Wednesday, August 11, 2010

OnFire #230 The Difference Between Sterile And Clean

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #230 The Difference Between Sterile And Clean

A friend asked me one day about the difference between sterile and clean. He sometimes sets me up with trick questions but I always learn something neat from them, so I responded. “Aren’t they the same?”

He smiled because it was indeed a trick question, and then continued. As an engineer overseeing the maintenance of electronic equipment in a hospital corporation, he and his staff faced the difference between sterile and clean every day. A machine could go through the appropriate procedures to make it technically sterile, but sometimes it still contained a speck of blood or dirt that was missed in cleaning. In this way it would be sterile, but not clean.

That was a few years ago but I recalled the distinction this week as I drank some water. Just as the last mouthful hit my lips I spotted dirt in the bottom of my glass. I would much rather discover dirt in my glass before I drink the water than after. The sterilization procedures of our dishwasher probably neutralized it, but dirt is still dirt, sterile or not.

In Titus 2:1-10, Paul tells Titus what must be taught to various groups in the church, including older and younger men and women as well as servants. Paul’s key idea for these groups is in verse 1, that he teach them in accordance with “sound doctrine.”* And then he goes into a list of highly practical behaviours, including sobriety, self-control, love, soundness of faith, endurance, reverence, purity, kindness, goodness, integrity, respect and honesty.

We might wonder how Paul goes from doctrine to behaviour, but Paul does not separate the two. We demonstrate the soundness of our doctrine by the way that we live, and so the two are directly connected. It is not enough simply to have the right belief, to answer the Sunday school questions correctly, to pass the test of orthodoxy. This would be like my glass of water or a piece of medical equipment which has the appearance of being sterile, but is actually not clean. Christian maturity means that we demonstrate the sincerity of our belief by how we act.

Our station and situation in life make no difference in this since Paul gives instructions for the old and the young as well as for those in slavery. All of us are called to live with respect and integrity so that it is clear we may be trusted. As we do this, we “make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.” Belief must always be paired with behaviour or we make God unattractive. Think dirt in the bottom of the glass.

There is no such thing as “do as I say and not as I do,” either. Titus also has his instructions, to show integrity, seriousness and soundness in his own teaching and speech. Those of us in teaching positions have extra responsibility to set a good example. Dirt is dirt, but in leadership dirt multiplies to followers, poisoning whole households (1:11).

I hope this helps to see the goal of maturity. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published August 11, 2010. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

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