Titus 3:1-7

A sermon preached last week at the Austin Stone Residents and Interns Chapel.

Good morning. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Travis Whitehead, and I serve at the West Campus. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Well, I’ve already seen this guy preach,” you are correct. I’m filling in for one of the other residents this morning, and I’m looking forward to walking through this text with you today.

When I preached on the first week of this chapel, giving an introduction to the book of Titus and some of the major themes, there’s some information I forgot to include as means of historical setting of this book. Scholars place the writing of Paul’s letter to Titus sometime between 61 and 67 AD, during a period of the Roman empire known as the Pax Romana, The Roman Peace. This is a period of about 206 years when Rome has reached its pinnacle. It isn’t conquering any more new lands, it’s not really fighting against much rebellion, and it’s said to be the first time in human history where there is a sustained period of time with no war. So what Rome focuses on during this time is making the conquered countries and peoples more Roman. It has expanded militarily, now it is expanding culturally. And it’s a great time to be a Roman, but if you are not a Roman, it’s a time when you’re facing a good deal of oppression by the Roman empire.

During this period, the Roman emperor Nero comes into power, and it’s a reign marked by brutality. He has his mother executed, he poisons his brother. In 64 AD, a section of Rome catches fire and burns for 9 days. Many people blame Nero for having the fire lit to clear land for some of his artistic endeavors, so Nero shifts the focus to the Christians. He doesn’t come out and say they lit the fire, but what he does do is say, “Look, they might not have struck the match, but isn’t this kind of all their fault? Don’t they seem to hate our gods, and despise our culture? Wouldn’t it be better if we just got rid of them all?” So begins an intense period of persecution of the Christians. Some are sewed into animal skins and thrown to the dogs, others are dipped in wax and lit ablaze in Nero’s garden, others are crucified and lined along the entrance into Rome.

It is in this historical setting that Paul writes to Titus in Titus 3:1-7. To this point, Paul’s instruction to Titus has been about how to disciple the church, how the church should behave within itself, but now he is going to transition to teaching on how the church should live in relation to the world, and specifically how it should live in a world that is hostile to the gospel and hostile to Christians. And the instruction that he gives is this: “Live as people of grace by remembering your past, present, and future reality.” Read Titus 3:1-7 with me.

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Poverty is a Recommendation

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“To one who is willing to give, poverty, on the part of the receiver, is a recommendation instead of an obstacle. Come, then, you who are without merit, Christ will be your merit. Come, you that have no righteousness, he will be your righteousness. Come, you who are as full of sin as an egg is full of meat, and the pardoning Lord will put away your sin. Come, you who are utterly forlorn, and be made rich in Jesus. The trade of a mendicant will suit you, and you will prosper in it; for I see you have a cruel hunger, and an empty wallet. He that cannot dig should not be ashamed to beg. A beggar needs no stock-in-trade. “Old shoes and clouted,” rags worn and foul—these form a fit livery for a beggar. Are you not dressed in this fashion spiritually? The poorer the wretch, the more welcome is he at the door of divine charity. The less you have of your own, the more welcome you are to him who giveth freely and Upbraideth not.”

– Charles Spurgeon, According To Promise

The Cross

“Jesus walks into Jerusalem. Like no one else He knows what awaits Him there. So in Gethsemane He falls on His face. The task is too great, and in a moment of writhing transparency, He buries His knees in the dirt, clasps His rugged hands, looks up to heaven, and begs His Father to remove the cup of wrath from the table of tomorrow. If there were another way than to take up that biting chalice, He would take it. Heaven is silent, and He knows what He must do. So He stands up and walks away, so thirsty for the Father’s pleasure that He drinks the cup of His wrath for others. Only the grace of the Father can sustain Him, and this is why He prays. But tonight He feels so alone. This is not a light cross. He can’t run. He must bear it. And He must bear it alone. 
So He allows Himself to be stripped of all that is dignified, of all that is attractive. He willingly puts Himself in the most vulnerable position. Seeing the faces of those who torture Him, He remains undaunted. Falling to the ground under the weight of the cross, He lifts His corpus off the ground and rises to communicate God’s love. Then He stretches out His hands, and He dies. In a thousand ways He wants this to end, but He stays. And as life is being drained from Him, there is something taking place that no one else can see. From eternity past to eternity present, sins are being forgiven, debts are being cleared; atonement, sweet atonement is being accomplished. From all the putrid stench of hell, from all the wickedness of Satan’s bastard children, up from the grotesque composite of trillions of sins, the ravishing Lily of the Valley is in full bloom. Life has come. So He screams the conclusion of this homily of heaven and hell from the pulpit of His cross, “It is finished!” And soon that buried life will rise again to prove that the spiritual reality is a physical one. Life from death. Death for Life. The exchange produces the pardon of sin. Oh the sweet vicarious suffering of Jesus that won us our salvation!”

From Dying to Preach: Embracing the Cross in the Pulpit, by Steven W Smith

Total Church Reflections

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I just finished reading Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. The book presents a picture for what the church could look like if it was rooted in the Word and working in mission as a community of believers.

There were a number of ideas in the book that got me really excited, some that I had honestly never thought of before, and others that I disagreed with. What I want to do with this post is not really give you a point-by-point description of the skeleton of the book, but mention a few points that pressed on me in one way or another and try to expound on my reaction to those ideas.

“This book argues that two key principles should shape the way we ‘do church’: gospel and community.”

The core of Chester and Timmis’ premise is that Christians must be rooted in the gospel, which will cause us to be rooted in the community – the church. Slicing through the Christian vocabulary, to be rooted in the gospel means “being word-centered” and being “mission-centered because the gospel is a message to be proclaimed.” This community, created by a word, rooted in a message of good news that is to be proclaimed by a community of believers inviting others to join in their community is really the central theme of the book.

“Too much evangelism is an attempt to answer questions people are not asking. Let them experience the life of the Christian community.”

Chester and Timmis give a picture of a group of believers who are coming together (as small groups within the context of a larger church body) not to have some sort of business meeting or sort of book review, but a group of people who have been made into the people of God actually living like a community that loves and cares for each other. It is within the context of this community that evangelism takes place. Our Christian communities (small groups, home churches, missional communities, whatever you want to call them) are the “hermeneutic of the gospel”. The church that lives in this real community is itself a sort of “community apologetic” for anyone looking in. I love this idea, that a group of people loving and caring for each other speaks to the validity of the gospel being spoken by that same community. The key being that the gospel is articulated. Because if the gospel is not articulated, then what separates this group of people from a hippie campsite or a cultist compound? So the community itself is the apologetic for a clear gospel being presented.

For me, this makes church-planting actually seem feasible. Church planting ceases to be a husband and wife going into a neighborhood, guns blazing, throwing holy water on houses and trying to convince people to become Christians. Instead, church planting looks like a group of people coming into the neighborhood as the church plant, evangelizing the neighbors of the church plant. To put it another way, under this paradigm, I am not going to my home group simply to hear someone’s quiet time and answer some questions to kill any awkward silence. Instead, I am intentionally going into the neighborhood where my brother and sister in Christ live so that I can tell his neighbors about what Jesus did.

Chester and Timmis come from a house-church model (a collection of small groups of believers makes up the larger whole of the church), and through this lens they speak on a number of subjects and ideas that I don’t necessarily agree with and I really don’t want to get into a full-on “Here’s why so and so is wrong” sort of thing. There’s too many blogs that do that.

One of the things that stuck out to me while reading this book was my reaction to things with which I disagreed. In a chapter on counseling, my immediate reaction was to say “No, you need to have this person see a licensed counselor”. Later on in the book, I got genuinely upset at what seemed to be a dismissal of congregational preaching.

So here’s what I took from that:

1) I don’t really fully trust the sufficiency of Scripture as much as I want to, or want to say I do. If I did, I wouldn’t scoff and cringe when people try to counsel someone who is hurting with “God is sovereign” or “He’s working for the good in all things”. Honestly, think about that for a second. Is there any possible better news anyone could receive at any point in time during suffering? “Hey, I know this hurts, but God is in control and He has not abandoned you. Not only that, but He’s working all of this out for your good.”

2) I’ve got a lot of my self-worth and self-identity wrapped up in this idea that I need to preach to a congregation of people. Now look, I’m not saying that preaching is really just a conversation. I’m not saying that in the slightest. What I am saying is that my immediate response of flinching when I read about the possibility of doing pastoral ministry and never preaching is because I am selfish and self-centered. Pastoral ministry cannot, by definition, EVER be about me. It can’t. It is a shepherding and stewarding of what God in His sovereignty has entrusted to me. I don’t know if it was there intention, but Timmis and Chester really pointed that out to me, as a reader. I’m really wrapped up in the me part of ministry, despite the fact that there is no me part to be wrapped up in.