We’re in the time of year where you’re likely to have attended a graduation. As parents and grandparents look on their children, the emotions in the arena likely range wildly. Pride, fear, hope, disappointment, maybe a touch of doubt. “He chose to major in Klingon?” The older generations are prone to be skeptical of the generation who is about to take their place. But in the Christian Church, we aren’t to simply wish that the next generation “makes it.” Paul lays out a plan for creating a culture of faith & good works that will last for eternal ages, because God said we should and promised it would work.
Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour; To Titus, mine own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour. […]Titus 1:1-16
Summary of the Text
Paul’s opening establishes the basis for all authentic Christian ministry. Notice the clauses: according to faith, acknowledgement of the truth, in hope of eternal life, which is declared through preaching, and Paul is doing so by God’s commandment (vv1-3). This is a personal letter to Titus, a fellow-partaker of the triune blessing of grace, mercy, and peace authorizing him to act with Paul’s apostolic authority (v4); we learn that Paul has a particular assignment for Titus to “set in order” the church in Crete, and to do so by a counter-cultural project of raising up godly elders throughout the island (v5). These men must be identified not only by their own character, conduct, and doctrinal fidelity, but also by the condition of their marriage & children (vv6-9).
These exemplary men will stand in stark contrast to the disorderliness of the Jewish deceivers who were causing the subversion of entire households, and going along with the infamous unruliness of Cretan culture (vv10-12). Titus is tasked with going toe-to-toe with these unruly men, in order that they might be reformed or silenced, while not giving an inch to either Jewish fables or tedious, man-made morality (vv13-14). This massive undertaking can be done only by purity of life & conduct. These compromised leaders are worse than useless in this reformation project (vv15-16).
As the world swirls the drain, the temptation is to shake your head in disgust, shrug your shoulders, and assume there is nothing you can do about it. The temptation which many Christians of our day are succumbing to is to presume that the church’s best days are behind her. They don’t say, as Elisha said, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” They assume that faithfulness from one generation to another isn’t possible. They have many biblical instances to point to. Eli’s scoundrel sons, Samuel’s wayward sons. Rehoboam failing to maintain the glory which David & Solomon had procured. Joshua’s warnings at the end of his life seem to be forgotten by Israel shortly after his death. Even back to Eden, Adam was God’s son, who had left his father’s house to be united to his wife; the test in Eden was how would this son do out on his own. The answer to that question was a disaster.
Paul, nearing the end of his life & ministry, writes to his two closest assistants (Timothy & Titus) and gives them a pointed commission to not fumble at the goal-line. As the Old world was passing away with all its shadows, Paul is like a New Testament Moses, commissioning NT Joshua’s to be faithful in life & doctrine. The church was fanning out in conquest of the world, and this conquest would be successful if faithful men faithfully preached & lived out the Gospel, and taught others to do so. Paul expected that even in the most unruly culture, this strategy would be effective. Believe the Gospel, live out the Gospel, and preach the Gospel
Titus was a Gentile convert who had been quite the utility player for Paul’s missionary efforts (2 Tim. 4:10). Paul points to him (Gal. 2:3) as an example of a faithful Gentile convert despite not having received the OT covenant sign of circumcision. The Cretan Jews who were bringing in a whole cornucopia of false doctrines/traditions of men, might make a claim to the promises of God, but they only have the husk and not the pith. Titus is the true inheritor of God’s eternal promise, by faithfulness to God’s promise. Titus was no stranger to dealing with difficult pastoral problems (2 Cor. 8:32); but this assignment of reforming Cretan culture was not a weekend project. It was multigenerational (Cf. 2:1-8, 2 Tim. 2:2 Ex. 18).
Authority in Action
Authority is not a whip to get people to do what you want, it is a tool which must be used to build something. Authority is so often misused because those in office see it as something with which to get what they desire. We see this in the description of the unruly leaders currently infecting the believers of Crete. Their greed, indulgence, and infatuation with fables was causing the demolition of entire households. By contrast, Christian homes, with the elder’s setting the pace, should demonstrate that godly authority builds up something which their subordinates are glad to contribute to & be around. The contrast here is between authority which exists to be indulged, and authority which exists to bring life (Tit. 1:2, 3:5).
Titus is to silence the false teachers. This is done by holding fast to the faithful Word. True authority submits to God’s authority. This refutation is not to be done passively: as if just mowing your lawn regularly is enough to spread “Gospel presence”. It is done as godly elders create a contrast between the fruitfulness of their own life & household with the fruitlessness of the unruly. It also means a godly elder will need to actually pick fights. He should, by sound doctrine, exhort & convince gainsayers, and shut up the unruly and vain-talkers. We’ll see another instance in the next chapter that this godly exercise of authority is to be passed on to the next generation. This counter-cultural project, however, isn’t anarchy, it is submission, holding fast to the Word of the God who can’t lie.
Before the World Began
There is a line in the opening that might sneak by us, but which needs to be central to our minds as we work through this epistle: “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” The divine covenant of God’s redeeming purpose forms the basis for your certainty that you can walk in godliness. This is nothing other than Paul restating Christ’s prayer for us: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world (Jn. 17:24).”
Cretan culture came with a gravitational pull toward a specific set of sins. Paul affirms this pagan prophet’s insight, and the authority of it. But the underlying redemptive message reveals that the Cretan concrete isn’t fully set. The ship can be turned. Titus, along with faithful elders and the saints they shepherd can be a rudder of generational reformation. This is possible because of God’s eternal promise, but it will show up as the Gospel is preached (1:3).
God our Savior
Central to the success of this project is the good news. Cretans may have been an unruly bunch. Lies may have been their currency. Entire households may be enchanted by the fanciful tales of carnal leaders. But Paul, multiple times in this epistle, gives Titus the secret ingredient to setting all this in order: God is our Savior (Cf. 1:3, 4; 2:10, 13; 3:4,6). It’s worth pointing out that God our Savior & Christ our Savior are used interchangeably.
Have you made a mess of things? Are things in your home, or life, or culture unruly, disordered, and tangled? Has your sin become so notorious as to become proverbial? Are you like the person described in verse 16, professing knowledge of God, but contradicting it by your lifestyle? Paul’s message to Titus is to set in order the Cretan believers by bringing this sound doctrine to bear upon their lives. God is our Savior. Cretans are liars, but God does not lie. False teachers feign knowledge of God, but deny Him by their sinful works (Is. 29:13, Jer. 5:2); but God can’t lie. His promise, covenanted in eternity, was to be your Savior. This is the Gospel, God takes dead men, and makes them live. God takes unruly cultures and sets them in order. God takes things that are formless and void, and fills them with light and life, and this life is in His Son, Christ our Savior. And He cannot fail in this task.
Charge & Benediction
American culture is a mess. Maybe your life or family are in tatters too. Paul’s vision here for pulling this cultural reformation off requires one thing: you need to be alive. This life only comes individuals, families, and churches who say “Amen” to this reality, that Christ is our Savior.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.