The Good And The Gloom Of Body Life
Scripture: Titus 3:9–15
The Good and The Gloom of Body LifeTitus 3:9-15
Sunday, Decmber 17, 2006
Pastor Randy Smith
I read this week of a father who was in his study reading when he heard a commotion outside the window. It was his daughter as she was playing with a few of her friends. Soon the activity got louder, more heated and more argumentative. The father could restrain himself no longer. He pushed open the window and said, "Stop it! Honey, what's wrong?" After the reprimand, the daughter immediately responded, "But Daddy, we were just playing church."
Fellowship with the saints above…
Oh what a glorious ring…
But getting along with each other down below…
Well, that's a different thing.
We may join the church to escape conflict, but it doesn't take long to realize that the wars we ran away from in the world oftentimes reappear in the church. Sadly the church too has her share of divisions, factions and disunity. Beyond experience, the testimony of Scripture also makes this clear as it chronicles the interpersonal conflict that existed within the early church as well.
As Christians we are at war with the world, but tragically way too often we are at war with each other. Many have been hurt. Our testimony has been weakened. God's glory has been maligned. We cry, will it always be this way?
Samuel J. Stone, in his popular hymn, The Church's One Foundation, recalls the conflict we experience. Yet he reminds us of the future time when all Christians will be at peace with one another.
Speaking of the church, he wrote:
Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!
'Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.
But I ask, is our future heavenly bliss the only time we can enjoy the blessedness of the Christian church? Are we simply to accept the fact that conflict is unavoidable and must therefore be endured? Are we to expect the church to be plagued with all the diseases that infect the other institutions on this planet?
We have hope that the church can be glorious even in her earthly existence. Let's remember, we are knit together in love. We obey the same rule of conduct. We share the same purpose. And most of all, we are made up of people empowered by the living God who no longer need to conduct the divisive actions that the Christian community find so offensive. Maybe in the past - but no longer in the present.
Wasn't that the teaching of Titus 3:3? "For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another." Don't miss the first five words of that verse: "For we also once were." That describes our past. We once were that way, but as verse 5 says we have been "saved" and we have been "washed" and we have been "renewed." Therefore we are to be different than the world - different from what we once were. We are now called and able and expected to live as new creations in Christ.
You know the deeds of the flesh: "enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions" (Gal. 5:20) and a whole list of other goodies that guarantee conflict. Yet though that once described us, we "have crucified the flesh" (Gal. 5:24) and now live according to the Spirit (Gal. 5:16) that produces "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (and) self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23). And when we have a whole church walking in the Spirit of God, peace prevails and what a wonderful place the church will become!
We are far from perfected, but I certainly hope each of us is experiencing and contributing in making this the place we desire and the place God expects. When the church is off, she's off, but when she's on, no other institution on the planet can even come close to her in comparison!
Which side of the church do we see here at the Grace Tabernacle? Which side do our children see? Which side do they seek to imitate when they play church?
I have entitled this sermon: "The good and the gloom of body life." Our text this morning reveals both sides of the church. First we will take a look at the negative side and then conclude with the positive. Let's remember that these were Paul's final words to Titus, words that were obviously important, words that he wanted to impress on the young pastor's heart.
1. FIRE STARTERS
In order for the church to have conflicts there must be problems or issues that have the potential to divide. We know a raging forest fire can begin with a simple spark. So what are the sparks that ignite a church conflict? This first point is entitled, "Fire Starters."
In verse 9 of chapter 3, Paul spoke of four fire starters that produced conflict in the early church.
The first one mentioned is "foolish controversies." I believe knowing that our English word "foolish" comes from the Greek word moros ("moron" or "moronic") says enough. They are the picky debates or futile arguments over unimportant issues that produce unnecessary conflict (Pr. 29:9). They are childish. They are immature. They are the hobbyhorses that some men love to ride in a quest to promote their "clever" thinking and ability to back others into a corner.
These controversies may feed personal pride, but they add nothing to the edification of the church. Moreover they only promote disunity. Elsewhere the Bible says these people have a "morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions and constant friction" (1 Tim. 6:4-5). Timothy in his epistle is called to "refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels" (2 Tim. 2:23). Here in 3:9, Titus is called to avoid entering into these "foolish controversies." As says the Proverb, "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him" (Pr. 24:4).
Another fire starter in the early church was genealogies (cf. 1 Tim. 1:4). There is nothing wrong with studying the Old and New Testament genealogies from a biblical perspective. But it appears here that some were abusing these genealogies through fanciful interpretations possibly trying to find personal significance or superiority in something that was only a waste of time. Whatever it was, it was a meaningless activity that only sowed further seeds of discord.
Third, we find the fire starter called strife. Normally we think of strife as a result of a fire starter, but some people are so filled with anger and self-will that most of what they touch turns into controversy. These strife-laden individuals frequent the debates of the church. As a result, the same voices and personalities tend to reappear over and over again even though the issues may change. A storm seems to follow these folks wherever they go.
The last issue Paul mentioned that caused conflict in the early church was disputes about the law.
Now I wish to be clear at this point. I am not implying that we should compromise God's Word for the sake of peace. The essentials of Scripture, the core elements of the Gospel, contribute to binding us together. J.C. Ryle once said, "Unity without the Gospel is a worthless unity; it is the unity of hell." We should stand for truth and even be prepared to die for it.
But when Paul refers to disputes about the law, I believe he is specifically talking about the first century controversy that centered on whether Gentile converts should keep the Jewish ceremonial requirements stated in the Old Testament (see Tit. 1:10-16). As you know from the accounts in Acts 15 and Galatians 2, this was a heated controversy that almost split the early church.
After reviewing this list, I think you'll agree that many of these first century fire starters are still around today.
We still have our share of foolish controversies and those who spread strife wherever they go. Other fire starters have only morphed and are now identified by different faces. We don't get caught up in genealogies; today we seek to express superiority by elevating our own personal convictions to an extreme. A church should never be divided over schooling or music or clothing preferences - yet many are. Our disputes about Scripture have evolved from food regulations to hostile debates about the exact timing of our Lord's return or other side issues we crusade too often or too loudly. It has been said, "The devil is never more an angel of light than when he urges us to be ever stronger and more adamant in our own ideas" (Maurice Roberts).
Beloved, after sharing the Gospel in 3:3-7, Paul said in verse 8, "This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men." In contrast to the Gospel, these fire starters according to the end of verse 9 are "unprofitable and worthless." The Gospel is good and profitable. The Gospel is what unites us. The Gospel must be our focal point. Think about it, if we focus on our differences, the focus will be on each other. Yet if we focus on the Gospel, our focus will be on the Lord, "the God of peace" (Rom. 16:20). The Gospel is "good and profitable." Fire starters are "unprofitable and worthless." Where do you think we should be spending our time?
Divisions in the church only reveal our spiritual immaturity and misplaced focus. They reveal our failure to mortify our own self-love, fallen affections, natural jealousies, lack of humility and enjoyment of position and reputation.
So what will resolve our conflicts? Our only hope is God and the Gospel that saves and the power of the Holy Spirit that makes us more like Christ. When we keep those as our essentials, we will find a way to hold our personal convictions without needing to make them the convictions of others. We will realize that most of our issues are not worth dying over and potentially bringing strife to the church. We will remember that we are following the same Lord who desires unity and not division within His flock. Spirit-filled Christians, isn't that what you want too?
The puritan Thomas Brooks once said, "Discord and division become no Christian. For wolves to worry the lambs is no wonder, but for one lamb to worry another, this is unnatural and monstrous" (I.D.E. Thomas, A Puritan Golden Treasury, p. 304).
I believe Maurice Roberts, in an excellent article I read this week entitled, Dealing With Our Differences, summarized this whole section well. "It is a thousand pities when these differences become the occasion of alienating brethren from one another. This can happen all too easily when we ride roughshod over one another in discussion, debate and conversation. It can happen, too, when doubtful opinions are reckoned as dogmas and minor matters contended for as if the very life of the gospel depended on them."
Paul's point to Titus 2,000 years ago is the same for us today. We must be able to identify these fire starters, be aware of their potential for division and thus do all we can to avoid them (as verse 9 indicates). That is in line with Romans 16:17. "Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them" (cf. 2 Thes. 3:6, 14; 2 Tim. 3:5; 2 Jn. 1:10)
2. FACTIOUS PEOPLE
So it is clear that we are to avoid divisions, but as we move to the second point, what do we do with the people who cause them? Are we to just sit back and watch them destroy a church?
Verse 10 cannot be any clearer: "Reject a factious man after a first and second warning."
Obviously this is a call for church discipline and a form of church discipline that even eliminates one of the steps outlined in Matthew 18. The process is accelerated. We need to extend great patience to those struggling with personal sin. But when people are out to destroy a church, their stay at the church must be limited.
The point is that factious people are analogous to a cancer cell. They start small, but they reap a whirlwind of destruction to the entire body in a brief period of time. Therefore their leash must be short. Their platform must be eliminated. And after two warnings they must be removed from the church if through their persistence they fail to repent. They must be divided from the church to prevent greater divisions within the church.
Lest you feel this is unloving, the ultimate goal is always to protect the flock. These individuals should be warned in a way that is remedial, nonjudgmental, loving and restorative in all humility and with great prayer. Yet when there is no repentance in these individuals, according to Scripture must be removed for the safety of the flock. Remember in 1:11 when Titus said these men "must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families." The Bible warns us that wolves will always be amongst God's sheep. So the vigilant undershepherd must protect the flock using the means the Great Shepherd has provided in His Word.
You might be wondering, what are the specific things an individual does that create factions?
Well, many of them we covered earlier in the sermon. As we discussed fire starters, factious people are pyromaniacs. Factious people are caught up in foolish controversies and strife. They often major on the minor points. They have an uncanny ability to overlook all that we have in common and strive to make other people agree with their distinctives. They strain doctrine beyond its biblical proportions. They promote beliefs contrary to our church constitution. And they act in an insubordinate way toward the leadership. And once confronted one commentator described them well: "For them victory means everything. So in an argument they twist words, call names, threaten, manipulate procedures, and attempt to extend the debate as long as possible and along as many fronts as possible" (Chapell, Titus, p. 364). Bottom line is their actions in whatever form cause divisions and disruptions in the church that bring disunity to the body and loss of focus to our central mission which is to glorify God by exalting Jesus Christ for the edification of the church and evangelization of the world.
Often these people are wise in their own estimation (Rom. 12:16). They seek their own interests (Phil. 2:21). And anyone in this position who cares not for the health of the church is as verse 11 indicates, "perverted and…sinning, being self-condemned." Through their actions they indict themselves. Any attempt to justify one's own actions while intentionally or unwittingly destroying a church, leads to self-condemnation that oftentimes becomes evident to all (1 Tim. 5:24; cf. Gal. 2:11).
3. FELLOW SERVANTS
Well, with all that said I believe I did promise you the upbeat side of church life as well! And as Paul concluded his instruction in Titus, he did finish off this letter in the final four verses by providing some personal comments that adorn the beauty of Christ's bride.
First he addresses his fellow servants (our third point). Verse 12, "When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, make every effort to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there."
Every leader in the Bible faced opposition, but despite the pain that came with these people often many other people brought them great joy and encouragement. Artemas and Tychicus were two men that were used by the Lord and consequently blessed the heart of Paul more than anything else. As some seek to selfishly destroy the church, these servants selflessly put their lives on the line to strengthen the church. Servants whose prerogatives are always subordinate to the good of the church.
We know very little of Artemas, but Tychicus is mentioned throughout Paul's letters as a trusted traveling companion (Ac. 20:4) and faithful servant of the Lord (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7). We often see him playing second fiddle, being sent wherever his service was needed (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:12). We see that in verse 12. Either he or Artemas would relieve Titus at Crete so Titus could travel to Nicopolis to rendezvous with Paul and spend some time with his dear spiritual father.
Like Paul, we the church are blessed with such spiritual servants. It has been said there are four main bones in every church. The wish-bones: Wishing somebody would do something about the problem. The jaw-bones: Doing all the talking but accomplishing very little. The knuckle-bones: Those who knock everything. And the back-bones: Those who carry the brunt of the load and do most of the work (Bits & Pieces, October 15, 1992, pp. 16-17). Great churches don't happen automatically. We need many back-bones, fellow servants like Artemas and Tychicus.
4. FAITHFUL FRIENDS
Also a blessing to any church is faithful friends (our final point). In verse 13 we read, "Diligently help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way so that nothing is lacking for them."
Obviously these two men were preparing to pass through Crete, probably delivering this epistle, and Titus was called to minister to their needs (3 Jn. 6). This is one of our primary responsibilities in the body of Christ. This is what makes the church so wonderful when each of us can consider others more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:4). When we practice the "one-anothers" of Scripture. When we desire to serve each other through physical assistance, monetary help, counsel and encouragement.
Christians should be the best friends and the church should be the greatest display of true friendship. Jeremy Taylor said, "By friendship you mean the greatest love, the greatest usefulness, the most open communication, the noblest sufferings, the severest truth, the heartiest counsel, and the greatest union of minds of which brave men and women are capable." Isn't this the call of every Christian and shouldn't this be the mark of every church? All of us are expected to obey verse 14 which calls us to "engage in good deed to meet pressing needs, so that (we) will not be unfruitful." Good deeds have been the theme of this epistle (Tit. 1:16; 2:7, 14; 3:1, 8, 14) and Paul takes one more opportunity before he signs off to drive home this essential point. And when we are all obedient to meet pressing needs, the church will be a haven for good deeds and thus a home for true friendship.
While it has been said no kingdom has had as many civil wars as the church, we must understand that the church has the potential be the most glorious institution on the planet because of the final five words of this letter - Grace is with us all (Tit. 3:15).
Many have tried to copy the church. Counterfeits are all over. In the Midwest, family fraternities like the Moose Lodge are springing up all over the place.
Another great example is the local bar. One author said, "The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give His church. It's an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality, but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets and they usually don't tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers" (Keith Miller and Bruce Larson, Edge of Adventure).
The church is the real deal, but each of us must play our part. Each of us has the potential to add to the harm or good of this blessed institution.
'Sez I to myself, as I grumbled and growled,
'I'm sick of my church,' and then how I scowled.
'The members unfriendly, the sermons too long;
In fact, it seems that everything's wrong.
I don't like the singing; the church - a disgrace,
For signs of neglect are all over the place.
I'll quit going there, and won't give a dime:
I can make better use of my money and time.'
Then my conscience sex to me, sez he,
'The trouble with you is, you're blind to see
That your church reflects you, whatever it be.
Now come, pray, and serve cheerfully;
Stop all your faultfinding and boost it up strong;
You'll find you'll be happy and proud to belong.
Be friendly, be willing, and sing as you work,
For churches are not built by members who shirk.'