In the New Testament letter to Titus, we read Paul’s mandate to live devoted lives of obedience and to express goodness to all. Alistair Begg teaches that the goodness which marks the Christian is a learned, purposeful, and beneficial behavior. Even the routine activities of daily life have divine importance as they bring glory to God by grace that He gives. Each of God’s children is important to Him, and all of our deeds are good for something and someone in Christ.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn not to Mark’s Gospel, because we’ve been studying Titus over the Truth For Life weekend, and so I’m going to finish up what we were doing. So I invite you to turn to Titus and to chapter 3, and we’ll read from verse 12 to the end. It’s page 845, if you would like to use one of the Bibles that you’ll find around you there in the seats. Page 845. Titus 3:12:
“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. Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.
“Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith.
“Grace be with you all.”
Gracious God, we pray that what we do not know, you will teach us; what we do not have, you will give us; what we are not, you will make us. For the sake of your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Well, let’s just think of this: You are not here by chance but by God’s choosing. You did not invent yourself. You had no part in your creation. You were intricately wrought in your mother’s womb. The hand of God formed you to be the person that you are, he created you at the exact moment that he desired, and he has placed you at this point in history so that you, in Christ, by grace, through faith, might do good deeds—good deeds which he has planned for you to do.
That may not be the first thought of the person when they consider the impact of God’s transforming grace, but it actually is virtually number one on the list of Paul. And when, in writing to the Ephesian Christians, he reminds them of the great salvation that has been provided in Jesus—that it is by grace they have been saved and through faith, and this not of themselves, not of works, that anyone should boast—he then immediately goes on to say, “And God has done this; you have been created in Christ Jesus to do good deeds, which God foreordained for you to do.” In other words, in Christ, all of our days and all of our deeds may be good for someone and for something.
And it is along these lines that we’ve been thinking, those of us who’ve been here since Friday evening, as we have looked together primarily at the third chapter of Titus. And as we’ve been studying this, we have noticed that this is, if you like, the recurring emphasis, the striking theme, the melody line that runs through all of the contrapuntal motion that is represented in the surrounding information. And we began on Friday evening by noticing the straightforward statement in 2:14—that God, in Jesus, “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own,” his peculiar people, and then here’s the defining feature: “eager to do what is good.” “Eager to do what is good.” In chapter 3:8, he has reiterated this. “I want you,” he says to Titus, “to stress these things,” the gospel things, “so that those who have trusted in God”—here it comes again—“may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.” And here now, in his closing remarks, he can’t let it go, and he once again drives home this essential notion. Verse 14 of 3: “Our people,” he says, “must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they … [do] not live unproductive lives.”
Now, this emphasis—and I’m clear in my own mind at least that Paul sees the need for this in some peculiar way, given the immorality of the culture in Crete, given the fact that it was a byword for moral decadence, given the fact that it was pervaded by people who told lies, and given the fact that the poets of the time—the secular poets of the time—actually defined Crete in terms of lies and deceptiveness. And in light of that, and in light of the fact that within the framework of the church there were false teachers who were seeking to press upon people all kinds of notions which actually were of no help to them whatsoever—in light of that prevailing impact, both of the cultures squeezing them from without and the dangers of deception from within, Paul says, “It is absolutely imperative, Titus, that your people are marked by this God-honoring, Christ-enduing goodness.”
Now, I want us just to isolate verse 14 for the final time, and then we will just look at the surrounding text, and our study in Titus 3 will be over. One of the things that we have learned as a congregation is that Paul has a fairly straightforward pattern when he writes his letters. And we have learned to identify for one another the transition that is represented in his letters, where he moves from what we refer to as the doctrinal indicatives to the moral imperatives. Or, if you like, he moves from what is true of the believer to what is then expected of the believer. He does not suggest for a moment that as a result of the fulfilling of these expectations, these individuals might earn God’s favor or tilt the balances in favor of themselves, but rather that the imperative emerges from the indicative.
So, classically, in Romans he lays down all of the doctrinal truth in the first eight chapters—parenthetically, in 9, 10, and 11—and then he comes to the moral imperative in chapter 12. And he says, “Therefore, I beseech you, by the mercies of God”—which is all that he’s been conveying of the truth of the gospel—“I beseech you, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” And that is the imperative. In Colossians, you have the same thing. We won’t go through all the letters; you can relax. But in Colossians, you have the same thing: he lays it down in the first two chapters, he comes to chapter 3, and on the strength of the doctrinal indicatives, he then brings the moral imperative. “Since, then,” he says, “you have been raised with Christ, [now] set your hearts on things [that are] above.” And the exhortation to the doing is grounded in what God has provided in Jesus.
Now, given the fact that we are alert to this, I’ve had to catch myself, because I almost missed one that is right here in verse 14. Since it is not stated in such a dramatic fashion, I almost missed it myself. And that is contained for us in the verb to learn. To learn. “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good.” And the verb here in English is in the present tense, it is an active, and it is an imperative. Now, you say, “Well, does that really matter?” Yes, it matters a terrific amount. Because after all, we’re reading the Bible in the English language. And therefore, a knowledge of the English language helps us not to go astray.
And since this behavior is learned behavior, we know therefore that this behavior is not the result of an emotional surge, nor is it to be an attempt to assuage feelings of guilt. You move among certain groups of people professing to be Christians, and it would appear that everything they do is on the basis of their glands. If they feel like praying, they pray. If they feel like doing something, they do it, and if they don’t feel like doing something, then they just don’t do it—“Well, I just didn’t feel like coming”—as if somehow or another, this is the great touchstone of how we ought to regulate our existence. Or, perhaps even worse, the reason that they might engage in doing something is because they feel guilty about other things that they have either done or that they have failed to do, and therefore they think that somehow or another they can compensate for this bad behavior by an expression of good behavior. Well, this little verse here, 14, helps us to clean this up. Devoted “to doing what is good”: this is learned behavior. Learned behavior.
I think the word devotion can often send us astray, because we tend to think of devotion just in terms of impulses or of feelings. This, for those of us who’ve lived in the second half of the twentieth century, we’ve probably been influenced by the song by Olivia Newton-John—or sung by Olivia Newton-John—“Hopelessly Devoted to You.” And we have followed along with her, tracked along with her, the sort of idea that this is an impulse, this is a feeling, this is something over which she has no control, and therefore devotion seems to be marked by that, and therefore if we’re going to be devoted to doing good, then presumably, we will be spurred along by impulses and feelings. Well, the verb to learn helps us clean that up. We must learn to be devoted.
In other words, it is childhood information time all over again. We learned, didn’t we, how to brush our teeth, how to comb our hair, how to shine our shoes, as our mums sang for us the little song “Early in the Morning”: “This is the way we brush our teeth. This is the way we comb our hair. This is the way we polish our shoes.” And remember when we did it? “On a cold and frosty morning.” Why is it “on a cold and frosty morning”? Who wrote this? Somebody that was living on the east side of Cleveland in December? Why is it not, “This is the way we brush our teeth, on a carefree, sunny morning”? I think I know the answer. This is conjecture, but I think I know: because on a cold and frosty morning, we’re probably tempted just to forgo all commitment to duty; pull the blankets over our heads; you know, get out of bed long enough to get a coffee and just jump right back in your bed and just stay there for as long as you possibly can. I don’t want to brush my teeth or shine my shoes or comb my hair on a cold and frosty morning.
So it is learned behavior which produces dutiful response which is marked by devotion—and in this case, to doing what is good.
Secondly, in verse 14, you will notice that it is not only learned behavior, but it is purposeful behavior. “In order that”: it’s a purpose clause. “In order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.” In other words, in order that this activity might result in their being able to earn; as a result of their being able to earn, they will then be able to provide, not only for themselves but also for those who are in particular need.
In other words, what Paul is espousing not only here in Titus 3 but also in all of his writings, if you look at them carefully, is the absolute opposite of a society of entitlement. I don’t think that Paul would be impressed with the first decade of the twenty-first century in the United States of America. I think he would have been even more surprised than our Puritan forefathers would be surprised at the state of affairs that has emerged, whereby generations grow up believing somehow or another we are simply entitled to certain things—that there’s no endeavor involved on our part; it will just come our way, because it’s supposed to come our way.
“Well, no, no,” says Paul, “that is actually not the case.” And he makes the point that when he writes to Timothy in his first letter, in an environment of the culture that is quite staggering. He actually takes this notion on in relationship to widowhood. Now, remember that James has told us that religion that is pure and undefiled will be the kind of religious expression that makes sure that it does not demean or ignore, fail to compensate, those who are most needy in a culture: widows in their affliction and infants and orphans.
And when you keep that in mind—something with which Paul would have concurred—it makes his statement in 1 Timothy 5 all the more striking. He says, “Give the people these instructions … so that no one may be open to blame.” What do you have in mind, Paul? Here we go: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives,” and particularly, “especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” That’s a pretty straightforward statement, isn’t it? He doesn’t say, “This is a marginal issue, this is a sort of PhD for people that want to get serious about the Bible.” No, he says that one of the evidences of a genuine work of grace in a person’s life is that it makes them devoted to the kind of goodness that cannot ignore the immediate needs of those who are their dependents.
And he goes on to say, in relationship to widows in the community of Ephesus—and they had a list for widows, the folks, the ladies who had been deprived of a husband, and so they were now single, and they had no means of supporting themselves and income. But there were strict instructions in relationship to these ladies. Here they are: “No widow [must] be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty” and “has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her…” Guess what? Guess what? That’s right. “Good deeds.” Such as what? Catch this: “Bringing up [her] children,” making pancakes and bacon, doing a load of laundry, “helping those in trouble … devoting herself”—here it comes again—“to all kinds of good deeds.”
Loved ones, this is unavoidable. This is absolutely inescapable. Which makes the absence of engagement in this realm by traditional evangelical churches one of the most significant lapses in concentration at best and a serious denial of the instruction of God’s Word at worst.
Let me give you one other illustration of it, because it is equally striking. First Thessalonians chapter 4. You want to have an ambition? He says, “Well, let me tell you what your ambition should be.” Here is Paul on ambition, writing to the Thessalonian believers. First Thessalonians 4:11, here it is: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you [to do].” That’s quite amazing, isn’t it? “You want to be ambitious?” he says to the believers in Thessalonica. “Then here’s an ambition for you: quiet life, mind your own business, quit poking your nose into everybody else’s affairs, and work with your hands.”
The artisan, the craftsman, the manual laborer has the peculiar benefit of seeing a product at the end of a day. We had hoped that the product out here on the road would have been finished for you, coming for our weekend, but unfortunately, they’re gonna have to work with their hands just a little longer. And apparently, it’s going to open tomorrow, all being well—the road, that is. But I’ve enjoyed the progress here—slow it may have been, from some perspectives; I don’t know enough. But the fact of the matter is, if I were involved in that, I would be delighted, come tomorrow by five o’clock, to say, “I was involved in that, and I did that, and I was able to take home a paycheck, and I was able to provide for my family, and I was able to give a little also to others who are in need. I was actually leading a quiet life. I was minding my own business. I was working with my hands on Pettibone Road. And apparently God is really pleased with that kind of stuff. In fact, he’s written it down in the Bible. That’s how concerned he is about it.”
No, I say to you again, it’s the absolute opposite of entitlement. It is. Now, I’ll leave that alone. I was gonna give you an economic statement there; I’ll just leave it aside. I don’t want letters.
Thirdly, the behavior is learned behavior, the behavior is purposeful behavior, and the behavior is beneficial behavior. And the benefit is not only that which accrues to the individual, but it is a benefit which accrues to others. In other words, a Christian works—and remember that God gave to us work in the garden. He gave us a garden; he said, “Here’s a garden, and I want you to cultivate it.” Work was marred by sin, but work was part of God’s creative handiwork and design. We weren’t just supposed to sit around and do nothing. And that’s why within the human psyche there is a desire to produce. That is why people paint. That is why people investigate. That is why scientists think. That is why workers work and gardeners garden. And people look at this and say, “What in the world are all these people doing, and why are they doing this?” And then the answer that is in the Wall Street or the New York Times is, it’s because of RDD, RV-D2, or whatever it is, Ardi, the new fellow—I saw him on the thing there; he looked remarkably like my grandfather, that big character that the evolutionists have been hiding from us for the last fifteen years. They now trotted him out. They’ve been waiting fifteen years to come up with a good way to explain the fact that they’ve been wrong for about fifty years, but this fellow has now fixed them, and so here he is.
But they can’t explain why it is that painters paint or gardeners garden or artists do things. They’ve got no explanation for it at all. None at all! The Bible has the explanation: we were made in the image of God, and we were made in order to do these things. And when we fail to do them and we live as layabouts, we deny the fact of God’s creative handiwork. And our activities, our endeavors, our earning capacity is not simply for selfish ends, but it is in order that the overflow of that may be the benefit of others around us—not least of all, widows and orphans and so on.
And when you think about the statement that is made there concerning the good deeds of the widow, and you see how intensely practical it is—and that’s why I changed “hospitality” to “pancakes and bacon.” I guess I’m feeling hungry here in the second service, but a just sort of subliminal message to my wife, who’s in the congregation. But I changed it in order to make the point so that the routine activities of life might be seen to be divine providences to us—that they might be seen to be the very things that bring glory to God and that set forward his purposes. As the earlier generations refer to it as “the menial round and the common task, they have furnished all we ought to ask.” We don’t really need to go anywhere else or do anything else if we will do these things that have been entrusted to us and if we will do them to the glory of God. So we can say, “I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do, and what I ought to do, with God’s help, I will do.” And you don’t have to worry about the person next to you, and you don’t have to worry about if it’s very significant or apparently insignificant. We’re not the ones keeping the score on this stuff. And God, who is pleased with these acts of kindness and goodness, is the one who will give the rewards on the day we stand before him.
Now, I’ve spent the majority of the time there on verse 14, and I’ve done it purposefully, so that we might finally get this for our minds as we walk away. But I need just to say something about the surrounding verses, and I will do so quickly. First of all, a comment on verse 12. You will notice that he says in verse 12, “Do your best to come to me.” “To come to me.” Paul would have rejected all the fierce independence and defiant isolationism that is represented in the work of Paul Simon in the early ’70s: “I am a rock, I am an island, and a rock can feel no pain, and an island never cries,” and so on. Any notion of Paul being that kind of rock is immediately exploded as we just observe him and as we listen to him as he writes in these letters. Relationships were of vital importance to Paul. He was a strong leader. He was prepared to say what needed to be said, but he didn’t live as an island, he didn’t live in isolation, and these people were of vital importance to him.
And the word that he uses here for “do your best,” in verse 12, “to come to me,” spoudazo, which is a nice Greek verb, spoudazo—in other words, “Move everything around in order to get here as fast as you can. Do whatever it takes. Don’t come until I send Artemas or Tychicus to you”—Artemas, about whom we know nothing, and Tychicus, about whom we know quite a bit, in Colossians 4 and elsewhere. “Make sure that you don’t just leave your people high and dry, Titus. Make sure that there are people in place who will be able to care in your absence, and then, as soon as one of these two characters has arrived, get here as fast as you can.”
You’ll notice where he’s coming? “I want you to come down and see me in Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there.” Don’t miss the absolute straightforwardness of that statement: “I have decided to winter there.” I think some of us have the idea of the apostles moving around, as it were, you know, sort of in a kind of ethereal existence, two feet above the ground, you know: “Where am I supposed to go now? Should I go to Ephesus, should I go to Colossae?” No, it’s not like that at all. Even when it says that they were prevented by the Holy Spirit, it presumably was practical things. And Paul says, “And in these practicalities, God the Holy Spirit was ordering my steps providentially.” And so now he’s got plans for the winter. Smart fellow! He’s going two hundred miles north of Athens on the Greek coast, somewhere in the Aegean Sea, for the winter. Anybody interested in joining him? You only get a little snap in the air, and you’re starting to think, “This sounds like a splendid idea.” And it is a splendid idea.
Remember what we’re reading here. This doesn’t read like legend, does it? This doesn’t read like mythology. People try and tell you your Bible’s a bunch of hocus-pocus; somebody put it together and invented all these legends. This doesn’t really read like legends. This reads like somebody who is actually saying to his friend, “Cut the nonsense, do good, tell your folks, and by the way, get here. Once the fellows are there, down to Nicopolis, you and me. We’ll have a great time.” When? “ASAP.” Where? “Nicopolis.” Why? “I like you. I like you. I like spending time with you.” That’s enough for me. Paul has personal feelings, conveys practical requirements, and pursues purposeful relationships. That’s verse 12: “Do your best to come to me.”
Verse 13: “Do everything you can.” “Do everything you can to help.” Who? “Zenas.” What do we know about Zenas, apart from the fact that he was a nomikos, a lawyer? We know absolutely nothing. Well, “help Zenas the lawyer,” about whom we know nothing, “and Apollos,” about whom we know quite a bit. Apollos was from Alexandria, the university town—obviously a bright chap. He had a pretty solid understanding of the gospel, and then he bumped in, in Acts 18, to Priscilla and Aquila, Priscilla and Aquila gave him a little bit more instruction and encouragement and introduced him to the fullness of God’s Holy Spirit, and as a result of that, Apollos became a quite phenomenal preacher.
It’s a reminder, again, of the links in a chain, isn’t it? You never know who you’re having home for dinner. You never know which young person you’re taking home. You never know which university student. You never know who it is that you have in your home. And the apparently inconsequential hospitality that you’ve provided, or the book that you said, “This is a wonderful book. I’d like to give this to you. I got it from the bookstore. You can have this book.” You don’t know, we don’t know, when you’ve got Apollos in your house—when you have the next Apollos.
You see, that’s why all of our days and all of our deeds, in Christ, are good for something and good for someone. And you see, in the economy of God, it’s interesting too that in both of these descriptions, you have somebody that’s well known and then you have somebody who is completely unknown. Both times. Artemas: don’t know him. Tychicus: know him. Zenas: don’t know him. Apollos: know him. God knows them all. And that’s really all that matters. “Fortune and fame,” says James Taylor,
is a curious game.
Perfect strangers, they call you by name
And pay good money to hear “Fire and Rain”
Again and again and again.
The only consideration for the child of God is that his heavenly Father, her heavenly Father, knows them, loves them, picks them out always in the crowd, and has the best of purposes for them.
I think there’s every chance that Apollos and Zenas were actually the mailmen on this journey. They’re going on their way now, and they need to make sure that they have everything that they need. They don’t want to have to be going to Giant Eagle. “Don’t send them out to get their own groceries. Don’t have them… They can’t be working for two or three days,” he says. “They’re on the King’s business. Help them out. You’ve got a nice house; give them a loan of your bedroom. You’ve got plenty of groceries in for the weekend; give them something to eat, and give them some sandwiches to take when they go. And if you can give ’em a tank of gas, give ’em a tank of gas as well, because that’ll be a help to them, and it will get them at least a few hundred miles down the road”—or, you know, whatever. It’s an anachronism, I understand. “Gas up their donkey,” whatever you want to say. But the fact of the matter is, “Help them.” They probably got a problem with the donkey’s a little too gassed up, but that’s another thought. That’s… Now I’m going into my junior high mode here. I gotta leave that alone.
Okay: 12, “Do your best to come”; 13, “Do everything you can”; and 15, “Hey, from all of us to all of you: love, love, love.” That’s really it, isn’t it? “Everyone with me sends you greetings.” It’s nice to get greetings, isn’t it? It’s nice when people say, “Hey, I was talking to So-and-So, and So-and-So said that So-and-So and So-and-So, they were all… They were asking for you.” Titus must have been gratified by that. And he’s given an instruction: “And I want you, Titus, in turn to greet those who love us in the faith.” So Titus then has this letter, and he reads it out, and he says, “And as you can hear here from Paul in the letter, he sends his love to all of you. He loves you. And he sent the greetings to me, he sends the greetings to you, and he’s decided to finish with his favorite word.” And he does. Every single one of Paul’s letters finishes with the same word. Don’t be pedantic, now; it doesn’t mean… Don’t look it up and say, “No, it finished with the word then” or something. No. His final word is the word grace. You know, like the kids say to one another now: “What’s the word?” At least they used to. Or, “What’s the word on the street?” Well, the word on Paul’s street is grace. Grace.
And it is grace which is the doctrinal indicative which provides the foundation for the goodness which is the moral imperative. Without the grace, a call to goodness is pure externalism. And you may be here today, and you actually think that what I’m saying, I’m not saying—namely, that this is a kind of standard sermon: that no matter where you read in the Bible, you’re just supposed to be good, and a benevolent God will reward good people, provided they’re trying to do their best. So, let’s just be good, for goodness’ sake.
No. No. That’s not how it works. On our best day, we are unprofitable servants. All of our very best endeavors, against the standard of God’s perfection, are like filthy rags, like stuff that you would use to clean the wheels on your car and get it in such a mess that it would be dispensed with. God says that our best stuff may be described in those terms. “Well, then we’re absolutely busted.” Yes. That’s where grace comes in. So that he comes, in Christ, obeys the law in its perfection, lives a perfectly holy life, dies in the place of those of us who are lawbreakers, deals with all of God’s wrath, secures our reconciliation, and then says, “In the strength of my grace, go out now, and be good. Be good.”
Father, thank you that your Word is clear. And we pray that you will show us that we have no goodness of our own that we could ever appeal to as a means of acceptance with you. Help us, then, to trust in you, the living God, and then for our behavior to be the evidence of our belief. Forgive us, Lord, for the times when we have just stared this in the face and chosen to walk another way. And help us to rely entirely upon your grace, so that we might live to the praise of your glory. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
 See Psalm 139:13.
 See Ephesians 2:8–10.
 Romans 12:1 (paraphrased).
 Colossians 3:1 (NIV 1984).
 See James 1:27.
 1 Timothy 5:7–8 (NIV 1984).
 1 Timothy 5:9–10 (NIV 1984).
 John Keble, “New Every Morning Is the Love” (1827). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Commonly attributed to Edward Everett Hale.
 Paul Simon, “I Am a Rock” (1965). Lyrics lightly altered.
 See Acts 16:6.
 James Taylor, “That’s Why I’m Here” (1985). Lyrics lightly altered.
 See Luke 17:10.
 See Isaiah 64:6.
Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.