God Protects What He Established - Titus 3:8-11

In 1927, when Walt Disney was first pioneering cartoon animation, he and his chief animator created a character they called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. By 1928, the Oswald cartoons were a big success. The increased demand for his short animated movies required more money, and when, at a business meeting in New York City, Disney asked his film producer to increase his budget, the producer instead told him, no, and he was going to have to cut costs. The producer also let Disney know that he had already taken many of Disney’s animators, and on top of that, Universal Studios, and not Disney himself, owned Oswald. 

God Protects What He Established - Titus 3:8-11


Disney was hurt and furious, but severed ties with the producer and with Oswald, vowing never again to turn over to someone else what he had worked to create and establish. Then, on the train ride home, he began to work on a new character, one that no one would ever take away from him. They called that character Mickey Mouse. When you birth something - when you go to great lengths to create and establish it, you will do whatever it takes to protect it. God is this way with the church. No one will ever destroy it or take it away from him.

Even though we naturally shrink back from the work of protecting what Jesus established, even though we tend to want to “Live and let live” and sidestep confrontation or awkwardness for the sake of the church, God intends to protect what he established.

What Jesus refers to in Matthew 16 as his “church,” which we sometimes call the “the covenant community,” has a purpose, a structure, and defined set of beliefs, and God means to guard it. And because God protects the covenant community of the local church, we should understand how he intends to do this. So how does God protect the church?

Well, interestingly, he does so, in part, through those within the church, through its pastors and people. We see three ways that he does this here in Titus 3:
1. through the consistent speaking of truth.
2. through the intentional avoidance of foolishness.
3. and through the careful handling of sinners.
So let’s look closer at these.

First, God protects the church through the consistent speaking of truth.

Verse [8] starts, “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things.” “The saying” that it refers to is found in verses 4-7. That’s why I included them in the Worship Guide. We examined those verses over the past three weeks, and they are a tremendous proclamation of God’s gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. This is one of five instances in Paul’s letters to the pastors and churches where he uses the phrase “the saying is trustworthy” or “the saying is faithful.”

What does this mean? Well, repeatedly in the Scriptures, God himself is described as “faithful.” He is said to be good and trustworthy, and if this is true, then it makes sense that he would give us a trustworthy representation of himself. He would tell us what is true. That is what the Scriptures claim to be and to do. Part of God’s faithfulness is his faithfulness to his own message
about himself and everything else. So when God’s messengers honestly and thoroughly present God’s message, the faithfulness of God guarantees the faithfulness of his message.

The things stated in verses 4-7 are a trustworthy presentation of God’s message. All of the faithful sayings are true statements about the truth.  And so they are worth repeating. That’s why Paul says “I want you to insist on these things.” But notice why he wants Titus to consistently speak these things. He writes, “so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.” The fruit of believing and applying this “these things” will be good works with a right perspective on the value of those works. They aren’t done to earn God’s love or earn salvation. They don’t get us leverage on God. True “good works” are done in response to his mercy and grace.

Now how does this relate to God’s protection of his church? Well, the church is, at its core, a body of people united with Christ who believe certain things. We believe a message given to us by God; not one that we birthed ourselves. The idea that people can believe whatever they want to about God doesn’t make sense in the logic of the Scriptures.  God says what people should believe. Our duty is to accept it, even when it rubs us the wrong way, even when we don’t like it or when it’s out of sync with our life plans or our desires. We change in order to align ourselves with it; we don’t change it to align it with ourselves. Every true church, no matter how big or small, is to be a place where God’s truth is upheld. Otherwise, it is absolutely not a true church. John 8, “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” A mark of God’s people is their love of and adherence to his truth. In 2 John, the apostle John writes, “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God.” The truth must be consistently spoken and received, otherwise the church will drift from it.

What we see in Titus 3 is an example of the defined beliefs of the early church. Some argue that there was no defined body of beliefs back then, no creeds or confessional statements. But verse 8 shows us that verses 4-7 were something of a confessional statement back then. They were words formed into a “saying” that summarized Christian belief. Paul communicates that these are words worth repeating. Why? Because they pack a great punch. This faithful saying is loaded with belief. It is loaded with statements to be accepted as true and remembered. Paul states this here so that these words would be read, accepted, repeated, learned, and passed on to the next generation? And for what? For the protection of his church.

Perhaps you’ve heard of what is termed “Progressive Christianity.” It’s not a new view, but it has been repackaged in the modern day. The view is that orthodox Christianity or Christianity in the classic sense is archaic, outdated. The view states that the Christianity to which churches like Good Shepherd adhere is a misinterpretation of what Jesus intended in the first place. Therefore, Progressive Christianity says Jesus is one way, but not the only way, to God. The Scriptures contain truth, but they aren’t not all true. Popular authors and podcasters with dynamic personas have gained large followings of people who buy into this. And as a result, well-meaning people are buying into a “progressive Christianity” that isn’t Christianity at all. People need to change or progress, but the message of the gospel does not need to progress. These words are trustworthy both then, and now.

Clearly, Paul and the other apostles, and before them Jesus himself, intended for the church to hold on to and defend certain key beliefs that would not change. Listen to some of the language from the other “trustworthy sayings” recorded by Paul:
    •    1 Timothy 1:15, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. Paul adds “and deserving of full acceptance” because all of us should believe and apply this.
    •    1 Timothy 3:1, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Of course, not everyone is called to be an overseer or elder, so Paul does not apply this one to everyone.  But it’s still true and we should all believe it.
    •    1 Timothy 4:9–10, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.  Jesus is the only way.  Again, he adds “and deserving of full acceptance” to show that this applies to everyone.
    •    And finally 2 Timothy 2:11–13, “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; [12] if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself. Obviously that applies to all people.

Do you see your need for God’s protection through the consistent speaking of his truth? These are not just words that sound clever or make us feel good. They tell us about the one true God. They tell us of his love, his mercy and grace in our salvation from death and hell through Jesus Christ. They tell us that his blood is the only lasting remedy for the guilt of our sin. They tell us of the hope of eternal life. They tell of the justice and goodness of God. Have you veered from the truth in any way? God understands and invites you to return. He knows that we all need the consistent speaking of his truth, and he protects us in that way.

Also, he protects the church through the intentional avoidance of foolishness.

It’s important to proclaim and emphasize what is true; it’s also important to recognize lies. Paul points out multiple things here. Verse [9], he says, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” That’s a lot of things to steer clear of. First, “foolish controversies.” Controversy isn’t always bad or sinful. Sometimes we must go head-to-head with false teachers. That’s how creeds like the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed were born. But some controversies are a waste of time that can keep the pastors and the people from rejoicing in and proclaiming the truth. It’s not a pastor’s calling to be studying every heresy and arguing with every heretic. Especially in the present-day, with the ability to comment on social media posts and blogs, we can get very wrapped up in foolish controversies. Do we need to speak truth boldly? Yes. But we shouldn’t be preoccupied with controversy.

Paul also warns about “genealogies.” Of course, the genealogies of the Bible are good. But Paul is referring to speculation about the origins and descendants of key Old Testament figures that are not stated in Scripture. He also mentions this in 1 Tim 1. There were myths circulating that were made-up stories, basically legends, proposing to offer more details about the lives of people like Moses or the 12 sons of Jacob. He most likely refers to writings such as the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha is a collection of writings which are related content-wise to Judaism and Christianity but not accepted as Biblical Scripture. For instance, one about Moses offers extra info about his life and events before his death. It claims to be written by Moses but it’s commonly viewed as being falsely-attributed to him, meaning someone else wrote it and forged it. There are also New Testament apocryphal books also, such as what is called the Gospel of Thomas, which may have come after the time of Paul and proposes to offer a different view on Jesus, the disciples, and the gospel.

Sometimes people will find out about these books online, or on a Barnes and Noble bookshelf, or during a college level New Testament class and they will think, “What is this that the church has been hiding from me? Is this the truth? I’ve been tricked!” No one has been tricked. We know about those things. We don’t give them much attention. But like now, when they come up in the course of preaching, we acknowledge their existence. This is one reason why preachers should preach the whole Bible. The Scriptures have an amazing knack for covering everything.

In the recording of Biblical history, of course, there would be forged accounts being made-up and passed off as the real thing. Many years ago I went to Thailand to a missions conference. We went to a big market in Bangkok, basically a huge flea market, and we found these North Face backpacks for dirt cheap. I bought one, used it for about two weeks back in the States, and it literally fell apart. Obviously it wasn’t an authentic North Face product. And I knew that when I bought it. I still wanted to use it. I just thought it would last longer than two weeks. But it wasn’t real. It was unprofitable and worthless – to me (although the person who sold it made a profit). These “genealogies” and myths may seem fascinating, and it’s good to be familiar with them, but we should avoid preoccupation with them because they are a waste of time.

Paul also says to avoid “dissensions, and quarrels about the law.” This refers to the Old Testament law, most likely the food laws and other things prohibited in Old Testament Israel. In Colossians, Paul mentions that some false teachers were insisting on asceticism. Asceticism is a strict way of living in which a person denies themselves all sorts of things, such as certain foods and other things in attempts to be more holy or religious. It was empty talk and Christians needed avoid that. 
Christ has made us clean and holy before God. There are times when we should fast from food and other things to spend time in prayer, but a more ascetic life is not more holy life. In fact, if often becomes a self-righteous life.

When people are promoting and arguing about in these things, it seems that some hidden agenda is in play. They normally want to be viewed as highly spiritual or they want to control others. But those things are unprofitable and worthless for God’s people. Paul is trying to protect Titus, and all the churches of Crete, from that kind of distraction. Titus, and the people, need to be able to spot the lies and foolishness when it comes along. Notice the sharp contrast between this list in verse 9 and the truth of verses 4-7. Remember, those things in the first part of this chapter are “excellent and profitable.” Verses 4-7 are things we should be proclaiming, rejoicing in, reminding each other of. This other stuff isn’t described in much detail here. But if you know the truth, you can spot a lie.

Do you continually set your mind on truth, or are you occupied with trivial things? Be careful of an unhealthy fascination with worthless and unprofitable things. Technology has affected us in this way. Unfortunately, with all the good that comes from using smart phones and computers, we also get non-stop distraction and unimportant information. Do you meditate more on inconsequential and frivolous content than on God’s truth? God protects his church by drawing our minds back to the things that are true and eternal.

And finally, God protects the church through the careful handling of sinners.

People often wince at the sound of what Paul describes in verses 10-11. “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him.” First of all, we are all sinners. This is a reference to what we call “church discipline,” the work of handling issues with sin in the church.

In Matthew 18, Jesus spoke about the process of handling a believer who is caught in sin.He says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Which is to say, let him be to you like a non-believer. If after many attempts, a person doesn’t see their sin and turn from it, don’t continue to assume he is a believer. Paul mentions it in 2 Thessalonians 3. He says,“If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” 1 Corinthians 5 contains a case of church discipline involved sexual immorality and how to deal with the people involved.  

Always, the desire is to restore a person, to see them repent and return to the Lord. We handle people with gentleness and love. But for their sake, and for the sake of the church, we are firm in the truth. Often these things threaten the unity of the church. And notice the last part of verse 11, “such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” The church is not doing this to the person. The person is doing it to themselves. Sometimes, what it takes for a person to wake-up and see their error is for the church to exclude him or her from the benefits of membership in the covenant community.

This begs the question: “What does it look like to “love” someone who drifts from the faith?” Is it “loving” to let them think and do what they want to?  Should we just “live and let live?” Maybe you’ve seen the TV show “Intervention.”  It documents the process of people working together to confront a loved one who has some kind of self-destructive addiction. Are people “unloving” to intervene? No! They demonstrate love through their intervention.

Are you willing to intervene and say the difficult things to a person for their own good? It’s hard work, it’s awkward, the person may be upset with you.  But later, they may thank you. Galatians 6 says, “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” And through obedience to God in this, he protects his church.

As we go to the table today - as we see a picture of what God did for us through Jesus Christ - we are reminded of how God established his church, what it took to establish it: The blood of Jesus shed for the forgiveness of sins, to save by grace those who turn from their sins and trust not in their own works, but wholly in Jesus to save them and make them right with God. God forms those who believe into a community, and he will always protect it. He is shepherd, and we are the sheep of his pasture. Jesus says in John 10, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Let’s pray.