Wedding of Stefan and Rachel

Text: Ephesians 5:21-33 Time: 24/08/07 Place: Mount Rd Baptist, Hinckley
People are free to disagree on this but I would think that in an ideal world marriages would not take place in church buildings. Ideally, they should be in a person's home. For various reasons, however, church buildings are commonly used for weddings, especially where Christians are concerned. Quite rightly in such weddings the marriage vows are exchanged in the context of a Christian worship service, as we are doing now.
Now the heart of true Christian worship, worship in Spirit and in truth, is the sermon – the preaching of God's Word. If we were in a Roman Catholic wedding today the height of the worship would be what they call the mass but this is a wedding of Protestants and so, for good Scriptural reasons the centre-piece of our worship is the sermon, the preaching.
I count it a great privilege to have been asked today then not only to marry Stefan and Rachel but especially to preach to them and to you here today.
I have known Stefan all his life and Rachel a little less time than that but like all of you here today I give thanks to God for both them.
1. Firstly, I am thankful to God for their parents and their sincere faith, the same faith that is now seen in these two who (like Timothy) have had the privilege from infancy ... of knowing the holy Scriptures.
2. I am thankful to the Lord, of course, like their parents and many others here today, for bringing them to himself individually in London and in Hinckley so that they believed those Scriptures and were made wise to salvation.
3. And then like all of you I am thankful also for the way that he brought them together up in Durham so that they have come to this point where they want to spend the rest of their lives together in covenant faithfulness as man and wife.
We pray that they may continue to walk with the Lord and that together they may also be a blessing to many others in the years to come.
Now for a wedding sermon there are many possible places to turn. Perhaps the most obvious place is the passage read to us and that I want to draw your attention to - Ephesians 5:21-33. Here Paul speaks very simply and very clearly about Christian marriage – how it is ordered and what it is intended to symbolise.
So focusing on this passage I want to say four things to you all.
1. Rachel and all wives - it is your calling to submit to your husband
Paul is very plain on this (22) Wives, submit to your husbands he says as to the Lord. Rachel, as you know, Stefan is to be like the Lord to you in this marriage. Paul gives an argument for this. He says (23) For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Just as Christ is head over his church (the people of God) of which he is Saviour so in a Christian marriage the husband is the head of the wife and so just (24) as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands and he is clear about this in everything – things great and small.
Now the world doesn’t really understand this.
Firstly, it is very keen on equality and it tends to think that equality means sameness. But that is to misunderstand terms. If I have a kilo of sugar here and a kilo of salt here and I put them on either side of a balance and I say ‘There, they are equal’ it does not mean salt is sweet and sugar is salty. And so, yes, it is important to understand, Rachel and Stefan, that you are equal (heirs together) but you are not the same. One of you has to submit to the other and the norm, says God, is for the wife to submit to the husband. Yes, we must (21) submit to one another in the church out of reverence for Christ but in the marriage the norm is for the woman to submit to the man – not because she is one whit inferior or less important but because God has set an order to things – the man as head, the woman as submissive.
The other problem the world has with this, frankly, is that it sounds dangerous from the woman’s point of view. If the woman submits in everything then surely the man will take advantage. Isn’t that how women have ended up so often being downtrodden? Well, certainly it is a thorny subject. In The Times newspaper this week there was an interview with former model Patti Boyd, who has just written her autobiography. Now if you don’t know the name, Patti was married first to George Harrison of the Beatles and then the guitarist Eric Clapton. Now she says something very interesting in this interview. She says that her attitude in both marriages was -
If the man says that he wants this, that or the other then that’s what we’re going with …whatever the man says is right.
This, she says, she learnt from her mother and I’m sure it was quite a common idea about a generation ago. Is it what I’m advocating today? Well, not exactly. For example, Rachel you are not committing yourself today to the position ‘whatever Stefan says is right’! No, unlike Christ sometimes he will be wrong and if you see that then you will somehow have to steer things in another direction. Nevertheless you need always to have a submissive spirit.
The interviewer then understandably asked Patti Boyd “Had she become a doormat?” This is the feminist’s great fear. Patti Boyd answers
I think I did slide into the doormat syndrome, most definitely, and what happened one day is I thought, ‘My God, this doormat’s getting thinner and thinner and thinner and unless I do something about it soon, I’m not going to have the strength to get up and ...’ I knew that unless I moved when I moved, I wouldn’t be able to.
Now let’s be clear. Rachel is not committing herself to being a doormat today but you are agreeing to be submissive to Stefan ‘while we both shall live’. Paul puts it this way in 33 the wife must respect her husband. That is what we are chiefly talking about. You have many examples all around to show you how to do that.
Some are in the Bible – eg Sarah and Priscilla and others.
Some you can read about in church history – eg Sarah Edwards and Elizabeth Eliot and others. Closer at hand you have observed your own mother and other godly women.
The same sort of commitment that Rachel is making, as dangerous as it may seem, ought to mark out every Christian wife. May it do so.
2. Stefan and all husbands - it is your calling to love your wife
Again it is very straightforward (25) Husbands, love your wives. Now you notice, Stefan, it doesn’t say ‘Your role is to make sure that Rachel submits’. When you were younger maybe(!) you fought with your brothers. Now I don’t know if you ever got them in a hold and they had to say ‘submit’ or ‘give in’. Well, if so, that is not to be your approach to this marriage! If you ever find yourself saying something like ‘I’m the head of this household’ or ‘I really don’t think you’re submitting as you should be’ then you know you have blown it. Submission is Rachel’s concern, yours is to love her. Husbands, love your wives says Paul.
And again he sets the bar very high. The model is drawn once more from the relationship between Christ and his church - just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.
This time he uses a common sense argument too - He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body. He backs that up by quoting Genesis (31) "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." When you marry a woman you become ‘one flesh’ with her in all sorts of ways. To fail to love your wife therefore is to hate your own flesh, it is to neglect your own body – it is a form of madness.
I mentioned the Beatles earlier. They loved to sing about love. ‘All you need is love’ they sang. In this matter of loving their wives they often left a lot to be desired but they were right about the need for love. Now, of course, real love is a very practical thing. It does whatever is necessary for the comfort and well being of the other person. My message to you Stefan today then is very simple. 'All you need is love'. You have chosen your love, now love your choice.
3. All of us – let us submit to Christ who is the head of the church and its Saviour
Before we close I just want to say two things more briefly. Paul says that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. The way wives should submit to their husbands in everything is as the church submits to Christ. By the church he means the people of God. The head of the church is not the Pope or the Queen or some other human figure but Jesus Christ and all God's people must submit to him. Indeed, we must all submit to him. He is the one Lord and the one Saviour. There is no other.
So not only am I saying to Rachel today – submit to Stefan. I am saying to us all 'submit to Christ', bow down to him as Lord and Master and God. I don't know if you've ever embarrassed yourself when seeing something new and saying something like 'hey, you could use it like this' and then being told that's exactly how it's supposed to be used. Well, in a similar way you may be tempted to say – well, hasn't Paul found a good illustration here. Of course, the truth is that the good who planned and created this world is the one who gave us marriage and one of his purposes in it is to point us to the principle of submission to Christian.
So whenever you see an example of a happily submissive wife, as I'm sure you will see it in Rachel, then think to yourself – that's how I ought to be towards Jesus Christ. I think it will be a great help to you Rachel and other wives to think that is what you are modelling – the church submitting to its Saviour.
4. All of us – let’s recognise Christ’s love for his people leading him to die to make them holy
Then finally the other side of this. When Paul speaks to husbands he says they are to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. He speaks too about how Christ feeds his church. Always in our worship the focus should be on Christ and that's where I want to end then. Christ is not only the church's head but its Saviour – there would be no church without him. Think of his love for his people and the way he even went to the extent of dying on the cross for them – so great was his love. And he did it all to make his people holy, to make her clean and radiant and ready for heaven.
Do you know Jesus Christ for yourself? These two do and it has transformed their lives. Any holiness or purity or blamelessness or freedom from blemish you see in them is all because of Jesus Christ and what he has done for them. You too can be pure and unspotted and fit for heaven if you simply look to him. I urge you to it. And if you already believe then don't forget what a wonderful Saviour he is. Your remember it too, Stefan, as you seek in some faint way to echo his saving qualities in this marriage.
As Paul says (32) This is a profound mystery and I don't want to give the impression that there is some simplistic way of talking about these profound things concerning Christ and the church but there is something in it. What ever the case, as it says in 33, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. May it be so in all our marriages.

Prayers to echo, exhortations to hear

Text: Psalm 4 Time: 19/08/07 Place: Childs Hill BaptistI want us to look this evening at Psalm 4. Once again it is A psalm of David. We are not told when David wrote it but we are told first that it is For the director of music. With stringed instruments. Although the psalms were written initially for personal use they were also meant for congregational use and a number of them (55, also see Habakkuk) have this heading For the director of music – the choirmaster in the Temple.
We know very little about the music that accompanied the psalms but this one is to be accompanied, we read, With stringed instruments.Psalm 3 and 4 sound like they belong together and may well have arisen in the same set of circumstances. Again there is opposition and again David's response is to cry to the Lord in prayer. Psalm 3 contains the line I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me which associates it with the morning. Psalm 4 closes with the line I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. This associates it with the evening.
Psalm 4 begins with a prayer but then moves on to some exhortations – first to the ungodly and then to the godly before finishing again with a prayer, a prayer of confidence in God. In order to benefit from it then we need to echo its prayers and hear its exhortations. So I say
1. Here is a prayer of petition to God to echo1. Who does he pray to?
He says Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. So he is praying to God – which is obvious in some ways, but it is possible to pray only to yourself or to those around you. Some think of prayer as just a psychological exercise.
We must pray always and only to God.
He calls him righteous God, a God who is just, who is fair. When we are praying to the Lord we can always be sure that he will be fair. God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
Are you convinced of the fairness of God? Do you recognise his justice?
Finally, it is O my righteous God. This was not some far off, remote and unknown God, this was a God who the psalmist knew for himself.
Do you know him? Is he your God? O what a difference it makes in prayer when we are coming to God who not only knows us but whom we know ourselves.
2. What does he pray for?
He puts it in different ways but basically what David is asking for is very simple indeed. He wants an answer. Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God ... hear my prayer. More specifically he prays Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me .... He knows that God is righteous and so if he is dealt with in strict fairness there must be punishment for his sin. But he appeals to God's mercy. He is in trouble – we do not know what trouble exactly – but he calls to God to grant him relief.
Because God is not only righteous but also merciful though we are sinners we can go to him confidently being sure that he will hear us.
2. Here is an exhortation to the ungodly to hearSo prayer comes first – talking to God. Next he turns to speak to those around him – first the ungodly and then the godly. That is the order then – speak to God first and then to men. Here, there are questions first and then some assertions are made.
1. Two questions for the ungodly to hearWe do not know who were David's particular enemies at this time but he has some questions for them (2) How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods? Selah David is distressed at their ungodliness and idolatry. They are turning his glory to shame and in their love of delusion seeking false gods. How much longer are they going to go on in that way? It must stop.
When a person wins a gold medal in the Olympic games then he brings glory to himself and his country but, as happens sometimes, if he is then found to have cheated by taking banned drugs, he brings shame on himself, on his country, on his sport. In a similar way – it is glorious to worship God but if you worship an idol instead that is to the shame of all involved. Atheists seize on it as proof that religion is rotten but such accusations are entirely unfair.
We live in an age when men seem determined to exchange the glory of God and worshipping him for something shameful and dishonouring. They would rather believe a lie than trust in the living God. And for how much longer is this to go on? Don't we have some right to know? Will this never come to an end, this foolishness? The only way it can come to an end is if there is genuine repentance. That is what is needed.
2. Two assertions for the ungodly to hear
David goes on (3) Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD will hear when I call to him. As far from God as unbelievers may be, we still need to proclaim the truth to them and the truth is not only that there is a God but that he has set apart the godly for himself. He has his elect, his chosen ones who he has called to himself. And those who he has called in turn call to him – and because they are his chosen ones we can be sure he will hear us.
Unbelievers think that they can believe what they want and that it will make no difference. They think Christians are the same as them – they believe one thing and we believe another and it makes little difference. But that is not so. What they believe detracts from God's glory, it is a delusion and the truth is that there is a God, the true God, and he has his people who pray to him and he hears. He may appear to do nothing at first but he will not keep putting his people off but will hear them.
3. Here is an exhortation to the godly to hearDavid could be continuing to speak to the same people but probably having spoken to the ungodly, he turns next to speak to the godly. He has a number of things that he wants to exhort them to. He lays down how believers should act when there is opposition and unbelief.
1. Hear this warning against sin4a In your anger do not sin. When believers see idolatry and the way God's glory is turned to shame they are often angry. God himself, of course, is angry with idolatry and unbelief and it is possible to be angry without sinning. Not all anger is sinful anger. There is such a thing as righteous anger. However, whenever we are angry we run the danger of falling into unrighteous anger, sinful anger. And so David says In your anger do not sin. Do not let your anger with sin boil over so that it leads you into sinning yourself.
Are we taking care not to sin in this way?
2. Hear this call to self-examination
He carries on (4b) when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Selah. Self-examination is very important for all of us. We can convince ourselves that all our anger is righteous anger. We can suppose that we are not failing at all but what we need to do is to examine our consciences with care and see what is happening. When you are on your beds is a way of recommending silence in order to properly examine oneself.
Self-examination is a neglected discipline but one that we ought to give ourselves to.
3. Hear this demand for right sacrificesHe also says (5a) Offer right sacrifices. In Old Testament days, of course, there were many animal sacrifices. These were part of the Temple ritual and were very important in Old Testament religion. These sacrifices pointed forward to what Jesus was going to do by his death on the cross. Under the NT we are no longer required to make animal sacrifices but to look to Jesus Christ and what he has done to make atonement for sinners on the cross. When the New Testament talks about sacrifice it says things like this:
1 Pet 2:5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Rom 1:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.
Phil 4:18 I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.
Heb 3:15, 16 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Many are engaged in false worship, many believe a lie but we who believe must carry on with the true religion - offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, being living sacrifices in God's service; giving to the Lord's work, singing his praise and doing good to others. With such sacrifices God is pleased.

4. Hear this call to faith
Above everything else there must be continual faith in the Lord. 5b and trust in the LORD. Being surrounded by unbelievers can have an undermining effect on us and we can find it difficult to go on in the faith. We must not give in to such an attitude, however. Rather, we must go on trusting in the LORD. He will never fail us we can be sure.

4. Here is a prayer of confidence in God to echo
And so we come back to prayer. David says (6a) Many are asking, Who can show us any good? Believer and unbeliever alike had this questioning attitude. Well, where was the answer going to come from? David was in no doubt and so we have here
1. A prayer for light
Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD. Using the ancient words of the priestly blessing (Numbers 6) David prays for light, he seeks the Lord's face. He sees that is what is needed in this situation as in every other.

Pray also for the light of God's presence in any and every situation. Don't look down but look up. Look up to God for his help. He will hear you.
2. Confidence in God
David does not pray with any sense of desperation or despair. No he prays with joy and a sense of peace.

1. Joy (7) You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. Even in the midst of his troubles he prays with joy for he knows that he is in God's hands and all will be well. What's the happiest you've ever been? The Christian has a greater underlying joy than that.
2. Peace (8) I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. At the end of the day he is able to lay down in peace because the Lord is keeping him. Yes, there are enemies but all will be well through the Lord. Do you believe that? We ought to.

A call to right living for all the saved

Text: Titus 3:1-9 Time: 19/08/07 Place: Childs Hill Baptist
Here's an interesting question. I preach here Sunday by Sunday – how do I know what to preach? The question could be answered in various ways.
I certainly make it a matter of prayer.
I certainly want to be interesting and useful.
But when it comes to the narrower question of where I get my ideas from, the answer is very simple. Just as a soldier in the army takes his orders from his commanding officer or just as someone leading an expedition relies on what the map says so I endeavour to get my ideas only from God’s Word. Just as a school teacher is required to teach what is on the curriculum and just as a farmer has to feed his livestock with the things that will best keep them healthy and fit for market so it is necessary for me as a preacher to give you only what is found in the Word of God.
Now for this reason of special interest to preachers are three little letters by Paul towards the end of the New Testament often called the Pastoral Letters. All three are written to young Christian ministers - two to Timothy and one to Titus. Some men I know try and read the letters every month – perhaps that's something I should do.
Timothy carried on the work that Paul had begun in Ephesus. We know of Paul's founding of the church there from Acts. Titus carried on the work he had begun on the island of Crete, a story not related in the New Testament. Paul it seems visited the island at some point, planted churches there then left Titus to straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town.
Now this morning I want us to look at Titus 3. The whole book is designed to help Titus lead the people in holy living. Chapter 1 deals chiefly with appointing elders and opposing error. Chapter 2 is about what to teach the various groups in the church. Chapter 3 begins with what to teach the people about relationships with outsiders.
Previously Titus has been told to rebuke sharply where necessary, to teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. He's been told what he should teach and to encourage and rebuke with all authority. Now at the end of the letter he is told to Remind the people of certain things. What Titus is told to do, I must do too, if I'm going to be a minister of the new covenant. Part of my job is to remind you of certain things. So let's look first at
1. Important things God wants me to remind you of regarding your conduct towards outsiders
In 3:1, 2 we have a series of things Titus is to urge on the people. The first three are to do with our attitudes to those in authority, the others are more general and cover our attitude to all people. So I say
1. Remember to have the right attitude to people in authority
First, I must remind you to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient and to be ready to do whatever is good. The gospel is a radical message. It is revolutionary and is bound to have a powerful impact on a community or on a society when it is believed by many people. There is a danger, therefore, that when a person is set free by this powerful new force that he will assume he can ignore the powers that be and do his own thing. The people of Crete were ruled like many others at this time by the Romans. Now that the gospel had come to some of them they could easily assume that as God had set them free in Christ they ought to be free politically too.
Someone was telling me recently of a man who'd begun to attend his church and hadn't paid his car tax – because he was under God's law not man's! The police eventually caught up with him and they didn't take that view! That is not the New Testament approach. Paul sees this sort of danger and urges Titus to remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities. He had written similarly to the Romans saying Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities. This is because The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted. Peter calls for a similar attitude. Writing to Timothy Paul urges prayer for those in authority. Perhaps the fact that he urges prayer there and obedience here suggests the need for more basic teaching in Crete. It all goes back to Jesus's principle Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.
Let's be clear about this then. We must all be submissive to those in authority – to magistrates and policemen and council officials and teachers and traffic wardens. We must obey them as far as that is in accord with God's law. So when the government wrote to us this year and said that by law we must put up a notice in the church saying that smoking is not allowed on our premises we did it. (Not that anyone has been smoking here anyway). We must all have the same attitude – pay your taxes, your TV licence, parking fines, etc, don't drop litter, obey the fire and building regulations - even when it seems unjust, perhaps.
More than that - be ready to do whatever is good. Christians should be model citizens, not only obeying the laws and bye-laws but being eager to do whatever is good. Be co-operative with the authorities, help them where you can; exercise your right to vote; do what you can to make this a better community, a better society. Is there something more we should be doing?
2. Remember to have the right attitude to people in general
In verse 2 Paul broadens things out to say that there must be a right attitude toward all men. Titus must urge people, negatively, to slander no one and to be peaceable or to be non-fighters. We must be very careful what we say about others and not dishonour them by saying things that are either untrue or merely intended to drag them down. In every situation we must be trying to do what will avoid needless quarrels and fights.
Positively, Titus is to urge them to be considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. We must always be thinking of others and what we can do for them. Gentleness and meekness not harshness and aggressiveness should characterise us. So if we feel the need to complain about something then we should do it in a courteous way. If we can deal with something quietly then we should. I have told you the story of the great Welsh preacher John Elias being on a ferry and the ferryman swearing profusely. People were surprised that the preacher said nothing to the man but at the end of the journey he had a quiet word with him about swearing especially in front of women and children. Apparently the man never swore again. One of the Proverbs (25:15) says that a gentle tongue can break a bone.
So there we are - be subject to rulers and authorities and show true humility toward all men. But that's only half a sermon. I could say those things in a synagogue or mosque and they'd probably say 'Amen'. There's more to it than that.
2. Why unbelievers cannot simply be urged to do such things
The truth is that by nature none of us will act in this way to the extent that we should. No, by nature we are not like that. By nature we are foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. Rather than doing good to all we are always in danger of living in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. This is how the people Titus is dealing with had once been and it is how we all are by nature to a greater or lesser extent. So for me to simply say 'These are God's instructions, go do them' would be like telling a blind man to open his eyes and look where he was going or like telling a paraplegic to get up out of his wheelchair and to start walking. Someone on the radio yesterday was moaning about a politician who is doing a new TV series where she just basically tells people that they shouldn't be doing what they do. She says to prostitutes or benefit cheats, so it was said, that what they're doing is wrong and they ought to change. The complaint was that she was giving the impression that it was simply matter of changing their minds. Surely there is more to it than that, it was suggested. That is certainly the case when it comes to doing good.
So Paul says (3) At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. We were once no different to the wicked people all around us. We were lacking heavenly wisdom, unwilling and unable to obey. We could not see the truth and were slaves to our passions. We lived in malice and envy. We hated others and they hated us. This is what it is like to be an unbeliever. Oh I know people don't think that and they often paint it in pretty colours to try and hide the truth but if you are here this morning and you've not been converted that is your true position. You are a fool, a deluded fool. You're a slave to sinful desire and so you cannot live in the way I am describing. You are too full of malice and envy and hatred to even begin properly to be the peaceable, considerate and humble person you ought to be. I know people vary and some may appear to come towards it to some extent but in truth it is a mirage. No-one can live in that way unless God changes them.
And so I say to you - if you are a believer, you are no longer in foolishness and delusion, in malice and envy so don't go there again. Live as you ought to live.
And if you're not a believer I urge you to see your true state and to call out to God to change you because it is only believers who can live the right way.
3. What has happened to believers that makes them capable of doing such things
We need to understand the change that comes about to enable this holy living then. Paul explains it by using the trustworthy saying we find in 4-7. This is one of a number of sayings that went round in the early church and that Paul quotes at various points in these letters (see the others in 1 Tim 1:15, 3:1, 4:9; 2 Tim 2:11). It speaks about the great change that has come about in the lives of these Cretan believers and that is absolutely necessary for us if we are ever going to be the people we ought to be. We can best get at what is said by asking four questions using out old friends when? what? why? and how?
1. When?
Paul begins But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, .... The Cretans, like us all, were all once foolish, disobedient, deceived ... enslaved ... living in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But then the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared. By this phrase Paul is referring first to the coming of Jesus Christ into this world to save sinners by his perfect life and his atoning death and then the subsequent pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and then to the way that kindness and love appeared in the lives of these individuals as they came to see God as their Saviour themselves.
It is not until we ourselves have known the kindness and love of God as our Saviour that we can ever hope to be truly loving and kind to others. Has it appeared to you? Do you understand what Jesus Christ has done ? Has the Holy Spirit revealed the truth to you? If so, then live as you ought to live in Christ.
2. What?
It was by this means then that (5) he saved us – saved us from death and hell and Satan, yes, but saved us from ourselves and from our sins too. When you become a Christian it is the end of foolishness and disobedience. It is the end of being deceived and of being a slave to all kinds of passions and pleasures. It is the end of malice and envy, of being hated and hating one another. Are you saved? Have you been delivered? Has God's helicopter rescued you? Has it winched you to safety?
3. Why?
But how are we saved or what is the reason for it? Why? This is important. Paul puts it negatively and positively.
Negatively, it is Not because of righteous things we had done. Many people think that the way to be saved is by trying to do good things – like being subject to rulers and authorities, obeying them and being ready to do whatever is good. They think it is a matter of trying to avoid slandering people and being considerate and humble. But by nature we cannot do those things as much and as well as we ought to. That is not how God saves.
No he saved us, says Paul, because of his mercy. It is not anything in us that merits salvation but only God's mercy. That is why I urge you to look to God and find mercy in him. We deserve nothing by nature but he is full love and kindness, grace and mercy - the sort of love he wants us to show to others in him.
4. How?
Here we come to the detail. The NIV translates it like this - He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. The change came about then not only because of the mercy of God the Father but by the Holy Spirit and through Jesus Christ our Saviour. All three persons of the Trinity are involved when a person is saved. In particular God saves through what Paul calls here
1. The washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit
We need to be cleansed and renewed and that change can only come about when the Holy Spirit is generously poured out on us. There is need for a rebirth, being born again so that everything is made new. We are dirty and we need a bath, we are old and worn out and we need renewal.
Have you been washed clean through rebirth and renewed by the Spirit? It is only when we have known that that we can begin to live as we should. Some of you, perhaps, feel you want to do right but realise that you cannot truly without this.
2. This washing and renewal is accompanied by being justified by God's grace, so that we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life
A believer is made right in God's eyes. Legally he is no longer in his sins but is declared righteous before God. He also becomes a son of God, a joint-heir with Christ himself. The hope of eternal life is his.
Again,do you know that? Have you trusted in Christ so that you are right with God, so that there is no condemnation? Are you an heir of God with the hope of eternal life? Look to Jesus Christ and it can be yours. If it is so already then live in the light of that wonderful change.
4. The importance of my stressing such things to you
After the faithful saying we read And I want you to stress these things, 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. Paul wants Titus to stress or emphasises not just Christian duty but the grace of God too. You see the order – not 'that those who are careful to devote themselves to doing what is good may trust in God' but that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.
An article appeared in the Daily Express yesterday by TV presenter Richard Madeley. It was in response to the growing problems we have with binge drinking and similar things in this country. To his own surprise (and mine) Madeley was saying that the only answer is Christianity. He does not profess to be Christian himself and probably does not fully understand what is involved. However, he can see that raising the age for drinking alcohol or something of that sort is not going to have an impact. We need to get back to a time when Christianity was more widespread in this country and Christian values were at least appreciated and respected. At least one person then is at least beginning to see what is needed.
Do you see it too? I ask you, have you trusted in God?
If not, then I urge you to trust in him today. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. This is something excellent and profitable for everyone.
If you have trusted in him then I urge you not to sit back and think there is nothing more to do but to live in an appropriate way – devote yourself to doing good. Leave behind foolishness and envy and hatred and live a life of doing good in gentleness and meekness before God and men.

Opposition: how to face it in Christ

Text: Psalm 3 Time: 05 and 12/08/07 Place: Bethany Evangelical Clarbeston Rd, Pembrokeshire and Childs Hill Baptist
I want us to look today at a psalm, at Psalm 3. The first two psalms, like many others, don’t tell us anything either about who they were written by or when they were written, although we know from the New Testament that Psalm 2 was written by David and there is every reason to suppose that is true of Psalm 1 too. (Indeed nearly all the psalms in Book One (1-41) are definitely by David.)
When we come to Psalm 3 things are different because we are told there both who wrote it and what the circumstances were.
Who wrote it then? The psalm is a psalm of David the King of Israel.
Like just 13 other psalms it also tells us when he wrote it - when he fled from his son Absalom. You may remember how after he had been king for many years David’s son Absalom plotted very carefully and craftily to take the throne by winning over a number of key men, former allies of David. He was able to bring about a coup d’etat that put him on the throne and forced David to flee from Jerusalem like a fugitive. (See 2 Sam 15)
In the end, by the grace of God, David was able to regain control and Absalom was put to death. At first, however, things looked very bleak indeed for David. It was at this time, we learn, that David wrote Psalm 3.
Now when we read about David we should remember that he was the Lord’s choice as king. He was the Lord’s anointed. The Lord had made him king over his people. So when we read about David it points us forward to the coming greater son of David, the King of kings – Jesus of Nazareth. And so when we look at this psalm that should be in the back of our minds and inform all our thinking.
I want to say 4 things arising from the psalm.
1. Consider the problems that Christ and his people face
The psalm begins with a complaint. David complains to the LORD because of all his foes. 1 O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! It was not only his son Absalom who had turned against David but men like Shimei and Ahithophel as well. You can read more in 2 Samuel 15. To make his problems worse he is aware that (2) Many are saying about him, God will not deliver him. Selah (We don’t know what selah means. Perhaps it’s something to do with the way the psalms were sung). So it was a little bit like people watching a football match. Say, European football – first round. Some little Welsh team against Real Madrid or Benfica or someone. (Carmarthen v SK Brann). ‘They don’t stand a chance’ people say. Or it’s like people watching a fight. ‘Not much hope for the little fella’ they say.
Now none of us is facing the exact circumstances David was facing but if we are Christians we can certainly identify with him. If we are Christians, then because we are devoted to the Messiah, we are surrounded by enemies too.
We are opposed by the Devil and by all his evil cohorts
We are opposed by the world on every side. In the media, in education, in the politic world, often in our places of work and even at home sometimes we find ourselves under attack.
The attack comes not only from without but also from within as our own sinful desires, the flesh, wars against us at times so that we do not do what we want to do and we do what we hate
O LORD, how many are my foes! we say How many rise up against me! Onlookers often predict the demise of the church or of Christianity. ‘It can’t last’ they say. ‘Look at the empty chapels’. ‘Look how few they get on a Sunday night these days. Don’t even have an evening service some of them.’ And we are conscious of their criticisms.
So here is a psalm written many hundreds of years ago in a particular crisis but somehow what David says is bang up to date. He is describing exactly the situation some of us feel we are in – let down, up against it, surrounded, outnumbered, overwhelmed. People think there’s not much hope for us either. ‘God’s not going to do anything in that chapel’ they say. He’s not going to do much with that man, that woman, that boy or girl. He won’t deliver them.
2. Understand the answer to such problems
Now here is the really interesting thing. Having started on such a low note we do not perhaps expect what comes next. It’s like a piece of music with a sudden change of tempo or volume. Suddenly he shoots up another octave, as it were. One moment he is down here somewhere and then, like a supersonic rocket he launches suddenly into outer space. 3 But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. Now, of course, the hint is there from the beginning because this psalm does not begin "How many are my foes! How many rise up against me! does it?" How does it begin? It begins O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Right from the start he is looking in the right direction. Here then is the answer to such problems. It is a little like a ladder or a rising staircase or a series of three paintings on a wall, as he considers what the LORD is to him despite all the opposition. He uses three pictures.
1. The LORD is a shield around him
First picture - Here is a soldier under attack. He is surrounded on all sides. It looks dangerous. But he has a shield, a large shield – the shield is around him. With the shield he is able to quench the fiery darts directed at him. That is how the LORD acts in the first instance. Despite the onslaught, he protects his servant. He shields him from danger. He makes sure that he is safe.
He protects his anointed one and that’s what he’ll do for you too, if you put your trust in him. There is no promise that there will not be enemies or that their number will be limited to a fixed figure. But we can know the help the psalmist knew as he trusted in the Lord – having him as a shield round about us, a guardian and a protector. Are you looking to the Lord for protection, despite your many foes and all that is against you?
2. He is one who bestows glory on him
The writer goes on to say you bestow glory on me
Second picture – Not only does this soldier have a sword but … and this may seem unimportant … he is wearing a uniform – a uniform that shines if you like, a suit of armour. He is wearing his master’s uniform. He is hand picked. He has been chosen to fight for his master. Yes, it is an invidious thing to be attacked by enemies, a matter in some ways of potential shame and disgrace but the psalmist does not fear shame. No, quite the opposite – the LORD bestows glory on him; honour, fame, glory. Here is the little team or the little man again up against it – a stronger team, a stronger opponent it seems – yet far from being shamed they are able to hold their own and more and so they gain great honour and glory.
That’s how it is when the believer faces many foes. He is serving the LORD and the LORD so works it that in the end it is for his glory and praise, a glory and praise that reflects on them. He turns the tables and far from losing out or suffering long term his servants are honoured and receive praise. Again, here is an encouragement to stick it out, to press on. It will be for Christ’s glory and your honour in the end.
3. He is the one who lifts up the psalmist’s head
The third picture - the lifting of his head. I remember when I used to play rugby in school and sometimes we would face stiff opposition and maybe they would score a try or two against us and it was easy in such a situation to get discouraged. But then the captain would say ‘Come on, lads, turn and face. Keep your heads up.’ It’s easy for your head to droop when things are not going well, when things are against you. One of the things that the Lord doe at such times, when our heads hang is to lift them up. He does it in various ways. For example
He uses preachers. That’s part of my job as a preacher - to try and encourage you who believe not to give up. To keep going.
He uses others. We all have a duty to encourage one another. Some are better than others, however. A great New Testament example is Barnabas. His real name was Joseph but they used to call him Barnabas (Son of encouragement) because he was such an encourager. He always had just the right word to say. It was as if encouragement itself had come down in the person of an individual when you met that great man. We ought to try and be like him.
Sometimes God has his own ways of encouraging us by his various providences. You know that hymn by William Cowper –
Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises with healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.
3. Know what to do therefore
So we need to think about this then. Yes, we may find ourselves surrounded by many foes at times. It can threaten to overwhelm us. We would be foolish to think the Christian life is going to be easy. Nevertheless, this should not lead us to despair because the LORD is not unaware of our plight – He is not like some bad mother who doesn’t see her child’s need. He’s not like a parent who has been distracted by something else. He sees the need and he has his ways of dealing with it – he is like a protecting shield around us; he is able to deliver from shame and get glory for his name and so he can lift up our heads high, even when we feel they are hanging down in shame and discouragement. Now as we keep these two things in mind we need to do the sort of thing that we see the psalmist doing here.
1. See the power of prayer
I know that the phrase ‘I believe in the power of prayer’ can be abused. Different people mean different things by it. Nevertheless, it can have a good sense and I think it is something that David would have been happy to say. Listen to his testimony here in 4 To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill. Selah. When he sees that he is surrounded by enemies David does not despair but remembers the Lord’s power to be a shield, to bring him glory again and to lift up his head that was hanging so low at this point. David had decided not to take the ark of God with him into exile and so he was not able to go to the holy hill of Zion where the ark was at this point but he could still pray as he had many times in the past. He cried to the Lord and the Lord answered and that was how he expected it to be in the future. ‘This is how it is’ he says ‘I cry aloud and God answers’. In a similar way, we can be sure that our prayers to Christ in the heavens will be heard as they have been heard in the past. This is how it is for us who believe too. We simply cry out and the Lord sends answer.
So do you believe in prayer? Do you believe it can make a difference? David did and so did many others in the Bible and beyond. We ought to believe it.
2. Recognise the goodness of God
David also recognised how good God was to him. 5 I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. It is because of this line that Psalm 3 is often thought of as a morning hymn. Having fled from Jerusalem and found shelter in the desert, David lay down and slept not knowing quite what the morning might bring. Yet he had not only lain down but he’d had a good night’s sleep too. How? David was in no doubt about it – because the LORD sustains me. For David a good night’s rest was not a matter of not eating cheese or having a cocoa or a whisky last thing or a couple of mogadon, though he might have used such things if he could. No, he slept because he knew the Lord was sustaining him and that’s the reason he woke again too.
Have you seen that? That sleeping and waking are all part of God’s providence. He gives sleep as he chooses and those who wake in the morning (and every morning there are some that do not wake I guess – most people die in their beds) wake because he chooses. We must see that without him we can do nothing.
3. Be done with worry
In light of these facts then David says (6) I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side. ‘It could be worse than this’ says David ‘and it wouldn’t bother me’. Why should I be afraid? Why should I worry? And that should be our attitude too. Remember Jesus’s arguments in Matthew 6:25-34 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
We need this sort of attitude don’t we? Fear can paralyse. Worry can wear you down. We need the spirit of Luther in that great hymn of his – A mighty fortress is our God.
In 1720 there was a remarkable revival in a town in Moravia (Czech Republic). The Jesuits strongly opposed it and meetings were prohibited. Those who still assembled were arrested and imprisoned in stables and cellars. At the house of a man called David Nitschmann, where 150 had gathered the authorities broke in and seized books. Undismayed, the congregation struck up a stanza from Luther’s hymn before 20 heads of families taken to jail. They included Nitschmann himself, who was treated very badly. He eventually escaped to join the Moravians at Herrnhut, serving later as a bishop in America. The verse they sang included these words
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That must be our spirit. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side. Let them laugh at me. Let them mock. Let them send me to prison if they will.
4. Pray for deliverance
Then in 7 we have the prayer itself. It’s not enough just to believe in prayer we must pray. You hear of celebrities advertising certain products who privately don’t even use them. David is not like that. He believes in prayer and so he prays.
Are we the same? David prays 7 Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. David was a shepherd, of course, and he remembered fending of attacks by lions and bears and wolves. There were no guns then. He would smash the wild animal with his rod in the face. He would break their teeth. And so here he prays for the same sort of thing to happen to those who are so strongly opposing him. He was the rightful king and so he could pray like that. We know that the rightful king is Jesus and so when we pray in his name we can pray with the same sort of confidence that God would defeat them.
4. Remember this summarising conclusion and prayer
In verse 8 David brings the psalm do a beautiful conclusion with a summarising conclusion and a summarising prayer.
1. Summarising conclusion
8 From the LORD comes deliverance. It’s like Jonah 2:9 Salvation is of the LORD. Don’t look anywhere else, even for a moment. Look only to Jesus Christ. He is the only one who can deliver from trouble. Do you see that?
2. Summarising prayer
May your blessing be on your people. Selah. In all this David’s concern has not been for himself as such but for the people of God. Again here he teaches us something about Christ. If we belong to Christ this should be our prayer too. Despite the opposition, despite the seeming disasters we hear of from time to time, pray that God will bless his people nevertheless.