Titus 3:12-15 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. 14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.
15 All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.
Having finished with pressing matters (almost…he just couldn’t help himself one more time in v.14), Paul concludes this letter to Titus with some personal remarks. Two things in particular stand out to me from this passage. First, I love that this paragraph reminds us of the real, human side of Scripture. And second, I love that it puts on display several biblical principles in action. While the rest of the letter taught on the gospel, the gospel in principle, and the necessary effects of the gospel, this paragraph shows what it looks like to apply these things in real life. Please pray with me that the practical and personal nature of these verses wouldn’t cause us to miss the glory that is in them.
EXPLANATION OF THE PASSAGE
In these last few verses of Paul’s letter to Titus, Paul gets to some very practical matters. In terms of its overall meaning, it’s a straight forward passage. Paul intends to send some gospel-helpers to Titus (men named Artemas and Tychicus)—presumably to relieve Titus of his responsibilities so that Titus can visit Paul in Nicopolis over the winter. At the same time he asks Titus to quickly equip and send Zenas and Apollos to help Paul.
We know very little about the men mentioned in these verses. This is the only time Artemas and Zenas are mentioned in the bible. Tychicus shows up in Acts (20:4), Ephesians (6:21), Colossians (4:7), and 2 Timothy (4:12) as Paul’s traveling companion on his final missionary journey, in a very similar messenger capacity two other times, and ultimately as “beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord”. Apollos gets the most NT press and he is mentioned as a Christian leader and one who traveled wherever gospel help was needed. Nevertheless his role was fairly obscure. Most notably Luke writes,
Acts 18:24-28 A Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Additionally, Paul reminds Titus once again that the Christians in his church are to devote themselves to good works, and that they are to do so in order that they would have a significant impact in spreading the gospel and care for those who had serious needs. Beyond that Paul lets Titus know that he and the Christians under his charge are loved and thought of well by all who are with Paul; even as Paul acknowledges the fact that he knows the feeling is mutual (that he and those with him are loved by Titus and those with him). That’s it.
Again, the context and meaning of this passage are fairly straight forward. This is a letter shared by two men who loved Jesus Christ above all else and had given everything to the cause of making the good news of the significance of his life, death, and resurrection known to the world. There is mutual faith, respect, purpose, dependence, and love between these two men.
I’m going to turn to some very practical matters in just a moment. Right now, though, I want you to consider whether or not this (mutual faith, respect, purpose, dependence, and love) are the hallmarks and defining characteristics of your friendships. Are these things the basis of the relationship between you and the people closest to you? That’s what real friendship is. That is, love for one another, the gospel and a commitment to plant it deep in our own hearts and spread it to the ends of the earth is what makes genuine, God-honoring friendships. Develop those kinds of friendships, Grace.
With that, let’s turn now to six principles the this passage that are filled with the glory of God.
SIX PRINCIPLES FROM THE PASSAGE
Although this is a simple passage with clear meaning, there is are several principles embedded in the passage that I want to draw your attention to.
First, the bible was written by real people in real situations with real needs.
Because of the (right) emphasis on the bible’s divine origin, it can be easy to forget this. While we might wonder why God inspired this passage to be in the bible, it seems plain to me that one significant reason for it is that paragraphs like the one in Titus 3:12-15 help remind us that it was written by real people (just like you and me in most ways), in real situations, with real needs.
This is encouraging to me in that it can often feel like my day-to-day efforts to love God and share his love with others are insignificant and ineffective. It’s hard to imagine that Paul knew this simple little letter, with these mundane little instructions would be used by God to order his Church for thousands of year.
It’s also encouraging to me in that this paragraph reveals the fact that the Christian life until Christ returns is filled with the mundane, the ordinary, the plain. These few verses remind me not to despise the mundane, ordinary, and plain, but to embrace them as part of God’s glorious plan of redemption and kingdom-advancing.
Don’t forget, Grace, that the bible was written by real people in real situations with real lives and real needs…just like you and me.
Second, Christians are servants.
To be a Christian is to be a servant. If you are not a servant you are not a Christian. This means doing actual acts of service flowing from an actual servant’s heart.
Jesus himself stated this explicitly and repeatedly. Matthew 20:25-28 is one such example.
Matthew 20:25-28 Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The servant nature and expectation of Christianity is both implied and explicitly stated in our passage for this morning. It is implied in verses 12 and 13 where Artemas, Tychicus, Zenas, and Apollos have made themselves available to be sent out by Paul and Titus for the sake of the gospel. It is implied in verse 13 where Titus is instructed to serve by liberally providing for the needs of Zenas and Apollos before sending them out. And, of course, it is implied in the letter itself. That is, Paul had given his entire life—including the writing of this letter—to following Jesus in serving others for the gospel’s sake.
What’s more, it is explicitly stated in v.14 when Paul gives the reason for commanding Christians to devote themselves to good works. In other words, one of Paul’s expressed reasons for the need for Christians to do good works is so that the needs of others would be met. That’s the very definition of a servant.
Christians are servants. Grace, consider this. Is your life more characterized by looking to have your (physical, emotional, relational, intellectual, and spiritual) needs met by others, or by looking to meet those needs in others? Are you actively looking for ways to meet the needs of others (especially the most urgent ones) or are you more prone to passively waiting for them to present themselves to you. I love that so many of you stand out in your service. I love that God has wired so many of you to find great, gospel joy in meeting the real needs of others. For the rest of us, let’s pray that God would increasingly change our hearts so that this might be the case, even while rejoicing in the fact that he already is!
Third, we must do good works.
We’ve already spent a lot of time on this so I won’t belabor it here. I do want to say, however, that Christianity is not primarily an intellectual pursuit. No one will go to heaven merely because they accept a set of doctrines. “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe- and shudder” (James 2:19)!
Good works for Christians give us confidence that our faith in Jesus is true, saving faith. Good works are necessary for our conversion, sanctification, and perseverance. Good works are a means of God’s grace in the lives and salvation of others. Good works please God. Good works are commanded. Good works are what we will do for eternity in the presence of God and all the saints.
All of this is why Paul repeats himself again in v.14, “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works…”. Good works and genuine Christian faith are inseparably linked.
If you want to press further into this, consider going online and listening to my sermon from a few weeks ago called “He Saves Us by our Works.” Or, for an even better version, go online and listen to Kevin DeYoung’s message from this year’s T4G. Both messages talk in more detail about the role of works in the Christian life.
Fourth, the good (and bad) works we do really matter.
At Grace Church we focus a lot on God’s sovereign reign over all things. That is, we make a big deal about the fact that God is Lord of everything. Indeed, God works in every single aspect of creation, continually to accomplish his good and perfect will—every bird in the sky, every hair on your head, every grain of sand, every drop of water, every star in the sky, every atom in the universe, every act of good and evil, every inclination of every mind and heart, everything! We emphasize that because the bible emphasizes it.
However, emphasizing the sovereignty of God can give the impression that our actions don’t really matter. We can easily slip into fatalism if we’re not careful. The simple fact is, there’s philosophical mystery in the relationship between God’s sovereignty and mankind’s responsibility. There is not, however, biblical mystery. The bible, without exception and without apology, teaches both (often side by side). Never once in the entire bible is God portrayed as anything less than totally sovereign. And never once in the entire bible is mankind portrayed as irresponsible or unaccountable for his or her actions.
In his sovereignty God has chosen to make our actions matter. And, again, this is both implied and explicitly stated throughout Titus 3:12-15.
We see it in the very fact that Paul sends Artemas and Tychicus and calls for Zenas and Apollos. Traveling around the world back then was difficult and expensive and dangerous. Paul would not have asked these men to go through the type of challenges they would inevitably face if he didn’t believe that doing so would affect the salvation of the world.
In fact, Paul not only asks Titus to send Zenas and Apollos, he asks Titus to “speed” them along. Not only does their presence matter for the souls of others, but how quickly they get there.
We see this in the fact that Paul expected Christians to meet the urgent needs of other Christians (in v.14), implying that if they didn’t there would be serious consequences.
And again, we cannot miss the fact that Paul literally gave all that he had, laboring and toiling and being beaten and starving and being imprisoned and mocked, because he believed that his actions were necessary for the salvation of the lost (the same guy who wrote Romans 8-9 emphasizing the absolute sovereignty of God).
The goal of our actions is that we might be “fruitful” according to the end of 3:14. We really can and must and will bear fruit as we do good works. God has ordered the universe in this way. Our actions really matter.
Don’t mishear me, Grace. We must act and our actions do matter for the wellbeing and even salvation of the world. However, we must never forget that our life comes from God, our transformed hearts (which desire to do good things) come from God, the strength to do the good that God gives us the desire for comes from God, and any good fruit that comes from our good works comes from God. God requires that we work and saves others through our work, but our good works and their resulting fruit are always God working through us.
And so we must ask ourselves, Grace, do we work as if it matters? Do you act with the belief that if you fail to share the gospel with your friends or family or neighbors or the person next to you in the checkout line, they might go to hell? Do you act with the belief if you don’t adopt orphans they may be given to a life of suffering? Do you act with the belief that fighting for the cause of the unborn could possibly save countless lives? Do you act with the belief that one simple act of gospel-kindness could completely turn someone’s day and, perhaps, eternity around? That’s how Paul worked. That’s how Paul commanded Titus and the Christians in his church to work. That’s how God’s word calls us to work. Our works really do matter.
Fifth, love must drive all that we do.
In the middle of v.15 Paul charges Titus to greet the people in his church who love Paul and his companions in the faith. This seemingly insignificant line is anything but. It reminds us that the single most important thing we can do, and that which we must do at every moment of every day is to love God with everything in us. And it also reminds us that the second most important thing we can do, and that which we must also do at every moment of every day is to love the people around us—especially the people of God.
This reality is simultaneously profound (beyond what the greatest human mind can ever truly grasp) and simple (able to be understood even by young children). I thought briefly about seeking to unpack the profound side of our need to be driven by love in all that we do, but quickly decided to focus on the simple side instead.
Grace, to love someone (God or others) is to find great joy in going after that which is best for them. This passage—Paul’s few words here—reminds us of our privilege and responsibility to imitate God in doing that continually. And so I invite you to stop right now and consider how you might put this into practice today. Please determine to walk always, only in love…joyfully pursuing goodness for others. Take a moment and decide on your first loving act. We can’t love everyone, always if we don’t start with a single act of love.
Sixth, we are saved by grace.
Finally, then, we end with Paul’s final words, “Grace be with you all.” The fulfillment of this prayer (that God’s grace would be with us) is, unequivocally are our only hope. If not for God’s grace we are hopeless. If not for God’s grace we are helpless. If not for God’s grace we are dead. God’s kindness, which we don’t deserve, is the only way we can escape hell and do anything that is pleasing to God. But Grace, thanks be to God, in Christ, all we know is Grace.
But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross
And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace
Grace was Paul’s only hope, grace was Titus’s only hope, grace is our only hope, and grace has been the only hope of everyone who had real reason for hope. Paul’s words and Jordan Kauflin’s song remind us that the good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ died on the cross to make our hope certain. Thanks be to God.
In conclusion, then, let me say again—this is a simple passage, with subtle, but unmistakable glory. In it we see the wisdom and goodness of God’s design. That is, we see glory in the fact that God lovingly ordered things such that the bible was written by real people in real situations with real needs, that Christians are servants and must give ourselves to doing good works, that the good (and bad) works we do really matter, that (consistent with God’s character) love must drive all that we do, and that our only hope is grace.
Don’t miss this glory, Grace. Don’t miss the love and kindness and wisdom and goodness of God. Don’t despise the manner in which he’s ordering his creation (including your life), but instead plead with him to help you to see (or at least trust in) its rightness. As you know, Grace, all of this is the gospel in effect. Amen.