The Gospel Changes Everything
How many emails did you send in this past week? I’m not sure if you email a lot or a little. As of yesterday morning, I sent 53 emails this last week. I’ve never counted up before, so I don’t know if that’s average or not.
Some of those emails were longer and took a bit more time to compose. Some were shorter, just arranging details with people. But either way, as I thought about it this week, I was astounded at the way that technology allows us to correspond with each other so much and so easily.
Part of why I was thinking about this was the recent class I took on the letters of Paul. One of the biggest takeaways for me had to do with how much work and effort went into writing a letter in the 1st Century.
Letters were written by the aid of secretaries who used wax tablets. The secretary and the author would go back and forth, working through drafts until the final product was accepted by the author. And this wasn’t volunteer work, either. Secretaries charged by the line, which meant that most letters were quite short.
When we look at the letters of Paul, his shortest letter is Philemon. It’s puny compared to his other letters, and you might even wonder why it’s in the Bible.
But when we look around other letters written at that time, Paul’s letter to Philemon is actually a touch longer than the average. The real surprises are Paul’s bigger letters like 1 Corinthians and Romans. These could have taken weeks to compose and cost the equivalent of thousands in Canadian dollars just to produce.
So when we think of Paul’s letters like books, we’re not far off the mark. It was like he had a personal book published just for that church, and it would have been a major even for them to receive it.
Today we’re beginning to study Paul’s letter to Titus. Titus is Paul’s second-shortest letter, and yet it is more than twice as long as the average 1st Century letter. It could have cost Paul the equivalent of more than $300 CAD to produce, not to mention deliver. For Titus, receiving this letter would have been a major event, maybe even a once-in-a-lifetime event.
And we understand just how meaningful this letter would have been when we consider Titus’ story and where he was when he received this. Titus was a Gentile who had likely come to faith through Paul’s ministry (Titus 1:4). Like Timothy, he had became one of Paul’s co-workers who travelled and ministered with him and sometimes represented him to different churches (2 Corinthians 2:13; 7:6, 13-14; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18; Galatians 2:1, 3).
And that’s what he was doing when he got this letter. Paul had left him on the island of Crete (Titus 1:5), where he had been given a similar assignment to Timothy: clean up a messy church situation.
He probably got this letter right around the same time Timothy received his first letter from Paul. And by the way, that’s why we’re studying it next. 2 Timothy would have been written a few years after this.
So there’s some similarities there between Timothy and Titus. But there’s also some big differences. Timothy was responsible for the church in one city; Titus was responsible for multiple churches in several towns over this whole island that today would take you almost 5 1/2 hours to drive from one end to the other.
And whereas Timothy was in Ephesus, a big, important city with a lot of culture and a good reputation, Titus was on Crete, which was more like a big ghetto. It had a terrible reputation which had lasted for centuries.
And so Titus has this massive responsibility in a really tough part of the world, and we can imagine he probably felt alone. And so receiving this lengthy letter from Paul would have been so big for him. Paul hadn’t just left him there and forgotten about him. Titus in on his mind and heart. He cares about him, he knows what he’s up against, and so he takes the time and the expense to write him this letter to encourage and equip him for this job.
Paul’s heart for Titus isn’t something we have to go hunting for—it’s written all over these first few verses. Like every letter in that day, Paul begins by stating who he is and who he is writing to. But in between his name and Titus’ name, he packs in more words than he does in any other letter except for Romans. Just think about that. Titus is the second-shortest letter, but it has the second-longest introduction.
So what’s going on here? Why so much right off the bat? Was Paul full of himself—he just writes his own name and just gets carried away? Was he afraid Titus had forgotten who he was?
It’s nothing like that. What’s going on here is that Paul’s heart is full for Titus. He knows his situation, he knows what he’s up against, he knows that he needs to be encouraged with the truth, and so before he even gets to Titus’ name, he’s already teaching and encouraging and reminding Titus of the big truths that he needs to keep front and centre so that he won’t get discouraged in his ministry.
That’s one way of looking at this introduction. There’s another angle as well. In these first three verses, Paul is basically summing up the rest of this letter. If you were to ask, “What is Titus about?”, you could just read verses 1-3 and that would be your answer. And so what we’re going to find as we study Titus is that these truths aren’t just what Titus needed to hear—they were also what he needed to teach his people.
Those of you who have taught God’s word to others know that so very often, the things we teach others are the very same things we ourselves desperately need to hear. And that’s what’s going on here in verses 1-3. This is what Titus needs to teach, and this is what Titus needs to hear himself.
And practically, for us this morning, these first three verses are a great overview of what we’re going to be studying over the next seven weeks as we move through this letter.
A Big House
But here’s the problem that we’re up against today: these first three verses are complicated. The way that Paul writes these sentences is difficult for us to piece together. And so the way we’re going to approach it this morning is to think of this passage as being like a big old house that’s full of rooms. Each room has doors that lead into more and more rooms. Some rooms are small, some are huge, and you’re never quite sure what’s behind the next door.
And that’s basically going to be our approach as we work through this passage. We’re going to go exploring this big old house, moving from one room to the next, and see what we find out.
And so let’s begin at the front door. It has a word on it: “Paul.” This is the man who wrote this letter. But who is Paul? If we look beneath his name, we’ll see two titles. He is “a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” These are the two titles Paul uses to describe himself.
Let’s think about this first title. Paul is one of God’s servants, even one of his slaves. Paul understands he is not in charge of himself. He doesn’t do what he wants to do. He is a servant of God. His life belongs to God. His whole purpose in life is to belong to God and do what God wants Him to do.
Paul is also an apostle of Jesus Christ. An apostle, at its most basic meaning, is a messenger. Someone who is sent by someone else to represent them and carry their message. An apostle was basically a missionary.
But in the New Testament, this word also came to be used in a special way to refer to a select group of 12 and then 13 men who were the official, authoritative representatives for the risen Jesus. They were the ones who spoke for Jesus here on earth.
And this is who Paul is. God’s servant and Christ’s apostle. This means that Titus had better listen up to what he had to say, not because Paul is such an important person, but because he serves and speaks for the most important person in the universe.
Now when someone sends a messenger, it’s usually for a purpose. If Paul had been sent as one of Christ’s apostles, what was the purpose? What was the goal of his service and apostleship?
To find that answer, imagine that we’re opening that first door. And behind that door we find ourself in a room where we discover the goal of Paul’s apostleship. Paul was a servant and apostle “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth.”
The goal of his apostleship was the faith of God’s elect. As Paul went out preaching the gospel, and then pastoring these churches he planted, his goal was that God’s chosen people would place their faith in Jesus, and then that their faith would be strengthened and continue to grow.
He was a servant and apostle for the sake of the faith of God’s elect. Next he says, “and their knowledge of the truth.” This is the second goal of his apostleship. What we should understand is that this word for “knowledge” doesn’t just point to knowing some facts in your head. Paul wasn’t interested in just giving people information. The language here speaks about acknowledging the truth about Jesus to be true.
In other words, this “knowledge of the truth” is really just another way of talking about faith. Just think about 1 Timothy 2:4, which says that God “desires all people [or, all kinds of people] to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Being saved means coming to a knowledge of the truth.
So this is really important, because it tells us that faith and knowledge are not opposites. Many people in our world today think that way. “We can know stuff, and then we have faith in the things we can’t know.” But that’s not right. The Bible teaches that faith and knowledge are tightly connected. Faith just means that we can’t see it (2 Corinthians 5:7), not that we can’t know it.
And so, this is the goal and the purpose for Paul’s life, all of his work of servanthood and apostleship. He worked for the faith of God’s chosen people and their knowledge of the truth.
But what we find as we look around this little room is that there’s a door on the far end. Because this knowledge of the truth isn’t an end unto itself. It has a goal and a purpose and a result beyond itself.
So we reach for this door that says “which accords with…” and we find ourselves in a new room called “godliness.” This is what our knowledge of the truth results in or leads to or lines up with. Godliness.
Faith and a knowledge of the truth never stay stuck in our hearts or heads. They always must result in godliness, in a transformed life. Believing in Jesus and acknowledging him to be true changes everything as we begin to live in the light of this truth.
Or, as verse 1 says, our knowledge of the truth “accords with godliness.”
Godliness is something we heard about much in 1 Timothy. It describes someone who fears and serves God. It describes a life that reflects God’s character. And godliness is going to be a major theme in this letter to Titus as well.
It seems that many of the Christians in Crete had believed the gospel but thought that they could just keep on living however they wanted to live. And this letter is going to show us that this is not an option. Faith in Jesus results in a transformed life. Our knowledge of the truth accords with godliness.
The Hope of Eternal Life
But we might start to wonder how this works. Why does a knowledge of the truth result in godliness? What makes this work? And as we look for answers in this room called “godliness,” we see a door that leads to a descending staircase. And we realize that there’s a big room underneath this room. This room called “godliness” is resting on top of another room that is holding it up and supporting it.
So walk with me through that door and down the stairs. And we find ourselves in a huge hall, the largest room in the house. This hall is called the “hope of eternal life.” This is the foundation for our godliness. Our faith and knowledge of the truth lead to practical godliness because of this hope we have of eternal life.
So let’s think through how this works. When we place our faith in Jesus and come to a knowledge of the truth, what we gain is the hope of eternal life. Right? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Believing in Jesus gives us the hope of eternal life.
And what this passage is showing us, and what this letter to Titus is going to show us, is that this hope of eternal life has a powerful transforming effect on our lives here and now, today. We could put it this way: it’s impossible to believe that Jesus is coming back, and that we’re going to spend forever with him, and keep living the way that you always used to live.
The hope of eternal life provides the motivation and the perspective and the foundation for the godliness that transforms our life today.
So that’s the big idea. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s stop and take in our surroundings. We’re standing in this huge room called “the hope of eternal life.” And in the rest of verse 2 and 3, all we’re really going to do is look around this room, and have our breath taken away by how big this place is. How huge is this hope of eternal life which produces godliness.
The first thing we notice in the rest of verse 2 is that this eternal life was promised by God, who never lies, before the ages began.
When we began the “You Are Here” series over a year ago, we began by talking about God, who existed in a perfect trinity before the ages began. For all time, God has existed in perfect joy and fellowship and love.
And before the ages began, before this universe was created, God promised eternal life. And when we ask, “Promised to whom?”, we are pointed to this incredible and beautiful covenant that took place between God the Father and God the Son in eternity past, where, together with the Spirit, they planned out the whole story of redemption. God the Father promised to give a people to His son and promised to give them eternal life so that they could worship His Son forever.
2 Timothy 1:9 speaks of this same reality when it talks about God’s “purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9). And this reminds us of Ephesians 1:4, which says that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world.”
Jesus expressed the goal of all of this when he prayed in John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
This whole amazing incredible plan of salvation and all of history was laid out before the first star shone. Eternal life was promised before the ages began.
See why I said this room is the biggest in the house? Because it goes on forever. On the one side we have the hope of eternal life, stretching out forever. On the other end, we have this promise made in eternity past, before time even existed.
And right in front of us, in the present moment,