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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Christian Progress




By my counting, this is the 27th Sunday that we have been unable to gather together in person to worship.


But, the Lord has been very gracious to us and, he’s provided us with temporary, alternative means to gain instruction and encouragement for this purpose:

our progress and joy in the faith’.

Something all of us can be thankful for.


Progress and joy in the faith’ are not my words,

they are the words of the Apostle Paul in

Philippians 1:25, and they dovetail really well with the opening three verses of Titus 1.


Titus background

Titus was a companion of the Apostle Paul on his missionary journeys.

We know that he went with Paul to Jerusalem (Gal 2:1).

We know that he was sent by Paul to Corinth with Paul’s second letter (2 Cor 8:17).

And, we know that when Paul wrote this letter to him, he was on the island of Crete.


In all likelihood, Titus had travelled with Paul after his first release from prison, and Paul had dropped Titus on the island of Crete on route to other missionary outposts.


Organisation in the local church

Evidently the gospel had taken root on the island and now some formal organisation and leadership was required, and that was Titus’ task (v.5).

Therefore, we can deduce that God wants local expressions of the body of Christ not to be disorderly, haphazard, disparate entities. But to be led, organised, disciplined groups of dedicated followers of Jesus.


Right from the beginning of this letter, Paul wants to show that his main aim is:

growing, godly, and galvanised churches.


Cultural backdrop

Crete was evidently a place where gospel churches – characterised by truth and uprightness – would have looked stark against the cultural backdrop.


That backdrop was a world where the Greek God Zeus was considered a saviour – a likely reason for the repeated mention of God as saviour in the letter - and, where lying and evil and laziness were cultural norms (1:12).


Titus’ mission

So, the challenge looks like this:

the gospel still in its infancy; believers – meeting probably in their houses – with little or no direction from God fearing leaders;

former ways of life still prominent;

and we read in chapter one, of Jewish false teachers in their midst also.


Titus’ missionary mandate then is to sort all this out and leave the churches in Crete strong and,

contending for the faith.


Speed is crucial

And, he had to go about it quickly, because Paul said he wanted him to join him in Greece before the winter was upon them (3:12).

So, no time for hanging around, order had to be established and qualified leadership had to be found speedily and made effective urgently.

It’s to that end that Paul has written this letter to Titus and therefore, it is full of valuable material for the local church.


Morning’s focus

But, this morning I just want to focus on the opening three verses.

It’s my intention to give you a flavour of this book by delivering 3 messages, one from each chapter –

if the Lord permits.


Introductory remarks - unique

Like all of Paul’s letters he makes some introductory remarks before he gets down to the nitty gritty.

The introduction to Titus is particularly noteworthy because, apart from Paul’s letter to the Romans, none of his other letters bears such richness in its opening salvo, as this one does.


Contained in these first three verses are:

Paul’s own role – namely a servant and apostle;

Paul’s main purpose – namely the furtherance of faith and knowledge leading to Godliness;

God’s promise – namely the hope of eternal life;

And,

God’s appointed means – namely preaching.


Each one of those things is worthy of a message, but I want to say something brief about each one if possible for our benefit this morning.


Paul’s role as slave (bond-servant)

First Paul gives us his role.

It’s a dual role: servant and apostle.

When he says he’s a ‘servant of God’,

what he has in mind is less what we might think of as a servant, and more what we would think of as a slave.

At least, that is, in the following ways:

A slave is one who is bought – that is acquired at a cost.

A slave is one who is owned by another – that is the one who bought them.

And a slave is one who is ruled – that is instructed what to do for, and on behalf their owner.


NIV translation

The reason why our NIVs translate this word ‘servant’ and not slave, is because there is one way in which Paul - and we, if we are believers –

are not characteristically slave like and that’s this:

slaves do not commonly desire to do the will of their master.

Their common desire is to escape their master’s will. But Paul, and all who belong to Jesus, are not begrudging slaves, we’re happy slaves.

We love our master above all else.

We have been brought into his household, and it is a privilege to be in His service.

A willing slave is much more like a servant than a slave.

But, if we think only in terms of our willingness to serve, we will miss out on some really important truths about what is means to be a slave.


Truths that are so central to the gospel that they must not be missed.

So let’s not do that.


Bought with blood

I’m happy to count myself a slave with the Apostle Paul of Christ,

because like a slave I was bought by my master.

Not with money that perishes, but with blood.

Not someone else’s blood, but his own blood.

Not with human blood but with eternal blood (Heb 13:20).


Every slave costs their owner money, but our slavery cost our master more – it cost him his own life.

Paul writing to the Corinthians puts it like this:

You are not your own

(in other words, you belong to another);

you were bought at a price” (1 Cor 6:19-20).


Acts 20:28 tells us what the price was:

“The church of God, which he bought with his own blood”.

To use blood as currency it has to be shed. And when human beings shed their blood they die.

So, it cost him his life.

He died on the cross in a transaction for his slaves.

We were bought by our master at maximum expense to himself.


Bought to do his will

And, we should never seek to minimise that truth by saying I’m free to do as I please.

You, are not your own, therefore what?

‘Honour God with your bodies’.

We were bought by Jesus; we are his possession (1 Pet 2:9); we are under his ownership (2 Cor 1:22).

And, if we are to do Jesus’ will, then as Christians it will be a willing, glad obedience that comes from a heart of devotion.

You have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance’ (Rom 6:17).


Paul’s designation of himself as a servant of God – a slave of righteousness as he calls it in Romans 6 - is one that we can adopt for ourselves also and one we must, as believers, aspire to fulfil.


Paul the apostle

But secondly, Paul is also an Apostle of Jesus.

I want to show why this is so crucial to us as believers and why we, nor anybody else, can ever be that role today.


I think it’s evident from the scriptures that there were specific qualifications that had to be met for a person to be designated an apostle.

And because the apostles met those qualifications, they were uniquely able to instruct in the manner the prophets in the Old Testament had been able to.


It’s not insignificant that, when the disciples met after Jesus’ ascension into heaven –

taking their cue from Psalms 69 and 109,

and deciding that someone needed to be chosen to take Judas’ place –

that the criteria they used for selecting qualified candidates was that he must be one who,

had been with them the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among them, beginning from John’s baptism to the time Jesus was taken from them’.


In connection with that event in Acts 1, I don’t think it’s insignificant that Paul regarded himself as

one born out of due season’ (1 Cor 15:7-9).

Paul seems to acknowledge that he didn’t,

and indeed couldn’t, fulfil that criteria –

he was born too late for that.


But, that the Lord Jesus appeared to him in person and gave him his marching orders face to face,

that that was qualification enough to designate him an apostle - though he calls himself, ‘the least of apostles’.

When some suggested that he was unqualified for the role, he defended his apostleship, saying,

Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them.’


Everywhere Paul writes, he advances his own words as carrying scripture level authority.

Peter agrees also,

Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom that God gave him…His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other scriptures (2 Pet 3:16).

Paul considers his own words scripture. Peter considers them scripture.

Paul was an apostle –

an emissary of the risen Christ who appeared to him in the flesh.

Therefore, he was qualified to write the ‘command of the Lord’ (1 Cor 14:37).


The implication is, that we are not to regard ourselves or anybody else as Apostles,

and therefore, we are not to regard anybody else’s words with scripture level authority.

There is no command of the Lord, other than those that have been delivered to us in the scriptures through his inspired prophets and apostles.


Receiving instruction and correction

That is very significant for the way that we are to receive instruction and correction.

If someone comes to us with an instruction or a command that is not in the bible,

we are duty bound to treat it with the utmost suspicion.

In fact, Paul is more assertive than that.

He says:

‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters to keep away from every believer who…does not live according to the teaching you received from us’.

In Paul’s mind, there’s no other source of sound teaching than the Apostles and prophets.


Nothing less than the truth and sufficiency of God’s word is at stake in our obedience to this command - namely the apostles’ words are not mere human teachings, but are the very word of God.

Any teaching that doesn’t concord with their teaching, is mere human teaching, and must be rejected.

The growth and stability of the local church is rooted in this truth.

And, to the degree that the church abides by it,

so shall its strength be.


So, Paul’s role is a bond-servant of Christ - like us, and is an Apostle of the living Christ (not like us), with words that have God’s authority behind them (for us).

They therefore are a significant part – along with the other scriptures - of our rule of faith and our Christian life.


Paul’s purpose

Secondly, Paul gives us his purpose.

‘Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and [to further] their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness’.

Whatever Paul is – a servant of the will of God and an authoritative apostle –

those roles are serving this end:

The advancement of the faith of God’s elect and the advancement of their knowledge of the truth. These are the two most significant factors in working Godliness in God’s elect people.

These two initial goals are serving one ultimate end: the godliness of Christians.


What does that mean?

It means that the journey from the cross of Christ to heaven is not a steady state reality.

You are everything you need to be, but not all that you must be.

All our lives, we are living in the light of the cross and moving towards the reality that Christ has already created in us.

Therefore, godliness is both an accomplished work - in the judicial sense

and,

it’s a work being accomplished - in the sanctifying sense.

These are the apostle Paul’s words:

‘Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He (that is Jesus) appeared in the flesh’ (1 Tim 3:16).

So, godliness springs from Jesus’s bodily appearing and work.

That’s a fait accompli.

A done work.

Nothing needs adding.

And, yet, we’re told by Peter to,

‘make every effort to add to our faith…godliness’ (2Peter 1:5-7).

As if somehow, there is still something lacking.

So, which is it?

Are we Godly or are we becoming Godly?

Well, it’s both.


Jesus has made us Godly once and for all in the sight of God

and,

we are moving towards ever greater degrees of God-likeness as we proceed along this path to heaven.


Applied to the Cretans

Paul’s desire for the Cretan Christians (notice that – these are christians) is that through Titus’ efforts and his teachings, the Cretans should move from one degree of holiness to another (2 Cor 3:18).


That they should be less and less comfortable in their native setting

and more and more distinctive as they strive for Christ likeness.


By that progressive godliness, the Cretans will not only be benefitted in the life to come, but will display the surpassing worth of the gospel of Jesus to a world besotted with impotent and meaningless Gods.


Paul puts it like this to Timothy:

‘Godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come’ (1 Tim 4:8).


Paul identifies two chords that serve the lengthening rope of godliness – faith and truth.

But, we’ve run out of time this morning.

So, that will have to wait until next time.

Three messages are going to become four.


May the Lord bless his word to our hearts.

Amen

Σχόλια


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