Series Theme: Meditating in Titus
This Page: Chapter 1 of Titus
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Meditations in Titus: 1 : Introduction
Titus 1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness
Titus is, I suspect, one of those highly underrated books of the Bible possibly because there is a little mystery over when it was written and the circumstances surrounding it. However when we get into it we find there is a wealth of knowledge here that is very valuable to the church, both then and now.
There is no mention of Titus in Acts (I wonder what parameters Luke used to decide just how much and who went into Acts?); we have to rely on Paul's letters to glean what we may of him. Apparently he had gone up to Jerusalem with Paul after Paul's fourteen year ‘gap' (Gal 2:1) and we are told Titus was a Greek Gentile (Gal 2:3). We hear of him in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians as an esteemed leader and he was obviously with Paul when Paul visited Crete at some time not mentioned in Acts. When Paul left there he left Titus to establish the new believers and so much of this letter is guidance on the sort of things Titus needs to teach the new believers. It's a helpful mandate, therefore, for new churches!
Paul's introductions always contain a great deal of theology. His starting place (and hopefully ours) is that he is first and foremost a servant of God. That is where he sees himself first of all. Everything else follows from that, but within that, within the will of God, the plan of God, Jesus has come and apprehended him and so now he is, within that servanthood, an apostle of Jesus, one of his ‘sent ones'. He is there to serve God and now specifically to serve within that calling, of an apostle.
Perhaps we might ask ourselves, are we aware of our calling and has that calling ever been specified by God to us, so that we know our gifting and our ministry within the body of Christ? Perhaps many of us drift along in church life without any sense of having heard the voice of God specifying His specific call to us, to operate in a specific role in His church. If this has not been our experience then why not pray that it might be, that you will come to be clear in your mind as to your goal in serving God.
Now what is unusual if what Paul goes on to say for he speaks about faith and knowledge as outworkings of his apostolic ministry. Let's take it in two parts. First he says he is “ an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God's elect.” One commentator puts it, “the envoy of Jesus Christ whose task is to awaken faith in God's chosen ones.” It is always a mystery, this thing people call predestination. My own take is not that God locks in some and locks out others, but that from the foundation of the world He knew who would respond to the good news of Jesus and as such, from His viewpoint they are ‘the elect'. It's simply a matter of simple foreknowledge.
But faith is the key ingredient that takes us from death to life, from unbeliever to believer, from pagan to Christian. Faith is hearing the message and responding to it and for anyone to become a Christian, they have to first hear the good news of Jesus, realise the bad news about themselves and respond in repentance and belief. That is faith and as we exercise that, God steps in and finishes the starting work off by putting His Holy Spirit with us so we are born again and we enter into a new Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered life.
So the starting part of the apostle's ministry – as it is, we would suggest, in some measure at least, in all ministries – is to challenge and awaken faith to draw others into the kingdom, for that was Jesus' calling and it is the calling of every ministry which is an expression of him. Perhaps we should expand on this. If we take the Eph 4:11 list – “ apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,” then apostles are church planters and to plant a church you have to save people before you can build them together, prophets declare the glory of God and the truth of God and by definition that is to awaken faith, evangelists have the God-given ability to harvest souls, bringing them into the kingdom by awakening faith, pastors care for the flock and seek to restore them to the loving arms of Jesus, which necessitates awakening fresh faith, and teaching impart and convey the ways of God which also necessitates awakening faith. Each and every one of us, therefore, is in the business of awakening faith in others to bring them into the kingdom.
But it doesn't stop there because Paul carries on, “ and the knowledge of the tru th that leads to godliness.” So the second part of his role as an apostle is to teach the truth to the newly saved church in order for them to lead godly lives. What is a godly life? It is one whereby we live in accordance with the revealed will of God as shown in the Bible. Note the order of things here: first, faith that brings a person into the kingdom of God , then the receiving of knowledge to understand the will of God, and finally a changed life to conform to God's will.
The person who becomes a Christian and thinks, “I have arrived” is in error; they have just come to the starting place. They need teaching which is why personal devotions are important and why church attendance is important. But the person who just soaks up information is also in error because knowledge is not the end product, a changed life is. This ‘godly life' is all about expressing the loving and truthful character of Jesus (who was full of grace and truth – Jn 1:14) and becoming more and more available for Him to use to express his love to others, whether by word, good deed, or supernatural deed – that is Christian service, as He leads us into the roles he has for us which will be the best expression of Him through our particular being.
So we will see, as the book opens up, challenges to come to faith and a laying out of knowledge to be imparted to the new local church there on Crete . This is Paul exercising his ministry of an apostle through the writing of this letter.
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Meditations in Titus: 2 : A Sure Foundation
Titus 1:1,2 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness-- a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.
In the first meditation we saw the apostle Paul explain his ministry as awakening faith and then providing truth to enable God's chosen people to live godly lives, but as he goes on in his introduction he gives us a foundation on which that faith and knowledge of the truth rests. It is the hope of eternal life. Now if that was all it was, as amazing as that might be, someone would say that it was just Paul's wishful thinking, but he denies that; it is eternal life which God promised before the beginning of time.
In other words God declared this before He even brought time-space history into being. Of course with our finite minds we cannot conceive any existence before material time and space came into being. All we can grasp, and that very lightly, is that God has always existed and being Spirit (Jn 4:24) existed uniquely and independently of anyone or anything else, Father, Son and Holy Spirit existing and communicating together and then at some moment in His existence, He said, “Let there be light.” Yet before that, according to the revelation given in the New Testament, the Trinity considered the possibilities and realised that if they made mankind with free will, at some point that free will would be exercised contrary to the dictates of the godhead and when that happened, it would have a series of consequences, bad consequences, and the godhead would have to take further action to win mankind back but without violating their free will.
The plan was to befriend Abram and then later establish a nation through his grandson, a nation that would reveal God to the rest of the world, and reveal their own inability to break free from that sinful expression of that free will. When that inability was clearly revealed, the Son would leave heaven and come to earth to live within that nation and to reveal the love and goodness of the godhead to mankind through that one life. But there was still the problem of the guilt of mankind's sin and justice demanded that that needed dealing with. The only way to achieve that was for God Himself, in the form of His Son on earth, to take the punishment due – hence the Cross. When the truth of this became clear it would win many back to God and in being reunited with God they would receive His Holy Spirit, who is also eternal God, and thus brings eternal life.
Now all of this was decreed by the godhead before those incredible words, “Let there be light.” In fact according to the revelation that Paul has, when God declared this before He made anything, His declaration of intent was tantamount to a promise. When God says something is so, He does not lie, He sticks to it and so His declaration of intent before anything else was the equivalent of a promise that it would be so. Thus the promise of the possibility of receiving eternal life was made right back then.
We find references to this decision before the start of the world in all the following verses: Jn 17:24, Eph 1:4, 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2. They all refer back to this decision, this promise, made before anything else. THIS is the foundation, this is the surety for all else that follows. Thus when Paul, as an apostle, awakens faith in this people, this people that God knew before He made anything else occurred would turn to Him in time-space history, we see that faith is belief in a plan that had its origins way back then. When Paul, as an apostle, goes on to teach new believers how to live godly lives, the design of those lives had its origin in the plan formulated before God made anything else.
The strength of this faith and this knowledge is not in the fact that Paul says it but simply that he is conveying God's plan decreed before anything else came into existence. The Gospel is not an accident, it is not an add-on, something God had to think up because everything was getting out of control; it was the plan agreed by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit before they brought this material world into being. The plan of salvation was as clear cut in the mind of God as His plans to create a material world. The two cannot be separated. The material world was perfect and yet to give mankind free will was almost guaranteed at some point to bring about Sin – which is simply self-centred godlessness. Without free will love could not exist and as that was the prime characteristic of God, it would be the characteristic of all He made, it is all an expression of His love.
If we are to be able to love, it has to be a free expression by definition. Love is not something forced or imposed. Thus, if we sinful human beings are to be able to love God, it is because our hearts are won by His love. When we comprehend that, we receive it and receive the Spirit of love, and it becomes our expression as well, and the first object of our love becomes God Himself. We couldn't have dreamed this up, but He did – even before He spoke a word and brought this world into being. How amazing! And now faith and our knowledge of the truth flows out from this truth. Everything flows from it in fact, everything! Hallelujah!
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Meditations in Titus: 3 : In Due Season
Titus 1:3 and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior,
The simple word ‘and' brings us a continuation but a contrast also, if you like, from what he has just been saying. He had started out speaking of the way his ministry was expressed, by awakening faith in God's chosen one (the ones He saw from before the foundation of the world would respond when Hs word came to them), and then of imparking knowledge of the truth to enable the new believers to live godly lives. All of that was based upon the promise of the end product of God's salvation, eternal life, which God had promised before He even started this material world off, before, in Paul's words, “ the beginning of time.”
So there we have God's strategy, formulated between the members of the Trinity, outside of time, before time-space history was brought into being by them. Nothing else had happened (to our knowledge at least) but that the strategy had been decided upon. Then they created this world and everything we know of as existence. Time passed by, millions and millions of years if you believe modern scientists (but they might be wrong, time will tell).
Human beings appeared on earth, civilizations formed, a man named Abram found he was being spoken to by an unseen Being. This Being turns out to be the God who created all things. A relationship is formed. Abram has a son called Isaac who has a son called Jacob who is renamed Israel and from his children a nation is formed who find themselves in slavery in Egypt, but are then miraculously delivered by this Creator God. Centuries pass by and this new nation is ruled by judges and then by kings. From the first king, Saul, to the last king, Zedekiah, some five hundred years or so pass during which this Creator God has dealings with kings and princes, priests, prophets and people, and then there are some four hundred years of silence.
Then comes a new prophet called John who baptizes people as a sign of their being washed clean before God and starting a new life. Shortly after John starts his ministry Jesus of Nazareth appears, who claims to be the Son of God and performs signs and wonders to justify his claim. After three of the most wonderful years in human history, he is taken and crucified but on the third day rises from the dead. For a month and a half he remains with his followers, teaching them, and then he ascends in to heaven. A little while later the Holy Spirit is poured out on the believers in Jerusalem and the Church comes into being. A year or so later a zealous young Pharisee named Saul has an encounter with the reigning Lord Jesus from heaven, on the road to Damascus . This young man becomes a major church planter and as he writes to the various churches the fuller understanding of the Gospel is unraveled.
This latter phase is all summarized in our verse above: “ at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.” This was the ‘season' or the time appointed by God for His salvation of mankind through His Son to be fully revealed. At least a dozen times in his other letters the apostle Paul refers to this Gospel being a ‘mystery' revealed. Yes, it had been there on the heart of God from before the beginning of time and He had been working towards this time throughout history. Now it had come, now the mystery of God's will was revealed and was no longer a mystery.
To the Romans he spoke of, “my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past , but now revealed and made known.” (Rom 16:25,26). To the Ephesians he spelled it out: “the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation , as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of C hrist, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel , members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 3:2-6) Explaining further aspects of it to the Colossians he said, “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory,” (Col 1:27) and “the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” (Col 2:3)
What does this tell us? It says that God is incredibly patient, that He had this strategy on His heart before He created anything and patiently worked with mankind until it became patently clear that sin was so ingrained in humanity that even with God alongside them, they would still fall to its wiles. Only a radical dealing with the root of it, the guilt and shame of it, and by providing a new ‘in-house' power source, could change be truly brought.
How he must have yearned for centuries to bring this to light, but had to wait until the circumstances on earth were just right for the plan to be fulfilled. One of those circumstances was that people were so desperate to be delivered from their sin that they were ready to follow the deliverer, Jesus Christ, and when they did, they found themselves face to face with this incredible thing, this mystery, this plan of God to bring about reconciliation, and this is what Paul now preached. Hallelujah!
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Meditations in Titus: 4 : Trusting Others
Titus 1:5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.
We noted in the first meditation that Paul must have gone to Crete at some time and this had been the occasion when he had shared the Gospel and many had believed and the church was formed. There are therefore lots of question marks over this but merely because it is not all clearly laid out in Scripture does not mean it did not happen. Some time Paul visited Crete and these things happened. What is also clear from our verse above is that Paul felt he must move on (where to we don't know) but left with a sense that only preliminary work had been done in establishing the believers there and that more needed to be done to establish them as a church.
We often come across small groups of believers who seem to be operating outside of the church. Merely because they are Christians, according to the examples and teaching found in the New Testament, that does not mean they are operating as a New Testament local church. Yes, because they are believers they are part of the Church worldwide but they are not operating as a local church, for reasons that soon become clear in this letter.
In the Greeting Paul addresses, “Titus, my true son in our common faith,” and goes on to give him the greeting that he gave with every letter in some similar form: “Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.” (v.4) Within this he declares relationship with Titus, a particularly close one, and within that gives credibility and authority to Titus. He isn't just a believer but one appointed by Paul to continue the work of an apostolic leader there on Crete , but in the greeting he reminds us that Titus still needs the grace and peace that we all need. These aren't just words, they have meaning. We each NEED grace and peace from our Lord to live out our lives and fulfil our ministries. Titus has a job in front of him and he is going to need all of God's grace to fulfil it. It is never easy being a leader in the church; we will always find ourselves facing difficulties and conflicts and we will need all of God's wisdom and perseverance to win through. In the midst of those difficulties and conflicts we will also need the Lord's peace keeping us and holding us firm.
Paul describes the task given to Titus as needing to “straighten out what was left unfinished.” It is thus clear that in Paul's mind, leaving a bunch of believers just as that, a miscellaneous group, is inadequate and in the job of planting a church is an incomplete work. The idea of ‘straightening out' what was unfinished is interesting in that it suggests that what is there is crooked or not ordered or in line, or not in the place God would want it to be. In the words that follow, and we'll consider them in the next meditation, Paul moves on to speak about appointing elders and their qualifications. The absence of specific leaders (and we'll see their role in the next meditation as we consider their qualifications) indicates an incomplete local church. We will go on to see the specific need for such leaders but for there to be an established local church there do need to be anointed leaders, those called by God and recognized by the local church. In their absence the church is incomplete and vulnerable.
Now one of the things that we may miss here, because we perhaps take it for granted, is that Paul is happy to move on and leave this ongoing work to Titus. Paul challenges the person who seeks to do everything and be everything to the local church. Paul trusts Titus and obviously considers him mature enough to do this work. We may also suggest he trusts the gifting of Titus which enables him to walk away and leave it all in the hands of his younger protégé. This may sound a simple thing but often, especially in the case of one-man ministries in the local church, we wrongly assume that one man is sufficient to oversee the local church. In the New Testament elders are always in the plural. I suspect we tolerate the one-man ministry because so many local churches are so small and they do not have the courage to shut up shop and join with a larger group of believers to form a much more obvious expression of the local church. It may be that we also don't realise the importance of the role of the elder (which we'll consider in the next meditation).
As far as Paul is concerned a church without elders is an incomplete or unfinished church, a crooked church that needs straightening out. So often we speak about wrong thinking that needs ‘straightening out'. Accepting a local church without God-called and people-recognised ‘elders' is in New Testament terms an incomplete church and such wrong thinking needs straightening out!
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Meditations in Titus: 5: Why Elders
Titus 1:5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.
We have commented that wherever Paul established churches he also established elders for that church (e.g. Acts 14:23) but before we move on to examine the qualifications of an elder that we find in the following verses, we might do well to examine the meaning of the world elder, other names given to the role and what the role included. A good starting place is the teaching from the apostle Peter: “ To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers .” (1 Pet 5:1,2)
The term ‘elder' speaks of the spiritual maturity of a leader called by God to look after His people. The term ‘shepherd' (or its alternative ‘pastor') refers to his caring and providing role, and the term ‘overseer' refers to his protective and administrative role. As we noted previously almost invariably reference is to elders – plural. It would be helpful to examine in more detail the activity of an elder seen either by teaching or by example in the New Testament.
An elder first of all leads (remember a shepherd goes ahead of his flock). This reference to leading thus suggests the maturity that we have already spoken about, a spiritual maturity than comes with time and experience and which brings wisdom with it. Part of this entails him being fully aware of the Gospel and sound teaching of the New Testament so that he a) can impart it to the flock and b) use it to refute false teaching, hence Paul's words to Titus: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9) In his letter to Timothy Paul says the elder must be “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2)
To the elders of Ephesus Paul charged, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God , which he bought with his own blood.” (Act 20:28) and went on to warn them against false teachers who would come in. This reference implies, ‘Care for them, guard and protect the flock from the enemy, because they are very precious to Jesus because he died of each of them.' The example of James in Acts suggests there are times when the elders have to judge doctrinal issues (see Acts 15:13-19). They are clearly to be men of the word. Maintaining and holding to the truth and rejecting falsehood is to be a key role of the church elder.
In their role as a overseer we might fall into the trap of thinking that this is purely administrative which requires experience and wisdom – “The elders who direct the affairs of the church.” (1 Tim 5:17) However there are two examples in the New Testament that show us that the elder is to also be a person who conveys spiritual power and authority. When Paul said to Timothy, “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you,” (1 Tim 4:14) we see that the elders who had prayed (and probably prophesied) over Timothy had imparted a spiritual gift. James wrote, “ Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.” (Jas 5:14,15) The elder is clearly to be a man of faith, power and authority.
So to recap, elders are to be men (we'll come to this in the next meditation and there is a reason for this I believe) of maturity, not only in life but especially in spirituality. When they lead the flock, it means they go ahead by example and they will be able to do that because they have learnt through time and experience and they have accumulated knowledge, insight and wisdom. They will care for the flock, teach the flock, admonish and challenge the flock (to grow into maturity – see Eph 4:11,12) and will be able to speak on doctrinal matters and refute wrong teaching. They will also have spiritual authority to stand against false teachers or prophets who might come to disturb the flock. They will also have spiritual power as well as authority to minister life, healing and gifting to the people of God. They are therefore, conduits of God's blessing to His people – not the only conduit (for there are other ministries) but the primary home in the home situation.
While it is possible for one man to fulfil all these things, the New Testament reference to elder s indicates a team leadership of men who mutually support one another and stand together for the flock and against the enemy. To perhaps see how far we have so often strayed from the New Testament pattern, read through that recap paragraph above again and once you have done that you will be better equipped to see why the ‘qualifications' in the following verses in Titus 1 are so important and that we will go on to see in the next study.
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Meditations in Titus: 6: Qualifications for Elders (1)
Titus 1:6,7 An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless--not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.
If I may shorten the recap within the previous meditation to remind us what elders do: elders are to be men of maturity, who go ahead by example, who care for the flock, teach and challenge the flock to grow into maturity, resisting wrong teaching, and who should have spiritual authority and spiritual power. They are therefore, conduits of God's blessing to His people.
Now if you think that is too high a calling, you are beginning to realise the reality of it. It IS a calling and a gifting and it is only able to be carried out with the grace of God. If that is the nature of the ministry, what must be the nature of the vessel bringing the ministry?
First, “a n elder must be blameless.” He must seek to be a man of impeccable character because he represents God and is to be God's channel of blessing. Now please, be realistic, none of us are perfect and so your man will have feet of clay the same as the rest of us. There will be times when he isn't perfect, nevertheless generally he must be a man of good reputation. Now twice in this list Paul says the elder must be blameless, In verse 6 it would appear to be blameless in respect of family life and then in verse 7 in respect of personal character and personality. We will look at verse 7 in the next meditation and restrict ourselves here to considering family life because it is so important. Now I realise we are about to move into contentious issues and so simply ask that we consider these things as the Bible says them and not as modern culture would try to make us go along with.
So, second, “the husband of but one wife.” Note he is a man and a man in a stable enduring marriage relationship. Let's deal with the ‘male issue' first. Where we have a society functioning as God designed, it we will have committed relationships (marriages) and children born to them. I have been tempted to expand on the psychological reasons why in general God decrees that leadership will be male but will simply leave this statement which is true: in the Bible leadership is invariably male although there are rare exceptions. This has nothing to do with culture or history, I suggest, but more to do with God's wisdom.
I realise we are living in an age where godless culture does not understand this and parts of the church are conforming to that culture's norms but time will tell the truth of this before too many years pass. This is not in any way to demean women or restrict their gifting. Spiritual warfare can be bruising and elders are at the forefront of that. As I have heard someone say, “When you look at the realities of spiritual leadership and realise how tough it often is, you are crazy to want to be a leader unless you have God's clear calling into it.” Doctors and psychologists often say that church leadership is one of the most stressful jobs going. The injury rate or the casualty rate is phenomenal. If this is strange to you, count yourself fortunate that you have not seen this or been part of it. Most of the church leaders that I know are damaged in some way by the ministry; as we said spiritual warfare can really be bruising, and that is an understatement.
The call to be blameless here, I believe, is a call to be accusation free wherever possible and in respect of their marriages spiritual leaders are always vulnerable. If the truth was known about many marriage relationships, many wives might well disqualify their husbands from that role (or husbands disqualify themselves). Is this a reason why the church is so often powerless and impotent?.
Third, “a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” He is thus a man who has been fully involved with his family and taken part in the training and brining up of his children, including their spiritual teaching. In the letter to Timothy, Paul includes in this same list, “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?)” (1 Tim 3:4,5) This element is an important one. A man who has not been able to train his children appropriately so that they are not disruptive and disobedient is lacking. It is a sign of maturity that he is able to do that. How we deal with our children will be a sign of our maturity and its absence is revealed in the way our children respond in life I believe.
When we pray for our leaders, I wonder do we pray for their families? I have mentioned spiritual warfare more than once and as I have observed the families of leaders, there are some beautiful ones to behold but at the same time there are ones where the enemy is causing havoc. Husband and wife relationships and parent and children relationship can be, if we are not very careful, major battlefields where the enemy seeks to lead astray or pull down individuals. Any parent will at times anguish for their children and cry to the Lord for help and an entire study could be written on the ways the enemy seeks to upset relationships and subsequently ministries.
If we are a leader honesty is vital. We must face the reality of our marriages and our relationships with our children and their relationships with us, with one another and with God. These are areas of major vulnerability that require us to think much, pray much, and do all we can to enable us to be leaders who are full of grace and truth, have families that are full of grace and truth, and establish churches that are full of grace and truth.
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Meditations in Titus: 7: Qualifications for Elders (2)
Titus 1:7,8 Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless--not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined
Here is the second time Paul says an elder or overseer must be blameless. The first time we saw was in respect of family relationships; this one is about general behaviour. The reason for this call to have a good reputation is given: “ Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work …..” It is often said that every person who is a Christian is on God's work but the Bible emphasises that church leaders are in a way that others are not. We have suggested before that spiritual warfare is bruising and that the church leader is at the forefront of the battle that the enemy brings against the church. To be a church leader is to be called by God to a specific and difficult role. It is a public role in that the member of the local church see him, but so does the onlooking world. For this reason he is both a representative of God and of the church and therefore must have a spotless reputation. Now to the specifics.
“not overbearing”. The dictionary definition of this is ‘acting in a dictatorial manner; arrogant; domineering.' We sometimes speak of ‘the minister' of a church but the word simply means a servant. Sadly I am afraid I can say I have seen spiritual leaders acting in a dictatorial manner, being arrogant and domineering. It is especially common where you have a large church with a large leadership team and a large staff. The temptation is to become ‘the boss' in the way of the world and so often these descriptions are what are seen in the world. They should not be so in the church.
“not quick-tempered”. A person who has a short fuse, we sometimes say, lacks self control and is impatient with people. Anger is right in unrighteous circumstances but getting angry with people is not the way of the servant. He is to treat people graciously. Both of these first two are about holding right attitudes towards other people, holding the attitude of a servant, as Jesus did.
“not given to drunkenness”. This is another lack of control issue. Alcohol is not wrong in itself but drinking in excess means you are no longer the person you are when completely sober. Observing a drunk can be a scary thing because you can never be sure how they will act. Loss of control means things can be said that would otherwise not be said. This is not to be the way of God's servant.
“not violent”. This is the natural follow-on to thinking about drunkenness but it can also have a wider application. In particular this man must not be violent with his wife or children. He is supposed to be an example to the flock. This is also linked to being overbearing and quick tempered. This is a man out of control and such a man should not be an elder.
“not pursuing dishonest gain”. This man is called to a holy profession and God will be his provider. The thought of ‘pursuing' dishonest gain goes beyond a one-off mistake to an outlook that looks to get benefit and is not bothered how that comes. In whatever form this comes, whether it be in dubious business practices or in other things, it disqualifies a man from being an elder.
So far these have all been negatives, things we should NOT find in an elder and if they are, then I suggest the elder should step down or be stepped down. Now Paul comes to a positive list of things we should find in such a leader.
First, “he must be hospitable.” A hospitable person is one who welcomes visitors or guests and cares for them making them feel at home and looked after. I would also suggest that this makes him approachable and warm.
He is also to be, “one who loves what is good.” Now this might sound obvious but it speaks of one whose heart is sold out to the good, given over to look for and pursue what is good. In reality there are lots of people in the world of whom this could not be said. Goodness is a characteristic of God and it is to be of our leader as well.
Third, he is to be “self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” I link all these together because the first and last are very similar Discipline is simply another way of speaking about self-control. Now they are linked with being ‘upright' and ‘holy'. ‘Upright' speaks of ethical correctness and ‘holy' speaks of spiritual correctness. This man is in control of his life and ensures that he is right ethically and spiritually. As we have said he is to be an example to the flock and to others, a representative of God and of the church before the world. In all these ways he is to be seen to be ‘blameless'.
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Meditations in Titus: 8: Holding the Truth
Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
Hold, encourage, refute! This is in fact a qualification for an elder and we could have headed this part 3 of the Qualifications, but it stands out with such importance that we need to see it as a fundamental basic requirement which says that, although all the others are important, for a spiritual leader this peaks everything else.
“ the trustworthy message as it has been taught,” is the Gospel, the word that was passed on via the apostles, has eventually been put into print and been passed down through the ages and is the heart of all we believe as Christians. Without this revelation we would be concocting our own religion which would no doubt be person-centred, us-centred, but instead we have this story of Jesus Christ which impacts our lives and brings transformation to them when we come with it before God and submit to Him on the basis of it.
It is vital, essential, fundamental, use whatever words you will, without it we are lost. No wonder the first word is ‘hold': an elder “must hold firmly to” this truth, this revelation. He must not let it go. An elder will, therefore, be a man who has spent much time in God's word. He may or may not have gone to college to do that. College is not the issue. The issue is whether the word of God has been and still is, the rock of this man's life – yes, Jesus is the rock but without this knowledge of the word we wouldn't even have him. I would suggest that those who have gone to college to do their studying can easily fall into the temptation that when they leave they think they know it all and so daily reading of God's word ceases to be. It should not be read and studied just for a qualification but because it is the truth which we need to imbibe every day of our lives. We need to take it in and feed upon it. It is that vital. That is holding on to it.
But then comes, “so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine.” If this word is thus important to him it should be that important to his people, the flock of God, the church. It is not for him to simply take it in as a daily personal feast and then let God's people starve. They may not have the hunger for His word that you have – that's why you are an elder – and that's why you need to take any and every opportunity to share that word with His people to feed them. In my first year as a Christian I found myself leading seven Bible Studies a week. That was a sign of my own hunger and a hunger to share it with others. Today my greatest thrill is sharing that word in whatever way possible. The elder will have a desire to share that word. This is why Paul said to Timothy that the elder must be “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2). I do not believe that an elder can lead God's people without a passionate desire for them to have and to understand God's word, it is so vital to their wellbeing.
Before moving on, a word about preaching or teaching as seen in this context. We have just said that our man needs to have a passionate desire for God's people to be impacted and blessed and changed by God's word for, next to His Spirit, God's word is His primary way of bringing change to people. Now I have lost count of the number of times that I have been saddened by the preacher out front making God's word sound ordinary. It is not and one of the primary characteristics I believe of the preacher is that he be passionate about God's word. I remember Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones last century used to make every verse that he was expounding sound like it was THE most important verse in the Bible – and he did it every week. The preacher who is tired and makes God's word sound boring needs a sabbatical to be refreshed and come to the point again of seeing that His word is incredible, vital, wonderful! To cite another figure from last century Dr. Francis Schaeffer paced up and down in a room in a Swiss chalet for months until he came to that point again and then what a ministry!
Finally, ‘refute'. Not only is the elder to encourage and feed the people of God with God's word, he is also to “refute those who oppose it.” How can you do that unless you understand it yourself? How can you do that unless you know why God's word is unique and anything that varies from it is false? I would suggest that if we are an elder or desire to be one, then we need to equip ourselves with the knowledge of not only the word itself, but how it came into being and why it is unique and why it can be utterly relied upon. This is a war and soldiers are equipped and trained. No, you don't need to go to college to do that but it helps sometimes. Receiving from others who have gone before you is wise. If that is what you need to be equipped for this wonderful role, then do it. If you need refreshing so that the words of this study don't make you feel uncomfortable, then take time out and get refreshed. Let's honour the Lord and His word by being those who appreciate it and herald it in these ways. Amen? Amen!
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Meditations in Titus: 9: Silence False Teaching
Titus 1:10,11 For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach--and that for the sake of dishonest gain.
These present verses flow on naturally from the one before: “ He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (v.9) The word ‘For' could be replaced by ‘because'. The elder needs to hold firmly to the word, to the truth, in order that he may stand against those who are described in these two verses, and they will always be around in some form or another.
The people Paul speaks against are first of all rebellious. They are deceived into thinking that they are so special that they alone have the right message and so they stand against the message of the basic gospel passed down from the apostles and prophets. They are users of words, they talk a lot and convince and lead people astray by their many words. And because they are deceived and bring a false message, they are deceivers and will seek to get others to agree to their position in life.
In Paul's day there was one specific group who opposed them again and again, the circumcision group, the Jews who insisted that the trappings of traditional Judaism should be adhered to. That is what so much of Paul's letter to the Galatians is all about. Essentially they had a Gospel-plus. They appeared to go along with the Gospel but added to it the need to perform certain Jewish rites. The modern equivalent perhaps are the cults who insist on adding their particulars to the Gospel. I have listened to a Mormon give his testimony and it was almost identical to mine. So I asked was that all there was. He answered yes and so I said, “If that is so my testimony is almost identical to yours and so if you are still on this doorstep in ten minutes time you will prove that it isn't all there is. You insist I must ALSO believe your book of Mormon. They tried to hedge but ten minutes later, despite my clear testimony, they were still there arguing for the book of Mormon. Beware add-ons!
Paul is very specific about these people and brings a threefold condemnation of them. First, “ They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households.” They are not people merely to be pitied; they are causing damage to the faith of whole households. They are undermining the faith of believers. And why? Well, second, “by teaching things they ought not to teach.” Their teaching IS WRONG. Any add-on is wrong. Never say it is not important. The truth is important and anyone who brings a variation of the truth found in the New Testament should be silenced. Third, they are doing, “that for the sake of dishonest gain.” They are wanting you to side with them, they are wanting you to join them, they want you to subscribe to their teaching and subscribe to their group and so often that includes with your finances. It is dishonest gain because it comes from using something which is not the truth and can only lead to harm.
To support what he is saying, Paul appeals to one of the local prophets: “Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." (v.12) Clearly the life on the island before the Gospel came was dissipated and therefore the truth of the gospel had to stand against this way of life. He affirms, “This testimony is true.” (v.13a). Thus he instructs, “Therefore, rebuke them sharply.” ( v.13b) i.e. you can't just leave them; they are causing too much harm . No, you need to correct them “so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.” (v.13c,14) Note the positive and negative here. First that they may be re-established and become secure or sound in their faith, founded on the truth and not on deception. Second, two negatives – so they won't pay attention to the Jewish heresies and they won't listen to anyone for that matter who rejects the truth and brings some distorted version of it.
Because we live in a sophisticated world the ‘add-ons' that we hear about may not appear religious but if they detract in any way from the Gospel and the truths of the New Testament they are still add-ons to be rejected. I have in mind the latest craze for ‘mindfulness' teaching as a means of overcoming stress and anxiety. It is spreading through the religious and secular world and is being embraced by many in the Christian world, essentially a teaching about being aware of the present. Now my point is that inherently if you say you need this you are saying the Gospel and God are not sufficient to deal with daily stress and anxiety and therefore you need some additional practice to help you.
Paul's teaching was quite clear: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) While I do not have a problem with the idea of being mindful of the moment, if it is being used to deal with stress and anxiety it means you have a shallow relationship with Jesus and have not been following Paul's simple and straight forward teaching here. There is no substitute for a prayerful relationship with the Lord whereby He resources you and brings you peace. Beware any forms of add-on. Work on the real thing; it's all you need.
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Meditations in Titus: 10: The Pure and the Corrupt
Titus 1:15,16 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good
Paul has just told Titus to rebuke those Cretans who were described by their own prophets as “ always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." Now he reinforces that with some simple principles that basically say what you see in a person is probably what they are like throughout. “To the pure all things are pure.” That was a good positive start. When a person is pure then everything about them is pure. You can't have a half pure person. By definition they are either pure or they are not. The definition of ‘pure' is ‘free from anything that taints'. You are either pure or you are tainted. You can't be both, you will be one or the other.
The apostle James spoke similarly about those who try to keep the Law: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (Jas 2:10) A little later he wrote, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (Jas 3:10-12)
These are terrible words in reality because he faces us with the truth that good and bad cannot exist within us at the same time. If our mouths produce praise on Sunday morning and criticism (cursing) on Monday morning there is a question mark over the reality of our relationship. A pure person, one who has been purified by the work of Jesus on the Cross, if they are indeed pure having been cleansed by him, cannot bring out impurity. If impurity does flow out it is a sign that (at that moment at least) we reject the work of Christ and have ceased to be pure. The way back must be repentance to regain purity, and when it is regained it must be complete so that the impure is not repeated.
But Paul is not making the emphasis on the purity side but on the corruption side as he continues , “but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure.” The word ‘corrupted' first arose in Genesis: “God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.” (Gen 6:12) When something is corrupted it ceases to be clean and pure and becomes dirty, defiled, spoilt, broken. We speak about corrupt policeman who cease to be true to the law by taking bribes. We speak of corrupted discs carrying software, that have become infected with a virus and so won't work properly.
A corrupted person is one who has been changed, who ceases to be pure as they were when God first made humanity. They are infected by sin and one expression of that is that they cease to believe in God. Because they are spoilt and corrupted, nothing that comes from them is pure; everything is tainted, everything is an expression of sin, everything is an expression of self-centred godlessness, which is what Sin is all about.
“In fact,” says Paul, “both their minds and consciences are corrupted .” In every way their thinking is corrupt, spoilt, and damaged, and their very reasoning is corrupt so that it impacts their consciences that also no longer work as they should do because they are also corrupted by this wrong thinking that turns into self-justification and unrighteous thinking and behaviour. These people try to put on a good face and appear to be civilized, even believing in God but, “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.” (v.16a) Actions speak louder than words, it is said, and it doesn't matter how much people profess to believe in God, if they ignore Him, ignore church and do their own thing, the reality is their belief is spurious!
Indeed, he goes on, “They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” (v.16b) ‘Detestable' means thoroughly unpleasant, even hateful. ‘Disobedient' simply points out their rejection of God's truth. ‘Unfit for doing anything good', simply states the truth that if you leave a coat out in the garden over winter, when you find it in the Spring, it will be wet, moldy, rotten and good for nothing. These people have been so tainted by sin – which is obvious in their everyday lives – that they cannot be considered good in any sense. Repentance and salvation is the only path back and if they will not receive that, then rejection. These are the people that Titus has to stand against as he stands for the truth and protects the church. Much of Jude's letter in the New Testament speaks similarly against those people who, by their behaviour, show they are far from God and should be spoken against.