Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Book of Titus: Paul writes to the young Pastor in Crete


“A television program preceding the 1988 Winter Olympics featured blind skiers being trained for slalom skiing, impossible as that sounds. Paired with sighted skiers, the blind skiers were taught on the flats how to make right and left turns. When that was mastered, they were taken to the slalom slope, where their sighted partners skied beside them shouting, "Left!" and "Right!" As they obeyed the commands, they were able to negotiate the course and cross the finish line, depending solely on the sighted skiers' word. It was either complete trust or catastrophe.

What a vivid picture of the Christian life! In this world, we are in reality blind about what course to take. We must rely solely on the Word of the only One who is truly sighted--God Himself. His Word gives us the direction we need to finish the course.”
-Robert W. Sutton

And that is what we’ll see in the book of Titus today, is that the Apostle Paul is writing to his young pastor friend Titus, giving him guidance, left and right, faith, obedience, and living out what we they believe on the corrupt little island of Crete.

The book of Titus was written in AD 65 or 66, near the end of Paul’s ministry, right around the same time that Paul wrote 1st and 2nd Timothy, the classic pastoral letters. So these 3 letters today, are really letters written by a senior leader, to more junior leaders. So like a letter written by the head pastor, or the deacon, over many churches, to local pastors throughout their mission field. And the mission field we see here on the screen, which included the ancient middle east, all connected by the Mediterranean Sea.

Paul is writing from a city called Nicopolis in Greece, to give instructions to Titus about issues within the church. Titus us pastoring a small church on the island of Crete, a very corrupt little island with lots of problems and already in the church there are false teachers and problems that must be addressed.

So let’s just dive into it. We get Paul’s opening words and opening greeting and he gets right into instructions for elders in the church. What is an elder? An elder is someone who is a senior leader in the church. Generally, you have a pastor, or a group of pastors, and then you have a senior committee or group of elders or leaders who advise and consent on the development of the church.

So here’s what Paul says. Titus 1:6-9 “An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

In the Salvation Army our “elders” are what we call the corps council, made up of senior soldiers in the church who display a maturity to make decisions for the good of the body. The elders, or senior soldiers help care for the needs of the church, and help serve those in need. But they also lead the church, and mentor the younger believers.

Faithful elders are not easy to find, and we can see from the list of requirements for elders that they must be mature believers, self controlled, holding firmly to the truth, blameless, faith, and so on. A group of elders is really the backbone of the church. And that’s something we’ve really lacked at the Owosso salvation army. And apparently it was still a need for the church in Crete because we see Paul giving instructions about what elders ought to be like.

I want to point out a few of the requirements here:
-Must not be over-bearing – So can’t be someone who enjoys power

-Must not be quick-tempered – can’t be someone who gets angry easily

-Must not pursue dishonest gain – can’t be a sort of used car salesman attitude about ministry

-Must not be violent – obviously someone who isn’t violent cant be an elder

-Must be Self controlled - self control is all about being able to moderate our lifestyle

-Must be Upright and holy - being upright implies a sense of divine accountability, a lifestyle that matches our talk

-Must be Disciplined - an elder has developed prayer time, bible reading, spiritual disciplines, they've crafted their lives to seek God

These are all not simply guidelines, but requirements for elders in the church. But it’s also just generally good teaching for how to live as a mature Christian.

A bit later in Titus, we hear about the moral corruption of the people of Crete. It says,

Titus 1:12-14 "One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” 13 This saying is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14 and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth.”

Paul calls on Titus to rebuke his congregation sharply, so that they will turn away from lying, brutality, laziness, and gluttony. He also challenges them not to become legalistic followers of the Jewish law of Moses. He says teach them not to be ruled by Jewish myths or human commands, which were both common with old testament law of Moses ideas. Many of the churches were influenced by Jewish communities with these sort of ideas.

You can flip in your Bibles to Titus chapter 2. In chapter 2 we see Paul shifting to instructions about different groups generally within the church, he gives input for how older men should live, how older women should live, how younger men should live, how slaves should live, and then he closes out chapter two with the following powerful and beautiful statement that I want to read to you:

Titus 2:11-15 “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 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. 15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.”

I love love love studying 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus because these are words that apply to me very much as a pastor. Paul is writing as a pastor to a pastor, and that is really helpful for me to understand what my job is. But it’s also very powerful to see how God sums up the message of salvation here.

He says the grace of God has appeared, that’s Jesus, and there’s this open offer of salvation to everybody, everywhere. It’s blanket, open, to anyone. And what does that message say? It’s important to communicate to the Cretans, that it means saying “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions. And I think the same can be said and must be said to America today: That’s what it means to be a Christian, it means to say no to worldly passions. We’ve become a very decadent country, focused on our pleasure, pills, drugs, entertainment, fine foods, and we need to be challenged to set aside the passions of this world, and embrace self-control and godly living.

In fact Jesus Christ came to purify us, to make us a people for Himself, a special, set apart people, who are eager to good things, good works for Him, as we await the return of Jesus, the hope of eternal life in paradise.

Paul commands Titus to encourage and rebuke with all authority. Don’t let anyone treat you disrespectfully. Probably because Titus is a younger leader. Two keys: encouragement. Give people encouragement, help them to stay encouraged as Christians. But also, rebuke when necessary. Correct believers who are off course or need some correction.

Flip to chapter 3, and it says, Titus 3:1-2, “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.”

We see Paul commanding believers to be subject to the government authorities. To be obedient in general. That’s something we struggle with, right? We don’t like obedience. But obedience to God and society is generally a good thing. Be ready to do good. Slander no one. Be considerate. And Be gentle.

Then Paul gives this incredibly powerful description of our past, our present, and our future, all in Christ, in Titus 3:3-8:

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.”

In this depiction of the gospel, we see that we’re saved not by anything we did, or because we were specially worthy, but because of God’s desire to show mercy to us. We see that our past lives were based on hatred, malice, and envy. We were enslaved to empty desires. But we see Paul emphasize being born again, being washed in rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Why is he emphasizing this? He’s talking to Cretans who excel in debauchery and worldly pleasures, so he knows he has to emphasize the new birth and the new way. And he concludes by saying we have become heirs, with the hope of eternal life.

So in conclusion today, let’s review what we learned from the book of Titus:

1. Elders must be mature Christians, upright in the faith

2. Believers should say “yes” to Jesus and “no” to worldly pleasures

3. We need to be encouraged and rebuked as believers

4. Believers should be subject to government and to each other

5. We are justified by grace and his mercy, through regeneration in the Holy Spirit

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