According to a survey by Thom Rainer there are 10 reasons why visitors don’t come back to church. A church that wants to be a good church for visitors might want to pay attention. But are these 10 things the only things churches should consider when trying to be good churches? We want to find out what makes a church a good church in God’s eyes. So we are turning to God’s Word in Titus to learn more of how we can be a good church before the Lord.
Our focus today is on the first two verses of Paul’s letter. These 2 verses should be understood in the larger context of the letter to Titus. Paul’s concern for the Christians on Crete was that they would behave according to sound doctrine. They were to be a “good church”.
The number one threat to the godliness of the believers is the first thing Paul addresses in chapter one. What was that threat? False teachers. False teaching threatens the sanctification of believers and their spiritual vitality. Paul finally mentions them in the last half of chapter 1, verses 10-16.
But trace Paul’s thoughts with me through the chapter. His greeting in verses 1-4 is doctrinally rich, but, observe how it establishes a flow of authority essential to his thought in the first chapter. Paul was under the authority of God: he was God’s servant (v1). But Paul was given authority by God as well: he was an apostle, and therefore he had authority over the Church (v1, 3). Now keep going and see how Paul – with his authority – gave Titus authority to choose who would be church leaders (v5). Those men would then have authority to serve God in their churches and face the serious issue of false teachers (v9, 11, 13). False teachers do not have any authority from God. But, these church leaders, appointed by Titus, who was appointed by Paul, who was appointed by God, were to use their authority to put down the false teachings being spread around.
And why was that important? Because these erroneous doctrines were seriously damaging the believers. Ungodly teachings produce ungodly believers. In the church godliness is a priority, and leaders have the critical responsibility of promoting it.
This is why Paul starts out with a doctrinally muscular greeting. Actually, if you compare Paul’s greetings you’ll notice that whenever he was sitting down to write a letter to a doctrinally compromised church he couldn’t help but get “doctrinal” in his opening sentences. You’ll find him doing this not only here in Titus, but, also in Romans and Galatians. Romans was Paul’s doctrinal treatise on the Christian faith, and, Galatians rebuked Christians who were dangerously departing from the Gospel. When Paul had to address doctrinal matters it showed up right away in his greetings.
This greeting offers two focus points: God and Paul. Next week we will study what this greeting teaches us about God, but, this week we’re going to see what we learn about Paul in the opening verses. In doing so we are going to see why Paul matters in a good church. There are three reasons why Paul matters in a good church. A church that is a good church – back then and today – will esteem Paul very much.
#1: Paul matters because he was Enlisted by God (v1, 3b; Acts 9:15; 2 Timothy 1:11)
The first reason why Paul matters is because Paul was enlisted by God. Notice verse 1, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ …” Then notice in verse 3, “and at His appointed season He brought His word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.” Paul was God’s servant because that’s what God wanted. Paul didn’t choose to be an apostle, Jesus made him one. The Lord came to Paul, Paul was converted, and then the Lord commanded Paul to go and preach. Paul was enlisted by God and by Jesus Christ to do the work of the Gospel.
What is behind this point is that Paul is important to the Church because God made him important. He was chosen by God for the good of the Church. Now notice specifically the two ways Paul identifies himself: A servant and an apostle. One relates to Paul’s submission and the other to his authority.
Paul says first that he is a servant of God. The word servant is the Greek word “doulas”, which means bond slave. Paul was acknowledging he was someone’s slave and served someone else: God. That is what God made Paul and that is how Paul saw himself.
It is important that Paul mentions this first before his apostleship because it shows Paul always saw his authority over others in the context of God’s authority over himself. His power as an apostle was never exercised independently of His submission to God. Rather it was always an expression of his humble selfless service to God – and we can confidently say his power was controlled by his consciousness of God’s authority over him. Sometimes people think that because they have a little authority they are the highest authority. I would strongly say that the most responsible authority figures are those who know they themselves have an authority they are accountable to.
Secondly Paul says he is an apostle of Jesus Christ. The word “apostle” in the Greek means “one who is sent”. Jesus is called an apostle in Hebrews 3:1. There were 12 apostles of Jesus in the NT. Technically, anyone who is sent by another could be called an apostle. When Paul sent Timothy or Titus or Tychicus or Luke or Barnabus to a church far away – those men would be apostles of Paul because they were sent by him. However, in the NT there are apostles with a little “a” and then there are 12 who were Apostles with a capital “A”. These were those men who would fill 12 honorary spots on a team of the highest ranking Apostles who would have the highest authority and power in the Church.
The meaning of this word reflects the subordination of an apostle because an apostle is sent by one greater than themselves. That Paul was an apostle only reinforced that he was a servant as well, because he served God as an apostle.
And these men were chosen by Jesus Christ. He said to the twelve in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but, I chose you and appointed you..” That’s the pattern in the Scriptures: God appoints men to serve Him. Paul said in Acts 20:28, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Men are marked out even from before they are born – John the Baptist was chosen to be the forerunner for the Christ before he was born (Luke 1:11-17). Paul said in Galatians 1:15, “But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him…” Ephesians 4:11 says that Jesus Christ “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers”.
Someone might say, “What about our desire? ” Consider that God gives us the desire to serve Him. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Jeremiah 20:9 says, “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” Paul echoed such angst to preach when he said in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” The Lord supplies all we need when He calls us into His service. He even supplies the desire.
Paul had authority as an apostle. Paul still has authority. In our lives today. The writings of Paul are the inspired word of God and are binding on us today as much as they were on the believers at Crete.
Application #1: God choosing us reshapes our whole approach to what we do with our lives. Understanding that we are his servants, that we don’t belong to ourselves but to Christ, submission to God, accountability to Him; divorcing the world and being set apart, God’s agenda becomes our agenda and any priorities we had apart from God fade away. In everything we do we are conscious that God has called us to serve Him and therefore He weighs on all areas of our life
Application #2: The good church recognizes the authority of apostles and their writings in the NT. And the good church appreciates the benefit that comes through the Apostles to strengthen it.
Paul matters because of the Edification of Christians (v1b)
Secondly Paul matters because of our edification as Christians. We see this in verse 1, “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”.
Notice the two things Paul says there in verse one: 1) for the faith of God’s elect, and 2) the knowledge of the truth. I believe both of these phrases refer to the same thing: they are both referring to whole package of teachings that has been revealed by God to the Church. Jude used the phrase “the faith” to refer to the whole package of Christian doctrine when he said, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”
Notice he says “the faith”, and by it he does not narrowly mean someone’s faith in Jesus for salvation, but, by “the faith” he is referring to all the teachings given to the Church from God through the Apostles. That’s why he says, “the faith that was entrusted to the saints”. So the reason Paul was a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ was so that he would teach the Church the whole package of teachings that Christ gave to him. Paul said as much in 2 Timothy 1:11, “And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.” In Acts 20:27 he said, “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.”
Now the very pivotal word here is the word “for” “F-O-R”. The word “for” indicates that what Paul says next is an explanation of the reason of what he just said. He is about to make us understand the reason behind God making him a servant and an apostle. See how in the first half of the verse Paul tells us who he is (servant and apostle), but in the last half he tells us why he is: for the sake of Christians. “Elect” there is a reference to Christians. It is for the benefit of Christians that Paul was what he was.
Well what benefit was he? He tells us: godliness. Look again at the verse: “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that will bring about godliness in their lives.” The purpose for which Paul was made a servant and an apostle was to pass on the teachings he received from God to the Church and that was so that the Church by those teachings would become more and more godly. In other words, Paul matters because of our edification. Edification is a word that means to give instructions to people to build them up morally. Paul matters to a good church because of edification. Godliness is what matters to God.
Does godliness matter to you? When it comes to you God’s priority is godliness. First Timothy 2:2 says God wants us to “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” First Timothy 4:8 says, “train yourself to be godly. For godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” In order for us to become godly Christians we need the teachings God has passed to us through the Apostles. A good church will honor their teachings as the inspired word of God and be strengthened because of it.
Application: Write this down: Christians need Christians. To grow and get stronger in godliness Christians need each other. God made Paul into what he was and gave him to the Church to make the Church into what it was supposed to be: godly. Let me say it again a different way: the Church cannot become godly if it deprives itself of what God gives it to grow. This starts with a recognition of those whom God gives to the Church for the Church’s own good. Ephesians 4:11 says that Jesus Christ “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
It also starts with a recognition not only of our need for others, but, others and their need of us. It’s two sides of a coin. On one side we have a right to the benefit other Christians can offer: their gifts God has given them to use for building other (me) up. But, the other side of the coin is that I have a responsibility to other Christians – they have a right to benefit from the gifts God has given me and the place God put me in Christ’s Body. When I refuse to fellowship with other Christians I not only rob myself but I rob others. I deprive others of the right they have to be ministered to even while I deprive them the opportunity to invest in my spiritual growth.
Question: Are you an “independent” Christian? Maybe you think you don’t need others. Or, maybe you don’t think that way but instead you just don’t give it much thought how much you actually need your brothers and sisters. You see, it is not independency that God produces in Christians. God creates inter-dependency. In other words we are dependent on one another. We need those whom God gave to us: He gave us Apostles (through their writings); He gave us pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11); He also gave all of us to each other as each of us are some part in the whole Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7, 12-26). All of this dependency happens while we are all dependent on the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25), on Jesus Christ (Php. 4:13) and our heavenly Father (Heb. 4:16).
Application: What is God doing with us for the sake of others? God made Paul into an Apostle for the benefit of the Church. God had other Christians in mind when He chose to work through Paul. Think for a moment what other Christians God might have in mind while He works in your life. What He is doing in you isn’t all for you. Others need you. You need others. That’s the way God set it up.