Christ Covenant Church
Text – Titus 3:1-2
Submit and Serve
Any simplistic Christian response to politics—the claim that we shouldn’t be involved in politics, or that we should “take back our country for Jesus”—is inadequate. In each society, time, and place, the form of political involvement has to be worked out differently, with the utmost faithfulness to the Scripture, but also the greatest sensitivity to culture, time, and place. — Tim Keller
As God’s Spirit penetrates people’s hearts through the gospel, those people become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). They take their faith into every sphere of life, including the workplace, politics, economics, education, and the arts. And in all these realms, they seek to glorify God … But their incipient obedience leads to significant changes in society. — John Frame
As you know we have been treating the Book of Titus as a kind of blueprint that shows us how to build the household of God.
A few weeks ago we laid the foundation of our common faith, which is Christ our Savior.
Then we started construction on that foundation. We have seen that the grace of God requires every member of the household of God to devote themselves to doing good works.
As we transition from construction phase to decoration phase I want to remind you that grace requires us to live in such a way that we might adorn the teaching of God our Savior in all things. So, as far as it depends on us, we must make the teaching about God our Savior attractive to those inside the church, and to those outside the church.
Thus far we have focused our attention on how we should relate to those who live inside the household of God, those in the church.
Today we will focus our attention on how we should relate to those who live outside the household of God, those in the world.
Our text for today’s sermon is Titus 3:1-2. The word of God reads:
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.
May God add his blessing to the reading, hearing, and preaching of his word. And may he grant us the grace to obey it.
I don’t know if you picked up on this, but in this text, Paul touches the proverbial third rail. He commits the cardinal sin of pastoral ministry — he dares to mix politics and religion in the same conversation.
And he charged Titus — and by extension other gospel ministers — to do the same.
This teaching was/is more far relevant than we realize, not only for Christians in Crete, but also for Christians in America.
Titus is called to “remind” Christians at Crete of their responsibilities as Christian citizens, of how grace expects them to relate to governing rulers and grassroots people.
In other words, Paul calls Titus to enter the fray and mix politics and religion.
No problem, right?!
Keep in mind that the Christian church at Crete was embedded in the Roman Empire, in a culture was infamous for its deceit, violence, and moral decadence.
One of their own poets said that “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”
One commentator explains, “The Cretans were notoriously turbulent and quarrelsome and impatient of all authority. Polybius, the Greek historian, said of them that they were constantly involved in “insurrections, murders and internecine wars.” Moreover, from the writings of Polybius and of Plutarch it appears that the Cretans were fretting and fuming under the Roman yoke. It is possible, therefore, that this circumstance had something to do with the precise nature of the present ‘reminder’ [that Titus was instructed to give the churches at Crete].” (https://bible.org/seriespage/instruction-live-good-citizens-world-titus-31-8)
The churches at Crete were being built in a difficult context under difficult circumstances. So it’s no wonder that there was so much to straighten out and finish up.
With everything else that had to be done, Titus was called to “remind” the Cretan Christians of their responsibilities as citizens.
There are only two verses, so how bad can it be?
(This oughta be fun! Here goes nuttin’.)
We will consider two points: One, how grace expects us to adorn the gospel for governing rulers (vs 1). Two, how grace expects us to adorn the gospel for grassroots people (vs 2).
+ HOW GRACE REQUIRES US TO ADORN THE GOSPEL FOR GOVERNING RULERS – 3:1
In context, the saving grace of God is what drives us to be zealous for good works. Good works include things like Submitting yourself to rulers. Obeying superiors. Preparing for all good works.
This is one of those things that is easier said than done; in some ways it cuts agains the grain of our nature, and that is why we need God’s grace to help us do these good works.
The first readers of the letter knew by experience that the world was/is often a hostile environment for Christians. Their political rulers and religious leaders often unleashed violent persecutions against Christians.
At Crete the churches were troubled by legalistic Jews who were overturning whole households with a perverted and corrupted gospel. And Christians throughout the Roman Empire were being mocked, slandered, and persecuted by Caesar, kings, governors, and citizens.
Claudius forced Jews to leave Rome during a famine (Acts 18:2). And a few years later Nero burned Christians at Rome.
So, if you think it’s hard to submit yourself to your political rulers in a free democratic society, imagine how much harder it must have been for Christians in the Roman Empire to submit themselves to Caesar and all the governors and rulers under him and over them!
The world is often a hostile place for Christians. Even in our time submission and service can be difficult.
We can see that clearly in the Middle East where Christians are being systematically persecuted unto death by Islamic extremists and terrorists. And we are starting to feel the pressure more and more in post-Christian America where Christians are often provoked by liberals or played like pawns by conservatives.
Thankfully, the apostles of Christ give us a gospel-shaped way to deal with all this. They give us a grace-based perspective on the role of government and our responsibility towards governments.
In the Book of Romans, written to Christians living in Caesar’s front yard, the apostle Paul explained that
Every person must be subject to the governing authorities. Why? Because there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. Why? For rulers are….the servant of God—an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore, one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath, but also for the sake of conscience. (Rom 13:1-5)
In a letter to Christians in exile, scattered throughout the Roman Empire, the apostle Peter said:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors. Why? They are sent by the Lord to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Pet 2:13-17)
The Reformers also weighed in on the matter of Church and State.
Calvin, who lived at an extremely dangerous and violent time in history, when all people everywhere lived under the rule of kings and the authority of magistrates, wrote:
Government, which is established by God, ought to be so highly regarded by us as to honor even tyrants when they are in power [because] some kind of government, however deformed and corrupt it may be, is still better and more beneficial than anarchy. (Commentary on 1 Peter, p 83)
The Westminster Divines also spoke about the Christians’ responsibilities towards governing rulers in the Westminster Confession of Faith. It reads:
I. God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defence and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers.
IV. It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience’ sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, does not make void the magistrates’ just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them.
So you see that by the gospel of grace, we are called to submit ourselves to our rulers and superiors, and obey them.
In Greek word for submissive means “to put yourself under.” To submit yourself to rulers and authorities is an act of the will; a decision to put yourself under their authority.
That means we must submit ourselves to the POTUS, the Governor of our State, and others in authority—the persons, not just the positions.
That does not mean we are required to like, much less agree with, all their principles, policies, and procedures. It does mean we are required to apply the gospel to our politics and policies and practices.
It is God’s will for kings to reign, and governors to rule, and it is God’s will for everyone under their authority to be submissive and obedient to them.
They have their responsibilities and we have ours.
And our responsibilities do not include rebellion or involve revolution.
Does this mean that resistance is always wrong and never right? That’s a great question for your Missional Communities to discuss.
For what it’s worth, here’s my brief answer: No—not necessarily.
Occasionally, the apostle Paul was caught between a rock and hard place. Sometimes he was able to obey both God and man; but sometimes he was forced to obey either God or man.
[[Note: When Paul went to Philippi (Acts 16:35-39) he was arrested, stripped, and beaten publicly, and then put in stocks in the inner prison. The next day when the magistrates ordered Paul to be released he resisted on legal grounds. Why? The magistrates had ordered Paul — who was a Roman citizen — to be punished and thrown in prison without granting him a fair trial. (Paul flashed his passport and played his Roman citizenship card strategically, especially when it served to advance the cause of the gospel.) When he pointed that out to them they were afraid and apologized. Then they escorted him from the city. The point is that Paul resisted the rulers and authorities, yet he spoke respectfully to them even when he knew they were in the wrong.
When Paul went to Jerusalem (Acts 23:2-5) he was put on trial for doing gospel ministry in the temple. As was his custom, he was trying to become all things to all men, so to those under the Law he became like one under the Law. He participated in a Jewish purification rite, paid the expenses for some Jewish men to get their heads shaved, and planned to offer sacrifices at the temple for each one. But, as it often happens when you try to become all things to all men, someone misinterpreted his actions and everything blew up in his face. So, he was arrested and appeared before the Jewish Ruling Council. And as he started to make his defense the high priest commanded someone to strike him on the mouth. In response Paul said, “God is going to strike you — you white washed wall!” Then someone pointed out that Paul had just cursed the high priest. Paul apologized immediately, and applied the word of God to himself and that situation: “It is written, You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people.” (Ex 22:28) Again, the point is that even when Paul resisted the rulers and authorities, he spoke respectfully to them — even when he knew they were in the wrong and he was in the right.]]
In all these stories, Paul submitted himself to rulers and authorities — and he gladly obeyed them — except when they required him to say or do something that contradicted God’s law or gospel.
Obviously, some governments are benevolent and others are malevolent; some government systems are more just and fair than others; and some governments are more compatible with the gospel than others. Some rulers and authorities are easier to respect than others. But the principles of the gospel are the same no matter who is in power, or where we live, or what time it is.
The rule is to submit yourself to rulers and authorities, obey them, and be ready to all the good works you can do. If the gospel is not at stake, you may obey God and man.
The exception to the rule is to be subject to rulers and authorities except when the gospel is at stake, except when they require you to disobey God. If the gospel is at stake, and if you must choose between obeying God or obeying man, then you must always obey God rather than men 11 times out of 10.
Grace expects us to make the teaching about God our Savior attractive to governing rulers by submitting ourselves to them, by obeying them, and by doing all the good work we can do for them.
But grace also expects us to make the teaching about God our Savior attractive to grassroots folks.
That is why Paul says 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.
+ HOW GRACE REQUIRES US TO ADORN THE GOSPEL FOR GRASS ROOTS PEOPLE – 3:2
By the gospel of grace, we are called to be prepared, ready, available to do any good work. That’s one way we adorn the gospel for grass roots folks.
None of us has the right just to curse the darkness; each and every one of us has a responsibility to at least light a lamp.
How do we do that? What are some “lamp-lighting” good works that grace requires us to do?
To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
That’s fairly self-explanatory, but let me highlight something for you just to make sure you don’t miss it: The good works that grace requires us to do start with the words of our mouths and the attitudes of our hearts.
Speak evil of no one.
Literally, do not blaspheme, slander, or speak evil of anyone. That includes (but is not limited to) the President. There is a way to evaluate and criticize the ideas, decisions, and actions others without defaming or dehumanizing them. The fool says in his heart “There is no god.” That is a true statement about a person who denies the existence of God. He is unwise to believe a lie, but that does not mean he is a stupid idiot. He might be intellectually bright, yet spiritually darkened. His heart is dull. His mind is blind. His soul is captive to sin. More than anything else he needs Christ. And sometimes you are the only Christ he will ever meet. Why not use the words of your mouth and the attitudes of your heart to bless him instead of cursing him?
Do not be combative.
The main idea is do not be a contrarian with your neighbor, especially about politics, sports, and religion. Some people are always looking for ways to contradict others. They prefer conflict over community. I have seen Christians argue, break fellowship with, and cannibalize each other over political differences. You have seen believers and unbelievers tear each other to pieces over religious differences. Let’s try a new approach instead: be compassionate and considerate. Instead of looking for a fight, look for friends. But if you must fight, make sure you fight the good fight of the faith by speaking the truth in love.
Be gentle, especially when discussing volatile issues like politics, sports, and religion.
We need to control our thoughts and feelings, and tongues and hands. Jesus was meek and lowly in heart, and his followers must be also. A meek person is not a weak person; a meek person is a strong person who knows how to wield his power carefully. He knows how to listen quickly and speak slowly; and how to temper justice with mercy.
Show perfect courtesy toward all people.
This is related to meekness and gentleness. The point is that we must learn to talk with each other and with our neighbors in a respectful manner. We must not resort to calling names, and cutting down, and cursing each other. We must show all people how much we care about them as people.
The reason we are called to speak and act in this way towards people outside the church is because we ourselves were once just like them — foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. (Titus 3:3)
The reason we are called to speak and act in this way towards people outside the church is because when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:4-5)
God our Savior lavished grace on us when we were sinners, and he requires us to lavish grace on others as well — whether they are sinners or saints.
As we strive to adorn the gospel of God our Savior, to reform the church and transform the culture, let’s remember to do at least four things:
+ Pray for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions.
Make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for everyone high and low. Pray for the peace and prosperity of the nation in which you live, and for the nations in which other brothers and sisters live. Pray for the POTUS, and Congress, and the Supreme Court. Ask God to grant them wisdom, understanding, and skill as they lead, rule, and judge.
+ Practice good works in the public square.
Do not be ashamed of Christ. Do not be afraid to let others know you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Do good works and speak good words. Season your conversation with grace. Lead a peaceful and quiet life. Be godly and dignified in every way. Represent your Lord and Savior faithfully and courageously. As John frame says, take your faith into every sphere of life, including the workplace, politics, economics, education, and the arts. And in all these realms, they seek to glorify God
+ Participate in the life of the church — and in the life of the culture.
Gather for worship every Lord’s day, and engage the culture with gospel presence every other day. Work hard at your job, get to know your neighbors and share life with them; visit orphans and widows in their distress; volunteer for community service; vote responsibly and conscientiously; run for office. As Tim Keller says, “Christians should be as involved in politics and government as they are in all other realms of life.” This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.
+ Proclaim the gospel with your words, with your works, and with your worship.
God our Savior wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. That is why he sends us on mission as witnesses of Christ. That is why he appoints preachers and teachers to speak the truth in love to sinners inside and outside the church.
The reformation of the church results in the transformation of the culture. That was true then, it is true now. So let’s do all the good we can do, by the grace of the gospel, for the glory of God, and the good of the world.
Pastoral Prayers — Book of Common Prayer (1928)
O GOD, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed; Give to your servants that peace which the world cannot give; that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments, and also that being defended by you from the fear of our enemies, we may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
ALMIGHTY God, whose kingdom is everlasting and power infinite; Have mercy upon this whole land; and so rule the hearts of your servants the President of the United States, The Governor of Texas, and all others in authority, that they may know whose ministers they are, and may above all things seek your honor and glory; and that we and all the people, duly considering whose authority they bear, may faithfully and obediently honor them, according to your blessed Word and ordinance; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth ever, one God, world without end. Amen.