Good Works, False Teaching, and God’s Grace
For the past three weeks we’ve taken a brief break from our series on the church to talk about some things that are particularly relevant to us at the present time. We’ve reviewed some of the promises of God for us, and we’ve also considered what some of the purposes of God may be in our current events.
We haven’t said everything that can be said. Personally, I don’t feel the need to say everything that needs to be said, because many others are saying some really good things and it’s enough for me to point you in those directions. One resource that I’ve highlighted on the website is a free and a short book by John Piper called “Coronavirus and Christ.”
I mention that it’s short and free because I’d really like you to read it. You can just Google that title or go to the Pastor’s Blog on the church website where I shared all of those resources and the link is there. He says some really important things in that book that I think would be very helpful and encouraging for you.
But this morning we are getting back to our series on the church. And I want you to know that I’m making a very deliberate statement about the virus situation by choosing, in the middle of this lockdown, to go back and keep on with what we were doing before.
I am making the statement that this virus is not everything. If you read the news or scroll through your social media feeds you might be led to believe that it is the only thing going on in the world, or that it is the only important thing going on in the world. But it’s not. Our lives have been impacted by the virus, but there is so much more to our lives, and even now there is so much more going on, than just the virus situation.
We should remember that this is not the first time the world has faced a situation like this before, and, if the Lord tarries, it won’t be the last. This virus, and the situation it’s brought on us, is just one more birth pang as creation groans for it’s promised redemption.
And so in these weeks we’ve needed to think carefully and biblically about these matters. But it’s also important for us to think carefully and biblically about more than these matters. And so that’s why I’m delighted to get back to our series on the church this morning.
But here’s what’s ironic about this: as we get back to what we were talking about before, I hope we find that the topic of the church is far more relevant to the coronavirus situation than we might have guessed. I believe that through these events, the Lord is doing good things for his church. Our inability to gather together is causing many of us to recognize just how precious gathering is. Our time alone is showing us just how much we need each other. The connections we’re making as we talk over the phone and care for each other in unique ways are going to strengthen our church into the future.
And when this lockdown ends, and we face whatever is ahead, it’s going to be really important for countless reasons for the church to be the church. It’s going to be so important that we don’t just go back to where we were before, but that we learn the lessons the Lord has taught us in this time and move forward into the future He’s leading us into.
So we need to get back to this series on the church because it has nothing to do with the virus, and it has everything to do with the virus. And both perspectives are really important.
Now as we jump back in to the letter to Titus, we find ourselves at the very end. This is our last stop in Titus before we move on to some other material in this series. And at this spot, it’s helpful to reflect on some of the themes we’ve seen repeated throughout this letter. One of them has been the gospel, and that the gospel changes everything. The good news that God has saved us and brought us into His kingdom through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has massive implications for our daily lives on an ongoing basis.
In other words, the gospel is not just something we believe once to become a Christian. It continues to be the bread and butter of practical Christianity.
This theme of the gospel has been repeatedly connected to another theme throughout Titus, which is “good works.”
- 1:16 said that the false teachers “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”
- 2:7 told Titus to “show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works.”
- 2:14 said that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
- 3:1 told Titus to “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.”
- 3:8, which we just read, said, “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”
- And then 3:14, almost at the end of the letter, says, “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.”
Would you agree that “good works” are an important theme in the book of Titus? And would you be surprised at how much good works are a theme in the whole New Testament?
- Matthew 5:16: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
- 2 Corinthians 9:8: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
- Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
- 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”
- 1 Timothy 5:9-10: “Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.”
- 1 Timothy 6:17-18: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.”
- 2 Timothy 2:21: “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
- Hebrews 10:23-25: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Good works are a really big deal. We were saved for good works. We are to be devoted to good works. We are to stir each other up to good works. Scripture equips us for every good work. We are to pray for fruitfulness in good works. We are to be careful in doing good works.
When some people think of the Christian life, they think about reading the Bible and praying and not doing bad stuff. But as we read the Bible, we see it’s so much more than that. The Christian life should be full of good works.
What Are Good Works?
So what are “good works”? What does the Bible mean when it says, “good works”? I’m going to give you a really important definition to help you understand what good works are.
Good works are works—things we do—that are good.
I’m not necessarily trying to be funny here. We don’t need to over-complicate this. We know what work is, we know what good is, and so we should know what good works are.
But let me help you out a little bit more. As I hear all of those verses and put them together, I would define “good works” more specifically as the things we do for other people which benefit them and bring glory to God.
If you remember our discussion on works from last year, we talked about the way that good works often happen in the context of our “regular” work. Your job is not just a place to earn a paycheque. It is a platform for good works, loaded with opportunities to glorify God by serving others.
And this is one of the big encouragements I have for younger people who are considering a career path. Don’t just find a career that seems like fun and gives you a paycheque. There’s so much need in the world, and if you have the chance to start from scratch, why wouldn’t you pursue a career that will give you as much opportunity to do good for others as possible?
For some of you, “good works” are also shaped by our life stage and circumstances. 1 Timothy 5:10 says that bringing up children is a good work. And so good works includes our work in our homes with our families.
But we also can’t miss that much of what’s in focus when the Bible speaks about “good works” does not happen between 9-5 and it not just focused on our own families. Think about some of the phrases connected with “good works” in the passages we just read. They included helping in cases of urgent need, showing hospitality, caring for the afflicted, being generous and ready to share.
These speak to a whole life that’s oriented around serving others for the glory to God. And this means that good works are not something God expects us to fit in to our life or make time for once we’ve done all of the things that feel important to us. They are not just one more thing God wants us to do.
They are our life. They are what we were created for. They are what we were saved to be zealous for. They are what we are to be carefully devoted to.
Just imagine if I was to read all of those verses I just read, and were to take out the phrase “good works” and replace it with something different, like “soccer.” As you read all of those verses about being created for soccer and being carefully devoted to soccer and being ready for every game of soccer, just think of what someone’s life would look like if they did all of that, obeyed all of that, took all of that seriously.
That is the way we are to be with good works.
So if you can think of a person who seems to be always thinking of others, doing whatever they can to serve and bless and benefit those around them, then God’s word is telling us that such a person is not the exception. They should be the norm. Every Christian who is not living that way is the exception.
Here’s another way of putting it. We are all in full-time ministry. Not just people like me who work at a church for a job. We are all full-time Christians. Your ministry might look different than mine. Your job or your family or your neighbours or your friends or your education are just the area of ministry God has given you (1 Corinthians 7:17-23). We are all in full-time ministry.
Here’s one final way of putting it. There are no spectators in the church. The job of a pastor like me or the other ministry leaders is not to do good works so that you don’t have to. My job, like Titus’, is to teach you to devote yourself to good works (Titus 3:14). There are no benches to warm in this game.
Good Works and the Gospel
Now if what I’m saying to you feels incredible or hard to swallow, then it’s likely you haven’t really absorbed the message of Titus yet. Because these good works don’t come from nowhere. These good works are the product of a heart that understands that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11–14).
If there are no good works in your life, or few good works in your life, then you need to ask yourself how well you really understand the gospel. Do you really understand how bad you are apart from Jesus, and how desperate your situation was? How fierce God’s wrath against our sin actually is?
And do you really understand that Jesus came, not because of anything good in us, and because of His own mercy He decided to take our place, living the life for you that we should have lived but didn’t, and dying the death that we should have died, willingly taking all of the the judgement and curse that we deserve on Himself?
And then He rose from the dead, and didn’t say “There, look what I did for you. Smarten up and leave me alone,” but He sent His Holy Spirit to make us alive and empower us and He promised to return and give us a new body and a new earth and an eternity of joy instead of suffering.
Do you believe that? And if so, where is the evidence, the proof, that you believe?
The proof is not that you prayed a prayer at some point in the past. The proof is not that your heart feels stirred right now. The proof it not even that you go to church and avoid doing bad things. The proof is a godly life of good works.
So I know this is may be a difficult question when we’re all on lockdown and can’t be out and with each other like normal, but the question remains: how much of your life was, is, and will be characterized by doing good for others in a way that brings glory to God?
You might have more opportunities in the present time than you think. Maybe your good work is caring well for your family in a creative and un-complaining way. Maybe it’s picking up the phone and encouraging someone, or picking up groceries for someone, or offering to help those who have financial needs or asking your neighbours how you can serve them.
And certainly this is a time to be thinking and reflecting on and planning for what our life will look like when things go back to being normal.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want things to go back to normal. I want a new normal. I want the lessons we’ve learned in this season to impact and propel us forward into what God has for us in the future. And so this would be a golden time to decide that, when all of the restrictions are lifted off, you’re not going to get sucked back in to the vortex of self-imposed activities and self-imposed priorities that all revolve around you, but instead that you will commit to being active with the right things—good works.
Now I share all of these thoughts as we conclude Titus and reflect on all of the “good works” statements we’ve heard throughout this letter. Like we’ve seen, verse 8 of chapter 3 speaks about “those who have believed in God” being “careful to devote themselves to good works.” Verses 13-14 give Titus instruction on caring for missionaries, and repeats the need for the Cretans to “learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.”
We would be totally missing the point of Titus if we missed how important good works are. So as we end the letter I want to make sure that we get this, and ask the Lord to open our eyes to the gospel, open our hearts towards others, and help us obey Him in a life of good works for the sake of others.
Now sandwiched in between these closing appeals to good works are verses 9-11, which speak to another big theme in Titus: the spectre of false teaching. “Foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law,” as verse 9 says. These were sadly still a part of the Cretan landscape.
And these verses show us what is so wrong about false teaching. It produces stupid debates, conflicts, arguments about the law and obsessions with pointless genealogies, and according to the end of verse 9, these things are “unprofitable and worthless.” In other words, the opposite of good works. They don’t help anyone. They are not good for anyone. They have no value.
And so Titus is told, at the beginning of verse 9, to simply avoid them. With all of his responsibilities, Titus can’t afford to get sucked in to waste-of-time conversations. He needs to devote his time to teaching the truth and raising up godly leadership in the churches and equipping the people for good works.
And that’s what those people doing the verse 9 stuff really need the most. They don’t need Titus to argue with them. They need to have the word taught to them carefully and thoroughly by qualified leaders. They need to be busy with good works instead of spending all of their time picking fights with people over pointless hobby horses.
And so by avoiding these foolish controversies and focusing on what really matters, Titus is actually helping them the most. Because he’ll be giving his time to what they need the most.
What If They Don’t Get It?
But what about those who won’t get it? What about those who refuse to learn? What about those who won’t be silenced, who won’t take the rebuke, who refuse to get off of their soapboxes?
That’s what verses 10-11 address. “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10–11).
If someone refuses to back down, refuses to listen to godly teaching and submit to godly leadership, refuses to get off of their hobby horses, they are going to disrupt the unity of the church. They are going to make people have to pick sides between Titus and the elders and themselves. They are going to stir up division.
And verse 10 tells us how precious a thing church unity is. Church unity is so precious that a person who stirs up division gets two warnings, and then they are out. “After warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him.” The New King James is a little closer to the original when it says, “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition” (Titus 3:10, NKJV).
This seems connected to Matthew 18, where Jesus said that if your brother has sinned against you, go to him once, and then a second time, and then, if he still doesn’t listen, tell it to the church, and then, after if he still doesn’t listen to the church, then treat him like an outsider.
And yet what Paul has written here is even stricter than that. There’s one less step. It’s just three strikes and your are out. I suggest that the process is different because this isn’t a case of personal sin, one sinning against another. This is one person sinning against the whole body by stirring up division and undermining the unity of the church. And you don’t mess with the church.
The church is the bride of Christ. Jesus died to make the church beautiful and spotless (Ephesians 5:25-27). And you don’t mess with his bride. Husbands, you understand this. If someone picks a fight with you, you can put up with it. But if someone goes after your wife, that’s a different matter, isn’t it? You’re not just going to stand by and let that happen.
Verse 11 tells us that when someone stirs up division in the body of Christ, and persists in doing so after multiple warnings, they are sending a big message about themselves. They are saying that they are “warped and sinful” and “self-condemned” (Titus 3:11). And there’s nothing you can do for someone like that if they refuse to listen. And because the health of the church is more important than the feelings of that one person, they need to be removed from the church.
And of course, this doesn’t happen in an angry way. This happens in a brokenhearted way, longing for their restoration. That’s part of the point of treating them like this—it’s to help them understand just how serious their sin is, and encourage them to seek repentance from it (1 Timothy 1:20).
But I hope we remember what’s behind these strict-sounding verses. It’s the beautiful unity of the church. And the unity needs to be defended and protected at all costs.
This is why gossip and slander and grumbling are so dangerous. This is why it’s so important to talk to your brother or sister if they’ve sinned against you, instead of other people. This is why it’s so important to talk to your leaders if you think they are making a mistake, instead of other people. Jesus died for His church and we should all work as hard as we can for its unity.
So how do we sew this up? How do we conclude this short yet beautiful letter? I think it’s probably best to conclude it the way that Paul does. We read here from verse 12 onwards that there’s some personal details. Titus is going to get spotted off by Artemas or Tychicus so that he can go be with Paul again, and either help him out or be further equipped himself for the assignment on Crete.
He’s given instructions to take care of Zenas and Apollos, who were travelling ministers and possibly the couriers who brought this letter to him, and from that we see the final call to good works and fruitfulness (Titus 3:13-14). There’s a final exchange of greetings (v. 15).
But then the letter concludes with these final words: “Grace be with you all” (Titus 3:15b). This could be seen a blessing or a mere wish, but in reality this is an expression of prayer. Paul is praying that God would be gracious to Titus and those under his charge.
That God would treat them better than they deserve and give them all that they need to face the challenges before them and the high calling God had given to them.
I hope, as we get to the end of Titus, that you are more aware of how much grace God has given to you in Christ. But I also hope you are aware of how much grace you continue to need from God as you seek to obey Him and live a life of good works that will glorify him. I hope you know that you don’t stand a chance of doing this on your own.
And that’s why we’re going to end here by singing “Yet Not I But Through Christ In Me.” Because it’s only through faith in Christ that any of this will be possible. Just like we received Christ as our saviour by faith, so we walk in obedience to Him by faith in His promises, asking that His sustaining, equipping, forgiving, empowering grace would be with us all.
This is my prayer for Emmanuel Baptist Church today: that grace would be with us all. Let’s all make that our prayer as we conclude here today.