Titus again & the preaching of Scriptural clarity; a theology of lordship


Two main themes here, taken from material heard and delivered this week, firstly expanding on my thoughts from Titus earlier, and secondly expressing some of motivation for living in surrender and submission

Table of Contents

I have heard a lot of teaching this week, and talked a lot as well. In between my irrepressible bubbliness, I have actually said more important things this week than most, hidden in the unusually high noise level. It feels like cheating to pick out this common thread and re-interpret those conservations by pretending they were all actually about Titus and clarity, but I’ll give it a go.

This is a long and heavy one; do dip in if you want, but otherwise get a bible ready and engage with me a bit, not because I am so awesome that I have knowledge, but as friends or brothers willing to share more deeply than the surface.

1. Titus

Titus is a book about maturity, about how to get there, and where the church fits in. Have a little read again if it’s not fresh. We can ask, what is Paul most keen for us to get on board with? Ultimately, to be pure and zealous for good works (2:14), and nearer to home to have an attitude of owning the situations around us. See how he moves from looking at the role of elders, their leadership and calling to seize hold of situations not passively, but exerting themselves to get stuck in with what is going on around him; from there to the way the whole church shows those qualities to each other, since indeed God’s grace has appeared for all people and this attitude is not just for the keen few.

For me, grasping this freshly has been (as I mentioned earlier) a key focus in the last fortnight for me. One of the kind ladies at church today even came up to me and asked me what had happened that I looked more peaceful so suddenly! I can pick up luckily on one of Paul’s emphases here; it’s cheating because the outward responsibility and the issue of clarity came up at me from two different directions, but lucky because Paul treats them together here. The leading question is, given what Paul wants us to be keen about, how does he see that coming about? Again, there is a distant cause, that we were regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit (3:5), which is proximally linked to the topic of submitting to teaching right there in 3:8–10, as well as earlier in his application warm-up in 1:9.

What is the trustworthy word as taught? Paul is talking about the way the word leads us to zealousness, and the teaching in the church to holiness, so that by the Spirit we could become heirs according the hope of eternal life. I want to be clear what it is we are to hold firm to, because at least two of the people on my mind will come up with the foolish quarrel and dissension that we are to hold firm to the trustworthy-word-as-taught; that the word comes to us mediated by the church’s historical interpretation. To briefly respond, that is not Paul’s point here, where he is exhorting the elders to be models of holiness, and especially to model holding firm to the trustworthy-word, as featured in a church near you, and with the added incentive that he will actually be able to give instruction himself in those things he has gained from the trustworthy-word. Get back to the doctrine of the fathers, tolle, lege, adorned only by the graces of God and his Spirit revealing truth to you, right now and directly, as you read all the riches of his mercy in the company of the church. It is not too difficult or beyond your reach, but here closely now in your heart and on your mouth (Deut. 30, on which verse more below).

The gospel of 3:5 is trustworthy, and to be insisted upon over and against all opinions of men. The word is not a scribble, something you download, but a word is something that the people back then heard; if you got hold of some words, you could see the person who was saying them. We too have God’s word, and every time we call it word, we are reminded that it is direct, something that comes to us when we are within eyesight of God.

For Paul then, a vital part of discipleship is growing towards that ideal of turning ourselves towards the word as the standard by which we discern the things around us, not the other way around, and sticking to that is a part of the bundle to be insisted on. For me, I have an immediate instance of this application: I simply need to set myself to be more like the men in 2:6–8, who bring God’s word to the church with all authority. I can smarten up my act, re-read A clear and present word (Mark Thompson, NSBT) which is the best exposition of the clarity of the bible, and take life a bit more seriously. If I know these things in my mind, but am not quick enough in conversation to make myself useful, then I can wise up and do some revision. Stick close to a model of zeal reached by active responsibility for our growth, in dependence on the regeneration and renewal of the Spirit worked out through the teaching of the trustworthy word as taught.

2. Marks of growth

I’ll move on slightly to a related idea: which doctrines are worth contending for? Is credo-baptism? Is scriptural inerrancy? Is functional or actual scriptural unclarity to be countered? (No, Yes, Yes.) There are a lot of subtle sins of balance in the way we pursue the God’s service in the future, but rather than focus on details I’d like to pick out three questions I use to draw out a vision I think is broadly in line with the emphases of 1 John and Titus, but is not necessarily comprehensive.

  1. Do you actually desire zeal? Do you have a picture of whole-hearted, fulsome worship in all your life and want to get there?

    The question isn’t whether you are heading there at any speed, but just a very basic one: do you have a grasp of what it would be to know how great is the love of God in Christ Jesus, and feel and acknowledge the worth of aiming for that, and nothing less? Rather little worries more than the attitude, ‘I’m happy where I am right now, thank you’.

  2. Do you have a plan? Can you say, ‘I want to be there, and these things will get me there’? Something, anything?

    There are so many answers we could get out, from prayer and a commitment to mission to grow our love for God’s work, or a trust that gently through years of regular and unspectacular quiet times God’s word will iron out our stubborn hearts and bring us nearer. If the vision is thin and insipid, then it should be beefed up, but is it there at all? We can all aim to meet up with the brothers, peg it towards the goal by small groups, one-to-one friendships, our own struggles with scripture, taking our regular Sunday meetings seriously and spreading from them an attitude of forward thinking: when we pray for our preachers during the week, and add in a quickie on Saturday for all the people we will be meeting the next day, and going intentionally to give of ourselves and seek the things we need from the people who can dribble those into us; when we have this attitude of preparation, whether gently or fiercely towards our visible and planned Sunday meetings, it will seep into the rest of our lives as we realise we can do more than just drift into lunch or lectures. The hope is that we can say, ‘I know what it is to grow, and have set myself among the right people to peg it there and work towards that sort of movement’.

  3. Are you confident that the church’s place in that plan is biblical?

    Now, obviously for some people this one should be ‘No’, but the general idea should be that we want to have God’s people in genuine fellowship with us, reminding us of the cross; and living together, with the Spirit. To those who know my sympathies, there are lot of ways of tuning this target with sub-questions, but the over-riding idea should be that the bible, and Titus will do, make it clear the sort of involvement we should have in each other’s lives, because the grace of God has indeed appeared bringing salvation to all people; also training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, living upright and holy lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope. We are in this together with our head and each other.

So, for ourselves, let’s take hold of the strength with which God lavishes us to keep stepping out in faith, and take a positive and godly place in lives of those around us, insisting on nothing but that which is wholesome and life giving, and humbly submitting ourselves to teaching. On that last note, I could ground the whole in this morning’s emphasis on Lordship, but that really would be cheating. From last night then: may we be strengthened with power through his Spirit in our inner being according to the riches of his glory, so that Christ may dwell richly in our hearts through faith—that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.

3. Another theology of lordship

I spend a lot of my life struggling to link disparate ideas and discern what are the trends and threads that draw together my thoughts and experiences, and I can’t ever discuss something really until I have seen what its place is. I don’t have the command of words to create through writing the impressions I can colour with in real conversations, so I’d prefer to hold back on this section, before even wrestling with the fact that I can’t comfortably place God’s sovereignty relative to my two other main obsessions of the last few years, namely rich and wonderful fellowship, of which the notes above are just one balancing tension and motivation; and misogyny, which I have managed to avoid ever talking about openly. Clearly, Lordship is the main cross-section through which I see all of the knowledge and experience of our Father, Lord, and Spirit, and is both the crowning and primordial act of worship, the most wrenching and disjunctive as well as most comfortable and peaceable of things; but, I still have trouble really understanding what it looks like as part of the texture of corporate life.

Before I crank it up to eleven, I will admit my lax exegesis and am aware of my error of paraphrasing below. You know my heart: I shun doctrine, and turn towards all the themes and truths of God’s love in the narrative of scripture, and see things through biblical (and pastoral) theology. Don’t pick my nits, or I’ll pick yours.

Julian this morning preached my favourite sermon, the one I repeat over and again to myself, and which has in tears every time I have come to it in the last year. Jesus is lord, lord over all creation, and there is none other who cups our life, who caries all our anxiety because he cares for us. Jesus is lord, and there is none other (save him who placed all things under his feet). The application this morning was in the area of guidance, which is always a tough one, but the key take-home is the same as ever: when suffering comes, when the unexpected or undesirable happens, will we find our hope in willfully committing every expectation, hope, desire, relationship, affection, and every instant, to his care? As Peter reminds us earlier, before the key text (1 Peter 5:6) and quoting another Psalm, we are grass, and hold nothing entirely in our control, but instead have our security in him alone. Is it the mark of the Christian, in a personal sense towards God, to give up our hold on what we want, however good it is, and plead that he open our stony hearts to love and desire that in God’s mighty hand every one of our impulses would take root. Whether dim, or distant but hoped-for, or vibrantly real, knowing in our hearts that Jesus is Lord and groaning until the day when the clouds are cleared away and his will is not opposed in our covetousness for our own desires, nor grudgingly accepted, but joyfully marvelled at; whether we see God’s sovereignty clearly or deny it in name because of the word’s connotations; whether we seem to have what we want or weep in loosening our clinging grip desire life with the person we hoped; that is, whether we are young or mature, knowing in our hearts that Jesus is Lord is the key. If Jesus is Lord, then he whom the Father anointed to die for our sins is alive now and reigns, and our tongues can confess his name, to the glory of God the Father.