How a church relates to those outside the faith reflects what we really believe about the gospel. In the final chapter of his letter to Titus, Paul shifts the conversation away from the internal relationships of the church, towards its external relationships. He gives instruction here on how the church ought to relate to those outside of the faith, and he grounds his instructions in the gospel itself. The gospel calls us to demonstrate our faith in good works for the broader world.
Paul lays out some direct commands in verses 1-2. He writes:
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
The believers under Titus’ charge are to be instructed to submit to their government authorities, to do every kind of good work, and to treat others with respect and kindness. The way they live in the broader culture is important. It is not enough just to have good relationships within the church, they must also strive to live at peace with everyone (Rom. 12:18). Jesus himself teaches us that it is not a very significant thing if we love those who agree with us, what is significant is to love those who do not agree with us (Matt. 5:46-47). So, the church must be different in that it loves those who are not part of our family.
He grounds this instruction, then, rather remarkably in the gospel itself. He writes:
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. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 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,6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (v. 3-7)
Paul is making an interesting point here about our solidarity with those who are outside of the faith. He notes that we are just like them. We “were once foolish, disobedient, led astray” and slaves to sin. We have moral ground to stand on here, as though we are better than others. In fact, he states, our salvation is entirely an evidence of God’s grace towards sinners like us. “He saved us,” Paul says, “not because of works done by us in righteousness.” We contributed nothing to our salvation, and apart from His grace we would still be “foolish, disobedient, led astray,” and slaves to sin. This ought to impact the way we relate to non-Christians, for we know that they have as much hope as we do, and that apart from Christ we cannot expect more of them then we would have expected from ourselves under the same conditions.
There is a temptation among church people to look down our noses at those outside the church. To hold them at arm’s length or to shame them, condemn them, or simply ignore them. But apart from the grace of God we are in the same situation as them. We have no confidence in ourselves, no moral high ground, no self-righteousness for which to pat ourselves on the back. We are all sinners, condemned before God, yet offered free grace for salvation and reconciliation. We must love, then, as we have been loved (John 13:34). This is even true of those outside the church, Paul says; and when we do this we testify to what we believe about the gospel itself.
If we insists or demonstrate by our lives that some people aren’t worthy of love, some people can’t change, some people are too immoral, some must first clean up their lives before we can love them then we testify to a works based righteousness. The gospel states that while we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:8). If we cannot love sinners outside the church then we have not truly understood the grace we have been offered. Paul calls Titus to instruct the church this matter. He calls them to love and good works for the world around us because that demonstrates the true gospel. In fact he “insists” on them because those who believe in God must be careful to do them (v. 8). This is what the faithful followers of God do, because it’s what the faithful Son of God has done.
He concludes by stressing that this should be the focus of the church (v. 8-11). Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God and love others (Matt. 22:36-40). We are too easily swept up into controversies and debates and nuances of theological disagreement. These are not irrelevant, and they should be discussed. Some theological matters obviously carry more weight than others, but Paul is concerned here with the kinds of debates that don’t really matter: foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law (v. 9a). We must constantly be on guard against losing our proper focus. Are we loving God and loving others? Are we simply seeking to win arguments and look impressive? Are we caught up in “foolish controversies”? The gospel calls us to demonstrate love for others, that is how the church can draw people to hope of the gospel (John 13:35). It is love that makes the church attractive. Paul calls Titus to help develop that kind of church culture.
Throughout Titus one of the major issues is character. Paul concerns himself with the character of elders/pastors, the character of church members, and the character of the church as a whole. Theology and life are intertwined. Here in chapter 3 he states that what we believe about the gospel ought to impact how we relate to the world. How are you doing at this? How is your church doing at this? Are you known for love? Does your belief in the gospel of grace manifest itself in grace given to others? Paul instructs Titus and, through him, us too that the gospel should lead us to good works done in love for the world around us. I pray that character increasingly mark us as a people.