This exercise is the final installment of a series we started at Grace with our leadership while I served as interim there. For those who are not pastors or deacons, but who lead in some capacity in any arena of life, these books are a tremendous resource in Scripture. I encourage all of those who would be called leaders or who oversee to take advantage of these notes geared specifically toward leadership or roles with much responsibility.
Paul broadens his focus in reminding Titus to remind them (men and women, young and old, and bondservants) to be subject to rulers, authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. Not only are the leaders of the church to make these applications as they do the ministry of the word, but these things should be evident as leaders strive to themselves live according to the glorious gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is the Gospel that calls us into such a way of living. How can we have accepted the Gospel of Christ and not live in this way fully within the very Gospel that we have received? If the Gospel is a gospel of grace, not works, how can we not share with other wretched sinners the very grace that God shows to the whole world, especially His people?
Paul reminds Titus, and the church at Crete, that they were once the very thing that they were so quick to condemn and judge and malign. That is the very thing God rescues people from. If we do not show the grace of God, how can we possibly hope to see the salvific work of God displayed through us? We can’t. We must be humble because we are those things that we condemn by nature. God, in His grace, saved us even though we were undeserving. This has to be the starting point and returning point at each juncture in our ministries. We truly are the least of all people, saved and raised by God alone, undeserving and never adequate. If we are not on our faces before our Lord, knowing that we don’t deserve to bow at His throne, let alone serve Him in any way, then we are not going to lead healthy and beneficial churches. We are the worst of sinners, so we are able to be a benefit to other sinners.
Our instruction, like Titus’, is to speak these things confidently- a genuine Gospel of grace and its application in every arena of life. Why? What does it accomplish? First, the Gospel and its correct application results in the people of God being careful to engage in those good deeds that have been prepared for them. Second, those good things work together to profit the people of God (and all people in some way).
For those who fail to recognize the depths of God’s grace and who get caught up in worthless controversies and disputes, they are self-condemned. After a first and second warning, they are to be rejected. The true Gospel correctly applied dissuades God’s people from creating factions, from arguing about outlandish extrusions of God’s explicit word, from thinking too highly of themselves, and from causing strife in the body. Anyone who has any leadership role in the body should, by the grace of God alone, be moved by the truth of the Gospel, not perverting in into any for or works-righteousness or to any degree of works-righteousness for any reason.
The temptation is that we are so quick to create a works-righteousness even in a church body where we preach the doctrine of grace so that we might protect ourselves from sin. In this, we become hypocrites- proclaimers of grace and at the same time arbiters of standardization. Our temptation is to think that this is the way to keep people safe. This is how we keep the church pure. Suddenly we are safeguarding the message of grace by practicing something that does not resemble grace at all.
Remember verse 8? Speak the genuine Gospel of grace and apply it rightly and it accomplishes good deeds in and through the people of God. The church is not ours to safeguard. No, the word is living and active. It does not return void. We are a people who not only speak grace but embody it with our entire being. We can love because Christ first loved us. Yes, even church discipline becomes a very graceful process in light of the Gospel.
The final encouragement and my conclusion to this note for our leaders. Paul stated that “our people must also learn to engage in good deeds… so that they will not be unfruitful.” We, and our congregations, can be entirely unfruitful. I hope you don’t misread that. God is always fruitful. He will accomplish everything that He has set forth to accomplish. We will either be fruitful or not. How do we live fruitfully in Christ? Throughout the pastoral letters, we were constantly reminded of one single, most important thing- the proclamation of the genuine Gospel of grace. It is the giving in to another gospel that incapacitates us and cripples us.
How many evangelistic events do churches have and still there is little growth? How many youths were involved in entertaining youth groups 15 years ago who have now forsaken the organized church altogether? We can busy ourselves with much that benefits us not. If we want to be fruitful, we will preach the genuine Gospel to the whole world. I would rather do less and bear much fruit than do much and merely spin in circles. This Gospel is the Gospel of grace and everything that would imply. It is not a gospel of works or worldly prosperity or anything other than grace. We are depraved and wretched, yet God saves for the good of His people.