Titus’s Charge

Paul, in his letter to Titus, charges Titus to finish establishing the church in Crete:

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— Titus 1:5 English Standard Version (ESV)

As I read the letter, I was struck by how often Paul urged Titus and the people in his congregations to love and good works. Especially, good works.

After speaking about those who are insubordinate, Paul admonishes:

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, [and] unfit for any good work. Titus 1:15-16 (ESV)

After describing characteristics those in the congregation should display, he admonishes Titus to:

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Titus 2:7-8 (ESV)

After a nutshell declaration of our sanctification:

[Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ] who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:14 (ESV)

Prior to a description of our justification:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:1-2 (ESV)

And again, as a bookend to the aforementioned description:

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. Titus 3:8 (ESV)

And finally:

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. Titus 3:13-14 (ESV)

Condensing what Paul says about good works:

Good works are acts done for the benefit of others.

Of course, good works don’t save you. They demonstrate your faith in Him.

We were created for good works so let’s go do them.

Heraklion (Crete, Greece): basilica of St Titus

Heraklion (Crete, Greece): basilica of St Titus, 12 June 2009, Marc Ryckaert (MJJR), Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me

How often do we say: “I’m sorry; please forgive me?” Rarely, is my guess, based on how often I hear it. I suspect that no longer seeking forgiveness is the result of permissiveness seeping into what used to be common practice almost everywhere. That’s not to say that these words aren’t still necessary for good relations with others.

Most of us know that my standard is the scriptures, and specifically, in this case, the Gospels. Here, we see how the Lord’s disciples tried to evade this very burden; but He didn’t let them do it:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22 English Standard Version (ESV)

And

“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Luke 17:3-6 (ESV)

We’re all prone to doubt others’ motives when they keep repeating the same offenses and “seeking forgiveness” time and again. We’re not to be punching bags, after all. However, the Gospel of Matthew lays out a clear process of reconciliation for us to follow:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.

First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)

And

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)

So, if they refuse to listen to the church and continue to persist in their sin then, as the Apostle Paul states, do not associate with them:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (ESV)

Until, perhaps, the Lord may grant them repentance, or even salvation, if that’s what’s lacking.

Now such a reconciliation process should not be an occasion for gloating; rather, it should give us pause to reflect on our own behavior. We should be humble toward one another:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV)

And this sacrificial love (i.e., agape) is, for the professing church, the mark by which we are to be known:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 (ESV)

We have to remember right relationships require humility and not anger:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:19-21 (ESV)

To do this, we must exercise self-control:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, Titus 2:11-12 (ESV)

We must make our actions agree with the words we profess:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18 (ESV)

So, then, let us press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus.

Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

The Return of the Prodigal Son, circa 1668, Rembrandt (1606–1669), Public Domain in the US

God Is Testing Us

If you’ve attended some North American churches, you’ve experienced the winds of doctrine. If you’ve read, listened to, or watched the news, you know the alarm that current events bring. Some of the aforementioned offer other gods to serve. To these things, the word of God says:

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. Deuteronomy 13:1-4 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin has a lot to say about verse three:

For the Lord your God [tests] you. …He [God] designedly brings the truly pious to the test, in order to distinguish them from the hypocrites; and this takes place, when they constantly persevere in the true faith against the assaults of their temptations, and do not fall from their standing. The Apostle declares the same thing also with regard to heresies, which…must needs arise in the Church, “that they which are approved may be made manifest.” (1 Corinthians 11:19).

Wherefore we must not be impatient, nor murmur against God, if He chooses that the firmness of our faith, which is more precious than silver or gold, should be tried in the fiery furnace; but it behooves us humbly to acquiesce in His justice and wisdom.

If any should still object, that, since the weakness of mankind is only too notorious, God deals with them somewhat unkindly when He subjects them to these dangerous temptations, an answer may be readily given. I acknowledge indeed that, since our carnal sense is tender, this may seem hard, and inconsistent with the fatherly kindness of God; for, surely, when a miracle presents itself before our eyes, it is difficult not to submit to it.

But, since the temptation injures none but those whose impiety, which it lays bare, was already convicted and condemned, while the sincere worshippers of God are preserved free from injury, how unjust would it be to take away from God this liberty of plucking the mask from treachery and deceit?

Whosoever loves God with a pure heart is armed with the invincible power of the Divine Spirit, that he should not be ensnared by falsehoods; God thus rewards true and not fictitious piety, so that whosoever are of a true heart, should be protected by his faithful guardianship, and never feel the deadly wound.

Meanwhile, why should He not devote to just destruction those who willfully desire to perish? Nor need we be surprised at what He elsewhere declares, that it is He who deceives false prophets, that by them he may inflict just vengeance on the reprobate, who eagerly go in search of their destructive deceits.

Since, then, all the good are sure to overcome, so that the wiles of Satan are to them nothing but the exercises of their virtue; why should God be blamed, because the malice of Satan and of the wicked prepares for them [i.e., the good] the grounds of their victory and triumph?

Only let us cleave to this axiom, that all, who heartily love and reverence God, will always be sure and safe under the protection of God. It is true, I confess, that integrity of heart is a peculiar gift of God and the fruit of His secret election; but, since their own consciences reproach the reprobate with their contempt of God, their hypocrisy, pride, or depravity, the blame of the iniquity that dwells in them is unjustly laid upon God.

This, then, is sufficient to refute all carnal and perverse reasoning and blasphemies, viz., that whosoever are right in heart are guarded by the aid of the Spirit from the poisonous influence of Satan, and that no one perishes against his will.

And thus we come to the conclusion, that all who, having once seemed to embrace the doctrines of salvation, afterwards reject and deny them, had never possessed anything more than the disguise of a false profession, because, if they sincerely loved God, they would remain firm in heart in the midst of all things tending to disturb them.

It will indeed sometimes happen that the pious also will fall into errors, and will be seduced by the wicked; but it will only be in some respects and for a time; so that they never fall from the foundation, and presently recover themselves, [reformed].

And then, it must also be observed, they pay the penalty of their negligence, or instability, because they have not been sufficiently attentive to God’s Word, or have not sufficiently devoted themselves to religious pursuits.

Hence we further gather, that while many turn away professedly from the doctrines of religion, on the ground of their seeing so many contentions and disputes to distract them, it is a mere vain excuse to cover their profane neglect or hatred of God.

It is true that there are great discrepancies of opinion, and very warm contentions; but whosoever in a teachable and gentle spirit shall seek after truth, and shall give himself over and submit himself as the disciple of God, he will never be without the spirit of judgment and discretion.

But, since some listen disdainfully, some supremely despise it, some wish that God’s Word were altogether destroyed, others think lightly of it, the saying of the Prophet holds good, “that that die, let it die;” (Zechariah 11:9) and what Paul after him declares, “But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.” (1 Corinthians 14:38).

Since it has always been the case that God’s truth was never hidden from anybody, except him whose mind the God of this world has blinded. (2 Corinthians 4:4). And this especially takes place when light has shone from heaven, which suffers none to go astray but those who shut their eyes.

The remedy, therefore, is immediately subjoined, “Ye shall walk after the Lord your God;” as if Moses had said, it was sufficient for their preservation, that they had God to guide them in the right way, who had already prevented them by His gratuitous bounty.

But, since numbers respond not to God’s call, and regard Him not when He points out the way to them, the words “and fear him” are added; because “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10).

Finally, Moses again inculcates that, if men are only resolved to obey God, they will be sufficiently taught by His voice what they ought to do. By the word “cleave,” perseverance is denoted, and he indirectly reproves the instability of those who forsake and forget God, and go astray after empty imaginations.

As Moses exhorts us in Deuteronomy 13:4:

“You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.”

So, along with Mary, speaking of her son, the Lord Jesus Christ, I say: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Marriage at Cana, (1561), Jacopo Tintoretto (1518–1594)

Marriage at Cana, (1561), Jacopo Tintoretto (1518–1594), public domain in the United States

Assurance

After I was saved from the death penalty that hangs over us all, I memorized a different translation of this verse very early on:

For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6:10-12 English Standard Version (ESV)

This is a key verse of assurance. Self-sacrifice in service to our brothers and sisters is both a marker and builder of our confidence in His promise of eternal life. And that service is not directed only to those professing faith, but those especially; while not forgetting our duty for service to all.

Every day shows us how futile this world is. Our faithful actions can show us to have a different destiny.

What does Calvin say about the passage here and here?

For God is not unrighteous, etc. These words signify as much as though he had said, that from good beginnings he hoped for a good end.

But here a difficulty arises, because he seems to say that God is bound by the services of men: “I am persuaded,” he says, “as to your salvation, because God cannot forget your works.” He seems thus to build salvation on works, and to make God a debtor to them…

…God does not pay us a debt, but performs what he has of himself freely promised, and thus performs it, inasmuch as he pardons us and our works; nay, he looks not so much on our works as on his own grace in our works. It is on this account that he forgets not our works, because he recognizes himself and the work of his Spirit in them…

…God is righteous in recompensing works, because he is true and faithful: and he has made himself a debtor to us, not by receiving anything from us; but as Augustine says, by freely promising all things.

And labor of love, etc. By this he intimates that we are not to spare labor, if we desire to perform duty towards our neighbors; for they are not only to be helped by money, but also by counsel, by labor, and in various other ways. Great [diligence], then, must be exercised, many troubles must be undergone, and sometimes many dangers must be encountered. Thus let him who would engage in the duties of love, prepare himself for a life of labor…

By saying that they had ministered and were still ministering, he commended their perseverance; which in this particular was very necessary; for there is nothing to which we are more prone than to weariness in well doing. Hence it is, that though many are found ready enough to help their brethren, yet the virtue of constancy is so rare, that a large portion soon relax as though their warmth had cooled.

But what ought constantly to stimulate us is even this one expression used by the apostle, that the love shown to the saints is shown towards the name of the Lord; for he intimates that God holds himself indebted to us for whatever good we do to our neighbors, according to that saying,

“What you have done to one of the least of these, you have done to me,” (Matthew 25:40)

and there is also another,

“He that gives to the poor lends to the Lord.” (Proverbs 19:17).

And we desire, etc…“You have made,” he says, “your love evident by many acts of kindness; it remains, however, that your faith should correspond with it; you have [diligently] labored not to be wanting in your duties to men; but with no less earnestness it behooves you to make progress in faith, so as to manifest before God its unwavering and full certainty.”

Now, by these words the Apostle shows that there are two parts in Christianity which correspond with the two tables of the Law…Let us then remember, that the life of a Christian is not complete in all its parts, unless we attend to faith as well as to love.

To the full assurance of hope, or, to the certainty of hope, etc. As they who professed the Christian faith were distracted by various opinions, or were as yet entangled in many superstitions, he bids them to be so fixed in firm faith, as no longer to vacillate nor be driven here and there, suspended between alternate winds of doubts. This injunction is, however, applicable to all; for, as the truth of God is unchangeably fixed, so faith, which relies on him, when it is true, ought to be certain, surmounting every doubt. It is a full assurance, πληροφορία, an undoubting persuasion, when the godly mind settles it with itself, [which] it is not right to call in question what God, who cannot deceive or lie, has spoken…

But followers, or imitators, etc. To sloth he opposes imitation; it is then the same thing as though he said, that there was need of constant alacrity of mind; but it had far more weight, when he reminded them, that the fathers were not made partakers of the promises except through the unconquerable firmness of faith; for examples convey to us a more impressive idea of things…

Faith and patience, etc. What is meant is, a firm faith, which has patience as its companion. For faith is what is, chiefly required; but as many who make at first a marvelous display of faith, soon fail, he shows that the true evidence of that faith which is not fleeting and evanescent, is endurance. By saying that the promises were obtained by faith, he takes away the notion of merits; and still more clearly by saying that they came by “inheritance”; for we are in no other way made heirs but by the right of adoption.

Beautiful Scandalous Night from Flap Your Wings by The Choir

The Upper Hand – Bernhardt Writer

Some people always have to have the upper hand. My father was one of those people. He would do whatever it took to gain an advantage over those he met. He would be proper, humble, a terror, or a fool if it would give him power and control over others. Fundamentally, he both disrespected and feared them at the same time. He was an expert at what he did and I was a rebellious teen who rejected his ways (by God’s grace).

Such recollections remind me of the scripture:

And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Mark 12:38-40 English Standard Version (ESV)

These prominent men displayed unwarranted pride and feigned humility as a cover for their real motive: greed. Further, we have:

But understand this: that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)

My father was such a one. He said he took communion because he was merely hungry:

But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all… 2 Timothy 3:9 (ESV)

It saddens me, even today, that he did not repent while he had the chance. But such things should not characterize our behavior:

But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 1 Peter 4:15 (ESV)

In a note to this verse, the New American Standard translation renders meddler literally as: one who oversees others’ affairs. NAS adds troublesome to modify the noun in case we would misinterpret it. It’s the attitude, so prevalent today, of: “I know better than you,” put into action.

This should not be our way. Instead:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)

Even further:

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. John 13:12-17 (ESV) [emphasis added]

I’ve always heard the Lord Jesus’s statement in John 13:8:

“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me,”

as a rebuke to Peter’s:

“You shall never wash my feet.”

But what if it were a plea?

Listening to good doctrine (as important as we think that is) is not enough to soften our hard hearts toward others. Or as one of our poets wrote: “I need love…to melt the frozen sea inside me.”

‘I Need Love’ by Sam Phillips – performed by Sixpence None the Richer (with lyrics)

But, exhibiting genuine humility in all circumstances that proceeds from a changed, crushed, and submissive heart may just be our duty.

How They Love One Another

Lately, I’ve been struck by the distance between my actions and my words. Maybe you have, too? It’s cliché to consider resolutions this time of year. However, resolutions that we set for ourselves are sure to fail. Ask God, with me, that our actions and words align this year. In that spirit, let us consider:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 English Standard Version (ESV)

So we do not go far astray, let’s see what Calvin has to say about the verse:

A new commandment I give you. …In order to impress more deeply, therefore, on the minds of his disciples the doctrine of brotherly love, Christ recommends it on the ground of novelty; as if he had said, “I wish you continually to remember this commandment, as if it had been a law but lately made.”

…And how necessary this admonition was, we learn by daily experience; for, since it is difficult to maintain brotherly love, men lay it aside, and contrive, for themselves, new methods of worshipping God, and Satan suggests many things for the purpose of occupying their attention. Thus, by idle employments, they in vain attempt to mock God, but they deceive themselves.

By not following Christ’s command, it’s as if we seek to worship Him in ways not commanded.

That you love one another. Brotherly love is, indeed, extended to strangers, for we are all of the same flesh, and are all created after the image of God; but because the image of God shines more brightly in those who have been regenerated, it is proper that the bond of love, among the disciples of Christ, should be far more close.

In God brotherly love seeks its cause, from him it has its root, and to him it is directed. Thus, in proportion as it perceives any man to be a child of God, it embraces him with the greater warmth and affection.

Besides, the mutual exercise of love cannot exist but in those who are guided by the same Spirit. It is the highest degree of brotherly love, therefore, that is here described by Christ; but we ought to believe, on the other hand, that, as the goodness of God extends to the whole world, so we ought to love all, even those who hate us.

The love we owe the brethren will spill over to even those who oppose our beliefs and conduct.

As I have loved you. He holds out his own example, not because we can reach it, for we are at a vast distance behind him, but that we may, at least, aim at the same end.

By this all men will know. Christ again confirms what he had formerly said, that they who mutually love one another have not been in vain taught in his school; as if he had said, “Not only will you know that you are my disciples, but your profession will also be acknowledged by others to be sincere.”

…Nor is it superfluous that Christ dwells so largely on this subject. There is no greater agreement between the love of ourselves, and the love of our neighbor, than there is between fire and water. Self love keeps all our senses bound in such a manner that brotherly love is altogether banished; and yet we think that we fully discharge our duty, because Satan has many enticements to deceive us, that we may not perceive our faults.

Whoever, then, desires to be truly a disciple of Christ, and to be acknowledged by God, let him form and direct his whole life to love the brethren, and let him pursue this object with diligence.

This is the essence of what I desire for myself, the fellowship I attend, and the Church in America and the world:

“Not only will you know that you are my disciples, but your profession will also be acknowledged by others to be sincere.”

Philadelphia [Brotherly Love] from Pennsylvania Building

Philadelphia [Brotherly Love] from Pennsylvania Building, No known copyright restrictions, OSU Special Collections & Archives : Commons @ Flickr Commons