Church of the Living God

THE PURE AND THE POLLUTED (Titus 1:1-15)

A little background on Crete is in order as begin our series on the book of Titus.

Most of the people there came from a mercenary background. Violence, greed and sexual corruption were everywhere. When Paul said that all Cretans were liars, he was quoting a Cretan writer named Epimenides who said that about his own people. The Greeks actually used the word ‘cretize’ as a synonymn for ‘lying’.   Look at the list of elder qualifications again and you will see that the explanation accompanying the list seems to target the stereotypical behavior of Cretan men. As you might expect, the gods the Cretans worshipped (primarily Zeus) were characterized by the same things that characterized the people. This was where the church was trying to grow.

Paul, servant of God and emissary of Jesus, the Anointed One, on behalf of the faith that is accepted by God’s chosen people and the knowledge of the undeniable truth that leads to godliness.

We rest in this hope we’ve been given—the hope that we will live forever with our God—the hope that He proclaimed ages and ages ago (even before time began). And our God is no liar; He is not even capable of uttering lies. So we can be sure that it is in His exact right time that He released His word into the world—through the preaching that God our Savior has commanded into my care.

 To you, Titus, my dear son birthed through our shared faith: may grace and peace rest upon you from God the Father and Jesus the Anointed, our Savior.

One of the first things Paul reminds Titus of is that God is not a liar. The second is that God is trustworthy, and we can confidently place our hope in Him.  God is involved with the world, and His plan and His timing are perfect. Then Paul starts to put structure in place (this will continue throughout the letter). The church community is going to need both moral and communal guidelines if they are going to move into the freedom Christ offers and establish a compelling outpost of the Kingdom in a remarkably needy place. 

 I left you on Crete so you could sort out the chaos and the unfinished business and appoint elders over communities in each and every city according to my earlier orders. Here’s what you should look for in an elder: he should be above suspicion; if he is married, he should be the husband of one wife, raise children who believe, and be a person who can’t be accused of rough and raucous living. It is necessary that any overseer you appoint be blameless, as he is entrusted with God’s mission. Look for someone who isn’t pompous or quick to anger, who is not a drunkard, violent, or chasing after seedy gain or worldly fame. Find a person who lovingly opens his home to others; who honors goodness; who is thoughtful, fair, devout, self-controlled; and who clings to the faithful word that was taught because he must be able, not only to encourage people with sound teaching, but also to challenge those who are against it.

You see antagonists everywhere; they are rebellious, loose-lipped, and deceitful (especially those who are from the circumcised lot). Their talk must be quashed—their mouths sealed up because impure teaching is flying out of their lips and overturning entire families for the sake of their own squalid gain.  I’ll tell you, even their own prophet was heard saying, “Chronic liars, foul beasts, and lazy gluttons—that’s who you’ll meet in Crete.” And he’s right! This is why we have to scold them, sometimes severely, so they will be sound in the faith  and be able to ignore Jewish myths[i] as well as any commandments given by those who turn away from the truth.

He warns about false teachers:[ii] specifically, the Judaizers ("those of the circumcision”), though there were others. These teachers insisted that keeping external rules – diet, circumcision, washing – equaled purity.  And while these weren’t in and of themselves bad things, these false teachers were saying these outward actions had the power to save or to make righteous. This didn’t address issues of the purity of someone’s heart.[iii] 

This is a problem (think of how Jesus challenged the heart in the Sermon On The Mount). People become pure from the inside out after God does a work inside.  They become "new creatures in Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:17) who are "born anew" (John 3:3). We don’t become pure by scrubbing the outside.

 Listen: to those who are pure, all things are pure. But to those who are tainted, stained, and unbelieving, nothing is pure because their minds and their consciences are polluted. They claim, “I know God,” but their actions are a slap to His face. They are wretched, disobedient, and useless to any worthwhile cause.”

* * * * *

That’s a claim that would have rattled his Jewish audience – and frankly, it's a phrase that can be easily misunderstood by our 21st century ears.[iv]

1. Christian purity is moral purity.

John Gill’s Expository On The New Testament references a Jewish commentary on the issue of pure and impure people:

`The flesh of the most holy things is forbidden to strangers, though pure; the flesh of things lightly holy is free to strangers that are pure, but forbidden to them that are defiled.''

This is one of many teaching you can find on the privileges and restrictions for pure and impure people. The more ceremonially clean you were – the more outward appearance of purity –  the more privileges you got.  When God said He was looking on the heart while people were looking on the outside (1 Samuel 16:7), I believe he was referring to situations like this.

Titus has the task of re-teaching the concept of genuine purity. Genuine purity is the internal purity of the heart and soul that only Christ can bring, and it will manifest itself in pure living.  Once again, that will be about morally pure living, not ceremonially washing your hands and not touching dead things.

2.  Morally Impure Things Don’t Become Pure Because Our Heart Is Pure.

To understand this better, let’s establish what biblical, spiritual purity is. In 1 Timothy 4:4, Paul stated that "every creature (everything?) created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected.” Barnes’ Notes On The Bible gives a good clarification on what this means:

“It is good in its place; good for the purpose for which God made it. But it should not be inferred that a thing which is poisonous in its nature is good for food because it is a creation of God. It is good only in its place, and for the ends for which he intended it.”

When something is existing in its God-given intent and purpose – when it is unmixed or unalloyed with anything else (the literal translation of the word ‘pure’) –  it is pure.  Paul insisted in his letter to the Roman church that there is nothing that, when used with the intent and purpose for which God created it, is unclean in itself (Romans 14:14, 20).

To the pure (people who live in their God-designed intent and purpose and are unalloyed with the world), all things are pure (they recognize and use everything within God’s design).

Notice this is very different from saying that even impure things become pure with our magical pure touch. Two examples should suffice.

  • Pornography  or promiscuity do not become miraculously okay because Christians think that they are pure enough to make it okay.
  • Christians can’t naively dabble in the occult and walk away unscathed. Being a Christian doesn’t change the nature of a Ouija board or a tarot card reading or seances.

There is no sense whatsoever anywhere in Scripture that suggest we can engage in sin and somehow sanctify it because we are good people deep inside.[v]  Paul is not excusing sin. He’s saying that we are pure or impure because of the state of our heart.  Our lifestyle flows from our heart; our heart provides the lenses through which we see everything. That’s why we must guard our hearts; they are the “wellspring of life” and determine the course of our lives (Proverbs 4:23).

Eating bacon and shrimp won’t make your heart impure, and eating kosher food or washing your hands just right won’t purify your soul. If you haven’t been cleansed by Jesus on the inside, you can do everything right externally and still be defiled.

3. Even Pure Things Can Become Impure To Us If Our Heart Is Impure

When I was a baby, I didn’t know what things were for or where they were supposed to be, and I left a trail of chaos behind me. I ate dirt. Seriously. It was not one of my better moments. 

I don’t eat dirt anymore (!), but I have a remarkable capacity to clutter things.  Really, I can leave a mess anywhere relatively quickly. You should see the interior of my truck, or the floor on my side of the bed. But I know I have this capacity because I know what clean is. I know what a ‘pure’ kitchen and bathroom should look like.

When you know what clean is, at least you have a frame of reference for how you are doing. If you don’t know what clean is, everything you touch becomes unclean.

If our soul is not clean (purified by God so that we know and love the intent and purpose for all things God has created), we will make everything we touch unclean because we won’t understand how God designed it.

  • If we don’t know God’s intent and purpose for money, we will use it selfishly rather than for God’s glory.
  • If we don’t know God’s intent and purpose for sex, we will use and abuse others rather than delighting in and honoring them as part of married life.
  • If we don’t know God’s intent and purpose for marriage, we will keep thinking it’s about happiness when it’s actually about holiness.
  • If we don’t know God’s intent and purpose for language, we will think we have the right to say anything we want and we will destroy people with our words.
  • If we don’t know God’s intent and purpose for education, the arts, work…

This isn’t just about things. This is relevant to what we believe as Christians; specifically, how we understand the Bible. The Judaizers were distorting God’s Law. We can do this with Scripture today as well if we aren’t careful. We can take good and true teachings and distort them.

  • “Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8); God is always faithful when we are not (2 Timothy 2:13); God’s grace abounds (Romans 5:20)” can remind us that God is so, so good and motivate us to greater worship… or it can be used as an excuse to do whatever we want. 
  • “Ask and you shall receive (Matthew 7:7); God gives good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11); give and see if I won’t open up the storehouses” (Malachi 3:10) can remind us that God takes care of us and blesses our faithfulness for His glory and the sake of His Kingdom… or it can make us think God is a cosmic slot machine where if we pull the right levers we get rich.
  • “You will have none of these diseases (Exodus 15:26) and He heals our diseases” (Psalm 103:3) can be seen as a get-out-of-sick-jail free card… or it can be seen as a reminder that God cares for us and works miracles in His time and for His purposes for our good and His glory.

To those whom God has made pure, everything – the Scriptures, our bodies, the things around us – is pure; that is, they are understood, valued and used and God intended them to be. To those not made pure by God, everything becomes devalued and misused outside of God’s created design.

  • Why do our minds wander when we see someone attractive?
  • Why is the first thought after our bonus on how we can spend it on ourselves rather than how God can be glorified?
  • Why can we turn ordinary comments into, “That’s what she said”?
  • Why do we daydream about how we could have humiliated someone in that argument we had?
  • Why do we use food and entertainment to avoid life?
  • Why do we use work as an excuse to avoid resolving conflict at home?
  • Why do we twist Scripture to make it say what we want it to say?

Becaus are hearts, while undergoing ongoing purification by God, will never be perfetly pure on this side of heaven. God does a miraculaous work of purification throught the act of salvation (read 1 Timothy – Paul uses the language of purity everywhere!), and God continues this purification process through what we call sanctification. But this life is marred by sin, and even our gloriously new hearts are under attack from the sins that so easily beset us. It's part of why we mourn will all of creation (Romans 8) as we wait for the New Heaven and Earth. 

In Psalm 24:3-4, David asks who can stand in the holy presence of God. His answer? “The one who has clean hands and a pure heart.” The one whose entire life is characterized by purity. This is bad news in one sense: on our own, we can never purify our hearts; even after God gives us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), we still manage to soil it. Is it any wonder that David also asked God to do what is impossible for us to do: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10)?

While God has given us agency- we are called to participate in our purity by living within God's path for lifen(1 Peter 1:22) -we must have that miraculous work of God in us so that our hearts are renewed and our eyes are opened in ways that only God can do it. Then we will see the goodness of God and His creation – we will see how He designed the world to be – and we will be able to live in our God-given purity through the power and for the glory of God.

[i] After the Babylonian Captivity, many rabbis began to assign mystical meanings to numbers and apply it to the Hebrew Scriptures and the Talmud,  the rabbinical interpretations of Scripture. By the time Paul was writing, they were also taking ideas from Hebrew and Greek numerology and arriving at increasingly fanciful interpretations.

[ii] For previous sermons on the biblical focus on false teachers, see two sermons from our 1 Thessalonians series: Teachers Good And Bad (Part 1) http://clgonline.org/teachers-good-and-bad-part-1-2/ and Teachers Good And Bad ({Part 2) http://clgonline.org/teachers-good-and-bad-part-2-2/

[iii]  “It is sin, and that only, which takes its rise from the heart, lies in thought, and is either expressed by the mouth, or performed by some outward action, which defiles the man, and renders him loathsome, abominable, and odious in the sight of God. The heart is the source of all evil; the pollution of it is very early, and very general, reaching to all the powers and faculties of the soul; which shows the ignorance of some, and folly of others, that talk of, and trust to the goodness of their hearts; and also the necessity of new hearts and right spirits being formed and created; and that the sinful thoughts of the heart, and the lusts thereof, are defiling to men; and that they are sinful in God's account, and abominable in his sight; that they are loathsome to sensible sinners, and are to be repented of, and forsaken by them; and need the pardoning grace of God or otherwise will be brought into judgment. Sinful words, which, through the abundance of wickedness in the heart, come out of the mouth, have the same influence and effect: words are of a defiling nature; with these men pollute both themselves and others: the tongue, though a little member, defiles the whole body; and evil and corrupt communication proceeding out of the mouth, corrupts the best of manners, and renders men loathsome to God, and liable to his awful judgment. And this is the nature of all sinful actions; they are what God can take no pleasure in; they are disagreeable, to a sensible mind; they leave a stain, which can never be removed by any thing the creature can do; nothing short of the blood of Christ can cleanse from it; and inasmuch as they are frequently committed, there is need of continual application to it. These are now the things men should be concerned about, as of a defiling nature; and not about meats and drinks, and the manner of using them, whether with hands washed, or unwashed.”  (Gill’s Exposition Of The Entire Bible)

[iv] Check out Precept Austin’s explanation of this passage. http://www.preceptaustin.org/titus_114-15

[v] The Children of Israel entered Canaan were commanded to avoid the practices of the pagan religions (Deuteronomy 12:30). Paul wrote to the Romans, "I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil"  (Romans 16:19). The Bible warns us to "flee the flesh" (2 Timothy 2:22) and to avoid things that could “entangle” us (Hebrews 12:1)

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