The Trustworthy Message
Key Verse: 1:9
“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.”
There are many similarities between the first letter Paul wrote to Timothy, which we just finished, and the letter he wrote to Titus— another of his sons in the faith. They were both evangelized by Paul and called to follow in Paul’s footsteps. They were both left to serve in difficult and problematic churches, Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete. They were both faced with the task of correcting doctrinal errors that were spreading in the churches of the time. They were both given the responsibility of preaching the sound gospel teaching in order to promote a healthy church environment. They were both also tasked with establishing qualified elders to take care of the affairs of the church. In this first chapter of his letter to Titus, Paul reminds Titus of three of these responsibilities. Carry on the gospel work (1-4); Ordain qualified leaders (5-9); and Silence false teachers (10-16).
Paul was very concerned with the raising of spiritually qualified leaders for the church on the island of Crete. The churches there really needed shepherding, qualified leaders who could lead them back to the truth of God. There were false teachers there from Jewish backgrounds who were trying to mix Jewish laws with the gospel of God’s grace (1:10, 14). Others who had come from Gentile backgrounds were abusing the gospel of grace and turning it into a license to sin (2:11-15). What’s amazing however, is that Paul’s qualifications for spiritually qualified leaders are indeed superior. They make many Christians uncomfortable, because in truth, who can truly attain to any of them? But when we come to understand Paul’s intention for setting down these qualifications for leadership positions in the church, we can better see the wisdom in them. In them, Paul sets an absolute standard for leaders to grow into. “This is what you should aspire to. This is how you should grow. This is how you should be.” Paul was a man of no compromise. While false teachers corrupted the church and eventually the society, Paul’s desire was that Titus raise godly leaders who would transform Crete with the gospel truth. So from the start of his letter (verses 1-4), in the form of a greeting, we have a wondrous teaching on how the gospel truth transforms lives.
Look at verses 1-4. You cannot find most of these expressions in any other letter Paul has written. As usual, he introduces himself as “a servant of God” and “an apostle of Jesus Christ”. What this means is that his relationship with God is one of ownership. His life belongs to his Master God, as his slave. At the same time, he was also an apostle of Jesus Christ, sent to be his representative. This means that he had the authority to proclaim the gospel message of the Lord to the world. That was Paul’s lifelong identity. He identified himself like this not only in letters but that was what he believed and thought of himself always. We are not apostles like Paul, but we too have an identity in God and in Christ Jesus that we must hold dear and close to our own hearts. How you identity yourself in your own heart and to the world makes a big difference to how you relate to yourself and to the world around you as a Christian.
Paul also tells us the purpose of his apostleship. He says: “…for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness…” (1b). Another translation says: “… to further the faith of the elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness.” What this means is that his apostleship had a great purpose— to help nourish people and help them grow. How? Well, he says, both in faith and in the knowledge of God. Why does Paul mentions faith and knowledge together? Because Faith has to do with our hearts and knowledge with our minds, or our intellect. The important thing is to remember that faith always comes first before reason. And according to what Paul is saying, Faith is not something stagnant; it is something dynamic, meaning that it grows. And this gives us great hope! It tells us that every person who has even a small seed of faith in their hearts has the potential to grow into a giant of faith. This is not new. Jesus himself told us the parable of the mustard seed faith that grows into a giant tree. But the question is how to grow in our faith? To do that, we need the knowledge of God. This knowledge is not information. It isn’t something we can acquire simply by reading. The knowledge Paul is taking about is the kind of knowledge that transforms our inner person. And it transforms us into godly people.
Knowledge that does not transform our inner lives, regardless of how we obtain it, will only make us proud and useless— like the Pharisees. But the knowledge of the truth— that Paul is taking about here— has power to change us into the image of God. “The truth” as Paul says, is the gospel truth which calls us to believe what the in the Lord Jesus and his redemptive work. That gospel truth has power to change our lives. That gospel truth has the power to transform us on the inside. The more deeply we embrace and understand the gospel, the more godly we will become. Read verse 1 again. “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.” To be godly means to grow in the image of God— in his humility, in his kindness, in his love, in his generosity, in his faithfulness, in his mercy and compassion, justice and righteousness. That is the essence of spiritual leadership.
Look at verse 2 “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.” And Paul tells us that all our faith and knowledge that we grow in has a solid foundation. They are founded on the promise of God which he made even before time began. God promised all who believe in his Son Jesus eternal life. That was his everlasting and unchanging promise. It was an eternal promise. It was real. It was solid. It is a promise that we can be sure of. For this reason we rest all our hopes on it. No human being can live without hope. Even if they have to build their hopes on sand castles by a stormy sea, people still hold on to their perishing hopes. But we have an anchor in the promise of God who made us a promise long ago and “at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.” (3) And God sent his Savior into the world through whom we now have eternal life, and some day we will be fully clothed in it when our Savior returns.
In verse 4, Paul calls Titus, “my true son in our common faith.” Paul was a Jew and Titus was a Gentile. But in Christ Jesus, all barriers had been removed. Paul became his father in the faith. And Titus became his son in the faith. More than that, Paul had great love and respect for Titus. He trusted Titus as a leader and greeted him: “Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”
Now Paul had to move on to a difficult subject in his letter to his son Titus. How to challenge the ungodly culture of Crete with the gospel. Paul and Titus had ministered together on the island of Crete although at some point Paul had to leave. So he wrote this letter to Titus instructing him to “straighten out [put to order] what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town” (1:5). What does this tell us? Well, to start, it tells us that the gospel remarkably had already spread throughout all of Crete and there were believers in many towns! The problem was that they were easily influenced by false teachers. They had another problem! They did not know how to live out their gospel faith practically; they may have been very young spiritually. That’s why they needed spiritual leaders who could guide them in the truth and shepherd or mentor them. So Paul gave Titus direction to straighten out, or put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town.
Let’s try once again to understand the meaning of the word “elders” and the word “appoint.” “Elders” in verse 5 is used interchangeably with “overseer” in verse 7. In Acts 20, Paul referred to “elders” also as “shepherds” (Ac 20:17,28). Peter told “elders” to “be shepherds of God’s flock” (1 Pe 5:1-2). So here, the main work of an elder or overseer is to be a shepherd and Bible teacher for God’s people. On the other hand, the word “appoint” is not a matter of holding a ceremony for qualified shepherds. The implication also include the process of the raising of leaders, evangelizing them, teaching them the word of God, discipling them in the gospel way of life, serving them to grow as leaders until they become spiritually qualified leaders for the church. This is exactly what Jesus did with the Twelve. Paul followed Jesus’ example and raised many leaders, including Titus and Timothy. Now he instructed Titus to do the same thing. Paul had also told Timothy to entrust the gospel and its ministry to reliable men who in turn would be qualified to teach others (2 Ti 2:2). This is what we too are called to do. This is what we should do also.
In verse 11 we find a very interesting word “households.” And in verse 7, we see the words “God’s work” which may also be translated as “God’s household”. We can fully understand how there was no organized church structure back then. So how did believers meet? They met in households. And each household apparently needed spiritual leaders. That’s why Paul felt it urgent to raise leaders for them and among them. But it had to be done the right way and based on Biblical standards, and not according to the cultural norm and what’s generally acceptable in those days. So he brings Biblical standards in three areas: (1) marriage and family life (v6), (2) character and deeds (v7-8), (3) doctrine and message (v9). He also said that leaders must be “blameless.” Now that’s amazing. But we need to understand that “blameless” doesn’t mean “sinless” or “faultless” or “flawless.” It means simply someone “un-accused,” someone “above reproach,” someone who cannot be readily criticized.
So, first an elder must be blameless in marriage and family life (6). Verse 6 says, “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.” That’s one of the first qualifications of an elder. He must be faithful to his wife. That is, he must have an unblemished reputation in the area of his married life and morality. He must also raise his children in the Christian faith. We all know that there is no way that even the best of Christian parents can make their children Christians. Only God can do that (Jn 1:12-13)! Yet as long as parents have charge of their children as a responsibility from God, they have the responsibility to raise them in a Christian environment. Any Christian who becomes an elder should demonstrate that they practice their faith in their own home. This is where true spiritual leadership begins.
Second, an elder must be blameless in character and in deeds (7-8). Of course, there are vices and virtues. Vices to be avoided and virtues to be cultivated. For example, an elder must not be overbearing; he must not be quick-tempered; he must not be given to drunkenness; he must not be a violent man; and of course, he must not pursue dishonest gain (7). Such a person would not be an elder but an abomination to the faith and the faithful. There are also virtues to be cultivated for the elder. He must be hospitable; he must love what is good; he must be self-controlled; he must be upright and holy; he must be disciplined (8). Elders must strive to overcome the bad elements of their sinful nature and demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in their behavior. They must be trustworthy. Most of all, an elder must be blameless in his doctrine and message (9). Read verse 9. “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.” What is the trustworthy message? It is the gospel message in its fullness. This includes God’s saving grace—his justification of sinners, growth to be godly, sanctification through the work of the Spirit, the hope of the kingdom of God, and the sharing of glory with the King Jesus— that is, the glorification of the saints.
So many claim to have a trustworthy message. Science and technology claim to have a trustworthy message to humanity that truth is almost but found, it’s right around the corner, as soon as they discover the missing link and the cause of the big bang. But they will not; not without acknowledging the Creator God. Their message is not trustworthy. Even post modern Christianity seems to have a new sense of enlightenment— a better trustworthy message than the one we have in the Bible. But as long as it contradicts or challenges the truth of God in the Bible, even one single truth, it is not trustworthy. Only the gospel message is a trustworthy message, because it embodies the truth of God. Within it, we can find forgiveness of sins— joy and peace— eternal life— and living hope in the kingdom of God. Only the gospel message transforms us to be godly people with meaning and purpose to bring the gospel message to the world. Only the gospel message can redeem our lives our homes, our families, our schools, etc. The gospel is the only trustworthy message.
Only those who hold firmly to the trustworthy message can be qualified to be elders in God’s household. No one else! Read verse 9 again. “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.” Elders should do two things. First is to encourage others by sound doctrine. This means teaching the word of God and putting it into practice by showing and living a good example. Why? So that others may imitate and grow in godliness. Second elders need to also refute those who oppose the gospel message. This means to guard and defend the gospel (2 Ti 1:14). The environment of Crete did not make it easy for Titus nor the elders to defend the gospel. Verses 10-16 shows us that well enough. There were many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception (10). They were disrupting whole households by teaching things they shouldn’t teach for dishonest gain (11). Paul quoted a Cretan prophet, who said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (12). They followed Jewish myths and the merely human commands of those who rejected the truth (14). Their minds and consciences were corrupted (15). They claimed to know God, but by their actions they denied God, like many people do in our own time (16). So Paul urged Titus to rebuke them sharply (13b). The truth is that Titus was fighting the devil who was trying to tear the churches down. His work is revealed here in these verses.
The world we live in seems more and more ungodly by the day. Deception and lies, rebellion, disobedience, violence, addictions and immorality are increasing rapidly. What message of hope is there for our times? I believe the gospel message is the only message we have that can change lives and transform them on the inside. So we have to hold firmly to the trustworthy message of the gospel and encourage others with it and refute those who oppose it. We also need to appoint and raise godly and God fearing elders who can take charge of God’s household to uphold and protect and serve the work of God and especially God’s flock as good shepherds. Amen.