Good Doctrine and Good Deeds (Titus 3:8-16)
One of the most prominent themes in this brief letter to Titus is that sound doctrine must always be accompanied by godly practice. A church must maintain its emphasis on sound doctrine; it cannot lighten up the intensity and carefulness with which it guards biblical truth. On the other hand, a church must maintain its emphasis on obedient living and holiness. We can never settle for rich theology and precise doctrine—i.e. reading good books and talking about theology—to the neglect of vibrant obedience or diligence in putting that doctrine into practice. This is the overall emphasis of the letter to Titus, so it’s no surprise that as we come to the end of the letter, we find these same instructions in Paul’s concluding remarks.
I. The reliability of the Doctrine (verse 8a)
So, the first thing Paul reminds Titus of in these verses is the reliability of the doctrine, assuring him that what he has said is a “trustworthy statement,” or a “reliable saying.” The statement he is referring to is verses 4-7, where he explained the great salvation granted to sinful humanity through the gospel. In those verses he showed us five things about the salvation we’ve been given in Christ: (1) it finds its cause in the kindness and love of God; (2) it’s according to God’s mercy, not our works; (3) its by the means of regeneration and renewal; (4) it’s completely Trinitarian, involving all three Persons of the Godhead; (5) it makes us heirs of God forever. In other words, the trustworthy statement to which Paul is referring is the grace of God granted us through Christ in the gospel, and it is about these things that Titus is to speak confidently.
It isn’t that this statement is uniquely inspired or trustworthy, in contrast with the rest of Scripture, since “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Instead, what Paul means is that this gospel content deserves a special place of attention and emphasis in Titus ministry. In other words, this is the message the church is to give greatest attention to and what it is to be most known for. The message of the gospel is that which is “good and profitable for men” (verse 8). As the church comes together and repeatedly hears Christ preached and is reminded of the benefits of the gospel, it is profitable to their souls week after week.
II. The Need for Good Works (verses 8b, 12-16)
Both in verse 8 and in the final conclusion (verses 12-16), Paul once again emphasizes the necessity of good works in the life of the believer. He says in verse 8 that people are to be “careful to engage in good deeds,” meaning that we are to intentionally consider how we should be engaging in good deeds—in the home (Titus 2:1-8), in the workplace (Titus 2:9-10), and in society (Titus 3:1-2). We who have received the grace of the gospel should be zealous for good works, doing them because we desire them, rather than out of mere obligation (Titus 2:11-14).
What is really important to see here is the specific connection that Paul makes between these careful and intentional good deeds, and the trustworthy statement that he has just spoken about. The result of Titus giving continual attention to the truths of the gospel, speaking them with confidence, will be that believers become careful to do good deeds. God’s grace in the gospel will be what is most effective in producing a desire for good deeds in the lives of those who believe God.
III. The Importance of Avoiding Distractions and Factions (verses 9-11)
One of the easiest ways to get a church off course is simply to distract them; get their eyes off of Christ and the gospel by whatever means necessary. Get them focused on meaningless controversies, speculating about things God has never told us, and arguing with each other about issues that have no real significance for the gospel. Whereas the trustworthy statement of the gospel is “good and profitable” (verse 8), these controversies are “unprofitable and worthless” (verse 9). Instead of spending our time on things that only promote quarrels (c.f. 1 Tim 1:4; 6:4; 2 Tim 2:23), like Paul, we’re to devote ourselves to that which promotes godliness and love for Christ in others (c.f. 1 Tim 1:5). In love, we should attempt to correct a person who has become stubbornly convinced in his error and sin, but if he continues to refuse to turn from his error after a first and second warning, then Paul says we shouldn’t continue down that road (verses 10-11). As a general rule, we should keep our distance from those who simply have an interest in arguing, especially after their error has been made known to them and they just keep going at it.
As Spurgeon explained it: “The religious world is full of faultfinders, critics, and skeptics, who… fight over Christianity without profit either to themselves or others; and those are far happier who…feed upon the Word of God, which is the true food of the soul. Luther’s prayer was, ‘From nice questions the Lord deliver us.’”
– Does your life line up with what Paul has said in these verses? Are you leaning with all your weight upon the trustworthy truth of the gospel? Are you seeking after obedience to Christ with your whole life, diligent to do good deeds so that your Father in heaven will be glorified? Or are you lost in a world of distraction, chasing after things that are only keeping you from the Savior, things that are ultimately unprofitable and worthless?