In Titus, the grace of Christ accounted for how the believers in Crete were no longer characterized as “passing our days in malice and envy” (3:3). Training grace was in full operation! How does grace provide a cure for the spiritual sickness of envy? One of the most beautiful illustrations of the opposite of envy is also found in the narrative of Saul and David. The opposite of envy is pictured in the life of Saul’s son, Jonathan. Jonathan is a portrait of God’s grace. While Jonathan had every reason to envy David as a competitor to the throne, instead “Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1). Opposite of envying someone is to love someone (1 Corinthians 13:4). In place of criticizing David, Jonathan advocates for David, sheltering and supporting him against his own father. In place of complaining, Jonathan gives David his royal robe and armor anticipating “You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you” (1 Samuel 23:17).
Pride is often labeled as the queen of all sins; it is often suggested as the first and greatest sin. Of the seven things that God is said to explicitly hate, pride or “haughty eyes” (Proverbs 6:16) is listed first. Pride is suggested as the core issue that resulted in the fall of Lucifer and eventually man. The Scripture declares: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). The essence of pride is self, setting itself in contention with and opposition to God Himself. Pride is thinking much about one’s self and thinking about one’s self much. Pride is inordinate self-love where there should be love of God and love for others. Pride is anti-God and anti-others. God is opposed to the proud (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). Pride defies: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
This is how God’s grace works: in His Son, God loves sinners as they are. He finds sinners in their confused state of pride and foolishness, in the mess of rebellion, enslavement, and condemnation. But while this is where grace meets sinners, God is not content to leave them as He finds them. Sinners who trust Jesus are adopted into God’s family. Grace then provides strong parental direction, guidance, aid, and empowerment. As a result, His children begin turning aside from their entrenched patterns of vices and toward acquiring new patterns of virtues. The grace of God that was embodied in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is now active by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s children.
A faulty view concerning the Gospel’s relationship to everyday life was the factor that accounted for the lack of impact from the church at Crete. There is a direct link between the truth of the Gospel and the type of behavior that corresponds to the Gospel. But, false teachers were distorting the Gospel’s message. Thus, Gospel transformation was not taking place. With the doctrines of the Gospel waning in the church, low levels of moral character development and high levels of indifference toward good works, was waxing. The increase of false teaching profoundly affected the church: practical godliness decreased. With that in mind, Paul wrote to Titus saying, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (1:5).
Following the opening phrase of the benediction are two profound statements that contain the essential elements of the letter. Each statement of thought revolves around Jesus. The first statement stresses what God has done by His Son to secure a people. The prayer acknowledges that peace has come because God has “brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant” (13:20). God raised Jesus from the dead thereby exalting Christ as Lord who is now at His right hand. In acknowledging Him as the great shepherd, it is declared that Jesus surpasses all the other leaders of God’s people. Jesus is the One who ultimately fulfills all the roles God desires from the One who is over His people (Ezekiel 34:10-16; John 10:11,14). The exalted position granted to Jesus has been secured on the merits of His sacrificial death, which effected the establishment of a new covenant. In contrast to the old covenant, which was temporary, the new covenant is everlasting. The prophets promised an eternal covenant that would bring God and His people together forever (Isaiah 55:3; Jeremiah 31:35-37; 32:40; Ezekiel 37:26). The new covenant is the ultimate expression of how God’s eternal purposes of redemption are secured.
Although followers of Christ no longer participate in the old covenant sacrifices, they do offer appropriate sacrifices. The author lists two practical sacrifices that typify followers of Christ. First, “let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (13:15). Whether the brethren assemble or are out among the unbelieving world, followers of Christ are to publically praise Jesus through confessions, prayers, conversations, and songs. Second, “do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (13:16). As they had already been doing (6:10; 10:34), followers of Christ eagerly meet the practical needs of one another.
But it is interesting that the writer of Hebrews concludes with a few very practical instructions. Where has this practical instruction been up to this point? Christianity, since it is absolutely true, is relevant and practical. The Bible and its teachings are not just things to think about; they are to be applied to life (2 Timothy 3:14-17). However, Christianity is not simply a collection of practical directions for making life nicer or more pleasant. The heart of Christianity is not simply practicing hospitality, showing compassion, maintaining faithfulness in marriage, and handling money properly. Each of these practices is precious and important, but Christians are called to do them in a distinctively Christian fashion. They cannot be done Christianly without proper grounds.
The difference in mood between the two mountains is profound; the fervent joy that characterizes the heavenly gathering stands in contrast to the foreboding terror the Israelites experienced at the base of Mount Sinai. The reason for the difference is due to the different message that is now spoken from Mount Zion: “to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (12:24). Whereas the blood of Abel spoke a message of condemnation on Cain, the blood of Christ speaks a word of forgiveness and cleansing. Thus, the difference in God, presented as the “judge of all” at Mount Zion in contrast to Mount Sinai is the difference between God as the judge who graciously vindicates His people through the blood of His Son, and God as the judge who justly condemns the guilty in their sin.
The readers needed to realize that their sufferings were ultimately discipline from their Heavenly Father. Therefore, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons” (12:7). The Lord’s discipline is not arbitrary, but rather an expression of genuine relationship. In fact, the term discipline suggests loving training given to correct or improve actions and attitudes. The Lord only gives such training to those who are legitimately His: “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (12:8). By reflecting on the link between their adoption and their sufferings, they could take heart that the Lord has not abandoned them. He truly loves them! What God was doing is what any loving father does.
Long-distance running is difficult. Running with endurance requires concentrated attention. The strong call to run with faithful endurance is set in the context of a crucial accompanying call to consider Jesus’ faithful endurance: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2). Since chapter 11 likened faith to seeing, the writer’s call to look to Jesus is a call for running to be done with complete dependence or reliance upon Him. The support and strength required for running the race that God has fixed, is found in Jesus.
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