WEEKLY SERMON BLOG
“Living Between the Advents” --- Titus 2:11-15
Matthew in the thirteenth chapter of his Gospel collects several parables that Jesus used to explain the nature of the Kingdom of God to His disciples. In one of the shortest parables Jesus said:
The idea that Jesus conveys in this parable is that a place in the Kingdom of God is the most valuable thing that anyone can ever hope to possess. It is worth selling all that one has in order to gain entrance into it.
Paul as he opens this passage expresses a similar thought. In his letter to his protégé Titus, Paul writes:
The “grace” that brings salvation is what makes it possible for sinners to gain entrance to the Kingdom of God. From the OT the people of God were taught that God requires righteousness from those who would enter His kingdom. At the same time the OT also taught the people of God, that they all fell far short of that standard. If one truly takes these twin truths to heart, they lead to hopelessness and the recognition that in ourselves we can only expect ultimate ruin and that we will be barred from entering God’s Kingdom. But God gives hope where there would be no hope by graciously providing what we could never achieve on our own. He saves from our own wickedness and the condemnation that it rightly brings.
Paul stresses that this grace “has appeared”. In Paul’s original writing, this verb is put at the beginning of the sentence to stress the importance of the arrival of God’s grace. Grace is not simply a theoretical possibility; it has actually appeared. The Greek word translated as “appeared” is the one from which we get the English word “epiphany”. It refers to something being brought to light or made visible that was previously unknown. The event through which God’s grace appeared was the advent of Christ. In Him is found God’s grace and an entrance to God’s Kingdom.
Paul adds that this appearance was “to all men”. The point being that God’s grace is available to any and all human beings; and at the same time implies that this is because Christ is the only one who can actually provide eternal salvation.
I. What we are to learn: (vs.12)
Paul then writes that the grace of God is “teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (vs.12). The Greek word translated as “teaching” does not refer to abstract instruction in information per se; it refers to the process of child-training. The idea is that the practical, and moral development that one provides for a child to help them become responsible and upright adults is similar to the way that the grace of God teaches the believer. As with child-rearing, the input is both positive and negative. Therefore the reception of God’s grace is not simply the means to be forgiven for the wrong we have done; it is the means by which God transforms us to be suitable to enter into His kingdom with Him.
Negatively, the grace of God teaches the believer to “deny” two things. The Greek word translated as “deny” means to renounce something, to distance oneself from something because we do not want to have anything to do with it. The two things the believer is taught to renounce are “ungodliness” and “worldly lusts”. “Ungodliness” refers to being irreverent and impious. It means to have no regard or acknowledgement of God, and to live with no concern for how God might want us to order our lives. To be ungodly essentially means to live as though God did not exist. “Worldly lusts” refers to strong desires that are in harmony with the values and priorities of the fallen reality that we live in. Paul elsewhere expresses how the Christian is intended to be different in regard to his or her values from the unbeliever:
Paul taught the Colossians that the grace of God causes the believer to see their life centered in heavenly things rather than things of this world. The reason is that the world is hostile to the values and perspectives of heaven; so the Christian is to renounce the way the world looks at life, and the desires that worldly people have because it is contrary to the life of those who are a part of God’s Kingdom.
We see here a consistent principle in the Scriptures. It is the principle of substitution. We do not merely put away evil; we replace it with what is righteous and good. Therefore, Paul writes that God’s grace also teaches the believer about the positive traits that are to be built into one’s life. Paul does this by using three adverbs that express the manner of life that is pleasing to God (and befitting citizenship in the Kingdom of God). First, the believer is to live “soberly”. Literally, to be sober means not to be intoxicated. However, in the NT, sobriety is often spoken of in a figurative sense. Just as alcohol and drugs impair one’s thinking, so can sin. Therefore the idea that Paul is conveying here is that the believer’s life is to be marked by clear and rational thinking based upon what is actually true (which is defined in God’s Word). Second, the believer is to live “righteously”. A righteous life is one that is lived in accordance with God’s commandments and instructions. Third, the believer is to live “godly”. This word is from the same root word that is translated as “ungodliness” earlier in this verse. Therefore, it means being reverent to God and seeking to live in the way that pleases Him; or put another way, to live in light of the reality that God does exist and we are accountable to Him for how we live our lives.
Paul concludes the verse by noting that believers are taught by God’s grace to live this way “in the present age”. The “present age” is the time between the Fall and Christ’s return. The believer is to recognize that the nature of this fallen world is not going to last forever, but is an aberration from God’s original design. Believers are therefore called to live in this age in light of the age to come.
II. What we are to anticipate: (vs.13)
The next thing the grace of God teaches believers is to be “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”.
The Greek word translated as “looking for” means to wait for something with eagerness and longing. The idea is that the believer should live in joyful anticipation of this coming miraculous event.
The believer is to eagerly anticipate “the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior”. The word “blessed” refers to favorable or advantageous circumstances that bring happiness. The word “blessed” modifies the word “hope” to inform us that this is a hope that will bring better things that will result in much joy. In either Greek or English, the word “hope” can refer to something we anticipate that is certain, false, or somewhat possible. But Christ’s return is a certain hope; not because the word itself implies this, but because the hope is rooted in the promise of Christ Himself, and everything He says will without doubt come to pass. And Jesus told His followers:
Some speculate that Paul is referring to the rapture here. However, that is not what Paul has in mind. In the Greek language when two descriptive phrases are joined by a simple conjunction and are preceded by a single definite article, it means that both phrases are describing the same thing; therefore the “the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior” is an elaboration on the “blessed hope”. The actual appearance of Christ to everyone’s eyes refers to the second coming to earth:
The way the phrase “the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior” is worded it conveys the idea that Christ’s return will be the very personification of glory. These two ways of referring to the event are meant to heighten one’s anticipation of it by stressing both the blessedness and glorious nature of Christ’s return to earth.
There is a debate as to whether Paul was referring to the manifestation of the Father and Christ, or only Christ. Those who suggest that the Father is in view support this conclusion by noting that it is rare in the NT for an author to specifically refer to Christ as God. However, there are a number of good reasons to understand that Paul is referring to Christ alone in this verse:
III. What we are to remember: (vs.14)
Paul then goes on to explain that God’s grace also teaches us to remember what Christ did for us at His first advent; “who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” The relative pronoun “who” of course refers back to Jesus Christ (vs.13), and the first thing God’s grace teaches us to remember is that Christ gave Himself for us. This stresses that Christ voluntarily surrendered Himself to the death on the cross to save us because of His great love for us. Some portions of the New Testament focus on the sacrifice of the Father in sending His Son to die for those who would believe:
1 John 4:9-10
But other portions balance this by adding that Christ was not compelled to do this by the Father, but rather it was as much His choice as it was the Father’s:
Paul then goes on to explain the purpose Christ sought to accomplish by surrendering Himself to death on the cross; it was to accomplish a two-fold objective. First, He gave Himself in order to “redeem us from every lawless deed”. In the first century, the idea of redemption was to purchase someone out of bondage. A person might be in bondage because they were a prisoner of war, or they had a financial debt they could not pay, or because they were born to parents who were slaves. The only way to be freed was if someone paid the ransom price required by the one who owned the slave. This social reality was used figuratively to picture a spiritual truth; human beings were born into slavery to sin and death and the only way they could be freed from that is if someone paid the cost to set them free. Paul refers to sin here with a word that is translated as “lawless deed”. It is a difficult word to translate, but it is the strongest term for sin and refers to profound evil. Christ died so that this evil and the consequences of it would no longer dominate our lives.
The second objective Christ sought to accomplish through His vicarious death was to “purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” To “purify” means to cleanse something thoroughly so that one is entirely clean. In the Biblical culture it calls to mind the cleansing ceremonies of the Levitical Laws. These pictured, what Christ accomplished; the removal of evil and sin from the lives of those who trust in the Gospel. Paul adds that in this cleansing, Christ sought to gain for Himself “His own special people”. The English rendering may lead one to conclude that Paul is stressing again that believers are to be distinct from unbelievers. However, this particular Greek word that is translated as “special” comes from a root that means to have something in abundance. As the term is used here it means that Christ died in order to have a people as His own rich treasure. Therefore, the expression stresses not our difference from unbelievers, but our preciousness to Christ. What makes those for whom Christ died so precious is that they are “zealous for good works”. To be “zealous’ means to passionately desire to possess or achieve something; and thus the redeemed are not those who simply do what is right, they do what is right because it is their passion to do so. The preciousness of the believer then is that they resemble their Heavenly Father and their Savior Jesus Christ.
Together redemption and purification capture both the negative and positive elements of Christ’s saving work. Christians renounce evil, because they have been freed from its power; and Christians seek to live godly lives because their hearts have been purified so that they passionately desire to do what is good.
Paul concludes this passage by exhorting Titus to, “Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.” In light of the nature of what Christ came to accomplish, Titus in his ministry was to speak both exhortations and rebukes. An exhortation is a positive admonition to do what is right, and a rebuke is a negative correction to not do what is wrong. Therefore Paul continues to emphasize both the positive and the negative things that are involved in the execution of the Gospel ministry.
Titus was to carry out these responsibilities with “all authority”. The idea was not that because Paul sent him, Titus personally had the authority to command obedience from believers. Rather the authority lay in God’s Word; and it was an authority that Titus was to emphasize to the congregation to whom he ministered.
Finally, Titus is told not to allow anyone to “despise” him. To “despise” means to regard something as trivial, unimportant, insignificant, or unworthy of notice. Again, Paul is not concerned primarily with Titus’ personal reputation; he was concerned that those Titus ministered to would not disrespect the message that he was preaching to them. In this world we are surrounded by falsehoods and temptations that could lead us away from God. The only way to stay on the path of life that is pleasing to God is to cling tightly to the truth of God’s Word and to live one’s life according to what is taught. Paul here exhorted Titus to do all that he could to provide for the spiritual success of those charged to His care; primary in this was stressing the necessity of obedience to Scripture.
In the Bonds of Christ,
Pastor Michael Huard