Updated: Apr 26, 2021
Good works don't save us, but they should characterize our new life in Christ.
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Titus 3:1-11
In this closing statement, Paul reminds Titus what the true gospel is and that true believers (as new creations) should live as new people—different from the slanderous, selfish people of Crete. We should be able to see a difference in our life in Christ, and we need to learn reliance on the Holy Spirit to achieve that.
[Throughout the years, I have produced a newsletter for teachers to help with that week's Bible study. I'm going through the very slow process of online-ifying old lessons in order to easily reference past ideas and topics.]
Getting Started: Things to Think About
The Christian Right to Political Action
In our lesson, Paul is going to tell us that we have to submit to the governing authorities. But in America, we have the right and ability to influence our government. Are we using that right? This weekend, I attended a seminar by Mike Griffin (he’s kind of like a lobbyist for Georgia Baptists). Among other things, he said that he talked to plenty of Georgia Baptists who were willing to go to jail when some future anti-Christian law gets passed, but they didn’t seem interested in working to prevent those laws from being passed in the first place.
And that didn’t make sense to him.
So—with that in mind, you might start with something like this: “As Americans, we are in a different position than church members in Paul’s day. They had to obey the governing authorities, and so do we. But we have a say in our government, and they did not. What are ways we can influence our government?”
Hopefully you’ll hear “vote”. But I also hope you hear “contact your state lawmakers”. Mike Griffin said that he will tell lawmakers that the people of Georgia are opposed to such-and-such potential law, but if they don’t hear the same thing from their constituents, they won’t care what Mike Griffin says. Below is a partial list. Also, Mike said that Christians should get involved in local government, should attend council meetings, and should stay in-the-know about laws that are being debated. He reminded us that Paul used his Roman citizenship on multiple occasions to his own benefit. Why? Because he had rights as a Roman citizen!
Here are the issues that Mike says we need to stay informed about (even though the current legislative session is over): abortion, gambling, religious liberty, marijuana, alcohol, and public accommodations. Whatever position you take on those matters (and you certainly don’t have to agree with Mike!), let your lawmaker know. If you want to know more information about what’s going on, here’s his site:
And here are some area lawmakers:
STATE SENATOR- 23RD DISTRICT 2 YEARS - JESSE STONE (R) 1/2019 – 12/31/2021 State Office: 320-B Coverdell Legislative Office Building Atlanta, GA 30334 (404-463-1314 office) (email@example.com)
STATE HOUSE REPRESENTATIVE- 121ST DISTRICT BARRY FLEMING (R) State Office: 401-H Coverdell Legislative Office Building Atlanta, GA 30334 (404-656-0152 office) (firstname.lastname@example.org)
STATE HOUSE REPRESENTATIVE- 128TH DISTRICT MACK JACKSON (D) State Office: 611-F Coverdell Legislative Office Building Atlanta, GA 30334 (404-656-0314 office)
A complete list can be found at https://thomson-mcduffie.com/citycounty/user_files/Elections/OFFICIAL_DIRECTORY2019_McDUFFIE.pdf
This Week's Big Idea: Government Hot-Button Issues
When Paul tells us to obey the governing authorities, there will be some matters where that becomes more difficult than others. You might not like it, but obeying the tax laws isn’t really a moral matter. Same thing with building codes. But there are present and future situations in which obeying the government may become a moral or ethical dilemma. If your class asks for examples of such dilemmas, you can offer these:
LGBT. On the one hand, this debate is about the rights of people who claim to belong to one of these categories. But on the other hand, this is also about what pastors can say from the pulpit, what teachers have to teach in schools, what counselors have to say to children, and more. If you don’t have young children, you might not realize what pro-LGBT factions are demanding that schools teach children.
Media. Rules governing the media are getting more and more lax. You can say that you simply control what you watch (and that would be the right response!), but this debate is over keeping standards/rules for children’s programming.
Abortion. I hope that the New York law legalizing late-term abortions woke Christians up (proponents can say what they want; it only takes one doctor to approve a late-term abortion, and they have vague language to adhere to). You can absolutely say that it doesn’t affect you directly, but this is a debate over our Christian responsibility to protect the lives of those who cannot protect themselves. Where you fall on this will determine how active you are in the issue.
Recreational Drug Use. The first one on the list is marijuana, being legalized all over the country. For Christians, this is simple. If it is legalized here, we can simply say no. Why would we try to prevent its legalization? To protect people from themselves. Just know that this push is coming to Georgia.
Gambling. I put this into a similar category as marijuana. Christians can say no to gambling (look, I understand that it’s a voluntary recreational activity, but it’s addictive in ways that other activities aren’t, and when gamblers lose everything, their families suffer the most). But the more easily people can gamble, the more easily predators in our society can take advantage of those people’s addictions.
Religious Liberty. This is the “catch-all” topic. Essentially, the debate is over whether citizens would have the right to disobey certain parts of the law over religious conscientious objections (see the Focus on the next page). Some are trying to pass laws working that protection into our legal rights. (First Amendment? What First Amendment?)
Immigration. Some people don’t think it’s as big a deal here, but it does affect us in our school system and in some of our businesses. We have to obey the rulings we are given; if we don’t like them, we need to tell the government.
You might look at those issues and say that they don’t affect you directly (the religious liberty matter absolutely would, but let’s set that aside). But you need to realize that they will affect some Christians in our state directly. If there are Christians in Georgia saying that we need to help them prevent a law from being passed (or repeal a law), then we need to pay attention. We might listen to their argument and then disagree with their conclusion, but we need to pay attention. If a law is bad for one part of the Body of Christ and we have the legal right to prevent it, then we need to use our rights as American citizens—if not for ourselves, then for the next generation who might not have those rights.
Don’t You Usually Tell Us to Stay Away from Politics?
I sure do, and here’s how I would recommend you navigate that page. The point of bringing any of those up would be simply to give an example of the kind of subject that lawmakers are considering that can impact Christian convictions. If someone in your class wants to start debating a specific topic, stop them with “The point today is not to debate these; the point today is to say that if you have a strong feeling about this one way or another, you need to let your lawmaker know. We have to move on to the rest of Paul’s letter!”
Our Context in Titus
This is our last lesson in Timothy/Titus. I think it’s also a great summary of the key arguments that Paul made:
(1) solid, biblical teaching is necessary for a healthy church;
(2) sound Christian behavior is necessary for a healthy church;
(3) solid, biblical teaching should lead to sound Christian behavior.
I’ll pick a couple of potential applications that you might leave your class with, but you need to pick that one thing that most directly affects your learners.
Part 1: Good Deeds (Titus 3:1-2)
Remind them to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to slander no one, to avoid fighting, and to be kind, always showing gentleness to all people.
So far, all of my asides in this handout have been about the issue of obeying the government. That’s not because Paul thinks it’s the most important issue! That’s only because I think the rest of them are really straightforward and uncontroversial and don't require a lot of explanation on my part. Look carefully: Paul essentially makes 7 commands in this passage; only two of them have to do with the government. It was not Paul’s primary focus, and so it shouldn’t be our primary focus. (But it’s the topic that I think will generate the most discussion.)
Last week, we talked about chapter 2, which focused on inter-personal relationships (mainly in the church). In chapter 3, Paul expands the scope to focus on people/institutions outside of the church. “Rulers and authorities” refers to the government (Paul has addressed church leadership elsewhere). Use Romans 13 as your supplement—Paul there identifies obeying laws, paying taxes, and showing respect as specific Christian duties. I think that both “submit” and “obey” are applied to these authorities. This is big. You might remember that when Paul told wives to “submit” to their husbands, he never told wives to “obey” their husbands. That submission was to be the honor, love, and devotion in the same style as they give to Jesus, but Paul was acknowledging that husbands can be capricious in their expectations, and so this protected wives from being forced to disobey God by “obeying” a blah husband. That protection is not offered here. Paul has established that God allows human government to exist for the purpose of protecting and maintaining a society, and so their laws must be obeyed (if you want to be a citizen thereof). See below for the situation in which Christians must disobey the government. For our part, as Americans, we must appreciate that our citizenship allows us to participate in and influence the government; we should use that right!
But Paul’s bigger point was that we should “be ready for every good work”. We are to be good neighbors and good citizens. This was a big deal to the early church. In Israel, Christians were accused of rejecting their social identity. In the Roman Empire, Christians were accused of being traitors (for not worshiping Caesar). Paul wanted the Christians in Crete and everywhere to demonstrate by their actions that they were good members of society, not revolutionaries or rebels. Why would that be important? Because it is hard enough to get people to listen to the gospel! Let’s not build obstacles to make those around us not trust us.
“Slander no one” is a bigger deal than you think. Paul is not focusing on inside-the-church stuff; he covers that elsewhere. Paul is talking about the outside world, particularly the rulers and authorities. If you don’t like President Trump, you still can’t slander him. If you didn’t like President Obama, you still can’t slander him (see below for what that means). We are to watch our mouths when we talk to and about the world. We aren’t to fight with outsiders, either physically or verbally. We can express our convictions without picking a fight. [Note: unfortunately, often when we express our convictions, someone else tries to pick a fight with us. What do we do there? If it’s just a troll, walk away. Don’t pursue an argument that will be unfair against you. If it’s someone who is willing to have a discourse about the topic, then pursue a debate that is respectful, graceful, and gentle. If you can’t proceed in that manner, then walk away.] What’s important about “gentle” is that Romans did not prioritize gentleness (it was not considered a virtue); being gentle would set a Christian apart in Roman society.
Aside: When Can We Disobey the Government?
We most certainly can—Peter specifically said to his government, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). In that context, the Sanhedrin had told him to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, and he told them No! The same thing happened to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: “We will not serve your gods” (Dan 3:18).
Here’s the key to those examples: obeying the government meant directly disobeying a clear command of God. The reason we obey the government is because God told us to, so it would be absurd to think we were supposed to disobey God in one area in order to obey Him in another.
In America, there aren’t many situations in which we are forced to disobey God. There are conscientious objectors to killing in the military, and so they had a law passed exempting them from that service; there are conscientious objectors to receiving government assistance, and so they had a law passed exempting them from paying into Social Security. There are those who believe that making a cake for a gay wedding violates their conscience, and so they are trying to have laws passed protecting them from that demand. The key in all of those examples is that we are dealing with conscience. There is not a clear law of God that forbids any of those things, and so they are matters of conscience. Christians fall on both sides of all of those issues. If you can obey the government without disobeying your conscience, then you must do so (and agitate for change!). In the case of the gay wedding cake, some bakers believe that making such cake is an endorsement of gay marriage. That is why they would rather be fined (or close their business). Others see it as a simple business contract. But one area where God is clear is speaking the Word of God—when the government criminalizes speaking what God says about homosexual activity, then we must disobey the government.
Bonus Aside: What Does It Mean to Slander?
The word translated “slander” is where we get “blasphemer”. The word diabolos can also mean “the slanderer”. So that should help you see just how negative a word “slander” is! In the Old Testament, the equivalent word meant to speak critically of another person with the intent to harm their reputation (Lev 19:16; see Rom 3:8, 1 Cor 4:13), or to issue a false accusation (Ex 20:16). The vast majority of the time, this word is used to describe when people speak falsely of God. When used in relation to people, it can also mean “revile” or “defame”.
According to law.com, the meaning of this word hasn’t changed in 2000 years: “oral defamation, in which someone tells one or more persons an untruth about another, which untruth will harm the reputation of the person defamed. Slander is a civil wrong (tort) and can be the basis for a lawsuit.” Examples of this: saying that someone found a finger in a bowl of soup at a certain restaurant; saying that someone had an affair to get a promotion; saying that someone’s diplomas are fake; etc. (assuming those aren’t true). This was so bad against the government in early America that the Sedition Act of 1798 makes it a crime to print something false about our government (seditious libel—libel is slander in print).
By the structure of the sentence, Paul is clearly saying that Christians cannot slander their government, but by adding “no one” Paul is also making it clear that slander is not limited to the government. Ask your class if they have ever indulged in reckless speculation, or passed on an unsubstantiated rumor, or declared a personal interpretation as fact. Those things can be slanderous (and often are). (Note: if we’re speaking truth, it’s not technically slander, but we sure need to check our motivation.) As Christians, we can’t do that—not about a politician, a celebrity, or anybody.
Part 2: Based on His Mercy (Titus 3:3-7)
For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out his Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior so that, having been justified by his grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life.
Remember how I said that the letter to Titus was the most forceful theological defense of good Christian behavior Paul made? Well, this is just another incredible example of that. To the class member who wants to “use the world’s tactics of debate and slander against the people in the world he doesn’t like”, Paul has a devastating response. We used to be like that, but we’ve been made new in Jesus by the Holy Spirit, and we don’t act that way any more. This is a helpful description of what the Bible calls regeneration—being born again. When we become a Christian, we don’t just adopt a new outlook; we don’t just have more willpower to be good; we cross from death to life. All Christians are a new creation. If there is nothing different about us between before and after when we think we were saved, then that means one of two things: (1) our conscience is seared and we are resisting the Holy Spirit (remember when we talked about that in 1 Tim 1?), or (2) we’re not actually saved. We used to be the kind of person Paul talked about (to varying degrees). Have your class go through that list—is there anything on it that didn’t apply to them (or even today rears its ugly head in their lives?) I still have moments when “the old flesh” makes an appearance in my actions and thoughts. And that’s what makes our salvation that much more miraculous. Jesus died for us when we were that. Out of His kindness, mercy, and work, He saved us. Not because we deserved it. We didn’t. Not because we could do most of it on our own. We couldn’t. I would strongly recommend that you encourage your class to memorize these verses as the perfect explanation of the gospel and the perfect encouragement for us to follow Jesus faithfully.
[Aside for a theological debate: what is “washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit”? Some groups believe that “washing of regeneration” refers to baptism, and they essentially teach that baptism is essential to salvation. I believe that “regeneration and renewal” is a compound verb; it is the action of the Holy Spirit in our life that is like a good “washing” (like a bath gets the dirt off of our body). We can kind of say it like this: we used to be dirty, filthy sinners, but the Holy Spirit washed us inside and out and made us someone new.]
What a great, encouraging verse follows: “He poured out His Spirit on us abundantly”! Never did God say that we would have to figure out Christian living on our own. He gives us the plan (in the Bible), the access (salvation), and the power (the Holy Spirit). All we have to do is say yes every moment of our life. God will never run out of patience or resources for us. God’s grace is the only reason we have salvation in the first place, so we don’t have to worry about our continued failures and doubts caused Him to get tired of us.
Look at the two different types of persons described in this passage. Which one do they feel more categorizes them (or maybe just time-to-time)? What does it take to be the Jesus follower that we want to be? (This is such a hard answer because Americans want it to be something that we do for ourselves, but according to this verse, God has done it all for us; to be like Jesus we need to stop trying to live on our own and let the Holy Spirit move and work through us. As a former engineer, I want to do something about myself; Paul is telling me to stop that!) Use this illustration: a potted plant (the Quicksource tried to use this illustration but got it backwards). What does the plan have to do to grow? It can’t really do anything! The gardener has to plant it, nourish it, water it, give it sun. The plant simply grows as it was designed to grow. We are the plant! God is the gardener!
Part 3: Done on Purpose (Titus 3:8-11)
This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God might be careful to devote themselves to good works. These are good and profitable for everyone. But avoid foolish debates, genealogies, quarrels, and disputes about the law, because they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning. For you know that such a person has gone astray and is sinning; he is self-condemned.
Paul closes with a powerful conclusion (starting with “those words I just told you about salvation are true and trustworthy”). You might find it interesting that Paul “insists” on teaching good works. There were two major heresies floating around Crete:
(1) you have to do enough good deeds in order to be/remain saved, and
(2) being saved means that your behavior doesn’t matter anymore.
People have misunderstood Paul’s teachings about salvation to one of those ends ever since. Titus had to explain forcefully what salvation was and why Christians should live as good citizens/neighbors. But even after that debate might be resolved, Titus was to avoid all sorts of other meaningless debates. Those kinds of debates only sparked ill-will, and they certainly did not inspire anyone to a good work. Can you think of any such debates?
Paul gives us a process for handling that kind of troublemaker (incidentally, the English word “heretic” comes from this Greek word for “divisive person”). A church leader was to confront that person and gently deny his false teaching or bad behavior. That it was to be done twice implies patience. After that second time, the church was to “reject” the person. Early Baptists got the idea of the “ban” from this verse: they would strip the person of his teaching position or office and not allow him to participate in the Lord’s Supper until after he repented and was restored by the church family. Lack of repentance is a sure sign that someone is stuck in sin. Until repentance, that person has essentially “condemned himself” in that he proves his own unworthiness for church leadership. [If you have time, send your class to Matthew 18:15-17 and compare Jesus’ and Paul’s words on what we call “church discipline”. Why don’t you think more churches actually do such discipline?]
End by creating two lists: what are the sorts of works that Paul says Christians should avoid? And what are good works Christians are supposed to do? Have them think about their past week—what sorts of works did they do? Have them pick one “bad” work to avoid and one “good” word to add; what are they going to “do” to make that happen (get in touch with the Holy Spirit).
Closing Thoughts: How to Honor Our Leaders
In the background of Timothy and Titus is this call to teach church members to respect sound church leadership. That still applies to us today. The Lifeway Quicksource closed with 4 ways we can honor our leaders/pastors:
Support Them (1 Tim 5:17-18). In this case, Paul was talking about the church providing adequate compensation so as to meet their material needs.
Love Them (1 Tim 5:19). We expect our pastors to love us and care for us unconditionally. Well, we need to love them too. A practical way we can do this is by protecting them from unreasonable expectations and false accusations/criticisms.
Pray for Them (Titus 2:1). Here is a list of 10 specific prayers for pastors: (1) pray that Jesus will be their first love; (2) pray that they will keep family a priority; (3) pray that their true goal will be faithfulness to God; (4) pray to keep them from temptation; (5) pray that they will seek God’s direction for the church; (6) pray that they will speak the truth boldly, humbly, and gracefully; (7) pray that they will teach sound doctrine; (8) pray that they will discern priorities; (9) pray for protection from abusive and mean-spirited people; (10) pray that they will receive the rest they need.
Follow Them (Titus 2:15). If we expect our pastors to be following God’s leadership, then we ought to be following their leadership. When your pastor is leading the church the right direction, you honor him by following him.
If you haven’t talked much about this during this quarter, then this would be a fine way to close things out. This is a clear and simple application for us that runs through all three of these letters.