Good Works in Titus

The struggle between good works and faith has deep root in the history of the Church. A key debate in the Protestant Reformation was the role works have in the salvation of a man. In modern times, the lordship salvation debate between John MacArthur and some others in the 1990’s was really a debate about the nature and necessity of works in the Christian life. Numerous Scriptures were used throughout the debates both in the Reformation and in the modern quarrels. James 2:14-24 was beaten to death during the lordship salvation debates. Christ calling His people to obedience throughout the Gospels was also scrutinized. Paul’s letters to Rome, Corinth and Galatia were used on both sides of the argument.

A lesser known letter by Paul gives us some perspective on the issue of good works in the life of the Christian.

Titus was written by St. Paul late in his life, probably between 62-64 A.D. The recipient, a Gentile Christian probably converted by Paul, was left in Crete to finish the work Paul had started there. It is not the most famous New Testament book. It is short and probably preferred by ministers for its pastoral content. You will rarely find it listed in someone’s “favorite books of the Bible” section. Despite its relative obscurity, it has numerous practical exhortations that are worth looking at.

In a recent reading of Titus I found the issue of good works being brought to my attention. Paul’s advice to Titus is particularly important because Titus was a pastor. What was Paul’s exhortation to this pastor on the island of Crete? Did he tell Titus to be very careful about mentioning good works to his people? Did he imply that pressing good works upon the flock will make them legalists, who are earning their way to heaven? Let’s see what was Paul’s admonition to this pastor.

There are seven uses of the Greek word, ergon, in Titus. Normally ergon is translated as work or deed. Here are the seven uses. I am using the New King James Version text.

1:16 They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.

2:6-7 Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, (7) in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility,

2:14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

3:4-5 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, (5) not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,

3:8 This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.

3:14 And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.

The verses that are most familiar to us are the magnificent encapsulation of the Gospel found in Titus 3:4-5. These verses show that works are not the basis or reason for our salvation. It is only because God is merciful and kind that we are redeemed. Works are left out of this equation entirely. Most Protestants are comfortable with these verses.

It is the remaining verses that make us uneasy. Paul is pushy in exhorting Titus to preach good works to his people. Look at the language Paul uses, “a pattern of good works…zealous for good works…maintain good works…maintain good works.” For Paul good works are not a sign of legalism. Good works are the necessary fruit of a Christian life. They are absolutely essential. Get that last sentence and plant it in your mind. Pastors are to exhort their people to good works. Many pastors who are afraid to use this type of language. They fear they will be misunderstood. They fear they will be accused of being Roman Catholic or legalistic. But if we are going to preach Titus 3:4-5, we must also preach Titus 3:8 and 14. Paul did not shrink back from telling his people and his pastors to make good works a priority. A man who wants a ministry like Paul’s must not either.

Legalism can be a problem in churches and must be avoided. However, a greater issue in the modern evangelical church is the failure to be holy, the failure to be zealous for good works. An effective minister will know which way the cultural wind is blowing and fight against it. In our age the danger is not mainly those who create new laws, like the Pharisees, but rather those who reject God’s Law altogether or pick and choose which part of the Scriptures they want to obey. One way a pastor combats this is to preach the necessity of good works.

Book Review: Ministries of Mercy by Tim Keller

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho RoadMinistries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road by Timothy Keller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Solid introduction to mercy ministry. I read the 2nd Edition, not sure what has changed since then. His first section on principles was really good. He lays out the foundation for mercy ministry in Christ’s mercy shown to us. He does a good job of trying to tight rope freely giving and also not enabling sin. He overshoots in some situations. For example, his equating of word ministry and deed ministry was a stretch (chapter 7). He views mercy ministry at a higher level than I do. Also his discussion of the rich living moderately to provide for others was good, but not real clear. What is a moderate lifestyle? His emphasis on caring for your family first comes through in several places, which was good to see as this is often ignored by those interested in mercy ministry.

His second section on practice was hampered by the fact that he operates from a large church paradigm. Most churches, even of two to three hundred people, would have a hard time doing what he describes. He is too program driven and not organic enough. Also there is an assumption that the state should do a lot of mercy ministry and the church should supplement where the state or other agencies are failing. This assumption is faulty. His point that magistrates are to extend mercy to the poor is a good one, but requires a lot unpacking in our current cultural climate where program after program has been implemented by the government to care for the poor. I appreciated the emphasis on mercy ministry being something the whole congregation does. But he left deacons out almost entirely. Why? It was an odd exclusion. How deacons can promote and facilitate mercy ministry along with the congregation would have been helpful. The five invitational questions in chapter 10 were good. Finally, his emphasis in the latter chapters on systemic injustice was squishy in places and raised a few red flags.

A good book, that can help a person think through the issues, as long as they able to filter our some false ideas and translate the principles to their church setting.

My Rating System
1 Star-Terrible book and dangerous. Burn it in the streets.

2 Stars-Really bad book, would not recommend, probably has some dangerous ideas in it. Few books I read are 1 or 2 stars because I am careful about what I read.

3 Stars-Either I disagree with it at too many points to recommend it or it is just not a good book on the subject or for the genre. Would not read it again, reference it, or recommend it. But it is not necessarily dangerous except as a time waster.

4 Stars-Solid book on the subject or for the genre. I would recommend this book to others and would probably read it again or reference it. Most books fall in this category because I try not to read books I don’t think will be good. There is a quite a variety here. 3.6 is quite different from 4.5.

5 Stars-Excellent book. Classic in the genre or top of the line for the subject. I might also put a book in here that impacted me personally at the time I read it. I would highly recommend this book, even if I do not agree with all that it says. Few books fall in this category. Over time I have put less in this category.

View all my reviews

2016.Episode 15-What is a Pastor For?

Pulpit 1

There are few professions as widely misunderstood as the ministry. Is the pastor a CEO, an entertainer, a cultural critic, a pseudo-politician, or a grandfatherly figure there to dispense wisdom? What is a pastor for? That is the subject of this podcast.

Indolence in the Pastorate

Dirty Hands

Lazy pastors fill pulpits around this country. There are few professions that allow a man so much freedom to be a sluggard. We can pick a few key points from a commentary or an online sermon on Friday and have a decent sermon on Sunday. We can waste our days on worthless pursuits such as online debates that have little bearing on our life, our congregation or our spiritual growth. We do not plan and organize for the future as we ought to. We have thousands of resources at our disposal and we use few of them to minister to our people. We don’t have a visitation schedule where we shepherd our congregations “house to house” as Paul says he did in Acts 20:20. We read the easy books and refuse to dig in deep to those that bend our minds and force us to think.

Pastor Harry Reeder’s book The Dynamic of Leadership is excellent in many areas. But one of the strengths is the drumbeat throughout the book that leaders work hard.  In a chapter titled “The Marks of an Effective Christian Leader” he list three traps for Christian leaders to avoid. The first is indolence. Here is that section.

Indolence is nothing more than habitual laziness. Followers are dependent on leaders, and there is no room for habitual laziness in leadership. Certainly work must be measured and planned and must include rest and recreation, but a  Christian leader should never be vulnerable to the accusation of laziness. The book of Proverbs teaches that laziness is the sign of an undisciplined, unmotivated lifestyle and does not glorify God. In contrast, the lifestyle of a genuine Christian leader is marked by industriousness. Scripture reveals that Jesus was never hurried or frenzied, yet he was always going “straightway” or “immediately” to the next divine appointment. His lifestyle was energetic but focused, and he properly sustained leadership activity with appropriate periods of physical and spiritual renewal and rest. An industrious leader is prepare for a crisis and its accompanying demands, and he doesn’t contribute to it by carelessness or indolence. A genuine leader doesn’t relish a crisis, but is prepared to meet it and will not be AWOL when the moment of crisis arrives.

As a reformed pastor I am always stunned at the output of the 16th and 17th centuries. So much was done. So many books written. Confessions and catechisms poured out. Men worked for decades on projects. Cities and countries were changed. The fabric of Europe was quite different in 1699 than it was in 1499. How did all this happen? God in His grace gave the church pastors and teachers who worked like dogs. It was not magic. It was sermon after sermon, pamphlet after pamphlet, book after book, meeting after meeting, lecture after lecture, pastoral rebuke after pastoral rebuke for decades.

Fellow pastors most of our work is done in secret. We pray. We read. We study. We write. Are those hours in the study productive? Do we squander our time with vain pursuits? Are the members of our congregation and their spiritual growth always before us? Are we maturing theologically and in the spiritual disciplines? Are we planning for growth? Are we making new leaders who will plant churches? What will we leave behind? We cannot all write dozens of books. Most of our churches will not exceed two to three hundred and many will be less than that. But we can all work hard, really hard in and for our congregations. We can use resources to help our people grow. We can preach better. We can meet with them regularly. We can pray with greater zeal and purpose. We can sacrifice for them financially. Could it be that one of the reasons the church is in such a dire position today is that pastors have refused to work hard? Can the church grow if we do not put our hands to the plow year after year?

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops (2Ti 2:3-6).

Ten Quotes: The New Pastor’s Handbook by Jason Helopoulos

I was pleasantly surprised by Jason Helopoulos book, The New Pastor’s Handbook. As I read, I was encouraged and convicted in numerous areas. The book fills a niche in our culture by having short chapters, tons of practical advice, covering a lot of topics, and focusing on new pastors, thus avoiding repetition of more well known works, such as John Piper’s Brothers, We are Not Professionals. Here are ten of my favorite quotes from the book.

As undershepherds of his great flock, we care for his sheep by feeding them the Word; it is the very core and heartbeat of the calling on our lives. 

There will be weeks, months, and perhaps even years when the average church planter wonders what he has gotten into; in those moments perseverance matters a great deal. It can be the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful church plant. [The book has a chapter on church planting which was helpful for me as a church planter. P.J.]

Ministry, like baseball, is quite simple. It is nothing more than loving Christ, loving his people, and loving the Word. That is it.

As we seek to love his people, we bring this Word to bear on their souls for the glory of God. We have no greater gift to offer those under our care, for nothing can minister to them like the Word of God.

Apart from knowledge of the Word, we have no competence in the ministry.

It is a foolish pastor who forsakes shepherding his own family in the name of shepherding the church.

Our calling is a holy calling. If holiness does not mark us, then we should not be surprised when it does not mark our churches. There are few things more important in the life of the church than the holiness of its pastors.

A faithful pastor will build his ministry on the Word, prayer, and the sacraments. He will not deviate to gimmicks or the latest fads.

Administration creep occurs subtly and easily. We can go through a day of ministry answering emails, returning phone calls, and organizing policies with very little personal ministry taking place. A week can pass in this way, and all of the sudden we realize we have devoted more time to administration than to studying the Word of God, praying, and meeting with people. Our pervasive administrative duties have encroached on our time and taken over.

We need fewer aspiring conference speakers and more faithful pastors committed to their local churches. 

And One:

I try to remind myself of two things every day before I pursue the pastoral work set before me. First, I labor by the financial tithes of God’s people. Therefore, I must strive to honor their sacrifice. Second, I remind myself that I fight in battle every day…(Col. 1:25-26). That is my task. I am engaged vocationally in holy warfare every day. Since no day in the pastorate approaches triviality, I am not allowed to “go through the motions.” 

Quotes from Other Books
On Being a Pastor by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg
How to Exasperate Your Wife by Douglas Wilson
The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney
A Son for Glory by Toby Sumpter 
Escape from Reason by Francis Schaeffer
Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung
Making Gay Okay by Robert Reilly 
Christ Crucified by Donald Macleod
Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God by John Calvin