The Lord’s Day Morning
“Shun Foolish Controversies/Help Christians to be Fruitful”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Titus, chapter three, verse nine. We have been working through the book of Titus for a number of weeks; now we come to the very final portion of it, the last few verses of Paul’s instruction, and then a few verses of greetings. And even in these concluding verses Paul continues to teach and to address the context in which this congregation finds itself. We’ve said all along that there are two fundamental issues in the context of ministry in this congregation that Paul is drawing Titus’ attention to.
First, these Christians in Crete in these various little Christian congregations which are scattered city to city on that island are in a very immoral culture, and that culture is influencing the Christians; and Paul doesn’t want those Christians to be influenced by the culture, he wants those Christians to witness to the culture in their lives and in their beliefs, to be distinct from the culture, to be in the world but not of it. And so that pastoral problem comes up over and over in the Book of Titus, and Paul is constantly urging Titus to address that in the congregation, to make sure that they live out the grace of God in their lives, that they adorn the doctrine of God their Savior with the way that they live, and that they not conform to the immoral culture around them.
But there’s another problem, too, that is vexing this congregation. It’s from within. It’s the problem of false teaching, and several times, not only in Titus but also in I Timothy, we’ve seen Paul give instruction to either Timothy or to Titus as to how to deal with false teachers who are troubling the congregation, who are teaching against Paul’s teachings about salvation and the Christian life, who are rejecting apostolic doctrine. How do we deal with these? Well, Paul makes it clear that that false doctrine always undermines the Christian life, because theology is for living. Theology is the science of living blessedly ever after, and if you believe awry, it will have a negative effect on the Christian life. So Paul is concerned to address both of those issues with Titus, and interestingly so, he does here again in the concluding verses and in his greetings. So let’s hear God’s word together, and before we do, let’s ask for His blessing on the reading and the proclamation of that word. Let’s pray.
Our Lord, this is Your word. It is a lamp to our feet and a light to our way. Herein is truth. Your word is truth. We acknowledge also that Your word does not go forth and return void without accomplishing what You have appointed to it. And so we pray that Your word would accomplish Your own will in our lives as it is read and explained today. Our Lord and our God, we recognize that we need the aid of the Holy Spirit if we are going to both respond to Your word in understanding belief, and also live Your word: embrace it so as to obey it. We pray, then, that by Your Spirit You would make the word sweet to us, even when it corrects us, for we recognize that You have given us Your word to reprove and correct us, but also to mature us, to build us up, and to equip us for every good work. So we pray that Your word would do its work in us this day. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear God’s word.
“But shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law; for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.
“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. Diligently help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way so that nothing is lacking for them. And let our people also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, that they may not be unfruitful. All who are with me greet you. Greet those who love us in the faith.
Grace be with you all.”
Amen. Thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Here is Paul at the end of this letter, having given mounds of practical instruction to Titus about how to carry on his ministry amongst these congregations, and even as he is winding up that instruction and giving greetings, he continues to teach. And we notice in these words how he comes back to themes that he’s already addressed in this book. He’s a good teacher and so God repeats Himself through the words of Paul to His people, so that they get the points that He’s concerned to make.
Here this congregation, being pressured by the world to conform to its immorality, and being tempted by false teachers in the church to defect from the truth, is facing some challenges; and Paul has some final words for Titus and for you and me, for our context is very, very similar to Paul’s context as he addresses these Cretan Christians. And I want you to see four or five things that are very clear in this passage.
I. Handling factious teachers.
First of all, if you look at verses 9-11, notice how Paul tells Titus to handle factious teachers in the local congregation. He tells Titus to shun them, to avoid them. Notice verse 9: Avoid “foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law....” Paul has basically a two-fold strategy with dealing with those in the local church who are going to oppose the biblical teaching and preaching of Titus, which is in accordance with Paul’s preaching and teaching, and the teaching of the apostles. And there are teachers in the local congregation who are opposing that apostolic teaching. Two things are to be done: First, they are to be shunned. They are to be avoided. They are not to be engaged as to bring the minister down on their level to dispute and debate about their particular theories. They’re simply to be avoided.
And then, if they persist in that teaching, they are to be warned—twice. Do you notice what Paul says? “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning.” (Vs 10). This is Paul’s ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule. Two warnings; after the second warning, if they haven’t responded, reject them. Paul is very concerned that the local church not become a free-thought society, a debating society where the apostolic teaching is just viewed as one of many valid options. No, the local church isn’t there to debate about the possibility of absolute truth. It is there to proclaim what is absolutely true, and so Timothy and Titus are not to engage these false teachers and to give them their say in the context of the local church. They are to avoid them, and then they are to be disciplined and rejected.
This is Paul’s concern because the local church is the place that is to carry out Christ’s commission to teach all that He has commanded, not to debate as to whether the apostles were right or wrong, or to contend with the Bible’s teaching about salvation and the Christian life. No, in the local church those things are to be proclaimed boldly, not debated and disputed.
Now, Paul’s approach to this may seem very narrow-minded in our culture today. We might say, ‘Well, Paul, you’re not giving very much room for different ideas, are you?’ Well, the point is not to squash inquirers with legitimate questions; the point is not to allow views that are in contradiction to God’s word and to the preaching of the apostles to be bandied about in the local church as if they were valid alternatives.
Bebo Elkin and I have been serving on the PCA’s Strategic Planning Committee for the last three years—although it feels like ten!—and one of the interesting things that came out of that committee is a survey on the PCA, sent to people that know the PCA, who are members of the PCA, who have joined the PCA, people who are leaders in the PCA, and various other capacities, and questions are asked about their attitudes towards the Presbyterian Church in America, our denomination. And one question that was asked was, “What is the thing that you appreciate most about the Presbyterian Church in America?”, and by far and away, the largest single answer to that question is: “We appreciate the strong, faithful, biblical, prophetic preaching of the word of God in PCA churches.” And that’s encouraging to hear that.
But you’ll also be interested to hear another answer to another question. It was, “What’s the thing that you least appreciate about the PCA?” And you know what the answer is? “Well, you seem to be so dogmatic in what you preach!”
Now, we can understand how you can get those two simultaneous responses in this postmodern age, because on the one hand there are a lot of people who really appreciate, in this world where nobody seems to know whether there’s truth or how to find it, somebody that will stand up and say, ‘This is God’s truth, this is God’s word.” But on the other hand, to other people that sounds a little narrow minded!
Paul’s in the same situation. He says, ‘Titus, I’m not here to get an award for not being narrow minded. I’m here to make sure that the truth of God’s word is proclaimed in local churches, and so, Titus, you make sure that those who oppose the truth of God’s word do not get a voice to proclaim their side of the story in the context of assembly which is wholly devoted to the gathering and the building up of the saints of God in accordance with His word.’ And that lesson is so relevant for us today: the truth must be guarded and proclaimed.
But there’s a second thing here. Look at verse 12. Here Paul makes it clear that pastoral care is a constant need for the local church. Now you’re looking at verse 12, and you’re saying, ‘How in the world do you get that out of verse 12?’ Let’s read it: “When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, make every effort to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to winter there.”
Now, what does that verse say about pastoral care and oversight? This: notice that Paul wants Titus to be with him at Nicopolis. He wants to spend a winter with Titus. He knows that Titus will be useful for ministry. He knows that being with Titus will be encouraging to him. It will buoy his spirits, it will enable him to do crucial gospel ministry, and so he wants Titus to be there with him. But he doesn’t want Titus to be there until there are some replacement ministers in Crete to continue working with the elders in the local congregations for ministry in those local churches. Notice what he says: “When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, make every effort to come to me at Nicopolis....” ‘Not until they’re there, Titus; not until this local church has ministers working with the elders in order to bring about pastoral care do I want you to come to me at Nicopolis. I want you there, Titus. I want you to be there. It will help the saints, it will help me, but not until there’s someone there to work with the elders.’
You see, Paul is so concerned about the need for constant pastoral oversight, because these Cretan churches are vulnerable. They’re being disturbed from within; they’re being tugged from without. They need pastoral care—and, my friends, so do we. We need one another. We need accountability to our elders in the church. We need people who are inspiring us to love and good deeds, and who are calling us to live the Christian life. And Paul knew that, and has said it to Titus here at the end of the book.
III. Congregations mature by committing themselves to the cause of kingdom work.
Now, there’s a third thing I want you to see. Look at verses 13 and 14. Here Paul makes it clear that we mature in the Christian life, we adorn the doctrine of God our Savior, we live out grace by being committed to the cause of kingdom work. Look at what he says:
“Diligently help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way so that nothing is lacking for them. ...our people [must] also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they [will] not be unfruitful.”
Zenas and Apollos are engaged in the work of Christian ministry, perhaps in evangelism and missions; perhaps in discipleship; perhaps in going to already established churches and building them up with solid teaching. Perhaps in going out and preaching to those who have never heard about the Lord Jesus Christ through the gospel; or perhaps, all of the above. And they need to be encouraged, and Paul says to Titus to tell these congregations to support that work, to throw themselves and to give themselves to the support of that kingdom work, and to make sure that Zenas and Apollos have everything they need in order to carry out that labor. And then Paul says, almost parenthetically, ‘And by the way, our people need to learn to engage in good deeds, to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful.’ Isn’t that interesting?
You know, in the passage where he’s talking about the false teachers, you know the worst thing he ways about them? It’s this: that their “foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law...” –look at verse 9—“are unprofitable and worthless.” They do not produce fruit in the Christian life.
I remember hearing a lecture at the opening of the Free Church College in Edinburgh many years ago, and the lecture was being given by one of the professors describing a famous liberal theologian who had denied many evangelical truths. And in the course of the lecture, the professor argued against his teaching. He said, “The first thing that’s bad about this teaching is that it rejects the historic creeds and confessions of the church.” And then he went through a long explanation about how his teaching contradicted the great confessions of Christians in all the ages. And then he said, “The second thing that’s bad about this teaching is it contradicts the clear teaching of Holy Scripture, and therefore undermines the authority of Scripture in the church.” And then he went on to say, “And the third thing about this teaching that’s bad is that it undermines the church’s understanding of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Bible’s teaching about who He is and what He did.
But,” he said, “the fourth thing that it does is that it’s unpastoral. It undermines the Christian life in people.” And that was the climax of the debate. He was saying that the fundamental thing that he wanted to say about that false teaching is that it did not produce fruit in the Christian life, because you can’t produce fruit with falsehood!
And here, Paul is saying to Titus, ‘Titus, I want to see fruitfulness in these Christians. And so instead of debating and disputing these false teachings, or being influenced by the worldliness of the culture around them, I want these Christians to throw themselves into supporting the ministry of Zenas and Apollos, and, in fact, engaging in every good deed in order to support the work of ministry in mission.’ He wanted them to be so committed to the Great Commission that they were determined to give themselves in good deeds in the support of that Great Commission as a fruit of God’s grace in them.
My friends, that’s very practical advice to us today. We’re coming up on a Missions Conference in a couple of weeks, and all of us have all sorts of things going on in our lives, all sorts of pressures, all sorts of priorities, all sorts of demands, all sorts of issues, all sorts of struggles...and we could think about those things all day long. We could think about our needs, we could think about our challenges, we could think about our this and our that, but here’s Paul saying to us, ‘Throw yourself into the work of missions. Throw yourself into the support of the work of the church. Make sure that missionaries going out on these missions have every need of theirs fulfilled. Give yourselves to those tasks.’ And that’s something we ought to be devoted to.
Now, I know that for about 500 of you, I’m preaching to the choir! You’re already there. You’re excited about kingdom work. You’re excited about witness and evangelism and missions, you’re excited about having the missionaries here, you’re excited about the stories they’ll tell, you’re excited about giving to the work of missions. You’re excited about praying for missions. Some of you are even considering going to the field of mission. But I want all of us to have that kind of a kingdom vision, every member of this congregation ought to be, as Paul says, ‘...engaging in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that we are not unfruitful.’
You know, many years ago the wife of the first President Bush publicly revealed, while she was the First Lady that she was coming out of a period of depression. And as she was interviewed about this, she said, “You know, one of the things that helps me the most is to devote myself to the service of others.” And she said, “You know, as I threw myself into serving others, I found that it helped me get out of myself. I wasn’t spending all day thinking about myself and my problems. I was giving myself away. And the funny thing,” she said, “as I gave myself away in serving others, I felt better!”
Paul is saying to these Christians, ‘You’ve got false teachers troubling them, you’ve got an immoral culture. Let me give you something to do. Throw yourself into the work of the kingdom! Make it a priority! Sacrifice, give of yourself, determined that you’re not going to let the work of the kingdom be hampered.’ My friends, we need to have that kind of a kingdom vision! Giving to the work of missions, praying for the work of missions, desiring to see the discipleship of the church enhanced.
Paul’s words are just as practical for us today as they were for those Cretan Christians almost 1900 years ago.
IV. The Christian ministry promotes and requires true fellowship.
And then, there’s a fourth thing. Look at verse 15: “All who are with me greet you.”
Notice how Paul is always with somebody? And notice how he’s always pausing to give greetings to other people in local churches? Do you know why that is? It’s because fellowship, shared life, the communion of the saints is important to Paul. We just sang a few moments ago this morning Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken. We were saying to God that we love the church. Do you? Paul’s always bringing greetings from the Christians who are with him to the Christians who are not. He’s always surrounded by fellow Christians, and he knows that Christian ministry will require and promote true gospel fellowship.
Have you ever noticed, Paul always has a company of people around him, and that if he doesn’t, he wants to have a company of people around him? You know, we often think of Paul as a lone ranger, one who’s going to head off to Spain on his own; head off to Europe on his own; head off to Syria on his own. But everywhere in the New Testament we find Paul, he’s surrounded by other Christians, because Paul wasn’t a lone ranger. He loved God’s people, he needed Christian fellowship; and he thrived on the mutual encouragement of Christian friendship. And so he’s constantly mentioning it, and even here it’s “all who are with me greet you.”
I’ll never forget reading the chapter in Peter Brown’s wonderful biography of Augustine, the great North African theologian of the fourth century. And it’s a chapter simply titled Friends. And in the first sentence of that chapter it says, “Augustine will never be alone.” And then it proceeds to give an account of his Christian friendships from the time of his conversion all the way through to the last breath of his life, and it points out that wherever Augustine was, he was surrounded by a small network of dear gospel friends, and he thrived on that, and he needed that, and he took great encouragement from it.
And here’s Paul giving greetings from this surrounding group of Christian friends to the local congregation.
But notice what he also says: “Greet those who love us in the faith.” And Paul’s saying give greetings not just to people who like Paul, not just to people who have a normal human friendship with Paul, but ‘greet those who have a gospel friendship with me.’ “...those who love us in the faith.”
Derek and I were remarking how much we had enjoyed the presence of Sinclair Ferguson this last week. We love Sinclair, and he’s an encouragement to us. And I love to just hear him talk, and to be around him for a little while, and it was great to be with him. We’re friends. But it’s more than that. Sinclair is a gospel friend, and when I’m around him I want to love Jesus more, and I want to love the Bible more, and I want to do God’s work more, and I’m encouraged in the faith, because he’s a gospel friend. He is one who “loves us in the faith.” Paul wants to cultivate that kind of mutual Christian communion and true fellowship, because he knows the Christian life requires it. And so the gospel ministry is going to promote it.
And that message is just as important for us today as it was for the Christians in Crete.
V. God’s powerful, prevailing and unmerited favor (grace) is essential for Christian life.
But there’s one last thing. You see it here in verse 15. It’s in that benediction, in that little word of blessing that Paul speaks at the end of this book: “Grace be with you all.” Paul reminds us there that God’s powerful, prevailing, unmerited favor—His grace—is absolutely essential for the Christian life. This word of blessing reminds us of the centrality and the necessity of grace in our personal growth, in our growth as a congregation, as a body...and Paul could have uttered no more powerful blessing on us. He’s saying, ‘Grace be with you all.” God’s personal favor be towards you; God’s unmerited pardon be pronounced on you. God’s strengthening power be in you, to grow you up in grace. Grace be with you all.’ Paul knows the necessity of grace. He wants the congregation to be fruitful, but if they’re going to be fruitful they’re going to need grace, and so he pronounces grace on them.
So, even in Paul’s words of greetings and in his final words in this book, we see him speaking to Titus about how to pastor in the context of false teaching; how to pastor a congregation that’s unstable, being pounded by the world around it; along with the elders, for the pastor to come alongside and help and aid that congregation’ how congregations are to grow up and mature in the faith by committing themselves to kingdom work; how congregations are to enjoy true fellowship with one another, and to love gospel friendships; and how we’re all to depend upon grace. My friends, those messages, those challenges and words are no less important today than they were when they were first uttered. May God bless His word in us.
Our Lord and our God, we pray that in our lives and in our bearing of fruit, and in our love of the church, and in our love of Jesus’ disciples, His body, His people, and in our commitment to kingdom work, and in our self-giving and our self-sacrifice for the expansion of the gospel all over this globe, we pray that we would adorn the gospel, that we would adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all these things, in all our lives. Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.Grace be with you all. Amen.
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A Guide to the Morning Service
The Reading of Scripture
We are committed to the programmed reading of substantial portions of Scripture in our worship services. At First Presbyterian Church, the morning service ordinarily includes not only the Scripture which the sermon will expound, but also an additional reading of God’s word not necessarily connected to the sermon. We strive to be people of the Book, and it is our conviction that God instructs, exhorts, encourages, convicts, and upholds His people through the reading and hearing of His word read. It has become our habit to read through entire books. Two weeks ago we finished Proverbs. This week we begin our consecutive reading in the book of Psalms—all 150 of them!
John Calvin called the Psalms “an anatomy of all the parts of the soul.” Through the sanctified lens of the psalmists, we encounter God’s bounteous provisions and the dark providences of life. We see examples of godliness and instances of wickedness. Here we learn how to approach God in worship, how to approach God in fear, how to approach God expectantly, and how to approach God when we just don’t understand what He is doing. We encounter the full gamut of human experience in the Psalms. There is frustration (“How long will the enemy mock you, O God?” 78:10), confession (“I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity.” 32:5), exhortation (“O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.” 95:1), and comfort (“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” 46:1). We read about the failings of God’s people in history (Psalm 78), a proper view of God’s law (Psalm 119), and about the coming Son (Psalm 2). In short we have highs and lows and everything in between in the Psalms. May God bless us through the reading and hearing of this inspired book.
Today, we read Psalm 1. It is no SEQ CHAPTER \h \r 1 mistake that this psalm stands at the beginning of the Psalter. It confronts us with the fact that one cannot live in the way of wickedness and truly worship God (5). It sets out God's word as the only rule for our faith and life; and as that which should inform our minds (2). It places before us the prospects of ultimate judgment (5,6). It speaks to us of the two ways – the only two ways (6). It easily divides into three parts. I. THE WAY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS (The way of blessing) [1-3]. II. THE WAY OF WICKEDNESS (The way of curse) [4-5]. III. THE PARTING OF THE WAYS (God’s judgment on the righteous and wicked) .
We come today to the end of Paul’s short epistle to his colleague, Titus. Paul has had much to say about what ought to be characteristic of the local church. There have been instructions about the governmental ordering of the church and the danger of false teaching. And the prevailing theme that has emerged from our study over the past few weeks has been Paul’s instructions to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” This is the same Paul that told the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” And yet he is perfectly comfortable telling Titus that the same grace compels us to “deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” The epistle closes with instructions for peaceful living within the church (“avoid foolish controversies”) and for living productive lives (“Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful”). Lord willing, next week we will continue our study of the pastoral epistles by turning our attention to 2 Timothy.
The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs
Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
This hymn calls us to joyous praise of the sovereign, Triune God. Let us then give it with all our hearts and voices.
That Man is Blest Who, Fearing God (Psalm 1)
We just read it, now let’s sing it! Psalm 1 signals everything that we need to know about what a believer’s life is like. It is a statement of faith: this is God’s world and those who acknowledge it in faith will ultimately know blessing—the greatest blessing imaginable! But it is not only a statement of faith, it is a commitment to a lifestyle in which a love for God’s word (torah = instruction) is central.
Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken
Let us express our love for Christ’s Church, His bride, His people, using this hymn. May we truly glory in her, as John Newton, the author of this hymn, did (and does!).
May the Mind of Christ My Savior
The song, as a whole, asks the Lord to give us the mind of Christ. What better way to fulfill the call to peaceful and productive living than to gain the mind of Christ? Let’s make the whole text of this hymn a deliberate petition for ourselves and an intercession for our brothers and sisters in Christ.