In The Crowded House Sheffield, we have been looking at Paul’s letter to Titus and the relevance of Titus to missional church and church planting. In the last post we looked at the problems caused when people reject authority and love controversy in light of the influence of false teachers . In this post we’ll deal with the dangers of being self-righteous.
Paul says some of the false teachers (though not all) are part of ‘the circumcision group’ (verse 10). In other words, they said that to be a really good Christians you need to be circumcised. They want to make Gentile Christians subject to Jewish law or some kind of human code of conduct.
This is one reason why Paul describes Titus in verse 4 as ‘my true son in our common faith’. In Galatians 2 Paul describes how he took Titus with him to Jerusalem to meet the Apostles. And a key outcome of that meeting was that Titus did not have to be circumcised. It was highly symbolic. It showed that the Jerusalem Apostles agreed that Gentile Christians did not need to become Jewish to be accepted in the church. So Titus is not just any uncircumcised Gentile Christian. He is the archetypal uncircumcised Gentile Christian. He’s the test case. And Paul says he is ‘my true son in our common faith’. Paul, a circumcised Jew, a former Pharisee, and Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile, share together in Christ a common faith. This is also probably why Paul says in 2:15: ‘Do not let anyone despise you’. Titus was in danger of being despised as an uncircumcised Gentile, but he’s not to bow to this pressure. He is a true believer in the common faith.
In verse 14 Paul talks about ‘merely human commands’. We get a sense of what they might involve in verse 15: ‘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.’
Some people think that sex or alcohol or certain foods are corrupt and therefore they corrupt us if we touch them. But Paul says that completely misses the point. The corruption is in us, in our sinful hearts (see Mark 7:14-23). It’s not that people are corrupted if we come into contact with sex or drink. Rather, sex and drink are corrupted when they come into the contact with impure people. To the pure, all the things God has given us in creation are pure. Sex, food, drink are pure – they are good gifts from God to be received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:1-5). It’s corrupt people who misuse these good gifts (to destroy marriage, to lose control and so on).
But here’s the revolutionary thing. Paul describes such people as ‘liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons’. Remember, the problem in Crete is people who are adding rules. It is not people saying, ‘You can live how you like. Throw off all restraint.’ No, they are strict, religious people. Can they really be liars, brutes and gluttons? And the answer is Yes!
First, because rules have no power to change your life. We see this all the time. I’ve known strict, religious people who evil brutes in the home, bullying their wives. Or teetotallers who couldn’t be trusted. It’s not sex and drink that corrupt us. We misuse them because our hearts are corrupt. And rules have no power to change hearts.
The interesting thing is that in chapter 2 Paul emphasizes self-control and submission. It sounds quite strict. But the difference, as we shall see, is that this wonderful life flows from a heart transformed by the grace of God (2:11-12).
Second, laws and rules are actually about limiting godliness. They’re really about saying, ‘As long as I do this, then I’m okay.’ ‘As long as I don’t drink then I’m godly’ – even though you might bully your wife. ‘As long as I keep the sabbath then I’m godly’ – even though you might not give yourself in love to people in your gospel community.
Let me give you an example. Matt rang to ask what he should do. His friend George had asked him to go street preaching and Matt didn’t know how to respond. So the three of us got together. As the conversation began it was clear that George thought we were selling out in some way. But as we talked about sharing our lives with unbelievers, about an evangelism that was 24/7, about opening our homes, George’s tone changed. At the end of our conversation he admitted, ‘I’m not sure if I’m up for that kind of commitment.’ He wanted a form of evangelism he could stick in his schedule, tick off the list and then switch off. He wasn’t really interested in reaching the lost with the love of Christ. He was just interested in feeling righteous.
The result of this self-will and self-righteousness is there in verse 16: ‘They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.’ They say, ‘I’m doing God wants.’ But their actions deny him. They have persuaded themselves that they are doing what is right. But their actions give them away.
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