Learning to say ‘No’
Generally speaking, parents don’t like to hear their children say ‘No’. It usually indicates rebellion or at least disobedience.
Whether it is used in connection with eating their vegetables or cleaning up their room, an answer of ‘No’ can be a refusal to obey the parent.
The same is often true in the Christian life. Saying ‘No’ can be a refusal to carry out one of the Lord’s commands. Of course, we wouldn’t openly say ‘No’. Rather, we neglect to obey the Lord or our obedience is limited or resentful.
However, there are times when we need to say ‘No’ in a very clear and decisive manner. In Titus 2, Paul is telling Titus how to address different classes within the church.
Whether older men, older women, young women, young men or slaves (vv.1-10), if they live according to these exhortations, they will make the gospel attractive — ‘that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things’ (v.10).
This comment is made particularly about slaves, but it seems to be a relevant comment for anyone. Making the gospel attractive is something we should all strive for, whatever our station in life.
We should not try to make ourselves attractive, but seek to make the teaching of the Christian faith attractive in the eyes of others. How can we do that? The apostle continues with a ‘for’ — ‘for the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men’ (Titus 2:11).
These conjunctions, words that link sections together, are words we should note carefully. They help us to follow the writer’s line of thought.
Our lives will be attractive by means of the grace of God. It is not our personalities that are to make us attractive. Some are naturally attractive in their personalities, but they probably were even before they were converted.
What is important in the Christian character is what the grace of God brings to it. The grace of God first brings salvation; there will be no change of character without that. But that grace also teaches us much.
Titus 2 is a rich passage, but I want to focus on one thing in verse 12 (‘teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age’), the grace of God teaches us to say ‘No’ to certain things.
What do we say ‘No’ to? To ungodliness and worldly passions. Ungodliness is irreverence, anything that is against God and contrary to his Word. It is a broad term, but we hardly need to spend time in a word study. We generally know what is contrary to God’s will. Our problem is not in knowing what we shouldn’t do, but in avoiding doing it.
Worldly passions are those desires that are wrong and usually harmful. Whether it is anger, lust, pride, jealousy or greed, we need to avoid and mortify them. Some of these emotions, such as sexual desires, are God-given, but our sinful nature so often abuses and corrupts them.
Anger is sometimes legitimate — Jesus was occasionally angry — but if we are honest, most times we are angry, we sin. We need to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions.
How do we say ‘No’ to these things? This is a matter of self-discipline. There are some people who find it difficult to say ‘No’. Even in a good sense they will never say ‘No’.
In a church there are always more jobs to do than people willing to do them. But there are sometimes individuals who will always agree to take on a job, and usually they are taken advantage of.
Someone is needed to organise some church function. ‘Let’s ask brother Fred, he’ll probably do it’. But brother Fred is already doing several other jobs in the church and, when asked, he can’t bring himself to say ‘No’.
Some will admire him, but perhaps his family suffers because he is hardly ever home, being involved in some church activity every night of the week.
However, that unwillingness to say ‘No’ can lead to more serious consequences. Perhaps Fred’s boss at work asks him to do something that is dishonest. He is involved with the company finances and his boss asks him to hide one source of income.
He doesn’t want to do it, but he likes his boss and hates to disappoint him. Saying ‘No’ is a matter of self-discipline. A lot of people have ideals, but carrying out their ideals is not always convenient or popular.
It could be something as simple as the office lottery. It is common practice for a group of employees to spend money every week on a lottery ticket. Each person in the group contributes a portion and, should they win, the money will be divided evenly between group members.
Marjorie has always taken a strong stand against gambling, but she would be the only one in the office who didn’t participate. Perhaps she reasons, ‘It’s not a large amount and I don’t want to offend them. It might make it hard to witness to them if I don’t take part’.
Both Fred and Marjorie need to say ‘No’. Pleasing God is far more important that pleasing people.
Many have difficulty getting up in the morning. Christians know they should spend time with the Lord before heading off to work or school. That is their ideal, but how easily they give in to the desire for another half hour in bed, and, before they know it, there is no time left for their devotions.
The same is true with attending prayer meetings. Often I have said to people, ‘We haven’t seen you at the prayer meeting lately’. The usual reply is, ‘I know I should be there, but…’
There are a lot of things we know are right, but we let other things get in the way. Young people are often tempted sexually during courtship. Christians know it is wrong to have sex before marriage, but they give in rather than say, ‘No, we will not dishonour God in that way’.
The phone rings and the husband says to his wife, ‘If it’s Mr. Cartwright, tell him I’m not home’. Should we lie to get someone out of an uncomfortable situation? We must refuse to do that.
We must learn to say ‘No’ to those things. We need firmly embedded principles based on Scripture, and from which principles we will not budge, as long as it is within our power.
We see some wonderful examples in the Bible. In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were ordered to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. The alternative was to be thrown into the blazing furnace.
All sorts of arguments could have occurred to them, such as, ‘If we bow down to the image, God will know we don’t do it sincerely and we will be alive to witness to the true and living God’. But they refused.
God was able to deliver them from the furnace, but even if he didn’t they would not bow down to the king’s image (vv.16-18). That was a clear, loud ‘No’ to idolatry.
We need principles that we will stick to, whatever the cost. We will not lie, even if it incurs someone’s wrath; we will not act dishonestly, even though we may lose our job; we will not dishonour God, even though others may mock us. By his grace, we will not give in to worldly passions.
May God give us grace to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and so make our faith attractive.