The Epistle (letter) to Titus, though short, is full of practical teaching about local church life and the personal behaviour of believers. In essence, it is a manual containing truth and training for new believers. It is well worth getting to grips with!
New Testament letters are of immense importance as they are the solid basis on which historians build a picture of how the world was in the past. J. B. Phillips in his little book Ring of Truth says, ‘we have the strongest possible evidence for the early days of Christianity from the letters of Paul, James, Peter and John. It is letters which are of unique value to the historian who is trying to record the actual events of any period. Newspapers, and before them broadsheets and pamphlets, naturally have their worth, but they are likely to be slanted one way or another. But if the historian can lay his hands upon a packet of letters, he has priceless evidence for the period of which he is writing’.1 That view is from a human standpoint. We, however, have the confidence that a letter like that to Titus is inspired by God and accurate in what it teaches.
In the New Testament all Christians are expected to be in fellowship in a local church. If you take this as the starting point then the teaching is direct and applicable to us all. A local church is made up of different groups of people. Some of these groups are the same as in general society, e.g., older women, older men, young men, and young women. However there are some additional categories described in the New Testament which are specific to the life and activity of a local church. The only such group described in this letter are the elders. This classic piece of written teaching also provides a treasure of truth about salvation.
Paul starts this letter by identifying who is writing. Just as we do today, people in the ancient world wrote letters that included certain standard elements. They had their own conventional introductions and conclusions. The opening usually identified who was writing, who the letter was sent to, and then some form of greeting. As in most of his letters, Paul starts writing to Titus using this ancient formula, ‘Paul, a servant of God’ and ends the letter in chapter 3 with a final expression of his desire or prayers for Titus and all the people he works with – ‘Grace be with you all. Amen’, 3. 15.
However, it is important to think about how the apostle introduces himself in each letter; there is significance in every expression of scripture. Any limitation to our understanding lies with the reader and not the author. The Spirit of God is the ultimate author of scripture, 2 Tim. 3. 16. In this epistle Paul calls himself ‘a servant’. This really means ‘a slave’. To get the full force of this description we need to understand that Paul was a well educated, free-born Roman citizen, but he is calling himself a slave. This would be a most humiliating statement for a person in that position to make. Someone else owned a slave and that person determined their activities in life! Paul had become a Christian and had willingly surrendered his liberties to the Lord Jesus Christ. He now followed the directions of his Master; he lived by the principles and values that his Master lived by and he was willing to be constantly in the service of the Saviour.
This statement ‘a slave of God’ would send a very strong message to Titus and the people that Titus was working among. Titus had stayed behind in Crete at the request of Paul, as there were many things that needed his attention, v. 5. The Cretans were a wild type of people. Later in this chapter we will read about their national characteristics, v. 12. People of the temperament of the Cretans would definitely have been amazed to meet a man who had been so changed by the grace of God that he was submissive, obedient and humble before the One who had saved him.
The second way that Paul describes himself is as ‘an apostle of Jesus Christ’. The word apostle was an official title for someone who was commissioned by and for the Lord Jesus Christ. The word has the idea of a delegate, a messenger, or an ambassador behind it. In general terms, some people in the New Testament are called apostles, 1 Cor. 15. 7; 2 Cor. 8. 23, but that would be the exception and used only to describe someone sent on a specific mission. The technical and main use of the word is that of a group of men called and appointed by the Lord Jesus to be witnesses of His life, death and, in particular, His resurrection.2 The Apostle Paul was a unique addition to this group of men. He talks about himself as the ‘least of the apostles’, 1 Cor. 15. 9, because he persecuted the church of God. He had not been with the established group of apostles, but had seen the Lord in resurrection on the road to Damascus.3 He was, however, an apostle and had been personally commissioned by the Lord Jesus to be a witness for him.4 The late Jack Hunter of Kilmarnock used to teach that when the title ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘Christ Jesus’ is used the emphasis is always on the first part of the name. So the order in the name ‘Jesus Christ’ reminds us that this is the one who was once on earth but that He is now in heaven. The reverse order teaches us that He is now in heaven but once He lived on earth. What a blessing there is in both truths – the grace of His coming down and the grandeur of the one now residing in the majesty of heaven.
The service that God had called Paul to had a double aim and objective:
There has been a lot of discussion and disagreement about the subject of God’s electing grace. However, there are clear passages in scripture that teach this truth. While none of us claim to understand how God works all things ‘according to the good pleasure of his will’, Eph. 1. 5, and ‘after the counsel of his own will’, v. 11, we must accept what scripture teaches. When considering a topic such as this, it is wise to remember that we do not understand scripture by human logic, 1 Cor. 2. 14.
Let us look at a couple of passages of scripture to help us understand, in general terms, the truth of God’s sovereign right to choose.
‘Ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain’, Acts 2. 23 – this is in relation to the death of Christ. In that chapter Peter makes the men of Israel responsible for the Lord’s death, but in the same breath he states that the death of Christ was in the divine plan – ‘Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God’. We cannot work out how men could be responsible for the death of Christ and that, at the same time, God was working out His purposes, but we certainly would not teach that the death of Christ was solely the result of the actions of wicked men.
Another passage that helps in this respect is Matthew chapter 26 verse 24. The scene is what we call ‘the last supper’. The Lord is telling the disciples that one of them will betray Him. We know now that it was Judas that the Lord was referring to, but listen to his word. ‘The Son of man goeth as it is written of him’ – that’s the sovereign, electing choice of God. Now think about the next phrase – ‘but woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born’. So the Lord is holding Judas responsible for his actions, and at the same time telling us that his act of betrayal had been predicted in the scriptures. Difficult to grasp from a human perspective! If we believe the scriptures to be the word of God, we must accept what it teaches. When it comes to the salvation of an individual, both principles are taught in scripture; God elected for salvation, and we exercised our will and responded to the call of the gospel.5
This is reason number one for Paul’s slavery and apostleship – to bring God’s elect to faith.
The second reason for Paul’s slavery and apostleship was to teach the truth to those who were saved. A believer cannot know God intimately without learning the truth of God’s word. We need to know God, His character and His presence. As we drink deeply of these wonderful truths, we will deepen our experience of God. The outcome of this will be a life lived in a way that is pleasing to God. Godliness starts with knowledge, it is lived out in all the experiences of life, and it drives us back to God and His word. Thus our knowledge of God is an ongoing process that will never be complete until we stand in His presence.