This is an edited version of a sermon on the Apostle Paul’s epistle to Titus preached in the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge.
We are coming to the end of our summer sermon series on the Apostle Paul’s letter to Titus. As we have seen so far in this gem of a New Testament letter, Paul had left his fellow Christian worker Titus on the Greek island of Crete with a job to do. They had together preached the good news of God on the island in the 60s AD and people by God’s grace had become believers in the Lord Jesus and new local churches formed. Paul then left Crete for evangelistic work elsewhere and gave Titus the task of appointing leaders for the new churches in the various towns on the island.
We see in verses 9-11 of Titus chapter 3 how Paul reprises his command to Titus to deal with the scourge of false teaching on Crete, teaching that claimed to be Christian but was in spiritual reality Judaism dressed up as Christianity.
In his calling to uphold the ‘truth that leads to godliness’ (Titus 1v1 – NIV), Titus’s No had to be as good as his Yes. False teaching must be refuted and false teachers firmly dealt with for sake of gospel truth and for the sake of God’s people.
And then we see the importance of God’s people doing good deeds also reprised in these final remarks. In verse 14, Paul reiterates his concern about the behaviour of the Christians on Crete: ‘Our people (our Christian people belonging to local churches) must devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.’
Paul was thoroughly vindicated in this concern because one of the reasons why Christianity spread so rapidly throughout the Roman Empire in the first four centuries AD was because of the practical good Christian people did, especially for the poor, the sick and the weak. The concern Christian people showed to people in dire need really did mark them out from the self-serving pagans around them.
Christianity spread in the Roman Empire because Christian people by God’s grace did devote themselves to good deeds and did provide for the daily necessities of others in need and did lead lives that commended the gospel message, the good news of God’s salvation for all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘the truth that leads to godliness’.
In our day and age, we as Christians also have many opportunities in our daily lives to do good to people around us and so commend the gospel. Surely one of the evidences of real Christianity that would convict us in a courtroom if we were put on trial for our faith is a practical concern for the growing number of lonely people in our increasingly selfish society. A willingness to offer friendship and hospitality to isolated people who find themselves without the family and friendship networks that we may have is surely one evidence of real Christian faith.
There are many ways we as Christian people can do good for all kinds of people whom God has created in his image. But it is very important in the light of Paul’s teaching in this letter to be clear on what should be our motivation for doing good.
Let’s rule out two possible motivations. We don’t do good as Christians to make ourselves look good. That can be a motivation for certain types of public do-gooding – people wanting others to think how lovely and caring they are. That is a self-serving motivation for doing good.
We are to do good as Christian people and as a church family because it pleases God to do good and not just any god, but the true God, the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, ‘who gave himself to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good’, to quote the Apostle Paul in chapter 2v14 of this letter. We don’t do good to look good.
Secondly, we don’t do good as Christians to earn God’s salvation. Paul is clear in this letter, to quote him in chapter 3v4, that ‘when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy’. We don’t do good to earn salvation – we can’t earn salvation because we are too sinful to earn our way into God’s favour – we do good because we love to please the God who has forgiven us for all our sins and has saved us for loving eternity with him through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We don’t do good to earn our way into God’s good books.
So, as we conclude this summer series, let’s hold on to the importance of ‘sound doctrine’, to use Paul’s term for healthy biblical teaching (Titus 1v9), in our church family. Sound doctrine is vital to the God-pleasing life. It is the truth that leads to godliness.
And let’s hold on to the importance of our calling to do good as Christians for the people around us, Christian and non-Christian, not to make ourselves look good or to earn salvation, but because we love to please the God who has saved us from sin and death and hell and has made us his precious people called to commend his gospel message to the world.