sharpens the character of his friend” (Voice).
However, a foolish debate usually involves a one-way exchange between two individuals who are primarily interested in stating their own opinions. In such instances, the people involved may often spend more time thinking about their next response rather than considering what another person really has to say. For those who choose to engage in such foolish disputes, “winning” is often more important than “understanding.”
This is how different opinions can often grow to become the “foolish discussions that lead people into the sin of anger…”(2 Timothy 2:16) that the Scriptures warn us against.
(1) G3474 moros Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries
“Stay away from those who have foolish arguments, who talk about useless family histories, or who make trouble and fight about what the Law of Moses teaches. These things are useless and will not help anyone” (Titus 3:9 ERV).
In encouraging Titus to “avoid” foolish controversies, the Apostle Paul utilized a word that means “to turn one’s self about for the purpose of avoiding something.” (1) This definition implies that we might be naturally inclined to enter into such argumentative discussions if we are not careful to specifically avoid doing so.
You see, its difficult to achieve a positive end result while engaged in a discussion over the type of subjects mentioned here within this passage. Perhaps this is why Paul referred to such discussions as as confusing, useless, and harmful (TLB) in 2 Timothy 2:14. Paul went on to further illustrate this point by using the example of some mutual acquaintances in 2 Timothy 2:17-18…
“Things will be said that will burn and hurt for a long time to come. Hymenaeus and Philetus, in their love of argument, are men like that. They have left the path of truth, preaching the lie that the resurrection of the dead has already occurred; and they have weakened the faith of some who believe them.”
This passage serves to remind us of the impact that our actions often have upon others, especially within the church. In this instance, two individuals indulged their love of argument without regard to the “collateral damage” they were inflicting upon other people. Regrettably, this poor example is one that is often repeated both online and in person in our own day and age.
As mentioned previously, one strategy that can be useful in separating a foolish argument from a difference of opinion is to determine if the persons involved are only interested in expressing their own personal views. In such instances, it helps to remember the words of Proverbs 18:2: “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (NIV). When this occurs, there’s a good chance that two (or more) people are engaging in the kind of foolish discussion that the Scriptures identify for us here.
Since there seems to be little shortage of people who fit into this category, what’s the best way to handle these situations when they occur? Well, Paul will go on to provide us with some good advice for staying out of such foolish discussions- and we’ll consider that counsel next.
(1) G4026 peristemi Thayer’s Greek Definitions
“Listen, don’t get trapped in brainless debates; avoid competition over family trees or pedigrees; stay away from fights and disagreements over the law. They are a waste of your time” (Titus 3:9 Voice).
In 2 Timothy 2:24-26, the Apostle Paul provides us with some practical advice that can help us avoid the kind of useless debates and controversies that he mentions here within the book of Titus…
“…a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”
So instead of pursuing the kind of foolish and argumentative discussions that do little more than hurt and anger others, the Scriptures counsel us to be gentle, patient, and courteous with those who disagree.
Since there may be any number of false teachings, questionable interpretations, spiritual myths, and/or secondary issues for Christians to contend with, it often makes better sense to focus on “…the things which are proper for sound doctrine” as mentioned earlier in Titus 2:1. As one commentator observes, “…Paul is instructing Titus to teach the believers to be busy about God’s work and not waste their time and energy debating what is counter-productive and leads to strife.” (1)
Its also important to maintain sight of the fact that a Christian is primarily responsible for helping others establish (or grow in) a genuine relationship with Christ. Even though a person may possess superior debating skills, it is the Scriptures and the work of God’s Holy Spirit that provides people with the wisdom to accept God’s offer of salvation through Jesus (see 2nd Timothy 3:15 and John 16:7-8). Remember that it is our responsibility to demolish contrary arguments and not those human beings who have been made in God’s image (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
Those who follow this approach will be well on their way to fulfilling the words of 1 Peter 3:15-16…
“But have reverence for Christ in your hearts, and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect. Keep your conscience clear, so that when you are insulted, those who speak evil of your good conduct as followers of Christ will become ashamed of what they say” (GNB).
(1) Caldwell, Bob The Hard Work of a Spiritual Father http://www.ccboise.org/resources/study-materials/devotional/2011/12/21/hard-work-spiritual-father
“Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11).
In the days before the advent of cassette tape, CD, and digital download technology, vinyl records represented the overwhelming choice for music listening.
Many record turntables of that era featured a semi-automatic function that allowed a listener to select a group of records for continuous play. If a listener decided that he or she no longer wanted to hear a particular selection, that person could then engage a manual “reject” mechanism to lift the tone arm from the record and advance to the next song or album.
In a somewhat reminiscent manner, Paul advised Titus to employ a similar “reject mechanism” in dealing with “those who cause divisions” (GNB) here in Titus 3:10-11. One source helps to identify the hidden agenda associated with such individuals by stating that the word “divisive” (NKJV) means, “…’to choose, prefer, or take for oneself.’ It has the idea of choosing to believe what one wants, in spite of what God says.” (1)
While differences of opinion are inevitable, a divisive person is usually not content to keep quiet regarding his or her point of view on non-essential issues. Instead, he or she often seeks to motivate others to join in their dissent.
In such instances, a proper course of action would involve rejecting such individuals after a first and second warning. This does not necessarily imply a formal expulsion but it does mean that the leaders and/or members of a church congregation should decline to participate in such factious or divisive discussions.
If the matter is related to a specific person, a divisive individual might be advised to take such concerns directly to the person (or persons) involved (see Matthew 18:15-17). If the subject involves a particular area of doctrine that falls within the veil of orthodox Christian belief, then a divisive person might be gently reminded that he or she retains the option of seeking another church that might be more receptive to his or her views.
In any event, we would do well to heed Paul’s warning from Romans chapter sixteen…
“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (Romans 16:17-18).
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2524). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
“Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11 NIV).
“Reverse-engineering” is a phrase that is commonly used to describe the process of disassembling an object (such as a mechanical device or a piece of software) in order to discover how that object functions. While this practice has been widely adopted by scientists, inventors, tinkerers, and (unfortunately) software hackers, what is less widely known is that it is possible to apply this concept in a spiritual sense as well.
You see, it is sometimes possible to disassemble the external actions of a person and “reverse-engineer” those actions in order to determine a root cause or motivation. For instance, the New Testament epistle of 1 John applies this idea in a positive sense when it tells us, “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7)
This Scripture reminds us that a person who loves God will demonstrate that love through the practice of a righteous and God-honoring life. Of course, doing good things doesn’t necessarily make someone a Godly person but a Godly person will generally demonstrate his or her Godliness by doing good things. The idea is that the practice of righteousness can be “reverse-engineered” so to speak and used to confirm the fact that someone truly is a virtuous and God-honoring person
However, there is a contrary aspect to this idea as found here within Titus 3:10-11. You see, this passage ties the external actions of a divisive person to the existence of a negative spiritual reality: “You know that such a person is twisted by sin…” (NET). Other translations use the words “perverted” (HCSB) or “corrupt” (GW) to describe the internal spiritual condition of a person who actively seeks to cause division within the church
So just as it is possible to disassemble a mechanism to determine how and why it functions, these verses tell us that it is possible to disassemble the external actions of a divisive person in order to reveal the existence of someone who is internally “…twisted and sinful” (CEB). If such a person is subsequently rejected by others within a congregation as a result, then he or she has no one else to blame for in the words of Titus 3:11, “He is determined to condemn himself…” (Voice).
“When I send Artemas to you, or Tychicus, be diligent to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Send Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their journey with haste, that they may lack nothing” (Titus 3:12-13).
As we draw near to the end of this brief epistle, the Apostle Paul will turn his attention to some final matters before offering his closing benediction
Judging from the fact that Paul was planning to send a replacement for Titus to continue the work on the island of Crete, it appears that his leadership position there was not intended to be permanent. Instead, its likely that Paul used Titus as something of a troubleshooter whose main task involved the responsibility to “…set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). Once that work was complete, it seems that Paul envisioned that Titus would return to resume whatever area of responsibility he previously held.
Paul’s intended replacement for Titus was said to be either Artemas or Tychicus. Tychicus is mentioned several times within the New Testament and it appears that he served as both a traveling companion and emissary on Paul’s behalf. For example, Tychicus was part of a group that accompanied Paul for at least a portion of his third missionary journey according to Acts 20:2-5
Paul identified Tychicus as “…a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord…” in Colossians 4:7 and the following verses of that chapter tell us that Paul dispatched Tychicus to the church at Colosse in order to comfort the believers there and exchange the latest news with them
In addition to his appearance here in Titus 3:12, Tychicus is mentioned once again in 2 Timothy 4:11-12 where Paul says in part, “I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus” (HCSB). In that passage, Paul also mentioned (perhaps somewhat wistfully) that Luke was the only remaining companion he had left. So while Paul might have preferred to enjoy the company and companionship offered by Tychicus, it seems that he accepted the fact that his presence in Ephesus was more important than any personal needs he may have had.
In contrast to Tychicus, the Scriptures only mention Artemas here in Titus 3:12. Nevertheless, while Artemas remains unknown to us, he is obviously well-known to God. Despite his anonymity, Artemas must have been someone who was highly capable of continuing God’s work on the island of Crete, an assignment that represented a challenging and difficult environment for ministry.
“As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there. Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need” (Titus 3:12-13 NIV).
Much like the examples of Tychicus and Artemas, the two remaining individuals mentioned within this passage feature one person whose name appears numerous times within the Scriptures and another person whose only New Testament appearance is found here within the book of Titus.
The more widely known personality among these individuals is Apollos, a man who was recognized as a gifted and eloquent speaker within the early church. For example, Acts 18:24-28 tells us that Apollos was well versed in the Scriptures and he was acknowledged to be an excellent communicator as well. We’re also told that Apollos went on preach the gospel in the region of Achaia (an area now located within the modern-day nation of Greece) and Acts 19:1 tells us that he was active in Corinth as well.
Apollos eventually went on to become such a respected figure within the early church that Paul actually mentioned him by name along with Peter, Jesus, and himself as he sought to correct the faulty beliefs held by some within the Corinthian church…
“…some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. Some of you are saying, ‘I am a follower of Paul.’ Others are saying, ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Peter,’ or ‘I follow only Christ.’
…After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13, 3:5-6 NLT)
While Apollos may be a familiar name to New Testament readers, nothing further is known of Zenas the lawyer. Yet much like the aforementioned Artemis, his example reminds us that one does not need to be famous in order to have an impact for Christ.
It is unclear if Zenas served as a civil or religious lawyer but given his association with Paul, it would not be surprising to find that he functioned in the role of a legal attorney. As one commentator points out, “Paul was in jail a lot. No wonder he called for a lawyer.” (1)
(1) Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (pp. 1424–1425). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
“And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful. All who are with me greet you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. Amen” (Titus 3:14-15).
The significance of learning to “maintain good works” is something that must have been especially important to Paul, for these final verses represent the third time he has expressed this idea within this chapter alone…
“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1).
“…those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8).
“Our own people should also learn to devote themselves to good works when urgent needs arise, lest they be unproductive” (Titus 3:14 ISV).
Since the people of Crete carried a general reputation for laziness (Titus 1:12-13), an emphasis upon “doing something useful and worthwhile” (CEV) would help ensure that these Christians set the right example for everyone. It would also help these men and women avoid the remorse associated with a wasted, fruitless, and unproductive life.
By following this advice, these members of the Christian community would place themselves in a position to share their blessings with others who were less fortunate. This would not only serve to provide for those who were needy but would also open the door for evangelistic outreach and provide an opportunity for others to offer thanksgiving to God as well.
Paul expressed this idea in greater detail within his second letter to the Corinthian church…
“And God is able to give you more than you need, so that you will always have all you need for yourselves and more than enough for every good cause. As the scripture says, ‘He gives generously to the needy; his kindness lasts forever.’ And God, who supplies seed for the sower and bread to eat, will also supply you with all the seed you need and will make it grow and produce a rich harvest from your generosity
He will always make you rich enough to be generous at all times, so that many will thank God for your gifts which they receive from us. For this service you perform not only meets the needs of God’s people, but also produces an outpouring of gratitude to God.
And because of the proof which this service of yours brings, many will give glory to God for your loyalty to the gospel of Christ, which you profess, and for your generosity in sharing with them and everyone else. (2 Corinthians 9:9-13 GNB).