Monday, November 20, 2006

Meditatons on Titus

Overview of Titus 1–3

We know very little about Titus. Just that he was a Greek by birth and that he had been with Paul as early as the time when Barnabas went to Tarsus to bring Paul back to Antioch (Gal 2:1). Over time, Titus earned Paul’s trust and represented him in the matter of the collection for the Christians in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:16-24). Paul also called on Titus to deliver his ‘corrective’ letter to the Corinthians. Hence, it was no surprise that Paul left him in Crete to deal with the false teachers there and to strengthen, correct and stabilise the churches.

Crete is an island in the Mediterranean, situated south of Greece and Asia Minor on a north-south line bisecting the Aegean Sea. The Cretans had a nasty reputation attributed to them by a quote from the poet Epimenides (1:12). Paul, however, applies the quote not to all Cretans but specifically to the false teachers present in the Cretan church.

Paul left clear instructions about the careful selection and appointment of church leaders (1:5-9), about the damaging effects of false teaching (1:10-16), and especially about working out Christian teaching and ethics in the church (1:5-6), in the home (2:1-15) and in the world (3:1-11).

I have found John Stott’s commentary in the BST series and Philip Towner’s commentary in the IVP NT Commentary series, particularly helpful.

Our Public and Private Personae

Read Titus 1:1-16

The reason 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. Titus 1:5

If we are honest, we will admit that basic character flaws, besetting sins and addictions are still very much part and parcel of our lives. Fears and anxieties continue to trouble us. Complete faith and trust in God elude us. Our private personae very often differs from our public personae. Yet the elders whom Titus was to appoint in Crete had to be blameless! This point is repeatedly stressed (6a, 7a). Who can, thus, qualify?

However the Greek word used, anenkletos does not mean flawless or faultless. Rather it means ‘without blame’, or ‘unaccused’. That is, elders must be people of ‘unquestioned integrity’. Their lives are to be such that they leave no reason for people to accuse them of any wrongdoings.

In particular, elders need to be blameless in their marriage and family life. This is one area where their private life at home must match public expectations. If elders cannot manage their families, how can they manage God’s family? Further, they are to be blameless in their character and conduct. Again private and public personae must match. Finally in view of the need to counter false teachers, elders must be blameless in their doctrinal beliefs. They must have the gift of teaching to encourage believers and to refute false teaching. Calvin clearly understood this dual role of pastors. He wrote: ‘A pastor needs two voices, one for gathering the sheep and the other for driving away wolves and thieves.’

In contrast, the false teachers were rebellious people. Their character matched the poet Epimenides’s description of Cretans as liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons. Most destructive, however, was their false teachings which were strongly denounced.

The glory, honour and holiness of God and the purity of the church in terms of character and teaching cannot be compromised. Under the constant threat of false teachers and their teaching, Paul’s strategy was to increase the number of true teachers. We will know them by their character and true teaching, which are in line with apostolic doctrine.

Sound teaching and a blameless life are inseparable. Let us resolve to put godly, blameless elders in our churches!

Sound Lives and Doctrines

Read Titus 2: 1-15

You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Titus 2:1

There should be no dichotomy between theology and ethics, between what we believe and the way we behave or live our lives. Hence reading and studying the Bible ought to lead to change and transformed lives. The trouble is that our knowledge grows at the speed of a jet plane, while our lives change at the pace of the bullock cart.

To prevent doctrine and duty from becoming disconnected, Paul asked Titus to give detailed duties and responsibilities to various groups in the church.

Men and women in a particular age group have different temptations, opportunities and failings from those in another age group. The older men may have the tendency to be grumpy, bossy and self-centred. Paul urged them to show the character appropriate to their senior status which would make them worthy of respect. In particular, they should show soundness or maturity, especially in the areas of faith, love and endurance.

The weakness of older women, freed from the responsibilities of caring for their families, is to misuse their tongues, for example, to slander others. Instead of indulging in unwholesome activities, they should actively seek out younger women and mentor them to be good wives and mothers.

Young men are urged, above all, to have self-control. In these days of easy access to internet pornography and increasing promiscuity, young men need to develop self-discipline to be pure before marriage and to be faithful after. In particular, Titus being a young man himself, is to set the young men an example in everything ( v 6b).

The last group addressed, the slaves, are the most marginalised group. They have no rights. They can be forced to serve, but Paul urges them to serve willingly from the heart. In this way teaching about God their Saviour may be attractive to their masters. For the same reason, whether we are young or old, slave or free, we must make sure that nothing prevents us from living upright lives that will impact others for eternity.

May the people around us see the soundness of our lives as well as our beliefs.

Christians in the World

Read Titus 3:1-15

Remind the people … Titus 3:1

Remind. This is one of Paul’s favourite methods of encouragement. In Philippians 3:1 we read, ‘ It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.’ Most of the time we already know what we ought to do. What we need are constant reminders.

The Cretans had been under Roman rule since 67 BC and had continuously tried to throw off the Roman yoke. It was not easy for them to submit and to pray for their rulers and authorities. Many Asian Christians find it equally difficult to submit to their totalitarian and unjust governments. A radical change in mindset and attitude is required. True repentance is costly.

However, as Christians, we do not give the state unconditional allegiance. If our duty to God clashes with our duty to the state, then our loyalty to God must come first. Nonetheless, the state’s authority has been delegated by God (Rom 13) and it is thus, the Christians’ duty to submit to the state.

Paul further addressed the way Christians ought to relate to people in society at large. We are not to slander and not to be quarrelsome. We are to be considerate and show true humility.

The logic behind how we should conduct ourselves in the world is clear. As John Stott points out in his commentary: ‘Remind them to be conscientious and considerate citizens, because (Greek: gar) we were ourselves once anti-social, but He (God) saved and changed us.’ Our experience of God’s salvation, Paul reminded Titus, gave us the incentive and encouragement to commend others to be socially involved as well. This account of salvation is recounted in verses 4-7.

Finally, Paul concludes the letter with a list of things for Titus to do. Titus was to avoid profitless controversies and pointless theological arguments. He was to discipline difficult divisive people and if necessary, after giving appropriate warnings, to excommunicate them. Christians in general should be dedicated to good works. In the final analysis, unlike the Cretans depicted by Epimenides, the Cretan Christians are urged to live productive lives.

Are we leading productive lives for God? What changes do we need to make?

1 comment:

Alex Tang said...

Thank you for this meditation on Titus. I cannot agree with you more about the selection of godly, theologically sound and spiritually matured elders. It is interesting that the opposte of elders is false teachers.