The Blessed Hope and the Marshmallow Test

Walter Mischel was a psychologist working with children on the campus of Stamford University in the 1960’s. In one experiement, he told the children in the pre-school  that they could have a single treat, such as a marshmallow, right now. However, if they would wait while the experimenter ran an errand, they could have two marshmallows. Some pre-schoolers grabbed the marshmallow immediately, but others were able to wait what, for them, must have seemed an endless 20 minutes. To sustain themselves in their struggle, they covered their eyes so they wouldn’t see the temptation, rested their heads on their arms, talked to themselves, sang, even tried to sleep. These plucky kids got the two-marshmallow reward. The interesting part of this experiment came in the follow-up. The children who as 4-year-olds had been able to wait for the two marshmallows were, as adolescents, still able to delay gratification in pursuing their goals. They were more socially competent and self-assertive, and better able to cope with life’s frustrations. In contrast, the children who grabbed the one marshmallow were, as adolescents, more likely to be stubborn, indecisive, and stressed.  Nature or nurture? It really doesn’t matter. Walter Mischel forgot to factor in one further dimension – the supernatural one. God can and does transform us supernaturally. That was one reason the Apostle Paul wrote this short letter to Titus.

 

Introduction

Titus was a Greek Christian and young pastor Paul entrusted to oversee the churches in Crete. Crete was notorious in ancient times for immorality, quarrelling, and laziness. Paul had probably planted these churches, and he was concerned about identifying leaders who were honourable representatives for Christ.[1]

“This letter brings out something of what we might call the civilizing function of Christianity. Titus was clearly in charge of a very young church in a very unpromising situation… He is to function in a community of which one of their own people said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (1:12), a testimony with which Paul agrees.

In that situation it would seem that neither Paul nor Titus had a moment’s hesitation about establishing the church… The gospel is for the most unpromising of people. This is seen also in the instructions to those who have been converted. The older women are not to be addicted to wine (Titus 2:3), the younger are to love their husbands and children (2:4), slaves are not to steal from their masters (2:10), people are to respect authority and do what is good and not to engage in slander (3:1-2). All this is surprising in directions to a group of Christians. It shows both that these Cretans were unpromising material but that because of the grace of God, Paul expected them nevertheless to produce qualities of Christian character.

Tonight we come to a subject at the core of the Christian faith, namely the two comings of the Lord Jesus. They are called here his two ‘epiphanies’ or appearings. Epiphany means the visible appearance of something or someone previously invisible or concealed. It was used in classical Greek of the dawn or daybreak, when the sun rises over the horizon. The New Testament uses the word 4x of Christ’s first coming and 6x of his second coming.

Here uniquely in Titus 2 the word is used of both. Verse 11 says that the grace of God … has appeared (epephanē), and verse 13 says that we wait for … the glorious appearing (epiphaneian). What has already appeared is the grace of God that brings salvation (11), while what we are waiting for is the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour (13). We therefore live now between the epiphany of grace and epiphany of glory.

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.” (Titus 2:11-15)

I’ve broken this passage into three:

1. The Epiphany of Grace to Redeem (Titus 2:11)
2. The Enthusiasm for Godliness to Renew (Titus 2:12)
3. The Epiphany of Glory to Reward (Titus 2:13-14)

1. The Epiphany of Grace to Redeem

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.” (Titus 2:11)

Now God has always been gracious, indeed he is ‘the God of all grace’ (1 Peter 5:10). But grace appeared visibly in Jesus Christ. God’s saving grace, ‘has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour’ (2 Timothy 1:9-10). This salvation could not be discerned or discovered because the world was in darkness to sin and death. But it was predicted by the Hebrew prophets, made visible in his lowly birth, revealed in his gracious words, clear in his compassionate deeds, and above all convincing in his atoning death. He was himself ‘full of grace’ (John 1:14).  His coming was literally an epiphany of saving grace, of grace ‘that brings salvation’. It appeared to all people, in the sense that it is publicly offered to all, even slaves (Titus 2:10). There is a universal need, and God provided a universal remedy for all who believe. The epiphany of grace to redeem.

2. The Enthusiasm for Godliness to Renew

“It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:12)

Paul now personifies this grace of God. Grace our Saviour becomes grace our teacher. “It teaches us” could be translated “it disciplines us”. ‘Grace not only saves, but undertakes our training.’ So when we trust in the grace that redeems we are enrolled in the school of grace.  ‘Grace bases all her teaching upon the great facts in which her first grand revelation of herself was made, and finds all her teaching power in those mighty memories.’ What then does grace teach? Two main lessons. First, and negatively, it teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions (12a). Secondly, and positively, it teaches us … to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (12b). Thus grace disciplines us to ‘renounce’ our old life and to live a new one, to turn from ungodliness to godliness, from self-centredness to self-control, from the world’s devious ways to fair dealing with each other.

This verse is quoted in the Prayer Book ‘General Confession’, in which we pray that in future we may ‘live a godly, righteous and sober [that is, disciplined] life’. This is why the epiphany of God’s grace in Jesus Christ took place. It is not only that grace makes good works possible (enabling us to do them), but that grace makes them necessary (challenging us to live accordingly). The emphasis is on the necessity, not the mere possibility, of good works. John Piper says that “godliness…means a love for the things of God and a walk in the ways of God.” Therefore, ungodliness is a lack of love or lack of desire for the things of God. The epiphany of grace to redeem. The enthusiasm for godliness to renew.

3. The Epiphany of Glory to Reward

“while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:13-14)

The Lord Jesus who appeared only briefly on this earth and disappeared back into heaven, will one day reappear. He appeared in grace; he will reappear in glory.

In fact, this future epiphany of glory is the supreme object of our Christian hope, that is, the hope which brings blessing or reward. How does Paul define it? He calls it the glorious appearing of (literally, ‘the epiphany of the glory of’) our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We have here one of the most emphatic and explicit designations of the Lord Jesus Christ as both God and saviour. John Stott gives five reasons why this is the most likely reading of the sentence.

1. There is no definite article before the noun ‘Saviour’. In Greek, ‘nouns linked together by one article designate the same subject’.

2. The majority of the ancient Greek fathers understood the phrase in this way, and they knew their Greek.

3. All ten New Testament references to the two epiphanies are to Christ; nowhere is there any reference to an epiphany of ‘God’.

4. The context most naturally requires the reference to be to Christ, since it goes on at once from his glory to his sufferings and death.

5. The expression ‘God and Saviour’ was ‘a stereotyped formula common in first-century religious terminology’, normally referring to a single deity, and sometimes to the Roman Emperor.

Bishop Ellicott writes that it is difficult to resist the conviction that ‘our blessed Lord is here said to be our megas Theos [“great God”], and that this text is a direct, definite, and even studied declaration of the divinity of the Eternal Son’. At his first coming those who believed could say ‘we have seen his glory’, for he ‘revealed his glory’ in his signs (John 1:14, 2:11). Nevertheless, his glory was veiled to most people, and many did not perceive it, or even suspect it. But one day the veil will be lifted, his glory will make an epiphany, and ‘we shall [all] see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2).

Paul deliberately chooses Old Testament words and images from the beginnings of Israel as a nation, to portray Christ’s salvation as the fulfilment of these foreshadowings. Thus ‘gave himself for us’  recalls the Passover sacrifice; ‘to redeem us’ the exodus redemption from Egyptian bondage; and ‘a people that are his very own’ the Sinaitic covenant by which Israel became Yahweh’s ‘treasured possession’. Controversially, Paul uses the expression laos periousios (‘chosen people’) used repeatedly in the Old Testament for Israel (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; 1 Peter 2:9).

We enjoy a direct continuity with the Old Testament people of God, for we are his redeemed people and he is our Passover, our exodus and our Sinai. This special people of God, whom Christ died to purchase for himself, is described as eager to do what is good, literally ‘enthusiastic for good works’. This is not fanaticism. But it is enthusiasm, since ‘grace trains us … to be enthusiasts’, so that we may live for him who died for us.

In this short paragraph of only four verses (11–14) the Apostle brings together the two termini of the Christian era, that is, the first coming of Christ which inaugurated it and the second coming of Christ which will terminate it. He bids us look back to the one and on to the other. For we live ‘in between times’, between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’.  In Jesus Christ there has been an epiphany of grace, and there is going to be an epiphany of his glory. That is, the best way to live now, in this present age, is to learn to do spiritually what is impossible physically, namely to look in opposite directions at the same time. We need to look back and remember the epiphany of grace (to redeem us from all evil and to purify for God a people of his own),

and we need to look forward and anticipate the epiphany of glory (whose purpose will be to perfect at his second coming the salvation he began at his first). This deliberate orientation of looking back and looking forward, this determination to live in the light of Christ’s two comings – this should be our daily discipline. We need to say to ourselves regularly the great acclamation, ‘Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.’ For then our present purpose will be inspired by the past and future epiphanies of Christ. The two comings of Christ are like ‘two windows … in the School of Grace’. Through the western window a solemn light streams from Mt. Calvary. Through the eastern window shines the light of the sun rising, the herald of a brighter day. ‘Thus the School of Grace is well light; but we cannot afford to do without the light from either West or East.’

1. The Epiphany of Grace to Redeem (Titus 2:11) – We have been saved from the penalty of sin.
2. The Enthusiasm for Godliness to Renew (Titus 2:12) – We are being saved from the power of sin.
3. The Epiphany of Glory to Reward (Titus 2:13-14) – We will be saved from the presence of sin. Lets pray.

 

With grateful thanks to a number of commentators, especially, John Stott, Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (InterVarsity Press); Warren Wiersbe, Be Faithful (Scripture Press)

Share Button