Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, 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. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. – Titus 3:1-11 ESV
Having emphasized the grace of God, as revealed in His Son’s incarnation and substitutionary death on the cross, Paul now tells Titus to demand godly, grace-empowered living among the believers on Crete. He is to remind them that their behavior is exhibit Christ-like characteristics at all times. They are to be submissive to rulers and authorities. And that submission should include obedience and a willing to do the right thing at all times. Their speech should be devoid of all slander. Their words were to be used for good and not evil. They were to avoid quarreling, because it produces nothing of value. Instead, they were to exhibit a gentle or patient temperament, showing kindness or meekness to all people. And Paul seems to realize that Titus is going to get push-back from his parishioners, arguing that some people don’t deserve this kind of treatment. So, Paul tells Titus to simply remind the believers on Crete that they were once the same way.
Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. – Titus 3:3 NLT
Paul was a big proponent of reflection. He saw value in looking back and recalling his pre-salvation status. And he encouraged other believers to do the same. He wrote to the believers in Corinth and reminded them of their condition before coming to faith in Christ.
Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT
The grace of God made possible not only their salvation, but their ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ. And it was important that they remember just exactly what is was their were saved from. Their ability to love others and see the lost as sinners in need of a Savior would be tied to their understanding of their own undeserving status when they were saved. Paul makes it quite clear.
When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. – Titus 3:4-7 NLT
It was all the work of God. The believers on Crete had not earned their salvation. Their works of righteousness had not put them in a right standing with God. Notice how Paul drives home his point. He emphasizes God’s role in their salvation.
“He saved us…”
“He washed away our sins…”
“He gave us new life and new birth…”
“He generously poured out His Spirit…”
“He made us right…”
“He made us confident that we will inherit eternal life…”
It was all God’s doing. And they were never to forget that fact. As soon as we start believing that we somehow deserved or earned God’ salvation, we begin to believe that we are somehow better than those who are lost and remain unsaved. We see the sins of others as somehow greater than our own. We can become self-righteously superior in our thinking and highly selective when it comes to those whom we show respect, honor, mercy and love. But Paul would have us remember our undeserving status and how God showed us mercy and grace – totally undeserved mercy and grace. He sent His Son to die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9 NLT). God loved us while we were at our worst. He didn’t demand that we get our proverbial act together or stop sinning. He saved us while we were mired and enslaved to our sin.
And Paul is telling Titus to demand that the believers on Crete show their gratitude to God for all that He has done by showing mercy, kindness, and respect to all those they encounter. He tells Titus:
I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. – Titus 3:8 ESV
They were to devote themselves, literally, to give attention to, good works. They were to be the protectors or guardians of good works, taking seriously their God-given responsibility to live Christ-like lives on this earth. They were to be the hands and feet of Christ, exhibiting the same attitude that He had.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 NLT
Jesus modeled humility and selfless service to others. He was the Son of God, and yet He did not think it beneath Himself to die on behalf of undeserving sinners. So, why is it so hard for us to die to ourselves and to live our lives in humble submission to God, serving those who are undeserving of our love?
Paul ends by providing Titus with a list of things for believers to avoid: “Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws” (Titus 3:9 NLT). These kinds of things are worthless and a waste of time. They produce nothing of value. They stir up anger and division. The produce pride and dissension. It was these kinds of distractions that the false teachers were bringing into the church. They weren’t unifying the church. They were dividing it. They weren’t encouraging humility and selflessness. They were promoting pride and a sense of spiritual superiority.
But Paul wants Titus and his fellow believers on Crete to remember one thing: God saved them. They had nothing to do with it. And their response should be one of gratitude and a willing submission to love others as they had been loved by God. They were to show grace to others because God had shown grace to them. They were to extend mercy to others, because had showered them with mercy. Our treatment of others should be a direct response to God’s treatment of us. He did not give us what we deserved. He gave us His Son and a means by which we could be made right with Him. He saved us. He washed and renewed us. He poured out His Spirit on us. And He has assured us of our future life with Him. All in spite of us, not because of us.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.