Summary: God gives every guidance and every grace for building a healthy church.
Paul and Titus traveled the island of Crete, preaching Jesus. God blessed their evangelist zeal, converting many and creating churches in towns scattered across the land. But caring for these new Christians proved difficult, in part due to the character of the people. Cretans were known for their immorality and debauchery. The philosopher Epimenides, himself a citizen of Crete, described the citizens as “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Even those truly born again struggled with godly living because of their rough background, and Titus, asked to bring order in the church, had his hands full.
The Apostle Paul continued his mission trip, but he heard of Titus’ struggles. So he writes this letter, counseling the young pastor on faithful ministry in a fallen culture.
First, Paul says, look for other mature, godly men to help in the ministry. Since these elders are to shepherd and disciple, make sure they are worthy of imitation, men of godly character. Additionally, they will be called on to counsel the truth and confront those who contradict it, so they must hold firmly to sound doctrine – the word which is “sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16.24).
Second, Titus must teach not only the content of the gospel, but also its proper and practical application: what accords with sound doctrine. Jesus brought both salvation and sanctification – grace trains true believers in godliness. God’s people are to adorn their profession of faith with good works. Rather than be influenced by the culture, believers are to witness to it with their lives as well as their words.
Today we finish the book with a warning – do not be distracted by controversies! Problems do not come only from the outside, do they? Quarrels and division threaten to distract – even destroy. These must be both avoided and replaced with healthy behaviors. Let’s read Titus 3.9-15, then we will see five marks of a healthy church.
[Read Titus 3.9-15. Pray.]
If we could give homework assignments, I would ask each of you to write a letter to the church. Imagine you, like Paul, have traveled abroad for months, but have now heard of our congregation’s struggles. Your heart hurts for our troubles, and you must give counsel. What would you say? You do not have phone or internet, because you are in the remotest parts of the world on a mission trip, but you know someone to hand carry your letter back to us. You get one piece of paper – what would you say?
One more thing – because you are a dearly loved member of the church, known to be full of wisdom and grace, your letter will be read to the congregation. How would you mix correction and encouragement and teaching?
In January the men running for office will do something like this. Each one will stand before us during a Sunday school class to explain his hopes and dreams for the church as well as the challenges and opportunities for leadership he sees in this congregation. But we should probably make this a regular feature of church life, not just an exercise for potential officers. What would you say to us?
The Apostle Paul writes a brief letter to a pastor and church facing difficult challenges. The worldliness of the culture encroaches, threatening to conform them to its patterns. Additionally, conflict threatens to break the unity they should have and distract them from the work of ministry. How does a healthy church thrive in such a mess? Please note five ways from our text.
1. A Healthy Church Handles Controversy Well (Titus 3.9-11)
I think we all might wish that church would be without quarrels. In Matthew 18.20, Jesus promised that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them,” but our history confirms that where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, there an argument will break out – especially if one of them is Presbyterian! We seem unable or unwilling to cut out controversy and work together on ministry.
Charles Schultz drew a Peanuts cartoon in which Lucy demands that Linus change the TV channel, threatening him with her fist if he did not. “What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” asks Linus.
Lucy responds: “These five fingers. Individually they are nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.”
“Which channel do you want?” asks Linus. Then turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?”
Why can’t we get organized?
Henry Scougal wrote The Life of God in the Soul of Man in the latter half of the 1600s. He had this to say about our controversies: “There is scarce a more unaccountable thing to be imagined, than to see a company of men professing a religion, one great and main precept whereof is mutual love, forbearance, gentleness of spirit, and compassion to all sorts of persons, and agreeing in all the essential parts of its doctrine, and differing only in some less material and more disputable things, yet maintaining those differences with zeal so disproportional to the value of them, and prosecuting all that disagree… with all bitterness of spirit. They… raise great prejudices against such religion, as made up of contradictions; professing love, but breaking out in all the acts of hatred.”