Hold On To The Truth
[Titus chapter one]
Today we’ll be starting an in-depth study of the apostle Paul’s letter to Titus, who was a well-known church founder and leader of that time. This is a short book containing only three chapters, so let’s just go through one each week before moving on to other things. So without further ado, let’s plunge into the warm and refreshing waters of Paul’s letter to Titus, beginning with chapter one.
“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. The reason that I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless, not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus chapter 1, verses 1-9, NIV)
One thing is for sure – the apostle Paul had definitely mastered his considerable writing abilities, as this lengthy greeting to Titus attests. He sure could write some of the longest sentences known throughout the world of literature! The last half of verse 1 is a good starting point to this study, where Paul wrote about “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…”. How do we arrive at the knowledge of the Truth in this context? By doing just what we’re doing here, and that is the continued and ongoing study of the Word of God, combined with Jesus’ command to, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. We nourish our spirits with the knowledge of God and the fullness thereof just as we nourish our bodies when we sit down to a nice home-cooked meal. It is this Spiritual knowledge that we ingest that gives us the hope of eternal life that can only be found with Jesus Christ. This same eternal life was promised by God, and was heralded by the prophets of old, from Abraham to John the Baptist.
Paul’s instruction for Titus was to “appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” It is apparent that the apostle Paul performed the duties of founding and initializing churches, and then leave overseers behind to administer, pastor, grow and uphold those churches. Titus, like Timothy in the last book we studied, was one of those individuals. As you can see, based on the apostle Paul’s criteria, churches today would be hard-pressed to find people qualified to be pastors, deacons, bishops, evangelists, and even musicians. The divorce rate among Christians is roughly the same as the secular world. I know that we don’t think much of this today because divorce and the broken homes they leave behind are so commonplace, but this would have been considered scandalous at the time these words were written. (My, how times have changed!) The gospel being preached and taught by mainstream religion today is nowhere near what’s actually in the Bible. Then there’s the matter of the children mentioned in the above verses. The fact is even kids who grow up in Christian households are leaving the church in droves once they reach the age of the majority. The responsibility for this lies with lackluster leadership in churches as well as in the home. Meaning, it’s up to us Christians to focus all our energy on rectifying this issue, starting with ourselves and, for those who have them, our kids.
“Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless, not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.” The word overseer in this context is used interchangeably with pastor or bishop. Those who are entrusted to leadership within and outside of the church are called to a higher standard. Overseers must be humble, not scandalous, cool-headed, thoughtful rather than one who acts impulsively. It is their responsibility to be kindhearted, compassionate, peaceful, with a gentle disposition, and never are they to be money-hungry, greedy or substance abusers. OK, I just disqualified as many as half of all preachers, teachers, vicars or priests that are currently in charge of churches from the smallest to the biggest mega-church, and without regard to denominations or creeds either. Unfortunately, many of today’s church leaders have turned their churches into profitable enterprises instead of fulfilling their responsibilities. They sell untold numbers of books, CD’s, DVD’s and other merchandise, raking in millions. Some even have their own airplanes! The money spent on those planes could have been used to build 200 houses for Habitat for Humanity. Or, it could have been spent in poor countries in Africa or Asia so the people could have running water and electricity. People here in the Western countries take these things for granted, but they are still considered luxuries in 3rd world countries globally. I think it is outrageous that more isn’t being done by the modern Church to alleviate these human rights issues. It is even more outrageous that so many churches are hoarding cash and goods without sharing with the poor and needy individuals in their communities!
“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Stick to the Gospel, Paul wrote. Don’t get sidetracked by playing a numbers game where the pastor with the most money and most membership wins. That was not the message of Christ at all! Remember what Jesus said: “No man can serve two masters. He/she must cling to one while despising the other, or serve another while rejecting the first. You cannot worship both God and materialism”. (Matthew 6: 19-21) They are like oil and water, they simply don’t mix. Indeed, they are polar opposites of each other. Again, it is just as Jesus said in the four Gospels: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to inherit eternal life”. “But who, then, can be saved?”, asked the apostles who were with him at the time. Jesus replied, “With God, all things are possible.” (Matthew 19: 16-26) But it is by sound doctrine and Spiritual nourishing that the entire body of Christ, which is his church and the only true Church regardless of religious denomination or creed, can be saved for eternity. And now let’s tackle the second half of today’s study starting at verse 10.
“For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach – and that for the sake of dishonest gain. Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons”. This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny Him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” (Titus, chapter 1, verses 10-16, NIV)
When Paul mentioned the “circumcision group”, he was referring to a group of Jewish believers in Christ who insisted on the preservation of the Old Law or the Law of Moses (as the Jewish believers called it and still do to this day), or the Old Testament as we non-Jews call it. According to Levitical law, newborn male children were circumcised when they were 8 days old by having the foreskin of their private parts removed. But the law of Christ, or the New Testament, replaced the Law of Moses and the bloody animal sacrifices as atonement for sin. In its place, it is the shed blood of Christ on the cross which fulfills the Old Law (Matthew 5: 17). Instead of offering daily sacrifices on a flaming altar as in the days of old, Jesus has made himself the Supreme Sacrifice for us all, and it is a Sacrifice that only needed to be offered up just once for the forgiveness of our sins toward God and each other. So the crux of the matter here is that the customs of old have all been replaced, rendering the Old Law obsolete. (This does not mean we should stop studying the Old Testament. On the contrary, by reading the Old Testament we get an understanding of the foundation for the new one.) It is not necessary, both then and now, to practice both faiths side by side. Anyone who is teaching that it is still necessary is adding something to the Word of God that simply isn’t there. We should never do that!
“… rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth…”. If you are in a church that teaches this, and there is a Christian denomination that does (which I will decline to name), go and find a better church ASAP. God will judge those who engage in contrary teaching and false or distorted preaching of the Word. “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny Him.” What was Paul trying to say here? If you are a pure person – not by the world’s standards, but rather by God’s – then many things become sacred, such as the preservation of life, or showing kindness towards poor people, children, the sick, the elderly and the homeless. Our planet earth with all its abundant natural beauty is also sacred. The love we show towards one another is most sacred of all (next to our love of God) because it emulates Christ, who through his unfathomable and unconditional love has saved us all, giving us eternal life with Him.
For those individuals and even entire families who will not believe, love and affection are conditional, and there is no such thing as something absolute in its nature. Being a good person – or not – is relative according to such people. There is nothing absolutely right or wrong as far as they are concerned. “It depends on the circumstances and the people involved”, they’ll tell you. They will profess their Christianity every Sunday morning, but for the other six days of the week, anything goes as long as it achieves a goal and is beneficial, but only to that “believer”. Excuse me for throwing a bucket of ice water on these secular ideas (many of which are embedded falsely into Christianity), but that is not how God works at all! Because of this they deceive themselves and each other into believing a lie! If you ever spot this behavioral issue, which is actually a Spiritual issue, in any church, do not hesitate to go and find a better one. “Blessed are the pure in heart”, said Jesus, “for they will see God” (Matthew chapter 5, verse 8). This is a worthy goal for us all, so until next week let’s devote ourselves to our own purification before the Lord. Your very salvation in Christ may well depend upon it.