Formations 01.08.2017: The Gift of God’s Grace

Titus 2:11–3:8

Six very beautifully wrapped gifts (Wikimedia Commons, geschenkhamster).

It is a cliché of gift giving that babies and toddlers could not care less about the toys they receive on Christmas or their birthday. Instead, it’s the box that really matters. Despite the money wasted, such experiences of innocence are so valued that this scene became one subject of MasterCard’s many “Priceless” advertisements.

The commercial for a credit card will even admit, “there are some things money can’t buy.” The gift of seeing a child satisfied by cardboard apparently outweighs any gift or experience that might be monetized. Somehow, the box beats anything that might be inside.

Paul begins this section of the letter to Titus by referring to the gift of grace that has come to the world (2:11). After listing the ways that this grace teaches them to act, he acknowledges that this present of God’s grace will come completely at some time later (v. 13). Then Paul reminds Titus what they’ve left behind, a life in which they were “foolish, disobedient, deceived, and slaves to [their] desires…and [they] hated other people” (3:3-4).

Having accepted the gift, they gave up endless consumption of power, wealth, security, or whatever it was that offered the promise of freedom. Because freedom is here in God’s kindness, love, and mercy, Paul says, give up searching and accept it.

That ideal child on that MasterCard commercial does not need every toy, and those who embrace the gift of God’s grace are free to be content. It would be easy to see this life of accepting God’s grace as ultimately passive, as a life free of hardship and conflict. But, as that ad confirms, money can’t buy the joy of children playing with boxes. It also encourages us to look for “everything else” that can be bought. For in a world that constantly consumes in pursuit of fulfillment, God’s grace invites us to live differently.

This gift that Paul affirms teaches us to step away from treating people as objects for our use because God’s grace is with them. And it calls us away from endlessly consuming what the world offers, because God’s grace is in it too. In the time between the appearance the complete vision of this grace, Paul asks us to do what everyone naturally does with a gift. Unwrap it so we may see that gift more fully for ourselves and so others may see it more clearly too.

Discussion

• In what experiences, places, and people have you experienced the gift of God’s grace?
• How do you pursue the grace, freedom, and joy given by God? What pursuits have been successful? Which ones have left you empty?
• In what ways does accepting and sharing God’s grace mark you as different than those around you?

Reference Shelf

Grace and Gift

“Grace” (charis) is, of course, a central theme for Paul. In its most basic sense, the Greek word (charis means “gift.” While it is used in the New Testament with a wide range and variety of meanings, “the grace of God” primarily refers to God’s unmerited favor toward humankind. This grace “has appeared.” The Greek verb used here (epiphanē) is transliterated into English as “epiphany.” It was commonly used in the Hellenistic world to speak of the appearance of the gods who intervened in human history on behalf of humankind. For example, it was often used of the appearance of Asclepius or Serapion, the god of healing. (Interestingly, the Greek word for salvation [sōtēria] can also mean “healing.”) In Acts 14:8-20, the people of Lystra mistakenly identify Paul and Silas as Zeus and Barnabas. The incident reflects a common belief that occasionally the deities came to walk among mortals. It was also used to describe the appearance of human emperors who were often seen as intervening in beneficent ways in the lives of their subjects. In fact, the emperor’s actions were often seen as an expression of or manifestation of the saving presence of the gods. For Paul, “the grace of God” has appeared, not in the person of one of the deities of the Greco-Roman pantheon, nor in the person of the emperor of Rome, but in the person of Jesus Christ “bringing salvation to all.”

W. Hulitt Gloer, 1 & 2 Timothy–Titus, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2010), 63–64.

Mercy Freely Given

In 3:5a-b, Paul associates the manifestation of God’s kindness and benevolence with God’s mercy. In 3:4, Paul captures the rich Hellenistic image of the formal arrival of an emperor or god. The manifestation of benevolence that accompanied such a solemn arrival was associated with clemency. Philo links both clemency (Moses 1.198) and mercy (Cherubim 99) with the royal and divine attribute of benevolence. Likewise, Paul here writes that we have been saved “not because of any righteous works that we had done, but according to his mercy.” “Works of righteousness” (ergōn tōn en dikaiosunē) refers to the kind of life and conduct that God requires. “We had done” is literally “we ourselves had done”; the first person verb (epoiēsomen) together with the first person plural pronoun (hēmeis) makes the statement emphatic. Paul wants this message to be clear: our salvation is the result of God’s mercy, not the righteous things we have done. At the same time, our salvation produces righteous actions (rather than us producing them by our own goodness); these are the result, not the basis, of our salvation (cf. Rom 8:1-4; Eph 2:8-10).

This activity defines “mercy” (eleos); it is not pity, but compassion and love, both of which are undeserved. As always, the initiative in salvation is God’s. This has been the case since he sought out Noah and Abraham, to initiate covenant relationships with them and make them his agents (Gen 6:8; 12:1-3). God both initiates and accomplishes the work of salvation; from beginning to end, it has been and is and ever will be a work of grace.

W. Hulitt Gloer and Perry L. Stepp, Reading Paul’s Letters to Individuals: A Literary and Theological Commentary on Paul’s Letters to Philemon, Titus, and Timothy, Reading the New Testament (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008), 116.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.

*****

For further resources, subscribe to the Formations Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson. To purchase the volume quoted in today’s Reference Shelf, please click Here.

Print Friendly