Titus 3 – Saved for Good

Read Titus 3

Paul’s closing words to Titus could be read as a deeper explanation and examination of what he writes to the church in Ephesus.  Specifically, in Ephesians 2, Paul writes,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Here, Paul expands on these words, relating them to Titus with regards to the church in Crete and what it means for them.  In doing so, Paul gives us a greater understanding of God’s work in the process of salvation.  What we learn is that God’s work doesn’t begin at the time of salvation but long before as the Holy Spirit builds up our faith and brings us to the point of decision, when we place our faith in Jesus Christ.

Knowing this brings a greater revelation of what it means to be under grace!  We hear that God chose us, and that grace is given and available to all.  What we don’t often hear, however, is that God’s work in our lives, the love, and grace that He shows to us, is actually present and active even before we come to Him.  It’s truly amazing that God’s love for us is there long before we show our love for Him.

But it isn’t just what happens before we come to faith that is important here, it is what we are saved for, which is to “do good.”  In other words, we are called to live our lives in direct response to the love that God shows us.  That means staying away from things that would distract us, things that would take us off track, and things that would draw us away from God’s love and our calling.



Titus 2 – Salvation or salvation?

Read Titus 2

As Paul is writing to Titus, he is imploring Titus to teach and encourage transformed living in a way that is applied to all who are believers.  It isn’t simply enough to have leaders who reflect the transformative work that is done by the Holy Spirit, all must live in this way.  This is a response to our eternal Salvation, and yet at the same time is part of “earthly,” contemporary (current time) salvation as well.

Far too often we get “salvation” mixed up as being something that happens to us when we die.  When we believe in Jesus, we know that we will “go to heaven” after we die.  But if this is the extent of the salvation that we understand, we are getting a very small picture of what God is actually doing in our lives.

The work of our salvation begins even before the very moment that we place our faith in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit’s work in us, building up our faith.  God is constantly at work in us, reforming and reshaping us into the image of His Son.  We call this “sanctification,” and it is a very important part of the Christian life.

Not only is God working on us in this way, He continues to work in this world to bring about redemption and restoration to all of His creation.  This is something that He has been doing since the very beginning and something we also are called to participate in through the careful tending and treatment of this planet.

When we limit the scope of God’s salvific (salvation related) work to a sort of “escapist” mentality line of thinking that is only true for us when we die, we grossly limit and box in God’s extraordinary work throughout history, culminating, but not ending in the work of Jesus Christ when He went to the cross.



Titus 1 – Do Good

Read Titus 1

Paul opens his letter to Titus explaining both why he left Titus in Crete and what he should now be doing while he is there.  The Cretan churches were in some manner of disarray, needing sound leadership and a strong hand to guide them.  To facilitate this, Paul encourages Titus to work on appointing elders in every town throughout Crete.  The Elders, leaders in those communities, should live as examples as to how those in the church should be.

Though Paul seems to emphasize “good works” here as a major theme, it is important to note that all of this comes from his application of the Gospel message onto the lives of believers.  In the instance of the Cretan churches, there is a stark contrast in the way that “all Cretans” live and the new life that they are called to as believers in Christ.

It is interesting here that Paul lumps laziness with “law following” as part of the things that need to be rebuked and corrected.  Indeed, it is much easier, and takes much less effort to just follow the rules with no real thought or internal change.  What is more interesting, I think, is that Paul tells Titus that they must “do good,” citing the example of those who are appointed elders, as the way of faith.

This would seem, to many, as Paul advocating for “works righteousness,” exchanging one set of laws for another.  However, what he is suggesting is to actually live into this transformed life.  “Doing good” by way of the law is simply following the rules… doing good in response to the Grace of God in Jesus Christ is a sign of a redeemed and transformed life.

Especially for those who are new to the faith, there are some boundaries that are necessary to help foster growth and encourage change and transformation.  In the same way that a young, newly freed Israelite nation needed the law to show them the boundaries of their new freedom, so too do we need some boundaries to foster our freedom in Christ.  What is important, though, is that those boundaries don’t become laws for us, simply following the rules for the sake of the rules, rather than living in response to God’s love for us.



Introduction to Titus

While the book of Acts lays out the journey of the Apostles, especially Paul, as they move from Jerusalem outward, proclaiming the Gospel and planting churches, no mention of Titus is found.  Because of this, little is known outside of the references Paul makes to him in his other letters.  From what we can glean, though, Titus was a very close friend and worker with Paul.

In fact, when Paul went to Jerusalem to discuss the spreading of grace to the gentiles, who were uncircumcised, as recorded in Acts 15, Titus went with him (Galatians 2:1-3) as an example of a Gentile that God had gifted (and who was uncircumcised).

The book of Titus was written sometime between Paul’s first letter to Timothy and his second.  It would have been written after he was released from his first imprisonment in Rome when Paul was traveling on his 4th missionary journey.  Titus had been traveling with Paul but was left in Crete to manage the churches there.

After Paul had gone on to a number of other places, he wrote Titus to instruct him on how to correct matters that had arisen in the Cretian church.  Like the letters to Timothy, Paul also warns Titus against false teachings which were creeping into the churches in Crete.  Paul also gives Titus his personal authorization to deal with dissenters and those opposed to the Gospel or Titus’ leadership.

As is always true for Paul, his words are a practical application of the grace that God has shown to all and has given to those who believe.  This rings true for those in leadership as well, all of whom should be working to apply this grace in their daily lives and be teaching it to all those they come in contact with.

Grace, Faith, and “good deeds,” are all major themes in this short letter.  The “good deeds,” however, are not to be the product of human ingenuity, legalistic religion, or tradition, but rather the work of God’s grace through faith in the power of God as manifested in Christ, the Savior.



Day 350: Titus and Philemon: Living into Identity

There are two books contained within our reading for today, both written by Paul.  Titus is one of the Pastoral Epistles yet, containing a great deal of similar information as 1 Timothy.  Philemon is another one of Paul’s Prison Epistles, written to a man named Philemon, as well as Apphia and Archippus about a slave named Onesimus.

Titus:

The book of Titus was written by Paul to Titus, a leader in the Church whom he left on the island of Crete  to teach the Cretan people, spread the Gospel, and build up the church.  As I was reading this, I got the impression that this may not have been where Titus wanted to end up, and that the task was rather difficult for him because of the nature and culture of the people of Crete.  According to one of their own, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”  This, no doubt, made Titus’ job a bit more difficult as he sought to build up the church and disciple people of God.  For Paul, the qualifications for Elders that he lays out here are not that different from those that he lays out for Timothy, yet  think they become all the more important within this context because of the difficulty in finding such people and the necessity to have them as leaders in the church.

As I’m reading this it also draws into my mind some of the issue that the contemporary church is facing as well.  There have been no shortage of reports about church leaders that are not meeting these qualifications and those that are, in their service, committing awful crimes against others both in and out of the church.  Pastors, Elders, and other leaders seem to be caught all the time in affairs and in sexual sin, yet it seems like the church continues to remain silent on these issues.  In other places, Pastors have watered down the Gospel so much that Jesus is hardly mentioned for fear that it might offend someone.  The ideas of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are running rampant in the church, making the Gospel seem irrelevant and the Word of God meaningless.  Paul speaks to us here as much as He is speaking to Titus: “teach what accords with sound doctrine.”  Moreover, he gives rather specific directions for the Christ-like living, something that is a necessity for the community of faith.

I have tended to say this at just about every mention of Christian living, but I don’t think that it can be emphasized enough.  While is seems that Paul is laying down the law for how people are to live in accordance with their faith in Jesus Christ, this is not a “law” in respect to a set of rules that need to be followed for one to earn their own salvation.  In fact, as Paul has said time and again, that it is out of the freedom that we find in Christ Jesus, the fact that we are no longer a slave to the law and sin, that we choose to live out our lives in a way that is godly and Christ-like.  Paul’s urging in Romans 12 is a testament to this, that because of the mercy that we are shown by God in Christ Jesus, we present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God, being transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit, that we may live out Christ’s love and spread the Good News of the Gospel everywhere  we go.

Philemon:

The book of Philemon is a rather unique book in the New Testament because of the context in which it was written.  Being only one chapter long, Paul is writing to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus, a name that means “useful,” because of his recent conversion.  Onesimus was apparently a slave of Philemon, something that was a common practice back then (whether we condone slavery or not is really not the issue here), and had left his service to Philemon after stealing some things.  Paul writes in the understanding the what Onesimus did was very wrong, yet in the time away from Philemon, he had come to faith.  Now Paul is writing on behalf of Onesimus to ask Philemon’s forgiveness.  Onesimus is returning to Philemon because it was right for him to do that as he was still technically the slave of Philemon.  Yet Paul is arguing for a deeper understanding of Onesimus as a brother in Christ rather than just another servant.  Moreover, Paul willingly pays whatever debt is owed to Philemon for the crime done against him.

A great deal of the theology of this letter comes from Paul’s other writing about equality and oneness in Christ Jesus.  Paul writes in several different places that there is no distinction between slave and free, male and female, etc.  Keeping in mind that there was a rather different understanding of slavery and even servitude back in this day, Paul is advocating for a deeper understanding of a person’s identity in Christ Jesus superseding that of any other identity that a person has.  This has been important to the Church in every age and context, but has become even more important in the last 200 years with the struggles against slavery, inhumane treatment of the people and the poor, this notion of equality in Christ Jesus has become an even bigger and important topic.  From Oscar Romeo to Martin Luther King Jr. the book of Philemon has become an important book in the conversation and understanding of our identity and equality in Christ Jesus.