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Lessons of Christmas- The Wisdom of It All

1 Corinthians 1:19-31.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 20, 2015.

The sending of a baby to a small country under the domination of the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago may not seem to be the wisest plan for saving the world.  Well, it didn’t seem any wiser at the time either.  During the Christmas season we are reminded that the wisest and most powerful people of this world cannot save the world and are absent in God’s plan.  Thus God makes salvation available to the lowest among us and to the highest regardless of these things.  In itself, this can be a problem for those who think they deserve it and others don’t.  The wisdom of Christmas is that God makes salvation available to those who will humble themselves, like he did, and trust His Wisdom and His Power.  Let’s look at this passage.

God Rejects The Wisdom of Mankind

This passage is written to the Christians in Corinth, who grew up in the Greek culture and were influenced by pride in its wisdom.  Thus the fact that God would reject man’s wisdom is at the same time obvious and inconceivable.  It is obvious because it is exactly what we would expect from a Being that can create the universe, or multiverse if you prefer.  However, it runs contrary to our experience and our nature.  We are used to opening doors to opportunity by our knowledge and wisdom.  We are not used to putting our wisdom aside and embracing God’s.

Paul points out that the message of the cross was and is foolishness to those of this world who are perishing.  Of course the message of the cross is God’s plan of salvation, which starts with the incarnation, and the baby Jesus.  This message of how God is saving mankind seems foolish to people of this world.  Thus, even if God were inclined to work in a way that fit in with our wisdom, the fact that we reject His wisdom would disincline Him. 

But more important than that in verse 21 we are told that the wisdom of mankind was not able to help it know God.  No matter how great our telescopes, communications, philosophy, and understanding of the universe, it will not help us know God.  In fact, the only way we have ever known anything about God is because He has revealed it to us, whether you look at the Garden of Eden, the prophets through the ages, or Jesus.  That is why in verses 19-20 God makes it abundantly clear that man’s wisdom will not lead to salvation.  Sin is a problem that cannot be solved with technology or philosophy.  No amount of time will enable social engineers to create a utopia that is truly good. 

At Christmas the message of God’s love comes into the world in a way that seems foolish to the world, but it will be effective against this sin problem.  Man’s wisdom continues to cycle through different wise ideas to help mankind.  But none of them will work.  The founding fathers of the United States of America understood this.  Instead of trying to create a perfect government, they created checks and balances to help keep the sin of men in check.  Over the years we have incrementally weakened and even dissolved many of these checks and balances.  Democracy is not the hope of the world.  At best, it can only restrain evil.  So this story will continue even as mankind doubles down and increases the stakes by calling for Global governance.

In verse 22 Paul points out a particular problem.  The Jews represented the religious wisdom of those who knew God and were supposed to be following Him, whereas the Greeks or Gentiles represented those who did not know God and instead were a more secular wisdom (even though they had religious notions).  The Jews believed in God and so looked for powerful signs of what God was doing.  However, the problem with this is that no matter how many powerful signs God did, their hearts did not want to go where He needed to take them.  Thus, the religious wisdom of those who know God can be driven by human wisdom.  “I will only accept what I determine is God.”  In this model God has to become a kind of court Jester who keeps us constantly entertained in something.  Yet, we don’t want what He is offering.  Thus, such religious wisdom must always come to a point of deciding between God’s way or your way.  On the other hand the secular wisdom of the Greeks and nations of the world believed that salvation could be achieved through the refinement of knowledge and philosophy.  They sought out ideas that “worked.”  God is saying that the solution that will work is one that will not appeal to the religious wisdom or the secular wisdom.  No matter who they are, the wise of mankind will not like the solution God gives.  The wise men of this age or any age to come will never save us, period, whether from religious circles or secular.

God Uses His Own Wisdom

Having established that God will not use man’s wisdom to save us, the obvious is then looked at:  God will use His own wisdom.  Paul points out that God’s wisdom is a stumbling block to the religious.  Yes, they may be looking in the right direction, they may be on the right path, they may even know what they are supposed to be looking for.  However, in the end when God acts to save mankind they trip over it because they didn’t recognize it.  Salvation is offered in a way that is not in harmony with their thoughts.  Yet, God will not let them ignore it.  When they trip over it they will either despise it or they will choose to embrace it.

As for the secular wisdom, the salvation of God is foolishness.  Think of it this way, Jesus coming into first century Israel is a template for the message of Christ going into all the other nations.  You won’t be able to ignore it and a choice must be made.  Yet, our wisdom will always lead us to reject it.  Paul says in verses 24-25 that this “foolishness” is the Power and Wisdom of God.  This “foolishness” is wiser than the greatest wisdom of mankind.  No matter how foolish you think this plan is, it is far wiser than you can imagine.  Only arrogance and pride would cause us to persist in clinging to the ship of this world’s wisdom at the expense of God’s.

God Displays His Wisdom Through Us

Here we are 2 millennia later and countless millions have chosen to believe the message of God in Jesus.  Of course, only God knows how many of them have truly believed, instead of just going along with something in order to fit in.  Yet, in those who believe, the wisdom of God is put on display to a world that cannot see it otherwise.  Paul reminds these Corinthian Christians that most of them were foolish and weak by the world’s standards.  There was a time when we as a nation understood this.  Do you remember the words that are at the statue of liberty?  I won’t quote them all, but the critical part is this.  “'Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp,' cries she with silent lips!  'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.'”  Today we are more apt to cream the crop of the nations so that our businesses and nation may be the greatest.  But this is not what God does.  He lets the cream rise to the surface and then takes the bottom layer.  Why?  He does so because you can do nothing with those who are so full of their own wisdom they don’t need God.  Whereas the lowly know full well that their only hope is in God.

Paul states emphatically that God will allow no human to glory in front of Him.  The Creator of all things has chosen to save us in a way that glorifies no one, and this grates on the nerves of the mighty to no end.  God loves to choose the weak and foolish, because it highlights the impotence of the strong and wise of this world and forces them to continually hear the truth, “Your wisdom cannot save you!”

Jesus is God’s gift of Wisdom and Glory to us.  At Christmas God gives us the embodiment of His Wisdom and His Glory.  In Jesus, God asks the world to turn from their wisdom and embrace a better wisdom and glory.  He sent Jesus, not because we deserved it, but because He wants to save us.  Thus the Church of Jesus is a reminder to the world of its need to embrace the wisdom of God. 

However, we are not just a reminder to the world.  In Ephesians 3:8-11, Paul points out that God is also teaching the angelic powers through us lowly humans.  Yes, even angels need to learn the same lessons as mankind does.  Their greatest wisdom will only lead to destruction.  But the wisdom of God will lead to life.  There is much interference in the nations of the world today by humans with political ambitions.  However, there is also interference from spiritual beings with an axe to grind.  Thus we are coming to the apex of history.  In this let me ask, what about you?  What do you say?  In Jesus, God has set the fruit of salvation low so that even you can grasp it if you will.  Put your faith in Him today.


Lessons-Wisdom audio


Lessons of Christmas- The Miracle of it All

John 1:1-3, 14.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 13, 2015.

The modern, scientific world basically rejects the idea of miracles.  Unless one is a strong Christian and a scientist, miracles sound like the antithesis of sound reasoning.  However, much of this is a matter of semantics.  The common argument against miracles will go something like this. Miracles are against the laws of science and cannot be duplicated upon demand.  Therefore they are mythical, whether through insincerity or not.

So what do Christians mean by the word miracle?  Well, we do not mean the “miracles” of nature, like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly.  As amazing as many of the processes of nature are, they are not technical miracles.  Scientists can observe and test to determine the underlying fundamental principles that enable metamorphosis.  In fact all over the world metamorphosis is happening all the time.  There are two main concepts behind the words that are often translated as miracle.  The first has to do with the observation of something amazing.  It is a memorable thing that sticks out among the stuff that naturally occurs.  Another word has the concept of being a sign.  This memorable thing points to something about God and the world. 

This leads us to three main parts to defining a miracle.  First, it is something for which God is immediately responsible.  Everything of nature follows certain laws and operations (physics) that God hardwired into the creation.  Thus he is technically responsible for all actions of nature, but this is a secondary responsibility.  In a miracle, something happens that would not have happened if God had let nature run its normal course.  The red sea parting or Jesus walking on water were not things that would have happened naturally.  There is a supernatural source to the happening of this event.  Second, though the event has a supernatural cause, this does not mean that it breaks scientific laws.  Miracles are not magic.  Rather, God Himself introduces power and laws that are generally above our understanding of physics.  Even if we could completely understand the physics of our world, we can’t completely understand God and how He interacts with it.  Thus miracles would always be beyond mankind’s ability to comprehend.  Plus God does not intend to give miracles in order to extend our knowledge of physics.  He doesn’t owe us an explanation.  Third, miracles always occur in a religious context.  They are given to God’s people, or to substantiate God’s Word.  Thus the struggle between Moses and Pharaoh is accompanied with miraculous signs in order to help Pharaoh see the truth about God and His people.

Now at Christmas we have several miracles among which some are: the virgin birth and the angelic visitations.  However the greatest miracle of all time is the incarnation.  Just when it looked like mankind was doomed to failure and destruction under the wrath of God, God becomes a man.  This was a cosmic game-changer.

The Word Became Flesh

In chapter one of the gospel of John Old Testament wording and imagery is used throughout in order to connect it with Jesus.  He starts out by referencing something called “The Word.”  This is an allusion back to Genesis 1, where God is seen speaking things into existence.  “And God said, let there be…”  The Word is the purpose, logic and reasoning of God coming from within Him and going out from Him.  John begins to define this Word in a way that makes clear it is not just words and it is not just a force.  As we walk through the first two verses, John establishes the preexistence of Jesus in a sequential manner.

First, he establishes that The Word existed at the beginning of creation.  “In the beginning” is the title of the Book of Genesis in Hebrew.  In Genesis 1:1, The Word existed already.  Second, The Word was in relationship with God the Father, “with God.”  It didn’t just exist.  It existed in relationship with God.  Third, we are told that The Word was divine.  It may appear that he is just equating them.  But he is clearly distinguishing two that are both God (and divine).  In verse two this is restated.  Lastly, John states that The Word was the agent or means of creation.  The Father speaks and the Word goes forth to accomplish it (in verse 14 & 18 it is clear the word is a personality).  What is not made clear in Genesis 1 is being revealed here in John 1.  Thus John describes two distinct persons existing together and yet God.  Later in verse 14 and 18 he defines this further as God the Father, and the Only Begotten Son.  All created things were made through Jesus in his divine capacity.  The Son is not a created person, but a reality that had been kept secret until the incarnation.

Thus the birth of Jesus is more than a man that God chooses to use.  Rather, it is the eternal Word and divine Son stepping into the world and taking on the additional nature of humanity.  This all happens when Satan had all but captivated all the nations of the world, Israel included.  The knowledge of God was all but extinguished either by outright rejection, or by perversion.  Thus in verse 14, John says that The Word became flesh and dwelled among us.  The word “dwelled” is the same word used for the tabernacle in the wilderness with Moses.  God has always tried to teach us that He longs to dwell with us.  It is as if God waits until the last seconds to bring out His secret weapon.  He is going to suit up on our side.  It is a miracle because mankind couldn’t have done it.  No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to produce God, much less make ourselves Gods.  The more we try the less like God we will become.  It is a miracle because it can’t be explained by mere natural means.  Yes, Jesus could have been just a baby, but then what about the miracles he did as a man?  If you reject those, what do you do with his prophecies about Jerusalem and the rest of the world?  If you reject that what do you do with the resurrection?  And, if you refuse to believe that then you are open to what God is trying to show you.  This is all history and yet it can’t be explained with the natural.  Also, it is a miracle because it fulfilled all that God prophesied and underscored all He had been trying to teach.  What if God was one of us?  Well in Jesus He has become one of us.  He has become our champion.  He has stepped in between us and our enemy the devil.

He Humbled Himself

In some ways it goes without saying.  But the point is too important to skip over. The humility of this miracle is mind-boggling.  The divine becomes human and the immortal becomes mortal.  This miracle of God taking on the nature of a man is unexplainable.  These are things that only the designer of creation and mankind could fully comprehend.  However, that is not what is important.  The “how” is incredible, but it is the “why” that truly blows your mind.  While we are busy trying to become gods, God a long time ago became one of us.  This humility is explained in Philippians 2:5-8.  Jesus was not just moving to a lower station.  He is choosing to embrace those who had lost and deserved to die.  He is identifying with that which was crushed and captivated by the devil.  He would rather hang out with the losers than with the winners.  Why?

In Philippians 2 we are told that Jesus did not consider his prior state, being God, as something to be gripped tightly.  His nature is such that He is not clambering to be on top, but is the one to choose lowly things.  He voluntarily cooperates with the limitations of being a man, who is also under the law of Moses.  The phrase sometimes translated as “made himself of no reputation,” would be better translated “he emptied himself.”  It is not clear what exactly he emptied himself of.  He doesn’t cease to be God, but he does cease to operate as only God.  He takes on limitations and chooses to suffer pain, hunger, rejection, and death.  He submits not just to death, but to death on a cross, which was a social shame and excruciating.  He obeyed the will of the Father to the point of death on a cross.  Part of the miracle of the incarnation is the depths to which God is willing to lower himself in order to lift us up.  Jesus reveals to us that it is those who lose according to this world who are desired by God.  We are always looking at what is possible and how to get ahead and move up.  But Jesus is God’s word to mankind, “Let me defeat your enemy for you.”

He Came Full Of Grace And Truth

In verse 14, John describes what they saw when the incarnation came into the world to dwell among men.  “We beheld his glory.”  Of course John had seen the transfiguration of Jesus when he had been transformed into a glowing being.  But he is speaking of more than that.  Here he is referencing the whole experience of dwelling with Jesus.  His glory was constantly being revealed for those who had eyes to see it.

It was especially displayed in that he was full of grace and truth.  God shows compassion to those who are captivated by sin and whose lives have been devoured by the devil.  He comes like a gift from heaven to heal, set people free from demons, and speak words of truth that cut through all the confused and deceived wisdom of mankind.  Even more amazing, He does so regardless of the fact that we do not deserve it.

Rather, we deserved him to come into the world full of wrath and judgment.  The miracle of Christmas is that instead of flaming judgment raining down from heaven, we are given aid against our enemy and victory over him.  This is not the story of underdogs overcoming at the end and winning.  This is the story of mankind losing the battle to the devil and his angels.  And, yet, God chooses to have a celebration with the losers and despises the “winners.”

Have you lost in life?  God is calling you to stop trying to win the game of this life and come into relationship with Him.  Are you winning in this life?  Beware that you are not caught up in the judgment that God is going to pour out on the devil, his angels, and all those who have joined his rebellion against God’s Son.  Choose this day, whom you will serve.

Christmas: Miracle audio


Lessons of Christmas- The Mystery of It All

1 Peter 1:10-13.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 5, 2015.

As we enter the Christmas season, we have been looking at lessons that it teaches us.  Last week we talked about the Goodness of God displayed at the birth of Jesus.  Today we are going to look at the Mystery of God.  It has been said that God works in mysterious ways.  Although this is true, there is much more to it than that.  Whether you are a person who likes mysteries or not, there is something about mystery that engages our mind.  Our natural curiosity wants to try and solve it.  One thing about a good mystery is that it usually has a surprise twist that provides the hidden information to solve the mystery.  We see these same elements in the plan of God, which has some parts that are very clear and others that are not.  At the birth of Jesus there was the mystery of who the messiah would be and how salvation would be accomplished.  A big part of the mystery was the timing.  When would all this happen?  Lastly, I would point out the mystery of God’s dealings with Israel and the nations of the world.  All of these mysterious things come together at Christmas in an even greater mystery: the incarnation.  In Jesus was united God and man in one being.  He is the one who is both fully God and yet fully man.  This is a mystery. 

In 1 Peter 1:10-13, Peter points out these things to the believers of his day.

Salvation Was A Mystery

Through the years prophets in Israel had spoke on behalf of God.  They explained past, present, and sometimes future things.  Of course God himself gives the first prophecy in the Garden of Eden when he explains that the “seed of the woman” would crush the serpents head.  This first word of hope to mankind let us have a glimpse that God was doing something about our situation.  Over the centuries a large body of prophecies had been accumulated.  These words were not a complete picture, and in fact they left many questions in the hearts and minds of those who pondered them.

The prophets themselves were in the same boat as those to whom they spoke.  They did not understand everything they were being told.  Yes, Adam and Eve knew that God would help one of their seed to give them victory over the serpent, but they didn’t know how and when.  Peter reminds us that there has always been mystery in what God is doing.

Yet, this drove the prophets to search and inquire into it carefully.  Up to Moses, the Words of God were handed down orally.  Thus to search and inquire into the matter could only be done by finding an elder who was faithful to the old ways and would explain what God had done and said in the past.  Such wise men like Noah had held onto the promises and prophecies of God despite the fact that the rest of mankind had cast them aside.  With Moses God began directing the prophets and others to write these things down.  Once that was done the writings themselves could be searched and compared.  Ultimately we see the prophets exemplified in Daniel who was searching the scroll of Jeremiah and came to understand that the exile into Babylon would only last 70 years.  Thus he knew that God was going to help his people return to Israel.  He also received many visions and prophecies regarding the future.  Yet, Daniel had many questions.  In chapter 12 of the book of Daniel, we see him asking God for more understanding and yet the Lord tells him, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.”  Even though he was the holy prophet of God, he had to trust God in the midst of many mysterious, unknowns regarding the plan of God.  We live in days where it is easy to connect with faithful, godly elders.  We can also search the Scriptures with the help of powerful computers.  Along with this, God is as close as He has ever been when we pray.  So have we grown weary of the mystery?  Have we come to the place where we quit hoping for the resolution of God’s plan?  There are even some in the Church today that teach that prophecy and searching it out for understanding is a problem.  The problem is not trying to understand prophecies.  This has been the impulse of godly people from the beginning.

Peter points out that these prophets wanted to know who the messiah would be and when he would come.  Over time God gave further clarification.  First we find that the messiah would come from Abraham, then Isaac, and then Jacob.  Later we are told that he would be of the lineage of David.  In regards to time, they are eventually given some inkling in Daniel.  In fact chapter 9 of Daniel is a prophecy that lays out how much time was left.  He also reveals that it would happen during the reign of the 4th Beast Empire.  Notice how similar their questions are to ours today.  Our waiting for Jesus to come back is very similar to what they waited for.

Peter points out that that, by the Spirit, they saw the sufferings and subsequent glory of the messiah.  These two incongruous ideas created a lot of questions and mystery concerning the plan of God.  The suffering and victory of the messiah may seem to be a contradiction, but it is more a contradiction of implausibility rather than impossibility.  God had promised a savior.  But when he came he would suffer.  Why?  He would be glorious on one hand and yet there would be nothing about him physically that would draw men to him.  They mystery was in how all these puzzle pieces fit together.  At Christmas God solved part of this puzzle for us.  Christ came first to save us from our own sin (the true enemy).  To do this he had to make himself vulnerable and let himself be tortured, even put to death, for our sake.  But how could he do all that and yet remain the King who would raise up the righteous and put down the wicked?

Why All The Mystery

There is a part of us, whether as an atheist or a frustrated believer, that wished God would make things clearer.  Yet, he has a penchant for mystery and long waits in between times of revelation.  Peter points out in verse 12 that it has to do with the fact that prophecy is not just for us.  We are serving others.  Either God has to make a clear explanation to every single person who ever existed within their time, or we have to put up with a bit of mystery.  There is no way around this.  Prophecy was never given to elite men for their benefit alone.  It was given to them in order to serve others.  First they served the people of their time by sharing the prophecies.  However, Peter points out that they also served the generation that would be alive when the messiah finally came.  Those who would see the resolution of prophecy needed served in this way.  Because of the words that were shared and written down, they would be able to see the connections between what was happening and what God promised.  It would help them to navigate especially difficult times with the understanding that God desired them to have.  Thus early Jews who were heard the good news of Jesus could either ignore the Scriptures and reinterpret the events, or they could embrace them and rejoice in Jesus.  Of course, Peter is talking about the mystery of salvation.  Through Jesus it became far less mysterious.  Of course we also recognize that Jesus and his Apostles prophesied about a future 2nd coming.  Thus, as I said before, we are in the same boat.  We have been served by Jesus and the Apostles in order to understand what God desires of us in these last days.  God was not interested in giving each generation full understanding.  No, that would come after the events occurred.  Rather, was giving each generation enough information that they would be encouraged and pass down the prophecies until that generation in which they would occur.  We are not just waiting for Jesus to come back.  We are also serving the next generation for him.

We are not just passing on information about God’s plans for the future.  We are also passing on an inner response of faith toward God himself and toward His promises regardless of how much we understand.  Some reject the prophecies because they are not clear.  However, the mystery also ensures that someone somewhere will still be interested in these things.  The intellectual puzzle laid alongside of the spiritual battle helps to keep faith alive until the event itself is revealed.  We think we need full disclosure.  But what we really need is trust and faith in God.  Peter points out that the prophecies were explained to the believers of his day by the Holy Spirit.  If we do not hand down the Word of God to the next generation in the power of the Holy Spirit, then our stream of influence is doomed.  Faith is kept alive by the help of the Holy Spirit.  Prophecy must never be a matter of intellectual curiosity and fleshly pride.  It must be a matter of a soul who has placed its hope in the hands of God.  There is one last aspect here that Peter doesn’t point out, but is shown in Ephesians 3:4-10.

In the first century things were revealed by God that had been kept a mystery from the beginning of creation.  The people of God as His Church are a message from God to both mankind and the Spiritual rulers that have abused their positions.  Those angels who were put in charge of the nations and were leading mankind away from God through the teachings of demons, are just as important in this as we are.  The wisdom of God is being displayed and explained in the mere existence of the Church, much more what it has to say.  There are still mysterious things that are yet to be revealed.  But to those who put their faith in God and trust Him, there is a joy of bearing the revelation of God’s wisdom as it has been revealed.  Part of God’s plan is to raise mankind to a position greater than those angels that ruled.  All authority is being stripped from them and given to Christ and His Church.  We are being raised up to reign with Christ in their place.  The elites of the world may scoff at such thoughts and the powers of darkness may bristle at such thoughts.  However, God has pledged himself to destroy the wisdom of the wise men of this world and the power of the powerful of this world.  Thus we see the present mystery of God’s choice of the lowly over the top of the great and proud.

The first Christmas reminds us that there is ahead of us a great day of rejoicing.  No matter what it may look like in the now, a great day of revelation is coming in which the wicked and powerful of this world will have no say in the matter.  God will do what He is going to do.  Blessed are those who put their faith in Him!  Maranatha!

Lessons from Christmas


Lessons of Christmas- The Goodness of It All

Titus 3:1-8.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 29, 2015.

As we enter the Christmas season, I want us to look at some of the lessons that it teaches us.  Of course, we do not want to confuse what the world wants us to learn with what God wants us to learn.  The world wants us to generalize Christmas into a time of feeling and doing good things towards others.  But, God wants us to learn far more than this because the first Christmas did not happen in a vacuum.  It happened after a long history of mankind’s rejection of God and the tragic consequences of our chosen paths, namely sin.

The history of mankind is that of casting off the truth of God and his dealings with us, and then following our own heart.  We are told that spiritual enemies have taken advantage of this to instigate false religions and ways of living among mankind.  Thus the nations of the world were lost and worshipping demonic spirits in the guise of gods.  In this context, God creates a nation from Abraham called Israel.  He gives them His Law as a witness to all the nations.  But 18 centuries later, Israel had become a nation that sidelined the Truth of God’s Law and had embraced the traditions of rabbis and “wise men.”  Instead of a complete rejection like the nations of the world, they kept up a form of obedience, but the powerful principles of God’s Word had been rejected.  Thus all of mankind was in the same condition: bound by the sin of rejecting the Truth of God and guilty before Him.  It was time for judgment and destruction.  It was time for another global judgment.  And yet, that is not what God did.  It is impossible to overemphasize the fact that mankind was totally guilty and deserving judgment before God when He surprised us with a supreme gift of love.  God sent us His own Son, not as a conquering, warrior king to destroy, but rather as a harmless child who would save.  Christmas is a story about the supreme goodness of God.  The message of Christmas is not about the goodness of humanity, but rather, the goodness of God despite the horrible sins of mankind.

The Christian Is Called To Goodness

In Titus 3, the first two verses may look like a list of duties.  However, the list itself flows out of a central principle that followers of Jesus are called to goodness in everything that they do.  The first area Paul points out is our goodness towards authority, specifically governmental.  Christians ought to act in a good manner towards governments and any authorities in their life for that matter.  There are many times when the wickedness within a person causes them to reject the virtues of self-subjection and obedience to authority.  In fact as you read this you may not see them as virtuous, but as problems.  Yet, there are fewer times when righteousness demands that we stand against authority.  In fact, it is important for Christians to note, that even when the apostles themselves disobeyed governmental authorities by continuing to preach Christ, they submitted to the punishments without raging against those who carried them out.  In fact, they demonstrated love even to those who were persecuting them.  Yes, there are many issues in this area.  Yet, this cannot be avoided.  Those who follow Jesus must do so in an attitude of subjection and obedience to governmental authorities, and not one of rage, anger, and rebellion.

Next Paul tells them to be ready for every good work.  This is a general statement that helps us to see that we are to do more than just be good in a passive sense.  We are to actively prepare for and execute those good works that opportunity affords us.  How can we ready ourselves?  Our readiness is that of a disciple who is listening to the Holy Spirit and living out what He teaches us.  We follow the Spirit of Christ rather than the Spirit of this Age.  It is our submission and obedience to the authority of the Lord Jesus that enables us to be ready for the good things we must do, and often to those who “don’t deserve it.”

Lastly Paul tells us to be good towards our fellow man.  Verse 2 demonstrates many different ways that we can do that.  “Speak evil of no one,” uses the word that is translated blasphemy when it is used of God.  Thus we are not to speak what is untrue or unsubstantiated about any one, period.  We are to be peaceable towards others.  That means we don’t start fights and further more we decline to fight with others when they start it.  Such bickering, quarreling, and outbursts are to stop at the decision of the believer to not reciprocate such things.  We are also told to be gentle.  This is not about how we touch one another, but is about our dealings.  We should be fair, equitable, mild, and loving even in times of correction.  Lastly we should be humble before all men.  In fact, especially before those whom we feel we are above.  This life of goodness is not easy to accept.  Our flesh comes up with innumerable excuses and “reasons” why Jesus can’t really mean this. 

It is easy to be good towards those who we think are good, but in verse 3 Paul reminds us that we were not always a person committed to being good.  It is important to identify with the person we see as evil.  Even if we have left that life behind, we used to be like them.  If we condemn them then we are condemning ourselves.  If they are unworthy of goodness then so are we.  Paul ends his list of what our past life was like with a picture of those who are selfish and scrapping with everyone around them, hateful and hating.  It is survival of the fittest and dog eat dog.  This is the world as it was in the days of the first Christmas.  Little hope, little light, and thick darkness all around. 

The Goodness of God Has Appeared in Jesus

In verses 4-8, Paul reminds us that Jesus came to us during this darkness.  His “appearance” is a reference to His incarnation, birth and life.  His light broke in upon the darkness and life sprang up among the dead.  Jesus broke in upon this sad condition of ours and gave us goodness.  This is what we are called to do.  We are to be the goodness of God breaking in upon the darkness of others in this world.

Jesus did not just merely exist, but he was the goodness of God towards people who didn’t deserve goodness.  He came not as a rebel against the government in order to take over, nor as a destroyer.  He was the gentleness and compassion of God as he healed people, set them free from demons, helped them to see the truths that they had lost, and simply helped them to believe in God again.  No matter what we experience in life, we must keep this as the bedrock of our understanding: God loves us all and has poured out benevolent kindness upon us despite our wickedness.

He did so not because He was obligated to do so.  He would have been perfectly justified to judge us as evil and either wall himself off from us, or destroy us.  No individual and no nation had done anything that would deserve the kindness of God to send mankind His Son as a savior.  It was simply mercy.  He gave us what we didn’t deserve.  This salvation was not the outward destruction of our enemies.  Otherwise He would have to destroy us all due to the fact that we are all someone’s enemy.  Rather, the salvation is of a spiritual and mental nature.  It is intended to change our way of dealing with the world around us.  We are to respond and live differently because that is who God is.

Part of this mercy is described as being regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  Though this term can refer to the Resurrection, here it is referring to the spiritual resurrection of our dead spirit.  Before Christ we were spiritually dead to God.  We could not hear and respond to Him.  Instead we only listened to and followed the flesh and the spirit of this age.  When a person puts their faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit does a real work of making their spirit alive to God.  This is also called “born again.”  The Spirit takes up residence within our heart and mind in order to help us connect with the heart of the Father.

We are also mercifully renewed by the Holy Spirit.  By following the spirit of this age and our own flesh, our mind and heart have become broken and scarred.  We have believed all manner of lies and deceptions.  The renewal of our mind and heart happens through the teaching of Jesus and his apostles.  The Word of God and our obedience to it washes and renews our mind and heart from the crud of this world.  Over time it is easy to give up and become discouraged with this process.  Yet, take heart.  We were told that it would be difficult to follow Jesus and that we would be tempted to quit.  When you run into things that discourage you, this is a sign that you are on the right path.  Some people give up at the very moment they are getting on to the right path.

Verse 8 brings us full circle.  Those who believe in the person and work of Jesus will be careful to maintain a life of good works.  This means we will be vigilant and watch over our life in order to keep doing the good things that God has for us to do.  Some people balk when we talk about good works because it sounds like we are trying to save ourselves with works.  It has been said that, “The theology of Christianity is based on grace, the ethics of Christianity are based on gratitude.”   We do not do good works because they will save us.  Rather we do them out of gratitude for the salvation we already have.  If God so loved us, while we were yet sinners, how much more ought we to act in love towards all men?  Don’t let this world rob you of the goodness of God.  Instead, be one who gives it freely everywhere you go.  No, we do not do good to others because of a foolish notion of humanity’s goodness.  Rather we do so because of the truth of God’s goodness and the ability of people to be redeemed.

Goodness of it all audio