God Moves His Mission Forward - Titus 3:12–15
The Old Testament book of Genesis tells the story of a man named Joseph. He was his father’s favorite son, and he received a colorful coat as a gift from him. But his older brothers were jealous of him, and also furious because of dreams he had implying he would one day rule over them. So they faked his death and sold him into slavery. Many years later, through series of events, Joseph became a powerful man in Egypt and his brothers did finally bow down to him.
The musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was written based on the events. It was performed on Broadway, and it generally follows the Biblical account, but interestingly, the writers of the musical left out an important detail. Not something, but rather, someone. According to Genesis, that “someone” was the driving force behind the events of Joseph’s life. Listen to just a few of the references to that “someone” in Genesis. When Joseph was thrown in prison, the Scriptures say, “the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.” Regarding Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams, Joseph himself says, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” When the Pharaoh of Egypt wanted his own dreams interpreted, Joseph said, “It is not in me. God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” When Joseph interprets the dream, he says, “God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do.” Over and over, with too many references to read them all now, the Scriptures present God as one who is doing things and moving Joseph’s life forward.
Maybe the most well-known reference is Joseph’s statement in Genesis 50. When his brothers express fear that he will exact revenge on them, Joseph says, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” But at no point does the musical mention God. And yet, in a way, what the musical composers did when they left out God is not entirely different from what each of us naturally does. We don’t always recognize God as the one moving our lives forward,
as the one moving history forward. Even in the church, among genuine believers involved in God’s work of redemption, we can put ourselves at the center of the mission, thinking it hinges on us.
But God is at the center of it. He does involve us, but he moves it forward. And for that reason, we should recognize that we join him in his work as he moves his mission forward.
But how does he do that? Titus 3 shows us: through ordinary people; in ordinary places, and by ordinary means. So let’s complete our time in this fascinating New Testament letter but taking a closer look at each of these.
First, God moves his mission forward through ordinary people.
Verse 12 contains Paul’s final instructions for Titus and the churches in Crete. Seems like standard stuff – references to people and places. There’s “Artemas” and “Tychicus.” Then verse 13 brings up “Zenas” and “Apollos.” We don’t know much about them. Zenas was a “lawyer,” probably referring to Roman law. Apollos is mentioned in two other New Testament books. He was very gifted in preaching and did follow-up work with people whom Paul had reached, but other than that, not much is known about him. Verse 14, Paul refers to “our people” which means the Christians throughout Crete. In verse 15, Paul says, “All who are with me send greetings.” That refers to the believers with Paul in the city of Nicopolis. So lots of folks involved in God’s mission. Some traveling; some staying home. Most of them we know nothing about. Yet Paul saw each as important to what God was doing. Each was born again, saved by God, and involved in the work. We get the sense that the mission was bigger than any one person or group. All of them are involved somewhere, but only God is involved everywhere. The fact that the Scriptures mention some briefly by name in his Word reminds us that these were real people, each with their own life and story.
God moves his mission forward through ordinary people. Acts chapter 4 in the New Testament recounts when the apostles Peter and John stood before the Jewish religious council. The apostles spoke with insight and confidence. Yet the Scripture says that when the prestigious council “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished.” “Uneducated, common men.” One Bible translation words this “unschooled, ordinary men.” Peter and John had been simple fishermen. They didn’t have the formal training of the Jewish leaders. But Jesus had chosen them for a special task, involving them in His work and giving them great ability.
Their role was unique as apostles who learned first-hand from Jesus during his earthly ministry. But they recognized where the power came from and who was moving the mission forward.
Acts 3 states that when Peter heals a man who was lame, the people were utterly astounded, But Peter said, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?  The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus…And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.”
God was doing the work – through ordinary people.
How might be God involving you in what he’s doing? What part do you play as God moves his mission forward? We should all pray about this and think seriously about it. If God saves you, he involves you in his work. He calls you to look for where he is working and to join him in that work. This isn’t just rhetoric. I’m not trying to just inspire you or motivate you. This is real. God does great things through ordinary people, most of whom the world never hears about. But God sees and knows, and it delights him to his mission forward through ordinary people.
Also, God moves his mission forward in ordinary places.
It follows that any person glorifying God with his or her life must do so in some place. Just as various people are referenced at the end of this letter, multiple places are in view where God’s is at work. Paul wrote from a city called Nicopolis, ancient Macedonia, which is modern day Albania, north of Greece. Verse 13, Paul says to Titus, “do your best to come to me at Nicopolis,
for I have decided to spend the winter there.” We know that travel in the ancient world was more difficult during the winter, so it made sense to stay put, but Paul didn’t waste the time. It seems that he spent his winters in locations where he could share the gospel with people passing through while also teaching and establishing the believers in those cities. Looking at a map, Nicopolis actually put Paul closer to Spain. In Romans 15, we learn that his goal was to take the gospel to that area of the world.
Titus was still on the island of Crete in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. There were many believers throughout that place, in the various towns. In verse 12, it seems at that point Paul hadn’t chosen who would take Titus’ place in Crete, (Artemas or Tychicus), but we know from 2 Tim 4 that Tychicus went to a city called Ephesus and Titus went to a place called Dalmatia, so apparently Artemas went to Crete. And Zenas and Apollos were passing through, going from town to town. Numerous people, numerous places. Maybe they were born there, maybe they moved there, but the Scriptures teach us that wherever they were – and wherever you are – ultimately, people are where they are because God puts them there.
Jeremiah 10 in the Old Testament, the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” Proverbs 16 is similar: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” And Acts 17 says that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” When you live and where you live – in the final analysis, it’s up to God. Now, did you choose where you live, or did God? Well - yes! You’re not a robot, you make your own choices, but God is sovereign over our lives.
He chooses the place where each of us will join him as he moves his mission forward.
God moves his mission forward in ordinary places. The landscape at places like the beach or the mountains sparks our sense of wonder. But you likely don’t see your own home, or Florence, in that way, at least not most of the time. Typically the ordinary places don’t spark our sense of wonder. We take them for granted. But even in an ordinary place like Florence, in an ordinary home like your own, God is at work. And God is not ordinary, and the things he does are not ordinary.
So while the view might never be as beautiful as the mountains or the beach,
there is some wonderful and fascinating about ordinary people joining God on mission in ordinary places. When we see evidence of God’s power, and his presence, and his plans being fulfilled,
even the most ordinary places spark a sense of amazement in us.
What would happen if this week you were able to look with fresh eyes at your everyday world? If God could renew your vision for how you can join him in the ordinary places, at work, at home, at school, at the ball field, at the gym, at some store you often visit? God isn’t doing all his work on stages under bright lights with people watching. He’s out there in the ordinary places, moving his mission forward as people do good works and meet urgent needs and keep from being unfruitful like Paul says in verse 14. God moves his mission forward as we love people and speak the truth in ordinary places.
And finally, does this also by ordinary means.
In verse 15, Paul ends by saying, “Grace be with you all.” This is a common example of what we call a benediction or a blessing. The idea is “may grace be with all of you.” May God give you more grace. Paul ends all of his letters with some kind of reference to God’s grace. “Grace” is what drives everything. As we think on the grace of God, it strengthens us and moves us. Grace brings salvation; it produces godliness. Grace is God’s unmerited favor in Jesus Christ. God saves us, he changes us, and he gives us power by his grace. No part of God’s mission moves forward without his grace. And this brings us what we commonly call the “ordinary means of grace.”
What we see in the Scriptures are three means by which we can know God and grow in our knowledge of him. These are 1. through his Word; 2. through the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and 3. through prayer.
Listen to these verses describing the ordinary means of grace:
1 Timothy 4:13 says, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”
2 Timothy 4:2, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Matthew 26:26–28, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you,  for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
1 Corinthians 11:25–26, “In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.”
1 Timothy 2:1, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.”
When we remain committed to these things, God’s people grow. These are the main ways that we grow. They are God’s method for changing us. You can’t really understand it until you’ve experienced it, week in and week out. This is the kind of church Good Shepherd aims to be.
Pastor and professor Ligon Duncan writes this regarding the ordinary means of grace: “What will a church look like that is committed to the ordinary means of grace?
It will be characterized by love for expository Bible preaching, passion for worship, delight in truth, embrace of the Gospel, the Spirit’s work of conversion, a life of godliness;
robust family religion (meaning a vibrant love for these things that we believe and repetitively do, week after week); biblical evangelism, biblical discipleship, biblical church membership, mutual accountability in the church, biblical church leadership, and a desire to be a blessing to the nations. Along with this all, there will be an unapologetic, humble, and joyful celebration of the transcendent sovereignty of the one, true, triune God in salvation and all things.”
The definition of “ordinary” is basically “normal” or “commonplace.” There is a disagreement today over how the church lives and grows. Some say that because the world has changed, the message of the church has to change. Some say that because the world has changed, the methods of the church have to change. But our view here at Good Shepherd is that God has given us a message and methods in his Word, and we don’t need to change them. Simply put, they still work. Because at their core, people haven’t changed. We don’t need gimmicks, or lots of bells and whistles. We don’t need to try to blow people away every week in worship. We don’t need to impress. We don’t need to try to make Jesus and the Bible relevant. It is relevant. We just need to faithfully and continually do the things God tells us to do in the Scriptures.
What has been your experience with the ordinary means by which God moves his mission forward? It’s been said that “you can’t know what you don’t know.” Maybe you don’t really know what their benefit might be for you. You don’t fully understand how they might change your life and circumstances. I know many of you understand this now in a way that you did not before. As we come together here, Lord’s Day after the Lord’s Day, God does something we can’t fully grasp through these very ordinary things that he commands us to do.
The Bible is a fascinating book. Even non-believers say this. Many fascinating figures who do interesting things. Some who we follow from birth to death. But only one figure is present in the Scriptures from beginning to end. And so it should be obvious that the book, and all these events described within it, are really about him. We read a story and we naturally make it about us. Certainly, we should learn much about ourselves, first and foremost that we needed a rescuer. We needed rescue from sin and death. God almighty is our rescuer. Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, came to live the life we couldn’t live and give us the record we couldn’t earn so we could have peace with God. Search your heart. Have you trusted Jesus as the only one who can make you right with the living God? Have you grieved over and regretted your sin, and determined to turn from it and live for him? This book is his message about his mission to bring you to himself. And the words of this book show that he alone moves his mission forward.
Let’s pray together.