Living a life that stands out
On Sunday night, the youth group BBQ was just coming to an end on the church field when suddenly we were treated to the most amazing rainbow. I’d never seen such vivid colours that seemed to stretch for miles. But what made it so spectacular were the extremely dark, ominous clouds that formed the backdrop. Then, before we knew it, the rainbow was gone, the heavens opened, and we all huddled under the gazebos. But something of beauty is often appreciated much more against a dark backdrop. It’s why jewellery shops display diamonds on a dark velvet cloth and why we have firework displays at night and not in the daytime. All of these things stand out because of the background. The same is true of the Christian life. The Apostle Paul encouraged the Philippians to be “children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” (2:16) Against a depraved backdrop on the island of Crete where the residents were described as “always liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons” (1:12), Paul challenges Christians to live lives that stand out. To shine like stars. In our Godless society, often marked by sensuality, selfishness and strife, we are similarly to stand out. To shine like stars. Titus 3 helps us to see how this is possible and what such a life looks like.
How is it possible? (v3-7)
As Paul often does, he begins by describing what we were once like, and it isn’t easy on the ear- “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” (v3) We had no fear of God and were rebellious to Him; we belonged to the Deceiver, Satan; we were slaves to the gratification of our selfish desires; we were eaten up with anger towards and jealousy of others; there was no love amongst us but only a mutual loathing. But the good news is that God has done something about it. “But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us.” (v4-5) The source of our salvation is the love of God, manifested in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And our salvation doesn’t rest upon what we do for God but upon what he chooses to do for us- “not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.” (v5) We can never cancel the debt of sin by our good deeds, no matter how hard we try. God forgives us, because Jesus paid the price for our sin on the Cross. And the means by which salvation comes to us is the work of the Holy Spirit- “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he has poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” (v5-6) Dead things don’t need a makeover, they need new life, and this is what God does by His Spirit. And as a result of God’s merciful intervention, we become a part of his family, as “heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (v7) What Paul has described in these five verses is a miracle- transformed from being God’s enemies under his wrath to becoming his precious children lavished with his love. ‘Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou my God shoulds’t die for me!’ It is possible for us to shine like stars only because of what God’s done for us in Christ.
What does it look like? (v1-2 & 8-15)
Having reminded the believers in Crete of the miracle of their salvation, Paul then tells them how they should respond- “This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. Those things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” (v8) A thread running through the whole letter to Titus is the call to the Christian to “do what is good”. To “do what is good” is to do what pleases the Lord. It is the response to the miracle of the Gospel that God expects and results in the good life that stands out against the dark backdrop of Godlessness in the surrounding culture. Paul mentions several things that should characterise our lives- “to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no-one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility towards all men.” (v1-2). The past months have been immensely challenging and we may not have agreed with every decision the government has made concerning the pandemic, but we should be supportive of those who lead us and pray for them. Our presence in the communities where God has placed us should be a savouring one. As the Lord said to his people in Babylon- “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:7). Is your street, place of work, local shops, community centre, sports club, children’s school a better environment because of you? Does your presence bring a smile to people’s faces or a grimace? It doesn’t mean that the Christian will always be popular, and in v9-11, Paul tells us how we should respond to those who oppose us and the gospel. We don’t go around picking ‘theological fights’ but we are to be clear about the gospel and unwavering and act to protect the unity of the body of Christ. Sometimes we will have to say ‘boo to a goose!’ And Paul ends with an immensely practical way that our lives will stand out- “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.” (v14) We are to avoid the two extremes of being idle on the one hand, expecting others to always pick up the tab, and workaholism on the other, which never leaves time for other important things in life like family, friends and the fellowship of the local church.
Our “good lives” are the product of the gospel, they’re not instead of the gospel. When we live like God intended then we put the gospel on display for others to see and savour. And, when and where opportunities arise, we’ll speak of our hope in Christ with gentleness and respect for those who enquire. How we live really matters!