This sermon was preached on May 24, 2020 by Matt Bedzyk. The manuscript has been lightly edited and formatted for this blog.
This morning, rather than moving on with Isaiah 30-31, I’d like for us to take a quick detour into the NT and spend our time hearing God’s Word from Titus 3:1-8. There are a couple reasons for this.
First, as a result of this pandemic, several serious issues have come up regarding our governing authorities, our rights, our personal opinions, our faith, and how all these things fit together. How we respond to this crisis will either bring glory to God and his gospel, or cause him and his Word to be despised; we can respond like the world, or we can respond like Christ. But the gospel teaches us to respond with godliness. Titus 2:11-12 says that the grace of God has appeared, “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”
This brings us to the second reason for this sermon. Paul begins chapter 3 with: “Remind them.” Remind the church of what? Sound doctrine. In Titus 1:9, elders are to “give instruction in sound doctrine” (also 2:1). In 2:15 Paul tells Titus to “declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” And in 3:8, we read: “Insist on these things.”
When it comes to our current situation, we need to know what God has said about how we should live. We need to be biblical. And we shouldn’t look to Fox News or CNN, or opinions on Facebook, or even a copy of our constitution to figure out how to be biblical! Because we are so prone to forget and drift away from the truth, we need to be constantly reminded of what God has done for us in Christ and the good works he has prepared for us.
This brings us to Titus 3 and the issue of how we should conduct ourselves towards authorities as well as people in general. When the world looks at us, what does the Bible say they should see? The question is simple: Are we commending Christ to the world? Because our goal as church is make much of Jesus. God in Christ gave himself for us to redeem us, that we might put his glorious character on display and adorn the gospel we proclaim. So, let’s see how we do this.
Commending Christ to the World in our Conduct Towards Authorities
Titus 3:1a: Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities
‘Submission’ is the recognition of one’s place in an ordered structure of authority. It’s not only to acknowledge this fact but to humbly accept it. 1 It’s an attitude or a posture of the heart. In fact, submission is one of the essential marks of a Christian! Think about it: The church submits to Christ (Eph. 5:23), to elders (1 Pet. 5:5), and even one another (Eph. 5:21). We are a submitted people, all because of who our God is and what he has done for us in Christ.
So, for the Christian, we submit ourselves first and foremost to God in everything (James 4:7). Yet at the same time, we also humbly and joyfully accept the fact that he has instituted certain authorities for our benefit, for our flourishing. To submit to them is to submit to God. Children are to submit to their parents (Luke 2:51; Eph. 6:1-3); wives are to submit to their own husbands (Titus 2:5); and bondservants are to submit to their masters (2:9). Here, in Titus 3:1, we see we are also to submit to rulers and authorities. Listen to Romans 13:1-2:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For 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. (Rom. 13:1-2)
Paul then goes on in v.1b “Remind them . . . to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.” An inward attitude of submission results in the outward action of obedience.2 As we recognize the authorities God has instituted over us and submit to them, we respond by obeying them. But submission goes beyond simply recognizing our authorities; it’s more than just obeying them reluctantly or begrudgingly; it’s being prepared and eager to do good to our neighbors, in our workplaces, and in our communities. This is to be cooperative, supportive, and involved. One theologian captures the thought well:
“As good citizens, believers must. . . be prepared and willing to participate in activities that promote the welfare of the community. They must not stand coldly aloof from praiseworthy enterprises of government but show good public spirit.”3
So, there it is: Submission. Obedience. Cooperation. As in 1 Peter 2:13-17: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,” emperors or governors. “Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
Qualifications, Caveats, and Contempt for Submission
But by now, some of you are already thinking, “But what about obeying God rather than men? What about when our rights are being taken away? What about tyranny and evil laws?”
Before I speak to these concerns, I want to point something out. What often happens with texts on submission—especially concerning the authorities—is that we caveat them so much and try to find every reason not to obey them, that really, we are only left with our own opinions. When we read these verses, we tend to like the interpretations that get us out of having to submit.
Now while there is an obvious exception to this command, it’s still good to be honest with yourself and think about how you respond when you come across these verses. It’s usually the most basic commands that are debated the most because we want to excuse ourselves from all they imply. It’s like the lawyer who asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” only so he could find out how he doesn’t have to love others, to suit his own preferences!
The problem, quite frankly, is that our sinful flesh doesn’t like submission. We only like to submit when it serves our interests. John Calvin hits the nail on the head: “We are all by nature desirous of power; … the consequence is, that no one willingly is subject to another.”4
That being said, the most famous verse about not submitting to the authorities is found in Acts 5:29, when Peter and the apostles answered the council: “We must obey God rather than men.” The problem with this verse is that it has been used out of context just about as badly as “Judge not” and “God is love.” If you recall, the Apostles had been “strictly charged” by the religious rulers of Jerusalem “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (4:18; 5:28). What’s important to notice here is that this charge was given because of the Jews’ hatred of Jesus. It was a law directed against Christ and his church, calling them to disobey King Jesus.
And one more thing before a word about our current situation: Did you notice that Paul doesn’t include a single caveat here? Not one exception is given! There’s absolutely no mention of the character of the rulers and authorities, their personal competency or qualifications, their alleged hidden agendas or secret motives, or whether or not their laws are perfectly righteous!
To be sure, government has been appointed by God to fulfill a specific (and limited) function in society. And it’s true that government can overstep their God-given boundaries. But it’s simply profound that the NT authors spend virtually no time caveating the divine command to submit to them. Their concern is with an all-encompassing attitude of quiet submission. And lest we forget, these gospel imperatives were written at a time when the Apostles were being persecuted by their governing authorities, when some of the most evil men were ruling over the most wicked of nations! And there’s no mention of defiance, revolt, or rights.
Submission Because of God’s Sovereignty
Beloved, the fact of the matter is that right now, we are not being persecuted. Our gatherings have not banned because of the name of Jesus (regardless of the alleged motives of politicians). All public gatherings have been banned because we’re in a pandemic (whether or not you think it’s as serious as our elected officials say it is). They are our authorities; this is a time for submission, not defiance.
Are we being inconvenienced? Yes. Irritated? Perhaps. But persecuted? No. Charged to not worship our Savior, to preach and pray in his name, or to own a Bible? No. Suffering under tyranny and oppression? Just ask the first century church under Nero to answer that question! As Americans, we are blessed to have many freedoms. But when an opportunity comes for us to lay down our rights, like Jesus did (even if we are in the right), we seem to only protest and complain!
While we know that the kingdom of this world is opposed to the kingdom of Christ, this is a unique situation that (for now) calls for submission. It has nothing to do with constitutional rights. It has everything to do with whether or not we will trust and obey our Sovereign God.
Friends, I’m the first to admit that the Christian and politics can be a sticky subject. But what characterizes us as Christians? Are we marked by an attitude of submission, obedience, and cooperation? Are we commending Christ to the world through quiet and peaceful lives of faith? For the sake of Christ and the gospel, may we be known for our glad submission to our rulers.
Commending Christ to the World in our Conduct Towards All Humanity
Then in verse two we see Paul tell Titus to “…speak evil of no one…avoid quarreling” (Titus 3:2a). The first negative charge is to not slander anybody. The word here is blasphēmein and means “to speak in a disrespectful way that demeans…maligns.” It’s to damage a person’s reputation by speaking negatively and untruthfully about them. (We can do this even if we’re “right.”) The second charge is to not quarrel. It’s to not be contentious, looking for a fight. Again, these traits characterize the proud, self-promoting world! We, like our King, are to be peaceable.
In the second half of the verse we have the command to “be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy to all people” (Titus 3:2b). The first positive charge is to be graciously gentle. The word here is fascinating: It means “not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom.” It can be translated “yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant.” In a world hellbent on asserting our rights, Christians are to be gentle. The second charge is to be humbly considerate. The word here is “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance.” It can be translated “gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, meekness.” This is not being self-assertive but patient. It’s being self-forgetful, thinking of yourself less. It is to possess a “mild and gentle friendliness.”
Beloved, this is the kind of behavior that commends Christ to the world! These are to be among the defining characteristics of Christians. In humility, we show “perfect courtesy towards all people.” These were the very characteristics of the Lord Jesus Christ! In 2 Corinthians 10:1, Paul appeals to the church “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.”
So, ask yourself: How do you talk (or post) about our elected officials? Our governor or our president? How do you talk about those who disagree with you? How about your enemies? Friends, I’m afraid we’re guilty of slander and quarreling more often that we’d like to believe. Are we as gentle and as considerate as Christ? Do we give respect to whom respect is owed, and honor to whom honor is owed? Or do we look at others with a sense of superiority, of entitlement, of pride? Do we love others with the compassionate love of Christ?
Friends, we serve a King who had every right—in heaven and on earth—to assert his rule, his power, and his glory. But our God, who himself demands our total submission and obedience, humbled himself in Christ in order to redeem us and transform us and make us his own. For those who swear allegiance to King Jesus, we must be marked by his humility, his gentleness, and his radical love. In fact, this is exactly why Paul goes on to remind Titus of the gospel of grace…
Commending Christ to the World Because God has Saved Us
The first reason for our Christlike conduct in the world is because of who we once were (Titus 3:3). We once belonged to the kingdom of this world. We were marked not by glad submission to God but by foolish rebellion against him! Notice the continuing contrast between vv.1-2 & 3: Instead of obedience, we once were disobedient. Rather than ready for good works, we were deceived and enslaved to our idols. Rather than peaceable, we were full of malice and envy. And rather than meekness and gentleness, we were hated by others and hating one another!5
The second reason for our Christlike conduct in the world is because of what God has done. At the right time, when we least deserved it, the unthinkable happened: He saved us.
But 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, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7)
God responded to our foolishness, disobedience, deception, idolatry, malice, envy, and hatred with the riches of his goodness, lovingkindness, mercy, and grace. In the person of his Son, God in Christ laid down his life to be punished for our disobedience. Jesus, though perfectly obedient, was treated as if he was the foolish rebel, the idolater, the envious, the hateful, and willingly bore the penalty for our sin against God. And as a result of his death and resurrection, we can be justified—we can be forgiven and declared righteous.
But beloved, he has not only justified us and made us heirs of eternal life, but he has made us new creations! How? Because he has poured out his Holy Spirit upon us richly to renew us. We have been washed—cleansed and purified and buried through baptism with Christ in his death. We have been regenerated—born again and raised with Christ to walk in newness of life. In other words, God in Christ by his Spirit has made it possible for us to be Christlike! By the power of the Spirit of the risen Lord Jesus, we actually can commend Christ to the world.
So, because of what God has done, we are no longer who we once were. Now, we belong to Christ. The third reason for our Christlike conduct in the world because of who we are now (Titus 3:8). We belong to the Triune God and have been baptized into his name! We are citizens of heaven, children of the King. Though once foolishly rebellious, we are now joyfully submissive to him. Now we are to put on Christ and walk in him. We are to be led by the Spirit and bear his fruit.
Titus 2:14 says that Christ “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.” God our Savior has shown goodness to the ungrateful, love to the unlovable, mercy to the unfaithful, and grace to the undeserving. And for those who have truly come to behold and be transformed by the grace of God in Christ, we are compelled to show the same in good works.
So church, will we commend Christ to the world? Will we “do all things without grumbling or disputing”? Will we “be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked…generation…[and] shine as lights in the world”? Will we “[hold] fast to the word of life”(Phil 2:14-16)?
Let’s repent of our pride and disobedience. Let’s repent for how we have slandered our rulers or quarreled with our neighbors. Let’s repent for not adorning the doctrine of God our Savior.
Let’s pray for and submit to our governing authorities. Let’s strive to lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. And let’s pray that when the time comes for us to disobey that it will be clear we must do so, and that we will be strengthened to do it with all respect.
Let’s count others more significant than ourselves in humility, looking not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others. Let us live in such a way that our divided, hateful, quarrelsome, slandering, self-seeking world might see our good works and glorify our King.
Let’s remember the gospel that we might show the same grace we’ve received to those who also don’t deserve it.
Let’s insist on these things that we might commend Christ to the world.
- Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 797.
- Andreas J. Köstenberger, Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Abridged Edition: New Testament), ed. Kenneth L. Barker et. al. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 930.
- Köstenberger, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 930-31.
- John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 324.
- John R. W. Stott, Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 202.
Matt Bedzyk is the lead pastor at Elmira Christian Center. He received his Master of Divinity from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Matt and his wife Brianna have two children: Lorien Grace and Owen James. In his spare time, you can find him reading, brewing coffee, enjoying music, and supporting Manchester United and OG esports.