CDPCKL · Final Inspection and Dedication (Titus 3:8-15)

Final Inspection and Dedication (Titus 3:8-15)

Last week Paul finished teaching his course on How to Establish a Church. 

Now, he initially wrote this Church Establishment course for Titus, a younger pastor who was like a son to Paul. But it is obvious, from the way the course is written, that it was meant for all the Christians on the island of Crete. Really, Paul wrote the course material, and then he passed it on to Titus so that Titus could teach it to the Christians under his care. And apparently the Christians on Crete found this course material to be very helpful, very practical, because — apparently — they made copies of it, passed it around, and preserved it for the following generations. 

And so it has come down to us, here in Malaysia, almost 2000 years later. Now we understand the basic structure and process of church construction: first the Gospel foundations, then the pillars and walls, then the Gospel roof over all. We understand how to sort through the available building materials: how to select living stones that are sound in the faith. We understand how to shape and prepare different kinds of stones to play different kinds of essential roles in the Christian community. And we understand the end goal, the purpose of this construction project: to build a living temple that shines amid the darkness of the nations, an alternative community that — simply by existing! — actually deconstructs the systems of the world and points forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righeousness. 

Which means that, by completing this Church Establishment Course today, you are all now qualified to help establish a church. You all know how to participate in a church planting team, what your different roles should be and how to prepare yourselves for those. So…congratulations! You can pick up your certificates on the way out. 

But as we glance down at the course materials we can see that Paul is not quite finished. And perhaps that is because Titus is not finished; actually, he is just getting started with the church planting process — the church re-planting process, really. Yes, when the course packet arrived, Titus brought it to his local Christian community and read it out loud to them. And yes, some of his friends are going to hand-copy the packet so that every church will be able to follow the same program and help each other stay on course. But as we know, just reading through the course materials is not enough. The churches now need to actually start construction. 

But here is the point of tension: Titus is not certain at all that his congregation will actually accept Paul’s construction principles and apply them. 

And this is because there is an alternative Church Planting course being taught by some very well funded professors from Jerusalem. 

These professors had arrived on Crete some time ago. They have been telling the Cretan Christians that Paul’s course is not properly accredited, that Titus is not a properly tenured academic. They have been showing off all these shiny brochures advertising the University of Jerusalem, talking about the history of the school and all the illustrious alumni who have gone on to be famous world leaders: kings and priests and prophets and all that. They have even opened up a branch of the University of Jerusalem in Crete. 

But these U of J professors are not actually teaching a Christian Church Planting course, they are teaching a Jewish Church Planting course. They have been trying to turn Christianity — which grew out of Judaism — back into the very strictest version of Judaism, the kind that is centered around circumcision and thousands of detailed religious rules. They are trying to get rid of Paul’s kind of Christianity, which is centered around baptism into the body of Christ. 

And as a result, the church in Crete has been deeply divided. 

First, because, by emphasizing Jewish traditions, these professors have been re-emphasizing the cultural differences between Jewish-background Christians and pagan Cretan-background Christians. And this has turned the Cretan-background Christians into second-class citizens in their own churches. Basically, the U of J idea is this: if you want to be a good Christian, really you have to be a good Jew. This is much easier for Jewish-background people, much more difficult for Cretan-background people. Which has driven a very obvious wedge between the two groups: this idea that God loves Jewish people more than Cretan people. 

Second, by emphasizing Jewish traditions, these professors have been de-emphasizing the need for true Gospel transformation. For them, once someone has learned how to do all the Jewish prayers and rituals properly, they are now a godly person — even if they are still greedy, impulsive, bad tempered, careless with their words, abusive to spouse and children. Basically, under the U of J system, character doesn’t really count: what you do at home, in your private life, is your own business; the important thing is to make sure you look like a good religious person in public. And this, too, is much easier for Jewish-background people, much more difficult for Cretan-background people, because Jewish-background people have had a lot of practice pretending to follow the 10 Commandments, whereas Cretan-background people barely even know what the 10 Commandments are! 

And the effect of these divisions has been devastating. This U of J discipleship program has produced a whole crop of self-righteous Jewish-background members who look down on a whole crop of Cretan-background members who do not even know that true godliness means no longer lying, cheating, stealing, and sleeping around. 

Now, from the very first, very long sentence of Paul’s letter, it was obvious that he had no patience at all for that kind of nonsense. Right from the beginning he announced his intention to define true Christian godliness properly. And that is what he has been doing ever since: on the one hand, challenging and deconstructing the U of J discipleship program; on the other hand, challenging and deconstructing Cretan cultural presuppositions. He has been clearing away the rubble from the building site, and laying out the blueprints, the plans for a healthy Christian community. And last week he closed the course by telling Titus: I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. 

In other words: Titus! Teach this course! Keep on teaching it until we get the results God wants! 

But now, as Titus pauses in his reading and looks up at the congregation…as I mentioned a minute ago: it is an open question whether this congregation will actually accept Paul’s construction principles and apply them. The divisions out there are obvious. Many members are ready: they are sound in the faith, ready to apply the Gospel to their lives and their community. But many are profoundly confused, torn between self-righteousness and Christ’s righteousness, torn between the U of J professors and Titus. Who are they going to listen to? 

Depending on which way things go, Titus may not get another chance to teach this course! 

So he goes back to reading: [8] These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. 

This is Paul’s final endorsement of this course material. This is Paul’s guarantee, really: if you follow this Church Establishment program, you will succeed in transforming individuals, bringing broken families back together, and building true Christian community. 

[9] But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 

In short, Paul is saying: my Church Establishment program — Jesus’ Church Establishment program — is profitable. If you follow it, you will get good results. By contrast, the U of J program is unprofitable. It is useless for transforming lives, uniting families, and building community. 

But of course, some people in the congregation there are going to object and say, “Hold on now, Titus! Have you seen the brochures? Do you see how many illustrious alumni the school has produced? And look at the accreditation here! How can Paul say that such an education is unprofitable and useless?” 

But that is the very point Paul is making: those University of Jerusalem brochures are all focused on alumni and accreditation precisely because they are trying to distract potential students from the fact that their curriculum is crap. 

Yes, JU did produce some amazing graduates — but that was hundreds of years ago, and the school has completely changed since then. If those ancient alumni visited the university now they would be horrified by what is being taught! 

And if someone goes to one of these professors and tries to point out that what the U of J taught back then is actually the opposite of what the U of J is teaching now, well: that professor will just respond with a bunch of complicated technical theological jargon that nobody but specialists can understand. They will bring up all kinds of controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law. 

And this is in fact why that whole education system has become unprofitable and useless: because, in the end, nobody knows which end is up or what the school even stands for anymore! Students graduate from there with their heads stuffed full of hyper-detailed nonsense that has nothing to do with real life. They have ivy league PhDs in theology! — while at the same time they are still liars and cheats, obsessed with power and prosperity and position, no different from any other pagan in the Roman empire.  

The only thing a person learns at the U of J is how to use clever reasoning to justify their passions and pleasures, their malice and envy! 

So, Paul is telling Titus here, do not let them suck you into all that quarrelling nonsense. They are nothing but a distraction from the real work of the Gospel, which is: transforming lives, families, and communities! 

But even more importantly, Paul says next, do not let them suck the entire church into that nonsense: 

[10] Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 

Wow. Titus looks up from his reading and — yep! — the congregation is a bit shocked. Because this sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it? 

But really they should not be shocked, because Paul is actually just adapting a process that Jesus first put in place. 

Jesus told his disciples that, if a brother or sister sins, go to them privately and show them where they have gone wrong. If they refuse to repent, talk to them again, and bring stronger evidence to the table. If they still refuse to repent, bring the elders and the rest of the community into the conversation, and if they refuse to listen even then, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 

Now, Jesus’ instructions were about how to deal with personal sins, which is why it begins on a personal, private level before expanding to include the community. 

But Paul is talking about public sins, because divisive false teachings are not a private matter. It is true that false teachings are often taught privately and secretly — but they have a public, divisive effect. They affect the whole community! 

And that is why Paul essentially skips the first, private step in Jesus’ process and moves directly to the second step where evidence is brought into the conversation. Warn a divisive person once, Paul says — and remember, in this case, he is speaking primarily to Titus and to the elders that Titus will be raising up. Which is appropriate, because this divisiveness is rooted in a theological disagreement about the true nature of godliness. So, Titus and the elders need to go and warn these divisive false professors and their followers. In doing so, Titus and the elders need to avoid getting sucked into hyper-detailed quarrels. Instead, they need to keep things as simple as possible, drawing clear lines from the foundations of the Gospel to how that Gospel is supposed to bear fruit, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth. 

If a person or a collection of people refuse to repent of their false doctrine, then Titus and the elders need to go and warn them a second time, even more publically, so that the entire congregation can understand clearly why and how this false teaching is in opposition to the Gospel. 

And if they refuse to listen even then, if they continue to corrupt the community with their false teaching and their divisive behaviour…well, just as Jesus said: after that, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector: have nothing to do with them. 

But still, the people have objections. As in: really, Paul? Have nothing to do with them? Like: don’t even fellowship with them anymore, don’t even hang out? But if we do that, how will they ever get a chance to hear the Gospel again? Aren’t you worried that, by activating this harsh response, you might be condemning their immortal souls and taking away any chance they might have to be restored? 

But Paul answers those objections and says, No! I’m not actually worried about that. Because: 

[11] You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned. 

See, if Titus and the elders have followed this discipline process properly, then they have already preached the Gospel — twice! — very clearly to the divisive person. By the time a church arrives at the point where it is necessary to excommunicate that person, that person knows the Gospel, and they are self-consciously rejecting it. They are self-consciously rejecting the apostles and the prophets. And as Paul made clear in the very first sentence of his letter: those who reject the apostles and prophets are rejecting Jesus Christ. And if they reject Jesus Christ, well then…obviously they are not Christians, are they! 

In other words, such people have quite literally condemned themselves. And all a church community can do at that point is make that person’s self-condemnation official and public. 

Even so, we tend to struggle with this whole “have nothing to do with them” thing, don’t we? Because, after all, when Jesus says “treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector”, we remember that Jesus ate and drank with pagans and tax collectors. He also told us to love our enemies. So: how can we ”love our enemies“ while also ”having nothing to do with them”? 

But we forget that the way we define “love” in our modern age is a bit different from the way God defines love. For us, love is a very emotional word. And emotion requires contact, love requires relationship. And those things are true about love. But God’s definition is much, much wider and deeper: in scripture, love is a covenantal obligation to do what is best for other people, no matter how much it may cost us or them. 

And in the case of a self-condemned, stubbornly divisive person, the best thing a church can do for that person is give them what they want. They want to divide? So: divide! Separate! Go! Let them invest fully in the false truth they have created, and let them reap the consequences of their isolation in full. It is often the case that a child who will not listen to her parent’s warnings about the hot stove will finally listen after she burns herself. In the same way, when dealing with a stubbornly divisive person who refuses to submit to the Word of God, the most loving and gracious thing a church can do is have nothing to do with them in hope that they will finally learn submission from the heavy hand of God. 

Besides, if a church continues in fellowship with a subbornly divisive person, then the church is actually participating in a lie: pretending that there is union where there is not. And lies destroy community. Lies destroy churches. 

So when Paul tells Titus to have nothing to do with a stubbornly divisive person, he is not just commanding the elders to do what is most loving for that individual, but also what is most loving for the entire community. As he pointed out earlier in this letter: these rebellious people must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach. And this is the step-by-step process by which false teachings are to be silenced, and the families of the church protected from the poison. 

In summary: Titus and the rising elders there in Crete need to accomplish two things if they are going to succeed in restoring the Cretan Church. First, they need to keep teaching and activating Paul’s Church Establishment program. Second, they need to shut down the U of J program. Let those teachers and their followers go somewhere else. Let them start their own churches. Whatever. As long as they are not here, among these congregations, preaching confusion and division. 

Titus does not know whether this congregation will actually accept Paul’s construction principles and apply them. And Paul is saying, it does not actually matter. Even if 90% of the community decides to leave and join the U of J church, even if Titus is left with two or three people, even if 90% of the current congregation is cancerous…Titus needs to do the right thing: he needs to cut away the cancer and start again with whatever resources God has provided. 

…okay. That is a difficult command! 

Titus goes back to reading: [12] As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there. 

Ah. So this is more of a personal note: Paul is eager to see Titus again, so he is sending a replacement to carry on the work there in Crete. 

And — historical note — apparently Paul ended up sending Artemas to Crete. We know this because, in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, which was written around the same time, he mentions that he sent Tychicus to Ephesus to replace Timothy there. He also tells Timothy that he has already sent Titus into Dalmatia, another section of Roman Asia. So apparently Titus did manage to make it to Nicopolis and receive a new assignment from Paul. 

Let’s see, what else: [13] Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. 

These must be the men who carried the letter from Paul to Titus, and apparently they are also planning to move on shortly. And Paul wants Titus to make sure they have everything they need for their travels. 

But not just Titus by himself. Paul goes on to say: 

[14] Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives. 

Paul wants the whole congregation to work together to help Zenas and Apollos on their way. 

Really, we could say, this is the first homework assignment for the replanted Cretan church. They have read through Paul’s Church Establishment curriculum, and now it is time for them to start practicing what they have learned. 

And, really, with this final sentence and first assignment Paul is summarizing the central point of his letter, the central point of his discipleship program. He is reminding us all that — unlike the false U of J program — Jesus’ true Gospel is not just a nice theory, it is supposed to result in some very practical effects. 

Paul is really just repeating here what he wrote earlier: I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. 

As we have discovered over the last few weeks, Cretan culture encouraged people to live unproductive lives: to rely on deception and violence so they can retire early and live as lazy gluttons. Then the Circumcision Group group came along — the U of J people — and encouraged people to live unproductive lives in a different way: to focus on external religious rituals as a distraction from the fact that they are still living in malice and envy. 

But Christian culture, centered around Christ and his Church, is an intensely practical and productive culture. Yes, the foundation of the Church is this set of doctrines that we call The Gospel, the Good News. In a sense, that Gospel is just theory. It is like software, like DNA. And just like software, just like DNA, the Gospel remains nothing but a theory until the Holy Spirit pushes the power button and activates the program so that it can produce what it is supposed to produce: a purified people who are eager to do what is good.

The U of J professors are claiming that their theological software is the best. And if anyone asks them to prove it, they open up the details of the code, and they go line by line, using all these sophisticated arguments and quarrels to demonstrate that they are the best coders out there, that the bugs in their system are not actually bugs but features. 

But Paul is saying, “Skip that nonsense! Just run the program and see what it produces!” 

If you want to live in a Christian community where people are always fighting with each over over the tiniest details of what you are allowed to eat or drink or read or watch — if you want to live in a community where people are fighting over whether to wear masks or not, whether to be vaccinated or not — if you want to live in a community that is constantly dividing into smaller and smaller sections until you are finally left all alone in a Church of One, where you are the only person in the whole world who has figured out the truth, well then: yes! Go! Join the Circumcision Group. Join the U of J church. By those standards they really do have the best program, the best software! 

But if you want to live in a Christian community where people are devoted to doing what is good — where husbands are devoted to their wives, and wives to their husbands, parents devoted to their children and children to parents, where older men, older women, younger women, young men and slaves are all committed to self-control and covenantal self-sacrificing love for friends and for enemies, for Persons in Christ and for not-yet-Persons in Christ — then join Jesus’ Church and find yourself transformed! 

The University of Jesus offers a guarantee that the University of Jerusalem never can. This is the guarantee: if you follow Paul’s course material, you will get the results you really want, through the kindness and love of God our Saviour, through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. 

[15] Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. 


And that is the end of Paul’s letter to Titus — and to all the Christians of Crete. Last week he put the Gospel roof on the building, and now this week these last few sentences have been the final clean-up and dedication of the Church to the glory of God. 

Which brings us quite naturally to the question we like to ask every week: so what? What does this ancient course material have to do with us? What does God our Savior want us to believe and do because of this? 

What is our practical application for today? 

Well, brothers and sisters, you are a pretty sharp bunch. You have noticed that God our Savior has forced some pretty massive changes on our modern world over the last couple of years. Yeah? 

Over the last few generations we had come to believe that we had things pretty well figured out. Sure there has been war and disease and economic downturns here and there, but most of the great thinkers of our age have been pretty optimistic that mankind now has the wisdom and the power to keep these things contained. 

That illusion is gone. God has revealed to every nation on earth that, if we are going to survive as a species, it will not be because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy alone. He has used a plague — a microscopic virus! — to humble mankind in a way we did not think was possible anymore. And now there is this war between Russia and Ukraine…it would be easy for us to close one eye and think, “yeah, well, Ukraine is far away, how is that going to affect us?” But those who are familiar with history are saying, “Hang on a minute: isn’t this exactly how World War Two got started?” One hundred years ago, a global war ended with a global pandemic. Are we about to end this global pandemic with yet another global war? 

And all this has affected Jesus’ global Church along with everyone else. As he so often does, God has used this crisis to reveal our sins, our lack of faith, our false contentment, our secret divisions. Christians have been sucked into the nonsense — the controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law — and churches are falling apart because of it, struggling to remain united in the face of our fears and our passions, just like what happened on the island of Crete 2000 years ago. 

And of course all this has affected us, here at CDPCKL. We are a different church now than we were on March 18th, 2020, almost exactly two years ago when the lockdowns began. We have been tested, and we have been changed by that testing, and we are now trying to rebuild, recover what has been lost, reimagine who we need to be in these changed circumstances. 

So what it all amounts to is this: we are, effectively, replanting CDPCKL right now, just like Titus had to replant the Cretan churches 2000 years ago. 

So how are we going to do this? How are we going to make sure our little Ark of Salvation holds together in the midst of this flood, these terrible currents of history? 

Well, now that we have finished Paul’s Church Establishment Course, we know what to do. 

This is the key to our survival: we are going to avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law. We are going to refuse to get sucked into the nonsense. In our situation right now there are a thousand arguments for and against going to church, for and against participating in community, a thousand arguments about what behaviour is truly loving and what behaviour is actually hateful and destructive, and as King Solomon once pointed out, “Of making books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” We are not going to solve these controversies with a sweep of the hand or with an endless quarrel over the details. 

Instead, we are going to follow Paul’s program: we are going to stick to the basics. 

That means, first, we are going to safeguard our software, our operating system that is the Gospel. That is the foundation of our community. And really, that is the primary role of our elders. As Paul said at the beginning of this course: elders must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that they can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. 

So our second step is to keep on training and raising up elders who know and love our Gospel foundations, men who — instead of getting lost in the code, lost in controversies and arguments and quarrels — know how to silence divisive false teachers and put our disrupted households back together. Basically, we are looking for men who know how to run our Gospel software and check the results. Because it is the results that prove the truth of the program. 

And that is why, third, we are going to keep on checking the results, the fruit of the Gospel. We are going to keep on asking one another: is our preaching and teaching resulting in a true community, a purified people who belong to Christ alone, a people who are eager to do what is good? 

Another way to ask that question is this: are our lives — is the life of our community — productive or unproductive? 

But how can we tell? What does a productive community life look like? 

One very practical example Paul has given us right here at the end is this: the ability to provide for the urgent needs of others. 

And this example makes a lot of sense when we look back over the rest of Paul’s course material. Because, in the middle section, where he was focused on rebuilding Christian families, shaping the living stones of Jesus’ Church, his central theme was self-control, our Christian power to say “No” to ungodliness, “Yes” to godliness. A self-indulgent community consumes every available resource for itself. By contrast, a community defined by self-control will have resources set aside in order to provide for urgent needs. As we learn self-control individually and collectively, we will grow in our ability to give sacrificially in order to help our brothers and sisters travel down the road of faith. We will grow in our willingness to even risk our lives and die to provide life for others, just as our Saviour did for us. 

So what does all this mean for us, for our community, right now? What are our urgent needs? 

Well, we are right now trying to rebuild our community, reboot the relationships that have been disrupted by the lockdowns. So, please, brothers and sisters, let’s begin with that. 

So if you are not here today, if you are listening to this online, if you have not worshiped with us since we began in-person worship in October last year, if we haven’t seen your faces for 12  months, 18 months, longer! — please come back. You have an urgent need for us. And we have an urgent need for you. Paul has made it clear throughout this letter that each one of us is an essential part of the body of Christ. Which means that, the longer you stay away, the longer we remain crippled as a community, missing body parts! Please, do not listen any longer to divisive people who want you to live in self-indulgent fear, who are teaching you that godliness means continuing in this modern secular religious ritual of self-isolation. Please, come and risk your lives alongside ours. We are not Cretans or Romans or Jews anymore. We are no longer Malaysian or non-Malaysian. We are not Chinese or Indian or Malay, we are not Buddhists, Hindus, or Muslims anymore. We are Christians! We are the children of God. For us the age of fear is past, now is the age of our faith. We do not know when or how we will die, but we do have this promise that we will live! So please come, die to yourselves, and live with us. 

Now, if you are here today: thank you. And thank you all for your faithfulness to Jesus’ church throughout all these long months. Thank you for your commitment to our rebuilding process. Thank you for your commitment to your families and ours. I especially want to thank those of you who have been bringing your babies and small children to worship with us. I know that some of you have faced resistance from fearful family members, but still: you have done what is right, you have brought your children to meet with God in the sanctuary of his people. Thank you for your courage! May the Lord richly reward you in the years to come as your children follow in the footsteps of your faith! You are already putting Paul’s preaching into practice, and as he promised: these things are excellent and profitable for everyone. We will get the results we really want, if we continue together in our faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. 

So, let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as we see the Day approaching.

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