Ready for Good Works
Titus 1:15-16; 2:6-8; 11-15; 3:1,8,14
By Paul Robison

The following story comes from Spain.  There was an aqueduct in Segovia that was built in 109 A.D.  For eighteen hundred years, it carried cool water from the mountains to the hot and thirsty people in the city. Nearly sixty generations of people drank from its flow.  Then came another generation, a recent one, who said, "This aqueduct is so great a marvel that it ought to be preserved for our children, as a museum piece. We shall relieve it of its centuries-long labor."  They did so by laying down miles of modern iron pipes.  They gave the ancient bricks and mortar a reverent rest.  And the aqueduct quickly began to fall apart. The sun beating on the dry mortar caused it to crumble.  The bricks and stone sagged and threatened to fall.  What ages of service could not destroy, idleness began to disintegrate (Resource, Sept./ Oct., 1992, p. 4 on w--.sermonillustration.com).

We are like this aqueduct because we have been created to serve as well. Jesus said: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  And the apostle Paul said in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His [God's] workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them [or practice them].”  If we are failing to do good works, then idleness may be causing us to be destroyed too.

During this past year, our sermons have often been based on the New Testament book that we were reading together because it was found on our Bible reading schedule.  There is one book that was reserved until today, and that is the book of Titus.  This book was written by Paul in about 65 A.D.  A good two word summary would be: “Be godly!”  It was written to a young evangelist who was working on the island of Crete. This island is about 120 miles in length and sits about mid-way between Asia Minor and Greece in the Aegean Sea.

But more than the geography of the place, what were its people like in the first century?  To answer this question, we'll need to turn some secular sources for moment.  The main city on this island was called Gortyn, and at this place was a law code of about 600 lines which was chiseled by a sculptor around 450 B.C.  It reveals that the courts were not interested in justice, but in financial revenue.  So if you were rich enough, you could just about buy your way out of any crime.  Money had a big influence on all the Cretans.  One historian said this: “So much does the lust for wealth and underhanded gain prevail among the Cretans that they are the only people in the world among whom no stigma is attached to any sort of gain whatsoever” (Diodorus of Sicily).  Another historian wrote: “Cretans are devoted to riches as bees are to a honeycomb.”  Another historian said that the Cretans do everything in hope for cash (Livy). Crete's main industry was piracy, and another historian made this comment: “The Cretans both by land and sea are irresistible in ambushes, tricks played on the enemy, night attacks, and all petty operations which require fraud.”  A Roman politician said that the Cretans saw highway robbery as an honorable profession (Cicero).  Since Cretans were well known for their lying, you could accuse someone of lying by saying that they were beginning “to Cretanize” (Benjamin  www.westarkchurchofchrist .org/benjamin/2004/041114am.htm).

A geographer noted that homosexuality was held in high esteem by the Cretans during 1st century A.D.  Does this culture that was very materialistic, dishonest, and sensual sound like any culture you know?  The similarities are rather striking, aren't they?  Paul stresses something repeatedly in this letter, and that's the topic of our lesson this morning.  We’re going to look quickly at six passages which emphasize this same topic.

Now let's read 1:10-16: “For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision [Do you recall these same opponents in our study in Galatians?], whose mouths must be stopped, and who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain [sounds like charlatans had the same materialistic bent as other Cretans, doesn't it?].  One of them, a prophet of their own, said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.' [Paul is quoting a Cretan poet who wrote around 600 B.C.  With these words, Paul is not describing the false teachers, but he is describing the culture to which members can easily revert.]  This testimony is true. [Creatans are not known for their works, but for their laziness.] Therefore, rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound [or healthy] in THE faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth. [Titus, is to rebuke the members sharply to keep them from following these greedy charlatans.]  To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their minds and consciences are defiled. [“When the soul is unclean, it thinks all things are unclean” (Coffman).]  They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.”  Now Paul goes back to talking about the charlatans again.  Notice carefully what he says: They profess to know God, but in their works they deny Him.  They are not producing the fruit of a good tree.  This reminds us of Jesus' warning in Matthew 7:18: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. ... Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.”  Our works, our acts of serving, helping, and loving, really reveal which Master we are trying to serve.  And did you notice that Paul describes these men as being “disqualified for every good work.”  What an interesting phrase! These men are disqualified, unfit, or useless towards doing good works. It seems that these men are so internally impure that they have lost their capacity to distinguish between good and evil, and this is why they are disqualified.  They have cut themselves off from the Source of all good works, from Christ, so they no longer can do good works.  Someone has observed: “The [activity] of a man's life is the decisive test of his knowledge of God” (Kelly).  You see, this means that we can boast to others how well we know God and how well we understand His Word, but the real test is not so much what we're saying, it's what we’re doing!  An Italian member of the church once asked this question: “How do I reply when someone comes up to me and asks: “Well, the Catholics have many orphanages, and the Protestants have many hospitals and clinics, and the Salvation Army has their shelters and soup kitchens.  What are you Church of Christ folks known for?”  Have our hearts become so impure that we've disqualified ourselves from doing good works? Let's not be like these charlatans, but let's stay involved in doing good works!

Now let's look at 2:6-7: “Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded. In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine, showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned ...” [Paul essentially says, “Titus, in everything, you are to be an example that others, and especially those young men, can follow.  You worry about your good works, and then make sure your teaching is on target as well.”  The true story is told of a baby whose father was sent to prison.  “At 7, the boy was put in an orphanage. At 19, he had a car wreck that killed a friend.  He sold drugs to raise money for his legal fees, and the law caught up with him.  He was charged with a felony and sent to prison.  While in jail, he sobered up and decided to go to a preacher training school.  He eventually entered into ministry and decided that he wanted to find his father.  When they finally got together, their talk turned to prison life.  His father asked, 'Which prison were you in?'  He replied and that father was somewhat taken back.  He said: 'I helped build that prison.'  He had gone on from his prison term to become a welder and went from place to place building penitentiaries.  The son remarked: 'I was in a prison that my father built!'”  Titus was a minister, and he was to be out front doing good works in order to build up the church in Crete.  I too am a minister, and I wonder at times what kind of structure I am building.  Certainly, I need to be setting more of an example in doing good works.  I hope my ministry is helping to build a temple here, and not a prison.  If it starts seeming like a prison here, please come and tell me and encourage me to serve more. All ministers need to be living examples of doing good works!

 

Now let's look one at a wonderful passage in 2:11-14. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men [God's grace alone is what provides help for all to escape their slavery to sin], teaching us [Christianity is a religion of instruction and we saw that Jesus is its Master Teacher, and here's what it teaches us] denying ungodliness and worldly lusts [yes, it trains us to renounce this world's perversion and sensuality. In fact, one commentator said: This is 'where the rubber meets the road.' ... The true doctrine of Christ confronts the problems squarely, enabling the Christian, with divine help, to overcome” (Coffman).] We should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age [Perhaps Paul means living seriously and self-controlled towards ourselves, living righteously towards our neighbor, and living godly towards our Maker; by the way, there's our two word summary: Be godly!  You see, God's grace is the foundation for our behavior and conduct.  Maybe we could say it this way: “We live gracious lives because He first graced us!”  But we are not just focusing our eyes on this world; we do serve here, but our service is in light of something still yet more glorious.], looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ [the great reward of seeing Jesus face to face one day spurs us on in this world, and this is one of the clearest affirmations of Jesus' divinity anywhere in the New Testament since God and Savior refer to the same Being], who gave Himself for us [and did so while we were yet sinners; that's the great depth of Jesus' love], that He might redeem us from every lawless deed [Redeem is to pay a ransom in order to free one from slavery; Jesus paid the enormous price with His blood to free us from the life of lawlessness and recklessness that we used to live.  And He died for another purpose too.  Listen to this!] and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works! [He's cleansed us so that we are now seen as His special people, this is the same wording as found in Exodus 19 in referring to Jews as God's special people.  Now since He has rescued us, and paid the price to free us, and cleansed us, what impact should that have on our lives?  We are a people zealous for good works!]  You see, we're not doing good works to earn our salvation.  No, Jesus has given us our salvation as a gift, and our good works are just the result of our gratitude for what He has done!  Here's an illustration that might help us: “Some of the most [grabbing photos] of the World Trade Center tragedy were those that showed people covered with soot who had escaped just in time.  Many of them looked back upon the others that were left behind and actually felt guilty that they had been spared and not the others.  And many of them who were able were the first to wander back and look for others.  Those that escaped the collapsing buildings could never look upon those left behind with any sense of superiority.  They knew that they could have been crushed too.  Their own rescue or escape made them utterly willing and desirous to help others.  We must always live with an humble acknowledgment that we too have been rescued.  And therefore, with dust still on our souls, we look [around] for any that we can help.  We are [grateful] because we have been rescued and are keenly aware of those that have not escaped yet.  And obviously, we have no ground for pride, arrogance, or aloofness. … [We have] great sympathy with those that are still in jeopardy.” (Griffith).  Christians are prepared to do good works because God and Christ have already done so many great works for them!

Now let's read 3:1: “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work.”  Titus was to remind the Cretan brethren of these things.  In addition to living in submission and obedience to the local authorities, they are also to be ready to get involved in every good work!  They were not to be lazy as those in their culture.  One good brother shares this insight: “... here is ample encouragement for Christians to engage in every good work.  Here is their authority for taking part in any worthy work.  May a Christian run for public office, take part in political campaigns, or serve in positions of community trust?  The answer must be affirmative” (Coffman).  Another commentator wrote that this passage emphasizes being ready for “activities of whatever kind which go with good citizenship” (Kelly).  One congregation dedicates one Sunday a year to taking some time to honor their local public fire and police officials.  And there's another congregation that does the same things for their public school teachers. In both these congregations, they not only thank these people for their services but also they pray that God will be with them as they perform their jobs.  Are these Christians demonstrating good citizenship and appreciation with their good works?  Christians should be ready for every good work!

Now let's read 3:4-8: “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared [Notice that it all starts with God; He's the source], not by works of righteousness which we had done [“God's unmerited grace is the source of all salvation, and all the good works of a hundred lifetimes could never earn or merit the saving grace of God” (Coffman).], but according to His mercy, He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit [God saved us. How?  Through a washing that brings about new birth!  That sure sounds like baptism, doesn't it?  And through a renewal brought about by God's Holy Spirit.  A gift that God gives to each person at their baptism (Acts 2:38)!  Now how does God give us His Holy Spirit?  Look at verse 6.] Whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior [God is not stingy when He gives us His indwelling Spirit, and Jesus is involved with this gift as well], that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life!  We are now righteous in God's eye because of our union with His perfect Son, and we have become heirs to the greatest inheritance that any human being can receive—everlasting life in the hereafter!  When did we become an heir to this gift?  One commentator responds: “'Then and there, in and by baptism, and in and by the Spirit bestowed in baptism (we) actually became heirs of eternal life.'  The bestowal of such high privilege and rich benefit is actual, genuine, and real” (Coffman)!  Now with all that God has done and provided for us, what does He expect in return?  Look at verse 8 once again: “This a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who believe in God should be careful to maintain good works.  These things are good and profitable to men.” Yes, even the lazy Cretans would have a hard time arguing with those industrious Christians who were out making their world a better place in which to live!  God wants us to continually be about out doing good works!  “[Someone] has written, ‘Good works are not the ground of salvation, but they are its necessary fruit and evidence’" [Stott].  The good deeds that Paul speaks of, is the kind of behavior toward those in the church and the world that demonstrates the love, mercy, grace, kindness, patience, and humility of Christ.  Jesus Christ went about doing good for others.  He came to serve, not to be served.  That is the spirit of good deeds, serving others for the sake of Christ.  It can take on multiple dimensions and approaches. … Believers will be strengthened and unbelievers will get a clearer picture of the power of the gospel through your good deeds” (Newton)!  Our ladies are to be commended for a new service project that they're beginning.  Sister Haynie saw a need, shared it, others got on the bandwagon, and now they are going to be touching others lives in the name of Christ!  To God be the glory for hearts like this that desire to good works in our community, and may there be more initiatives like this!  Christians should maintain good works!

Now look at verses 13-14: “Send Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their journey with haste, that they may lack nothing. And let our people learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.”  One commentator had this to say: “The two [Zenas and Apollos] have evidently left Paul and are traveling via Crete to an unknown destination; they are almost certainly the bearers of the letter. The request to help them on their way and see that they lack nothing conveys a vivid impression of the generous hospitality shown in the apostolic age by the little Christian communities to brethren journeying from one church to another” (Kelley).  One translator paraphrased this passage: “Our people must really learn to make themselves practically useful, [especially when urgent needs present themselves]” (Stott).  Oh, and did you catch that if we don't do good deeds, what will happen to us? We'll become unfruitful.  Yes, there are those fruits showing up again that Jesus warned us about: “Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.” This passage shows us that our good works can involve meeting urgent needs (3:14)!  For those members this year who went to Paragould, Mena, and Morrilton, for those who helped to pick up trash in our community, for those who conducted home Bible studies and knocked on doors, for those who gave to help an Italian preacher and his family, and for those of you who did countless other good works in Jesus' name, “Well done, good and faithful servants!”  With God's help, let's try to meet more urgent needs during the next year!

“The great violinist, Nicolo Paganini, willed his marvelous violin to Genoa -- the city of his birth -- but only on one condition -- that the instrument never be played upon again.  It was an unfortunate condition, for it is a peculiarity of wood that as long as it is used and handled, it shows little wear.  As soon as it is discarded, it begins to decay.  The exquisite, mellow-toned violin became worm-eaten in its beautiful case, valueless except as a relic.  That moldering instrument is a reminder that a life without service to others loses its vibrancy as well” (Bits & Pieces, 25 June 1992 w--.sermonillustrations.com).  Are you doing good works in Jesus' name or have you become a crumbling aqueduct and a decaying violin?  Let God help you get active once again.  If you haven't had the washing of regeneration, the renewal of God's Holy Spirit, and the blessing of eternal life, they all can be yours if you will determine to enter the waters of baptism now and be immersed in Jesus' blessed name.  Make that first step toward a transformed life filled with good works!