Titus: Living at Large (11)

Philanthropy of God

Paul’s letter to Titus calls us to be zealous for, prepared for, and devoted to, good works (2:14, 3:1, 8, 14). Paul, aware of our weakness, seeks to provide role models who will show us what this way of life looks like. Thus, elders must be men who love what is good (1:8), older women are to teach younger women what is good (2:3), and mentors are to be models of good works (2:7).

For the most powerful role model of all, Paul turns to the example of God Himself. The key to showing kindness to others is experiencing God’s kindness to us. If we are to be biblical philanthropists to the world, we must remind our hearts of God’s extreme philanthropy, encapsulated in three simple words: “He saved us” (3:5). Every single word in the rest of the paragraph exists to amplify those three.

Who God Saved

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (2:3, ESV). This is hardly the kind of photograph that would move benefactors to compassion. It is brutally accurate, though, depicting us as intellectually foolish and volitionally disobedient. Worse still, and moving on to the third and fourth terms, “we were not ‘foolish’ only, but deceived. We were not ‘disobedient’ only, but enslaved.”[1] We thought following one’s heart was freedom, when really, it was slavery. In malice, we wished the worst on others, and envied them when they experienced good.[2] We were loathsome (the thought behind “hated by others”) and in our relationships we reciprocated hate for hate.

When God Saved

And yet God was visibly moved in love toward us! “But when the goodness and loving kindness (philanthrōpia) of God our Savior appeared, He saved us” (3:4-5a, ESV). The two words speak of God’s generosity and philanthropy, His loving concern for humankind which appeared in our world in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of His Son. God is the greatest philanthropist Who takes pity on the pitiless, loves the oppressed and the oppressor, and responds to our plight, not by raising awareness of our need, but by meeting that need squarely Himself in the costly sacrifice of His Son. Forget, for the moment, Doctors Without Borders; this is God Without Borders, giving so deeply that all humanitarian efforts by comparison seem shallow and contrived.

How God Saved Us

In the first place, it was not on the basis of our own merit or goodness: “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (3:5, ESV).

In the second place, none of it was accomplished by our own means. God saved us “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (3:5, ESV). The description of us in verse 3 makes clear that a salvation offering only forgiveness of sins and justification in court would not be enough. Criminals need pardon. Slaves need redemption. Sinners with hearts deeply addicted to sin need new hearts, the washing of regeneration. King David longed for it (Psa 51:10), the prophet Ezekiel prophesied it (Ezek 36:25-27), and the religious Nicodemus was startled by it (John 3:7). We have experienced it.

Paul further describes the transforming nature of the new birth as the “renewal of the Holy Spirit.” The renewal in view is not the ongoing renewal we experience after conversion (Rom 12:2, 2Cor 4:16, Eph 4:23, Col 3:10), but refers to the extent of the change regeneration wrought in our hearts at conversion.[3] This is a one-time renewal that, once experienced, never needs to be repeated (John 13:10).

This regeneration/renewal is the work of the Holy Spirit. Just as we contributed nothing to our physical birth, neither do we get any credit for our spiritual rebirth. Whether it’s the Son’s work in accomplishing redemption in view, or the Spirit’s work in applying that redemption to our hearts, the gospel begins and ends with God.

Why God Saved Us

Each member of the Trinity was active in the display of God’s philanthropy: the Father “poured out [the Spirit] on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (3:6, ESV). The words capturing the extravagance of God’s generosity pile up in this paragraph: goodness, lovingkindness, mercy, poured out, richly. Now, as we turn to God’s purpose in saving us we encounter two more: “so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (3:7, ESV). Oh the riches of God’s salvation! It not only takes care of our past but also our eternal future. God’s philanthropy offers justification for the criminal, regeneration for the dead, renewal and inner transformation for the addict, clothing for the naked, a home for the homeless, hope for the hopeless, and an inheritance for the poor.

The gospel spells the end to Satan’s ancient lie that God is a stingy God. As we rehearse the good news of God’s philanthropy to us, privately in our own hearts, and publicly in our pulpits, we will come to reflect our generous God more and more, and God’s loving concern for humankind will appear to our unsaved workmates, neighbors, and family, through us. The key to our displaying the kindness of God in good works to the world is experiencing God’s kindness to us in the gospel.

[1] John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus, 202. Original italics.

[2] Stott, 202.

[3] Cf. the use of a related Greek word in the phrase “newness of life” (Rom 6:4).