Summary: Introduction to the Letter to Titus.
Culture is constantly knocking at our door. ‘Which bank’? ‘Oh what a feeling’! ‘It puts a rose in every cheek’, ‘The fresh food people’, ‘My Dad picks the fruit to make the cordial, that I like best’, ‘Oh what a feeling’, ‘My store’, ‘For the most important person in the world’, and ‘Aussie kids are Wheat-Bix kids’ (these are Australian advertising slogans).
The Teacher in Ecclesiastes says, ‘I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labour. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun’ (Ecc 2:10–11).
The Teacher says that Christians are prime candidates for religious foolishness. ‘Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words’ (Ecc 5:1–3).
This world without God is foolishness, it’s utterly meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Everyday culture invites us to return to its constructed reality—a reality of consumerism and self appeasement. And the Teacher cries out, ‘Don’t do it! Don’t return to worldliness for it makes big promises which it cannot deliver’. At the end of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher says that the prospect of judgment is the thread of reality which we all need. Hang onto that thread, ‘Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man’ (Ecc 12:13).
Then much later the Apostle Paul is discussing the resurrection. If the dead are not raised, he says, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’ (1 Cor 15:32). If there is no resurrection—if there is no judgment— if there is no hope for the future—by all means live unproductive, self-serving lives. If there is no resurrection, enjoy the present for at the very best our future is the coldness and darkness of the grave.
If there is no God then life is a cruel and pointless game. But there is a resurrection. We are accountable to God. So live in the shadow of the empty cross and rejoice in the empty tomb. If you want to have a productive life, Paul says in 1 Cor 15:58, ‘Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain’. The resurrection—the prospect of judgment—here are the threads of reality which give life meaning. The apostle puts it another way in Titus 3:14, ‘‘Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives’. As we give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord, as we devote ourselves to doing what is good, then we will not live unproductive lives.
We know that when Paul left Crete, things were not in an entirely satisfactory condition (slide). We know that the churches on the island were unorganised, though there were Christians in many of the towns. So Paul left Titus behind, he says in 1:5, to straighten out what was left unfinished. Titus was to organise the church so it could provide for daily necessities, so its people would not live unproductive lives. Paul felt it necessary to put in writing what exactly needed to be done. So we have our New Testament letter to Titus written somewhere between 62 and 66 AD.
You know that one of challenges of being in pastoral ministry is that your work is never finished. When I was an engineer on various projects, either the money ran out, or the water treatment plant was built and commissioned and handed over to the client. There was a time when the job was finished. But the Christian life is not like that at all. If you’re a school teacher, you’re work finishes when the students sit for the exams, or when the year comes to an end.
But the Christian life is a work in progress. From the leadership point of view there is always something to straighten out—there is always things unfinished that need to be finished. No matter what layer of leadership, there is always something to do. So Titus is to appoint the right elders in 1:5–16; he is to teach sound doctrine to the whole church in 2:1–15; he is to remind the church of its obligations to earthly rulers in 3:1–2.