Today we are beginning a series on the book of Titus, which will take us through September when we will get back in to Romans. I’m very much looking forward to getting back to Romans, but glad for the opportunity to walk through another book here with you. So please open your Bibles to Titus, and we’ll start at the beginning of the letter.
But before we do, I thought it would be helpful to give us some background information on two points. First, who was Titus? And Second, how does what we know about him help us to understand what we are reading better?
Who was titus?
There is not much that actually is known about Titus. Relative to other personalities that we find in scripture, very little background information is available to us. His name does show up in Paul’s letters to Timothy, the Corinthians, and the Galatians, which gives us a little information that is interesting.
- Member of Paul’s apostolic team. Church planter and strengthener. He was often sent by Paul to churches to help them, including carrying the second letter from Paul to the Corinthians to them, and returning with the Corinthian church’s contribution to the relief effort for the church in Jerusalem.
- Greek, Gentile, Uncircumcised. This is significant as he will be doing theological battle with the heretics from the circumcision party.
- Overseer of churches. Paul sent him to settle disputes, and to help build.
How does this help us understand what we’re reading?
First, we recognize that this letter is a letter from an Apostle to one of his team members. It is not written to us, though it is certainly meant for our benefit: we get to listen in to the conversation!
At root, our goal in reading and studying a section of scripture is to understand first what the author intended to communicate to the recipient, and how the recipient would have understood the author. This will help us understand the meaning of the text.
Once we understand the meaning of the text in these terms then we can try to determine the “significance” or relevance of that communication for us. It is important to keep these steps separate. If we jump to quickly to “what might this text mean for us” we will probably miss what the author meant to say to his recipient, and we’ll likely make an error in interpretation. So, we have to understand what the text meant to the original recipient, before we can understand what that text means for us.
Understanding that we are listening in on a conversation between an Apostle who is working to establish a baby church among a deeply Pagan and chaotic culture, and his coworker on the ground, will help give us some handles as we seek to read, understand, and apply what Paul has written to Titus. I hope that we can show you a bit of our thought process along that line as we go through the book over the next few weeks.
So let's start in on the letter by walking through the introduction. I’m going to confess to typically skipping these first four verses and starting in verse 5 when I read this book. It has been good for me to be assigned to teach these four verses, because it forced me to stop and deal with them, and there are some wonderful things here.
This is one of Paul’s longest intros in all his letters (third longest). It is an action-packed run-on sentence, so lets read it together as a whole then we’ll walk through it step by step.
Titus 1:1–4 (ESV)
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, 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, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
Faith, Knowledge, Godliness
The first thing we see, as with all such letters of the time period, is the author identifying himself. We’re used to authors signing letters at the end. They used to do it at the beginning.
"Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ,
Paul identifies himself here as God’s servant, which is unique to the letter to Titus, usually he calls himself a servant of Christ. And he identifies his role as an “apostle” or “sent one” or “missionary” of Jesus Christ.
And then he gives his life’s purpose statement.
for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in the hope of eternal life…”
(Note: You’ll notice I’m breaking through the verse markers here a bit, this is intentional and I think will help with overall understanding in this complex sentence. Verses were introduced around the 15th century by a monk who was trying to make it easier to reference passages. They do not add any meaning to the text, and sometimes distract from the author’s flow of thought.)
This is what Paul sees as his life’s purpose and mission! He exists for the sake of God’s elect people. Specifically to bolster their faith, knowledge, and hope. Let’s unpack that a bit.
Faith of the elect:
Paul is out to secure the faith of the elect. Of God’s people. He is out to proclaim the message of the truth which brings about a changed life, and hope that cannot be shaken. Paul says elsewhere that he preaches to all men, and appeals to them on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God. This is Paul’s life mission: reconciliation of man to God through the good news of The Gospel.
And he’s not merely concerned with conversion, he’s concerned about a believer’s faith and trust in God’s promises, that it be able to withstand any trial, temptation, doubt, or circumstance.
Comment on the elect: Just a quick note on this word “elect” because it pops up often in the New Testament. This word means “picked out”, “selected”, or “chosen.” This carries with it the idea that God has people picked out from before the foundation of the world. Paul’s mission, and ours, is to find them, and nurture their faith.
This concept also connects the fact that The Church are just as much The Chosen People of God now as the Nation of Israel was in the Old Covenant. Of course we’ll be detailing this concept out more in our Romans series. But this concept of election echoes throughout Paul’s letter to Titus in 2:14 & 3:5. Who are the elect? They are all who believe in the message that Paul preaches!
Knowledge of the truth
Faith is the beginning, but is not the only thing he is concerned with. Paul is not out only to see people profess Christ, he is out to fulfill The Great Commission. This is why he is also concerned with their knowledge of the truth. A true missionary is concerned not only with eliciting professions of faith, or counting conversions, but with establishing believers in the knowledge of the truth.
And this is why Paul preaches. This is what he is doing in his ministry: strengthening the faith of God’s people by bolstering their knowledge of the truth. Paul will be unpacking that truth in some detail throughout the letter to Titus, and of course we have it in the rest of his letters, and ultimately in the whole Bible. This is the source of truth that Paul is referring to. So Paul’s concern for God’s people is that they be strong and deep in their knowledge of the truth of the scriptures.
Truth which leads to godly living
It is important to say, that Paul does not have merely head-knowledge in mind here. This s why he speaks of truth-which-accords-with-godliness. The kind of truth he has in mind is not a set of facts and trivia to be mastered. Not simply a philosophy to be pondered. The truth that Paul has in mind has massive impact on the way you live your life. If your life does not change from your encounter with the truth of the Bible, you are either not understanding it correctly, not believing it, or are being disobedient. This book shapes you.
It shapes you by saying “God has had mercy on you, so you have mercy on others. God has been patient with you, so you should be patient with others. God loved you when you were His enemy (and we were all His enemy at one point), so you should love your enemies. This is what is meant by godliness. Be like God. Be like your father. Have hope! Nothing is going to be able to separate you from God’s love, and He is coming back to right every wrong!
Hope of eternal life.
The truth shapes you not by scaring you. Not by intimidating you into obedience or yelling at you until you comply. It is not a harsh master. It shapes you through the beauty of what it describes. It shapes you by bringing you an indestructible hope. A hope that cannot be killed, a hope that cannot be removed through torture, threat, or any kind of intimidation.
"…the hope of eternal life which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching…"
God promised the hope of eternal life before the ages began. From the beginning He has had a plan to live in relationship together with His people. That plan has worked itself out through the course of history, which is what The Bible describes, that plan unfolding, people encountering it, reacting to it, engaging it, rebelling from it.
And Paul says now this plan has been manifested, or brought to light, at exactly the right time. It is brought to light, shown, manifested ultimately through Jesus’s coming in to the world, living a perfect life, dying in our place, taking the punishment due us for our rebellion against God’s plan for His people, and Jesus’s resurrection, rein in heaven now, and promised return to right every wrong.
And this is the content of what Paul preaches. Which is what he means by “manifested through the preaching…”
"… the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; “
The Preaching (Greek: the Kerygma), important to note, is a noun not verb. I wanted to show you the word “Kerygma” because it makes a familiar word “preaching” strange again and reminds us that this is sort of a label, a proper name, a brand name, if you will, for the content of what Paul proclaims.
And Paul says, this message has been entrusted to him by God to proclaim to all the elect. All God’s people, wherever they may be. And we will see that he is going to pass this charge on to Titus, and by extension to all elders an all churches everywhere.
Titus my true child
4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
This is an amazing statement. Paul was a Jew, Titus a gentile. And here, Paul is identifying himself with Titus as his true child in a common faith. This is so shattering to Paul’s opponents , whom he calls out later in the letter, who insist on an important cultural distinction and superiority of Jew over Gentile.
Paul’s statement here shows one of the foundational, critical messages of the Gospel proclamation: that God’s grace is for anyone who has faith regard for ethnicity. God extends his invitation to any man, woman, or child, who acknowledges their need for a savior, their inability to save themselves through their own works, and acknowledges Jesus’s work on our behalf to make up for that lack.
That invitation is open to you. I hope you’ve believed it.
I’m looking forward to studying this book with you.
The great Apostle Paul writes a short letter to one of his coworkers for the sake of instructing him in how to “set in order” a baby church in the midst of a chaotic Pagan culture who valued deceit and were largely immoral. This book makes it in to the canon of revelation that the church has used for about 2000 years as it’s source of reference for God’s perspective and will for us.
We get to listen in on this conversation from the apostle to his team member and learn something about how we are to live our life.
In Titus 1:1-4, which was the text for the sermon this week, we learn about how Paul sees his purpose as an apostle. Paul’s ministry exists “…for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in the hope of eternal life…” (a fairly complex statement).
The word “in” of “in the hope of eternal life” carries with it the idea of “on the basis of…” Paul’s teaching rests the faith of God’s people, and their knowledge of truth firmly upon the hope of eternal life.
Consider Paul’s teaching in the book of Titus.
- What is “the hope of eternal life” and how has it affected your life?
- How should the hope of eternal life affect our perception of our needs & wants in this life?
- How should the hope of eternal life affect our pursuit of happiness and fulfillment in this life?
- How should the hope of eternal life affect our orientation to our struggles, sorrows, and disappointments in this life?
Pray for increased “eternal perspective”: that we would wrestle our hopes away from the grips of anything other than Christ, what He has done for us, and what He is coming again to do, set this world free from it’s “bondage to decay” to a world that fully reflects God’s glory.