Three observations to make from Titus 3:
1) Portrait of an unhelpful Christian life
2) Portrait of a beneficial Christian life
3) The factor that makes all the difference
1) Portrait of an unhelpful Christian life (vv. 9-11)
In vv. 9-11, Paul lists four traits of someone who is going to be largely unhelpful in the church and in the Christian life in general. They are engaged in: foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law.
Paul doesn’t unpack these four issues much at all which may be an indirect parenthetical comment on his part. It’s as if he’s saying, “These issues are so far off the reservation, I don’t want to draw any more attention to them than simply listing them.”
But we are given a clue as to what encompasses issues that are off the reservation. This word ‘foolish’ can mean ‘speculations’ in contrast to revealed truth. They are speculative topics. These are peripheral issues. They are outer rim issues; very secondary, maybe even tertiary issues. The problem isn’t that people have a mild curiosity about this peripheral issues. The problem is they are preoccupied with them.
Let me say this clearly: The most important questions we could possibly ask are those questions God’s Word most clearly answers. If you are more fired up about topics the Bible is less clear about than the topics it is most clear about, you are flirting with foolish controversies.
We 21st century Christians are not immune to speculations. We get caught up in it too. One category we Christians are particularly prone to getting caught up in speculations is: end times topics. “Do you think the plague of locusts in the book of Revelation is referring to a fleet of helicopters?” I don’t know! “Do you think Obama, Trump, or Kissinger is the anti-Christ?” Can we talk about something the Bible is clear about? Can we get passionate about something the Bible is clear about?
D.A. Carson summarizes well what happens when Christians get preoccupied with secondary issues: “When Christians lose sight of their first and primary allegiance, they will squabble.”
2) Portrait of a beneficial Christian life (vv. 1-2)
Standing in contrast to the unhelpful Christian life is the beneficial Christian life in vv. 1-2: "Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”
More specially, Paul is talking about the public life of Christians in these two verses. He’s giving us God’s game plan for Christian living in the public square; out there; out in the world. He’s already addressed God’s game plan for Christian conduct within the church in ch. 2. These two verses shift to discussing Christian conduct outside of the church in secular society.
In so doing, Paul is encouraging us Christians to consider questions like: what would be good for society in general? What can Christians do to serve the common good? What would make our community better? The beneficial Christian looks to serve the common good in his or her public life.
Roy Hattersley is the former deputy leader of the Labour Party in the UK and he’s a public atheist. He once wrote about his experience of joining Christians from the Salvation Army one evening as they cared for those in need on the streets. This is what Hattersley said:
“The arguments against religion are well known and persuasive…Yet men and women who believe…are the people most likely to take the risks and make the sacrifices involved in helping others…Good works, John Wesley insisted, are no guarantee of a place in heaven. But they are most likely to be performed by people who believe that heaven exists. The correlation is so clear that it is impossible to doubt that faith and charity go hand in hand…It ought to be possible to live a Christian life without being a Christian…Yet men and women who, like me, cannot accept the mysteries and the miracles do not go out with the Salvation Army at night. The only possible conclusion is that faith comes with a packet of moral imperatives that, while they do not condition the attitude of all believers, influence enough of them to make them morally superior to atheists like me. The truth may make us free. But it has not made us as admirable as the average captain in the Salvation Army.”
Do you hear the admiration this atheist has towards Christians because of their diligent work for the common good?
3) The factor that makes all the difference (vv. 3-8)
Why should Christians be interested in being law-abiding citizens who work to serve the common good? Why are we to avoid foolish controversies and internal speculations? Paul gives an answer…
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 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…”
Why is Paul so adamant that Christians not get caught up with foolish controversies and speculations? Well, I think these verses give us the answer: because devoting much energy to speculations runs contrary to gospel mission. The gospel itself has movement outward. It doesn’t stay stationary. To be devoting much energy to foolish controversies and speculations demonstrates we’ve not really be captured by the gospel.
Now, in these verses, Paul is describing the nature of the human race in it’s sinful, fallen condition. The human race in it’s sinful, fallen, unredeemed state is foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions. But in spite of this, God showered his goodness and loving kindness out on the human race and through it some have been saved, washed, and renewed.
This is the gospel. And when the penny drops, it shapes the way we use our energy, time, and resources.
In the flow of thought, God is saying foolish and disobedient people should be the recipients of our goodness and loving kindness because that's what God has done with us.
In the gospel, Jesus disadvantaged himself in order to advantage those who were foolish and disobedient. Can you do that? Can you disadvantage yourself in order to advantage those who are foolish and disobedient. The factor that makes all the difference in the world is getting God’s goodness and love right. God didn’t show his goodness and love on us because we’re lovely people. God did so because he’s that kind of God. And he’s saved us so we will become that kind of people.