Titus 1:1 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, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 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;
4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you- 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.
Titus 2:1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. 9 Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 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.
15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
Titus 3:1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. 9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
12 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. 14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. 15 All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.
I checked this week…the first sermon I gave on Titus was back on August 16th, 2015. I mention that because, as I contemplated writing my last sermon on Titus, it struck me how much we’ve all invested in this short letter. We’ve given countless hours to studying and thinking about and praying over and memorizing and discussing and applying Paul’s words to Titus. For me personally, it’s been a significant part of my life for most of a year; consuming large chunks of nearly every day of my life. It’s become a familiar and comfortable part of my week. In one way I’m sad that it’s coming to an end—like coming to the end of a really good series of books. Nevertheless, that’s where we are—at the end of Titus.
For the next few weeks I’m going to preach on a few different topics that we, as elders, have deemed pressing. Next week I’m going to address the topic of money in the bible (Where did it come from? What is it for? What does how I view it and use it say about my relationship with God? Those are a few of the questions I’ll address). We decided that now is a good time to do so because we’re doing fairly well financially. Too often churches only preach on money when they are running short of it. And in that sense, they are in danger of using the bible’s teaching to further their own plans. We don’t want to do that.
Then, the following week, I’m going to preach on the nature of and assumptions behind expository preaching (the kind of preaching we primarily have at Grace). Week in and week out I do my best to preach through the bible book by book and verse by verse, seeking to explain what the bible means by what it says, how that points to the glory of God and his gospel, and what implications all of that has for our lives today (that’s expository preaching). Again, there are a number of assumptions behind the decision to preach that way, and I want to share some of them with you before I start preaching through another book of the bible…which leads us to three weeks from now.
Beginning on May 29th, I’m going to start preaching through 1 Peter. We chose this book for several reasons. Chief among them is the fact that it addresses a flock of persecuted and suffering Christians. That is, the letter is largely about how to live faithfully, in a manner pleasing to God, when faced with external persecution. Given our current cultural trajectory, this is an important theme which we all would do well to think through carefully.
This week, though, I want to quickly go back through Titus one last time. I’m going to share with you six summary thoughts from the letter on the tail end of having sat in it for so many months. These six thoughts are the things that have risen to the top as I consider the heart of Paul’s message to Titus.
With that, let’s pray that God would be pleased to open our eyes, once again, to the 50,000′ glory of this letter.
SIX SUMMARY THOUGHTS ON TITUS
I vividly remember going through the interview process as I first sought a job in pastoral ministry. In particular, I remember being asked about my vocational ministry experience (of which I had none) in virtually every interview. I also remember not understand why that mattered so much to the churches interviewing me. In fact, after a while, I began to judge them for being so concerned about such a (in my estimation) non-spiritual matter. From my perspective I loved Jesus more than anything and wanted to spend my life telling others about him. At the time, to me, that felt like the only necessary qualification for pastoral leadership; never mind the facts that I’d only been a Christian for a few years, had no formal theological training, had no actual experience in youth ministry (I’d never even been in one, much less led one), and had never actually been involved in a healthy way in a local church.
While there was some truth behind my thought process (that love for Jesus and others ought to be at the top of what qualifies a person for pastoral ministry), in reality I was largely unqualified and naive. Consequently, though there would have been some value in my thoughts on pastoral ministry at that point, there are countless more now, nearly 20 years into pastoral ministry.
My point is this: often times our perspective on a journey is more valuable at the end of the journey than at the beginning. There’s something to be learned from both to be sure, but there’s almost always greater wisdom at the end than the beginning…which is where we find ourselves in Titus.
Of course I was better prepared to start preaching through Titus than I was to begin pastoral ministry; nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say that my grasp on it now is greater than when we began (as is all of yours). To wrap up Titus well, therefore, I thought it would be helpful to share the main themes and applications that stand out to me now at the end of preaching through the letter. Again, there are six such thoughts and all flow from the conviction that the center of Titus is the gospel.
First, you cannot understand Titus if you don’t understand the message of the gospel.
There are two primary message-of-the-gospel texts in Titus, 2:11-14 and 3:4-7.
Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 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.
Titus 3:4-7 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
The simple message of these passages—the simple message of the gospel—is this: because of his sin and rebellion against God, all mankind is born dead in sin; helpless and hopeless; unable to save himself; unable to reconcile himself to God. But while we are unable to save ourselves, God is able to save us; not on account of anything in us or because of any good things we’d done, but because of his mercy. He did so by sending his Son, Jesus Christ to die in our place, taking upon himself the punishment and death we deserve. And he graciously did so by uniting us with Jesus’ sacrificial death through faith. The saving work of God in us not only cancels out the wages of our sin, but also kills our appetite for sin and gives us a new appetite for goodness. All of this was secured on the cross, is first experienced by us when we first trust in Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit, will certainly be fully and finally complete when Jesus returns.
Grace, let’s learn this message well. Let’s learn it so well that we’re able to contextualize it for everyone we meet; for the single mom and the drug addict and the abusive father and the churched teenager and the Muslim immigrant and the dying senior citizen—not changing the message for them, but changing our presentation of it so that it makes sense for them where ever they are. Let’s not be content with a surface understanding of the message of the gospel. Let’s be a people who truly give ourselves to really knowing and loving and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.
We cannot understand Titus without understanding the message of the gospel.
Second, you cannot understand Titus if you don’t understand the God of the gospel.
Another significant theme in Titus that really stands out to me in a new way now is Paul’s understanding of God.
In 1:1-4 Paul refers to himself as a servant of God by the command of God for the sake of the gospel of God, to Christians as the “elect” of God, and to God as one who never lies, as One who promised salvation for the elect before the beginning of time, as One who revealed his salvation at the proper time, and as One who brings grace, peace, and salvation (indeed, he refers to God as the One who is the gospel).
That’s quite an introduction and quite an understanding of God—all in just the first four verses.
From there we see that Paul understands God to exist in three persons: Father (1:4), Son (1:1, 4), and Holy Spirit (3:5). The gospel was written by the Father, accomplished by the Son, and applied by the Spirit.
What’s more, Paul understands God to be completely sovereign over everything, including every aspect of our salvation from election to glorification.
Paul’s God is a God worthy of being served (1:1), he is a God of salvation (1:3), grace and peace (1:4), he is a God worthy of all respect and obedience (2:5), he is a renewing God (2:12), he is a glorious God (2:13), he is a redeeming and purifying God (2:14), he is a giving God (2:14), he is a good and loving and kind God (3:4), he is a merciful God (3:5), he is a generous God (3:6), and he is a holy God.
If you do not understand Paul’s God you do not understand Paul’s gospel and you do not understand Titus.
Third, you cannot understand Titus if you don’t understand the power/effects of the gospel.
For Paul, once again, the gospel is not nearly as small as most of us have made it. The gospel is not merely the good news that you can be forgiven of your sins and go to heaven when you die. As I’ve said many times, the gospel is the good news of those things, but it is much more as well.
As I reflected back on Titus this week two aspects of the power/effects of the gospel stood out to me as particularly central to the heart of this letter.
The first one is that the gospel’s effects are certain. God’s people are elect (1:1). God’s people do have eternal life (1:2). God’s Church will be strengthened (1:5-9). God’s enemies will be silenced (1:10-16). God has saved his people (2:11). God’s people are being and will be made holy and pure (2:12, 14). God’s Son will return in glory (2:13). God’s goodness and love and kindness and mercy are upon his people (3:4, 5). God’s people have been regenerated (3:5). God’s people are being renewed (3:5). God’s people have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them (3:5-6). God’s people have been justified (3:7). God’s people will receive their inheritance (3:7). And God is protecting his people until the end (3:11). All of these things are the effects of the gospel and all of them are certain.
The second aspect of the power/effects of the gospel that stands out to me now more than ever is that the gospel’s effects are for every man, woman, and child, for every race, tribe, and language, and for every kind of sinner. Paul specifically mentions older men, older women, young women, younger men, slaves, and rulers. The gospel which Paul commands Titus to preach and insist upon is the same gospel that Paul has taken throughout the entire world—to every tongue, tribe, and nation. And Paul’s gospel is powerful enough to save foolish people, disobedient people, people who have been led astray, people who are enslaved to various sins and sinful pleasures, malicious people, envious people, and even hateful people (3:3).
Indeed, Paul explicitly states that his gospel is the good news of salvation for “all people” (2:11); for all who would believe (3:8).
This is great news for us indeed. It means that we can be saved even though we are not ethnic children of Abraham (Jews). It means that we can be saved regardless of whether we are a man, woman, or child. It means that no one has committed a sin too bad or too many times that they are beyond the saving reach of the gospel. And the power of the gospel means that we can know and be certain of our salvation. We do not have to worry or wonder if we’re truly in Christ. Where genuine faith is present, producing good works in joy, we can be certain that the gospel’s certain effects have saved us.
If you don’t understand the power of the gospel to certainly save people from every walk of life, you don’t understand Titus.
Fourth, you cannot understand Titus if you don’t understand the seriousness of the gospel.
For me this point is second only to the last point in terms of importance in Titus. The gospel is serious business for Paul. The gospel is so serious that Paul has been made a servant and an apostle on account of it (1:1). The course of his entire life was altered by it.
The gospel is so serious that it was in God’s mind before the “ages began” (1:2).
The gospel is serious enough that God created a special office (elders) for the purpose of teaching and defending it (1:5-9), and insists that those who hold it be of exemplary mind and character.
The gospel is so serious that those who oppose it must be rebuked swiftly (1:9) and sharply (1:13), silenced (1:11), put to shame (2:8), warned (3:10), and shunned (3:13).
The gospel is so serious that it must be held to firmly (1:9), spoken about soundly (2:8), declared (2:15), exhorted (2:15), never disregarded (2:15), and insisted upon (3:8).
Too often in Titus’s day and ours the gospel is treated more like a comforting teddy bear than the power of God for salvation. We want to cuddle it gently rather than contend for it fiercely. We want to be slowly warmed by it rather than utterly consumed by it. We want to be propped up by it rather than stand entirely upon it. We want to tame the gospel rather than be tamed by it. Paul does not allow for any of this. The gospel far too serious for it.
If you don’t understand the God of the gospel, the message of the gospel, the power of the gospel, and the seriousness of the gospel, you don’t understand Titus.
Fifth, you cannot understand Titus if you don’t understand the keeper of the gospel (the Church).
This is another exceedingly significant theme in Titus and important theme for us today. The Church was given by God to be the keeper of the gospel. For Paul, in this letter, this means at least three things.
First, it means that the gospel was given to the Church—that is, to the elect people of God. Just as the Law was given to the Jews, the gospel was given to the Church. As Paul makes clear from the first words of this letter, God has elected a people to be saved. The Church is made up of all the elect. To them (to us) God has given the gospel in power.
Second, it is the Church’s charge to proclaim and defend and train people in the gospel. Having been entrusted with the gospel, it is the Church’s mission to steward it according to God’s instructions. Specifically, God has commissioned the Church to proclaim the gospel (to share its message with the entire world), to defend the gospel (to ensure that it is believed and shared in its purity), and to train people in the gospel (to help everyone understand its implications as well as its message).
And third, it means that all of this is meant to take place primarily within the context of the local church. This entire letter is one big charge to Titus to order and lead his (local) church in such a way as to keep, proclaim, defend, and train others in the gospel in a manner most pleasing to God. And as we can clearly see, the manner commanded by Paul is not that of a bunch of individual, isolated members of the universal Church going after it on their own, but that of members the universal Church gathered and unified in a local church, led by godly elders, helped by one another, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The simple point of all of this is that God’s primary charge for his people (to spread the gospel to all the earth) is meant to be accomplished by his people together in the context of local churches. And the simple application of all of this for us today is that, consequently, we must all recognize the centrality and importance of the local communion of the saints. That is, we must all commit ourselves to living our lives in the gospel together so that we can best honor God and bless the world in our proclamation of the gospel.
If you don’t understand the fact that the Church was given by God to be the keeper of the gospel then you don’t understand Titus.
Sixth, you cannot understand Titus if you don’t understand the enemies of the gospel.
Finally, since the fall, in this world, there always have been and always will be enemies of the gospel. The two main passages dealing with the gospel enemies are 1:10-16 and 3:9-11.
Titus 1:10-16 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.
Titus 3:9-11 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
In Paul’s day, as we’ve seen, the primary enemies of the gospel were the secular authorities and false teachers. In particular (as these passages indicate), Paul and Titus were dealing with false teachers who wanted to mix the Jewish laws and traditions with the gospel for salvation. Unfortunately, as Titus makes plain, a good portion of Paul’s time was spent confronting these false teachers and understanding that is essential to understanding this letter.
Today, in our context, in many ways, we deal with the same enemies of the gospel: the secular authorities and false teachers. Increasingly our government is growing hostile toward genuine Christian convictions, and steadily false teachers churn out their unique versions of very old false teaching.
Grace, let’s keep in mind a few things. Let’s keep in mind the fact that in the end, the gospel wins. Though the gospel’s enemies may increasingly make our life and mission harder, they cannot ultimately prevail. Let’s keep in mind the fact that persecution, rather than comfort, is often the mark of Christian faithfulness. Let’s keep in mind the need to speak clearly and graciously and boldly about the gospel and its effects to the lost world around us. May we never confuse jerkiness with humble contention for the gospel, but may we also never confuse disengagement or silence with genuine gospel love. And let’s expect that a significant portion of our gospel work will include rebuking false gospels.
There were enemies of the gospel in Paul’s day and there are enemies of the gospel today. You simply don’t understand Titus if you don’t understand the significant labor required by Christians (particularly elders) to confront the enemies of the gospel.
At the end of all of this, then, it seems to me that the heart of Paul’s letter to Titus is the gospel in effect, and that the essence of his message concerning the gospel in effect is captured in six themes: 1) the need to clearly understand the gospel message, 2) the need to understand the God of the gospel, 3) the need to grasp the certain power of the gospel, 4) the need to appreciate the seriousness of the gospel, 5) the need to live and proclaim the gospel within the context of the local church, and 6) the need to take seriously the enemies of the gospel.
What a ride this has been. What a letter of glory. What practical and challenging and encouraging and loving words. What a God. What a gospel. What promises both hold out for us. What a life this calls us to. What glory awaits us as we look to Christ and give ourselves to good works. Thanks for taking this journey with me.
I’d like to end, then, as Paul ended, “Grace be to you all.” Amen.