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Devoted to Doing Good

Original Date: 
Sunday, February 10, 2013

Titus 3:8-15 The Good Life: Devoted to Doing Good

Second-Hand Lions
In the movie Secondhand Lions, two old curmudgeons, Hub and Garth, assume the care of Hub’s ten-year-old nephew, Walter, after his mother abandons him. The two men are at first reluctant hosts, especially Uncle Hub. He begrudges Walter the little food he eats, the small space he takes up.

The two old men live in a dilapidated farmhouse, the fields roundabout gone to seed, and spend most days sitting on their tumbledown porch, shotguns straddling their laps, nursing a giant grudge against the world, and taking potshots at any traveling salesmen foolhardy enough to venture near. They want to be left alone, to die quietly in their misery.

They don’t care about nuthin’.

But the boy’s presence works a miracle: their withered hearts grow young again, learn to love again. They start to hunger for more.

They start spending their enormous fortune—they possess, mysteriously, a cache of money hidden somewhere on their land—on everything from garden seeds and garden tools, to a catapult that flings plates skyward for shooting practice, to a Red Baron-style airplane, to a secondhand lion, a mangy old feline who just wants, like they did, to finish her days in undisturbed idleness.

As the old men’s hearts awaken, they tell Walter, slowly, their story. Uncle Hub was once a swashbuckling adventurer, a poet-warrior, and Garth his trusted sidekick. Together, they lived an enchanted, dangerous life, routing armies, plundering treasures, rescuing a damsel in distress. Together, they outwitted a cunning and noble enemy, an Arabian sheik, Uncle Hub’s rival for the love of his beautiful Jasmine.

Walter is never sure whether to believe these stories. He wants to, but they’re so outsized and exotic, and these arthritic cranky old men, even as they wake, bear little resemblance to the legendary heroes described in their stories.

But to tell the stories is to re-inhabit them. Those two old men, in their closing years, become every bit as headlong and two-fisted as they claimed to be in their youth. They finish well. They die in their nineties, full of days, joyriding their plane with such reckless abandon they crash it upside down into the barn door. They punch that door so clean and hard they cookie cut a hole, perfectly plane shaped, right through it.

Walter, now grown, comes to survey the scene of their death. As he stands outside the house, a helicopter rises over the trees and comes down beside him. A handsome young man, around his age, steps out. He is dark-skinned, middle-eastern. Walter realizes it’s the grandson of Hub’s legendary rival, the sheik. Both men grew up hearing fantastic tales of sword fights and narrow escapes and buried treasures, and both wondered if the tales were true. The Sheik’s son looks at everything, the farm, the barn, the hole where the plane hit.

“So,” he says, astonished, “it’s true after all. They really lived.”

Walter smiles.

“Yes,” he says, “They really lived.” (Mark Buchanan, Hidden in Plain Sight, pgs. 5-6)

To really live. That’s kind of my hope for the result of our time in Titus. I’ve been calling this six-week series “The Good Life.” The big idea in this little book of the Bible is that when you truly understand God’s grace—when you grasp that it is only by what God has given us as a free gift in Jesus Christ that any of us are saved—only then can you really begin to live the way God means for you to live. You can really live. Live the good life.

And when I say the “good life” I don’t necessarily mean a life of idleness and ease. Playing golf and reclining on a beach and sipping fancy drinks with tiny umbrellas sticking out them. Nor do I mean a life of reckless adventure with mangy lions and airplanes flying into barn doors. Instead, by the “good life” I mean living the adventure that God has created you for. Living the adventure of serving Him, sharing His gospel, and loving the world around you.

My hope, as we finish with Titus, is that it will leave you wanting to really live.

Hopelessly Devoted
Which brings us to this morning’s text. Today we are looking at the final verses in the book of Titus. In many ways, these verses read like the typical ending to a letter. Paul has some final instructions. He goes back to the controversy he wrote about in chapter 1. He mentions Artemas and Tychicus, one of whom will probably be Titus’s replacement on Crete. He says something about Zenas and Apollos, who carried this letter to Titus. And he sends the greetings of those with him. In other words, Paul is saying good-bye. It’s the typical ending to a letter.

But, at the same time, he keeps coming back to his main theme. Listen as I read it, and you’ll catch what is most on Paul’s mind. Titus 3:8-15:

8 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. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. 11 You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

12 As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there. 13 Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. 14 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.
15 Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith.
Grace be with you all.

Did you catch it? In verse 8 and then again in verse 14, Paul uses the exact same phrase. “Devote themselves to doing what is good.” It’s been the theme throughout the letter, and now as Paul wraps things up he goes back to it again. Those who have trusted in God, our people—those who belong to the church—should respond to God’s grace by devoting themselves to doing what is good.

Now, think about that word “devote”. That’s a word that’s pretty serious, right?

This week is Valentine’s Day, and that word “devoted” is going to get tossed around quite a bit. I want Beth to know that I’m devoted to her. That means she’s the only woman for me. It means I want to pursue her and love her and make her a priority in my life. She has my devotion. That means there is not another person alive on this earth who means as much to me as her. She has my heart. To borrow a phrase from Grease: I’m “hopelessly devoted” to her. (Do you think because I just said these things publicly it means I won’t have to get her a card? Probably not.)

That’s what “devote” means. Now, look at how Paul is using the word. He’s saying that people who belong to Jesus Christ should “devote themselves to doing what is good.” That means that we should make doing what is good our only ambition. We should pursue what is good and love what is good and make it a priority in our lives. We should put our hearts into it. We should be hopelessly devoted to doing what is good.

That’s pretty serious. This is important to Paul. An important part of being a Christian. We respond to God’s grace by doing what is good.

Just one question: what does it mean to do what is good?

Good Things
On the one hand, that seems like a simple question. Everybody knows what’s good, right?

But, on the other hand, maybe it isn’t that simple. I asked three different people: “What do you think of when I say ‘do good’?” and I got three different answers. One person said: “Give your best effort. Do your best.” Another person said: “Behave. Don’t do wrong things.” A third person said: “Do good things. Be nice.” They’re all correct. Depending on the context, doing good can mean any of those things.

So, what does the Bible mean when it calls on us to devote ourselves to doing what is good? As I studied it and pondered it this week, I decided that the Bible means two things when it calls on us to do what is good. And they are related to each other.

First, I think the Bible teaches that good is something that you do. Good is a way to behave.

I think that is definitely what Paul is getting at here in Titus. He’s talking about doing good things. Doing good. So, for example, Titus 3:1 & 2, verses I skipped over last week, say:

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

“Ready to do whatever is good.” And what does that mean? It means submission to legal authorities. It means not talking trash about people. It means keeping the peace. It means being polite and humble.

Doing good includes things you do: you hold doors for little old ladies, you pay your taxes, you sponsor a child in Africa; and it includes things you don’t do: you don’t gossip, you don’t start fights, you don’t brag.

This is about your behavior. How you act. If you are kind and considerate, you are doing good. If you are not selfish and rude, you are doing good.

Doing good even includes an element of working hard. In verse 14 of our text Paul links doing what is good with people earning their own way and living productive lives. Part of the idea behind doing what is good is that people within the church will earn respectable reputations within the community. If Christians become known for laziness and agitating against the government, people are going to have poor opinions of them. That wouldn’t be good.

But if Christians would be seen as always helpful, kind and benevolent; solid citizens who contribute to society and share with those in need, then people are going to have strong opinions of them. And that would be good.

What I’m talking about is what the Bible calls “good works.” Ephesians 2:10 says this is the goal of God’s salvation in our lives:

10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

As recipients of God’s grace and mercy we are called upon to do good in the world: mercy for the sick, kindness to strangers, hospitality to outsiders, justice for underdogs, compassion for the lost.

Good is something you do. Let me give you an example. A story.

In 1908, Ernest Shackleton led the Nimrod Expedition to reach the South Pole in Antarctica. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a documentary on one of these expeditions, or read a book about them, but these polar adventures were extreme. We’re talking about days on end in temperatures of -20 or -30 or worse. Walking on ice, using dogs to pull sledges, snow constantly whipping in your eyes. I complain about walking the dog when it’s 20 degrees outside. And I only go half a mile. These guys went hundreds of miles in subzero weather.

Anyway, on Shackleton’s 1908 expedition they had to turn back less than a hundred miles from their goal. In his diary, Shackleton tells of the moment their food was almost gone, down to a few scraps of hardtack—a bland, dried biscuit. Shackleton distributed it evenly among the men. Some ate it there and then, licking the crumbs off their fingers like starved dogs. Others stored it in their bags for a time when their hunger became a kind of madness.

That night, Shackleton awoke to a sound. He opened his eyes and, lying still, watched. In the ragged circle of firelight (they burned seal fat) he saw a sight that made his heart sink: his most trusted man opening the sack of the fellow next to him and taking out his food bag.

And then Shackleton saw something that made his heart leap: his most trusted man placing his own hardtack into the other man’s bag. He wasn’t stealing bread. He was sacrificing his own. (Buchanan, p. 78)

Good is something you do.

Who Are You?
But here’s the thing. When the Bible calls on us to do good, it’s not just talking about how you behave. Even an evil person can do good things. Adolf Hitler’s favorite camera pose was with furry animals and little children. Idi Amin used to cry when he heard sad stories. Joseph Stalin was kind to his daughters. Even the wicked know how to do good.

But the Bible is also calling on us to be good. That’s the second thing: Good is something you are. In order for us to truly do good things, we must become good ourselves.

The word used for “good” in Titus is the word kalos. It’s a word that emphasizes the nature of things. I means something is suitable, fit, useful or sound. It’s a way of describing something that is beautiful. Good in and of itself.

If Paul wanted to talk just about doing good deeds and behaving in a proper manner, he had a perfectly good word at his disposal: the word agathos, which is the primary word used for “good” in the New Testament. But Paul chose the word kalos. He chose a word that talks about not just what we do, but also who we are. This means we should do good, but more than that it means we should be good.

Now, hopefully, you sense a problem here. Because, Biblically speaking, none of us are good. We might help the occasional cat down from a tree, or make random donations to food banks, but those good deeds do not in and of themselves make us good.

There’s a story in the gospels about a rich, young ruler who runs up to Jesus and says: “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus answers by saying: “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good.” (Matt. 19:16-17)

It turns out that this young man does pretty good by most standards. He keeps the law, honors his parents. He’s faithful and diligent and pious and conscientious. But that doesn’t make him good. There’s only One who is good.

Mark Buchanan writes: “Doing good is usually more attractive to us than being good. Wanting to know what good thing we must do often strikes us as more urgent, and certainly more manageable, than knowing the one who is good.” (p. 83)

Only God is truly good. Apart from God, no one does good (Rom. 3:12). Apart from God, nothing good lives in us (Rom. 7:18). Trying to do good without first being good is doomed to futility.

And so, as we’ve been saying throughout our study of Titus, if we want to live the good life we must first have a share in the goodness of God. We can only be devoted to doing what is good if we first experience the good of God.

Listen to these verses from 2 Peter, chapter 1:

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

God is glory and goodness. It is not a stretch (at all) to say that the very nature of God is good. His glory is His goodness. He is the standard by which all good is measured.

And He calls us “by his own…goodness.” It is because God is good that we are saved. That’s the gospel.

But then, look at verse 4, He invites us “participate in the divine nature.” He shares His intrinsic, essential goodness with us. He lets His character live in us. And it is only then that we can be said to be truly good.

You can be good, and do good, because of the good God has done for you.

Devoting Ourselves
So what do we do? Titus says we are supposed to devote ourselves to doing what is good. That implies some effort on our part. We know that any good we do comes from God. But still, we are supposed to strive for doing what is good. So how do we devote ourselves to doing what is good?

First, Love God. If the good we do is dependent on us first being made good by God, then it follows that we need to give our lives to Him. We need to allow Him to move in and take ownership of our lives.

More than that, the good we do for others here in this life is forever linked with our love for God in the great commandment. Jesus says that it is in loving God with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength that we are freed and empowered to love our neighbors as ourselves.

And so, if we are going to make a difference for children in poverty or have an impact on those who suffering through terminal illnesses or be a light for truth in our community, we must first love God

Then, second, follow the Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus, living in me by faith, cultivates my goodness. As one commentator said: “Noble deeds are the fruit of the tree of salvation.” You can see that in the famous Fruit of the Spirit passage in Galatians:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Goodness doesn’t need to be pounded into us or coaxed out of us: it springs forth from simply keeping in step with the Spirit. As long as we are paying attention to what the Spirit is doing and saying and we are open to His influence in our lives, things that are good will be the natural result in our lives.

And then, third and finally, Find a Model. Imitate those who are good.

We saw the importance of mentoring when we looked at the beginning of chapter 2 and the instructions to older men and older women and so on. There’s something to be said for having godly people in your life that you can use as role models.

It’s a kind of method acting: mimicking another in order to become like them. Impersonating someone else’s inner life, reproducing in yourself the motivations of their hearts. The Bible repeatedly calls on us to imitate those who live good lives. “Follow me,” Paul writes in Philippians, “as I follow Christ.”

Find a person, then, or three, who resemble Jesus more than you do. Go to school on them. Walk with them. John makes this explicit:

11 Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.

John, of course, is aware that evil people can perform good deeds. But he’s talking about people who in season and out, in good times and bad, in their waking hours and their sleeping hours, when people are watching and when people are not, do good because they are good.

Only one thing explains such people. They’re God watchers. They’ve been made good by God.

Be like them.

And so, as we finish our study of Titus I invite you to live the good life. Really live. Live the adventure that God has created you to live. Devote yourselves to doing what is good. Do good. And be good.