THE CHURCH’S CALL TO EXCELLENCE, Part 1

Cretan achaeology

Titus 1:1—4

In recent years, Titus has been a remarkably abused letter.  Liberalism, with its emphasis on a social gospel, has emphasized chapter 3 at the expense of the first two chapters.  Chapter 3 is a wonderful chapter dealing with good works, but when good works are divorced from sound doctrine, the church is headed for trouble.  Imbalance of any kind always proves disastrous to the church.  Paul’s letter to Titus is chock full of good counsel concerning the “ideal church.”  We will learn that the “ideal church” has three things going for it:

  • An “ideal church” is an orderly organization;
  • An “ideal church” is sound in doctrine;
  • An “ideal church” is pure in conduct, ready to do good work.

The key verse in Titus is this one—

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.  (Titus 1:5)

Paul had left Titus behind on the island of Crete, in Greece, and the young pastor was to set the church in order, and that was the purpose of Paul’s brief letter.   Paul outlines his three points in three chapters:

Chapter One:  the church is called to be an orderly church.  Paul had previously admonished the Corinthians—

But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.  (1 Corinthians 14:40)

This was a very big deal to Paul.  A church should never be run by one family or a couple of elders or deacons only.  Such a church, and there are many of them today, cannot be said to be operating by God’s divinely appointed order.

Chapter Two:  the church is called to teach and preach sound doctrine.  Today the emphasis seems to be on building the church and building buildings, but not on the exposition of God’s Word.  A church built on anything other than sound doctrine is a church built on a foundation of sand.  It is far more important for church leaders to build the lives of people rather than adding numbers to the congregation.  That is the Lord’s job, anyway.

Chapter Three:  the church should be engaged in good work.  Visiting shut-ins, for example, is a good work that churches should be engaged in.  Praying for the sick, making sure members have heat and food for the winter are good works worthy of church’s resources.

This is kind of advice Paul gives Titus in his letter, and this is the direction our series will take.

1.  Background matters

As you read Paul’s letter to Titus, you will notice that it bears a remarkable resemblance to the letters written to Timothy.  There is good reason for this; both men, Titus and Timothy, were young pastors to whom Paul, the “senior pastor,” wrote giving advice.  Intertwined with pastoral concerns is some personal advice for the young pastor that, if followed, would strengthen him in his calling.

In terms of its chronology, most Bible scholars place Titus in between 1 and 2 Timothy.  It is possible that Paul wrote to Titus before he wrote any letter to Timothy, but we know for sure that Paul was a free man when he wrote it.

It seems that Paul and Titus had worked together for a time on the island of Crete, establishing a church there.  Curiously, this work on Crete is not mentioned anywhere in the book of Acts, which probably means that there were many other adventures Paul had that were not recorded in Acts.  Acts is a summary, not an exhaustive history, of the early church.  Paul did not think very much of the Cretan, and so he left young Titus in charge of putting the new church in order.  This letter was written sometime between 64 and 67 AD.

We know very little of either Titus or Timothy.  Given the brevity of this letter, it is likely that Titus was spiritually more mature than Timothy, although both men were loved and respected by the elder Paul.  Timothy, you will recall, was Jew who was circumcised at Paul’s insistence prior to accompanying him on one of his missionary journeys.  But in Galatians 2:1—3, we read that Paul took Titus with him to Jerusalem, but because he was a Gentile, Paul would not allow him to be circumcised.   Here we see an excellent example of Paul’s most basic theology—

To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  (1 Corinthians 9:22)

Without compromising his faith, Paul would do whatever was expedient to preach the Word to as many people as he could.

2.  The writer:  Paul, 1:1—3

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness—a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.

The opening sentence is one of Paul’s typical run-ons.  Paul characterizes himself as a doulos of God.  The word really means “bond slave” of God.   This is the only time he refers to himself in that way; his usual ascription is a “servant of Jesus Christ.”   The word doulos implies ownership by someone else; here Paul uses the word to describe his relationship to God:  he is owned by God and is therefore obedient to God.   What a marvelous way to describe one’s relationship with God!  A believer is literally owned by God, sought, bought, and paid for by the precious blood of Christ!

Paul also refers to himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ.”  The word means that Paul was an “envoy” or a “messenger” sent directly from Christ.  Paul was called, equipped and sent forth from Jesus Christ with Jesus Christ’s message, not his own.

The next phrase is full of meaning because it states succinctly why Jesus called, equipped and sent forth Paul—

…for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness

Paul’s apostleship is not verified by the faith of God’s elect, as some translations suggest; rather, their faith is nourished, encouraged and strengthened by the apostle’s ministry.  In other words, Paul’s whole reason for existence was to benefit other believers.  Christians are referred to here as “God’s elect,” a common designation in apostolic times.  God deliberately chose, “elected,” those to whom Paul and Titus ministered to.  “God’s elect” is just another way to describing those who responded positively to the Gospel message of salvation.

Notice also that the Christian faith is also linked to “knowledge of the truth.”  While we may respond to the call of God in faith, our faith must grow and mature, and that happens when our knowledge of the Word increases.  Hiebert observes:

Faith is a heart response to the truth of the gospel, but it must also posses the mind.  God never intended his people to remain intellectually ignorant of the truth of the gospel.

All of this, Paul says, must lead to an improvement of our conduct.  The knowledge of the Word will eventually influence our behavior.  Those who claim to be God’s children must act like their Father; we learn how God acts by studying His Word.

All that Paul has just said; his ministry, his work on behalf of God’s elect, God’s elect and their knowledge of the Word, all rests on—

…the hope of eternal life

Knowing the abundance of God’s grace and knowing what the future held for him, Paul was able to engage in his work wholeheartedly.  This hope is something all believers possess and is an effective motivator is their service to God.  Today we have the hope, but one day our hope will be realized; this hope is not some kind ethereal dream or vague aspiration based on myths, but rather this hope is grounded in God’s immutable nature:  He is absolutely trustworthy because He has never lied.

Furthermore, this eternal life is not a new idea; it was promised by God—

…promised before the beginning of time

Just as Jesus Christ is “the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), so also this promise to all believers is as ancient as time itself.  This promise is as unshakable as the perfect character of God Himself.

With verse 3, the eternal purpose and will of God is revealed—

…at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior

From all eternity God promised eternal life, but it wasn’t until “his appointed season” that He revealed it.  The first thing we notice here is the overwhelming wonder that God has chosen to reveal His plan for man through the preaching of His Word; this preaching was done by Paul and all who followed.  What a responsibility!  The magnitude of this undertaking can never be overstated.  Second, we marvel at how God is intricately involved in man’s ministry of His Word:  our opportunities to preach are “appointed seasons,” that means they are arranged by God for maximum effect.   Furthermore, there is NO substitute for the preaching of the Word; the message of God must be proclaimed in a way listeners may understand it.

Lastly, Paul recognizes his apostleship; this preaching ministry was “entrusted” to him by the command of God.  In fact, in the Greek, the order of the words is—

….entrusted to me by our Savior God.

This is Paul’s way of stressing God’s saving ministry; no matter how good the sermon may be, it is not the sermon or the preacher that saves, it is God.  Paul views his calling as a divine trust.  Glenn Gould eloquently wrote:

Let no minister of Christ ever allow himself to think meanly or disparagingly to the commission his Lord has laid upon him.

3.  The reader, 1:4

To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

Even though Titus is not mentioned in Acts as being one Paul’s assistants or converts, he is mentioned a number of times in several other Pauline epistles.  We know he was of Greek origin and we assume that he became a believer under Paul’s ministry.  He is described by Paul as his “genuine son.”  When Paul and Barnabas had to journey to Jerusalem to defend their ministry among the Gentiles in Acts 15, Paul indicates in Galatians 2:3 that a man named “Titus” accompanied them.  In 1 Corinthians, this man again is mentioned, eight times to be exact, and he is revealed to be a very trusted helper of Paul’s.  He is again mentioned in 2 Timothy in reference to his ministry in Dalmatia.   In this letter that bears his name, Titus is apparently the pastor of a church on Crete.  He was a busy young man, to be sure.

The phrase “common faith” really means “the faith we all share as believers.”  Titus came to Christ through faith in Christ, not faith in Paul.

Upon this man, Paul pronounces his typical, but profound benediction—

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior

“Grace” has been described as “God’s unmerited favor,” and rightfully so.  We, like Titus, who have been the recipients of this amazing grace, have done nothing to deserve it.  God’s grace works continually in the life of the believer because God makes it so, not because we make it happen through our pious acts.  “Peace” is the state of life that results when grace is experienced; the believer is at peace with God and at peace with himself.  This supernatural peace is not dependent on circumstances because it descends from God, it does not ascend from the earth.  As Hendriksen poetically states,

Grace is the fountain, and peace is the stream which issues from this fountain.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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