Sunday, May 04, 2014

Sermon: Titus 1: 1-4 Introducing Titus

Last week, we heard the great commission, as the risen Jesus meets with his twelve apostles. If you remember, Jesus has all authority, so he sends them out to make disciples of all nations, teaching all he has commanded, promising he is always with us. I wonder if you have thought about that through the week. Wondered about what it looks like in practice. How could we reach out to Fermanagh with the good news of Jesus? What would we need to know as we make disciples?

God in his wisdom, has given us the Bible. In it, we find all that we need for life and godliness, and within the New Testament, we find a letter written to a church leader. The gospel has reached a Mediterranean island, called Crete, and the church leader is there with the task of making disciples in the burning hot sunshine.

But whether it is hot or cold, the same problems arise everywhere. People don’t really want to hear the good news. Their hearts are held captive by strong, selfish desires. They’re caught up with lots of other things. Their way of life and culture seems to be so discouraging, so starkly opposed to the good news of Jesus. The people of Crete are famously known as being ‘liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.’

So how do you make disciples in a place like Crete? How do you make disciples in a place like Fermanagh? Over the next few weeks we’ll see what the church leader is commanded; and what the church should be doing as together we seek to make disciples and grow as Christians.

This morning, we begin a new series in Paul’s letter to Titus. If you have your Bible open, you can see it’s a short book - 3 chapters, 46 verses. But don’t let its size put you off. It’s an important book, as it will help us to see how we should live as Christians in the world - what living as a Christian looks like. As we launch in, we’re going to look at one sentence. The one sentence we’ve heard read, stretching over four verses.

Now when you meet someone new, what is it you need to do? You have to introduce yourself. What you say about yourself reveals a lot - whether you mention work / family / interests or whatever. ‘My name is Gary and ...’ Well this morning, we’re introducing Titus, but in these opening verses we get a bargain - 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. 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 the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness, in the 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.

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.

Look at verse 2. 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 loyal child in the faith we share.’

Titus is part of the family, sharing the faith with Paul. And just as sons worked with their fathers to learn the family business, so Titus is in the work of the gospel, as if he is Paul’s son. This gospel, this good news, brings to the believer grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Before we get to the pressing need; before we come to the things demanded of us; this morning we revel in the blessings God has given - the hope of eternal life - which is certain because God doesn’t lie; and because God is our Saviour. If we get these things straight in our mind, everything will flow from it. God is trustworthy. His word is sure. If we really do believe this, then all things are possible.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 4th May 2014.

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