A Church Planter’s Reflections on Titus 3:8-11 “Doctrine-led Devotion”
“3:8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. 9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Titus 3:8-11)
The trustworthy saying, is the densely theologically-packed previous passage 3:4-7. First, we’re reminded that the gospel proclamation of 3:4-7 is trustworthy—we can place our hope and confidence in it as we believe it and tell it to others. (This is very important to remember in our day of skepticism toward the Bible.) Paul wanted Titus to “boldly insist on these things.” This was not only because it was critical that he taught sound doctrine (which he was to do [2:1]), but it was also for this reason: “so that those who have believed in God might be careful to devote themselves to good works” (3:8). We see the theme of good works return here again and learn that there is an intimate connection between embracing the reality of God’s saving grace and acting out good works. If a person understands God’s grace, they ought to do good works. This is an important theological truth we must teach our congregation as we church plant: God did it all for us in Christ, now we—out of love for God and gratitude for His grace—ought to live out godly lives that make visible the beautiful gospel of grace. It is striking that Titus was to insist on God’s grace “so that” believers would be careful to do good works. It would be easily to think it should be the other way around—insist on good works for the hope of receiving God’s grace. But that is man-centered religion. God-centered faith tells us that God showed us his grace, and now we are compelled to do good works not to merit God’s favor, but because we already have it. As we do good works, they are “profitable for the people”—for us in the church and the outside world.
Titus and the church were also told to “avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (3:9). These were probably tied to the false teaching mentioned in 1:10-16, but foolish controversies and divisive issues always tempt the church to wander away from the focus on the gospel. Will we keep the main thing the main thing or get sidetracked? This is an vital question for the church planter and pastor. While in some ways we have to be willing to take stands on current controversial issues (like abortion and homosexual practice), we must not let controversies sidetrack us from focusing on gospel proclamation of 3:4-7. Bickering and quarreling ruin the faith of the hearers (2 Tim 2:14) and the man of God must avoid them (see also 2 Tim 2:16, 23). This will require us to seek to shepherd our congregations back to being centered on the gospel.
Divisive people were around in Paul’s day and will be in ours. Paul teaches us the principle of how to deal with them in 3:10-11. We aren’t to get drawn into endless arguments, but warn them once and then twice and then move on. Such a principle requires love for the person—we do need to warn them and seek to compassionately help them back to the truth (like James 5:19-20)—and holy God-fearing discernment—we aren’t to get sidetracked ourselves.
Please for Cross of Christ Fellowship in Naperville as we seek to live out these realities in Titus 3:8-11.