The 3rd chapter of Titus continues the back and forth between doctrine and practice which characterizes all of this letter. Verses 1-2 begin the chapter with several instructions concerning behavior. We’re reminded to be, among other things, ready for every good work. The last imperative, to show “all courtesy to all people” in verse 2 launches us into verse 3, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray…” where Paul summarizes the life before Christ. Following that description, we get an amazing illustration of the christian’s experience with God. Verses 3-7 form a very concise statement of the gospel, going from our life in sin to our salvation and some of its implications. In particular, the progression from verse 2 to verse 4 is quite interesting, and deserves highlighting.
First of all, these three verses are linked together. Verses 2 and 3 are linked with a for and verses 3 and 4 are linked with a but. Initially, I didn’t see the link between 2-3. What do our prior sinful lives have to do with these behavioral instructions? After further probing, the link became evident. The last behavioral instruction in verse 2 is, “to show all courtesy toward all people.” This sets the stage for the summary of the gospel, which follows. Why are good works important? They’re important because they display the grace of God to all people, especially those who are caught up in the conundrum described in verse 3: those who are foolish, disobedient, led astray, etc. The way we act is a vessel of God’s grace to a world which desperately needs it.
Next, we note that verses 3-5 parallel Ephesians 2:3-10 strikingly well. Paul is communicating a similar point in both places. We’re not saved by the things we do, but by God’s grace. However, as God’s workmanship, we have been created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10). Jumping back to Titus, we’re also given a hope that energizes this labor. In verse 7, it says, “so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Our hope in our inheritance (the world!) energizes our labor now, because we know it’s not in vain.
Following this, Paul again ties works and faith together in verse 8, “This saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things so that those who have believed in God would be careful to devote themselves to good works.” Faith in God must develop into good labor. The remainder of the verse states “that these things are excellent and profitable for all people.” Faith, which expresses itself in good works, is excellent and profitable for everyone. Again we see the link between christian witness and our actions.
Skipping down to verse 14, we get the last mention of good works in the letter. Verse 14 states, “Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works by helping necessary needs, so that they will not be unfruitful.” A few things pop out. First, we learn to do good works. Good works don’t usually come naturally; living out our faith takes practice. I also find the word unfruitful to be interesting. The first thing that comes to mind is the command in Genesis chapter one to be fruitful. Paul very well may have that in mind. That I’ll explore in a post tentatively titled, “Good Works and New Creation!” which will be heavily influenced by N.T. Wright’s thinking :)