In an earlier posting I outlined a possible or even probable life of Paul beyond the years reported by the book of Acts. In this suggested “history” I noted that Paul could have dropped Titus off at Crete on his journey immediately following his release from his first Roman imprisonment to Ephesus. Possibly Paul had stopped at Crete only to pick up supplies, but discovered Christians there who had not been organized into churches. Understanding the need for getting these disciples organized into congregations and oppose Judaizing influences, Paul quickly decided to leave Titus to accomplish these important missionary objectives. And this is the reason for Paul’s letter, instructions for appointment of leaders and the specific matters for Titus to emphasize in his teaching and preaching – given the widely acknowledged character of the citizens of Crete.
I also included Philemon in our reading today, since it so brief. Philemon was a Christian in Colossae who Paul knew personally, apparently including Philemon’s whole household. During the time of Paul’s first imprisonment one of Philemon’s slaves, Onesimus, ran away to Rome. When in Rome, Onesimus, looked Paul up — possibly knowing Paul to be kind and generous and needing some help. What help he apparently got was more than he had originally come looking for — he got the Gospel. Onesimus proved to be quite useful to Paul in his imprisonment, but Paul realized that he could simply use someone else’s “property” without their permission, so he gave Onesimus a terrifying task, to turn himself in to his master. Paul didn’t want Onesimus to return without some sort of protection, so he sends him with Tychicus and this letter (see Col. 4), pleading his clear repentance and true conversion.
With all that information in the background, let’s take a look at a few specifics.
Living a life that belies our confession — Titus 1:16
Confessing Jesus is simply not enough to constitute saving faith. These men of whom Paul talks had “named the Name” but it had not effected their lives. There had been no changes in their sinful lives, and this had made them useless for any good, positive deed – doubly denying the Lord. Here’s a serious problem that still persists among believers – and probably will until the end of time – the foolish notion that one can merely confess Jesus and all will be well. Belief and repentance and obedience are inseparably connected in saving faith. Real, biblical faith in Jesus actually motivates actions and changes us – it will not leave us the same.
Adorning the doctrine — Titus 2:10
The word for “adorning” is the Greek word from which we get the word for cosmetics! Pretty up the Gospel and the teachings of Christianity, he is saying; make it attractive! How? We’re not talking about putting Vanna White sort models in front of the church building or going door to door with our best looking people; we’re talking about living the kind of lives that make the world sit up and take notice.
The early church did this very well as they lived good, kind, admirable, and helpful lives in their everyday existence, and then when arrested and condemned for their faith, died courageously without denial. They became so admired, in time, that the world wanted to learn more about it and submitted to Christ. This wasn’t just living an introverted, beaten-down life that might elicit something more like pity, but a life that even the pagan world would admire: honorable, courageous, conscientious, hard working, courteous, willing to take a stand for right, sympathetic, forgiving, with solid marriages and families. The Christian life will be different, more beautiful, than other sorts, when it is being lived rightly. So pull out the cosmetics Christian, and adorn the doctrine with a shining and admirable example of what living the Christian life is.
An emphasis on good works — Titus 2:14 / 3:1 / 3:8 / 3:14
Paul was concerned about the laziness of the Cretans, so he made sure that this was an emphasis in this letter. In this short letter he talks about it four times:
The Christian must zealous for good works — enthusiasm, passion, and a heart for good works
They must be ready for good works — this word implies preparation, practice, and even setting resources aside, so that when the time comes there will be readiness
They must engage in good deeds — and there must be a pulling of the trigger. Enthusiasm and preparation are great, but they must not merely remain in the abstract
They must engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs — and we need to avoid the temptation of addressing only the easy or favorite good works, but the higher priority, greater need good works
Even more than asked — Philemon 1:21
Philemon is an interesting study in persuasion and Paul pulls out most if not all the stops on this persuasive endeavor on Onesimus’ behalf. But perhaps one of the most persuasive things Paul says is his confidence that Philemon will do not only what he asked, but even more. There’s nothing like praise of someone’s character, appealing to their demonstrated honor to motivate them to do the right thing. Here Paul pointed out Philemon’s past cooperation and tendency to do even more than requested. And wouldn’t this be a good example of adorning doctrine?
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.