Keeping Harmony in the Church
November 14, 2004 | Brian Bill
Roger Staubach, who led the Dallas Cowboys to an NFL championship after the 1971 season and was voted Super Bowl MVP, admitted that his position as a quarterback who didn’t call his own signals was a source of frustration for him. Coach Tom Landry sent in every play from the sidelines. The coach told Roger when to pass and when to run. Even though Staubach considered coach Landry to have a “genius mind” when it came to football strategy, his pride said that he should be able to run his own team. When asked how he resolved this tension, Roger Staubach said, “I faced up to the issue of obedience. Once I learned to obey there was harmony, fulfillment, and victory.”
As you and I learn to obey, we will experience harmony as well. It’s amazing that in this little playbook of Titus, in just three short chapters, God has laid out so many practical truths for us. As we come to the next-to-the last message from this series, God’s heart is for harmony in the church. Please turn in your Bible to Titus 3:8-11. In order to keep harmony in the church, we must follow God’s coaching and run at least four plays.
1. We must stress the salvation story (8a).
Look at the first part of verse 8: “This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things…” As we learned last week, we must never get tired of reciting God’s redemptive plan for people. This verse refers to the “trustworthy saying,” which in context is that we are sinners in need of the Savior. The word “stress” means to “affirm constantly.” We will never stop speaking of salvation and celebrating the transformation that only Christ can bring to a life.
While it’s imperative that the gospel be presented on Sunday mornings, and we’ll never stop doing so, I am so thankful for a church filled with people who take the Great Commission seriously on a personal basis. How are you doing in this regard? Are you looking for opportunities to express your faith?
If your walk with Christ seems dull and dry, it may be because you are not active in sharing your faith
When you share your salvation story, your own appreciation for God’s work of grace and mercy will skyrocket. We see this in Philemon 6: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” If your walk with Christ seems dull and dry, it may be because you are not active in sharing your faith. Every time you tell someone about God’s grace, you will be reminded of God’s work in your own life. If you keep it to yourself, and never talk about it, the luster of your salvation can begin to tarnish.
Likewise, if we as a church become inward-focused, we will eventually lose the joy of our salvation and begin to pick each other apart. Did you know that the church is the only institution that exists for the benefit of its non-members? First, we exist to extol the excellence of the Almighty and second, we exist to evangelize the lost. When we lose our external focus, internal friction will wear us down. Every ministry of this church must stress the absolute importance of salvation by grace through faith and each event must maintain an evangelistic focus.
2. We must go after good things (8b).
Look at the last part of verse 8: “…so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” Recipients of grace are to be givers of good. Worship should lead to works. Salvation expresses itself in acts of service. One commentator suggests that the necessity of going after good things is the “basic message” of Titus. The expression “good works” occurs fourteen times in the letters to Timothy and Titus. Here are four instances from Titus:
- Good works make the gospel beautiful. Titus 2:10: “…so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”
- The purpose of Christ’s death was to make people enthusiastic to do good works. Titus 2:14: “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.”
- Believers are expected to do good works. Titus 3:1: “Remind the people to…be ready to do whatever is good.”
- Our own needs are met when we do good works. Titus 3:14: “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.”
To “be careful” means “to ponder” or consider carefully. For those of you who participated in Operation Christmas Child, you know that it took some effort to make that happen. You had to find a box and then go shopping and then wrap the boxes and include a check. But it was worth it because your sacrifice is going to benefit a needy child in another country. Many of us will also devote ourselves to buying gifts for children of prisoners through Project Angel Tree. Ask God to help you be spontaneous in the doing of good, but for most of us, good works don’t just happen; they have to be pondered, planned and then implemented.
Let me make an application to our current cultural situation. Ever since the election everyone seems to be talking about evangelicals. Regardless of how you voted, this is an unprecedented opportunity because people are wondering what the term “evangelical” really means. Instead of defaulting to politics, let’s declare the gospel, and when our words are not enough, let’s show them what it means by how we live. The best exercise for the heart is to bend down several times during the day to help someone else. 1 Peter 2:12: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” When teaching those with financial means in 1 Timothy 6:18, Paul challenged Christians not to be rich in dollars but to be rich in deeds: “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”
If we want harmony in the church, we must stress the salvation story and go after good things. That leads to the third call from our Coach in heaven.
3. We must avoid arguments (9).
Look with me at verse 9: “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.” Titus is to go after good things and run away from useless things. The word “avoid” here means to “be a bystander, to be aloof, to keep oneself away.” It’s in the imperative tense, which means that it’s a command, not a suggestion. The New American Standard Bible use the word, “shun” which means to turn your back and walk away from these kinds of controversies.
Paul is not saying that we shouldn’t discuss or defend the truth. Rather, he is warning against “foolish” controversies. The word “foolish” comes from the word we get “moron” from. We are to move away from moronic arguments. In Paul’s closing words to Timothy in his first letter, he says, “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith (1 Timothy 6:20-21).
In 2 Timothy 2:14, 23, Paul uses language that is even more colorful: “Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen…Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.”
In the early church, there were those who manufactured myths centered on genealogies about angels. Paul identified people like this in Titus 1:10 as “mere talkers.” One pastor calls them, “fluent no-nothings.” Some false teachers insisted that angels needed to be worshipped so they spent a lot of time graphing out their supposed backgrounds. Paul says this is foolish, unprofitable and useless. In 1 Timothy 1:4, he refers to these genealogies as “endless.” They just go on and on and on.
We must be careful about this type of emphasis even today. Bestsellers hit the stores claiming that there are special codes and hidden meanings in the Bible that can predict the future. Some follow a system called numerology based on the numbers in Scripture. It’s so easy to go astray, isn’t it? Other false teachers overemphasized aspects of the Old Testament law, arguing that certain things were “clean” and other things were “unclean.”
I ran into a believer this week that does not go to this church and asked him how he’s doing. He said he was doing fine but he disagrees with the theology of the person he is working for. I asked him a follow-up question and he got animated in a big hurry. I remembered a quote from Charles Spurgeon and shared it with him, trying to help him see that Scripture actually teaches both positions. He then said, “Oh, I know. I just like to argue.” Does that describe you? Do you just like to argue? Do you get off on getting under someone’s skin? Are you a contrarian, disagreeing with whatever someone else says or believes? Be careful because Paul says that this is “unprofitable,” which can mean “injurious or noxious.” He also describes this kind of approach as “useless” or “empty or futile.”
Friends, let’s avoid arguing and quarreling about things that take our focus away from what really matters
When I read about quarreling and controversies, my mind goes back to a poster I saw in a dorm room about 25 years ago. I’ve tried to find this over the years but have been unsuccessful. At the center of the picture are four or five ancient scholars, wearing long flowing robes. Some are standing and some are sitting around a table that is piled high with scrolls and books. Their faces are contorted and twisted, some of them with veins popping out all over. A few are pointing at the scrolls with their fingers and others have their fists raised ready to hit the guy next to them. They are obviously arguing and are very angry as they quarrel over some words, oblivious to anything else going on around them. Then, as you keep studying the poster, off to the left you can see hundreds of people, looking burdened and broken, marching toward a cliff. Some of the people have fallen off the cliff and are in mid-air, about ready to plunge into the fires of Hell. The agony on their faces, coupled with the indifference of those who know the truth is very unsettling. Friends, let’s avoid arguing and quarreling about things that take our focus away from what really matters. Hell is real and real people really go there.
The best thing to do is to avoid the kinds of arguments that take you away from stressing the salvation story or going after what is good. You don’t have to engage in these kinds of conversations. Psalm 34:14 says: “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
That leads to the fourth call from the sidelines of Heaven.
4. We must deal decisively with divisive people (10-11).
Paul recognizes the ruptures that can come when divisive people are allowed to do and say what they want. We see this in verses 10-11: “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” These words are necessary because the fellowship must not be allowed to fracture. Jesus said that our defining characteristic to a watching world is the fact that we are to “love one another” (John 13:35).
The first four chapters of the book of 1 Corinthians deal with the importance of unity as Paul attempts to get believers to follow the same playbook. Listen to 1 Corinthians 1:10-13: “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided?”
Titus 3:8 says that a divisive person must be dealt with. Perhaps you have a rebellious relative that is fracturing your family, or a warped co-worker that is driving a wedge between fellow employees, or a needling neighbor that is pitting people against one another on your block. People like this are irritants but divisiveness in the church is dangerous and even more damaging. The word “divisive” means, “to choose for oneself.” This individual is determined to do whatever he or she wants to do, as a matter of choice.
Paul, following the model of Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17 intends for these warnings to be redemptive and restorative. This person is to be warned twice if necessary, with the hope that he will come back. If not, Paul says, “Have nothing to do with him.” This phrase literally means, “To ask from, to beg off from.” This is similar to 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15: “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” Romans 16:17 provides another admonition: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.”
This seems pretty strong but Paul says that a divisive person is “warped,” which means “turned inside out,” as well as “sinful and self-condemned.”
To summarize, in order to keep harmony in the church…
- We must stress the salvation story
- We must go after good things
- We must avoid arguments
- We must deal decisively with divisive people
The coach of Heaven has called in these plays. We now need to obey them. We must execute and when we do, we will score points for the glory of God. I want to wrap up this morning by suggesting one other play we must run. We are focused on our particular church but there’s more to God’s global kingdom than our assembly. We are part of something much bigger. We are players on a much bigger team.