Being Good Citizens

Titus 2:9-3:2

October 31, 2004 | Brian Bill

I heard former President Jimmy Carter interviewed on WGN Radio many years ago.  In commenting about the presidential campaign, he said, “I’ve never seen it so negative and there has never been a sharper divide in our country.”  He then said that of the 52 elections he has monitored around the world, this one is the worst he has ever witnessed.  As he reflected upon his own campaign 28 years ago, he remembers how he and his opponent at least talked respectfully to each other.  They debated the issues but didn’t attack individuals.  They would refer to each other as “my distinguished opponent.”  That’s a far cry from what we hear today.

In an article that appeared in Business Wire, psychologist Robert Butterworth warns that election results could cause despair: “Many people have poured their heart, soul, and money into this election.  This emotional state results in not only disappointment and dread in those voters backing the loser but has the potential to turn into psychological symptoms – both because their candidate lost and because their entire political belief system and philosophical roots has been defeated.” 

What about you?  Are you angry or apathetic?  How are you going to feel if your choice doesn’t win?  Should Christian citizens act any differently than other people?  Part of the tension we feel is that we have dual citizenship.  To Christians who felt overwhelmed by the hostility of their culture, the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:20: “But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  In Philippians 1:27, Paul acknowledged the fact that we are also citizens on earth and must therefore be careful about how we live: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  This word “conduct” is derived from the word we get “politics” from.  We could paraphrase it this way: “The only thing that matters is that you live as good citizens in a manner worthy of the gospel.”

In his book called, The City of God, Augustine described two different cities: the city of God and the city of man.  The city of man is temporal and capable of being destroyed, while the city of God is eternal.  Christians understand the fact that while we are citizens of the city of man; our true citizenship is in heaven.  As such, we must set our sights on the unseen spiritual world, and when we do, our behavior as earthly citizens should reflect the fact that we are but passing through this place.  We are resident aliens, if you will.  

And because we are citizens of heaven and earth, we must live with a certain amount of tension.  Paul writes to Titus on the island of Crete, and thus he writes to Christians everywhere who must learn to live among Cretans.  We will discover some truths this morning that will stabilize us as we approach uncertain times.  During the last two weeks, we’ve learned that older men and women are to mentor those who are younger as Paul taught about the home and family relationships.  He moves us now into the work world, then has us gaze on grace, and finally teaches us how to respond to rulers and authorities in our government.

Good citizens…

  • Worship at work (2:9-10)
  • Grow in grace (2:11-15)
  • Respect rulers (3:1-2)

1. Worship at Work. 

Let’s look at verses 9-10: “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” There are some things to keep in mind when studying the topic of slavery in Scripture.

  • Slavery is never endorsed but is not denounced either.
  • Slave owners are never commanded to free their slaves nor are slaves told to seek their freedom.
Our country will change not by politicians or laws but by the preaching of the gospel and changed hearts

Having said that, when Christianity spread through the Roman world, and slave owners and slaves became believers, their hearts were changed.  And when hearts were changed, the institution of slavery was eventually abolished.  That’s a good principle for us to keep in mind. We must focus on our primary calling of evangelism.  Our country will change not by politicians or laws but by the preaching of the gospel and changed hearts.  As hearts change, people will change, and as people change, our country will change.  The message of the Gospel is that all men and women have eternal value and therefore should be free.

Let me make one other point related to slavery.  I’ve read that up to 50% of the population in the Roman world was made up of slaves and they were treated more like employees than anything else.  In other words, the slavery described in New Testament times was very different from the cruel and inhumane practices that took place right here in our own country in the 19th Century.  Incidentally, it was through the work of Christian statesmen like William Wilberforce and William Penn that slavery was first outlawed in Europe and then in the United States.  Because we are citizens of heaven, the gospel must be preached; and because we are citizens of earth, we must do what we can to abolish evil.  Once again, Christians must wrestle with this tension.

Let’s apply verses 9-10 to our jobs because the best opportunity we have to communicate Christ is with our co-workers and with our bosses.  Someone has said that the workplace is our greatest evangelism opportunity and our greatest pitfall.  Here are five principles to keep in mind as citizens of earth and employees in your jobs.

  • Obey your boss.  The principle of submission has come up time and again in the book of Titus and is a theme throughout the New Testament.  To “be subject” means to line up under someone and focuses on function, not essence.  It doesn’t mean that you are inferior but rather that in order to function well in your job, you must be subject to your superiors.  That’s the order that God has set up.
  • Please your boss.  A good employee should look for ways to make the boss happy.  Now this doesn’t mean that you should fake your allegiance just to score points or to get a promotion.  Ephesians 6:6 is a helpful corrective: “Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.”
  • Don’t talk back.  This phrase literally means, “Not speaking against.”  Ouch.  Isn’t it easy to speak against your superiors?  A good employee must resist the urge to be argumentative or to gripe about the boss to others.
  • Don’t steal.  The King James uses the phrase, “not purloining.” The New American Standard translates it this way: “not pilfering.”  This has the idea of “stealing in small quantities” or “holding something back.”  Philemon the slave likely stole from his master Onesimus (see Philemon 18).  We can cheat our employers by not working as hard as we should and we also deceive them when we take things that don’t belong to us.  A slave could cut off a small piece of steak for himself and the Master would never know.  Likewise, employees have multiple opportunities to steal.  The Christian citizen must avoid this.  Is there anything you need to return to your company that has made its way into your home?  I continually have to return pens that end up in my pockets at the end of the day.
  • Demonstrate trustworthiness.  Put positively, an employee must prove himself or herself to be fully trustworthy.  Paul said it this way in 1 Corinthians 4:2: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” Andrew Carnegie once said, “The average person puts only 25% of his energy and ability into his work.  The world takes off its hat to those who put in more than 50% of their capacity, and stands on its head for those few and far between souls who devote 100%.”

I want you to notice why servants are to obey their masters and employees are to follow these five principles.  This is city of earth stuff but it has city of God implications!  Look at the last part of verse 10: “…so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”  How we live as citizens of our community will impact others so that some will want to become citizens of heaven.  Notice the purpose clause.  We are to worship in our work so that the teaching about God will be attractive to those who watch how we live.  The word “attractive” is kosmeo, from which we get “cosmetic.”  In ancient times, kosmeo was used of arranging jewels in a necklace in a way that best displayed the beauty of the gems.  When servants serve and workers work, they are God’s jewels that sparkle with His brilliance.

When we live and work like we’re supposed to, the Almighty will become attractive to others and the Bible will be beautified.  Remember that Cretans were known to be “liars, evil brutes, and lazy gluttons.”  As Christian citizens do their work as unto the Lord, the world will take notice and be attracted to what we have, and want it for themselves.  Even those in a low position can make a great impact.  Do you make people interested in the Savior because of the way you do your job?  Do they see you as trustworthy?  Or, are you a complainer?  Are you a winner or a whiner?  Paul’s point is that whatever we do, and whatever we say, reflects upon God.  That’s a good word to keep in mind during this political season, isn’t it?  

2. Grow in Grace

Good citizens worship at work and secondly, they grow in grace.  Let’s look at verses 11-14: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” We don’t have the time this morning to plumb the depths of this great section of Scripture so I’m just going to skim off some of the cream.

This passage is a concise summary of the Christian faith, incorporating deep theological truths that correspond with the past, present and future.

  • JustificationVerse 11 refers to the past: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.”  This is picked up in verse 14: “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness…”   The word “appeared” means “to shine.”  It’s the idea of grace suddenly shining forth into the moral darkness.  We don’t go out and get it; God brings it to us.  Because God loves the whole world redemption is readily available to all men.  It’s available to all but must be received in order to be activated in one’s life.  John 1:12: “But as many as received Him to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”  Grace in simple terms is God’s unmerited favor.  Someone explained it this way:






I’ve also heard it said like this: Grace is everything for nothing to those who don’t deserve anything.  Grace is being given not what we deserve but what we need.  It is God’s active favor whereby His greatest gift is bestowed upon those who have deserved the greatest punishment.

On this day exactly 487 years ago, a young monk named Martin Luther pounded a document into the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  It was the custom for scholars to post their dissertations for everyone to read.  Luther had been studying passages like Titus 2 and the Book of Romans and had come to a powerful conclusion: We are made right with God by an act of grace, not by works that we do.  We don’t deserve it and can never earn it.  Someone has said that we can’t borrow, bribe or barter for it because it is a free gift.  When Luther was ordered to recant what he had written he refused: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason…my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot, and I will not, recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  God help me.  Amen.”  Salvation is by grace; otherwise God would not get the glory.

  • Sanctification.  In the present tense, grace not only saves, it sanctifies us by changing our attitudes and actions.  The same grace that redeems us also reforms us.  God’s grace is a teacher that enables us to avoid ungodliness and worldly passions and to embrace lives that are upright.  The word “teaches” describes the training of a child and includes the whole process – teaching, encouragement, correction and discipline.  Grace saves us but it also teaches us how to live godly lives.
  • Glorification.  This is the future.  We “wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” This word “wait” is not a casual glance but rather an expectant waiting.  It’s like when you know someone is coming over to your house but you just don’t know when.  You keep an eye on the driveway so you’ll be ready.  Most of us don’t think near enough of the certainty of Christ’s return.  We get so caught up in the city of earth that we forget that He is coming again.  2 Timothy 4:8 says that we are to “long for His appearing.”

As we look back on the grace that appeared at His first coming and look ahead to the glory of God, we will have the power to live a life pleasing to God.  Hope helps us to keep going.  We need to meditate on passages like 1 John 3:2-3: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” Someone this week told me that she saw a sign that read, “Wait Management.”  At first she thought that they misspelled “weight” but then realized that we all need to manage our waiting.  

Friends, hear me carefully on this. Our hopes must rest on the Blessed Hope not on a certain person or political party.  Are you eagerly waiting for the glorious appearing of Christ?  Look up and wait.  Look within to make sure you’re walking in His ways.  And look outward and spread the Good News to those who have no hope.

John Piper says that there are two appearings in this passage.  The appearing of grace happened at the Incarnation and the appearing of glory will take place at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  This is a blessed hope because it will bring blessing to believers; it is a visible Hope because He will return bodily; and it is a glorious hope because we will finally see Him in His glory.  The grace of God teaches us to be godly and His coming glory is an incentive for us to be involved in doing what is good.  

Before we move on, I want you to notice the last phrase of verse 14: “…to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” The King James refers to us as “peculiar people,” which explains a lot!  We now belong to God as His treasured possession and are therefore to be “eager” or zealous to do what is good.  The word “eager” means “to boil, or be hot, or to glow.”  As citizens of heaven, we are to glow with good deeds here on earth.  Are you on fire for Jesus?  Do you burn white hot with passion to do that which is good?  If not, then maybe God’s grace has not yet appeared in your life or maybe you’re letting other things take center stage.

We can lament the fact that our country looks more like Crete every day but let’s remember that Christ is coming, and as Christian citizens let’s get fired up to make a difference in our world!

3. Respect Rulers. 

As we come to the first two verses of Titus 3, our dual citizenship comes into play again: “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.” Paul begins with the word “remind” here because we all tend to forget.  It’s clear that this is not the first time they have heard this.  The tense indicates that Titus is to “go on reminding continuously.”  Actually, much of what we hear in sermons, or even in our daily Bible reading is a reminder of what we already know.  Some of us want new insights, and that’s good, but often we simply need to be reminded to put into practice what we may have forgotten.  This theme is addressed in 2 Peter 1:12: “So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.” 

Christians in Crete were looked on with suspicion because their conduct was so different.  Paul urges Titus to remind them to respect their rulers, even when others were rising up against Roman authority.  Christians should be the best citizens.  In short, Titus is to remind them of the words of Jesus in Luke 20:25: “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”  As citizens of earth, give what is expected to the government; and as citizens of heaven, give your ultimate allegiance to the Almighty.  

Paul spells out seven characteristics that are good for us to keep in mind as we approach Tuesday’s election.  We are to live the kind of life that makes the message of grace beautiful and believable.  How is a saved saint supposed to live in a Sodom-like society?  

  • Be subject.  The Roman Empire was ruled by Nero, one of the cruelest Caesars ever.  This pagan government was antagonistic toward Christianity, and yet Christians are instructed to submit.  Why is that?  Romans 13:1 teaches that all government is set up by God and therefore we must submit to its authority: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Paul repeats it twice: governments are established by God.  Submission focuses not on personality but on position.  Authority is an instrument in the hand of God.  Andy Stanley offers a helpful perspective if we’re struggling with submission to authorities when he says that the issue is not what but who.  God has placed authority over us and we are to submit to them even when we might disagree with what they are doing.  
  • Be obedient.  Submission starts with our attitude and obedience is the outward expression of that attitude.  Cretans were notoriously rebellious and so Christian citizens needed to be reminded to be different.  Having said that, there are times when we must follow God instead of government, as Peter stated in Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than men!”  Daniel and his buddies refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3.
  • Be ready to do good.  The theme of doing good is sprinkled throughout the Book of Titus because acts of kindness will demonstrate to a watching world that a Christian citizen operates according to a different set of values.  We need to be prepared to do good when we have the opportunity for it will cause people to “glorify our Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
  • Don’t slander.  In an editorial in the Chicago Tribune  Don Wycliff wrote: “We have in America two political camps, each holding the other in the greatest contempt.”  It’s so easy to malign those we disagree with, not only in the political realm, but also in the church.  Verse 2 states that we are to malign “no one.”  
  • Be peaceable.  Have you ever noticed how angry and contentious Christians can be?  I’m grieved when I hear believers blast away at those who may hold a different political position.  We are to be people of peace, able to dialog about issues, but not attackers of individuals.
  • Be considerate.  This word is also translated as “gentle” and means to be free from harshness.  Matthew Arnold refers to this virtue as “sweet reasonableness” that always gives others the benefit of the doubt.  There’s certainly not been much gentleness in this campaign.
  • Show humility.  Instead of being proud people, Christians with dual citizenship must be humble as Ephesians 4:2 says: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?