Standing for the Truth
September 19, 2004 | Brian Bill
We’re beginning a brand new series today from the New Testament book of Titus. This short book is often forgotten in the shadows of Scripture because of its size and because many of its themes are duplicated in First and Second Timothy. But this section of Scripture is very relevant to our lives today. 2 Timothy 3:16 reminds us that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” We are going to go through this book verse-by-verse over the next nine weeks so that we can as verse 17 says, be “Thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Let’s get acquainted with the original recipient of this letter. Titus was…
- A convert of Paul. We see this in Titus 1:4: “…my true son.” Paul also discipled and mentored this man in the faith. We’ll be talking more about mentoring when we get to chapter two. Women, be sure to take advantage of the Apples of Gold informational meeting on Tuesday, September 28th and fill out the insert in the bulletin if you’re interested in being a mentor.
- A companion of Paul. Titus went with Paul to the Jerusalem council to argue that Gentile converts did not have to keep the Law (Acts 15). In 2 Corinthians 8:23, Paul refers to him as “…my partner and fellow worker among you.”
- A man of conviction. Galatians 2:3-5 gives us some detail: “Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek…We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.”
- A comfort to Paul in 2 Corinthians 7:6: “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”
- A confidant of Paul. He was entrusted with collecting an offering from the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 8:6: “So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part.”
- A caring heart. We see this in 2 Corinthians 8:16: “I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you.”
As Paul looked at Titus he saw in him the ability to be a trusted troubleshooter. When they traveled together, they stopped to minister on the island of Crete, and when it was time for Paul to go, he left Titus behind to “straighten out what was left unfinished” (Titus 1:5).
Thirteen years ago, when I was on staff at a church in Chicago, I led a group of 10 people to visit four of our missionary families. We called ourselves the “Titus Touch Team.” We studied the life of Titus and tried our best to emulate what he did so that we could be of comfort and help to others. We flew to London and spent time with a couple who were ministering to Muslims. Then we crossed the English Channel and took a train to Barcelona to help a hurting family. From there we headed to Switzerland to visit our oldest missionary, who at the age of 93 was still hard at work. We finished by traveling to Frankfurt, Germany to provide encouragement to a new missionary couple in their early 20s. At every stop, we took the missionaries out for dinner at the best restaurant they could find; we asked about their ministry and family needs; we led devotions and we prayed for them.
Titus had a task much harder than ours was. We spent a couple days at each location and then moved on. Titus was positioned on Crete, located southeast of Greece in the Mediterranean Sea. This Roman province had a hundred cities, many of which were heavily populated and very independent. To be known as a Cretan was not a good thing. The poet Epimenades, whom Paul quotes in Titus 1:12, referred to these people as “always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” The Philistines, who were the arch enemies of Israel throughout the Old Testament, hailed from this island. Cretans were also steeped in pagan superstition and false religion, believing that Zeus was born on one of their mountains.
Do you ever feel like your campus is controlled by “Cretans”? Perhaps you wonder if your co-workers are from Crete. Maybe you have some Cretans for neighbors, or you see a couple hanging from one of the branches in your family tree. Or, maybe you’re sitting next to one today. Actually, there’s a little Cretan in each one of us. The challenge for us, as it was for young Titus, is to stand for the truth so we won’t fall for something else.
This morning we’re going to look at the first four verses of this book. This prologue lays the groundwork for the rest of the letter, with many of the themes introduced in this rather long sentence. As we study these opening verses, a principle arises: Ministry is always messy. Proverbs 14:4: “Where no oxen are, the manger is clean.” If we’re going to reach out to those in Crete, it will be messy. When the ox messes up the manger, it accomplishes the purpose for which it was created. As Pastor Jeff told me this week, “We must be willing to make a mess to save a life.” In order to impact our world, we have to first stand on the truth if we hope to saturate those around us with the truth.
Please turn in your Bible to Titus 1:1-4 and follow along as I read: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness–a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior, To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.” Let’s look at seven ways to live like Christians while we live in Crete.
1. Understand your identity (1a).
Paul identifies himself as the author in the very first word. This was the common way to begin correspondence in the first century. The writer would state his name, give a greeting and then mention the recipient. I guess that’s a good way to do it so you don’t have to get to the end of the letter to see who sent it to you. You know right at the beginning if you want to keep reading.
The name “Paul” means little. He went from having a mighty Hebrew name (Saul) before he was converted to a name that knocked him down a few notches. If we want to stand for the truth we must understand our identity. The very first way that Paul describes himself in this letter is, “a servant of God.” He could have pulled out his resume and referred to himself as a scholar, appealed to his religious heritage, his unique calling, his authorship of so many books of Scripture, of being brought up to the third heaven, but he didn’t. Paul chose a word that literally means slave, “one whose will is swallowed up in the will of another.”
The word “servant” or “bondservant” echoes back to the Old Testament. According to Donald Barnhouse, a man who got into debt became the property of his creditor up until seven years. At the seventh year, these slaves were liberated but some decided to voluntarily remain as slaves because of the kindness of their Masters. Those who wanted to be slaves for life would be taken to the priest who would pierce the earlobe, thus indicating that he was marked for life to serve his master permanently (see Exodus 21:1-6).
Paul was a servant of God and “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” He is first a slave and second he is a “sent one,” which is what the word apostle literally means. This word was used in the first century of one who was sent with the credentials of another. This hearkens back to what Jesus said about Paul right after his conversion in Acts 9:15: “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” The order here is significant. Paul was sent because he was a servant. As an apostle he had authority, but it was only because his will was swallowed up in the will of another that God was pleased to use him. His obedience as an apostle flowed from his submission as a bondservant.
Friend, keep these words in the right order. We’re slaves first; and second, we’re sent out. Do you know who you are? You are a servant and you’ve been sent to Crete.
2. Grow in godliness (1b).
Paul knew who he was and what he was supposed to do. He also knew his purpose. He was a servant and an apostle “for the faith of God’s elect.” Paul’s mission was to fortify the faithful and grow them into godliness. The word “elect” means “to pick out for one’s self.” We don’t have time this morning to get into a detailed explanation of the doctrine of election except to say that the “elect,” according to Paul, are those who have accepted the gospel message and are therefore secure before God.
After hearing a sermon on election, an older woman told her pastor, “Ah, I have long settled that point, for if God had not chosen me before I was born, I am sure He would have seen nothing in me to have chose me afterward.” One commentator put it this way: “Although surrounded with mystery, the biblical teaching on election… assures faithful, struggling believers that their salvation is all of God from beginning to end.”
Proper belief must lead to practical behavior
Paul encouraged the elect as he links doctrine with duty: “and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness.” Knowledge is more than just knowing facts; it implies a more intimate and personal relationship with truth. Truth must transform the way we live. Proper belief must lead to practical behavior. In fact, doctrine is deadly when it is divorced from godly living. Because the Cretan culture had so many ungodly elements to it, the believers were to demonstrate the reality and possibility of godly living. The word godliness is derived from two words which literally mean, “well reverence” or “well worship” and is used to describe the awesome respect we are to have of God. We should think so highly of Him that it shakes up the way we live. One pastor calls it a “preoccupation from the heart with holy and sacred realities.”
As we learned in our previous sermon series, there is no such thing as drifting into deep discipleship. If we’re going to be godly, we must go after it. And the best way for that to happen is to grow in our knowledge of the truth. As Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:7, we must exercise spiritual discipline in order to excel in godly living: “…Train yourself to be godly.” Donald Whitney writes: “I can’t say that I’ve ever known a man or woman who came to spiritual maturity except through discipline.”
The Scribes and Pharisees focused on external standards of godliness. Jesus showed them that what’s in the heart is most important. Calvin Miller writes: “We are the keepers of inwardness, and we tend it alone.” Someone has said that godliness is an attitude centered on living out one’s life in God’s presence with a desire motivated by love for Him and empowered by His grace to be pleasing to Him in all things. Our behavior is to reflect the character of God. I like how John Piper puts it: “Godliness is a love for the things of God and a walk in the ways of God.”
Are you growing in godliness? Are you living with a “Coram Deo” mindset, with everything you do before the face of God? If you want to impact the Cretans around you, you must remember that they are reading you a great deal more than they are reading the Bible.
3. Enjoy eternity now (2a).
In verse 2, we read, “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life.” I love how he brings faith and knowledge together. Sometimes I hear people say, “Just have faith” as if we have to disengage our minds and believe something that isn’t true. Other times I hear people say, “You just have to trust what you understand” as if we have to have everything figured out. Faith and reason belong together. According to Psalm 9:10, those who know God’s name will trust in Him. Knowledge of God’s name is the foundation of our faith.
Our faith and knowledge rest on the hope of eternal life. We can have certainty in what we believe because we have hope. Hope is the superstructure on which genuine godliness is built. This word hope is different from how many of us use it. Some of you are “hoping” that the Bears are going to be beat the Packers…but that’s not going to happen. Hope as used in the Bible is synonymous with absolute certainty. It’s the idea of looking ahead eagerly with confident expectation. Looking into the future should accelerate godly living today.
For those who have put their faith in Christ, eternal life is so certain that it doesn’t begin when you die but rather kicks off at conversion. Jesus said it this way in John 17:3: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” That’s why life is meant to be lived with abundance right now. Friend, eternal life is not just some vague hope in the future; it’s an absolute reality for the believer.
Someone described eternity this way. Imagine a steel ball, the size of the earth, 25,000 miles in circumference. Every one million years a little sparrow comes and sharpens his beak on the steel and flies away. By the time the sparrow wears down the steel ball to the size of a bb, eternity will just be beginning.
4. Count on God’s character (2b).
The basis for our belief is grounded in God himself. Look at the last phrase in verse 2: “…which God, who does not lie.” This truth about God is in direct contrast to the Cretan culture as spelled out in Titus 1:12: “Cretans are always liars…” The Cretans were prone to see God in their image and therefore think that He is less than truthful. God is free from all deceit. The Greek literally reads, “The non-lying God.” Numbers 23:19: “God is not a man, that he should lie.” 1 Samuel 15:29: “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind.” Hebrews 6:18: “It is impossible for God to lie.” God is the very essence of truth. In direct opposition is the devil who is described by Jesus in John 8:44 as being the “father of lies.” God’s character backs up the hope of eternal life. Because He said it, it’s true, and it will happen.
Even in eternity past God pledged with certainty what he was going to do: “…promised before the beginning of time.” God is a promise keeping God. What He has said, He will do. You can count on His character. As Joshua reminded the people before he died: “Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed” (Joshua 23:14). 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise.” Because Psalm 145:13 states, “the LORD is faithful to all his promises,” we are to do what Psalm 106:12 says, “Then they believed his promises and sang his praise.” What promise do you need to believe today? Is there something you’re struggling with? Is doubt causing you some distress? Claim the promises of God and then sing His praise.
5. Trust God’s timing (3a).
Notice verse 3: “…And at his appointed season he brought his word to light…” All of God’s promises will come true but it’s on His timetable, not ours. Events on God’s calendar occur at designated times in history according to His perfect wisdom. The timing of Jesus’ birth, for example, is one of Paul’s favorite themes. Galatians 4:4: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law.”
The word “appointed” refers to that which is one’s own private and unique possession. The purpose behind God’s timing is often known only to Him. The word “season” refers to a window of opportunity, or a fixed period of time. Acts 17:26 reminds us of God’s direct involvement in our lives: “…he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”
Andrew Murray offers a helpful perspective on being patient about God’s timing: “Waiting in the sunshine of his love is what will ripen the soul for His blessing. Waiting under the cloud of trial that breaks in showers of blessing, is as needful. Be assured that if God waits longer than you would wish, it is only to make the blessing doubly precious” (“Waiting for God,” page 102).
Do you have a hard time waiting on God’s timing? What is it right now that you’re struggling with? You’re not alone. Walk through the season of life that you’re in so that you will be prepared for the next one. God is never late; but He is rarely early. Trust His timing. And don’t disregard the fact that if you have not put your faith and trust in Jesus yet, you must do so before it’s too late. 2 Corinthians 6:2: “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”
6. Give primacy to proclamation (3b).
As we minister in our Crete, we must never forget the importance of sharing the good news. Paul put it this way in the latter half of verse 3: “through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.” People must hear the gospel before they can respond. We must earn the right to be heard and live a lifestyle that makes people thirsty, but we must also proclaim the message with our mouths. Romans 10:14: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
Paul understood that preaching was entrusted to him. Listen to how passionate he feels about his job in 1 Corinthians 9:16-17: “Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.” His mission, like ours, is to get the message out. If we choose to keep it inside, we’ll feel like Jeremiah did in Jeremiah 20:9: “But if I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.” Poet Charles Bukowski said it this way: “The difference between a madman and a professional is that a pro does as well as he can within what he has set out do; and a madman does exceptionally well at what he can’t help doing.”
We have opportunities all around us. On Friday I was working out on a machine when another guy hopped on the one next to me. I greeted him and then watched Fox News and read a book. Then something amazing happened. I finished my workout at the exact time that the guy next to me did. I commented about how unusual that was to start at different times but finish at the same time. He then told me that something else was strange. When he looked at the display the machine told him that he had gone 3.33 miles. That didn’t seem all that surprising to me but then he told me that when he woke up that morning, he turned to look at his clock and it read: 3:33. I told him that God must be trying to get his attention.
I then said a quick prayer and the Lord brought a verse to mind. I said, “You know, there’s a verse in the Bible with those numbers in it – Jeremiah 33:3. Maybe that’s what God wants you to read.” I repeated the reference to him but didn’t think he would remember it so I took a quick shower and then hurried out to my car so I could look it up in my Bible and write it out for him. I then went back into the gym and handed him a piece of paper with Jeremiah 33:3 on it: “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” I also wrote John 3:3 at the bottom even though it only has two “threes” in it: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
Be ready at all times to share the gospel
Be ready at all times to share the gospel. When the opportunities come, and they will, say a quick prayer and give primacy to proclamation.
7. Commit to what we have in common.
In verse 4, Paul refers to Titus as his true son “in our common faith.” In our culture today, we would have made Paul a superstar but here Paul refers to his faith as being held in common with the faith of Titus. The word literally means that which belongs to several. Jesus prayed in John 17:21: “…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” The biblical model is unity within diversity. I am not better than you and you are not better than me.
Paul then finishes his introduction with the words “grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace is unmerited favor and peace is experienced by those who respond to the grace of God.
The boy stood with back arched, head cocked back and hands clenched defiantly: “Go ahead, give it to me.” The principal looked down at the young rebel: “How many times have you been here?” The child sneered rebelliously, “Apparently not enough.” The principal gave the boy a strange look and asked: “And you have been punished each time, have you not?”
“Yeah, I’ve been punished, if that’s what you want to call it.” He threw out his small chest, “Go ahead I can take whatever you dish out. I always have. I do whatever I want to do. Ain’t nothin you people gonna do to stop me either.” The principal looked over at the teacher who stood nearby: “What did he do this time?” The teacher said, “Fighting. He took little Tommy and shoved his face into the sandbox.”
The principal turned to look at the boy, “Why? What did little Tommy do to you?”
The boy responded angrily: “Nothin, I didn’t like the way he was lookin’ at me, just like I don’t like the way you’re lookin’ at me! And if I thought I could do it, I’d shove your face into something.” The teacher stiffened and started to rise but a quick look from the principal stopped him. He contemplated the child for a moment and then quietly said, “Today my young student, is the day you learn about grace.”
“Grace? Isn’t that what you old people do before you sit down to eat? I don’t need none of your stinkin’ grace.”
The principal studied the young man’s face and whispered, “Oh yes, you truly do…” The boy continued to glare as the principal continued, “Grace, in its short definition is unmerited favor. You cannot earn it; it is a gift and is always freely given.” The boy looked puzzled and asked, “You’re not gonna whup me? You just gonna let me walk?” The principal looked down at the unyielding child. “Yes, I’m going to let you walk.” The boy studied the face of the principal, “No punishment at all? Even though I socked Tommy and shoved his face into the sandbox?”
“Oh, there has to be punishment. What you did was wrong and there are always consequences to our actions. Grace is not an excuse for doing wrong.” “I knew it,” sneered the boy as he held out his hands, “Let’s get on with it.” The principal nodded toward the teacher, “Bring me the belt.” The teacher presented the belt to the principal. He carefully folded it in two and then handed it back to the teacher. He looked at the child and said, “I want you to count the blows.”
He slid out from behind his desk and walked over to stand directly in front of the young man. He gently reached out and folded the child’s outstretched, expectant hands together and then turned to face the teacher with his own hands outstretched. One quiet word came forth from his mouth: “Begin.” The belt whipped down on the outstretched hands of the principal. Crack! The young man jumped ten feet in the air. Shock registered across his face, “One” he whispered. Crack! “Two.” Crack! “Three…” He couldn’t believe this. Crack! “Four.” Big tears welled up in the eyes of the rebel. “OK stop! That’s enough. Stop!” Crack! The child flinched with each blow, tears beginning to stream down his face. Crack! Crack! “No please,” the former rebel begged, “Stop, I did it, I’m the one who deserves it. Stop! Please. Stop…”
Still the blows came, Crack! Crack! One after another. Finally it was over. The principal stood with sweat glistening across his forehead and beads trickling down his face. Slowly he knelt down. He studied the young man for a second and then his swollen hands reached out to cradle the face of the weeping child. He looked at him and said, “That’s what grace is…”
We can stand for the truth because of the grace we’ve been given. We can do that by…
- Understanding our identity
- Growing in godliness
- Enjoying eternity right now
- Counting on God’s character
- Trusting God’s timing
- Giving primacy to proclamation
- Committing to what we have in common
What stand do you need to take this morning? We’re going to close with a period of quiet contemplation so you can respond to whatever the Lord is speaking to you about.
Will you please stand right now if you’ve made a commitment to be Christ’s man or woman in Crete?