Last Sunday, Pastor Riccardo kicked off our seven-week sermon series on Titus (if you weren’t there or would like to listen again, here is the audio). The underlying theme of Paul’s epistle is that gospel believing produces gospel living, and through the series, we’ll be focusing on: 1) God’s truthfulness and godly leadership, 2) warnings against teaching contrary to the gospel, 3) how to live out sound doctrine at home, 4) the overall grace of God, 5) that God saved us by grace, 6) that we’re saved for works, and 7) not being unfruitful.
Overview of Titus
Before we get into the substance of our first week’s topics, let’s briefly look at what Titus, the espistle, is all about. Titus, along with Paul’s two letters to Timothy, are together known as “the pastoral epistles,” simply meaning that they are addressed to men charged with overseeing local churches. Through them, Paul discusses important issues, such as godly living, proper doctrine, and leadership—all three of which we’ll see in Titus.
From what we know about Titus, the individual, especially from 2 Corinthians, he was a Gentile convert to Christianity who was a companion and disciple of Paul who also traveled with him on one of his missionary journeys. Amid that journey, Paul and Titus traveled to the Greek island of Crete, ministering to its people and planting several churches. Paul left Titus in Crete in order to ensure proper establishment of the churches, as he continued on his journey. According to tradition, Titus became the bishop or overseer of the Cretan churches.
In the mid-60s AD, Paul wrote his letter to Titus, likely around the same time he wrote his pair of letters to Timothy. False teaching appeared to be Paul’s main concern with the churches in Crete, but there’s not really precise evidence as to what the teaching might have been. Though, as we’ll see in our text for this coming Sunday, there was concern over “Jewish myths,” and ritual purity. Moreover, Paul was concerned with the effect of such teaching, which resulted in a faith that didn’t produce works, showing that they did not truly know God. So, out of a desire for healthy churches creating contexts for healthy Christians flourishing in their communities, Paul set pen to papyrus.
Serving the God Who Doesn’t Lie (Titus 1:1-4)
In typical Greek epistolary formulae, Paul begins his salutation by introducing himself in the third person, and then he addresses his recipient. Pauline epistles, in particular, generally included additional material, such as the reason for which he was writing or the power by which he did so. He would also often include both a Hellenistic Greek greeting, “grace,” (χάρις, charis) combined with a Jewish greeting, “peace” (εἰρήνη, eirēnē) or, even better, shalom (שָׁלוֹם), which established Paul’s dual identity as a Jew in Hellenistic culture (see verse 4).
To further relay his identity, Paul describes himself as a slave (δοῦλος, doulos) of God (though the ESV translates δοῦλος as “servant”) and an apostle (ἀπόστολος, apostolos) of Jesus Christ. The Greek ἀπόστολος literally means “one sent forth with orders.” Paul establishes the authority by which he penned his letter. He’s not writing his opinion or clever insight derived from his tenure as a Pharisee. Rather, he’s delivering a message as slave sent from God with specific instructions and guidelines.
Let’s pause here and reflect on how others might refer to us in relation to our triune God. Would anyone actually think we’re slaves to God and messengers of Jesus Christ? Or, are we slaves to something or someone else…maybe ourselves? And could we dare say we are carrying the message of Jesus? A message free of our own preferences, biases, and concerns? Many of us could perhaps say such at times, but probably not consistently. We all have our moments of weakness, and none of us are finished progressing in our sanctification.
Paul then explains why he’s writing: “for the sake of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness.” He’s deeply committed to those already converted as Christians and those who one day will be (God’s elect), and as mentioned, he has concern over false teaching that has been swaying them. Their knowledge of the truth, A.K.A sound doctrine, matters, not so they can win theological debates, but so they can grow in godliness.
Living a life of godliness contrasts with idolatry—a life that submits to something else. As is often taught at Redemption, idols are generally not bad things; they’re typically good things. But, they become idols when we make them the main things. As Tim Keller wrote in his book Counterfeit Gods, “…the human heart takes good things…and turns them into ultimate things.” This happens when we place our jobs, possessions, even family above God. He alone is to possess our ultimate affection. Hence, growing in godliness requires a reordering of things in life. This doesn’t require removing things from our lives—though sometimes it does; instead, it involves an elevation of our affection toward God in word, thought, action, and deed.
In verse 4, Paul writes of another identity. By calling Titus his “true child in a common faith,” he is calling himself Titus’ spiritual father. Paul walked with Titus and discipled him. He pointed him to Jesus, not just in a conversion sense but repeatedly, in all aspects of life. He encouraged him to place his affection for God above all else. And Paul not only instructed Titus to do as he said, but by modeling godly character, Paul exhorted him to do as he did.
We should all have spiritual fathers and mothers—those who may or may not be older but have definitely been walking with Jesus longer and have the maturity to show it. Those who love us deeply and would take us in as their children if need be…and not only in the spiritual sense. Those who care for us as if we were their own and have a vested interest in our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Those who extend grace to us but also give us the hard truths when we need it. If you don’t currently have such a mentor—a spiritual parent—seek one out. There are scores of men and women at Redemption longing to disciple and walk alongside someone.
Qualifications for Elders (Titus 1:5-9)
Riccardo spent the least amount of time on our final five verses, so we’ll do the same here (though no to indicate any lesser degree of importance).
In that section, we read that the reason Paul left Titus in Crete was in order that he would appoint elders (πρεσβυτέρους, presbuterous—notice that it’s plural in the Greek) in each town. The term 1:5 is used synonymously with ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos) in 1:7 and can be translated to mean “bishop” or “overseer.” And either term can also mean “pastor.” Such elders would be required to be the husband of only one wife (as opposed to a polygamist) and have children who are believers. As Riccardo mentioned in his sermon, this is not necessarily to indicate that “P.K.s” who eventually wander from the Lord disqualify the elder. But, what it does mean is that the elder and his wife are raising their children to be faithful. Paul goes on to list several other requirements, including being above reproach, not being arrogant, not getting drunk, being hospitable, and having self-control. Moreover, he must hold to the Word of God as it’s rightly taught, so that he himself might teach sound doctrine and be able to rebuke anyone contradicting it.
Realize here that Jesus was the only perfect human who ever walked the earth. Our elders, like anyone, slip and are sinners in need of grace. But there is a standard. There is a necessary level of spiritual maturity, discernment, and uprightness. And, this also doesn’t mean everyone else is off the hook. These are standards any Christian should strive for. The only difference is that elders can be disqualified for continually and unrepentantly falling short.
Church, pray for your pastors/elders. They face the same temptations we all face. They work hard, they get tired, they get weak, they struggle to always be on guard. Pray for the protection of their families. Pray that they would remain faithful. We have 7 elders (Riccardo, Jim, Jason, Ryan, Tim, Benjamin, and Andy) who covet your prayers. Pray for them by name, knowing they regularly pray for many of you by name (including anyone who fills out a prayer card during our Sunday services). These men love you to the core of their being. The call to the pastorate is not a call to luxury, fame, or riches (at least it shouldn’t be). They accept their call because they love Jesus, his Church, and his gospel deeply, and they long to see more and more men, women, and children believe in Jesus and grow in godliness as all of us, together, join Jesus in his mission of making disciples and using our all to flourish in our communities.