Why is it so important that elders be men who know, teach, and live the truth? Paul explained that godly leadership is a matter of spiritual life or death for the church. Elders must teach God’s Word clearly so that the people under their care may be sound in faith and able to confront counterfeits in their midst. Warning against shallow religiosity, Alistair Begg helps us see that God desires not external lifestyle changes but heartfelt devotion and love.
Sermon Transcript: Print
And we’re going to read from Titus chapter 2, and I invite you to turn there with me. If you need to have a page number, if you go to page 989 or 999, you should be right there. For those of you who are visiting this evening, we dealt this morning with verses 10–16, or we were dealt with by verses 10–16, and now… Well, I’ll just read from 1:16, because the chapter break actually sends us a little off things:
“They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.
“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
“Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”
Thanks be to God for his Word.
Just a brief prayer:
Father, help us as we look briefly at this section, or at part of it. Guide my words. Open our hearts, fill our minds. Make us all that you desire for us to be, we pray. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
There’s a sense in which this brief study now, tonight, serves as something of an introduction to our conference, which begins tomorrow. I understand that most of us who are here will not be there tomorrow when it begins, but nevertheless, it just turns out that it is quite fitting in that way, inasmuch as the conference theme that we have chosen is taken from Acts chapter 6, where the apostles say, “We will give ourselves,” or “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And here, of course, in this second chapter of Titus, in the midst of all the other aspects that are addressed, Paul is giving very clear directions to Titus himself concerning his role in relationship to the edification, the instruction, and the encouragement of those who are under his care.
And so, what I’d like to do this evening is isolate from the body of the text just the statements that appear to be made directly to Titus as the pastor. I do so with a measure of trepidation, hesitancy, because I recall being present somewhere—I don’t remember where it was—when the preacher set about to rearrange the way in which he dealt with the text. And I remember some elderly gentleman nudging the person next to him and saying in a loud enough voice for everybody to hear, “If the Holy Spirit had wanted it written that way, he would have done so.” In other words, “Don’t you fiddle around with it.” Well, I’m not suggesting that this is a better way for the Bible to have been written, but I think it’s a helpful way for us to understand Paul’s word to Titus, and a word not only to Titus but a word to the pastors and in turn a word to those of us who pray for our pastors, who care for them, and who want to think sensibly about the way in which we can be of encouragement to them.
So, let us just begin at the first verse as he exhorts him, first of all, to “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” And I tried to emphasize the phrase with which the sentence begins. The verse begins, “But as for you…” And Paul is making it clear that the approach of Titus must be markedly different from the approach that has been taken by these insubordinate and empty talkers, who, we saw this morning, are guilty of disrupting and ruining households of people as a result of their false teaching and their false motives.
Titus is to be a teacher. It’s very clear; it comes again and again, and we ought not to miss the obvious when we’re reading our Bibles. “Titus, you are to teach. You are to teach. Your mouth is to be consecrated to the service of your Master. Not only are you to teach, but you are to teach sound doctrine.” And actually, in the Greek, there is the definite article there, which isn’t translated here in the ESV. In other words, it reads, “You are to teach what accords with the sound doctrine.”
Now, that may seem insignificant, but I don’t think it is, because it is just one of the phrases that is used interchangeably by Paul: “the trustworthy message,” “the good deposit,” “the gospel” itself, and in this instance, “the sound doctrine.” And that definite article sends us in the direction of understanding that what he’s saying there is that there is a body of teaching—there is a deposit, if you like, the apostolic gospel, the gospel itself—which is to be the substance of the pastor’s ministry. And we’ll be trying to tease that out in measure in the next few days and recognizing that not only does the Bible tell the pastor to teach, but it also tells the pastor what he is to teach. “Teach, teach sound doctrine, and teach what accords with sound doctrine, and teach that which flows from sound doctrine, that which ties in with sound doctrine, that which harmonizes,” if you like, “with the gospel.”
And as Titus would have had this read out loud, presumably, for the people who were present, those that were sitting there listening to whoever read it out for them would be saying to themselves, “Well, that is a reminder to us to pray for our pastor, to pray that he teaches, and that he teaches sound doctrine, and that he doesn’t go off on dreadful tangents and rabbit trails in his own theories and ideas, but he actually teaches what accords with sound doctrine.” And it is a reminder, isn’t it, of the fact that for effective preaching to take place, you need not only a prayerful pastor, but you also need a praying congregation praying to the same end: that the ministry of God’s Word would be marked by these things.
Now, you will notice here, if you’re alert—and I take it that you are—that instead of beginning, as is his norm, with doctrinal indicatives, he actually leaves those things until later on, down in verse 11 and on, and instead, he’s beginning here with all of these moral imperatives. Now, that may just seem like a mouthful, but we understand that. We use the phraseology all the time, don’t we? He usually lays down—for example, in Colossians—all the things that are indicatives, that are true of the believer who is in Christ, and then, once he has made that clear, he then moves from the indicative to the imperative and begins chapter 3, “Since then” or “If then you have been raised with Christ, do this, do this, do this, and do this.”
Well, in this instance, he’s actually reversing it, and he’s leading with these directives. If you jump down to verse 7… We’ll be coming back to the instruction—not tonight—that is given to these various ages and gender brackets within the congregation there in Crete. We’ll come back to that. But we’re looking just at what he says to Titus. You go down to verse 7, there you have it: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works”—and we’ll just stay with teaching for a moment—“and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned,” the purpose being that no opponent will be anything other than shamed because they will have nothing bad to say concerning it.
Now, this is a high calling, is it not? It’s a high standard that in his teaching he is to show integrity. In other words, once again, in contrast to these folks who were full of hot air and full of nonsense… You will remember, as we saw this morning, that they were motivated by shameful gain. And Paul points out that behind a lot of what they were doing was a desire to line their own nest.
And so he says, “Now, Titus, as for you, not only are you to teach in this way, but your teaching must always be marked by integrity. You cannot allow yourself to succumb to the corrupting influence of ill-gotten gain. You dare not do it.” And presumably there was the temptation to do it in the first century. There is definitely the temptation to do in the twenty-first century, and I have never been anywhere in the world where the temptation is as great as right here in the continental United States. And it abounds. And therefore, the only way that we can handle it is to do what the Bible says: to make this a mark and a standard and a controlling influence.
There mustn’t be any cunning, there must be no tampering, there must be no distortion, there must be no dilution. It’s very similar, isn’t it, to what he says to the Corinthians, where, in 2 Corinthians 4, he distinguishes himself and his colleagues from the ministry of those who are charlatans, and he says, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do[n’t] lose heart.” And then he says this: “We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways.” What does he mean, “We’ve renounced them”? “Well, we’ve said we’re not going to engage in them. We know that it goes on,” he says. “We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” And so, here he is, true to his own precept. The pattern of his life bears testimony to that which he now urges upon Titus: “Titus, make sure that your teaching is marked by integrity.”
Also by “dignity.” By “dignity.” If integrity answers the question “Why are you doing what you’re doing?”—not for ill-gotten gain, not as a result of manipulative processes—then the dignity issue is about how you do what you do. In other words, that there should be about the teaching of the Bible, there should be about what he’s engaging in, a seriousness—if you like, a gravitas. Now, that’s not the same as a dolefulness or a sort of manufactured sense of awesomeness, but the awareness should be present in the opening up of the Bible that we haven’t gathered here to be entertained by Titus, we haven’t come here to hear the views of Titus, but that we have gathered in the presence of God before the instruction of the Word of God, and we recognize that he raises up vessels, mouthpieces for himself.
Now, that raises all kinds of questions about the nature of dignity, into which I do not plan to go. But it is, if you like, borne out in a quote that I was searching for. And I love the internet for this; I was able to get it immediately. And I’ve quoted it to you before. But it’s this kind of thing, isn’t it? Where in Hamlet they come on the gravediggers. If you remember, they’re clowns. And Shakespeare likes to have a little humor in his drama. So, we come on the gravediggers, and they’re singing and they’re whistling and they’re joking. And Hamlet says, “Has this fellow no feeling of his business?” “Has this fellow no feeling of his business [that] he sings [at] grave-[digging?]” And Horatio says, “Custom hath made of it in him a property of easiness.” “Custom hath made of it in him a property of easiness.” In other words, you don’t expect the gravediggers to cry at every grave they’re digging, but you do expect that the solemnity of their task will impinge upon them in such a way that we don’t anticipate finding them fooling around and making fun of that which is of such a serious nature.
It is a reminder, isn’t it? And it is a warning to different personality types to make sure that custom—the routine nature of doing this again and again and again, and Sunday and Sunday and Sunday, and three services and four services times all the weeks in the year times all the years… Because, you see, the greatest danger that is represented for us is the danger that comes when it becomes increasingly easy to do what we do—when you can talk for half an hour without ever really knowing what you’re on about and manage to do it at least a couple of times without letting your listeners know that you don’t. If you’ve taught your congregation well, you will only get by with two. They will not stretch to a third. They will call you out on it, and, of course, that would be very helpful.
But you see, when you think of all of these pastors as they come here, and you come tomorrow night or Tuesday, and you sit amongst these men, and you realize the task to which they’ve been called, and you realize the charge that is laid upon them, I think this will help you to pray for them: “Father, I pray that you will help these men in their teaching, for it to be marked by an integrity that doesn’t tamper with it and by a dignity that is not an undue and falsified solemnity.”
I take great comfort in the fact that Spurgeon was involved in outrageous bouts of laughter in the Metropolitan Tabernacle. I mean, I wish I’d been there for one of them. But it is reported that at times he got the congregation laughing so hard that they weren’t sure whether they were going to be able to continue the sermon or whether they would just have to pronounce the benediction and go home. And, of course, he was criticized for that. He was criticized roundly for the use of humor in what he did, and his reply was, you know, “If you knew what I held back, you would commend me.” And that’s the same Spurgeon, you will remember, who, when Moody chastised him for smoking cigars, as he did, Spurgeon said, “But I don’t do it in excess.” And Moody said, “What would you call excess?” And Spurgeon said, “Smoking two at once.”
Integrity, dignity, and “sound speech that cannot be condemned.” “Sound speech that cannot be condemned.” Now, remember we’ve said that this word “sound” means healthy, in keeping, and not open to the condemnation that would be placed by an opponent. And again, it doesn’t mean that the speech will be perfect speech, but it does mean that the pastor should be able to say what Paul says, at least when he is before Agrippa—you’ll remember in Acts chapter . And Festus, who has set up the opportunity for Paul to speak in the company of King Agrippa, eventually realizes that Paul is getting way too direct and pointed in what he’s doing, and, you remember, he interrupts him. And he says to him, “Paul, your learning has just driven you nuts. You’re out of your mind now; it’s time that you stop.” And Paul replies and says to him, “That is not the case, Festus. You know that what I’m saying is true and reasonable.” And it is a sad day when the person in the pulpit is unable to make such a claim.
“So,” says Paul to Titus, “make sure that your opponents will be put to shame when they realize that the charge of impropriety is absolutely groundless.” And interestingly, you will notice the way in which Paul includes himself in that final phrase. It’s an indication of his humility; it’s an indication, I think, of his partnership, isn’t it? That he’s not simply giving a directive to Titus, but he’s a partner with Titus. They’re in this together. They’re in gospel ministry together. “So that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” “About us.” He’s actually addressing Titus. It’s lovely, isn’t it? “We’re in this together, Titus.” What a wonderful encouragement that must have been to Titus as well!
And then, of course, we weren’t skipping the opening phrase of the verse, but it is challenging, isn’t it? “[Titus,] show yourself in all respects”—that’s comprehensive—“in all respects to be a model of good works.” You see, it’s not going to be enough for Titus just to exhort the members of his congregation, to exhort the young men in his congregation to be marked by self-control unless he’s going to be marked by self-control. He can’t give instruction to the women not to be hanging around wine bars if he’s hanging around them. “You’re going to have to adopt not simply a posture, Titus, but you’re going to have to take a stand in things, Titus, so that you are marked by the very moderation that you call others to—that the things that are going to mark the congregation that will spill over into the challenges of Crete, you need to be at the head of this parade.” It’s very hard. “You’re not going to just be able to get away by preaching it; you’re going to have to be a living embodiment of it. You’re going to have to make sure that you’re not only watching your life and your doctrine but you’re watching them closely.” Which is, of course, Paul’s word to Timothy.
You see, the great challenge in this… And we joked about it last week with my son’s comments, when I told you that he would say, “And that’s another kind word from your pastor.” The fact is, it’s only partly funny, because it is all too possible for the person who’s in the position of responsibility in teaching the Word of God to render their words ineffectual because their lives don’t back them up. And it is particularly the case, when he’s living in a kind of cesspool environment in Crete, to make it obvious that the transformative power of the gospel is a power that has transformed the pastors. For the congregation will go as the pastors go.
And then, finally, you have to jump to verse 15, and you have the final directive that is given in this chapter to Titus himself: “Declare these things,” or as the NIV puts it, “These are [then] the things you should teach.” It’s really helpful, isn’t it? What is he referring to? Well, presumably all that has been mentioned not only in chapter 2 but all that is mentioned in chapter 1 and then again in chapter 3. “Declare these things.”
We’re going to be saying to the pastors when they come, “We’ve got a really novel idea for you: Why don’t you try and teach the Bible by teaching the Bible? We’ve got a great suggestion for you. It’s not original, but we want to suggest to you that if you just stick with your Bible and just work through the Bible, you’ll be amazed for how long you’ll be able to preach. And I don’t mean the length of the sermon but the length of your life, because you’ll never run out of material.”
“What am I supposed to do with these people in Crete?” Titus might have said to himself. And his wife said, “Well, Paul wrote you the letter. Just do what he told you. You’re supposed to declare the things he wrote to you about. And in doing so, you’re to exhort the people or encourage the people, and you’re to rebuke them as necessary with all authority.” What authority? What authority? The authority of his personality? The authority of his training? The authority of his intellect? No, none of that. No, only the authority that comes as being set apart as an old clay pot in whose life the treasure of the gospel has been placed and from whose life it is to be measured out with care and with encouragement.
And with great practical sensitivity, he wraps the chapter by saying, “[And] let no one disregard you.” Why would he ever have to say that? Because people would disregard him. I just read the statistics for Southern Baptist churches in America. I can’t remember them all, but I do remember this: that there are a hundred Southern Baptist pastors that are terminated every week of the year. A hundred every week. So, you can multiply a hundred by fifty-two and find out how much moving around there is. The average size of a Southern Baptist church in North America, according to the statistics, in terms of the actual attending group, is a congregation of ninety-one, and the tenure of a pastor in a Southern Baptist church, on average, is four years. Four years. Within four years, they’ve either been moved on or they’ve had to move on. And oftentimes the fault will lie with the pastor, but many times the fault will lie with the congregation that has forgotten to pray, to care, to encourage, to give, and has adopted taking to themselves a ministry of disregard. And when you probe into it, you would discover that in many cases, the access to the man is through the wife. Therefore, it should be a measure of encouragement to you, for it certainly is to me, to know that at least we got beyond the four-year mark. Because in the first year, they idolize you; in the second year, they criticize you; and in the third year, they ostracize you. If you can get through the third year, then there’s a chance that you may be starting the cycle all over again. And it just goes from there.
But you see the practicality of it. I hope you do. “Don’t let anyone disregard you.” It’s what he says to Timothy. He says, “Don’t let anyone disregard you just because you’re youthful.” And Timothy was probably about forty years old by that time. That’s an encouragement too.
The last Gaelic-speaking minister of the Presbyterian church in Newmilns in Ayrshire—and the Presbyterian church, the Church of Scotland, in Newmilns is where Eric Alexander was, who’s been here for our conference, before he went to St George’s Tron—and the last man who was a native Gaelic speaker, it just so happens, wrote a hymn for the encouragement of his colleagues in ministry. The opening line of the hymn is “Courage, brother[s]! Do not stumble.” And it’s a good hymn, and you can sing it yourself when you’re driving home on a Sunday evening if you’re so inclined. But the real high point in his poetry contains these words:
Some will hate thee, some will love thee,
Some will flatter, some will slight;
Cease from man and look above thee:
Trust in God and do [what’s] right.
Everybody won’t like you. They won’t like you all the time. Some of them won’t like you any of the time. So if you’re going to be judging your effectiveness, gauging your psychological welfare as a pastor, by the ebb and flow of the congregation to whom you’re sent, you probably will join the statistics of those who make it just through four years.
But when the Word of God takes hold of the hearts of the people of God, pastor and people alike; when a congregation and a pastoral team are prepared to acknowledge what we really are and what we’re really like; when we’re prepared to bow down before God and recognize that on our best day we’re unprofitable servants, then we can free one another from the tyranny that comes from the kind of externalism that we were addressing this morning, and we can remind ourselves that were it not for the grace of God, we would never even be in the family of God. And when we look around on the family of God, I know the song goes, “I’m so glad [you’re] a part of the family of God,” and you know we’ve joked about the fact that really we ought to change that to read, “I’m surprised that you’re part of the family of God.” It would be a far more honest response if we were true to it. And then we don’t have to pretend. Then we can just be straightforward.
He’s going to go on and see to it that Titus, in these various categories of people in his congregation—young women and young men and older women and so on—understand the indissoluble link between their belief and their behavior. But he makes it perfectly clear from the opening verse and from that central verse and from the concluding verse that Titus himself must see to it that he watches these things.
So, as you think of the conference, and as you think of those who will be here, and as you think of praying for them, and as you pray for those who are serving you in various places, I think you’ll find that this brief study will help to direct our prayers.
Father, thank you so very much for your grace and goodness to us. Thank you for those who have taught the Word of God to us. Thank you, even as I think of Derek Prime tonight—and we’ve seen enough of him to know this to be true—that, without any undue sense of adulation, he embodies the very things we’ve been considering. He’s like a star in the firmament, and we’re humbled by that, we’re challenged by it, and we’re encouraged by it too. And so we pray that you will help us to play our part, to live under your watchful eye in the awareness that all of our acceptance all day, every day is not on account of how well we’re doing, anything that we’re doing, have done, or will do, but is always on account of what you have done in bringing us into fellowship with yourself. So, hear our prayers, and guard and guide us, we ask, in Christ’s name. Amen.
 Post-2011 ESV translations render this word “bondservants.”
 Acts 6:4 (ESV).
 Titus 1:9 (NIV).
 2 Timothy 1:14 (ESV).
 1 Timothy 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:8, 10 (ESV).
 Colossians 3:1 (paraphrased).
 2 Corinthians 4:1–2 (ESV).
 2 Corinthians 4:2 (ESV).
 William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 5.1.
 The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, vol. 3, 1856–1878 (Chicago: Revell, 1899), 346. Paraphrased.
 Acts 26:24–25 (paraphrased).
 See 1 Timothy 4:16.
 See 2 Corinthians 4:7.
 1 Timothy 4:12 (paraphrased).
 Norman MacLeod, “Courage, Brother, Do Not Stumble” (1857).
 Bill Gaither, “The Family of God” (1970).
Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.