A Difficult Calling.

The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month. – Jeremiah 1:1-3 ESV

The book of Jeremiah is named for the man who penned it. He was a prophet who lived during the late seventh and early sixth-century within the territory of Judah, also known as the southern kingdom. During his lifetime and ministry, the nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah to the south. This division had come about because of the sins of Solomon, the king of Israel and the son of David. Solomon had started out well, but had finished poorly. The book of 1 Kings provides us with a synopsis of the epic failure of his once-mighty kingdom and reign.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. – 1 Kings 11:1-4 ESV

As a result of Solomon’s unfaithfulness, God determined to split the kingdom in two. He would preserve the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin, in keeping with the covenant He had made with King David. Many years earlier, when David was king, he had determined to build a great temple for God, but God turned down David’s offer and, instead, told him that He would build David a house.

“And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more.

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:9-10, 12-13, 16 ESV

This promise was partially fulfilled in Solomon, David’s son. But it’s true and ultimate fulfillment were to be found in Jesus Christ, the descendant of David whose kingdom will be established in the end times. He will be the one to rule and reign over a kingdom that will have no end.

While Solomon did end up building a great temple for the Lord, he also erected altars to the gods of his many wives so that they could offer sacrifices to them.

For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. – 1 Kings 11:5-7 ESV

As a result of his blatant disobedience, Solomon would be punished by God. He would be allowed to finish his reign, but once Solomon was dead, God would split the kingdom in two.

Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes (but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel), because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my rules, as David his father did.” – 1 Kings 11:31-33 ESV

The southern kingdom of Judah was the one to which Jeremiah was commissioned to speak on behalf of God. We are told in verse two that Jeremiah began to prophesy in the 13th year of King Josiah’s reign. This would have been the year 627 B.C. He would have been about 20 years old at the time. His prophetic ministry most likely lasted four decades, and spanned the reigns of five different kings. Jeremiah would begin his ministry under the rule of Josiah, the reformer-king, who instituted many important spiritual changes within the kingdom. But those reforms would not last long. Each successive king led the people of Judah down a path that resulted in increasing disobedience and moral decay. All during this time, the threat of annihilation at the hands of the Babylonians was an ever-present reality.

It was into this unstable and immoral environment that Jeremiah was called to minister on behalf of God. By the time Jeremiah came along, the northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians. This took place in 722 B.C. The book of 2 Kings provides us a summary of what happened and the cause behind it.

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced. And the people of Israel did secretly against the Lord their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. They set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the Lord carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger, and they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, “You shall not do this.” Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.”

But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. – 2 Kings 17:6-14 ESV

The people living in the southern kingdom of Judah had watched all this take place. They had been eye-witnesses to the moral decline of their northern neighbors and had stood by and watched as God sent His prophets, calling the people of Israel to repentance, and warning them of impending doom if they failed to return to Him. And they had seen God keep His word, as Samaria, the capital city of Israel was destroyed and the people of Israel were taken into captivity by the Assyrians.

And yet, the people of Judah seemed to learn nothing from Israel’s mistakes. In spite of the early reforms of Josiah, they would continue to model the immoral behavior of their Israelite cousins. In fact, we’re told in the book of 2 Kings:

Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only.

Judah also did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. – 2 Kings 17:18-19 ESV

So God called Jeremiah. It was Jeremiah “to whom the word of the Lord came” (Jeremiah 1:2 ESV). He would become God’s spokesman, His mouthpiece, declaring His message of repentance and warnings of God’s wrath if they failed to obey and return to Him. As we will see, Jeremiah’s mission was anything but easy. For nearly four decades, he would declare the word of the Lord, finding few who would listen to His message. He would face increasing opposition and find himself persona non grata, an unwelcome fixture in his homeland. He will provide us with insights into what it was like to be a prophet of God in those trying times. It was a difficult and lonely life. His ministry would feel fruitless. His words would fall on deaf ears. But Jeremiah would prove faithful to the end. He would stay the course and complete the assignment given to him by God. He would struggle with despondency and despair. There would be days when he wanted to quit. At times, he would grow angry with God. On more than one occasion, he would boldly speak his mind to God and express his growing frustration with the Almighty. But he never gave up. He kept doing what he had been called to do, all the way up to the fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah will be a compelling picture of faithfulness in the face of difficulty and perseverance based on obedience, not success.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Devoted to Good Works.

When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith.

Grace be with you all.  – Titus 3:12-15 ESV

As Paul wrapped up his letter to Titus, he let his young friend know that he was sending help. Either Artemas or Tychicus would be arriving to assist Titus with the work there on Crete. They would provide much-needed assistance in accomplishing Paul’s goals for the work there, but their presence would also allow Titus take some time off so that he might join Paul in Nicopolis. Paul thought very highly of Titus and looked on him like a son. Paul would be taking a break from his many missionary travels, and spending the winter in Nicopolis. Having Titus there would allow Paul ample time to provide further instruction and encouragement face-to-face rather than by letter. There was likely much that Paul still had to say to Titus and he was looking forward to delivering what he had to say to his friend in person.

Paul also instructed Titus to send Zenas and Apollos on their way. These two men had evidently been on Crete assisting with the spread of the gospel. But Paul encouraged Titus to allow them to leave so that they might take the gospel elsewhere. We know something about Apollos from the book of Acts.

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. – Acts 18:24-25 ESV

Aquilla and Priscilla, two other disciples of Jesus, took Apollos under their wing and gave him further instructions on the gospel and the ways of God. They also helped him network with other Christians in Achaia, where he went and proved to be very helpful in convincing the Jews there of the validity of Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah.

We know little of Zenas, only that he was a lawyer. This could mean that he was an expert in the Mosaic law, but it is more likely that, because of his Greek name, that he was a literal lawyer, having a thorough knowledge of Greek or Roman law. Paul urged Titus and the believers on Crete to take care of these two men and to send them on their way with all the provisions they may need for their journey. Paul had strong opinions about the care of those who helped spread the gospel, and he derived those opinions from Scripture. He wrote to the believers in Corinth, reminding them that he and Barnabas deserved to be cared for as messengers of the good news.

What soldier has to pay his own expenses? What farmer plants a vineyard and doesn’t have the right to eat some of its fruit? What shepherd cares for a flock of sheep and isn’t allowed to drink some of the milk? Am I expressing merely a human opinion, or does the law say the same thing? For the law of Moses says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” Was God thinking only about oxen when he said this? Wasn’t he actually speaking to us? Yes, it was written for us, so that the one who plows and the one who threshes the grain might both expect a share of the harvest. – 1 Corinthians 9:7-10 NLT

Paul was simply stating that those who spent their lives spreading the gospel deserved to be cared for by the congregations to which they ministered. And Paul went on to tell the Corinthians, “In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it” (1 Corinthians 9:14 NLT).

And Paul demands that the Cretan not be stingy in their support of Zenas and Apollos. He told Titus to “see that they lack nothing” (Titus 3:13 ESV). Much of what Paul has addressed in this letter has had to do with good works – those visible manifestations of the inward change that has taken place in the life of a believer. And he ends his letter with a very tangible example of what those good works should look like. By supporting Zenas and Apollos, the Cretans would be living out their faith and revealing to the lost world around them a concrete example of the love of Christ. Paul told Titus, “Our people must learn to do good by meeting the urgent needs of others; then they will not be unproductive” (Titus 3:14 NLT). The Greek word translated as “unproductive” is akarpos and it means “without fruit” (“G175 – akarpos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Thayer’s Greek Lexicon describes it as meaning “destitute of good deeds.” For a believers to refuse to meet the urgent needs of others would be like an apple tree refusing to bear fruit. It would be useless, having failed to do what it was created to do. Paul told the Ephesians, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT). Even Jesus Himself, in His Sermon on the Mount, described the life of the believer as one marked by good deeds.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” – Matthew 5:14-16 NLT

As far as Paul was concerned, the believers on Crete were to be devoted to good works. The Greek word he used was proïstēmi and it literally means to “stand over.” But it carries the idea of presiding over something. They were to care for and protect the practice of good works, knowing that it was their God-given responsibility to live our their faith and in doing so, bring glory to God. We are to do good works, not in order to receive glory from God, but to bring Him glory. We practice a life of good works, because we have been created and redeemed to do so. Man and woman were created to fulfill the will of God, but the fall marred that plan. Instead of doing good works, we sinned. And the book of Genesis reminds us of just how bad it had gotten.

The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. – Genesis 6:5 NLT

But God sent His Son in order that man might be restored to a right relationship with God and be freed from slavery to sin. Because of His death on the cross, men and women can be redeemed and provided with the power to accomplish the good deeds they were originally created to do. And when we do, we bring glory to God. Our good works are evidence of the life-transforming power of the gospel. Our good works provide proof of our having been saved by God and of our ongoing sanctification, made possible by His indwelling Spirit. We exist for the good of others and the glory of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

He Saved Us.

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, 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. For 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 Savior, 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. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. – Titus 3:1-11 ESV

Having emphasized the grace of God, as revealed in His Son’s incarnation and substitutionary death on the cross, Paul now tells Titus to demand godly, grace-empowered living among the believers on Crete. He is to remind them that their behavior is exhibit Christ-like characteristics at all times. They are to be submissive to rulers and authorities. And that submission should include obedience and a willing to do the right thing at all times. Their speech should be devoid of all slander. Their words were to be used for good and not evil. They were to avoid quarreling, because it produces nothing of value. Instead, they were to exhibit a gentle or patient temperament, showing kindness or meekness to all people. And Paul seems to realize that Titus is going to get push-back from his parishioners, arguing that some people don’t deserve this kind of treatment. So, Paul tells Titus to simply remind the believers on Crete that they were once the same way.

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. – Titus 3:3 NLT

Paul was a big proponent of reflection. He saw value in looking back and recalling his pre-salvation status. And he encouraged other believers to do the same. He wrote to the believers in Corinth and reminded them of their condition before coming to faith in Christ.

Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT

The grace of God made possible not only their salvation, but their ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ. And it was important that they remember just exactly what is was their were saved from. Their ability to love others and see the lost as sinners in need of a Savior would be tied to their understanding of their own undeserving status when they were saved. Paul makes it quite clear.

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. – Titus 3:4-7 NLT

It was all the work of God. The believers on Crete had not earned their salvation. Their works of righteousness had not put them in a right standing with God. Notice how Paul drives home his point. He emphasizes God’s role in their salvation.

“He saved us…”

“He washed away our sins…”

“He gave us new life and new birth…”

“He generously poured out His Spirit…”

“He made us right…”

“He made us confident that we will inherit eternal life…”

It was all God’s doing. And they were never to forget that fact. As soon as we start believing that we somehow deserved or earned God’ salvation, we begin to believe that we are somehow better than those who are lost and remain unsaved. We see the sins of others as somehow greater than our own. We can become self-righteously superior in our thinking and highly selective when it comes to those whom we show respect, honor, mercy and love. But Paul would have us remember our undeserving status and how God showed us mercy and grace – totally undeserved mercy and grace. He sent His Son to die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9 NLT). God loved us while we were at our worst. He didn’t demand that we get our proverbial act together or stop sinning. He saved us while we were mired and enslaved to our sin.

And Paul is telling Titus to demand that the believers on Crete show their gratitude to God for all that He has done by showing mercy, kindness, and respect to all those they encounter. He tells Titus:

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. – Titus 3:8 ESV

They were to devote themselves, literally, to give attention to, good works. They were to be the protectors or guardians of good works, taking seriously their God-given responsibility to live Christ-like lives on this earth. They were to be the hands and feet of Christ, exhibiting the same attitude that He had.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 NLT

Jesus modeled humility and selfless service to others. He was the Son of God, and yet He did not think it beneath Himself to die on behalf of undeserving sinners. So, why is it so hard for us to die to ourselves and to live our lives in humble submission to God, serving those who are undeserving of our love?

Paul ends by providing Titus with a list of things for believers to avoid: “Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws” (Titus 3:9 NLT). These kinds of things are worthless and a waste of time. They produce nothing of value. They stir up anger and division. The produce pride and dissension. It was these kinds of distractions that the false teachers were bringing into the church. They weren’t unifying the church. They were dividing it. They weren’t encouraging humility and selflessness. They were promoting pride and a sense of spiritual superiority.

But Paul wants Titus and his fellow believers on Crete to remember one thing: God saved them. They had nothing to do with it. And their response should be one of gratitude and a willing submission to love others as they had been loved by God. They were to show grace to others because God had shown grace to them. They were to extend mercy to others, because had showered them with mercy. Our treatment of others should be a direct response to God’s treatment of us. He did not give us what we deserved. He gave us His Son and a means by which we could be made right with Him. He saved us. He washed and renewed us. He poured out His Spirit on us. And He has assured us of our future life with Him. All in spite of us, not because of us.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Grace For Godliness.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. – Titus 2:11-15 ESV

Paul has just given Titus detailed descriptions of the kind of conduct he is to expect from those who have been exposed to sound doctrine. But now, Paul makes it clear that it is not the teaching of sound doctrine that produces life change. An understanding of theology doesn’t save anyone. A good grasp on doctrine will never earn anyone a right standing with God. And it can’t truly transform anyone’s behavior. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day knew doctrine and theology, but Jesus regularly referred to them as hypocrites. They knew the Hebrew Scriptures, that prophesied about the coming of the Messiah, but failed to recognize Him when He stood right in front of them. The reason Paul emphasized the teaching of sound doctrine was because he knew that God had equipped each and every believer with the capacity to apply that doctrine to their lives and experience true life change. And it was all because “the grace of God has appeared” (Titus 2:11 ESV). This is a clear reference to the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. Paul made a similar reference when he wrote his second letter to Timothy.

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. – 2 Timothy 1:9-10 NLT

God showed us His grace by sending His son to provide us with a means of salvation. And notice what Paul says: God saved us and called us to live a holy life. That is exactly what Paul has just finished describing to Titus: what a holy life looks like for each and every believer in his local congregation. From the oldest to the youngest, male and female, and even bondservants, there was an expectation of godly behavior made possible by the grace of God. Jesus came, not only to bring salvation, but sanctification, and Paul describes it this way: “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12 ESV).

In other words, the salvation provided for us by the grace of God and made possible through the death of His Son, is not to be viewed as some kind of entry ticket to heaven. It isn’t a future pass into His Kingdom that has no present significance. No, Paul makes it clear that the grace of God includes our present and ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ. We are to grow in godliness – in the present age. Paul even seems to indicate that heaven is not to be our hope, but the return of Jesus Christ is. We are to “look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed” (Titus 2:13 NLT). It is the hope of that promise that should motivate us to live godly lives here and now. But it is the grace of God that provides us with the power we need to pull it off. The apostle Peter reminds us: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

Jesus Christ died for us, not just to get us into heaven, but to redeem us from the power of sin. And that process begins in this lifetime, not the next. Paul clearly states: “He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds” (Titus 2:14 NLT). Committed to doing good deeds when? In heaven? No, right here, right now. Jesus Himself stated: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). That abundant life begins at the point of salvation, not when we arrive in heaven. It is an ongoing process of transformation that takes place from the moment we place our faith in Jesus as Savior, and it will continue until He returns or the Father takes us home at the point of death. And Paul was so confident in God’s promise to transform each and every one of His children into the likeness of Christ, that he told the believers in Philippi: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT).

Titus was to teach these truths to his people. He was to demand that they live lives of godliness, not in their own strength, but in the power and grace of God. Life change is possible. Character transformation is expected of each and every believer. And as far as Paul was concerned, a lack of change within the life of a professing believer was to be met with rebuke, not indifference. The author of Hebrews told his audience, “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food” (Hebrews 5:12 NLT). Paul had to tell the believers in Corinth, “when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT). Spiritual growth in the life of a believer is not optional. Life transformation is an undeniable expectation and unavoidable outcome of the grace of God. Jesus did not die to leave us like we are. He set us free from slavery to sin. Paul provides the believers in Rome with these powerful words of reminder:

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. – Romans 6:12-14 NLT

The grace of God has set us free from the power of sin. We live under the freedom of God’s grace as provided by the death and resurrection of His Son. And Paul goes on to say, “Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living” (Romans 6:17-18 NLT). We have been given the grace to live godly lives. So, let’s do it.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Practical Holiness.

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. – Titus 2:1-10 ESV

They say the best defense is a good offense. So, in order to assist Titus in his battle against false teachers and their heretical teaching, Paul has told the young pastor to surround himself with qualified men who can help him lead the church. But Paul didn’t stop there. He also told Titus to be willing to rebuke his flock for their laziness and gluttony, so that they might be “sound in their faith” (Titus 1:14 ESV). Now Paul gets specific. He gives Titus detailed and practical descriptions of how various groups within the body of Christ are to conduct their lives. First of all, Titus is to teach only that which “accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1 ESV). Sound doctrine was essential to Paul. It was the glue that held the body of Christ together. That is why he spent so much time writing letters to churches he had helped to establish. He knew that the most difficult days for any believing congregation were those that lay ahead, after they had initially come to faith in Christ. Salvation was to be followed by sanctification, and that was going to require sound doctrine, teaching that was in accord with the words of Jesus and the Old Testament Scriptures. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul reminded him that the law “is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:9-10 ESV).

He went on to tell Timothy, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing” (1 Timothy 6:3-4 ESV). In his second letter to Timothy, he warned him that people would prove to be fickle and drawn to falsehood, desiring to hear teaching that condoned their behavior and excused their love of the world. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV).

But Paul is not just telling Titus to teach solid, reliable doctrine. He is wanting him to get specific and show how that doctrine should show up in real life. The New Living Translation puts verse one this way: “promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching” (Titus 2:1 NLT). Good doctrine should produce good behavior. The teachings of Jesus, expounded and expanded upon by the apostles, were to have a dramatic impact on the lives of those who placed their faith in Jesus as their Savior. Christ followers were to be Christ-like. So, Paul begins with the older men in the church. He tells Titus that they are to be characterized by sober-mindedness, an ability to think clearly, unhampered by alcohol or anything else that would confuse their capacity to judge wisely. They are to be dignified or worthy of respect, not acting in childish or immature ways. Their lives are to be marked by self-control, able to manage their natural desires and passions. They are to have a healthy faith that shows up in how they live their lives. And their are to be characterized by a love for others and a willingness to patiently endure with those who are difficult to love.

Paul next moves his attention to older women in the church. Their lives were to be marked by behavior that reflected their holiness. On other words, their godliness should show up in tangible, visible ways. They were not to be addicted to gossip and slander or, for that matter, wine. And they were to teach the younger women by modeling for them what godliness looked like in the life of a believing woman. And while Paul provides a list of good behaviors that the older women were to teach to the younger women in the church, I don’t think he had a class in mind. This was to be modeled teaching. Their lives were to be the primary lesson the younger women studied and from which they learned the expectations of God for holiness.

The younger women were to love their husbands and children well. While this sounds like a no-brainer, we know how difficult this can be in a normal relationship between a husband and wife. Marriage can be difficult. Raising children can be extremely challenging. And older women were to model for the younger women what loving your husband and children looked like over the long haul. Their lives were to be a tangible example of what living self-controlled and selfless lives looked like. Purity or wholesomeness was to be a powerful motivation for these young wives and mothers. They were to be diligent workers, ordering their home well. This does not mean that wives are not to work outside of the home. But in Paul’s day, that was a rare option for women. He was simply calling for an attitude of diligence and order in their responsibilities, that would apply in every area of their lives – either at home or at work. And again, these older women were to have modeled what submission to their husbands looked like. It was not an issue of worth or value, power or weakness. It had to do with a willing submission to God’s intended order of things. Paul was not saying that the husbands were better, smarter or more deserving of the leadership role in the home. He was simply saying that God had a prescribed order of responsibility. He had placed the man as the head of the home and expected him to lead well. Many men don’t. That is an all-too-proven fact. But God intended for the wife to be an asset to her husband, encouraging and assisting him in his God-given role, seeing themselves as partners in this thing called marriage. In fact, Jesus would say that they are not really partners, but a single unit, joined together as one by God Himself in the marriage ceremony. The two of them are to act as one, in loving unison, as they raise their family and conduct their lives on this earth.

And younger men, which would include younger fathers and husbands, as well as single men, were to be self-controlled as well. They were not to be driven by their passions or controlled by their lusts. And Titus, as a young man himself, was to be a model of godly behavior, using his own life as a teaching tool that revealed integrity, dignity and godly speech. Young men were to not to use their youth as an excuse to act like fools or shirk their responsibilities as Christ-followers. They were to take their faith seriously and live their lives in such a way that the outside world could not point a finger at them and call them hypocrites.

Paul closes his list of individuals within the church by addressing bond-servants or slaves. In that day and age, there were many who found themselves operating as household slaves or servants because of unpaid debts. There were others that were outright slaves, captured as a result of wars and sold into slavery as servants. But many of these individuals had come to faith in Christ there on Crete. And they had become members of the local fellowships. So, Paul doesn’t want to leave them out. It is interesting to note that Paul does not address the institution of slavery. He neither condemns nor condones it. He was not out to change the unjust institutions set up by men that took advantage of the weak or helpless. He was out to change hearts. Which is why he tells Titus that these individuals were to remain submission to their masters in everything. He didn’t tell them to rebel or run away. In fact, he told them to use their slavery as a platform on which to exhibit their faith in Christ. They were obey and not argue. They were to refrain from stealing and show themselves to be trustworthy and reliable. And their overall behavior, even as slaves, was to bring glory and honor to God.

Good doctrine should result in good conduct. Belief that doesn’t impact behavior is to be questioned. An individual who claims to know Christ and declares themselves to be a follower of Christ, but whose life exhibits no qualifying characteristics, is to be doubted. Paul would even say there are to be rebuked. The way we live our lives is one of the greatest testimonies to the life-transforming power of the gospel. It is to be practical proof of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power within us. All of these characteristics and behaviors that Paul has listed are Spirit-produced, not man-made. They come about as a result of a reliance upon the Spirit and an adherence to good, solid teaching of sound doctrine.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Sound Doctrine. Sound Faith.

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. – Titus 1:10-16 ESV

Like Timothy, Titus was one of Paul’s protégés. He was a Greek Gentile whom Paul had evidently led to Christ. This young man had actually accompanied Paul on several of his missionary journeys and had gained the great apostle’s trust, so that Paul was confident in sending him out on his own on numerous occasions as his representative. In fact, Paul had sent him to the island of Crete in order to help establish some sense of order within the churches there, including appointing elders to help him lead. “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5 NLT). As in the case of Timothy, Paul provided Titus with advice on how to deal with false teachers who had become a real problem within the fledgling churches on Crete.

Titus found himself ministering in a place where the reputation of the inhabitants was far from stellar. Paul even quoted Epimenides, a 6th Century BC philosopher and religious prophet who happened to be a Cretan himself. He said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12 ESV). Paul went out of his way to paint a less-than-flattering picture of the people of Crete. He described them as  “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party” (Titus 1:10 ESV). Evidently, not only were the false teachers considered men of poor repute, so were some of the members of the local churches on Crete. So, Paul spent a great deal of time in his letter talking about good works. He wanted Titus to understand just how important good character and moral behavior should be in the life of every believer. Paul commanded Titus to deal harshly and firmly with those whose lives were marked by laziness and lying. He didn’t want his young disciple to tolerate the disorder and chaos these kinds of people were bringing into the church. He told Titus to “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13 ESV). Rebuking and restoration were both to be a part of Titus’ ministry on Crete.

Paul’s objective was to make these individuals “sound in the faith”. There was a real problem with false and deceptive ideas regarding the faith taking place on Crete. The faith refers to salvation as expressed through belief in Jesus Christ as Savior. The false teachers were confusing and even contradicting what Paul, Titus and others had taught regarding what it means to have faith in Christ and enjoy forgiveness of sins and a restored relationship with God. Rather than faith alone in Christ alone, new and confusing gospel messages were being taught, and the result was weakness in faith among the people. They didn’t know what to believe anymore. One of the qualifications for elders that Paul gave Titus was: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV). These men were to be knowledgeable of the truth so that they might refute falsehood and rebuke those who taught it. As far as Paul was concerned, sound faith was totally dependent upon sound doctrine.

But these false teachers were teaching “what they ought not to teach” and all “for shameful gain” (Titus 1:11 ESV). Paul refers to them as being from the circumcision party. This is a reference to Jews who had expressed faith in Christ, but who held to the idea that Gentiles who became believers in Christ must also keep the Law of Moses and undergo the rite of circumcision in order to be truly saved. Paul fought this heresy with every fiber of his being. And Paul’s fear was that, based on the reputation of the Cretans, they would easily accept this false teaching, and end up “devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 ESV). The Cretans were easily swayed by the “commands” or teachings of these people, readily accepting what they had to say about circumcision, abstinence from certain foods, the keeping of Jewish feasts and festivals and adherence to the Mosaic law. But Paul warns Titus that these false teachers “claim they know God, but they deny him by the way they live. They are detestable and disobedient, worthless for doing anything good” (Titus 1:16 ESV). Paul makes it clear that the real problem with these false teachers was their hearts. He says, “Everything is pure to those whose hearts are pure. But nothing is pure to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, because their minds and consciences are corrupted” (Titus 1:15 NLT). They were obsessed with the externals: keeping of laws and commands,  and adherence to rituals and religious rules.

There was an occasion when Jesus was approached by a group of Pharisees and religious leaders, who wanted to know why His disciples didn’t follow their man=made tradition of ceremonial hand-cleaning before they ate. Jesus responded to them:

“And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:3-9 NLT

 

Jesus went on to say: “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth” (Matthew 15:11 NLT). The Pharisees had missed the point. They were so busy keeping external rules that they missed the real problem: The condition of their hearts. And Paul knew that the false teachers who were so negatively impacting the churches on Crete had the same problem. Their minds and consciences were defiled. Their hearts were hardened to the truth regarding faith in Christ. They were convinced that there had to be more to salvation. Faith alone in Christ alone was not enough. Works of self-righteousness were necessary. But Paul describes them as defiled and unbelieving. They were wrong and they were dangerous. So Paul tells Titus to rebuke them sharply. He was to deal harshly with the false teachers, and he was to rebuke the Cretans who were so easily buying into their lies. Sound doctrine and sound faith go hand in hand. The Word of God is not open to our interpretation. We are not free to add to the gospel or alter the truth in any way. And we are not to tolerate those who attempt to mislead by misinterpreting what God has said. Again, that is why Paul told Titus an elder must “have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong” (Titus 1:9 NLT).

Paul had also written to Timothy, telling him that the purpose for his letter was that “you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 NLT). The church and its leaders must adhere to and uphold the truth of God, especially as it relates to the message and means of salvation. There is no other gospel except the one we have been given: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Godly Men.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you — if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. – Titus 1:5-9 ESV

One of the first things Titus was to concentrate on was the appointment of elders for the local churches on Crete. As Paul’s letter will shortly disclose, there was a problem with disorder and doctrinal disruption within the church on Crete. Paul will describe these individuals as “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers” (Titus 1:10 ESV).  He will accuse them of “upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:11 ESV). That’s why Paul tells Titus that he has been left in Crete with the specific task to “put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5 ESV). Paul gave Titus a two-part commission. The first was to put in order or to complete what was lacking or left undone. There were some issues within the church there that needed to be taken care of and Paul will spend a good portion of his letter explaining exactly what the issues were. But the second part of Titus’ commission was to appoint elders. He was going to need help. A big reason for the lack of order was based on a void of qualified leadership. Within any organization, if there is not adequate, qualified leadership, the void will end up being filled by someone. There will always be those who step into the leadership vacuum and attempt to use their power and influence to take charge. And evidently, that is exactly what was happening on Crete. So, Paul told Titus to take care of the problem by appointing men to help him lead the local body of believers. The responsibilities were too great for one man to handle on his own. But these couldn’t be just any kind of men. They were going to have to meet certain qualifications in order to be considered.

But it’s important to notice that Paul’s description of the qualifications has everything to do with character and says little about Scripture knowledge, academic aptitude, business savvy, or even leadership skills. Instead, Paul mentions qualities and characteristics that would have been visible to all those who knew these men. Titus was to look for the outward evidence of an inward transformation that had taken place in the lives of these men due to their relationship with Christ and their knowledge of the Word of God. Each of them were to “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 NLT). In other words, they had to know the truth of the Gospel and the realities regarding God and His redemptive plan for man, if they were going to be able to refute falsehood and defend the Good News from attack.

But the real point Paul seems to be making is the contrast of character between these future leaders and those who were doing harm to the church. Those who would lead the church had to be men who were above reproach or blameless. This didn’t mean that they had to be perfect or sinless. The Greek word Paul used referred to the fact that these men were to have no glaring character flaws. They were not to be guilty of living their lives in such a way that it would cause people to point their fingers in criticism, resulting in harm to the reputation of the church. They were to be loving husbands who didn’t have reputations for unfaithfulness. They were to be fathers who had proven themselves capable leaders at home, having children who had come to faith in Christ and who were modeling lives of moral integrity and obedience. This would seem to suggest that Paul was recommending men who were older, with children old enough to have come to faith in Christ and to have exhibited godly character. Paul went on to say that an elder candidate “must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain” (Titus 1:7 NLT). Instead, he was to be “hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Titus 1:8 NLT). It’s interesting to note that Paul had to be so specific in his list of qualifying character traits. He went out of his way to list disqualifying characteristics as well. Arrogance, anger, greed, violence and a problem with alcohol would all be huge detriments to godly leadership. They are outward signs of someone who is under the control of the flesh and not the Spirit. In fact, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul provides an even more details list of those characteristics that mark someone who is living according to their sin nature: “sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,  envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT). A man who was controlled by his own flesh was going to make a lousy leader. He would be disruptive and potentially destructive. And it’s obvious that the church on Crete already had enough negative influences impacting it. Titus was going to need godly men who exhibited lives that were under the control of the Spirit of God.

Titus was going to need help in dealing with the disorder and negative moral influences within the churches on Crete. He couldn’t handle it on his own. So Paul emphasized the need for him to find the right kind of men to lovingly lead the flock of God, providing much-needed discipline and modeling the character of Christ to all those around them. One of the main qualifications these men were to have was a love for the gospel. Paul tells Titus that each of them “must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught” (Titus 1:9 NLT). In other words, they must remain committed to the gospel message by which they came to faith in Christ. One of the problems going on there was the influence of false gospels. There were those who were preaching something other than salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. They were adding to the gospel. Paul will remind Titus that people were “listening to Jewish myths and the commands of people who have turned away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 NLT). So, the men Titus chose to help him lead the church were going to have to be men who were committed to the gospel message. They would not accept alternative versions of the truth. They would not tolerate false gospels or destructive heresies.

These men were not to function as a board of directors. They were not to be figure heads or to function as nothing more than an advisory board for Titus. They were to be overseers, shepherds and pastors to the flock. They were to be godly in character and bold in their witness. Paul had a strong view of eldership. He knew these men were indispensable to the spiritual well-being of the church. Which is why he told the elders in Ephesus: “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders” (Acts 20:28 NLT).

We live in the midst of an ungodly world and there is an ongoing need for godly men who will step forward and provide leadership and protection for the flock of God. The church needs men of character who are led by the Spirit of God and committed to the Word of God. Disorder and disruption are all around us. That’s why qualified men are in great need, even today.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Chosen, Called and Commissioned.

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. – Titus 1:1-4 ESV

As the title of this letter reflects, Paul was writing to Titus, another one of his young disciples in the faith. This letter, like the ones Paul wrote to Timothy, are intended to encourage and instruct Titus as he ministers on behalf of the gospel. As we will shortly see, Paul had left Titus in Crete with the task of ministering to the faithful there. He had given Titus clear instructions to “put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5 ESV). Now, Paul was writing to this young man with further words of encouragement and instruction. But before Paul addresses Titus, he sets up his letter with a salutation or greeting. This was a common feature of most letters during that day. Unlike our letters, where we sign our name at the end, ancient letters began with a formal introduction of the one from whom the letter was being sent. All of Paul’s letters begin this way, with some featuring longer salutations than others. This is a particularly long one and is far more than simply a greeting or introduction. In it, Paul provides a summation of what he is going to be dealing with in the main content of his letter.

Paul begins with a dual description of himself as the servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. Both of these designations are intended to support Paul’s authority and divine commission. The Greek word he used for servant is doulos and referred to a bond-servant or slave. Paul, a former Pharisee, was well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures and would have been very familiar with the use of this term in association with some of the great men of God of the past. Moses, David and Elijah were each referred to as servants or slaves of God. This was a designation of honor, not infamy. Each of these men had been chosen by God for His service. In essence, they belonged to Him. They were His servant and each of them saw this role as a privilege, not a burden. And Paul was claiming to have that same kind of relationship with God. He had been hand-picked by God and commissioned to accomplish the will of God on this earth. He served God, not man. He answered to God, not man. His was a divine calling, complete with authority and power given to Him by God Himself.

Secondly, Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ. The Greek word is apostolos and it refers to a delegate, messenger or one sent forth with orders (“G652 – apostolos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Paul was not only a servant of God, he had been delegated by Jesus Christ as His representative and had been given a very specific task to perform. We have the exact words of that commission recorded for us in the book of Acts. They are part of Paul’s testimony regarding his salvation experience on the road to Damascus.

“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” – Acts 26:15-18 ESV

And Paul further clarifies for Titus the purpose behind his role as a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.

I have been sent to proclaim faith to those God has chosen and to teach them to know the truth that shows them how to live godly lives. – Titus 1:1 ESV

In his role as servant and apostle, Paul had been sent to proclaim the message of salvation by faith in Christ so that all those whom God had chosen could hear it. And when those so chosen by God had placed their faith in Christ, Paul was obligated by God and His Son to teach them the truth, so that they might live godly lives. In other words, Paul had a dual responsibility: To play a role in the salvation of the lost, but also in the sanctification of the saved.

And one of the things Paul firmly believed and expressed to his young friend, Titus, was the doctrine of God’s election. He uses the term, “God’s elect” in order to refer to those who come to faith. The Greek word is eklektos and it means “picked out or chosen” (“G1588 – eklektos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). In The New Living Translation, verse one reads: “I have been sent to proclaim faith to those God has chosen.” In Paul’s understanding of the gospel, God was the acting agent behind salvation. He did not leave anything up to chance. Just as God had chosen Paul for salvation, so He has pre-ordained all those who will come to faith in Christ. Paul played no role in his salvation. He was not seeking Christ. In fact, he was busy persecuting and eliminating all those who claimed to be followers of Christ. And yet, God had chosen him for salvation. And Paul believed that was true for everyone who came to faith in Christ, past, present or future.

The doctrine of divine election firmly establishes the believer’s eternal security. God has not left the believer’s assurance of salvation captive to changing feelings or faltering faith. Rather, the faithfulness of God demonstrated in his divine election secures the believer’s salvation in the will and purposes of God himself. – Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin Jr., 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, p. 265

For Paul, salvation, godliness and eternal life were all the work of God. None were possible without Him. And all of them were pre-ordained and promised by God “before the ages began” (Titus 1:2 ESV). And the message regarding salvation, godliness and eternal life was given at just the right time, through men like Paul, so that the elect might come to faith through the preaching of the good news.

Suffice it to say, Paul saw himself as a man with divine authority and a providential responsibility to spread the gospel so that others might come to faith in Christ and to ensure that those very same individuals grew in godliness. And he saw Titus as a sharing in that very same responsibility and calling. This young man, whom Paul saw as his child in the faith, was also carrying the heavy burden of ministering the gospel to the people of Crete, carrying on what Paul and others had begun. And in the rest of his letter to Titus, Paul will provide him with much-needed guidance and encouragement for the task that lay before him.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Yet I Will Rejoice.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places.

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.Habakkuk 3:17-19 ESV

Things don’t always turn out like we expect or desire. The circumstances of life have a way of showing up in surprising forms, both good and bad. Difficulties can appear suddenly and stay long past their expiration date. These are all truths we know from experience. They are part of the reality of life on this planet. They come with having to lie in a fallen world, mired by sin and under God’s curse and condemnation. But the one thing we tend to forget is that the very same God has provided a way for men and women like us, to escape the long-term effects of the curse and be exonerated from the just condemnation of God. God sent His own Son. He sent a Savior. And those who place their faith in that Savior, believing that He came, He died and that He rose again, are provided with the assurance that their sins are forgiven and their future is secure. They are guaranteed abundant life here and now, and eternal life to come. And it is that promise on which they are to hope as they endure the pain and suffering that comes in this life. Salvation does not provide us with escape from the difficulties of life. It is not some kind of spiritual immunization, inoculating us from trials or suffering. But it does provide us with a new perspective, a radically different way of looking at our time on this earth. The apostle Paul puts that new perspective in words for us:

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! – 2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT

But what about Habakkuk? What was he to put his faith in as he wrestled with the news that God was going to judge the people of Judah for their sins and send the Babylonians as the means to accomplish that task? The Messiah had not yet come. The Savior had not yet been sent to redeem mankind from its sins. And yet, Habakkuk displayed saving faith. He knew that He could trust his God. His God had promised to provide for and protect the people of Judah, and Habakkuk took God at His word.

The closing lines of Habakkuk’s prayer contain some of the most powerful statements regarding faith in God that are found in the Bible. They are spoken by a man who has boldly, and somewhat dangerously, expressed his frustration with God over what appeared to be His lack of action. The prophet was frustrated with the unrepentant nature of the people of Judah. They refused to listen to his message. They were wicked and rebellious and Habakkuk wanted to know when God was going to act. And when God told Habakkuk that He was going to send the Babylonians to enact His judgment on the people of Judah, Habakkuk had the temerity to question God’s will and wisdom. And yet, once God explained Himself and reassured Habakkuk of His unwavering faithfulness to the people of Judah, Habakkuk had a change of heart. He literally sang God’s praises. This entire last chapter of his book are a song, composed to promote the goodness and greatness of God. And nothing had changed. Habakkuk’s circumstances had not been altered one iota. The people of Judah were still in rebellion against God. The Babylonians were still on God’s divine schedule to destroy Judah and Jerusalem. But in spite of all of that, the prophet was able to say:

yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation – Habakkuk 3:18 ESV

And Habakkuk wasn’t talking in a future tense. The rejoicing he mentioned wasn’t some kind of post-salvation joy that would show up once God had destroyed the Babylonians and put everything back the way it was supposed to be. No, Habakkuk was talking in the present tense. He qualifies his statement by saying:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! – Habakkuk 3:17-18a NLT

Do you catch what he is saying? In spire of the circumstances, the negative circumstances, of life, Habakkuk was going to rejoice in the Lord. He was going to praise the God of his salvation. Before the fact. That is the essence of faith. The apostle Paul provides us with one of the most succinct definitions or descriptions of faith found in the Bible: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith shows up in the form of assurance or certainty in a good outcome, long before the outcome is clear. It is a conviction regarding events that have not taken place. It is a trust in God, a reliance upon His promises and a confident assurance in His goodness. Once again, the apostle Paul gives us some insight into what true faith looks like.

Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:24-25 ESV

Habakkuk had hope in God, and he was willing to wait for God’s deliverance with confident patience. Even is the figs failed to show up or the vines were bare of fruit, he would keep trusting. If they ran out of olive oil or experienced a drought because of a lack of crops, he would keep patiently waiting. Why? He tells us:

The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
    He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    able to tread upon the heights. – Habakkuk 3:19 NLT
God would be his strength. His faith in God would give him the energy to endure whatever came his way. His trust in the goodness of God would provide him with the strength he needed to walk the paths of life with confidence and sure-footed stability. He knew God would not let him down. The Babylonians were coming. God had assured it. But Habakkuk was not worried. He knew God was in control and that He had promised to restore His people and remove the Babylonians. The days ahead were going to be difficult and full of unpleasant experiences, but Habakkuk was able to say, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord!” What a timely reminder for those of us who are Christ-followers, as we wait for our Savior to return. We too, live in difficult days. We are surrounded by those who would love nothing more than our destruction. The world hates us. The enemy is out to destroy us. And yet, we can rejoice in the Lord. We can have an assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of things not yet see. All because we trust in God.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I Will Quietly Wait.

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.

O Lord, I have heard the report of you,
    and your work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
    in the midst of the years make it known;
    in wrath remember mercy.
God came from Teman,
    and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah
His splendor covered the heavens,
    and the earth was full of his praise.
His brightness was like the light;
    rays flashed from his hand;
    and there he veiled his power.
Before him went pestilence,
    and plague followed at his heels.
He stood and measured the earth;
    he looked and shook the nations;
then the eternal mountains were scattered;
    the everlasting hills sank low.
    His were the everlasting ways.
I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;
    the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.
Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
    Was your anger against the rivers,
    or your indignation against the sea,
when you rode on your horses,
    on your chariot of salvation?
You stripped the sheath from your bow,
    calling for many arrows. Selah
    You split the earth with rivers.
The mountains saw you and writhed;
    the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice;
    it lifted its hands on high.
The sun and moon stood still in their place
    at the light of your arrows as they sped,
    at the flash of your glittering spear.
You marched through the earth in fury;
    you threshed the nations in anger.
You went out for the salvation of your people,
    for the salvation of your anointed.
You crushed the head of the house of the wicked,
    laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah
You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors,
    who came like a whirlwind to scatter me,
    rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
    the surging of mighty waters.

I hear, and my body trembles;
    my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
    my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
    to come upon people who invade us.
Habakkuk 3:1-16 ESV

How many times has your response to hearing from God been to sing? That what Habakkuk did. When the prophet heard that God’s plan included the use of the Babylonians to punish the people of Judah for their sins against Him, but that He would also bring destruction on Babylon, Habakkuk sang. Or at least he wrote words that were later turned into a psalm of praise. Even though Habakkuk knew that the Babylonians were going to be God’s chosen instrument of judgment against the people of Judah, he rejoiced in the fact that God was merciful and had no plans to do away with His people – even though they deserved it.

Habakkuk opens up his prayer with an acknowledgement of God’s greatness. He admits that he has heard about the greatness of God. As a young boy growing up in a Hebrew home, he would have heard the stories of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from captivity in Egypt. He would have known well the story of the Israelites miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and their many God-ordained victories that led to their occupation of the Promised Land. Habakkuk would have been well-verses in the history of the people of Israel and God’s sovereign work among them. So, knowing what he knew about God in the past, he appeals to God to so the same thing in the present.

In this time of our deep need,
    help us again as you did in years gone by.
And in your anger,
    remember your mercy. – Habakkkuk 3:2b NLT

Habakkuk knew that God was angry with the sins of the people of Judah. That was the whole reason He was bringing the Babylonians against them. He was doing to them what He had done to the northern kingdom of Israel. He had punished them for the wickedness and rebellion by bringing the Assyrians against them. Because of their worship of idols and stubborn rejection of Him as their God, He allowed them to fall at the hands of their enemy and be taken into captivity. And now, God had revealed to Habakkuk that He was going to do the same thing to Judah, but this time, using the Babylonians as His instrument of judgment. But Habakkuk pleads for mercy. He knew God was just in what He was going to do, but appealed to His grace and mercy, asking Him to deliver His people, just as He had done in the past.

The next thing Habakkuk does is describe what it must have been like when God delivered the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt. He says, “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran” (Habakkuk 3:3 ESV). Teman was located in Edom and Mount Paran was nearby. They were east of Egypt and Habakkuk describes God as having come from that direction as He approached His people in order to deliver them. Habakkuk describes God as having a brightness like light. This is most likely a reference to God’s shekinah glory. This Hebrew word was used to describe God’s visible presence as displayed in a form of light or other natural manifestation. When the people left Egypt, they were led by God, who revealed Himself to them in a tangible form that was to give them confidence and courage.

And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. – Exodus 13:20-22 ESV

Habakkuk also recalls what it must have been like when God descended upon Mount Sinai in order to give His people the law.

When he stops, the earth shakes.
    When he looks, the nations tremble.
He shatters the everlasting mountains
    and levels the eternal hills.
    He is the Eternal One! – Habakkuk 3:6 NLT

God had revealed Himself to the people of Israel in an unforgettable fashion. His glory had been literally earth-shaking and fear-inducing.

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. – Exodus 19:16-19 NLT

To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. – Exodus 24:17 NLT

Habakkuk also recalls God’s power as displayed in the ten plagues that He used against the people of Egypt, forcing them to let the people of Israel go.

Before him went pestilence,
    and plague followed at his heels. – Habakkuk 3:5 ESV

God is all powerful. His majesty and might are incomparable. He controls the heavens and His very presence shakes the earth. Egypt was no match for Him. And Habakkuk knew that the Babylonians would also find themselves unequal to the task of trying to stand against God.

Those nations that witnessed the Israelites’ divinely ordained departure from Egypt would have been amazed at what they witnessed. The Israelites, nothing more than slaves, had somehow defeated one of the world’s greatest powers and walked out of Egypt without firing an arrow or throwing a single spear. It had been a divine deliverance, complete with the parting of the Red Sea. This miraculous event, as well as the God’s of the waters of the Nile into blood, are both referenced here by Habakkuk.

Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
    Was your anger against the rivers,
    or your indignation against the sea? – Habakkuk 3:8 ESV

This rhetorical question was Habakkuk’s way of stating that God’s anger was directed against those two bodies of water, but they were simply instruments or weapons in His hands. He used them to accomplish His will, much like a soldier uses his sword or spear. Habakkuk describes God in all His might and majesty, using metaphors that provide the reader with a sense of God’s awe and power. The mountains shake. The sun and moon stand still. All nature stands in awe of God. The entire created order is nothing compared to the greatness and grandeur of God.

All of this imagery is Habakkuk’s feeble attempt to describe the power and sovereignty of God. And it causes him to fear and tremble. But he says, “I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us” (Habakkuk 3:16 NLT). Habakkuk was putting His faith in the God of the past and trusting Him to be the God of the future. He was placing His faith in God’s consistency of character and proven track record of faithfulness. God had proven Himself powerful enough. God had repeatedly shown Himself more than faithful enough. And that was enough for Habakkuk to place his hope and trust in God.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson