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The Titus Series: The Pursuit of Godliness


Have you ever taken up a task only to find that within a little while you don't know how you are supposed to do it or why you started in the first place?

The last job I did over the summer was some temp work in a hotel in the centre of Glasgow. I was basically working as a room cleaner. I arrived at the hotel for my first shift was given a cleaning trolley a hover and some bin bags. Now many of you may think cleaning rooms is a pretty straight forward job. But when I came to my first room I didn't have a clue where to start. And of course they wanted it cleaned and arranged in a very specific way. The bed covers had to be folded right, the bathroom toiletries had to be arranged in the right way and the curtains had to be tied back, but I hadn't been shown any of this. I was just given the hoover and cleaning materials and told to get on with it. And so my first couple of shifts lasted 4 hours longer than they should of as I had to go back through all the rooms and redo everything after the supervisor had seen my first attempt. And tidying hotel rooms isn't the most rewarding of jobs so before long I was wondering why I was doing it at-all. The first couple of days was utterly depressing as I didn't know what to do and doubted if the job was worth the effort.

If Paul were to be considered Titus employer, he has given Titus the task of pursuing godliness and promoting the pursuit of godliness in the Cretan church. Now Paul is not going to leave Titus in that task without direction or motivation like my hotel employer. He doesn't want to leave Titus out on the mission field worrying about how he is going to go about fulfilling his task, or wondering why he is on the backward island of Crete in the first place. He intends to give Titus every assistance and every reason to achieve his task. In the final chapter of the letter to Titus Paul does this by laying out the reason for the pursuit of godliness and the attraction of that godliness.

Paul begins this argument for godliness in the first verses of chapter three by once again setting the scene, portraying the image of a godly person. A godly person will be;

subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good,to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

(Titus 3:1-2)

This is the picture of godliness Paul has been painting for us throughout the letter. This godliness is expressed in two ways, submission and self control.

That word subject to in the NIV can be rightly understood as submissive. Now some people do not like the word submission because it means to lower yourself and give over power and authority to another. To be humbled before another. Paul uses this word here in direct reference to authorities. By that he means the Roman authorities which ruled Crete in his day. Paul expects them to give these authorities the respect and recognition they demand. And the Roman world of the first century isn't some kind of utopian society. Its not ruled by well meaning, caring benevolent rulers. Senators and governors who had no sense of justice, no care for those in need, no desire to produce a prosperous society for all. Paul wants the Church to submit to such rulers and authorities? Those authorities who persecuted the early Christian Church, who martyred the saints and who crucified the Son of God. Has Paul made a mistake? Perhaps, Paul's teeth are gritted as he give this command. However, it is clear to him that this is how it must be. This is the way God has chosen. We can see this in the example of Christ our LORD. Who submitted himself to the authorities, to the Jewish priests even although he rightly is the great high priest and to the Roman authorities even although he alone is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He submitted himself to them and submitted to death on a cross. In the same way Paul calls us to submit ourselves to the powers and authorities of our country. Many in our society are so quick to slander and bad-mouth the authorities. Gordon Brown our prime minister, his name is so often dragged in the gutter. He is scapegoated for all our nations problems. Blamed for every hardship and difficulty. Paul wants his Church to leave such hypocritical nonsense to the heathens and instead to submit itself to rulers and authorities. We must totally place ourselves under the authority of Gordon Brown. We must not be like the world, so quick to rebel and ridicule. Like Christ, we his Church are called to sacrifice ourselves for the lost.

Now please don't think I'm saying we should let authorities and rulers commit terrible injustices and simply sit back with hands tied. That's not what Bonhoeffer did when the Nazi's massacred thousands of Jews and Hitler lead his country into a horrific war. Christians must stand up against such atrocities. We must never let the weak suffer at the hands of the ungodly, we must make every effort to remove injustice in our world. But we must take on the example of the disciples who in the book of Acts when they were taken before the Sanhedrin and told to stop preaching and healing in the name of Jesus said “we must obey God rather than man”. Paul is not asking the Cretan Church to lay aside Christ to obey the authorities, but rather to be Christ-like in their self sacrificial submission to the authorities. Paul calls us to submit ourselves to death, to sacrifice ourselves for the world like Christ sacrificed himself for us.

After this command specifically concerning submission to rulers and authorities, Paul expands this to all people.

be ready to do whatever is good,to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

(Titus 3:1-2)

See godliness is not just a servant heart towards those higher up than us. If it was it might be considered a means of scoring points on the social ladder. Paul expects such goodness, peace consideration and humility to be shown to all people. To that boss that's driving you up the wall, to the neighbour who shows you no consideration, to that relative who is utterly selfish. All people. This commandment to submission is radical in its expectations. It is a utter benevolence towards others at the cost of the self. It is a high bar to aim at.

However, submission is not the only expression of godliness. Throughout Paul's letter he portrays many different characteristics of godliness. As a reminder to you let me mention a few. In chapter 1 Paul says the elders must be blameless, that is their conduct must be unquestionable to the public. Furthermore, Paul tells Titus he must be sound in faith and dependant upon the reliable word as it has been preached. That is Titus is to be dependant on the scriptures for the truth that leads to godliness. In chapter 2 Paul says young men must be self controlled in everything and older women must be admirable and responsible. And we must all renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.

That is the picture Paul has painted for us. It is a remarkable vision, one I am sure that all of us fall short of in one way or another. And I'm sure for many of us this is not a new revelation, we all know that becoming a Christian means we are called to live lives like Christ. We have committed our lives to Him to serve him to live for him, to pick up our crosses and follow Him. But if you have committed your life to Christ and struggled and faltered and down right failed to live up to this calling, I can assure you you are not alone. The utterly remarkable nature of the life of godliness Paul presents to us here in Titus is a measuring stick we all fall short of. Perhaps, one particular day you gave your life to Jesus saying, lead LORD and I will follow, do with me however you want. And then kids came alone, or a pay rise brought fresh temptations or you failed in this quest for godliness once to often and thought, its hopeless! This kind of Christianity is for the super Christians, and I'm not one of them. And so you settled for less. The urgency left, the dream faded and left you in religious mediocrity. If that is you here, your not alone. Paul has written this letter for us. How are we to continue in this pursuit for godliness with often less evidence of success than we hope for? Why should I stand up here and echo Paul to you, calling you back to urgency, back to hope, back to the vision of godliness? Paul gives us two reasons for this in this passage, decided for yourselves whether he is wasting your time or not.

Firstly,

For (this is the reason for the pursuit of godliness) 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 Saviour 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 Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

(Tit 3:3-7)

This is the driving force of Paul's whole letter. Here is the reason for his whole life and the reason he calls others to imitate him. Lets break it down a bit so we get the whole force of Paul's thought. Firstly, Paul reminds us what we were without Christ.

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.

Paul looks back himself to when he was a Pharisee hunting down Christians, approving of the death of innocent men and women and fuelled by self righteousness and hatred. I don't know if there are many here who can reflect on that kind of past but we all know selfishness that drives us towards pleasure seeking at the neglect of others. We have all said and done hateful things, perhaps some of which we still struggle with the shame of today. Furthermore, we have all had unhealthy passions and pleasure, things the world offer us that are enjoyable but as soon as we reach out to grasp them; enslave us in addiction, dissatisfaction and hopelessness. Whether its drink, nicotine, sexual temptation or sport, academic or business success, money or romantic love. Every pleasure this world has to offer is fleeting, unsatisfying and if pursued by our hearts enslave those hearts leaving filling them with malice and envy, not enlarging them but rather shrinking them. In times when your tempted to turn back from this quest for godliness look back and remember what you were without Christ. Remember the enslavement, remember the foolishness, remember how unsatisfying it all was. But, Paul continues, having remembered the past;

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us

It was while we were in this state of foolishness, enslavement and hatred, that Christ our LORD saved us! And to us who were thoroughly undeserving that he showed goodness and loving kindness. I was in a prison in Aberdeen a couple of weeks back as part of the mission week I was doing with the Cornhill team up there. I met some of the prisoners and we had a short Sunday morning service and afterwards a time of prayer and discussion. I've never been in a prison before so I was a little nervous mostly about how I would react to meeting these men who had possibly murdered someone or committed some other horrific crime. But when I did meet them, when I looked into their eyes, I did not see a criminal, I did not see a monster, I saw myself. Because I was overcome with the realisation that, but for the goodness and loving kindness of my LORD Jesus I was no different to these men who had been locked away from society for their crimes. Do you feel that conviction in your hearts? The LORD Jesus saved you from such a life!

Furthermore, He saved us not because of anything we had done, not because we were more deserving than others. But purely because God is merciful. Notice this is the reason Paul gives for why we should not separate ourselves off from the world but rather submit to the world, because we were once like them and but for the mercy of God we still would be.

But now that the goodness and loving kindness of God has appeared to us in Jesus Christ our saviour we are no longer such people. We are no longer of the world. We have been given a new identity a new purpose and new life. Through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit we have been transformed. And so we are no longer what we were. So why do we so often turn back to live the way we used to? Why do we become like a beaten army fleeing before a battle that has already been won. We have a new purpose, to pursue godliness, why should we turn back to the old purpose to pursue selfishness. You do not put old wine in new wineskin's that is not what they are designed for. Similarly we have been redesigned by God for a new purpose. You can try turning back to your old life, you old passions and pleasures but they will not satisfy because that not what you have been made for. We have a new purpose and to pursue anything else is to waste our lives in the dissatisfying old ways.

Finally, if anyone was still wondering the reason for pursuing a godly life Paul adds the cherry on the pie;

so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

God has been gracious indeed. Not only has He saved us and transformed us but He has given us a future inheritance, a sure hope so that when the real trials of life tempt us to give up we can look to a heavenly future, in which there will be no despair, no pain, no dissatisfaction no stress, worry or heartache. Heaven is a good place to look forward to and I'm sure some of you are looking forward to leaving for your heavenly home sooner than others. Paul encourages us to do so. Paul sums up in verse 8

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.

(Titus 3:8)

The reason to pursue godliness, because we have been saved, transformed and given a sure heavenly inheritance, these things are true. And furthermore, it is excellent, beautiful, beneficial, worthwhile, profitable in every way, it will satisfy you, delight you fulfil your purpose and enlarge you heart. Tell me which one of our old pleasures and passions will do that? Which will fulfil the whole purpose of your being and deliver on its promises? None will. God has offered you so much more, seize it with both hands and it will not enslave you but set you free to delight wholly in Him and the pursuit of His ways.

Finally, Paul leaves the Cretins with one last warning and one last encouragement. The warning in verses 9-11 is to avoid all this nonsense that those who do not have the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness get themselves wrapped up in. In the Crete of Paul's day it was;

controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law.

(Titus 3:9)

In our day it might be materialism, new ageism, political correctism anything that misleads us from the truth of the gospel, anything that takes our attention and energy away from the pursuit of godliness, anything that divides us in the faith anything that causes distress and confusion. These only lead to fruitlessness. To a wasted, hopeless lives. Instead we must devote ourselves to good works, to help those in urgent need to live our lives in the pursuit of godliness. Be wary of a waste life.

His final encouragement is found right at the end of the letter in the words Grace be with you all. If any of you were worrying that this letter was only written for the super Christians. Remember the F.R.O.G bracelet you can buy in some Christian book shops. F.R.O.G stands for fully reliant on grace. As always we are fully reliant on the grace of God in this task He has set us. We cannot achieve it on our own and as soon as we start to think we can. “I'm alright, I'm a pretty good model of godly living. I've got this box ticked” that is the point we are at the greatest risk of failure. Instead pursue godliness fully reliant on grace to get you through day to day. Depend on God for that grace and trust that He will provide. Giving up is to say either God is not kind enough or he is not able to provide you with the grace to succeed and that is a lie of the devil! God has poured His grace out on us, he continues to do so and He will do so for eternity. Don't doubt Him, just pursue godliness head on knowing that He will sustain you.