Have you ever wondered why churches are run as they are? This letter is like a blueprint showing how Paul organised them, and down through the years, churches have copied his model. He was concerned that we should faithfully fulfil the mission God had given them in the world. Paul had a clear view of authority, of discipline, of governance, and of mission, and he set it all out in accordance with the powerful, loving, just, and merciful nature of God. In fact, the context for all his remarks and instructions is based in his identity as an apostle – one saved by Christ at just the right time, and set apart to serve God by serving the church. The opening paragraph is fascinating in that regard and bears repeated reading. Paul’s answer to the question “Who am I” is answered with reference to “Whose am I?”
In fact, this short letter is worth picking over with care in its entirety. It contains insightful guidance, for all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, and true theological depth. It may deal with the principles of church organisation, discipline, and work, but it does so from the perspective of a practical situation. At one point he tells Titus to instruct his flock “to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” I suppose every church needs reminding of all these things! Imagine if we were all ready for every good work, if we were all committed to speak no evil of anyone, if we went out of our way to avoid quarrels, were gentle, and were perfectly courteous. Just imagine…
But Paul knew the goodness and grace of God! In other words, this isn’t moralism or pie in the sky wishful thinking: it’s the application of the gospel. He shows that there is power available from God that makes spiritual transformation not merely possible or desirable, but – in the course of a life lived-out in gratitude to God for his mercy – necessary and inevitable! An unsettling thing should happen as we read this letter: we should notice areas where there is no evidence of spiritual transformation, either in our own lives, or in the life of our congregation. But more than that, this letter reminds believers what it means to be saved by grace, and to live saved and sent, propelled onwards by the same grace that saved us and sent us.
Nor was Paul naïve about what people were like on Crete. At one stage he even quotes the Cretan seer Epimenides’ riddle against them: Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. (Paul liked to borrow Epimenides’ lines – in the debate in the Areopagus which is recorded in Acts, he also quoted his saying that “in God we live and move and have our being”.)
But Paul produced some very quotable sayings of his own in the letter, too. (This is where the expression, “To the pure, all things are pure” comes from, for example.) Fans of the DC Talk song “What if I stumble?” may recognise that “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works” is underneath the quote of Brennan Manning in that song. Paul knew well what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable and offers this remedy:
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. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 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, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 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.
The clauses are long. The writing is difficult. The truths are astonishing.
Edgar de Blieck (Ed has blogged about Titus, verse by verse, over at http://caughtnottaught.blogspot.com/search/label/Titus )