July 16, 2005

On the significance of Titus 2:15

In periods of unsettled faith, skepticism, and mere curious speculation in matters of religion, teachers of all kinds swarm like the flies in Egypt. The demand creates the supply. The hearers invite and shape their own preachers. If the people desire a calf to worship, a ministerial calf-maker is readily found.—Vincent, quoted in Homer Kent's The Pastoral Epistles, page 294.
I first heard the above quote by Vincent in one of the sermons by John MacArthur on Titus 2:15:

NKJ Titus 2:15 Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.

Dr. MacArthur was speaking at a Shepherd's Conference in Ft. Worth many years ago (in the 90's). I have remembered his sermon on this particular text ever since. It was truly excellent.

What was excellent was not so much John's manner of speech, but what he brought out of the text. It was an excellent example of the strengths of expository preaching. Expository preaching is contextual preaching, and this is what MacArthur was doing.

NKJ Nehemiah 8:8 So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.

John brought out the sense of the text and showed it's relevance to the culture today. He helped us to understand what was being said in a verse that seems insignificant at first glance. In his own studies, he initially considered it a kind of throw away verse that one makes a few comments on and moves along. I think it was the term "authority" that triggered his attention and caused him to meditate.

I can't recall the order in which he started his analysis, but he brought the listeners into a meditation on "these things." The context of the Pastoral epistles was considered so as to bring out the sense of "these things." The conclusion of the matter was that Paul is speaking about sound doctrine. Sound doctrine certainly includes the practice of godliness, but genuine godliness is built on right thinking about God, Christ, man, sin, salvation and our eternal hope. "These things" refers to all of these doctrines, and the teacher is to equip the people of God to think accurately and biblically about such matters. Theological precision is required, but our day is not a day of theological precision. It hardly qualifies as an age in which people are interested in sound theology. In such an apathetic and unthinking age, the leaders in the church are to teach "these things," and not their own judgment as to what is good for the people. Christ, through Paul, is commanding leaders to teach "these things"! It may have been in this particular message by MacArthur where he mentioned that he gives his people what they don't want to hear. In other words, the tendency of our depraved minds is to avoid thinking about "these things," but the preacher cannot compromise. The church needs genuine shepherds, and not ministerial calf-makers who set aside and pervert God's word for the sake of "growth."

Dr. MacArthur also brought out the significance of the term "authority" in the text. He quoted Packer as saying that the bible is the real preacher. The job of the man in the pulpit is to let some passage say it's peace. The challenge is for the preacher to get out of the way, and let the passage speak. The goal is scriptural projection and not self-projection. The people need to discern that their true authority is God speaking through his word, and not that their authority is some religious expert standing in front of the book. Genuine authority in preaching occurs when a man speaks in such a way that the scriptures speak through him. After thoroughly digesting the contents of a passage in such a way that it impacts his affections, the preacher is to then open the book before the people and speak contextually. That's when one speaks with true "authority."

Packer, in his contribution to the book entitled The Preacher and Preaching, discusses why people do not have a proper idea of what true preaching is. His second reason says:
Second, topical preaching has become a general rule, at least in North America. Sermons explore announced themes rather than biblical passages. Why is this? Partly, I suppose, to make preaching appear interesting and important in an age that has largely lost interest in the pulpit; partly, no doubt, to make the sermon sound different from what goes on in the Bible class before public worship starts; partly, too, because many topical preachers (not all) do not trust their Bible enough to let is speak its own message through their lips. Whatever the reason, however, the results are unhealthy. In a topical sermon the text is reduced to a peg on which the speaker hangs his line of thought; the shape and thrust of the message reflect his own best notions of what is good for people rather than being determined by the text itself. But the only authority that his sermon can then have is the human authority of a knowledgeable person speaking with emphasis and perhaps raising his voice. In my view topical discourses of this kind, no matter how biblical their component parts, cannot but fall short of being preaching in the full sense of that word, just because their biblical content is made to appear as part of the speaker's own wisdom. The authority of God revealed is thus resolved into that of religious expertise. That destroys the very idea of Christian preaching, which excludes the thought of speaking for the Bible and insists that the Bible must be allowed to speak for itself in and through the speaker's words. Granted, topical discourses may become real preaching if the speaker settles down to letting his happen, but many topical preachers never discipline themselves to become mouthpieces for messages from biblical texts at all. And many in the churches have only ever been exposed to topical preaching of the sort that I have described.
Douglas M. White describes the situation this way in his book The Excellence of Exposition:
Whether topical, textual, or expository, all preaching should be Biblical. Unfortunately this is not true of a great deal of the preaching in modern pulpits. The vast majority of sermons today could not be classified in any of the three categories stated. Topical preaching is most popular, but most of it has very little Biblical content, and therefore has little authority. Textual preaching is also extant, but here also there is too little real interpretation of Bible truth. A verse of Scripture may be quoted, which suggests an idea; that idea is incorporated into a topic, and the topic is then used as a point of departure for a thirty-minute demonstration of sermonic globe-trotting. Again, a phrase or clause is used as a topic, which is repeated half a dozen times or more during the discourse, with two or three lengthy anecdotes (which may not even be related) packed in between the repetitions. A minister of my acquaintance classifies this sort of thing as "bullfrog preaching—a croak and a jump."
Is there genuine authority in the most pulpits today? Is this one of the major reasons why many Christians are undiscerning? I think it is. Paul commands leaders to speak with authority in Titus 2:15. He commands them to speak sound doctrine in the church. It seems to me that we lack both of these things in the pulpit. It's no wonder that people are turning on their televisions without being able to detect the deception of false teachers!
In religion, what damned error, but some sober brow will bless it and approve it with a text, hiding the grossness with fair ornament?—Shakespeare
Not only is the preacher to teach sound doctrine with authority, but they are to do so in a way that exhorts and rebukes. There are positive and negative aspects. A friend of mine uses this quote below his name on discussion boards. It captures the thought of Paul:
A preacher must be both a soldier and a shepherd. He must nourish, defend, and teach; he must have teeth in his mouth and be able to bite and to fight.—Martin Luther
One dominated by a church growth mentality will not have this view of Luther or Paul. They will not engage in exhortations and rebukes. They will smile and always speak pleasant things.

NKJ 1 Kings 22:8 So the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, "There is still one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the LORD; but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil." And Jehoshaphat said, "Let not the king say such things!"

A true shepherd warns, rebukes builds up, mends with all patience and diligence. Like Augustine, he seeks to "love men and slay error." This is the idea in Titus 2:15. There should be a prophetic edge to the way a preacher speaks. If a preacher has meditated on a text, then it is in him like a fire that must come out.

NKJ Jeremiah 20:9 Then I said, "I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name." But His word was in my heart like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not.

A person who speaks God's word in this way cannot be despised. No one can think around, or evade his words. The scriptural teaching is made plain, so that they must either obey or disobey. If they are upset, then they will have to deal with the implications of the passage. All the preacher did was expound the passage. He is a messenger. If the listener doesn't like it, then they have to answer to scripture. There is no possibility of successful evasion when a preacher has done his job.

This was the essence of MacArthur's message from this passage, and it has impacted my thinking greatly. I am amazed at the implications of such a simple passage. It is not a "throw away" verse at all. It's speaks volumes to our culture today.

We lack sound doctrinal instruction. We lack a knowledge of "these things." We don't have preachers speaking with genuine authority. There is a loss of a prophetic edge, because the text is behind the preacher. Self-projection instead of Christ-projection is rampant. There is an inability to correct and slay error. We are undiscerning. We are children tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. People are evading the implications of biblical teaching in their lives because their leaders are not informing their consciences. They are "thinking around" or evading the topical preachers since a mere human authority is conveyed.

Titus 2:15 speaks directly to this current problem. It's worth a significant amount of meditation!

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