As we start another New Year, what tasks are top of God’s ‘to do’ list? What in the world is God up to? What are God’s top priorities for 2016? And assuming God does have a plan for planet Earth, where do we fit in? How can we play our part in God’s plans for the world – or if that sounds a bit grandiose – God’s plans for Gidea Park at least? Well today in Titus chapter 1 we find out!
Titus is one of the shortest letters in the New Testament, but it packs a lot in. As we are told in verse 1, it’s a letter that was written by Paul, “a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” As you probably know, Paul was once the Christian church’s chief persecutor, but a face-to-face encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus turned his life around. His encounter led him to travel thousands of miles around the Mediterranean, preaching the Gospel wherever he went.
Paul rarely travelled alone, however. The Bible tells us that Paul had various companions who supported him in his missionary work. Men like Titus – the young man to whom our letter today was written. In verse 4 of our passage, Paul describes Titus as “my true son in our common faith”. Titus was someone Paul could rely on – a trusted friend, a brother in Christ.
We learn from verse 5 that Paul and Titus had just completed some missionary work on Crete. Paul had since travelled on, but had left Titus behind to carry on doing God’s work on that Greek island. And he wrote Titus this letter to clarify exactly what that work involved. His time on Crete would be no holiday for Titus, but he would have the privilege of being part of God’s work in the world. A work which we too can be part of this year.
Because in our chapter today Paul reminds Titus – and us – that God’s twin aims on earth are to convert people to Christianity and then build them up in a local church. A local church led by faithful Christian leaders. But before I go any further, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, as we look at your Word together this morning help us to understand your work in the world, and how we can play our part. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
- God is calling people to Christian conversion (v.1-3)
I doubt you would be pleased if I called you a “liar”, an “evil brute”, or a “lazy glutton” – let alone all three! Its hardly a flattering description, is it? But it’s the one used to describe the people of Crete by the philosopher Epimenides in the sixth century BC. A description that Paul repeats and actually endorses in verse 12 of our passage today!
To be fair to the people of Crete, it is a description that could be applied to many groups of people, to many cultures and societies, both before and since. They are not alone! In every age there are people who have no concern for truth and are happy to tell lies. Throughout human history, not just in Crete, there have been people lacking in compassion, kindness and common courtesy. And certainly our materialistic 21st century society has its fair share of greed and self-interest. Indeed, the Bible tells us we’ve all fallen short of God’s perfect standards. Left to our own devices, none of us is truly good – whether we come from Crete or any other country.
And yet God can turn people like that into people who love him, love other people and love truth. He can turn even evil brutes and lazy gluttons into kind, compassionate and selfless individuals. And he does that when people become Christians. Becoming a Christian, converting into a disciple of Jesus, is the greatest transformation that can occur in anyones’ life. No wonder the Bible calls Christians “a new creation”. God’s greatest miracle going on in the world today is people converting to Christ. A miracle that is happening thousands of times each day, from Crete to China.
Conversion to Christianity is something that Paul had experienced personally on that road to Damascus, and something he’d seen among many people on his travels. And at the start of his letter to Titus, Paul gives a great summary of what coming to Christ involves. He tells us that the three essential components of a conversion to Christianity are new faith, new knowledge and new hope.
Firstly, new faith. Its obvious, I hope, that a Christian is someone who puts their faith in Jesus. Faith that he is the Son of God who died and rose again to be our Saviour from sin. As Paul says in verse 1 today, if we have faith in Christ we are one of “God’s elect”, one of his chosen people – we’ve become a member of his family.
As well as faith in Jesus, Paul says that becoming a Christian gives us “knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness”. That’s quite a mouthful, but it means that Bible-believing Christians learn the lifestyle that is pleasing to God. As we read about Christ in the gospels and listen to the teaching of the apostles in the New Testament, we begin to learn how to live good and fulfilling lives. Over time, a committed Christian’s behaviour will become more and more like Jesus’s.
As well as faith and knowledge, the third and final ingredient of Christian conversion is hope. In verse 2 Paul says that when we become followers of Jesus we gain “the hope of eternal life”. In our world of death and decay, Christians have God’s promise of eternal life to hold on to. A promise, Paul reminds us, that’s been made by a God “who does not lie”.
Christian conversion – bringing people to Christian faith, knowledge and hope – is the first great work that God is doing in the world. Its a work that God did in the lives of Paul, Titus and the Christians on Crete. It’s a work that God has done in my life, and I hope yours as well. It’s a work that we want him to do in the lives of people across Gidea Park this year.
But its unlikely to happen without our involvement. Because God didn’t bring people in Crete to Christ through lights in the sky or writing on the wall. He did it through Paul. Because in verse 3 today Paul says God commanded him to carry the Gospel to Crete. He entrusted Paul with the good news about Jesus. Cretans got converted because Christians like Paul and Titus were willing to tell them about Jesus and invite them to follow him.
On Wednesday this week I received Chris and Veronica’s latest newsletter in the post. You may remember that they are our link missionaries in Spain, who came to visit us in August. In the letter Veronica describes how God used her this autumn to convert a man who she met while walking on their local beach, admiring the sunrise. Over several days she was able to talk to him about faith in Jesus, and the hope Christians have. By the third morning he was convinced, and wonderfully Veronica led him in a prayer of conversion and commitment to Christ. Veronica ends her story by saying that what she found most exciting about the whole experience was being used by God for his work. What a privilege to be used by God to bring someone to salvation!
And God wants to use us to lead our community to Christ. God wants to work through us, so that people in Gidea Park will hear about Jesus. So can I challenge us all to take every opportunity to share our faith with family, friends and colleagues this year. And if that sounds too daunting, then why not invite them to come to church with you, so they can hear about Christ here. Some of you are great at doing that already – its been wonderful to see new faces join us over the past year. Let’s see if we can all do even better in 2016!
- God is calling people into local churches led by Christian leaders (v.5-16)
So God’s first priority is to see people come to Christ. But then what? The answer is that God wants to see flourishing local churches where Christians gather together under good leaders.
When Paul wrote to Titus the Gospel was making great inroads in Crete – many people had been converted – but the task was unfinished. The new Christians on Crete needed local churches led by good leaders if they were to grow in their faith. The Christians on Crete needed local churches where their new faith could be fed from God’s Word, where they could be protected from false teaching, and where they could support and encourage each other in the face of persecution, hardship and temptation. That’s why in verse 5 of our passage today Paul instructs Titus to set up churches in “every town”, and to appoint leaders (‘elders’ and ‘overseers’) over each one.
The same is true for us today. There should be no such thing as a solitary Christian. God calls us to church membership. Converted Christians, committed Christians, should see their local church as a lifeline. Meeting together week by week, gathering with God’s people Sunday by Sunday, is the best way to keep our faith alive and aflame. Your faith might survive if you only come to Church once a month, but it certainly won’t thrive. And we will miss your fellowship and encouragement too!
I think its one of our contemporary Christian myths is that coming once a month constitutes ‘regular’ church attendance. But its those who are here week-by-week, eight or nine times out of ten, who are our real regulars – those who I see growing fastest in their faith. So resolve to be a real regular at St Michael’s this year, if you’re not already!
I wonder what you think are the qualities most needed in a church leader? From where I stand, I sometimes think I could do with qualifications in psychology, accountancy, property development, personnel management and administration, plus a few DIY skills too!
Fortunately, Paul’s list of qualifications required in a church leader is slightly shorter than mine – but still pretty demanding. Because in verses 6 to 9 of today’s passage, he sets out the attributes that Titus should look for in a potential church leader. Attributes that myself, and every other Christian leader ought to aspire to.
The first attribute Paul describes is domestic. In verse 6 he says that “an elder must be the husband of one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” Paul’s point, I think, is that a Christian leader must be able to lead his biological family if he is to have any hope of leading the Church family. If he can’t teach his family Christian belief and behaviour, he’s unlikely to be able to teach his church those things either.
In verses 7 and 8, Paul moves on to describe the character traits to look for in a Church leader. Rather than overbearing, quick-tempered or drunk, he should be “hospitable, one who loves the good, self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined”. If church leaders can’t model those behaviours themselves, what example do they set to their congregation?
And thirdly, in verse 9, Paul says a church leader 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.” In other words, a church leader must believe and understand the Christian faith set out for us in the Bible. And he must be prepared to teach, defend and explain these beliefs to his church.
God knows that Christians need reminding what we believe and why. He knows that Christians need to be taught what to believe and how to behave. He knows that false teachers will raise their heads in churches and in the surrounding society, and church leaders need to defend their congregations from them. Without faithful Christian leaders, whole churches can be lead astray by the type of people Paul describes in verses 10 to 16 of our passage today. If church leaders aren’t teaching their people biblical truth, then they will be susceptible to myths, false beliefs and bad ethics.
In our increasingly secular society, local churches need leaders who will teach them why materialism is mistaken, why Biblical beliefs are true, and why we can be confident that Jesus really is the way, the truth and the life. Please do pray that everyone who teaches the Bible here at St Michael’s this year will explain it rightly and apply it faithfully this year. Please pray that prayer not just for me, but also for Mike Dowler our Lay Preacher, for Aron our Ministry Apprentice, our house group leaders, and all our Sunday School teachers.
As I finish this morning, I hope Titus chapter 1 has given us a clearer understanding of what God is doing in our world today. He is converting people to Christ, and he is calling them into churches with godly Christian leaders. He is bringing people to faith, and then building them up in that faith. Our role is to share Christ with those who are not yet converted. And to commit ourselves to our church, so that together we can grow in faith, in hope and in godliness.