Sunday, May 25, 2014
I wonder if you’ve ever received one of those mailings which declares that you have been chosen at random from a draw you didn’t enter to win a guaranteed £50,000. If it doesn’t go straight into the bin, you might wonder, what’s the catch? You read the small print to discover you have to buy something from a catalogue, or send a small deposit to continue to see what you’ve actually won. The new version is the spam email from an African country where if you give them your bank account details to help them move a small fortune then you’ll be handsomely rewarded. Except you realise quickly that the only movement will be the money out of your account, and delete the emails.
Things seem too good to be true. We’re brought up to see that you don’t get anything for nothing. We have to work hard for what we’ve got; and to make sure that you pay your way. Just think of the spectacle of two ladies fighting over which one of them is going to pay for their morning coffee. We can’t quite accept anything for free.
When it comes to God, we expect to have to work hard to become acceptable to him. We expect there to be a check list of things to do so that he will love us - pray, read your Bible, give to charity, avoid temptation and all the rest. And last Sunday, as we looked at the passage immediately before our reading today, we found lots of things to do. There were specific instructions, a teaching curriculum for different groups of people in the church - older & younger men and women. Maybe you went away last week thinking - finally - something to do or something to try. So you tried to be more self-controlled or less addicted to wine or whatever your bit was. But as the week went on and life happened, with stress at home or work, you discovered that it’s not easy to be self-controlled. The more you tried, the harder it became. The more aware you were of failure. Well, don’t give up.
This morning we have the key to the Christian life; the secret that brings peace and energy for our walk with God. It’s the motivation to live in the way that we saw last week and it’s found in our reading this morning. The apostle Paul is writing to Titus, a church leader on the island of Crete. He’s spelling out what Titus needs to do as he teaches the church and appoints leaders. Paul knows that what we believe affects how we behave. So Paul is urging Titus to teach the truth, which accords with godliness. When we believe the truth, we’ll show it in our lives.
And here is the truth. Here is the reason why we are to live out the truth. ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.’ Salvation has been offered to all sorts of people, and it’s entirely free. Grace is God’s gift, undeserved, but gladly and graciously given. There is nothing you can do to earn God’s grace, just receive it as a gift. Now I don’t know if ‘Baptism presents’ is something that happens (and if you’re a guest of the family today, don’t panic if you haven’t brought anything!), but imagine you give a gift to Erin today. What would you think if Catherine brought out her chequebook and asked how much she owed you for it? You’d say, no, it’s a gift, it’s free. Please just take it.
Now imagine that you’re Erin. You’ve received so many beautiful gifts. If she could talk, I’m sure she would express her thanks and wonder and amazement. We have nieces who are a little bit older, and when they receive a new t-shirt, they’re amazed that they got something. They want to tell everyone that auntie soandso gave me this!
When we receive salvation as a free gift, it will change how we view God. We want to do what pleases him; we don’t want to do those things which harm our relationship with him. And look at the way in which grace works in this. ‘For the grace of God has appeared... training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions...’ Some of us may remember back to the mid-1980s, after the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed. Unionists were dismayed at that agreement. Across the province banners displayed the message: ‘Ulster says no.’ Grace prompts us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions. If God has been so gracious to us, we don’t want to carry on doing those things that separate us from him.
But grace helps us to do more than just say no. Grace also helps us to say yes to other things. There used to be an advertising slogan: ‘The bank that likes to say ‘yes’’. As we say no to ungodliness, so grace helps us to say yes to live ‘self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age.’ The types of things we find in the first part of chapter two. You see, it’s not that we have to do those things in order for God to love us. Rather, because God loves us, we’ll want to do these things.
And all the more, because God’s grace has given us something to look forward to. Verse 13. We’re waiting for our blessed hope. So often, waiting is seen as a negative, whether it’s waiting on a bus which doesn’t seem to come, or waiting in the doctor’s surgery. But we’re waiting for our blessed hope - the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
It’s more like the eager anticipation of preparing the nursery for the arrival of a new baby. Or counting down the days until a long lost relative arrives home on holiday from Australia. We’re in the in between period - in between the appearing of God’s grace, something which has already happened; and the appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
You see, when Paul writes those words, he isn’t referring to two people. It isn’t ‘our great God; and then also our Saviour Jesus Christ.’ No, Jesus Christ is our great God and Saviour. The first appearing of God’s grace was when Jesus appeared. And that grace appeared because of what Jesus accomplished when he was on earth. Look at verse 14. Here’s what Jesus came to do the first time, as he demonstrated his grace; as he gave freely to us:
‘who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.’ Jesus gave himself as he died on the cross, taking our sins upon him. Removing all the wrong things that we have done. Giving us a fresh start, from all the ways we have broken God’s laws. Those sins are gone. We are redeemed, bought back by Jesus, the price has been paid.
As we receive this good news; as we accept Jesus to be our Saviour, so we discover that he loves us just as we are, but he doesn’t want us to stay that way. His purpose is to purify his people to be zealous for good works. There’s an order there - redeemed by Jesus, and then zealous for good works. Christianity isn’t about what we do for God. It’s about what God has done for us. Our good works are a response to God’s grace.
As we come to baptise Erin today, we are expressing God’s grace toward her. As she grows and discovers God’s grace, our prayer is that she will accept it for herself, and live a life of love in response.
But what about you? Have you experienced this grace of God for yourself? That Jesus did it all for you? The salvation is offered to you freely? Let today be the day that you surrender to him; that you stop trying to work to earn his favour, and instead receive it for what it is - a gift, freely offered and freely received.
And if you have already received this grace gift - what difference is it making to your life? If we believe in the God of grace, and have received the grace of God for ourselves - does it show in how we treat others? Has it made an impact in teaching us to say no and yes? In other words, is grace really amazing to us?
What we believe affects how we behave. The message of God’s grace is the heart of the Christian life. And that’s why Paul insists on this message being taught and declared. Nothing else will change us. Nothing else will motivate us. Except this: Jesus loves you and gave himself for you. Praise the Lord.
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 25th May 2014.
Monday, May 19, 2014
I wonder if you’ve taken some time to think about the stars recently. Now, before your mind turns to film stars or pop stars, I’m talking about the stars in the night sky. As you probably know, we have two wee dogs and every night as part of our bedtime routine, I venture outside with them, in rain, hail or snow.
After the security lights have come on and then gone off again, I’m to be found staring up, amazed at the little lights shining across the sky. Seemingly you can get an app for your phone which works out where you are, what direction you’re facing, and will tell you what the different stars and constellations are. Amazing!
The stars are always there. They don’t just arrive at night. But it’s at night that we get to see them, we notice them, because they’re bright against the darkness of the night sky. The light is bright, it stands out when surrounded by darkness.
Or think of a room in pitch darkness. You light one little candle, and it’s the light your eyes are drawn to. The rest of the room might be black, but your eyes are focused on the light of that candle; which stands out; such a contrast.
Or think of the roads. One of my pet hates is the driver who drives along in mist or fog; or in heavy rain, and they don’t turn any lights on. They think that they can see ok, but they also have to be seen! We need them to have lights on so that we can see when they’re coming and not drive out in front of them.
We’re all familiar with lights shining out in the dark; standing out from the darkness all around. That’s the image that Paul gives us as he writes the next section of his letter to the church in Philippi. You remember that Jesus said that his disciples are the light of the world (Matt 5:14). Here, Paul says that Christians are to shine like lights (stars) in the world, among a crooked and twisted generation.
Tonight we’ll see what it means to shine for Jesus in a dark world. And it all comes in the context of being saved by Jesus. Did you notice the ‘therefore’ at the start of verse 12? Hopefully you’re asking what it’s there for. Last time we were here, we saw the humiliation and exaltation of the Lord Jesus - giving up all he had in order to love and serve others, even going as far as the death of the cross. Because Jesus took the lowest place, God has given him the highest place. But Paul had pointed to this as an illustration of his appeal for Christians to live together in love: not looking to your own interests but those of others.
Because of the example of Jesus, therefore Paul says: ‘as you have always obeyed... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling...’ Notice what he doesn’t say: ‘work for your own salvation...’ or ‘work up your own salvation...’ We can’t work for our salvation. It’s entirely a gift, because of what Jesus has done. But when we become a Christian, we need to work out our salvation. What does it look like to live as a Christian? How do I make decisions in my life? What does God want me to do?
Work out your own salvation - but thankfully we are not alone, not left on our own to try it ourselves. Verse 13 quickly follows verse 12: ‘for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.’ We’re working it out as God works in us. God shows us what to will and to do, so that we stand out like stars.
Look at what Paul focuses on in verse 14. ‘Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent children of God without blemish...’ Perhaps one of the things that marks our society is the need to grumble and complain. Stephen Nolan on Radio Ulster (and BBC NI) seems to have made a career from exploiting that characteristic. Moaning seems to be the order of the day.
To not complain or question or answer back is the mark of difference Paul highlights. In a dark world, in a crooked and twisted generation, someone who is different will stand out. If you were with us this morning, we were thinking of how we are the only Bible some people will ever read. Our reaction to those around us; as well as our reaction to our church should make us stand out.
If we’re grumbling and complaining, you can imagine your neighbour thinking to herself - they’re always at their church, but they never stop complaining about it. I wouldn’t want to go there. It only seems to make them more miserable!
Instead, as we hold fast (and, as some translations add, holding out) the word of life, we will be seen as different and shine for all to see.
Paul then shows us two shining examples. He highlights two people known to the Philippians, so that they can see what shining for Jesus looks like in real life. The first one is Timothy, who will be coming to visit Philippi. He stands out in verse 20. Paul says: ‘For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.’
That doesn’t say much for Paul’s companions, does it? Everyone else with Paul isn’t really worried about the Philippians. They aren’t even all that bothered about what Jesus might be interested in. But not Timothy. He is interested in them, and also for Jesus.
Have you ever talked to someone who asks how you’re keeping, but you know they don’t really care about the answer? Not Timothy. He cares for the churches, because he cares for Jesus. He was there with Paul when the first Philippians became Christians. And since that moment, Timothy has been interested in them.
Are you shining like Timothy - concerned for others and not just yourself? Putting Jesus and his concerns ahead of your own? Could others look at you and say that there is no one like you, who cares for other people?
We’re also shown another ‘star’ in Epaphroditus. Eppy was one of the Philippians, sent to Paul with a gift of money. This letter is, in part, a thank you note from Paul, which Eppy is bringing back to Philippi. You see, there was no Royal Mail back then. These letters in the New Testament were hand delivered.
But when Eppy had made it to Paul in Rome, he had taken very seriously ill. So serious, in fact, that he almost died. But God showed mercy, healed him, and now Paul is almost glad to send him home. But look at the language Paul uses. In verse 25, Eppy is ‘my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier.’ He is to be received with joy and honoured ‘for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.’ (30).
I wonder are we willing to take some risks for the work of Christ? Or do we shy away from anything too serious, too committed, too much like standing out and shining for Jesus? As we work out what it means to be a Christian; as God works in our lives, we might just find the power to stand out and shine, each of us in our corner. Consider Timothy, and consider again your priorities. Consider Epaphroditus, and take a risk. Shine for Jesus.
This sermon was preached in the Brooke Memorial Hall, Brookeborough on Sunday 18th May 2014.
Sunday, May 18, 2014
Tomorrow morning, the alarm will go off, and you’ll get up and get ready for school. You’ll walk or get dropped or get the bus to school. You get into the classroom and have your pencil case and your books all ready. What kinds of things might you be learning about tomorrow?
Have you ever thought about this: How does the teacher know what to teach you? When they are planning your lessons, how do they know what to cover? Do they just make it up, whatever they want to do? Can you imagine a primary school teacher who only liked doing maths, so for all the time in school, you only ever learned about maths? It wouldn’t be very good for your spelling or your reading or learning about art or history or anything else, would it?
To make sure that you don’t get a teacher like that there is such a thing as a curriculum. Now that’s a big word - does anyone know what that might be? ... It’s the things that you should be taught. And whether you knew it or not, your teacher has to follow the Northern Ireland curriculum. There are things you have to be taught by Key Stage 1 (P4), Key Stage 2 (P7), Key Stage 3 (Year 10), Key Stage 4 (Year 12). So every day, in all the different classes in your school, the teachers are following some kind of plan.
All the way through school, you’ll be able to go from not being able to write to being able to do joined up writing. Going from not knowing the times tables to being able to count and multiply and divide. You’ll learn lots about science and nature and the world around us. How to play cricket or hockey or any of the other sports you do. All because your teacher is following the plan.
During this term, we are reading about a church leader called Titus. He had been left on an island called Crete - has anyone been to Crete? You might have been on holiday there, but Titus is there to lead the church. And the work he has to do is teaching. Look at verse 1. What does Paul (who is writing) tell Titus?
‘You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.’ Paul says that the work of a church leader is to teach the people in the church. And what is it he has to teach? Not reading writing and arithmetic - but what is in accord with sound doctrine.
Now if something is in accord, that just means that it’s in agreement. So imagine that you had fallen out with a friend. But then you get back together again - you’re in accord, you’re friends again, you’re happy and agreeing together.
So what Titus has to teach is what agrees with sound doctrine, with the good news about Jesus. So when you hear the good news, this is what you should do - here’s how we need to live. So here’s the curriculum for the church. Here’s what has to be taught; what we all need to learn.
Now, who is in Key Stage 1? 2? 3? 4? There are different things that you have to learn, depending on who you are. You wouldn’t expect to sit a German or French GCSE exam on your first day in P1! There are different things for different groups to learn. Paul divides it up into older men, older women, younger women and young men.
I’ll let you decide which of the categories you fall into- and have a look at what you’re meant to be doing. But the thing to notice is that they’re all very similar. Each of them is about self-control, being careful how you live and what you do. Not just going wild. Not just doing anything at all. Being self-controlled.
You see, the place where Titus was, everyone just did what they wanted. Nobody cared about anything. They even took pride in the fact that they were all: ‘always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’
This was how they lived their lives. But if they’re now on Jesus’ team, then they need to do things the way Jesus wants. They need to hear and learn and do what Jesus wants.
For older men (not looking at anyone!) that means being temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled and sound in faith, love and endurance. Being the type of man that everyone will look up to and respect. Being the type of man that younger men will want to be like.
Older women, are to be reverent, not slanderers (not going around gossiping and speaking evil about others, spreading rumours), not addicted to much wine, but rather teaching what is good. Because it’s the older women who train up and encourage the younger women - older women, are you encouraging the next generation of women in the congregation? Younger women, here’s what you should be seeing and copying from the older women - how to love husbands and children; how to be self-controlled and pure, how to be busy at home, and kind, and subject to husbands.
Young men, there’s just one thing, but this is a big thing - to be self-controlled. To not get carried away by passions and desires. To be careful to watch over yourself. Titus, the church leader, is to be the example of this.
Slaves - or the equivalent in our day, workers - are to be honest, not stealing and not talking back.
There’s something for everyone to work on here. No one could say that we’re already doing this perfectly. Each of us need to hear God’s word about God’s way and God’s plan, and do it.
But the question is why. Why should we be doing these things? The immediate answer is because God says so. But God is good, and he also gives us three reasons why we should do these things. We’ll look at them quickly. In the reading (which you have in front of you), can you find the first so? (Not we’re not talking about sew - to stitch) So? It’s there in verse 5: ‘So that no one will malign the word of God.’ The first reason we’re to do these things is so that no one says anything against the word of God.
The second so? ‘So that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.’ (8). People might not like the church, might not like Christians, but if we are doing good, then they’ll have nothing bad to say about us.
And the third so? ‘So that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.’ Imagine you have a school disco coming up. There's a boy or girl you want to dance with or you want them to like you. Would you turn up in your old clothes? No, you'd want to make a good impression. You'd wear something new, something fancy. You might wear perfume or makeup or aftershave. You try to be attractive.
When we hear the good news of Jesus, about God our Saviour, and we believe in Jesus, something must change. We want to turn away from our sins and live the way God wants us to live. Other people will watch us to see how we live. To see if believing in Jesus really makes a difference. You might be the only Bible some people will ever read. You might be the only Christian they know. And they are watching carefully.
She says that Jesus is her Saviour - is it true? Does Jesus make a difference? He goes to church on Sundays - but how does he live the rest of the week? Does it change him?
God has given the curriculum for the church. The teaching plan is laid out. Will we hear and obey?
This sermon was preached at the Family Service in Aghavea Church on Sunday 18th May 2014.
Sunday, May 11, 2014
The summer holidays are on the horizon. But where to go? So you check out the websites, or you go into the travel agents; you look at the brochures; you ask your friends. Crete seems to be nice: warm and sunny, scenic, so long as you stay away from the party capitals with drunken teenagers from the UK and Ireland. Titus, the person Paul is writing this letter to is on Crete, but he’s not there for a holiday. There’s work to be done.
After last week’s introduction (Paul the apostle telling Titus his son and fellow worker about God’s promised eternal life and the truth that accords with godliness), we’re straight into Titus’ task.
‘I left you behind in Crete for this reason, that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.’ Titus is to appoint elders (also called bishops in v7 - the same people). But what should you look for in a church leader? In the life of the church there are all sorts of leaders doing all sorts of things. What should we be looking for in the parish, in organisations, in vestry? As we’ll see, the important things to look for in church leaders link in with the overall theme of the letter to Titus: ‘truth that is in accordance with godliness.’ (1:1)
The two must go together - truth and godliness. It’s not an either/or pick and mix. It must be both together. First up, then, we see in verses 6-8 the quality of godliness. The word that sums it up is in those verses twice: blameless. Let me be the first to say that this doesn’t mean perfection. None of us are perfect. So if the standard was perfection, then we wouldn’t have any Christian leaders.
Rather, what we’re looking for is someone with integrity. And this can be seen in three ways, in each of these verses - verse 6 at home; verse 7 in negative form; and verse 8 positively. At home, blameless, as the husband of one wife, not running after lots of women; and whose children (if there are any) being believers. Just as the church is God’s family and household, so our families are the place where leadership is seen in practice.
Verse 7 shows what being blameless is not like: ‘not arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain.’ It’s easy to see why these kinds of behaviour would make someone unsuitable for church leadership. Each of these are modes of selfishness - putting me, or my anger or my addictions or my fists or my wallet first; all a lack of self-control.
In verse 8, we see the opposite of selfishness - hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled. These are the things to look for as we select new leaders. These are the things to pray for in our leaders, that they would be increasing.
Godliness is important for those in church leadership. But as we’ve said, that’s just one part. We also need the knowledge of the truth which leads to godliness. It’s truth we find in verse 9. ‘He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching.’ It hasn’t happened here yet, but in Dundonald one day I was visiting a home when a dog came and attached itself to the front of my shoe. It wasn’t for letting go. It hung on for ages. This is what Paul is looking for - a firm grasp of the trustworthy word.
You see, if God doesn’t lie, then we need to hold on to it - especially church leaders. Why? Because the work of the gospel is the work of the word. Paul gives us two parts of the work: ‘that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine’ - so that what is preached is healthy, is sound. (That’s why it’s important for you to have your Bible open during the sermon to make sure that what I’m saying is what the Bible is saying). It would be great if that’s all that is needed, but there’s a second part of the work: ‘and to refute those who contradict it.’
There are those who contradict sound doctrine. There are those within the church who don’t hold to the trustworthy word. Not everyone who wears a clerical collar is a Christian preacher. I know this might be hard to believe, but it’s true today, just as it was true in Crete in the first century.
Paul gives us a picture of what these false teachers were like. ‘rebellious people, idle talkers and deceivers... upsetting whole families by teaching for sordid gain what is it not right to teach.’ You see, these false teachers were tapping into the natural Crete temperament. They were saying what the people wanted to hear, and were gaining, because it was an easy message.
It’s easy for us to see how the Cretans are far from godliness in their ‘always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons’ mode of being. But what about us? You see, we are also far from God and godliness by ourselves. What would Paul write of us? ‘People in Fermanagh are...’ If someone came with a message that you’re basically all right the way you are, with no challenge or change needed, it would be popular enough. But it’s not the gospel. It’s not the trustworthy word that leads to godliness.
Titus is called to do something harder. As he holds to the trustworthy word, Paul tells him in verse 13: ‘For this reason, rebuke them sharply, so that they may become sound in the faith.’
Titus, and therefore church leaders must administer this rebuke in order to take people from their sinful nature to being sound in the faith. If you were sick, you would ring up the surgery and get an appointment to see a GP. You want them to stop you being sick and to make you well, healthy. This is what ministry is all about - we want to be healthy in the faith, but if we’re stuck in our sinful nature then we’re not healthy, we need the treatment of the gospel.
The false teachers had turned away from the truth, but it wasn’t that they believed in nothing; rather, they were now believing in anything - Jewish myths or commandments of those who reject the truth. But the end results of their belief and teaching is clearly to be seen. Throughout Titus we’re seeing that the truth leads to godliness. What you believe is seen in how you live your life.
We see it here with the false teachers. They rejected the truth. They still claim to know God, ‘but they deny him by their actions. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.’ What they do doesn’t match up with what they say. False teaching needs to be rebuked; corrected; and instead the truth proclaimed.
So what do we look for in church leaders? People marked by holding firm to the truth which leads to godly living. People who proclaim sound doctrine and rebuke those in error.
If you’re in leadership, perhaps like me, you’re feeling the weight of the requirements. Could we possibly do this? Last Sunday we had the Select Vestry up front as we prayed for them. In a sense, we need to hold them up in prayer every day. Pray for them; Pray for me, in study and homes and pulpit to hold and hold forth the word of truth, to apply it to my own life and household, and to the church family.
Who could do this? Who is sufficient for these things? There’s a section of the ordination service, which is our answer: ‘Because none of us can bear the weight of this ministry in our own strength, but only by the grace and power of God, let us pray earnestly for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on these persons. Let us pray also that God will each day enlarge and enlighten their understanding of the Scriptures, so that they may grow stronger and more mature in their ministry, as they fashion their lives and the lives of the people they serve on the word of God.’
There’s that double emphasis on truth and godliness. So let’s pray.
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 11th May 2014.
Sunday, May 04, 2014
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.