While we may recognize God’s providence over world events or important decisions, we sometimes overlook His involvement in our daily lives. Examining the closing of Paul’s letter to Titus, Alistair Begg teaches that even routine events experienced by ordinary people need to be understood in light of God’s sovereign care and purpose. Our circumstances are not matters of chance, but of His choosing. The Lord oversees and overrules all of time—all day, every day.
Sermon Transcript: Print
“When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I[’ve] decided to spend the winter there. Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.
“All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith.
“Grace be with you all.”
Father, open our eyes that we might behold wonderful things in your Word. Holy Spirit, come and shine upon the printed page. Illumine it to us. Holy Spirit, come and shine into the darkness of our hearts and show us Christ. Holy Spirit, come to the voice of the preacher and enable him. For we ask it in Christ’s name. Amen.
Well, we are coming now to these closing verses of Titus chapter 3. I invite you to turn back there, if you would. And I’m not sure that we’ll finish this morning, but we can begin to finish. They’ve put the wheels down, and we’re certainly on our final approach. But we’re looking at the section that begins under the heading, in the ESV, “Final Instructions and Greetings.”
In 1996, there was a book published that was written by a fellow called Richard Carlson, who actually died as a young man at the age of forty-five. You will know the book, many of you. I, personally, have never read it, but I’m familiar with its title, and it was called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. And the stated purpose of the book was to encourage the reader to look at things, to look at life, to look at common situations—the kind of things that we all come across in everyday life—and to see them a little differently. So, Carlson was holding up the events of life and saying, “We don’t have to look at them in this way. We could look at them here.” And in many ways, the events of life and the way in which we respond to the events of life reveal something about our personal convictions and also about our character as individuals.
Now, the reason that title was in my mind was because as I came to these final verses of Titus 3, I found myself saying not “Don’t sweat the small stuff” but “Don’t miss the small stuff.” “Don’t miss the small stuff.” It’s entirely unlikely that, were it not for the fact that we are working our way systematically and consecutively through this book, as we do through each of the books of the Bible—if we were not doing that, that the chances of me ever teaching a sermon from these verses, or you even hearing one, is unlikely. And yet it is a challenging exercise, and it is a rewarding exercise. And so as we come to the end, we’re trying to say to one another, “Don’t let’s miss the small stuff.”
And also, as we come to the end of the letter, let’s not forget the beginning of the letter. You will notice the final phrase there in 3:15: “Greet those who love us in the faith.” It’s not just a generic greeting to everyone and anyone, but those who are now members of the family of God. And if your Bible is like mine, you can see the opening verses of the letter, chapter 1. And in 1:4, it is written “to Titus, my true child,” and you’ll notice the phrase “in a common faith.” “In a common faith.”
Now, I don’t want to go through the entire book, but let me remind you that in chapter 1, before the apostle Paul descended to the practical instruction that was necessary for Titus, he established, if you like, the theological underpinnings which gave rise to his instruction, and particularly to this little triad of faith, knowledge, and hope. And we noted back then that the believer’s knowledge of who God is and what God has done for us in the Lord Jesus Christ—that knowledge of who God is, his character and his revealed nature—is the very basis of faith and is at the same time the ground of their hope. And that’s why the hymn writer says, “It’s what I know of you, my Lord and my God, that fills my life with praise and my lips with song.” It’s “what I know of you.” It’s not “what I feel about you this morning.” It’s not whether I feel good this morning, whether I feel bad this morning; whether I feel spiritual or whether I feel unspiritual. It is “what I know of you.” And that is why, you see, reason and faith are not combatants, but rather, they are interwoven in the discovery of genuine Christianity.
And that’s why we paid attention to it then. And we realized that having begun with grace in 1:4, Paul will end with grace in 3:15—the source of that grace from God the Father and Christ Jesus, our Savior; the appearing of that grace in 2:11 (“But when the grace of God, our Savior, appeared”); and the work of grace, the transforming work of grace (“When that grace appeared, he saved us”). And then again in chapter 3: “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,” he did these things as an evidence of his grace.
Now, what Paul has been doing, broadly speaking, is ensuring that Titus will work out for those under his care the radical implications of God’s design for his people: in chapter 1, within the context of the church, “Make sure you get the leadership in place”; in chapter 2, within the home, “Make sure that the various age groupings within the family of faith and the nuclear family know who they are and what they are”; and then in chapter 3, the implications of God’s grace worked out in society. And you will perhaps remember, we got to 3:1 with that great call to Christian citizenship. And as we’ve gone through chapter 3, we have realized that Paul has instructed Titus to remind those who are under his care, first of all, to be good citizens (verses 1–2), then to remember what they were before they came to Christ (verses 3–7); and then to recall, in that same section towards the end, the transformation that grace has brought about in their lives. We then went on to see that this message is a reliable message (that’s why it is described as being “trustworthy”), that the messenger is to be a resolute messenger who is insisting on these things (this is 3:8), and that the membership of the congregations in Crete are to be responsive individuals, learning, first of all, the issues that are to be avoided (verse 9), and then the kind of person who is to be confronted in verse 10.
Now, after all of that—and it is a substantial amount of material—these concluding sentences may appear to be sort of ho-hum: the sort of final sign-off at the end of a letter; the traditional, normal way for greetings of that time. And they are the traditional and normal way for the ending of a letter. Well, that’s why I said to myself, “You’d better be careful that you don’t miss the small stuff.” You remember in the book to which I referred, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, the tagline was It’s All Small Stuff. Right? Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff … It’s All Small Stuff. Here’s our thesis: Don’t miss the small stuff; there’s no small stuff. There’s no small stuff. And that comes across very clearly in what we might regard as a surprising section at the very end of the letter.
Now, these events as they’re described here—the direction for the arrival of the substitute for Titus so that he might leave and be with Paul, the instructions concerning hospitality and generosity towards Zenas and Apollos, the reminder again to the people to make sure that they are energized in the realm of good works and so on—all of these things—life back then, in a geographical place far from us and at a time removed from us—all of those events then, with all of our events now, everyday events in the lives of ordinary people, need to be understood from a Christian perspective in light of the doctrine of God’s providence. And it is this which I have tried to bring to bear upon my own mind as I’ve thought about these things.
The doctrine of God’s providence, as summarized by Berkhof, is the “continued exercise of the divine energy whereby the Creator preserves all His creatures, is operative in all that comes to pass in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.” So, the God who has created the world, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is providentially overseeing everything according to the purpose of his will. And this runs through the entire framework of the Bible. From the very beginning, in the story of Abraham and Isaac: “Father, we’ve got the fire here, but we don’t have a lamb. We’ve got nothing to burn on the fire.” “My Son, the Lord Yahweh will provide what is necessary when it is necessary.” That’s the doctrine of providence: that the God who has created and who orders all things according to the appointment of his will will make provision as necessary.
And Jesus taught this with regularity all the way through—memorably, on one occasion, as he described the life cycle of the sparrows and as he spoke to the people that were listening, and he says to them, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” And they must have said, “Yes.” And then he went on to say how God is interested in the sparrows. And then he said, “And you should know this: that you are worth more than many sparrows.” In other words, “If God, who created the universe, is interested in the life cycle of a sparrow, don’t you realize,” says Jesus, “how absolutely, totally committed he is to overseeing, providing for, caring for the lives of his children?” He sustains all things. He watches over all things. He appoints all things.
If there is one little poem that I am asked for more than any other, it is the poem that emerges from that comment in Matthew chapter 10. So let me give it to you, and quit asking me for it. No, you don’t have to do that. I don’t mean that. You can ask me if you like.
Said the Robin to the Sparrow:
“I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush [around] and worry so?”
Said the Sparrow to the Robin:
“[Oh], I think that it must be
That they have no Heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me.”
Now, let me give to you just three headings to summarize this.
This God of providence who is involved in the events that are described at the end of Titus is, first of all, the God of the ordinary. The God of the ordinary. What do I mean by that? Well, you’ll notice that he is the God, first of all here, of ordinary language. Ordinary language. “When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me.” Verse 13: “Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer…” Doesn’t that sound just like a routine and ordinary phrase? Well, of course, it is. There’s nothing peculiarly dramatic about it. He’s saying, “Make sure that you employ your energies in such a way that this objective may be achieved.”
One of the great accommodations of the creator of the universe is that he speaks to us in language that is understandable. He comes down to us and speaks in ordinary terms—extraordinary things but conveyed in ordinary terms. No one was in any doubt about what Jesus was saying when he taught. His illustrations were perfect. His stories were masterful. His instruction was clear. His language was ordinary. The God of ordinary language.
Notice also the phrase “I have decided.” “I have decided to spend the winter there.” Not “God has told me to go to Nicopolis.” No, the language is strikingly ordinary, isn’t it?
“Why are you going to Nicopolis?”
“Oh, you just decided, did you? Didn’t you pray about it?”
“Well, I guess I did pray about it, but I finally made the decision to go to Nicopolis. I could have gone somewhere else.”
Beware of those who are more spiritual than the apostle! There’s something wrong with the person who feels that in order to gain some kind of ascendancy or influence, they always have to explain that God is telling them everything: “God told me this, and he told me that, and he told me the next thing, and he told me where to go.” Unfortunately, he never told you to be quiet! If I had a dollar for everybody who told me they were called to this place and that place who never ended up in the place to which they were apparently divinely called, I would be able to take a number of us out for at least a decent milkshake.
And look at the phraseology “let our people learn.” “Let our people learn.” There’s nothing mystical about this. That’s all I want you to understand. There’s nothing here where they’re sort of sitting around, waiting for it to come through: “What am I supposed to do now?” No! “Do your best…” “I’ve decided…” “Make sure the people learn.” In other words, what they’re to do is learned behavior. The root of their behavior is grace; the fruit is good works. It is learned behavior. In other words, it is not behavior that emerges as a result of a guilt trip being placed on them: “Come on, now, you should be doing this,” so they do it out of a sense of guilt. Nor is it out of a sense of a sort of emotional resurgence within them. No. It is learned behavior. It is profitable behavior, so that these cases of urgency might be dealt with. And it is purposeful, in the sense that it means that their lives will not, in the end, show for nothing.
Well, I’ll leave you to work that out for yourselves, but I think it’s fairly straightforward. He’s the God of the ordinary—the ordinary language and ordinary events. Ordinary events. What Paul is concerned about here is that Titus, his friend and colleague, will be able to come to him at Nicopolis. If he’s going to be able to come to him at Nicopolis, somebody’s going to have to take his place. That’s got to either be Artemas or Tychicus—he hasn’t decided yet. And the reason is that the people of God are not to be left without a leader. He doesn’t want them left in this fledgling state, just casting about on their own. Clearly, he doesn’t.
And there is a lesson here, which we won’t tease out now, about the way in which transitions take place in local congregations in relationship to leadership and the changes in leadership. Many churches flounder as a result of making no plans for the kind of transition that is necessary. Paul is very clear: “I want you to come to me. If you’re going to come to me, Artemas or Tychicus has to go to them.” And God is interested in this because he is the God who speaks in ordinary language, and he is the God who oversees ordinary events.
Well, if he’s the God of the ordinary, he is also, secondly, the God of the nobody. The God of the nobody. Now, I don’t want you to misunderstand me on this, and I’ll try and make myself clear.
Of the four individuals that are mentioned here, two of them are known. If this was a quiz, if I had teenage boys in the class, I’d ask them, “And which of the two that are mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament?” And if I had a couple of bright boys in there, they would say, “Well, Tychicus is mentioned somewhere else,” and they might even know that he was mentioned in Colossians 4:7, described by Paul as “a beloved brother,” as a “faithful minister,” and as a “fellow servant.” Someone else might also have said, “I think Apollos is probably the man who’s mentioned in Acts chapter 18,” and they would probably be right—the very able and eloquent teacher from Alexandria with a peculiar gift from God, the one who is mentioned as the “waterer” in 1 Corinthians 3:6: “I planted,” says Paul, “and Apollos watered, and God made things grow.” So those two characters are there in the rest of the New Testament.
But the thing that struck me was, the other two aren’t. I can find no reference to either Artemas or Zenas anywhere else in the New Testament. But they get a mention! And the fact that they are mentioned at least helps us to realize that this same God who is the God of the ordinary is also the God of the no-name. I’m referring to the individual here as “the nobody.” It’s really not a precise use of language, but it just works in terms of the headings. The point is simple, and I hope it’s clear: namely, that much of the work in the kingdom of God—no, let’s say the majority of the work in the kingdom of God—is actually carried out by people whose names are unknown.
Think about that. The work today of the kingdom of God, all of the elements in it—the preaching, the teaching, the pastoring, the shepherding, the loving, the caring, the writing, the designing, the singing—every dimension of it, the majority of it, is conducted by people whose names are unknown. Oh, they may be known to a limited circle around them, but by and large, no one knows. It’s illustrative of what Paul says, isn’t it, about the nature of the body? He says, “When we think about our bodies, we give a tremendous amount of undue appreciation and attention to the parts that can be seen. But,” he says, “it’s not really the parts that can be seen that are the issue. It’s the parts that can’t be seen that are the issue.” I mean, nobody’s going, you know, “I’ve got a lovely colon. Would you like to see it?” But I hope you do have a lovely colon. And if you don’t, then you should have it looked after. You know… You get the point. I don’t need to say much about that. It’s a silly idea, really. But it’s not, is it? Because all of the functions—the neurological function, the double circulatory system that is doing the oxygenated-deoxygenated thing, all of the urological dimensions of everything—are all going on all the time right now, enabling me to stand here and to exist and to speak to you, and functioning for you in such a way that you might be able to listen as well, but without any kind of fuss or bother. It’s only when something goes wrong that we start to think about the bits and pieces to which we pay so little attention.
What’s the point? Well, the point is that nobody is a nobody in the family of God. Nobody’s a nobody in the family of God. Don’t ever feel that you are! That’s just a lie of the devil. I’m not going to do a discourse now on Facebook and tweeting and everything else, but part of its success must surely be the desire for individuals to feel some kind of significance beyond themselves. I mean, it’s a mystery to me that someone has to tweet, like, “I just took my poodle for a walk.” Like, the whole universe needs to know this? I mean, how many followers do you have for that kind of stuff? But part of it is that sense of finitude—that sense of isolation that now has a vehicle for reaching out and saying, “Hey! I exist! I’m significant!” And unless we find our identity in the Lord Jesus Christ, unless we find our identity within the family of God, then we will be tempted always to try and find significance beyond those realms.
Now, that’s not a blanket derogation of the social media or the social network. Please don’t take it as that. But do understand this: when we read these things, we realize that Artemas and Zenas, the lawyer… Incidentally, Paul likes doing that, doesn’t he? He does “Zenas the lawyer,” “Luke the … physician.” He does that a number of times. That’s all he tells us. He tells us what his job was, but we don’t know anything about him beyond that. But Zenas had a part to play, and he had played his part. He wasn’t there by chance; he was there by choice—God’s choice. You’re not here by chance; you’re here by choosing. You are the person that God has made you to be. You are the person that you are according to the plan and purpose of God, and “there’s a work for Jesus that [nobody other than] you can do.” The fact that nobody really knows your name doesn’t matter.
When I do these radio events—if you’ll pardon me a personal anecdote—when I do these radio events, it’s not unusual for people to come up to me and say, “I don’t know who you are.” And I always say, “Well, I wouldn’t feel bad. I don’t know who you are.” But I know what they mean by that. When I was, years ago, with Derek Prime—who was my boss, although I had moved… I was in America, and back in Ireland speaking at an event, and I was there with Derek Prime—I may have told you this—and we were in a coffee shop together, in the back of a coffee shop in Portstewart in the North of Ireland. And a fellow came in, and he spied us, and he came over, and he said, “I’d like to have a photograph.” And so I pulled my chair up nice and close to Derek’s, ready for the photograph. And he said, “Not you. Him!” So I pulled my chair away again. ’Cause I was a nobody. And this past while, when I was in Glasgow a few weeks ago, I was writing limericks for Dick Lucas and Tim Keller and so on. We were there, and I was writing these limericks, and that started a whole spate of limericks from some of the young bright sparks from Scotland who were there. And one of the guys wrote a limerick. He sent it to me:
A fellow named Begg came from Glasgow.
Charlotte Chapel is part of his bio.
His sermons are fine,
But he’s no Derek Prime,
So he took himself off to Ohio.
So, from one nobody to a bunch of nobodies: God is the God of the ordinary; he’s the God of the nobody; and thirdly and finally, he’s the God of the everyday. He’s the God of the everyday. He’s the God of the “when,” whenever the “when” is—verse 12: “When I send Artemas…” He’s the God of the summer and the winter and autumn and the spring: “I[’ve] decided to spend the winter there.” Every day.
You see, one of the ways in which our worldview—our Christian worldview—impinges upon the culture in which we live is in this whole area of time. In the whole area of time. Again, remember, Jesus had a lot to say concerning time. “Which of you,” he said, “by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” The answer is, of course, no one can. “Do[n’t] be anxious about tomorrow,” said Jesus. “Tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” “Sufficient [to] the day is the evil thereof.” “[Every] day has enough trouble of its own.” The real issue of anxiety is not the issues that I face today but is the issues that I’m worried about that are apparently waiting for me tomorrow which I import into today. And I have to realize that the God of Paul and Titus and Artemas and Zenas and Tychicus and so on is the God who oversees and overrules all of the events of time every day, all day. He’s never off.
I lift … my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
[the Lord] who watches over Israel
… neither slumber[s] nor sleep[s].
Let me finish in this way. Those of you who are familiar with the lyrics of James Taylor will be aware of his references to time. To time. For example, in his song “The Secret of Life,” it goes as follows: “The secret of life is enjoying the pass[ing] of time.” There is wisdom in that, isn’t it?
The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.
Any fool can do it.
There ain’t nothing to it.
Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill,
But since we’re on our way down,
We might as well enjoy the ride.
Then the middle eight:
Now, the thing about time is that time isn’t really real.
It’s just your point of view.
How does it feel for you?
Einstein said he could never understand it at all.
Planets [spinning] through space,
The smile [on] your face.
Welcome to the human race.
“The thing about time is that time isn’t really real.” Not true! Before there was time, before there was anything, there was God.
Taylor, in his song that he wrote after his early visit to Las Vegas:
When I walk along your city streets
And look into your eyes,
When I see that simple sadness
That upon your [feature] lies (I see lies)…
Now, people live from day to day,
But they do not count the time.
[No,] they [do not] see the days slipping by,
And neither do I.
The “people live from day to day,” and “they do not count the time.” Why not? Because our finitude is a reminder of the fact of the brevity of life, of the reality of death, of the certainty of judgment, and of the opportunity of faith.
Do not listen to the voice in your head that says to you, “There’s really no hope for you”—the inference being, “You’ve missed the last bus when it comes to the discovery of all that Jesus has provided in terms of salvation. So there’s no hope for you. You missed it. Too much of your life has gone by.” Don’t listen to that voice in your head. And don’t listen to the voice in your head that says not “There’s no hope” but “There’s no hurry”—the voice that says to you, “You don’t have to listen to what Begg says. He says it all the time. He’ll be saying it for weeks and months to come. You don’t need to do anything about it today.” Let me tell you: there will be a last time for every journey. There will be a last opportunity for the response to the message of glorious good news—that this God who has revealed himself in the person of Jesus is the God of the ordinary, he’s the God of the nobody, he’s the God of the everyday. And today “is the day of salvation.” So, now—now—if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart.
Father, thank you that we’re able to go home and read our Bibles and see if these things are so. May your grace, mercy, and peace from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit shine upon us and bless us and keep us. For your name’s sake we ask it. Amen.
 See Psalm 119:18.
 See Titus 1:1–3.
 Horatius Bonar, “Not What I Am, O Lord, but What Thou Art” (1861). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Titus 2:11 (paraphrased). See also Titus 3:4–5.
 Titus 3:4 (ESV).
 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (1939; repr., London: Banner of Truth, 1963), 166.
 See Ephesians 1:11.
 Genesis 22:7–8 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 10:29, 31 (paraphrased).
 Elizabeth Cheney, “Overheard in an Orchard.”
 See Acts 18:24–28.
 1 Corinthians 3:6 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 12:21–26 (paraphrased).
 Colossians 4:14 (ESV).
 Elsie Duncan Yale, “There’s a Work for Jesus” (1912).
 Matthew 6:27 (ESV).
 Matthew 6:34 (ESV).
 Matthew 6:34 (KJV).
 Matthew 6:34 (NIV).
 Psalm 121:1–4 (NIV 1984).
 James Taylor, “Secret o’ Life” (1977).
 James Taylor, “Anywhere Like Heaven” (1970).
 2 Corinthians 6:2 (ESV).
 See Psalm 95:7–8; Hebrews 3:7–8, 15; 4:7.
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.