Monday, March 09, 2009

Sermon: Titus 1: 1-4 Introducing Titus

Imagine that you’ve been travelling with the apostle Paul. Together, you’ve been preaching the gospel, and people have believed in God. You’re now on the island of Crete, but Paul moves on towards Ephesus, and leaves you behind to continue the work. What do you do? How do you do it?

Tonight we’re beginning a new series in the letter to Titus. As you will see, it’s quite a short book in the Bible – 3 chapters, 46 verses. And yet it’s an important book as we seek to live as Christians in God’s world. Paul writes to Titus with some instructions for himself and the church on Crete, which are also helpful for us.

As we launch into the letter tonight, we’re just going to look at one sentence. Not much, you might think, but in that one sentence, there is much treasure. The theme for tonight is ‘Introducing Titus’, but as you’ll see, we get a good bargain tonight, with three introductions for the price of one. First, Paul introduces himself, then he introduces God, then he introduces Titus.

First up, then, the introduction of Paul. Unlike modern letters, where the name of the person writing comes at the very end – yours sincerely, Gary – here, we find that the writer identifies himself straight away. The first word of the letter is Paul. So how does Paul introduce himself?

‘Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.’ What an introduction! The first sets out that he is God’s servant, entirely occupied at serving and pleasing God. It’s an Old Testament title, used of Moses (Joshua 1:2), Joshua (Joshua 24:29), and the prophets (Jeremiah 7:25), as well as the suffering servant (Isaiah 52:13). But don’t think this is a place of weakness. The next title shows that Paul has authority – as ‘an apostle of Jesus Christ.’

The letter isn’t just a social letter, bringing Titus up to date with what Paul has been doing. Rather, it is a letter which has authority – the authority of the apostle of Jesus Christ – to command Titus in his role, and also for the churches to obey.

It’s like receiving a letter from Revenue and Customs, or a summons to go to court. The letter commands us to do something because it is rooted in the authority of the letter-writer – who represents the Queen. Here, then, Paul, as an apostle, is writing to Titus, his colleague, with the authority of Jesus Christ.

If we look at the rest of verse 1, we see why Paul has authority. Or if you like, why he is an apostle. ‘For the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life.’ These four major factors are seen throughout the rest of the letter – faith, knowledge of truth, godliness and hope, but the two key features, indeed, the very theme of the entire letter, are the two middle ones. Our knowledge of the truth and our godliness.

As we’ll see in the coming weeks, it’s vital to hold both together – truth and godliness. Or to put it another way, how sound doctrine must lead to sound living. You see, we’re in trouble if we only have one and not the other. To have good works, without a knowledge of the truth may be an attempt to serve God without knowing God. Good works won’t save us – we simply can’t earn God’s favour in this way.

But the equal danger is to have a knowledge of the truth without godliness. To believe the right things but then do nothing about it – to go on living how we please. There’s a word for people like that – hypocrites! At the end of chapter 1, Paul says of the false teachers, ‘They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.’ (1:16)

As Paul sets out for Titus, and also for us, what we believe about God must make an impact on how we live. Otherwise, those around us may well wonder what the gospel is really all about. What about you?

As well as introducing himself, Paul also introduces God in the letter. Already we’ve seen mention of Him, as Paul is God’s servant, and also in the mention of God’s elect – those whom God has chosen to be part of his family, from all tribes and tongues and nations. But here, Paul gives a glimpse behind the scenes, at the character and purposes of God.

Paul’s writing about the faith, truth, godliness, and especially the hope of eternal life. It is this hope that God has promised, for his chosen people. Do you notice the startling description of God there? ‘God, who never lies.’ This is in contrast to the character of the Cretans (not the cretins!)(1:12), who ‘are always liars.’ So while these residents of Crete may not be able to trust what their neighbours say, they can be confident in God keeping His word.

But more than that, not only does God not lie, He has also promised the hope of eternal life ‘before the ages began.’ Before the creation existed, before God said ‘Let there be light’, God had purposed and promised the hope of eternal life for his people. How is this possible, especially since God, who knew us, also knew that we would mess things up? Well, because God is also ‘our Saviour.’ God is the one who has taken the initiative, in sending Jesus to die for us; and in sending the apostles to spread the good news through their preaching.

Finally, we come to Titus himself. Now, obviously within the letter, Titus didn’t need introduced to himself, but here we can see how Paul regards Titus. It is, if you will, Paul introducing Titus to us. So how does Paul describe Titus? ‘My true child in a common faith.’

The letter to Titus is one of several letters in the New Testament called the Pastoral Epistles. Rather than being written to churches as such, they are written to Paul’s colleagues in ministry, Timothy and Titus. In 1 Timothy 1:2, Paul also calls Timothy ‘my true child in the faith.’ Titus and Timothy are therefore younger men, also engaged in the preaching of the gospel, and the letters written to them are to encourage them in the places where Paul has sent them, and to remind them of what to teach. The letters would then have been read when the church gathered together.

Titus is found in Galatians 2:3. He was a Greek Christian – a Gentile, yet wasn’t circumcised. ‘But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.’ (Gal 2:3)

Titus seems to have been Paul’s ‘troubleshooter’ – the person who goes in when things are difficult and sorts it out, like the people in the banks who are trying to turn things around. Earlier, he had been in Corinth several times: (‘But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord.’ 2 Corinthians 8:16-17) (2 Corinthians 8:23), which wasn’t an easy place to be, and later he is found in Dalmatia (Yugoslavia, 2 Timothy 4:10). But here, Titus is left behind on the island of Crete, with the task of getting things into order after Paul’s initial gospel work.

And what is the pressing need? As we’ll see next week, church leaders who both hold on to the trustworthy word – the knowledge of the truth – as well as living lives of godliness.

As we begin to read Paul’s letter with Titus, then a number of challenges immediately confront us. Are we trusting in the Lord – do we stand in the faith? Is our knowledge of the truth growing? And linked to that – does what we believe really impact on how we live?

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Halls on Sunday 8th March 2009.

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