Friday, June 20, 2008

Titus 1:15-16

15To 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. 16They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

These commands, or rules (Colossians 2:20-23), mentioned in v14 probably included kosher food concerns and necessity of ritual cleansings for purity; thus Paul declares, “To the pure, all things are pure,” announcing that all are pure in Christ alone. Sanctification does not happen by exterior obedience to manmade rules; rather, it happens through inward holiness blossoming into outward blamelessness. The Spirit works on the heart through the word, and so sound doctrine is essential to Christian progress in growth, in sanctification. See 1 Timothy 4:3-5; the false teachers were probably prohibiting the use of certain things considered impure to them, were in reality perfectly pure according to sound doctrine. Paul also rebukes the false teachers as “corrupted” precisely because they “do not believe.” Therefore, nothing to them is pure, for everything they do as unbelievers is sin (Romans 14:23; Hebrews 11:6); though outwardly pure, perhaps, like the Pharisees, they are inwardly corrupted in both mind and conscience, “whitewashed tombs / walls” (Matthew 23:27; Acts 23:3). The Christian, on the other hand, may appear to them as impure outwardly, but since their inside is pure through faith in Christ and the imputation of His righteousness, they, in fact, are the pure, not the false teachers who claim to be so. Instead, as v16 declares, the false teachers are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for doing anything good – precisely because they deny God by their actions, despite claiming to know Him. A person’s actions reveal their heart. By their fruits you will know them.

To summarize v15-16, Paul upholds Christian liberty and freedom, but also the necessity of inward and, consequently, outward purity. Paul reveals that both the doctrine (internal knowledge of mind and conscience) and the behavior (external actions) of the false teachers are corrupted, detestable, and worthless (2 Timothy 3:2-5). Calvin says, “In the first clause of this verse he upholds Christian liberty, by asserting, that to believers nothing is unclean; but at the same time he indirectly censures the false apostles who set no value on inward purity, which alone is esteemed by God. He therefore rebukes their ignorance, in not understanding that Christians are pure without the ceremonies enjoined by the Law; and next he chastises their hypocrisy, in disregarding uprightness of heart, and occupying themselves with useless exercises… The mind denotes the understanding, and the conscience relates rather to the affections of the heart. But here two things ought to be observed; first, that man is esteemed by God, not on account of outward works, but on account of the sincere desire of the heart; and, secondly, that the filth of infidelity is so great, that it pollutes not only the man, but everything that he touches.”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Titus 1:10-14

10For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. 11They 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. 12Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." 13This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.

Paul gives a general rule regarding elders: who they are to be and what they are to do. But now he shows specifically why they are necessary. People are rebellious – unruly, obstinate, or incorrigible. The idea is that people want autonomy; they despise subjection, even when for their own good. These are the tares growing in with the wheat; they are also called “mere talkers and deceivers,” which is to be contrasted with useful and solid doctrine. It’s the vanity of hollow and deceptive manmade philosophy (Colossians 2:8); according to Calvin, it “includes all trivial and frivolous speculations, which contain nothing but empty bombast, because they contribute nothing to piety and the fear of God.” Paul notes that these folks are primarily of Jewish-Christian background; they’re mixing faiths and coming up empty. Paul has a no-tolerance policy when it comes to mixing anything with Christ and the word of God. He does not believe in “freedom of speech” in the local church; only edifying truth must be spoken. When it comes to sound doctrine, the opinion of the masses doesn’t matter. Truth matters.

In v11, we hear about false teachers, especially those from Jewish-Christian backgrounds mingling forms of Judaism and pagan piety in with Christianity, like the false teachers in Colosse, “ruining whole households.” The many house churches on the island of Crete lacked organization and leadership, and were therefore especially vulnerable to these smooth-talking, deceitfully vain, empty false teachers. Paul will later address older men and women to teach younger men and women perhaps for this very purpose, to withstand false teachings in the home.

Paul tells Titus that “they must be silenced.” They were teaching what ought not be taught, and they were doing so to profit financially. Now, the method for silencing these false teachers is not with use of physical force, but with sharp rebuke, as v13 declares. By refuting error – through teaching what ought to be taught – a false teacher may continue to blabber words, but they will be meaningless, worthless to the audience who has been instructed by one with authority in the truth of God’s word. Thus Paul implies here that nothing is profitable in terms of what comes out of a person’s mouth except holy words that evangelize and edify.

In v12, Paul quotes Epimenides, a sixth century BC poet and religious reformer from the town of Knossos on the island of Crete. He’s essentially using their prophet’s logic against them, to show that even if wicked teachers speak truth, it comes ultimately from God. All truth is from God alone; nothing is true apart from God. Paul favors sharp rebukes (v13) against not only these Cretan false teachers, but the nation as a whole! What about words “full of grace and seasoned with salt,” words of “gentleness and respect” (Colossians 4:5-6; 1 Peter 3:15)? Harsh rebukes show the depths of sin and the importance of remaining inline with sound doctrine according to God’s word, and perhaps would earn a surprising response, as v14 declares, “so that they will be sound in the faith.” Commanding counter-cultural thinking results in counter-cultural living, and Paul wants both to be realities for the believer. If someone said, “All people from Kentucky are hypocrites.” You might say, and Paul would hope you would say, “You know, that quote is true, but I don’t want to be like that, so I’m going to do something about it.”

Calvin says, “The Apostle, who is wont to reprove mildly those who deserved to be treated with extreme severity, would never have spoken so harshly of the Cretans, if he had not been moved by very strong reasons. What term more reproachful than these opprobrious epithets can be imagined; that they were ‘lazy, devoted to the belly, destitute of truth, evil beasts?’ Nor are these vices charged against one or a few persons, but he condemns the whole nation. It was truly a wonderful purpose of God, that he called a nation so depraved, and so infamous on account of its vices, to be among the first who should partake of the gospel; but his goodness is not less worthy of admiration, in having bestowed heavenly grace on those who did not even deserve to live in this world. In that country so corrupt, as if in the midst of hell, the Church of Christ held a position, and did not cease to be extended, though it was infected by the corruption of the evils which prevailed there; for here Paul not only reproves those who were strangers to the faith, but expressly reproves those who had made a profession of Christianity. Perceiving that these vices so hateful have already taken root, and are spreading far and wide, he does not spare the reputation of the whole nation, that he may attempt the care of those whom there was some hope of healing.”

Finally, in v14, Paul tells Titus to rebuke them sharply so that they will be sound in the faith, paying no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth. Jewish myths were likely superstitious ceremonies and rituals that dabbled in the worship of cosmic powers. Accompanying those myths would have been commands of asceticism – rules that mixed with and went beyond Scriptural mandates, thus wrongly adding to the sufficiency of God’s word and His Savior – Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:20-23). False teaching can’t bring about true godliness, so sound doctrine and harsh rebukes are essential for making a believer exhibit “sound in the faith” behavior.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Titus 1:5-9

5The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint [or ordain] elders in every town, as I directed you. 6An 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. 7Since an overseer [or bishop, or elder, or presbyter] 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. 8Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9He 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.

Paul begins in v5 by reminding Titus (but more likely the Cretans, of Titus’ Paul-given authority to administrate their local congregations) of the reason he left him in Crete: that he “might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint [or ordain] elders in every town.” Paul is concerned for these Cretan Christians to grow in grace, to be discipled, to become mature in the faith, to resist the worldliness and the immorality of the culture around them, to be distinct, to be in the world but not of it; so he says, “Go to every city where there’s a church and appoint elders.” There was unfinished work to do on the island of Crete to get the Cretan Christian congregations in right order, such that they would be self-administered to a degree, something that takes a lot of time. Paul humbly and modestly yields a task he liked to do (Acts 14:23) and encourages Titus to complete that work so they could meet up in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12).

It might seem strange that Paul would urge the ordinance of elder to get the believers to reach maturity. You might think he’d just teach them, but instead he’s planning to teach others to teach them. The local church is God’s place for growing His people; thus elders (plural, not singular) are for discipleship, to lead others through the sanctification process, to bring Christians to an ever-increasing intimacy with the Lord. Elders’ work is essentially discipleship, and it’s accomplished in two ways: direction, both in terms of lifestyle application (outward behavior) and personal character (inward attitudes), and doctrine, both in terms of promoting sound teaching and refuting erroneous teaching. “Elder” in v5 and “overseer” (presbyter or bishop) in v7 is the same office (Acts 20:17,28). “Elder” speaks of internal character, spiritual maturity, especially concerning doctrine, while “overseer” speaks of the external lifestyle, and specifically the role the elder plays, the task he has in leading others to a practical, thoroughly Biblical lifestyle. Men who hold this title and work to fulfill this role must be able to teach truth and refute error (v9), but also patient to learn through admonishment and good advice.

George Grant wrote an article in Tabletalk Magazine (May 2008, Volume 32, Number 5) called “The High Call of Service” (pgs. 68-69). He says, “Talk is cheap. Promises are a dime a dozen. Most of us have had about all we of the spin-controlled sound bites we can stand. We’ve heard just about all the hollow rhetoric we can tolerate. We all know that actions speak louder than words. That is a universal truth…(1 John 3:18)… Our orthodoxy (right doctrine) must be matched by orthopraxy (right action). This does not by any means minimize the primacy of the word of God in the Christian life [It magnifies it]. It is simply a recognition that God’s truth will always bear incarnational, tangible, and demonstrable fruit… From the earliest days of the apostolic church congregations were purposefully structured for word [elder] and deed [deacon] ministry.” But here Paul seems to put the whole burden on elders, until the responsibility reaches beyond their ability, at which time deacons are to be elected (Acts 6).

The qualifications Paul gives, which takes any blame of failure away from Titus, do not make up an exhaustive list (compare 1 Timothy 3:2-7); but let’s look at them. First, in v6, Paul seems to be most concerned with an elder’s home life, for a man incapable of managing and leading his household certainly cannot steward the affairs of a congregation. This concern includes his own reputation (blameless), his marital fidelity (the husband of but one wife), and both the spiritual condition of his children (a man whose children believe, or are faithful) and their physical obedience, temperance, frugality, and reverence (not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient). These qualifications speak to his ability to lead and command respect from his inward character. In v7-8, the qualifications mentioned speak to his outward behavior, revealing how he would handle various situations that arise within the local congregation. These traits include negative vices – being above reproach (blameless), being meek or servant-hearted (not overbearing or self-willed), being calm or steady (not quick-tempered), being sober and sober-minded (not given to drunkenness), being (not violent), and being (not pursuing dishonest gain) – and positive virtues – being hospitable, loving what is good (kindness), being self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. So the elder is not described or controlled by pride and anger, the desire for drink, the desire for dominance, or the desire for wealth; instead the elder is characterized by the fruit of the Spirit, loving people, virtue, and truth (v9).

Learning what God wants from His elders, His shepherds of His flock, we ought to do two things: pray for elders that they would exhibit these traits by God’s grace, and since it is a good thing to covet eldership (1 Timothy 3:1 says, “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.”), we ought to strive to exhibit elder’s traits.

The final, and arguably most important, trait of an elder is that of not only knowledge and understanding of Biblical doctrine (v9), for the sake of teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, using the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The elder is to be zealous for truth, not merely know it satisfactorily, but hunger and pant after the truth of God’s word. All the previous traits listed should flow from this foundation. “Doctrine unto godliness” is Paul’s cry here. He wants knowledge of God and His word to be practically applied for godly living. Edification is important to Paul and to God, and it should be the elder’s priority as well. Edification comes through hearing, learning, and understanding the sufficient truth of God’s word – growing in applicable knowledge. We’ll talk more about “sound doctrine” as we look at Titus 2:1, which says, “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine,” in the next chapter.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Titus 1:1-4

In v1-4, Paul introduces himself, describes his goal in serving the Lord, and issues his signature blessing to his audience (Titus / the congregations of Crete, as Titus 3:15 reveals). Then in v5-9, we see Paul’s strategy for dealing with the Cretans rampant immorality and promoting godliness in these Cretan congregations filled with young Christian believers. His strategy is to appoint elders to disciple, direct, and teach doctrine to the young believers on Crete. And then in v10-14, Paul explains why this is necessary. False teachers must be silenced, and sound doctrine must be proclaimed. “Out with the old and in with the new.” Finally, in v15-16, Paul wants Titus and the elders to understand what sanctification looks like – our actions conform to the desires of our hearts and minds and consciences. Let’s take a look:

1Paul, 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-- 2a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, 3and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior,
4To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

Ligon Duncan says, “Paul wants to exhort these Christians, tempted as they are to live with one foot in the world and another foot in the church, tempted as they are to be conformed to the thinking and the living standards and the behavior of this age and this world, rather than to be transformed by the renewing of their minds according to the word of God – Paul speaks to this congregation to exhort them to adorn the gospel in all things: in the way that they believe; in the way that they trust; in the way that they live.”

Paul is writing to a dear friend, Titus, whom he knows well. Yet he still engages in a formal introduction not merely to encourage Titus to wholehearted commitment to the service of the Lord, but to speak to all the congregations on the island of Crete. This letter was to Titus and expected to be published openly island wide to all the believers. First, Paul is a servant of God, a bondservant of the Lord, a voluntary slave to serve God in all things; and that title reminds Titus that we are all called to hold this title. We are not our own; we were bought with a price. We are slaves of God; therefore, we should think and act like it. Second, Paul calls himself an apostle, one who was officially invested with special powers and sent as an emissary by Jesus Christ. Paul hasn’t called himself to be an apostle; God made him one (Acts 9). Paul wasn’t worthy of this calling, but he’s embraced it wholeheartedly. And though Titus doesn’t have this title – he’s a servant of God, but he’s no apostle in the category of Paul – he still needs to embrace his role as Paul did – wholeheartedly. He’s no less important; Titus has the same goal, but a different role than that of Paul.

In these two titles, bondservant and apostle, Paul is teaching commitment to one’s calling, faithfulness to the Great Commission – “go and make disciples.” Consider the situation for Titus. The Cretan congregations were being influenced by the world around them. They are forgetting who they are and what they’re here for, their purpose in life: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. So Paul’s introduction reveals his commitment to his mission and serves as an encouragement, an example to follow, for Titus and his congregations, and even for us.

Also in v1, Paul notes two goals for his ministry. And these goals ought to be the same for Titus, and for you and me. Paul works for God’s elect to come to saving faith and to grow in the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness. It’s evangelism and edification, justification and sanctification, salvation and discipleship. Paul is not satisfied with someone’s profession of faith or baptism; he wants them to grow, to prove their faith by their fruit, to be filled with the knowledge that transforms their lives from worldliness to godliness. And he works for that and wants Titus to work for that. Now Paul doesn’t know who God’s elect are beforehand. So he sows the seed of the gospel indiscriminately. And once a profession of faith is made, Paul works even harder to root that growth deep in the foundation of the gospel, to water that plant and keep it from withering. But also, according to Calvin, it is as if Paul’s apostleship has an agreement with the faith of God’s elect, such that none who are true believers will deny Paul’s authoritative, inspired word as God’s chosen spokesman to the Gentiles.

Moving on to v2, we notice that this faith (justification) and knowledge (sanctification) rest on the hope of eternal life. Hope breeds faith and knowledge. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope and certain of what we do not see.” You have to hope something is true to believe that it is. 2 Peter 3:17-18 says, “Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Genuine faith is more than intellectual assent; it is transforming truth, right and sincere knowledge of God, based on the hope of glorification. Calvin says, “True religion and the practice of godliness begin with meditation on the heavenly life,” and points to Colossians 1:5.

Paul adds that this hope of eternal life is even based on something greater, the pre-creation promise of God, who does not lie (Paul added this short phrase to glorify God and to provide assurance to the believer). So we have here an insight into God’s pre-creation ordinances, namely that His elect would be granted eternal life through faith in Christ (justification) and knowledge of the gospel (sanctification). To consider that God loved you before creation takes on a whole new dimension when you consider His eternal plan (2 Timothy 1:9). And v3 makes it even more stunning, because we read that God had even predetermined (appointed or ordained) a specific season during which to reveal the message of the gospel of Jesus, the Lamb slain before the foundation, or from the creation, of the world (Revelation 13:8), through the commanded preaching of Jesus – here called “God our Savior” – by the Apostle Paul (Galatians 4:4; 1 Corinthians 9:16-7; 1 John 1:1-2). Calvin notes that both God the Father and Jesus the Son are called “Savior.” He says, “The Father is called our Savior, because He redeemed us by the death of His Son, that He might make us heirs of eternal life; and the Son, because He shed His blood as the pledge and the price of our salvation. Thus the Son hath brought salvation to us from the Father, and the Father hath bestowed it through the Son.”

Finally, v4 introduces Paul’s intended audience – Titus. Titus is Paul’s “true [literally, legitimate] son in our common faith.” Titus was a convert to Christianity by the preaching of Paul, and they now share the same faith; there is only one faith (Ephesians 4:5). Though Paul is Titus’ spiritual father, they share equally God as Father by adoption through this one-and-the-same faith. Paul grants Titus a benediction, his signature blessing from God: grace (unmerited favor despite demerit) and peace (objective and subjective spiritual peace; not circumstantial but relational) from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Savior.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Titus (mentioned 13 times in the New Testament) was a Gentile, converted to Christianity by Paul but left intentionally uncircumcised; he went from Antioch with Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1-3; cross-reference Acts 15:2). According to 2 Corinthians 2:13; 7:6,13-14, which he delivered, Titus was with Paul on his third missionary journey; his name, however, does not appear in Acts. He had the responsibility of taking up the collection in Corinth for the Christian community of Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:6,16-19,23). Apparently, Paul took a fourth missionary journey between his Roman imprisonments; one leg of that journey was a visit with Titus to Crete (Titus 1:5), where Paul left Titus to wrap up the organization efforts of the local congregations. Titus was to meet Paul at Nicopolis (on the western coast of modern day Albania) once the churches were ordered properly and set for self-administration. The last time we hear of Titus, he headed to Dalmatia (a mountainous region north of Nicopolis on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea in Illyricum, modern day Bosnia / Croatia), presumably on a mission trip (2 Timothy 4:10). See the map:

With Titus in charge of the church on the island of Crete, Paul sent a letter of encouragement with Zenas and Apollos, who were on a journey that took them through Crete (Titus 3:13). He wrote his first letter to Timothy and this epistle to Titus at the same time, between 63-65 AD, likely from Macedonia en route to Nicopolis, after his release from house arrest and prior to his final imprisonment in Rome (sometime on his uncharted fourth mission trip). I wrote, in Biblical Glasses, “Titus was the administrator of the Christian churches on the island of Crete, a place notorious for its liars and thieves and laziness. Paul encouraged Titus to overcome these vices with right living among pagans, so they would see his good deeds and praise God in heaven. Paul recommended that Titus teach the believers to teach others.” False teachings throughout the Roman Empire were similar in 60-65 AD.

Calvin says of the Cretans, “There were some who, through ambitious motives, wished to be elevated to the rank of pastors, and who, because Titus did not comply with their wicked desires, spoke unfavorably of him to many persons. On the other hand, there were Jews who, under the pretense of supporting the Mosaic law, introduced a great number of trifles; and such persons were listened to with eagerness and with much acceptance. Paul therefore writes with this design, to arm Titus with his authority, that he may be able to bear so great a burden; for undoubtedly there were some who fearlessly despised him as being but one of the ordinary rank of pastors. It is also possible that complaints about him were in circulation, to the effect that he assumed more authority than belonged to him when he did not admit pastors till he had made trial and ascertained their fitness. Hence we may infer, that this was not so much a private epistle of Paul to Titus, as it was a public epistle to the Cretans [see 3:15, addressed to “you all”]. It is not probable that Titus is blamed for having with too great indulgence raised unworthy persons to the office of bishop, or that, as an ignorant man and a novice, he is told what is that kind of doctrine in which he ought to instruct the people; but because due honor was not rendered to him, Paul clothes him with his own authority, both in ordaining ministers and in the whole government of the Church. Because there were many who foolishly desired to have another form of doctrine than that which he delivered, Paul approves of this alone – rejecting all others – and exhorts him to proceed as he had begun. First, then, he shows what sort of persons ought to be chosen for being ministers. Among other qualifications, he requires that a minister shall be well instructed in sound doctrine, that by means of it he may resist adversaries. Here he takes occasion to censure some vices of the Cretans, but especially rebukes the Jews, who made some kind of holiness to consist in a distinction of food, and in other outward ceremonies. In order to refute their fooleries, he contrasts with them the true exercises of piety and Christian life; and, with the view of pressing them more closely, he describes what are the duties which belong to every one in his calling. These duties he enjoins Titus diligently and constantly to inculcate. On the other hand, he admonishes others not to be weary of hearing them, and shows that this is the design of the redemption and salvation obtained through Christ. If any obstinate person oppose, or refuse to obey, he bids him set that person aside. We now see that Paul has no other object in view than to support the cause of Titus, and to stretch out the hand to assist him in performing the work of the Lord.”

Ligon Duncan notes, “The world is in the church, and Paul is concerned that the church would be distinct, especially in her life and witness in this immoral context. And so, in this letter Paul will write to Titus to instruct him how to deal with these kinds of matters. But interestingly, just like in First Timothy, Paul will deal with matters of church organization, leadership, and administration; and you may well ask yourself the question: if the crying need of the hour was for Christians in this congregation to live more godly lives in the context of a pagan and immoral culture, why in the world would Paul spend time talking about elders; about different groups within the church; about dealing with false teaching that was troubling the church; about matters of church administration. Why would he touch on these subjects? Was Paul somewhat wandering from his focus by doing this? And of course, the answer is, “No,” because Paul knows that if godliness is going to be established in this local congregation (or congregations), it is going to require elders – godly elders, qualified elders according to Scripture, biblical elders shepherding the people of God. He knows that it is going to take sound teaching, because false teaching is not going to produce godliness. He knows that if godliness is going to prosper in this congregation the different groups and the divisions that exist are going to have to be brought together and healed, because the gospel always evidences itself not only in individual moral transformation, but in social transformation, and the way that Christians relate to one another, and the way they love one another and support one another…Paul wants to help Titus pastor Christian congregations in the context of an immoral culture, and to encourage those Christians and congregations to adorn the gospel of God our Savior in all of life by the way that we live. That, in fact, is the great focus of this book: adorning the gospel of God our Savior in all things. The gospel has the moral power to transform lives and social relationships, and that gospel power serves as a witness to the world around us that the gospel is not the fabrication of our “wish fulfillment,” but it is in fact a reality worked in us by the Holy Spirit.” Let’s read and study Paul’s pastoral epistle to Titus.