There is something noteworthy about the letter the apostle Paul wrote to Titus, a preacher of the gospel whom he had left on the island of Crete “so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you…” (Titus 1:5). We automatically assume that the putting of things in order was all about appointing elders – and this is certainly an important part of it, but that wasn’t all there was to it. What is remarkable about the letter and what is obviously on Paul’s mind in writing these instructions to Titus has to do with the emphasis he gives to the need of Christians to be doing “good works.”
The first time he brings up the subject of good works it is in the negative. He is referring to one reason for the need of elders – that is to deal with false teachers, especially those of what he called “the circumcision party” or the Judiazers. (Titus 1:10). He says of these people that…
“They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” (Titus 1:16).
Who were these people? Josephus, the Jewish historian said that there were many Jews living in Crete in the 1st century. Undoubtedly the people Paul refers to were converts from these who had not left all their old Jewish ways.
Why were they unfit for good works? Because their minds and consciences were defiled through the false doctrines they had accepted. They did works, but not good works. When people become enamored with doctrines contrary to “sound doctrine” they are lured away from the kinds of works the Lord approves. Instead they were “devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” and had become “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers.” (Titus 1:10, 14). These dote on doctrines and revel in rebellion. They are uninterested in good works.
Paul told Titus that he was to be an example to the believers of what good works are.
“Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,” (Titus 2:7).
Titus was a gospel preacher. He was before people, open to public scrutiny. People looked up to him. In order to make the things he taught real to them he was to model before them what God expected of his people. There was not to be any of the old “Do as I say, not as I do” kind of teaching. The teaching he was to do was to be “what accords with sound doctrine,” (Titus 2:1), and sound doctrine calls for good works.
He then tells Titus what some of these good works are. There are different works according to one’s place in life. In Paul’s listing, the ages and social standing determine much of what each group is responsible for.
Older men “are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.” Older women “are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good.” Young women are to be taught by the older women to “love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” Young men are “to be self-controlled.” Titus was told to “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned.” Bondservants are “to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering [stealing from their masters] but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” All have different works to do – works appropriate to their age, experience and relationships. (Titus 2:1-10).
He then tells Titus why Christians are to do good works. He speaks first of the grace of God that has appeared, teaching us about how to live in this world. He speaks 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.” (Titus 2:14).
Jesus freely and willingly gave himself for us. We are a people redeemed by his blood to be his own possession, a people zealous for good works. The idea here is that as the Lord’s own people it is our nature to do good works. We don’t wait to be driven to do a minimal duty, but are eager and enthusiastic about doing all the good we can do. Good works are “in the blood” of the Christian, so to speak.
There are numerous other ways we can do good works. But whatever the opportunity may be before us, we need to be ready at all times to do whatever we can that will bring glory to God and aid to our fellow man.
“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,” (Titus 3:1).
Paul wanted this idea of doing good works to be known and wanted Titus to teach people urgently, insisting that they devote themselves to good works. To insist is to “demand something forcefully, not accepting refusal.” Note that Paul says that it is those who “believe in God” who will devote themselves to good works. Good works will flow out of a heart filled with faith in God.
“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.” (Titus 3:8).
“And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.” (Titus 3:14).
Doing good works is not optional. Good works are not something we can take or leave. They are not something we can shift off onto others or “the church.” Christians are to “devote” themselves to good works. They are to “give or apply ([their] time, attention, or self) entirely to a particular activity, pursuit, cause, or person.” Other versions say “careful to maintain good works” or “careful to use their lives for doing good.” So doing good works is not an incidental thing – it is to be the way of life for the Christian. One could even say that the real Christian will be addicted to good works. It is to be that strong an urge in us.
There is a saying that some people are “so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.” That is not at all what God intended. Christianity is not all about doctrinal correctness, personal piety nor precision of practice. These things may have their place but they are not the end-all of Christianity. Real authentic Christianity is about down and dirty, realistic, unvarnished, earthy, everyday life lived in service to our families, friends, neighbors and even our enemies.