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The Titus Series: A man worth listening to

You can find a audio recording of this sermon here.

So far in my time here at kenmuir/carmyle I have had the opportunity to explore a whole range of passages with you. And I hope you have gained as much as I have from the bible texts we have covered. But from this point onwards for the next couple of months I thought it would be beneficial for both myself and yourselves to go through a series of four sermons so that we may sink our teeth a little deeper into God's word and be blessed all the more for it. For the subject of this series I have chosen Paul's letter to Titus, not simply because it is a short enough letter to fit into a four sermon series but rather because in it Paul addresses the big question of what it means to be a servant of God, what it means to be saved by grace, what it means to be a Christian. This question is deeply relevant to all of us. In fact it can be restated like this; what does it mean to live a meaningful life? Or in the negative; How can we not waste our lives? And that surely is the greatest question of them all. So I thought it might be worth our study....

(Picture of modern day Crete)

The main cast

Before we launch into the text, I think it would be best if we came to grips with the main characters and the setting of this letter. The apostle Paul is the writer, we can be sure of this because his name is the very first word in the letter. At this point in his life Paul has been on three missionary journeys setting up and pastoring Churches all around Greece, Macedonia and Asia minor. He is at the point where there are too many Churches dependant on him and he is thinking of moving on further in a fourth missionary journey towards Spain and therefore he now needs to delegate some of his pastoral work to some trusted friends.

Titus is one of these trusted friends who has been with him on many journeys. He is especially mentioned in Pauls second letter to the Corinthians indicating he had been working with Paul in Corinth. We can piece together a picture of Titus from 2 Corinthians, let me read what it says about him. Titus was a genuine brother to the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 2:13). Titus was a partner and a fellow worker with Paul (2 Corinthians 8:23). Titus walked in the same spirit as Paul (2 Corinthians 12:18). Titus walked in the same steps as Paul, in the same manner of life (2 Corinthians 12:18) and of course from the letter to Titus we read today Paul addresses him as a true son in our common faith (Titus 1:4). Therefore, Titus is a man Paul trusts entirely. But let us recognise the basis for Paul's trust in Titus. Paul does not base his trust on any quality of Titus' character ie him being generous or responsible or anything else, Paul trusts Titus for one reason. They share a common faith in Christ Jesus. And so Paul sends such a man who is trustworthy to Crete to oversee and pastor the new, growing Church there, that they had planted together on a previous mission. And what did Paul intend Titus to do in his place. Well Paul's great passion for the Cretan Church is stated at the beginning and end of his letter that they may gain the knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness (Titus 1:1) and not be unfruitful (Titus 3:14). In other words that they find the meaning, the purpose of their lives and therefore, not waste their lives.

This is the big idea we will be unpacking throughout this series. And I will be unpacking it systematically as Paul does in this letter firstly in this sermon by looking at Paul himself who presents himself in verses 1-4 as the model of a man who has gained the knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness. Then in the second sermon we will be looking at 1:5-16 and how to distinguish between truth that leads to godliness and falsity that leads to ungodliness. Sermon three will consider how we put such truth into action in our own lives and finally sermon four will address how such truth can change the world around us.

Pauline CV

For now let us turn to the opening verses of Paul's letter to Titus in which Paul presents himself as a model man who has the knowledge of the truth and is therefore worth listening to. Let me read it to you again;

1Paul, 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— 2a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, 3and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour, 4To Titus, my true son in our common faith:Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.

What is immediately remarkable about these opening lines of Paul's letter to Titus is that if Paul is indeed presenting himself as a man worth listening to he does not talk himself up. If a occupational advisor were to look at this as Paul's recommendation, his covering letter for a job interview, they would have a lot to criticise him on. Where's your experience Paul? What qualifies you for this position? Don't you have some reliable referees? Or an employment history which demonstrates your ambition and abilities? And what would Paul's response to this be? He says in Philippines chapter 3,

If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

Well why didn't you say so! If anyone has the right to be a man worth listening to it is Paul. His life so far has fulfilled all the requirements of the law and he practices it with utter dedication and commitment. He fits the job requirements perfectly, and yet mentions none of this here in his letter to Titus!? Why? Because (continuing in Philippines 3);

whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Paul considers anything in his life, everything about himself; other than knowing Christ Jesus his Lord to be rubbish to be utterly worthless. If we were to translate literally from the Greek he says it is fit only for the dung heap. Therefore, Paul is not willing to recommend himself on the basis of himself. He does not want to place himself in the limelight because compared to Christ Jesus, he is nothing. We see in verses one to four Paul recommending himself on the basis of God his master. He wants to demonstrate that he is worth listening to because of the God whom he serves and therefore primarily he recommends himself based on the nature of his relationship with God his master. And secondarily, he provides further evidence for his case by explaining the nature of his master and the nature of the message which he Paul bears from his master. And so we have these three pillars which Paul's CV is build on. The nature of his relationship to his master, the nature of his master and the nature of the message from his master.

Life of servitude

Firstly, let us consider the primary pillar, nature of Paul's relationship to his master.

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ

Paul introduces himself to the Cretan Churches through Titus as a servant of God. Not a business partner nor an associate but a servant. Commentators have often disagreed over this Greek word and whether it should properly be translated servant or slave. In favour of slave is that Paul sees the Christian as bought at a price, a reference to the slave market. But it could not be said that serving Christ is a relationship of enforced servitude, nor that Christ treats us harshly like earthly masters treat their slaves. Therefore, it is best to see this servant hood as a bond. Christ has bought Paul by his blood he shed for him and Paul has joyfully given himself over to a life of servitude. And so by the very nature of his relationship to his master, as a servant Paul claims no credit for himself. His position is not one of pride.

Pride is a terrible corruptive and destructive sin. Shamefully, I feel I have to admit on behalf of men that it often seems to sink its claws into us men in particular, although, it is not unheard of to find a prideful woman. I have felt its influence throughout my life. Perhaps ironically at times when I feel I am most honouring God through my humility and service. Ironic though it may be it is true that pride is most often found in the church. We so often become aware of our own sacrifices, how much we have done for others, how much time and energy and money we have spent. How much we have achieved for the sake of God. But as soon as those thoughts come to mind you place yourselves over God as his benefactor. “God should be grateful to me!”, we say. When what we don't realise is who we are and who God is. We are servants, nothing more and the only pride which belongs to us is the pride of a servants rags. Let us realise our position.

But Paul is not a servant without a service. He has no pride in his service and yet he rejoices, why? Because of the nature of his service. So often we see sports men and women appear on the tv and say how proud they are to serve their country. The service of their country in whatever field attributes pride to them, being in the limelight and the envisioned value of their task. Their service is of the nature of pride. Paul's service on the other hand is of the nature of privilege. For he is an apostle of Jesus Christ. Apostle simply means messenger. He has been given the awesome task of delivering the message of God almighty to the world. Him a servant! Him a man of rags, who rightly considers everything of his life and of himself only fit for the dung heap, given the task of proclaiming God's message of salvation for mankind! Joanna Lumley is right, you don't have to be posh to be privileged! And so Paul wants to tell the Cretan Church he is worth listening to because he is a servant of God and has the privilege of bearing the message of salvation. But in case that is not enough for them Paul goes onto explain who this God is and what his message means.

The Nature of the Master.

What is the nature of this God? Paul tells us in verse 2

God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.

Our God is a God of truth and he is a God of promise. Having just been at university for five years its nice to hear that something is true. In the world we live in today the general consensus is there is no truth or at the very least there are many kinds of truth but no ultimate truth. At university studying theology this was expressed in questioning everything the bible said. For example, we know Peter says he is the author of the letter 2 Peter, but is he really? But this doubting any claim to truth goes further, existentialism and now post-modernism has killed God. After all God is only created in the minds of those who believe in him. In Samuel Beckett's play 'Waiting for Godot', which has been up again recently, staring Patrick Stewart and Iain McKellen as the two main characters both tramps, who spend the entire play waiting under a tree for the arrival of Godot. They wait and wait, getting more and more frustrated and wondering what they can do to get Godot to show up. Until near the end of the play a little boy comes and tells them Godot will not be coming. Samuel Beckett never openly admitted Godot was supposed to be God because the play did not simply mean there was no God but rather there is no essence outside of yourself, there is no purpose no meaning no God whatever you want to call it. IT doesn't exist! What does exist is you and you make up your own purpose, your own meaning. This hopeless belief is called existentialism and although, it has been around for a long time now it has not gone away but rather it has been repackaged. In the post modern world we live in everyone finds their own meaning, their own purpose. In that definition of life who am I to tell you what to do? It seems most dangerous in the political correct form we often find it today. I read a news article recently which was talking about local councils sexual education policy. One council taught kids as young as 13 that of course there was nothing wrong with sex outside marriage, it is good to explore to become experienced so long as you took care to look after your physical and emotional well-being. And who are we to argue, our truth is no more true than theirs? The only true statement in this world is, “there is no truth!”. Now I hope you realise I am talking a load of rubbish and merely representing the world's view. I could spend the rest of this sermon breaking that view down and explaining how we do have right and wrong, there is truth and falsity, if you want a great defence of objective truth read C. S. Lewis' book Mere Christianity but I think for us just now Paul's statement will suffice; God does not lie! The purposes which God promised from before the beginning of time have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Unlike the tramps Vladimir and Estragon the two main characters in Samuel Beckett's play we do not wait and wait for a God who promises he is coming but never turns up, our God promised and he came! A baby born in Bethlehem, a Rabbi leading his disciples, a King dieing on a cross a Saviour conquering death and sin. That is truth! And in today's society just as much as in first century Crete that truth is precious. As we read in verse 12 on the island of Crete in Paul's day no-one could be trusted Cretans are always liars”. And in our day its the same, the world has given up on the dream of real truth. But here in the letter of Titus, Paul raises the banner of Christ held high saying, here is truth, here is meaning, here you can find purpose. This is why Paul says he consider(s) everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus. Knowing Jesus is truth and everything else is simply meaningless on its own without knowing Him. And this is also why he is so eager to pass this knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness onto the Church of Crete through Titus. He is eager for them to share in the knowledge of hope and truth he has found in Jesus.

Is it a word, is it a message!? No its a man!

Finally, Paul presents himself to the Cretan Church as a man worth listening to because of the message he bears is worth listening to. v3

at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour

I think the ESV translates this verse better when it says at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching entrusted to me because the point Paul is trying to make here is that this word, God's message of salvation was manifested in Jesus Christ. I am simply restating the point I have just made, God did not do a no-show. Jesus came. But this is important for the message that Paul bears. You see its not just words, its not just an unproven statement. If it was, someone would say, “God is love”, and another would shout “prove it!”. No this message is that God has demonstrated his love for us by sending his Son to die for us. God manifested his word, he made it plain for all to see. He demonstrated what He meant so that there could be no doubt, if you believe Jesus was the Son of God and He died for you, you know that means God loves you. This is why it is good news.

But the message is not only about God's love for us. That would kind of be like a wife telling her husband who was very ill “it's ok I love you darling!”. The husband would look at her with anguish and say “I know you love me darling but can't you go down to the chemist and get me some drugs or phone the doctor or something! Anything more than telling me you love me!”. Well God did not simply send Jesus to tell us he loved us. He sent Jesus to save us. His love for us could not leave us in our hopeless state of sinfulness without actively intervening and bringing us salvation.

And so this is how Paul recommends himself to the Cretan Church through Titus. He is a man worth listening to because of the God whom he serves and the message that he brings. This God and this message is the same today as it was in the first century. This God has the same love for you and this message contains the same truth, the same meaning and the same purpose for our lives. In the next few sermons we are going to explore that purpose and I invite you to join with me in experiencing the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness. Could there be anything greater?