Read Titus 2 and 1 Timothy 4:12-16 to start.
This morning I’d like to start with a story from long, long ago. Well, it maybe only feels like long ago, it’s from when I was in elementary school, grade five or six I believe, so something like 35 years ago. In school we were working on some sort of group project, I think we were making a poster or a sign or something like that. There were several opinions as to what was the best way to proceed, and I was quite confident that my approach was going to be the best. But one of the other children had her own opinion, which was so far as twelve year old me was concerned, entirely wrong. She said “I think we should…” and while I don’t recall the details of what she said exactly, I knew it was clearly not a very good idea, and so I snapped back “I don’t care what you think.”
Yeah, I got in trouble for that. You definitely catch some blowback for making one of your classmates cry. Even if her idea was bad, it’s not okay to respond like that, to act like that, to treat another person like their thoughts and feelings and contributions have no value. It’s not okay to despise someone.
That’s what the word despise means. It means to look down on someone else, to think little of them. Often we might use the word to mean “hate” or “detest” but that’s not accurate, and certainly not what it means in the Biblical sense as we read just now in 1 Timothy, and as we heard from Titus chapter 2 a few minutes ago. In both of those passages, Paul instructs his audience, namely Titus and Timothy, that they should not be despised. In Titus, that is a general admonition, whereas in Timothy it is specifically let no man despise thy youth. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.
It is important to remember that despise does not mean hate. Because if you follow Christ, if you stand up for Him and for His truth, sooner or later you are going to receive some incoming hate. In John chapter 15, Christ warned the disciples that the world would hate them as it hated Him. Given that all but one of them died violent deaths because of their faith and their testimony, and the one that didn’t was John, who was exiled after surviving being boiled in oil, the world clearly hated them as it hated the Lord. If you identify with Christ, and if you live, act, and speak at all as Christ did, then the world will have issue with you.
The cautions we read have nothing to do with that. The world hated Paul as well, but he did not seem particularly troubled by that. It certainly didn’t stop him from preaching the gospel far and wide. He did not advise Timothy and Titus to avoid the world’s hate. It was being despised that he cautioned them about. And by extension, all of us should also seek to not let others despise us. That means that we do need to care, at least on some level, about what other people think.
We live in a time when it’s far too easy to care far too much about what other people think. We post our thoughts, our jokes, our pictures, our pets, and our lunch, online looking for the approval and validation of everyone from our best friends to total strangers. Many people become consumed by seeking such feedback, they desire the recognition and approval, the tiny hit of dopamine that having your post liked will bring. I know that I do myself; it’s a pleasant feeling to know that someone else smiled or laughed because of what you shared. That’s hardly a valuable contribution or a worthy goal, though, is it? It’s not something we should spend much time and effort on, because the rewards are ever so fleeting, near the top of the list of things that don’t really matter, and that’s in a world filled from top to bottom with things that don’t really matter. And then there is the cult of comparison, the nagging and damaging thought that someone else is better than you, smarter than you, richer than you, prettier than you, happier than you, more spiritual than you, you name it, which of course has long existed, but social media magnifies and intensifies.
I would normally be the one to say that you shouldn’t care all that much what other people think. It’s easy to get derailed by being far too concerned about that. We must not let that become central to who we are or what we do. It’s not important in the long term. But we can’t completely ignore what others think of us, how they look at us, not if we want them to not despise us.
Why should that even matter? Why should we care about what people think of us, especially if there are certainly some who will hate us simply because of the name of Christ? Not because we got particularly in their faces with the gospel, but because of what we stand for, and the simple fact that we exist. If people will hate us, why worry if they also look down on us or think little of us?
The answer to this is found in the verses that we read from Titus 2, specifically in verse 11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men. How has God’s grace appeared to men? How is it presented to the world at large? You might say through His Word, and while yes, the scriptures certainly present the truth of the gospel in plain terms to any and all who will read it, there are only so many who will. We live in a time when the Bible is available to more people in more languages than ever before, when technology has made it possible to look up any passage of scripture in a matter of milliseconds. Places where there are no missionaries, no local church, and where governments or logistics make it challenging to get physical copies of the Bible, in those places digital access is often easily within reach. But that is not how the grace of God is displayed to mankind. No, it is shown through believers.
God’s grace is to men and women, boys and girls, young and old alike, who have been saved from sin. When a sinner turns from their sins and looks upwards, and says “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and then God does exactly that, that is grace. When those who once lived wickedly give up their sinful ways and instead live in righteousness and holiness, that is evidence of God’s grace. That is a clear and plain demonstration of the salvation that Christ offers to any and all who believe, and that is displayed before one and all. There is no requirement on the part of the audience to open a Bible and read it, there is no requirement to listen to a sermon or a verbal testimony. There is no way for anyone who knew a believer beforehand to avoid encountering this demonstration of God’s grace, no matter how unwilling they might be to listen or to admit that it is real. When God’s grace transforms a wretched, vile sinner into a follower of Christ, then that is unmistakeable. That is the appearance of the gospel, and that is a message that the most obstinate, despite their best offers, have a very hard time to avoid.
That, however, requires that those who profess the name of Christ actually live in a manner that demonstrates a changed life. This chapter in Titus presents a blueprint for how believers are to live and to behave. We have a detailed breakdown for various demographics, from older men and women, to younger folks, and specifically including those who work for someone else. We could do a detailed analysis point by point of how the different categories of people are to behave, but that’s not really my intention here this morning.
The key thing to take away from all this is that believers are to conduct themselves in a certain manner, one that is quite different from the world at large. In particular, I will mention verse 8, which talks about sound speech that cannot be condemned, particularly so that someone who is opposed to the gospel will have no evil things to say about those who profess it, or at least nothing that is true. The adversary was a liar from the beginning, and is the father of lies, so those who do his bidding will no doubt use lies of their own. We cannot control the falsehoods that the world may tell about us. But we can ensure that their evil tidings are indeed false. Truth wins out in the end.
That is why it matters if the world despises us, because if we represent Christ, if we are the gospel that the world sees, then how we are perceived has a direct correlation with how the gospel is received. The world may hate us, but if we are no different than the world at large, if there is nothing noticeable in how we live or how we speak, then the world will hardly even notice us. In that case the message we bring, if we bring one at all, will have no value. Why should someone be concerned about following God if those who claim that they do are exactly the same as everybody else, apart from the fact that they go to church on Sunday morning? If there is no difference, why put out the effort?
The pattern of conduct, of good behaviour as detailed in Titus chapter 2 is clearly different than how the world behaves. In verse 12 see it all summed up, that those who believe are to deny ungodliness and worldly desires. Our English word deny is perhaps not emphatic enough. A better word that I found when I looked up the Greek word is repudiate. It’s the same word used in all four gospels when Peter denied the Lord three times, and the same word used in Matthew chapter 10, when Christ said that whoever denied Him before men that He would deny them before the Father. It’s a strong word to be sure, a strong statement of conduct. To repudiate ungodliness and the desires of this world is not a small task. And then to live as the verse says soberly, or with a sound mind, as well as righteously, and godly, those are every bit as challenging. And if we tell the world that is how believers should act, then we’d best act like that.
If we proclaim loudly that we follow Christ, if we announce that we have a message of good news for the world, then the world will take a closer look. That is both to evaluate if what we say is true, and does it have value. But more critically, the world will look to see if we actually practice what we preach. If there is not a match, if our words do not align with our deeds, then the world will look down on us. They will call us hypocrites. They will despise us, and they will be right to do so.
We’re talking about being despised, or more accurately, about not being despised. Not being thought little of. No one wants to be considered insignificant, of course, but it is important to remember that it’s not about being proud in ourselves, quite the contrary. Pride has been the undoing of so many since before time began. It’s a topic I’ve preached about, one that runs throughout the scriptures as a constant threat and an evergreen temptation. No one is immune to the lure of pride. That’s not the concern here, though, we are not to be proud because of what we believe or how well we may have done. No, we are to consider who we represent and how important, how serious, how big He is. If we represent Christ, then if we do badly, it reflects poorly on the Saviour.
There is a children’s song you might be familiar with called “My God is So Big.” My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do. It’s a simple little Sunday School chorus, but it does remind us of the truth that God is big. His power is great, His love is vast, and the salvation He offers is beyond measure. We are His representatives on earth, we should not act like He is small and insignificant. The gift of salvation that He offers us is not small or insignificant either.
If we act like the message we bring is not important, then the world will never see it as important. But God’s message of sin, death, atonement, repentance, and salvation, that is anything but small and unimportant. It is vital, it is the most important thing that anyone can know. We need to live as though it matters, because it does matter.
Ultimately, we can’t control what other people think. But we can certainly give them something to think about. When people look at us and see that we live as the Bible commands us to live, that we obey its precepts and its laws, then they will know that we are different. When we show love to those around us, and at the same time we do not turn a blind eye to sin, nor do we wallow in sin and misery ourselves, then we will be the peculiar people that Paul speaks of in verse 14, redeemed from iniquity. The world may think us strange, and may not, in fact will not, appreciate how we stand in stark contrast to their sinful ways, but when we follow Christ, when we truly seek after Him, then the no one will have cause to despise us.
It does not matter if we are young or we are old, if we are wise or if we are otherwise, Christ calls us to follow Him, and to live as He has instructed. If you haven’t started, doing so, then the time to start is now. If you have followed and obeyed for a day, a year, five years, fifty years, no matter how long, continue to do so. That is the essence of following, you start and you continue, and you become an example to others who would likewise follow, and you become a testimony to the world that there is something, there is Someone worth following. The world may not agree, the world may hate, the world may rage and rail against us, but it cannot think little of us for following our God. It may really wish that we did not, and it may make it increasingly challenging to do so, but the world will not despise us for our faith, not if we don’t give it any cause to do so.
It is important to remember that the world is always watching and waiting to see us stumble and fall. When we do, and sooner or later, we all do make mistakes, we all do mess up. How we react when that happens, how we handle it when we stumble, and even more importantly, how we respond when a brother or a sister stumbles, that is key. When we fail, and especially when we handle it badly, then the world will have opportunity to point and say “Aha, those Christians are hypocrites, they don’t have anything worthwhile. Certainly not anything worth believing.”
Sadly, this has happened all too often. How many times have we heard stories of church leaders who have committed some gross immorality, or are guilty of financial impropriety, and their ministry has come apart, it has disintegrated like cotton candy outside on a rainy day. How easily does the world despise us for that sort of behaviour, even though the world is filled with people who are far more immoral and outright corrupt in their financial dealings. When we say that we should do better, and that everyone should do better, it sets the target on us to live up to it.
It’s not only about blatant sin, either. When we admire those who are obviously wicked, but we appreciate some of the things they say or do, maybe we like their policies even though we don’t like their morals, well, the world will despise us for that inconsistency. When we turn a blind eye to the poor and needy, to the displaced and the refugee, then the world will recognize that we have missed a key part of Christ’s message, and they will despise us for that. When we talk more loudly about our rights than we do about the good news, then the world will despise us for that. And when we remain quiet about the gospel, when we have no sense of urgency for the plight of a lost and dying world, then the world will be happy that we are quiet, but will also think even less of us, because then we don’t even matter.
I’ve talked a lot about the importance of not giving the world occasion to despise us. But it is also necessary that we do not despise one another. This is a greater problem in the church than we might recognize at first. In 1 Timothy where we read, Paul advised his younger friend to let no one despise him for his youth. It does not say within the church or without, but I imagine that it applies far more commonly within. It is so very easy to dismiss someone, to think little of them, because they are young and inexperienced. If we are not careful, we may well do exactly that, much to the discouragement of those younger believers. Do they still have much to learn? No doubt. We all have more to learn, and the younger we are, the more learning we have ahead of us. But that does not mean that the young have nothing to contribute.
We’ve had some of the young guys doing scripture readings during the opening of Sunday meetings recently, and that’s a great place to start. It’s far too easy to sit back and just listen, or maybe pretend to listen, at times we’ve all likely been guilty of that. Encouraging new people to actively participate is certainly one way to show that they are not despised.
Likewise, sometimes we may think little of those who are older, we may assume they have nothing left to offer. Or we dismiss those who have ideas that we don’t entirely agree with, or whose level of Biblical knowledge is different from ours, or who don’t do things they way we think they should be done. This applies both within the local church, as well as to other groups of believers that we may have the opportunity to cross paths with.
When we despise one another, that harms our testimony, it puts unnecessary walls between believers, and it gives the world further cause to dismiss us as irrelevant. That’s not to say that we should agree with every believer on every point, far from it, it is imperative that we do not, but how we treat one another, that is what will be noticed.
What about the world itself, and the countless people we encounter, most of whom are lost sinners? Yes, they may well be opposed to what we say and who we stand for, but we should not despise them either. We should not look down on them and think that we are better than they are because we are saved and they are not.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 6, Paul reminded the church at Corinth, which certainly had no shortage of issues, that they were not so different from the world. Reading at verse 9 of that chapter, 9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. That’s quite the laundry list of wickedness, and runs the gamut through personal perversion through property theft by way of public intoxication. It’s a wide selection of sin, capped off with the reminder “And such were some of you.” Yes, the Corinthian believers had been washed, justified, and sanctified, but their original state had been every bit as unrighteous as the world around them. And such were some of you reminds us that we are not better than the world in our origin or our birth, we were not created better, we have done nothing to earn our eternal safety or our current state.
Who remembers the game Red Rover? When I was a kid, we played it occasionally. Not often enough, in my opinion, because I enjoyed it, and I was really good at it, if I do say so myself. If you don’t remember it, or have not played it, you line up in two teams, hold hands with your teammates, and the two lines face each other and you take turns calling someone from the other team over. They have to run across and attempt to break through the line. If successful, they get to bring someone back to their team. If not, they remain on the team that stopped them. Not sure that kids play it much these days, between safety and social distancing.
What’s the difference between the two teams on Red Rover? Not much, really. One team wins and one team loses, but unless things are very evenly matched, it doesn’t take long to get most of the players converted from one team to another. Soon you’re holding hands with people that five minutes ago were your adversaries.
Our relationship with the world is a bit like that. We want to bring them over to our side, we don’t want them to pull us back over to theirs. That is a key part of what we have been called to do as believers. But if we look down on their world as being beneath us, then we will not be inclined to share the gospel with them. We will not reach out to them.
We have no right to look down someone who has not repented from their sins, simply because we have eternal life and they do not. Salvation is a vast blessing, but it’s not a thing we earned. The most vile and reprobate sinner is just as deserving of God’s love as you and me. Christ died for them as he died for us. He does not despise them, as He did not and does not despise us. Who are we to look down on those we should be trying to see saved?