Heart and Hands
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness—in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior, To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.
I wonder how it is that you can really tell if a person is a Christian. They have a Bible in their home? There is a Jesus bumper sticker on their car? Is that what shows up as an identifier of adherence to the Christian faith? They show up for church on the weekends? They give money to charities that share the message of Jesus? Is it possible for a person to do these actions and not actually be a Christian?
We often say that Christian faith is connected to a personal relationship with Jesus. We know and accept and believe that Jesus is the one who sacrificed himself to take away the guilt of our sin, and we now have direct access to God as his loved and adopted sons and daughters. We are connected with Jesus through the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the church. We have a communion with God through Jesus.
But how does this show up as something visibly different and unique in the kind of people we are in this world? Think of another type of example for a moment. You can always spot a person who is Amish by characteristics of their outward appearance. The kind of clothes that they choose to wear and the horse-&-buggy often give an indicator to the presence of Amish people. If a person is Amish, it shows up in the way they live.
But how does that work in the life of a Christian? What are the outward indicators of Christian faith in the life of someone who follows Jesus? In other words, how am I supposed to live now that I am a Christian? Does being a Christian make a difference at all in how I choose to live? When Monday morning rolls around and you head to office or into school or wherever you go spend your time during the week, how does your faith show up in those places? What is it about the Christian faith that affects the kind of person we are all the time and in every place we go?
We are going to crack into that question over the next three weeks by looking at the particular example of one person: Titus. The apostle Paul had several companions who worked alongside of him during his various missionary trips to plant new churches. Titus was one of those companions. The Bible includes one letter that Paul wrote to Titus with instructions for a particular task. On one of Paul’s journeys, he stopped and spent some time on the island of Crete. After Paul had planted a new church there on Crete, he left Titus behind keep working with the new believers there. The letter of Titus captures a summary of Paul’s instruction for how Titus should be working with these Cretan Christians to live together as followers of Jesus. Paul is telling Titus; this is what a life of faith should look like in the people who follow Jesus.
Hearts of Goodness
Hearts of Goodness
orthodoxy = right doctrine (belief)
Today we start in with chapter one of Titus. Let me give a snapshot. There is an introduction to the letter, there are instructions for the elders—those who are looked upon as the leaders of the Christian community. And there are instructions for those who fail to live in ways that adhere to these standards for the Christian community.
Introductions to letters in the time of Paul were pretty straightforward and common. It starts with identifying the author, Paul. Then names the recipient, Titus. And generally follows with a few words of peace or well-wishes for those receiving the letter. You see all of this in the way Paul writes this letter to Titus.
how do the things that I believe make a difference in the world?
From there Paul wastes no time jumping right in. He reminds Titus, you are there on Crete to make a difference in that place. Sure, maybe the particular assignment begins with finding and appointing elders in the villages. Maybe that is not an assignment to which we can all relate; that might not be on your task list for this week. But before you write off this letter to Titus as unrelatable and irrelevant for our world today, step back and consider the larger picture of the narrative. Paul is calling Titus to take his Christian faith and make a difference in the world. Titus is placed on this small Mediterranean island to make a difference there. You and I each have places in this world in which we live where we are called as people of faith to make a difference in those places. That is how this message to Titus is also a message to us.
Alright then, let’s pay attention to how it is Paul is going to work his way into this rather huge topic of living a faith that makes a difference in world around you. He starts with some attention towards embracing the right belief in his heart. We have a word for that in church theology. We call it orthodoxy. It means right belief or right doctrine. Paul wants to make sure Titus and the new Christians on Crete are receiving the right teaching.
starts local - faithful integrity in the household family
At first glance, this string of items that Titus is supposed to bring as qualifications for elders maybe appears random. It starts off with something about family relationships. The older NIV Bibles say that elders are the husbands of just one wife. The newer NIV update states it as “faithful to his wife” which is a better and more clear understanding of the Greek text. It is not a comment on polygamy or divorce and remarriage. It is a comment on fidelity to the marriage vows within the household. In the same way, the instructions on having children who believe is understood the same way. The Greek word for faith and belief is the same. This is where I think your English Bibles would have been a little more clear to keep consistent English words for the same Greek word. The emphasis of Paul in this section is not to comment upon the Christian beliefs of the children, but on the faithfulness of the children within the integrity of the household family. The local family is the place Paul uses as his launching point for guiding Titus. If you want to pursue a Christian faith that makes a difference in the world around you, begin by making a difference in your own home. Be faithful in keeping integrity among your own family first; because if you cannot hold to some level standard of faithful integrity with your household family, you will certainly also struggle to hold faithful integrity among the larger church family and community surrounding you.
verses 7-8 lists of contrasting vices and virtues
From there the letter runs with two comparative lists. The first list in verse seven names negative qualities that should be avoided: overbearing, quick-tempered, drunkenness, violent, dishonest gain. And then verse eight flips with a list of qualities that are embraced: hospitable, one who loves what is good, self-controlled, upright, holy, disciplined.
philagothos = lover of goodness — not in personal piety or moral behavior, but expressed outwardly within society
Let me just pick on one of these as a way of explaining what these lists are really about. One who loves what is good; some other English translations state it as a lover of goodness. This one in particular caught my attention. In Greek it is actually just one word; philagathos. First of all, it caught my attention because I had never heard of this Greek word before. After a little digging I discovered that this word only shows up one time in the entire Bible, right here in Titus 1:8. But it is a word that is used plenty in writings of classical Greek philosophy. And it is always used as a quality of someone who strives for and is regarded within the highest possible goodness. It is not a goodness of personal piety or moral behavior. It is a goodness that is reflected as a virtue among community, a goodness towards society, a goodness that is connected with just and honest integrity.
Think of the similarity of philagathos to another Greek word that maybe we have all heard before; philanthropy. A philanthropist is someone who dedicates themselves to giving heavily towards causes of bettering mankind. The word philanthropy itself comes from two words; Anthropos, meaning mankind or humanity, and phila, meaning love or admiration. A philanthropist is someone who carries the quality of possessing a love and concern for the betterment of humanity. But a philanthropist is also someone who carries this virtue into action. It describes both the virtue and quality within the person; and it also describes the kind of action that is evident in the life of that person which stems from and flow out from that virtue. A philagothos that is identified here in Titus is a person who loves goodness as its own virtue. But it is also a person whose actions stem from and flow from this virtue of goodness.
character — qualities or virtues that express themselves outwardly in the way we live
“Christian life in the present, with its responsibilities and particular callings, is to be understood and shaped in relation to the final goal for which we have been made and redeemed. The better we understand that goal, the better we shall understand the path toward it.” - N.T. Wright
We have a word for that. We call it character. I love the way that author N.T. Wright talks about it in his excellent book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. He says this, “Christian life in the present, with its responsibilities and particular callings, is to be understood and shaped in relation to the final goal for which we have been made and redeemed. The better we understand that goal, the better we shall understand the path toward it.” Wright goes on to unfold that goal of the Christian life as a journey to becoming more and more conformed to the image of Christ; to be made more holy, as God is holy. It is a path of the Christian life which Wright sees as taking its essential foundation in the formation of a personal Christian character.
Character is a goodness that finds its rootedness in the heart. It is a set of qualities and virtues that are embedded within a person. Often, we describe people of high character using words like honorable, integrity. Martin Luther King Jr was a person who is often spoken about as a person of admirable character, someone who dedicated himself to a path of serving and helping the cause of civil rights not for his own ends or his own glory or to enrich himself in any way, but because embedded within his heart he knew it was simply the right thing to do. And so, he set out to promote the cause of civil rights with integrity and honor.
path to having a faith that makes a difference in this world begins with a heart of goodness
Paul is telling Titus, the path to having a faith that makes a difference in this world begins with a heart of goodness. It begins with a renewed and redeemed character on the inside. It shows up in the most basic and foundational places of your life—your household family. You cannot have a life of faith which makes a difference in the world unless you pay attention to developing the kind of character God has planted within us. It starts in that heart of goodness which shows up in our lives as character.
Hands of Goodness
Hands of Goodness
orthopraxy = right action (deeds)
Character is always a set of virtues and qualities which lead to action. It is a heart of goodness which naturally flows into hands of goodness. It is a right belief that turns into right actions. We have a church word for that too. Orthodoxy is the word we use to describe right doctrine. The word we have to describe right action is orthopraxy. It is the affirmation that the character with is embedded in your heart spills over into the actions which you produce. Now we are getting one step closer to working with a faith that makes a real difference in this life and in this world.
I realize that we are only getting through chapter one of Titus today. That is only one third of the letter. So, this is only the beginning of our discussion on what these actions from hands of goodness will look like. But let’s see where Paul starts to take it. In verses 10-16 of chapter one he again sets up a comparison between actions of those who are pure, and actions of those who are impure. Glance at some of the features of these verses.
watch out for those who say they promote right actions, but whose hearts do not embrace a character of goodness - community of pretenders with empty words
Paul wants to make sure first of all that Titus is not duped or swayed by the actions of some who maybe give the false impression that they follow Jesus. How does he do this? By singling out what he calls the circumcision group. These are the Jewish people who have converted to the church. And Paul repeatedly has to address the ways in which these long-time religious people keep stepping back into standards of customs and laws which they try to lift up as the center of most importance. Look at what Paul says about them to Titus in verse 16. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. In other words, the actions of their hands reveal the true character of their hearts.
foundation of character in the heart is needed to produce right actions of faith that will make a lasting impact
He goes on to quote a Greek poet with what may actually be considered to be an ethnic slur about the people who live on the island of Crete; that they are all liars and evil and lazy. But all of this underscores for Titus all the more why it is so important that a foundation of character in the heart is so necessary to actually produce the right actions of faith that will make a lasting impact upon those surrounding Titus in his community.
remember why we pursue actions of goodness
Why does all this matter so much? Let me take it back to what N.T. Wright says about the importance of knowing the goal so that you know why Christian character is so important to doing the right thing in how we live out our faith in the world around us. So often we fall into the trap of thinking that Christians ought to do good things because it somehow earns us points. We ought to be good people because God wants us to be good people. And when we mess up and are not good people, then God is displeased with us. And the only way to show God we are sorry and want him to be pleased with us again is to try again to be good people. This is a game you can never win. This loses sight of the goal and forgets the real reason why it is we pursue a life of doing good.
Maybe today we need a little reminder from catechism. After all, I said here that right doctrine is what leads to right action. So, let’s remind ourselves of what our doctrine says about why it is we seek to do good actions. Question 86 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks that exact thing.
HC Q 86. Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace through Christ without any merit of our own, why then should we do good works? A. Because Christ, having redeemed us by his blood, is also restoring us by his Spirit into his image, so that with our whole lives we may show that we are thankful to God for his benefits.
Q. Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace through Christ without any merit of our own, why then should we do good works?
A. Because Christ, having redeemed us by his blood, is also restoring us by his Spirit into his image, so that with our whole lives we may show that we are thankful to God for his benefits.
the good actions of grateful hands flow from the goodness of a genuinely grateful heart
It is entirely about gratitude. Being a good person is not about leveling up or earning more badges to show off or filling a spiritual trophy case. It is about a life that says thank you to Jesus for all God has done for us. You cannot pretend gratitude. The good actions of grateful hands flow from the goodness of a genuinely grateful heart. Character matters. Christian character counts.
Close with this. Back up again to the beginning of the letter; Paul’s introduction. Paul has a way when he writes letters of tipping his hand and showing his cards in the way he writes his introductions. He gives a little preview of what’s coming.
introduction to letter - God has created you (elect) to be renewed in both character/heart (knowledge of truth) and action/hands (leads to godliness)
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness—in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.
The new life we have been given is a gift from God. The transforming of our character so that we are conformed to the image of Christ is also a gift from God. The response of our lives in the actions we perform make a difference in our world when they are actions that are offered in thanksgiving to the one who has saved us and redeemed us to live for him.