Godly Influence in Culture

We are finally beginning a new section. Where chapter 1 dealt with godliness in the church, and chapter 2 dealt with godliness in the family, this chapter deals with godliness in the world. The temptation of many early Christians was to escape from the world and go out into the wilderness. And we too might think, "It would be so much easier to live the Christian life if we didn't have to live in the world. If I didn't have that crazy boss to put up with with; if I didn't have those immoral associates." And that's where chapter 3 comes in. Chapter 3 gives some very practical advice for godliness in the world. Though we are not of the world, we are called by God to live in the world and to transform the world. And so over the next three weeks we are going to be looking at Paul's call to live as godly citizens. Next week we will look at the motives needed to be able to transform society effectively, but for today, let's just look at the call itself.

You are Called to be Godly Citizens (vv. 1-2)

Verses 1-2 say, Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. This is actually a Scripture used by the king of England against the Puritans when they entreated the king to abandon his tyranny. The theological defenders of the king basically said that the king's word is law, and it is the citizen's duty to be subject and to obey all of his commands. The king stands in the place of God. To emphasize that there was no limitation to this, they rightly pointed out that this book was written shortly after Nero began his severe persecution of Christians. And so, from their perspective, it really didn't matter how bad the king was, you had to obey him.

So the first thing that I want to do is show how such an interpretation violates the context of what was written in the previous chapter, and secondly, it violates the context of who wrote this book — jail-bird Paul. In chapter 2, the older men and women, younger men and women, masters and servants were exhorted to live in terms of God's biblical blueprints. And part of God's Biblical blueprints deal with the social arena. In chapter 2 verse 11 Paul said, For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men [magistrates and citizens, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile. God's grace was conquering every level of society. Paul even talked about members of Caesar's household being Christians. And with that grace came certain responsibilities. Verse 12 goes on to say] teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age [Verse 14 says of Christ] who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed [notice how universal that is — "from every lawless deed"] and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. It's clear that Paul wanted the Cretan believers to live out the Biblical blueprints, and not just to have them stored in their heads. And no matter what station in life you held, you were to do it by His grace, according to His law, and unto God's glory. That's the context. We saw last week that sin is defined as lawlessness, and if we are redeemed from every lawless deed, that means that every law of the Old Testament continues to be binding.

But the second context that the king of England ignored was that Paul was a jailbird. He disobeyed the state's mandates that he not preach and that he not travel to certain areas. We'll have more to say about that in a moment. But all the apostles were treated as criminals because they refused to get a state license to preach, and the church refused to call Caesar lord of the church. Paul himself was in and out of jail.

So verses 1-2 are obviously not intended to make Christians doormats who fail to be salt and light in society. Instead, Paul was giving advice on how to maximize their impact. A loyal opposition is much easier to swallow than an unloyal one. A gracious opponent is much harder to persecute than an ungracious one. A loving opponent is much harder to dismiss than a bitter and angry one. And a submissive citizen is going to be taken much more seriously in his objections to tyranny than an unsubmissive one. And those are hard principles to reconcile in some people's minds, but we are going to try to do so this morning.

I want to first of all point out that it would have been much harder for the first century Christians that Paul is writing to, to obey this commandment than it would be for us. It's hard enough for us to swallow verses one and two, but think of them. By the time Titus was written, Nero had already begun his three and a half year persecution of Christians in 64 A.D. Don't confuse that with the three and a half year war with Jerusalem. This persecution began before the war against the Jews. In fact, there was a two year period when the Jews cooperated fully with the Romans in seeking to exterminate Christians. Jew and Roman were bed-fellows. So they were harassed by the Jews and they were harassed by the Romans. and Christians were treated as being the worst of citizens. They were blamed for the burning of Rome; they were called subversives; they were hunted down as being treasonous rebels. They were falsely accused of practicing cannibalism in the worship service. And when we get to verse 13 we will see that this is why Paul sent Zenas the Roman lawyer, and Apollos who was skilled in Jewish law to Crete. The case for the Christian church didn't exactly look too rosy in the courts anywhere in the Mediteranean region. They needed these two lawyers.

Now with that as a background I think it will help you to appreciate how revolutionary Paul's words to these Christians were in verses 1-2. He wasn't dealing with a semi-benign government. He was dealing with a government that had many misconceptions about Christians.

Despite the Difficulties Presented by the Government (v. 1)

The first misconception that the Romans had was that Christians were subversives who had burned down Rome and were out to overthrow the government. And in the first phrase Paul wants the Christians to do everything in their power to avoid that false conclusion. Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities...

Tacitus says that Nero actually ordered Rome burned down in 64 A.D. because he didn't like the dingy winding streets and he wanted it rebuilt into a more stately city. In fact he hired gangs of men to keep people from dousing the flames. Even the Roman historians say that. But when Nero began feeling the heat from the citizens and their was talk of revolt, he blamed the Christians for the fire. And the propaganda that he spread caught on for at least the next few years. Here are some of the descriptions that Roman leaders of the time gave of Christians: "haters of the human race." Juvenal said they belonged to the sewage of the Orontes. Seutonius said they were "a race of men given to a novel and baneful supersition." Tacitus describes them as notorious for their depravity. So Nero's false propaganda made sure that they got a bad reputation as insubordinate subversives who were haters of the human race.

What's the only way that you can convince people otherwise? It's if your life is so obviously submissive to the government; so obviously loving; so obviously gracious to the citizens that are all around you, that they have to scratch their heads at the accusations. Paul is going to begin his counteraction of this slander by fighting with love, and he gives seven qualities that should characterize the Christian and should be the opposite of the seven vices that are listed in unbelieving citizens in verse 3. Now as we read these three verses, pretend you were a magistrate who had a Christian hauled into your court, and you are trying to find out what exactly was wrong with a Christian. Which of these two descriptions would you want in your citizens? Here's the contrast: Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. For we ourselves were also [in other words he is including the other unbelieving citizens in this description of the Christian's former lifestyle — "were also"] once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. This is a description of two types of citizens: Christian and non-Christian. Paul is counteracting the slander and persecution by asking Christians to be model citizens. And this is a great strategy.

Now let's start first with what this does not mean. And that will give us a clearer perspective of what verses 1-2 do mean. Paul's admonition does not mean that Paul wanted them to be doormats who did whatever the government wanted them to do. You must remember that this is the same Paul who said, in stripes above measure [how many times had Paul been beaten by magistrates? He says he can't even count the number of times — it's above measure; he's lost count.], in prisons more frequently, [He wasn't just a one time prisoner. He was frequently a guest of the county and state jails and even a guest of Nero's prison one time. He got out, but after he wrote this book, he was jailed by Nero again and was killed. But prior to that time he describes how many times he had been sentenced to death. He says,] in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned. (2Cor. 11:23-25) If either a Jewish or a Roman magistrate were to look at his prison record and his criminal record and his skirmishes with the law he might conclude that this was a hardened criminal. He's been in and out of jail over and over.

25 years earlier Paul acted as a sort of Brother Andrew, working undercover in Damascus and trying to elude getting caught. That was in 39 A.D. already. In Acts 14:19-20 Paul is stoned and dragged outside the city as dead. God brings him back to life and he goes back into the city. He doesn't necessarily run from trouble. In Acts 16 after being beaten and imprisoned by local authorities they all of a sudden discover that they have beaten him illegally, and they try to quickly sweep their illegal action under the carpet and quietly get rid of him because it was illegal to beat Romans without a trial. He stands up for his rights and refuses by saying, They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out. And the officers told these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans. Then they came and pleaded with them and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city. So they went out of the prison and [does it say they left the city? No. It says, they] entered the house of Lydia (Acts 16:37-40). And because of Paul and Silas's tough action - standing up for their rights, things went a little easier for the church in that city. Six years before he wrote Titus Paul successfully defended himself before local authorities, Jewish authorities and Roman authorities in Acts 21-24. In each case it was only because of his resistance to their injustices that he was able to triumph and continue to preach the gospel. But in all cases he was respectful and submissive. So he's not talking about a totally passive, belly up approach to civil government. If he were, he would be a hypocrite. Can you see that? This is no wimp who is saying, be subject to rulers and authorities. And yet, in all of Paul's conflicts with the state he remained a loyal citizen, and a submissive citizen. That may seem like a mystery to you at first, but let me explain.

When the government is doing you a bad number, or when city hall is being uncooperative, it is too easy to look only at the passages that speak of civil disobedience and take a very combative, arrogant, unsubmissive and subversive stance. On the other hand we could look only at verses that deal with submission to authorities and end up compromising the Christian faith by giving in on areas that God says we must not give in on.

What Paul is doing in verses 1-2 is giving the strategy that a Christian must follow if he is going to have an effective influence upon these officials who oppress them. If a Christian stands up for his rights having the unbeliever's characteristics of verse 3 it is going to go a lot worse for him than if he stands up for his rights having the attitudes and actions of verses 1-2. Let me briefly explain these verses and then give some examples from the Bible that flesh them out. He says, Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities.

Why does he need to remind them? It's because it is so easy to start out with good attitudes, but then grow bitter, angry and frustrated with the government when we don't make progress. And we need to continually remind ourselves not to speak evil of the king when we resist the king's tyranny.

Secondly, why the subjection, when Nero was persecuting them? Why not just write Nero off and say that he is fit for overthrow? Afterall, according to Biblical standards, Nero was fit for overthrow — by a magistrate, but not by common citizen. As long as Nero was king, and as long as other magistrates did not intervene to protect the citizens, the government officials still possessed lawful authority. Just because they are non-Christians; just because they oppose God in certain areas, and just because they have 20 bad laws, does not mean that you can refuse to obey 400 good laws. There needs to be an attitude, and a desire for submission to that which is legitimate. If we only obey during those times when we won't get away with disobedience, and if we have a rebellious, reluctant, grumbling, unsubmissive spirit, then the few times that we must enter into civil disobedience will just be seen as a confirmation of our bad character. It won't be a good testimony for Christ. Here's the issue: our obedience needs to be principled and our disobedience needs to be principled. Both need to be governed by the Bible. Paul wants nothing to do with anarchy.

Please turn with me to 1 Peter 2:13-17 where I think this is very clearly laid out. Peter's audience was undergoing the same persecution by Nero. It is the same context as Titus. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, [that phrase "for the Lord's sake" is important, because we may not obey if it is not for the Lord's sake. Peter is not saying that all obedience would be for the Lord's sake. He is saying that obedience to every command must be for the Lord's sake. Down in verse 19 he indicates that there may be times when you must disobey for the Lord's sake and be willing to suffer the consequences. "For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully." So Peter recognizes that there is wrongful suffering because there are wrongful laws. Well, Peter goes on in the last phrase in verse 13] whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers [so that is the context of good laws] and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men [here is the purpose. We want people to come to Christ as a result of our show-case lives as citizens. We don't want people to be able to legitimately say anything malicious about Christ and his gospel. Peter goes on to say,] as free [in other words our consciences are bound by God's Word, not by man; they are free. "As free" ] yet not using your liberty as a cloak for vice, but as servants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

And that is exactly what Paul is getting at in Titus. Even the phrase, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men is reflected in the second chapter of Titus. Look at Titus 2. Titus 2:5 gives one of the purposes of discipleship of women into godly living being, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. They were used to having God's word blasphemed by the pagans, but the Christians lives were to be so transformed that the pagan's could not help but see the character of Christ in them. Look at Titus 2:8. The men were also to live lives of integrity. sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you. Again, one of the goals that Paul had uppermost in his mind was conquering slander by love. It was winning pagans to Christ. Look at verse 10. Paul wants slaves or servants to be model workers, and the last clause says, that they may adorn [or beautify] the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.

So here's the question: Does your life beautify Christianity to the world or is it a bad testimony. Is your life such that a magistrate would feel justified if he suppressed Christianitity? Are you a parasite to society, or a boon to society? Are you a breaker of the law or an obeyer? Are you submissive or antagonistic to government officials? When you come into the city chambers, do the city councilmen walk the other way to try to avoid you, or do they look forward to your visits because you not only criticize, but you praise them for the good they are doing, and you give helpful advice.

What kind of image do unbeleivers get when they see your Christian bumber sticker speeding ten miles an hour over the speed limit? Now your excuse might be mine that cruise control doesn't work in the city, but it is a testimony issue that we should try to keep. In chapter 2 Paul wants us to think about the success of the Gospel and the impression that is conveyed to the heathen by our actions. In chapter 3, he describes the type of lifestyle that cannot help but win sympathy from persecutors and which cannot help but make them ask questions. In the words of Romans 12:21 Paul says, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

And notice that this good described is a very active good. Christians are to go on the offensive and seek out opportunities to serve. Titus 3:1 ends by saying, to be ready for every good work. When an earthquake struck a city (and several cities were hit hard by earthquakes during this period leading up to 70 A.D.), who were the first ones on the scene to help? Christians were there, clearing the rubble, burying the dead, providing food and making it clear that they had society's best interests in mind. That they were not haters of the human race as Nero had claimed. Take a look down at verse 14: And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful. Again, the bearing of fruit amongst the pagan's was on Paul's mind. One of the most fruitful periods of growth in the church was during the terrible times of calamity that came after Titus was written, when there were earthquakes, destructive storms, plagues, wars, famines, and other calamities in a non-stop continuing stream. And this is one of the reasons that I am so delighted with the heavy involvement the PCA has begun to have in disaster relief.

Henry Chadwick, a very famous church historian, said of the first three centuries: "The practical application of charity was probably the most potent single cause of Christian success." And he lists the types of charity the church engaged in as "care for the poor, for widows, and orphans, in visits to brethren in prison or condemned to the living death of labour in the mines, and in social action in time of calamity like famine, earthquake, pestilence, and war." He speaks of them burying the poor They even ministered to the needs of unbelievers in the prisons that they visited. That is the work that the church has given up in the USA and is just now begining to reclaim from the government. Meeting urgent needs.

Paul goes on to say, to speak evil of no one. This is not saying that you cannot tell the truth about a politician. Paul stood in the tradition of Christ in mincing no words about the hypocrisy of many leaders. This is better translated by the NASB as Malign no one, or the NIV, to slander no one. And the temptation to slander is strong when it comes to politics. People put the opponent in the worst possible light and minimize anything good that they have done. Some of the adds are nothing short of slander. It's evil speaking. It is easy to overstate our case when talking about our persecutors, but in the heat of exchange it is imperative that we speak with integrity. He goes on to say that we should go even further: be peaceable [or uncontentious]. We should not be out for a fight. The next word goes even further. We are to be gentle [or genial]. The normal reaction when we are persecuted is to seek revenge, to want to strike back. But Paul says it is important that we maintain a demeanor of gentleness. You know, it was really hard for people to really hate Ronald Reagan because he had such a winsome, genial disposition when he disagreed with people. And then finally, showing all humility to all men. Showing some humility to some men might not be hard. And even showing all humility to some people, or some humility to all people might be possible, but showing all humility to all people is a real feat of God's grace. But he says that if you want to have influence in society, this is what you need to do.

One of the things that led some prison guards to Christ during the imprisonment and torture of Richard Wurmbrandt was the fervant love and prayers that he offered for his tormentors, and his peaceable humble attitudes. He had a conquering love. Now he would refuse to do what they said at times, and would disagree with them at times, but he did it in such a nice way that some of the guards were won to Christ. It was more than these prison guards could take. They wanted the Christ who could give such conquering love in such abundance.

Christ's statement on the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." led to the salvation of at least one Roman centurion. Stephen was not able to achieve the face and demeanor of an angel before his persecutors on his own. It was Christ living through him. And his prayer to God, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." did not fall on deaf ears. Saul of Tarsus was pricked by the goads of Stephen's testimony for some time until finally conquered by Christ on the road to Damascus. You never know who is watching, or what effect your words and actions as citizens may have. But in everything you do, you should seek to reflect the holiness of God. You are servants of Christ whether you are in the church (chapter 1), in the home (chapter 2) or in the world (chapter 3). And it is your bounden duty to live lives of godliness so that others may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Amen? The rest of the chapter spells this out in greater detail, but let's close now with the prayer that we might be godly citizens who would bring honor to our heavenly king.

Despite the Difficulties Presented by Fellow Citizens (v. 2)

Children of God, I charge you to put off the bad citizen qualities of verse 3, and to put on the godly citizen qualities of verses 1 and 2. And may God make your efforts at Reforming government a blessing and not a curse. Amen.

Godly Influence in Culture is part of the Titus series published on November 21, 2004

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