Titus, Good Works, and Urgent Needs
After spending almost an entire letter focusing on “good works” in the life of the church, Paul closes Titus by saying “and let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help in cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (3:14). The sense of the word translated “urgent” is something that is necessary. It’s a situation desperate or dire enough, where something just has to be done. This is why believers should be ready for and devoted to good works—to be the ones who help for the glory of God.
South Carolina’s Urgent Foster Care Crisis
I read an article last week that said that the number of foster homes needed in South Carolina has doubled since last year: there are now 1300 children in our state who have no home because their parents cannot legally care for them and there are no more willing foster parents. This is a clear case of urgent need—can you think of a local need more urgent? 1300 children in our state in a circumstance we would weep over if any child we knew were in.
This is a rare urgent need with a simple solution. There are no moral quandaries in fostering a child like one may have in giving money to a homeless person who may or may not use it well. It’s not nearly as complicated as the other issues in the world, like poverty in India, racial tension in America, or the Syrian refugee crisis. The need is amazingly simple and uncomplicated: South Carolina needs more families and singles to be foster parents.
Additionally, relative to helping the other urgent needs of the world, the sacrifices of fostering are minimal and the resources for fostering are significant. To be a foster parent, you don’t need to leave America, give up
All of this is to say that it’s like the red carpet is rolled out for Christians in South Carolina to step up, sacrifice their neat family lives and love the practical orphans of South Carolina in the name of Jesus. There is not a single urgent need in the world so close to home and so simple to meet. It just requires willing people. According to Titus 3:14, Christians, adopted by God, full of His Spirit, equipped for every good work with communities around them willing to help, should devote themselves to this good work to help this case of urgent need.
So why aren’t Christians lining up to devote themselves to this urgent need? This may sound offensive (and two or three years ago I would have bristled if someone had said this to me) but I think many of us simply do not want to sacrifice our neat family lives, the freedom and sovereignty we have over our schedules, and our love of ease, comfort, and the known. As a result, many have embraced cop-outs against God’s call on all of us to help the afflicted and orphaned. The dictionary defines a cop-out as “an excuse for inaction or evasion”. Here are some of the most common “cop-outs” for not fostering:
First, “I love that other people are foster parents, it’s such a wonderful thing, but I personally am not called to be a foster parent”. This objection is based on the false assumption that God only calls us to do things that appeal to us and that God calls his people to obedience through emotional experiences or personal assurances that something is God’s will. That may be some people’s experience and God certainly works through our desires, but first and foremost He calls us to obedience through his Word. Taking up one’s cross certainly does not sound pleasant but it is commanded in the Gospels. The Word commands believers to care for orphans in their affliction (James 1:27) and to devote themselves to the good work of helping in cases of urgent need (Titus 3:14). So God’s Word is already objectively calling God’s people in our state to meet this urgent need.
Related to the “I’m not called” objection is the “I’m not gifted” objection. It goes something like this: “I can barely parent my own kids” or “I have no experience or giftedness with kids” or “I couldn’t handle letting a child whom I have loved go”. My first response to this is that the 1300 practical orphans of SC do not need exceptional/gifted parents or even excellent parents—they just need parents. If you can meet their basic needs and give them any kind of nurturing and consistent environment, you can radically improve their current circumstances.
Secondly, one of the great myths about fostering is that foster parents are special people: that they are these gifted people who have a knack for kids from hard places, that they miraculously handle the pain of letting a child go, and that they have more backbone for the craziness and lack of margin that fostering brings. Ask any foster parent you know—these are lies. Any “giftedness” I may have with kids has come through experience, either through training or mistakes. All the foster parents I know are extremely busy and just making it happen. Every foster parent is as sad as a normal person would be when a child they love leaves their home. But “God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having sufficiency at all times and in all ways, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Ask a Christian foster parent—they are not special, God has just given them grace for their circumstances and grace to do the good works to which He has called them—and He would do the same for you.
A third objection: “Surely you don’t think every Christian should be a foster parent? Don’t put your personal convictions and calling on me. We all have different gifts and callings.” In a sense, I absolutely agree with this statement. I surely don’t mean that every Christian should be a foster parent—because then who would adopt, who would support adoptive and foster parents, who would serve the poor, who would have time to devote themselves wholeheartedly to other wonderful ministries in the church, who would become cross-cultural missionaries? There is certainly a place to say no to one good work for the sake of another. But many
Furthermore, at some point, the urgent nature of the crisis rises to the level where, if others won’t act you must act even in spite of your lack of giftedness. Imagine you’re driving through your neighborhood on your way to a very important Christian activity and on the side of the road, a barefoot two-year-old with only a diaper on is wandering the streets. You stop your car and watch just to make sure mom or dad isn’t close. You notice that others (also on their way to other good activities they are gifted at) are just driving by ignoring the child. You’re running late. No one stops to help, the child is clearly in distress, there is no one else who will care for them. What do you do? Surely if you love Christ you disrupt your day and plans, as good as they are, and you help this case of urgent need. Many now are driving by the foster children of South Carolina in the name of other good endeavors. Someone has to stop.
Finally, the objection I have heard the most because I’m a pastor—“doesn’t fostering hinder your margin for ministry?” I have found the opposite to be true—fostering fills my life with opportunities for Gospel ministry. I am welcoming young, spiritually open unbelievers into my home and life, where I can talk about Christ on my own terms. I am now suddenly and regularly surrounded by all sorts of people, many of whom are unchurched—birth parents, case workers, etc. Suddenly, the people around me (neighbors, family members, random people at the grocery store) are questioning my life. “Why are you fostering?” and “I can’t believe you’re doing this”
So, in light of the urgent need, and the possibility that the objections you have rested upon may not be valid, consider today that God may be calling you personally to be a foster parent or to join the struggle for these children in another significant way. Especially consider that you do not need a sign from Heaven to devote yourself to a good work such as this, you only need Titus 3:14, which says “and let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help in cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful”.