Saying What Must Be Said (and Heard) - Titus 2:15-3:2
In 1992, actor Jack Nicholson played a Marine Corp colonel in the movie A Few Good Men. And in the film, he delivered what is probably one of the most famous movie quotes of all time. As Nicholson’s character sits on the courtroom stand giving testimony in the trial of two Marines, the lawyer asking Nicholson the questions is played by Tom Cruise. In the heat of the moment, when Cruise’s character demands the truth, Nicholson’s character exclaims, “You can’t handle the truth!”
He then goes into a furious explanation, arguing that the events for which the two Marines are on trial are the result of things Marines must face as they protect citizens – things that citizens don’t want to think about or perhaps even know about. Because they can’t handle the truth. The scene was riveting and memorable because it was so well done, but also, because it offered some very profound insight into the hearts of all people.
There is always truth that we naturally resist. There are things about your life right now that you know aren’t right, or aren’t healthy, things you need to address personally or in relationships, but you avoid those things. When we examine the Scriptures, there are things that perhaps we don’t understand or agree with, things that require us to change and we don’t want to think about it or hear about it.
But God works in our lives through continual confrontation with the truth we resist. God is committed to his increasing reign over our hearts and lives, what the Scriptures call his “kingdom,” and God has chosen to confront us with the truth through his shepherds – through the preaching of his Word. Yes, we should read the Bible on our own and the Holy Spirit will speak to our hearts, but we need an audible voice, coming from outside of us, speaking without fear, speaking truth to us in a setting where we can’t argue, we can’t defend, we can’t dismiss, but where we can be taught, encouraged, corrected, reminded, contradicted, and challenged.
In 2 Timothy 4, Paul tells his protégé Timothy, “preach the word, in season and out of season (meaning “whether it is convenient or inconvenient”) reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,  and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
So because God speaks to us in this way, we have to be committed to sound, confrontational preaching of the Scriptures by true shepherds of God. But how do you identify true shepherds, and for that matter, true preaching, in order to let down your resistance to God ?
Paul shows us in Titus 2:15. As always, there’s an outline on page 6 of the Worship Guide. True shepherds continually do two things:
Number 1. they proclaim truth spoken through them by God. (v.15a-b) and number 2. they overcome contempt aimed at them for God. (v.15c)
So let’s look at these together this morning.
First, true shepherds continually proclaim truth spoken through them by God. (v.15a-b)
In verses 2-14 of this chapter, Paul gave Titus various commands for the people groups in the churches: men, women, older, younger, slave and free. We saw a couple weeks ago that all these people are equal in Christ. And to close this section of the letter, Paul says, “Declare these things.” “These things” are those various commands for how to live and also reminders of the grace of God for salvation and God’s intention to save his people so that could live by his Word. He saved them by grace alone but did so in order for them to live for him alone. The Christian life is not a man-centered life. It’s a God-centered life. Paul knew “these things” would strike a nerve, but it was necessary to communicate them. So that these new believers could be a blessing to those around them and fulfill the covenant promise to Abraham all the way back in the book of Genesis in the Old Testament.
In Genesis 12, God said to Abraham, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This has always been God’s plan for those whom he saves, whether in Old Testament times or New Testament times, whether the Israelites thousands of years ago or us living here in the 21st century. And if God’s shepherds don’t speak the truth, and God’s people don’t receive it, then we won’t be a blessing. Therefore shepherds must say it and the people must hear it.
Paul gives three action words for the true shepherd: “declare,” “exhort,” and “rebuke.” So the true shepherd must “declare” or “speak” these things. This same Greek word is translated “teach” back in Titus 2 verse 1: “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” Speak what is in line with God’s truth. And “exhort” or “urge” the people to align their beliefs and behavior with the Word of God.
You know, it’s been wrongly taught by many Bible teachers and preachers that the covenant God made through Moses at Mt. Sinai was not a covenant of grace. They argue that because God gave the law to the Israelites, those people were saved not by grace, but by their works – their ability to keep the law. But that’s not true. They were saved by grace alone, and that is evident from the fact that God delivered them out of Egypt before ever giving them the law. They were sinners just like the Egyptians were. What was the difference? God saved them by his grace. Exodus 2 says that as the Israelites suffered in Egypt, God remembered his covenant with Abraham. So what did God mean to do by giving them this detailed law? He gave them the law so that they would be holy or set apart to live for him, and you can’t be holy unless you know what sin is.
He didn’t give them the law as directions for how to be saved. They were already saved from Egypt. He gave them law so they could live as his people. So you see the continuation from the cov with Abraham to the covenant with Moses.Those covenants were building toward the covenant with Christ, what we have today. And it works the same way.
We are saved by grace, but we obey God’s law so that we might live like those who are saved. Listen again to Paul’s words from verses 11–14
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,  training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,  waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
Except for the fact that the Israelites did not yet know the name of Jesus and the fullness of God’s plan of redemption, this statement by Paul describes them perfectly. In the new covenant in Christ, all the promises of the old testament covenants are fulfilled.
But the covenant community is not closed yet. People are still coming and going. There are those outside the New Covenant community who are being born again and coming in. There are those born and raised inside the covenant community who are revealed to be unsaved and who leave. The Old Covenant community described in the Old Testament worked the same way.
And so the commands of God must declared and his truth of his love must be proclaimed so that people may either repent and turn to him, or harden their hearts and reject him. And so the true shepherd, as he “declares,” must warn the people of the dangers of sin, and also “rebuke” or contradict wrong beliefs and behavior. Like the Old Testament prophets, New Testament shepherds must “call a spade a spade” so to speak, and it should be an on-going thing, not a one-time thing. It is continual.
And the true shepherd should do it, verse 15 says, “with all authority.” This is an interesting phrase that Paul uses here. Normally, he uses these words in reference to God himself. So he is saying that Titus is to say these things with all the authority of God.
One of the great summaries of Christian belief, the Second Helvetic Confession, was composed in Switzerland in 1566. And it articulates our understand of the authority of true preaching in this way: "when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is preached, and received of the faithful…and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; who, although he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God abides true and good." Are true shepherds also sinners? Yes. But is their preaching God speaking? Yes, because speaking from his Word, they speak with his authority.
Imagine a young boy being told by his mother to tell his siblings that they have to clean up the house. The boy gives the instructions to his brothers and sisters, but the authority behind what he says is not his own. He doesn’t have authority over his siblings. But he speaks with his mother’s authority.
Augustine wrote, “The preacher explains the text; if he says what is true, it is Christ speaking.” Romans 10:14 says, “how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
John Murray, commenting on the verse, points out that a literal translation of the passage doesn’t contain the word “of,” such that it reads, “how are they to believe in him WHOM they have never heard.” Murray writes, “A striking feature of this clause is that Christ is represented as being heard in the gospel when proclaimed by the sent messengers. The implication is that Christ speaks in the gospel proclamation."
Do you recognize what true preaching actually is? It’s not an inspiration speech, or a string of clever stories or anecdotes. It isn’t a comedy hour with some Bible verses sprinkled in. It’s not meant to simply entertain. That doesn’t mean it should be dull. 20th century English preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “A dull preacher is a contradiction in terms. If he’s dull, he’s not a preacher.” God’s preaching, like God himself, is both serious and lively. It’s solemn but also dynamic. It’s honorable, wholesome, and humble. It’s animated, zealous, persuasive, warm, and deeply reverent all at the same time. Because it should reflect the glory of God himself.
But not only do true shepherds continually proclaim truth spoken through them by God, also, they continually overcome contempt aimed at them for God. (v.15c)
You don’t think you’re always going to like it what you hear, do you? Closing out verse 15, Paul tells Titus, “Let no one disregard you.” This could also be stated, “let know one “think around you,” let no one brush you off or side step you.
“Disregard” can also be read “despise.” Why should Titus do this? Because Titus is speaking with the authority of God. No one should disregard, despise, think around, or brush off the Lord Jesus Christ. See, saying what is true is only half the battle for a true shepherd. He then must stand by what he says and keep saying it over and over. Even when people don’t want to hear it. This was the challenge of God’s Old Testament prophets.
The prophets endured contempt. And Jesus understood this. In John 15, he tells his disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Of course, this is hard for preachers. People are intimidating. People have all manner of contempt for the God of the Scriptures. Jesus himself was hated for his words to the point of execution. If a shepherd continually says what the Bible says, he will provoke scorn, ridicule, and mockery at worst, or he will be, at best, ignored. Disregarded. But ultimately, if he speaks for God, the contempt is being aimed at God. A preacher is only a messenger or a mouthpiece.
18th century preacher Charles Spurgeon held an annual conference to address pastors and students studying to pastors. At one conference he describes these Chinese performers who had come to England.
He stated, “One…stood against a wall, and the other threw knives at him. One knife would be driven into the board just above his head, and another close by his ear, while under his armpit and between his fingers quite a number of deadly weapons were bristling. Wonderful art to be able to throw to a hair's breadth and never strike! How many among us (meaning the preachers in attendance) have a marvelous skill in missing. “Be not afraid,” says the preacher, “I am never personal. I never give home-thrusts. Stand quite still my friend. Open your arms. Spread out your fingers. Your minister has practiced a very long while and he knows how to avoid troubling you in the least with truth too severely personal.”
Spurgeon then gives this warning: Brethren, cultivate that art if you desire to be damned, and wish your hearers also to be lost. But if you want to be the means of saving both yourselves and them that hear you, cry to your Lord for faithfulness, practicalness, real heart-moving power. Never play at preaching, nor beat around the bush; get at it, and always mean business.”
True preaching is the continual speaking of truth unhindered by fear of contempt. A true shepherd can’t be controlled or manipulated by those to whom he preaches. He must say clearly what the Scriptures say, because he believes God says it, and he condemns himself if he doesn’t say it. Even Bible commentator I’ve read points out that this instruction is not just for Titus. Paul’s letters were read publicly in the churches. He isn’t only instructing Titus in how to speak; he’s also instructing the people in how to listen.
Would you be angry if, on your way home one night, you discovered a detour sign in the road, only to find out later that the bridge ahead was out? Would you be furious with the government worker who placed the sign in your path, thinking “what kind of nerve does he have to keep me from going the way I want to go?” You might feel inconvenienced, but you would be thankful. The worker who placed the sign only meant to serve and protect you. He was simply under orders of his superior.
Do you invite God’s correction as he speaks through the true preaching of his Word? Psalm 141 says, “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” It is a blessing to be corrected, and we all need it. Do you bristle if I or another preacher tells you how you should live or believe? What reveals your resistance? Is it truth that sheds light on your character or your private life?
Do you tune me when I started talking about your marriage, your parenting, or your money? Or do you resist when I challenge you to think differently about some biblical doctrine, maybe about predestination, or baptism, or the Trinity, or grace? Or do you brush off if I tell you thinking biblically about sexuality, race, or politics? We all resist certain things; we all bristle at certain truths that rub us the wrong way. Are you willing to put pride or emotion aside and accept God’s truth as it is?
As we go to this table today, we see the cost Jesus paid for our resistance to the truth. We can’t handle the truth – of our own sin. But Jesus could handle it. He handled it in full. Maybe you need to reflect on the sins of your past this morning and put your trust in Jesus for the first time. But we all must search our hearts and admit to God the sins of our present. What must you repent of today?
You know, not only do we need to receive God’s correction, but also we have to receive God’s encouragement and comfort through true preaching. Can you rest in the assurance of his grace? If not, that isn’t remorseful – it’s prideful. It’s prideful to think that the work of Jesus Christ is not enough to remove all your guilt and make you righteous in the sight of God. It’s prideful to think that more than faith is required. Through true preaching, Jesus tells you that his grace is sufficient for you. If you don’t clearly hear the mercy and grace of Jesus in the preaching of the Word,
then that preaching is not founded on the one whom we meet at this table.