This sermon was originally preached in 2016.
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
As we enter the final third of Titus, we must recall briefly what was said thus far. Chapter one was primarily concerned with pastoral leadership within the church. Paul envisions churches being lead by multiple pastors, giving their qualifications and listing characteristics of false teachers. Chapter two focused upon church members as Paul encouraged everyone to be active in the works of discipleship and evangelism. The apostle then closed the chapter by reminding Titus and all Christians of our motivation for doing all forms of good works: the gospel.
As we enter chapter three, we will notice that it has a much more universal feel to it. This is because Paul’s attention is no longer upon church members or leaders specifically; instead, he uses the final chapter to address the overall nature of living as the church, the body of Christ. He will once again present commands for us to live by, the gospel as our motivation for obeying, and closes with how the church is to remain a faithful witness of Jesus.
Our present text is a list of seven exhortations for all Christians to heed. By beginning with the words “remind them,” we know that Paul considered each of these to be basic knowledge for Christ-like behavior, yet as with most things, our forgetful minds need continuous reminders and encouragements. Let us, therefore, approach these urgings toward godly living in light of the gospel, praying to display Christ in our lives each day.
BE SUBMISSIVE TO RULERS AND AUTHORITIES // VERSE 1
The apostle begins this section of text by calling it a reminder to all the Christians in Crete, implying that these are things they should already know. In fact, each of these seven exhortations should come natural with how the Christian interacts with the world around him or her. If chapter two was all about how Christians are supposed to live within the church, these verses of chapter three focus upon how the Christian should live in the world. Therefore, it is important that we remember that the behavioral exhortations that are presented here clearly apply to all believers.
The first two exhortations are interconnected, so we will approach them together. Paul urges the Cretans to be submissive to rulers and authorities and to be obedient. We must be careful not to blend the line between submission and obedience so that we mistake them for one another. Submission is the act of placing yourself under someone else’s authority; whereas, obedience is an obligatory act. Or, we could think of submission as falling into a hierarchy wherein you subject yourself to others, while obedience has a much more static design. Paul commands us to be submissive to earthly governments. We should willingly place ourselves under the authority of our rulers. Romans 13:1-7 tells how and why Christians should do this. The overarching argument is that God institutes all authorities because God is the ultimate authority. Therefore, we do not submit only to rulers we like or agree with but to all of them. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 informs us that part of this submission is to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We would do well to remember that we change governments through prayer, not through lobbying, picketing, or protesting.
Are there times then that we are not required to submit to earthly rulers? Yes, our ultimate obedience is to God. Notice that Paul tells us to be obedient without telling us to whom. Without a subject being attached, we can safely say that we should obey God regardless of the circumstances. Thus, while we must be submissive to rulers and authorities, our obedience is primarily to God. Consider the words of Jesus when presented with a question about taxation: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). We certainly do owe allegiance to our government, yet Ravi Zacharias says often in his talks that the people around Jesus should have asked, “What is God’s?” Like the coin with Caesar, we bear the image of God, so everything we do is for Him and His glory.
Next, Paul exhorts us to be ready for every good work. It is interesting that Paul encourages us to be prepared for good works. The default human behavior is toward sin rather than obedience to God; therefore, we must consciously resolve to follow after the LORD’s leading and will. This is also in opposition to the false teachers in verse 16 of chapter one who were “unfit for any good work.”
PERFECT COURTESY TOWARD ALL PEOPLE // VERSE 2
Moving into verse 2, we are told to speak evil of no one. The Greek is literally blasphemy: speak no blasphemy of anyone. Slander and other such personal verbal attacks are contrary to the Christian lifestyle. Of course, we are meant to confront sin; however, we must never resort to slander of any kind. As we discussed in chapter two, Satan is the chief slanderer, and we do not desire to follow after his example. Paul also wrote to the Ephesians, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). For followers of Christ, we must seek godly speak not simply by avoiding certain words but by taking care to what we say and how we say it.
Paul next exhorts us to avoid quarreling and to be gentle. As to the first, we should seek peace, not conflict, in all circumstances. Jesus spoke of this idea saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). Paul’s concept of gentleness here is not necessarily what we might first think of regarding the word. While the word does imply kindness and a graciousness, it more emphasizes reasonability. Paul, therefore, is encouraging us to avoid fighting by being temperate, reasonable, and gentle. Too many mistake quick retaliation for strength, yet Paul points strength in the calm and steady mind. In fact, we might say that gentleness implies strength because it necessitates the mental strength of control. A physical example of this principle can be seen in martial arts, which often emphasize that true strength is found in disciplining our bodies rather than simply attempting to punch really hard.
John MacArthur offers such a potent thought on the final exhortation that I will simply let him do the speaking:
And then he closes in verse 2 with the last of the seven, “showing every consideration,” “showing every consider-”; that’s the word “meekness” in the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:5 – prautēs, “meekness.” We’re meek. That’s “power under control,” you’ll remember. Never asserting one’s rights is what it means. Never fighting for one’s rights. Christians don’t do that. We’re not in a fight for our rights. We don’t have any political agenda. We don’t have any legislative agenda. We’re not after any rights. We don’t want any particular rights with this society. We’ll just live for Christ, come what may. It refers to patient trust – in God. We commit our lives to Him. Second Timothy 2 says if we live like this – meekly, gently – God may use us to lead people to repentance and the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:25). You see, everything we do has an evangelistic goal. And as we live in this world, subjected to the authorities, the rulers – obedient to all the things that they lay out that don’t directly violate Scripture; as we are eagerly pursuing every imaginable good deed within our society; as we malign no one, fight with no one; but rather are patient with sinners – gentle, kind – we’re going to demonstrate salvation, because only transformed people can act like that.
As we will discuss in the next text, the only way that we can be meek, kind, and gentle to all people is by understanding who we once were. In verse 3, Paul reminds us of our lives before Christ: foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to passions and pleasures, and consumed by hatred. This is a telling statement for how Paul was able to maintain his gentleness toward even those who persecuted him: he saw them as led astray. The apostle did not respond in wrath to his accusers because he felt pity for them. They were slaves to their sin, while he was free. Even while being stoned and whipped, he knew that he was better off than they were because he knew Christ. If we can grasp this idea, it will transform how we live around non-Christians. It will enable us to better live truly Christ-like lives for them to see.