Titus: What an Apostle Is For

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on November 21, 2004

Titus 1:1-4

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The Lord’s Day Morning

November 21, 2004

Titus 1:1-4

“What an Apostle Is For”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles I’d invite you to turn with me to
Titus 1. We’re continuing to work our way through the Pastoral Epistles, those
three letters from an apostle, pastor, elder, veteran missionary evangelist,
Paul, to two young ministers of the gospel who were responsible for ministering
not only in the settled charges of two congregations, but were responsible for
evangelism and missions.

We’ve looked already at the book of I Timothy, we’ll
look now at the book of Titus for a few weeks. It’s a short letter, it’s a
short letter, about a page, page and a half. Many of the themes that you’ll
find in the letter from Paul to Titus are themes that you will be familiar with
if you have studied First Timothy with us.

Now Paul is writing, again, in this book to a
trusted associate–not this time to Timothy, but to Titus, a man whom he loves
and values, who has different characteristics than Timothy, but is equally
useful in the church. He’s been commissioned to establish the Christian church
on Crete.

Now, the Cretans were not renowned for their
morality amongst their contemporaries. If you allow your eyes to scan down to
verse 12 of chapter one, you’ll see a rather unflattering quotation about the
Cretans that apparently one of their own authors had stated about them.

And so Paul is speaking to Titus, who is ministering
to a church in the context of a society that was suffused with immorality.
Sound familiar? Paul’s words to Titus are timely for us because of the
corresponding circumstances that we as Christians face in a culture rampant with
immorality, and an immorality that is permeating and penetrating the Christian
churches as well. In fact, it becomes apparent in this letter that one of
Paul’s concerns is that the immorality of the culture has in fact impacted this
local congregation, or congregations, of Christians deeply.

He recognizes that Christ calls us to be in the
world, but not of it; and yet, in this congregation you can say that there are
some at least who are of the world, but not in it. The world is in the church,
and he is concerned that the church would be distinct, especially in her life
and witness in this immoral context.

And so, in this letter Paul will write to Titus to
instruct him how to deal with these kinds of matters. But interestingly, just
like in First Timothy, Paul will deal with matters of church organization,
leadership, and administration; and you may well ask yourself the question: if
the crying need of the hour was for Christians in this congregation to live more
godly lives in the context of a pagan and immoral culture, why in the world
would Paul spend time talking about elders; about different groups within the
church; about dealing with false teaching that was troubling the church; about
matters of church administration. Why would he touch on these subjects? Was
Paul somewhat wandering from his focus by doing this? And of course, the answer
is, “No,” because Paul knows that if godliness is going to be established
in this local congregation (or congregations), it is going to require
elders–godly elders, qualified elders according to Scripture, biblical elders
shepherding the people of God. He knows that it is going to take sound
teaching, because false teaching is not going to produce godliness. He knows
that if godliness is going to prosper in this congregation the different groups
and the divisions that exist are going to have to be brought together and
healed, because the gospel always evidences itself not only in individual moral
transformation, but in social transformation, and the way that Christians relate
to one another, and the way they love one another and support one another.

And so in all of the topics that Paul addresses in
this very short letter, far from wandering from Dan to Beersheba with his
thoughts, he has a focused idea all the time. He wants to help Titus pastor
Christian congregations in the context of an immoral culture, and to encourage
those Christians and congregations to adorn the gospel of God our Savior in all
of life by the way that we live. That, in fact, is the great focus of this
book: adorning the gospel of God our Savior in all things. The gospel has the
moral power to transform lives and social relationships, and that gospel power
serves as a witness to the world around us that the gospel is not the
fabrication of our “wish fulfillment,” but it is in fact a reality worked in us
by the Holy Spirit. And so Paul, throughout this letter, has in view an
exhortation to Titus to help this people adorn the gospel of God our Savior in
all things.

Now, in this passage, and let me just outline
it for you today. This is just Paul’s word of greeting, his salutation, but in
it you are going to see three things: First of all, you are going to see the
title of the messenger. You’ll see that in verse one. Then, in verses one
through three, secondly, you’re going to see the service, or the ministry goal
of the messenger; and then, thirdly, you are going to see the blessing of the
messenger, in verse four. So in verse one, the title of the messenger; in
verses 1-3 the service or the ministry goal of the messenger; and then in verse
four, the blessing of the messenger.

Before we read God’s word and hear it proclaimed,
let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His blessing. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your
word. Already having looked at this book and considered its context, we readily
see how appropriate this word of exhortation given to a small group of Christian
congregations on the Island of Crete two thousand years ago is just as fresh, is
just as significant, is just as relevant, is just as important, is just as
urgent today as it was when Paul first wrote it, with his eyes turned to the
West, perhaps, prepared to go even as far as Spain in the word of missions. He
still looked back on this congregation, on these Christians, and he yearned that
the power of the gospel would show forth in their lives, and that they would
adorn the gospel with their lives in all things, in spite of their immoral
environment. We feel this need, too; so speak to us by Your word. We ask it in
Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear God’s word:

“Paul, a bond-servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for
the faith of those chosen of god and the knowledge of the truth which is
according to godliness, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie,
promised long ages ago, but at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the
proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our
Savior; to Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the
Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
inerrant and authoritative word. May He write its eternal truth upon our
hearts.

Paul wants to exhort these Christians, tempted as
they are to live with one foot in the world and another foot in the church,
tempted as they are to be conformed to the thinking and the living standards and
the behavior of this age and this world, rather than to be transformed by the
renewing of their minds according to the word of God–Paul speaks to this
congregation to exhort them to adorn the gospel in all things: in the way that
they believe; in the way that they trust; in the way that they live. And he
begins that exhortation even in his word of greeting. Before he has even
finished identifying himself, he is already providing an example to these
Christians of what being a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ does in regard to
promoting our living to adorn the gospel of God our Savior in all things. Let’s
look at two or three things that we learn in this passage

I. The nature of the apostolic
messengers.

First of all, let’s look at the title of the
messenger. Paul speaks of himself here not only as a servant of the Lord–and
that’s language that was so often used of the prophets in the Old Testament–but
he speaks of himself as an apostle, one who was officially invested with special
powers by Jesus Christ and sent as an emissary by Jesus Christ. He speaks of
himself, then, as a special, divine messenger. And look at the nature of this
apostolic messenger as we see from his title: he is “Paul, a bond-servant of
God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ.”

Now, there are many things that we could say about
that passage, but just a couple of things immediately come to mind.

You know from your study of the Old Testament that
there were two types of slaves in Israel. There were temporary slaves. Slavery
by definition was limited in Israel. After a set period of time, servants were
to be set free. It might be at the end of their payment of a debt; it might be
at the end of a seven-year Sabbath cycle; or it might be in the Jubilee Year,
but servants were not to be permanently held in the status of that servitude and
captivity.

And yet, in the Old Testament there was a provision
for a slave who permanently committed himself to his master. He was called a
bond-servant
. By his own initiation and volition, this servant could say to
his master, “I want to serve you always.” And Paul begins this letter by saying
“I am a bond-servant of God.” In other words, he is saying he is willingly
self-committed to permanent service of the Lord.

And he also says that he is an apostle of
Jesus Christ. He did not call himself to the ministry. He was sent by Christ
into the ministry. Of course, in Paul’s own biography there is the striking
story recorded for us in Acts 9, and told again on at least two occasions, where
Paul, though he was on his way to Damascus to persecute and kill Christians,
imprisoning them and harassing them, yet he was met by the Lord Jesus Christ on
the way. He was changed, he was converted, he was humbled, and he was called
into the service of the Lord. And so the Apostle Paul on more than one occasion
will remind Christians that he was not called to the ministry by an apostle; he
did not learn the gospel from another apostle; he learned the gospel and was
called into ministry by the risen and ascended Jesus Christ Himself in person.
And so when Paul says he is an apostle of Jesus Christ, that he has been vested
with the authority of Christ, that he is a plenipotentiary messenger of Jesus
Christ, given special powers and able to speak on Christ’s behalf to His people,
that is exactly what he means. It comes right out of his own experience of
God’s grace to him, and because he had been called into this service–this glad
service, a service that he continually tells us that he didn’t deserve–he also
tells us that he was willingly committed to that service. Conscious as he was of
being called by grace into the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, he was
willingly committed as a permanent servant of the Lord. It’s a beautiful
picture of God by grace drawing Paul to Himself, and then Paul willingly saying,
‘Lord, I want to be Your servant forever.’

Now, notice how even in that title, even in this
description of his position, Paul is supplying Titus and the Cretans and you and
me with truth which serves as not only an example as to how to live the
Christian life in an immoral culture, but serves as an exhortation to us to
commitment and to mission.

Paul very clearly, as he sees himself as an apostle
of the Lord Jesus Christ, has a sense of mission. He knows what he’s here for.
He knows what his purpose is in life, and he not only knows his mission and his
purpose, he is gladly, willingly, wholeheartedly, and permanently committed to
it.

Now think about it. There are Cretans in these
local Christian congregations being pastured and nurtured by Titus who are being
influenced by the world around them. What’s going on? Well, one thing that’s
going on is that they are forgetting who they are and what they’re here for.
They have forgotten their mission and purpose in life: to adorn the gospel of
God in all things. And so Paul’s very example of his sense of mission and his
commitment to that mission serve as an encouragement to, an example to follow,
for the Christians that Titus was ministering to, and to us as well.

When we are living lives that contradict our
profession, one of the things that is always going on is that we are forgetting
who we are. We are forgetting what God called us to, what He made us for, what
our purpose is in life. Our purpose is to glorify and enjoy God forever.
And that purpose elicits, evokes, a permanent willing commitment to be disciples
of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Isn’t it striking–the very passage that we thought
of today in the institution of baptism–Jesus says to His disciples, “Go, make
disciples.” He doesn’t say, “Go, get people to sign a card, or to pray a
prayer, or to make a verbal pledge.” He says, “Go, make disciples.” It’s
interesting that He wants followers who are ready to follow Him wherever He
goes, even unto death. That’s what He’s trying to make in the Christian church.
And Paul is “Exhibit A.” Paul doesn’t just, in Acts 8, sign a card or pray a
prayer. He commits his whole life to the Lord Jesus Christ, to serve Him. And
he serves with that sense of purpose and a commitment to that sense of purpose
that is born of his realization of God’s grace to him. And if we realize God’s
grace to us, and we realize the mission and the purpose that the Lord has given
to us, it will help us as we seek to combat sin; as we seek to keep from being
conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

II. The nature of the service of
the apostolic messenger.

Secondly, look at the nature of Paul’s service–the
service of the messenger. Again in verses 1-3, here we see Paul state very
compactly his goal in ministry. He’s telling Titus what he’s trying to do in
ministry: ‘When I go out as a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ,
this is what I’m shooting for. This is what my preaching and teaching is aimed
at.’

And he tells you at least three things:

“…for the faith of those chosen of God; for the knowledge of the
truth which is according to godliness; in the hope of eternal life, which
God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, but at the proper time manifested,
even His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the
commandment of God our Savior.”

So notice, Paul says here’s what my ministry
is aimed for. It’s aimed at saving faith

Now notice, Paul makes it clear that his preaching
is not the source of his hearers’ faith. What is the source of his hearers’
faith? God. How does he make that clear? He calls those chosen of God. God’s
choice of them is at the root of their response to God in faith, but Paul’s
purpose in ministry is to teach and to preach and disciple so that the chosen of
God will exercise faith. He longs for them to respond to the free and gracious
overtures of the gospel by believing, by trusting, by having faith in God, in
Jesus Christ, in the gospel. That’s the first goal of his ministry and service.

Secondly, he goes on to say that he is an apostle
for the knowledge of the truth that is according to godliness. In other words,
Paul is saying, “My ministry is aimed at producing a sanctifying knowledge in
the people of God
.” I don’t simply want them to have more information than
other people. I don’t simply want them to be smarter than other people. I’m not
interested in them knowing certain facts that other people don’t know. The
point is I want to teach them a truth that transforms their lives. It is a
truth that is unto godliness. This is not the last time in this book that Paul
will explain the connection between sound theology and godly living. You cannot
live the Christian life if you do not believe the truth of God’s word as He sets
it forth in that word. And so Paul says, “My goal in ministry is the knowledge
of the truth which is according to godliness: a true knowledge that is
productive of real godliness and piety.”

Thirdly, Paul says ‘My goal in ministry is with a
view to the faith of God’s people and the sanctifying knowledge of the truth in
light of the hope of eternal life.’ You see this in verse 2. The
motivation for Paul’s labor, the motivation for their living of the Christian
life, is this hope of eternal life. It is a hope that has been promised by God,
who cannot lie. It is a hope that has been promised long ago that is now being
manifest to the full in the proclamation of Paul and the apostles.

And I want you to notice how each of these three
things which Paul says are at the heart of the ministry serve to cultivate the
Christians in Crete living all of life to the glory of God, adorning the gospel
of God our Savior in all things.

First of all, you can’t adorn the gospel
if you don’t believe the gospel.
If you haven’t embraced Jesus
Christ by faith, you cannot adorn the gospel of God, and so it is obvious that
Paul’s ministry has to be aimed at seeing faith expressed in the gospel.

Secondly, notice that Paul, in cultivating a
ministry that was designed to set forth the truth that is unto godliness, makes
it clear that Christian truth is itself transformative
. It changes
our lives. It has a moral power. It not only changes us as individuals, but it
changes us in relationships to one another: husbands to wives, and wives to
husbands; parents to children, and children to parents; employers to employees,
and employees to employers; neighbors to neighbors; citizens to fellow
citizens. It has a transforming effect of us morally individually, but also in
our social relationships, and Paul wants us to understand that if we do not
embrace that sanctifying truth, that we cannot live the life of godliness
intended by the Lord, and we will not live this life of godliness intended by
the Lord, we will not adorn the gospel of God our Savior in all things unless
there is in us the hope of eternal life.

And Paul knows that that hope both is, and is to
come. There is already in the believer the seed of the experience of eternal
life, but that everlasting fellowship has not come yet to its full fruition.
That full fruition is yet to come, and unless the hope is strong for that
fruition, we will not live a life of godliness; rather, we will set our hope on
other things.

Now, let’s step back and ask two questions: one
is, if the ministry of the gospel is aimed at evoking a saving faith, a
sanctifying truth, and encouraging hope in the people of God, how’s the ministry
doing in your heart?
Are you responding to the feast of ministry that you
get in the classrooms of First Presbyterian Church, or in the Day School, or in
this wonderful city where we are blessed to hear so much godly, Bible-believing
preaching–are you responding to that truth with saving faith? Is the truth
having a sanctifying effect on your life? Are you taking encouragement from the
hope that is set before you?

And, are you praying for ministry to have that
effect on you? And are you praying for ministers to keep their eye on the
ball?
Don’t look at something else! Aim for these things! You are aimed,
ministers of the gospel, to preach a truth which aims for the response of saving
faith, which sees sanctifying truth building up disciples into Christian
maturity, and gives them a hope which transcends the troubles, and the
struggles, and the trials and tribulations of this life. Are you praying for
ministers to be faithful in the focus of that ministry? And are you seeing its
effect on your own heart?

III. The apostolic benediction on
Titus and our labors.

One last thing: look at verse 4. Paul
concludes this “hello,” this salutation, with a word of blessing, and he uses
very tender words about Titus, this church-planter and young minister. “To
Titus, my true child in a common faith…” and then he pronounces the
blessing: “Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”

Now think how comforting that would have been to
Titus. Paul is going to tell us in just eight verses that Titus is ministering
amongst a people who have a reputation for being lazy, gluttonous, and liars.
And Paul’s saying, ‘Titus, go plant churches amongst those people.’ And so it
would have been very easy for Titus to look to these circumstances, look at his
congregation, and look at his culture, and be discouraged. But Paul says,
‘Titus, your encouragement in ministry in that local setting is not going to be
drawn from the congregation, its circumstances, or the culture. It’s going to
be drawn from God. So just as the Christian life begins, Titus, with God’s
grace and peace, I pronounce God’s grace and peace on you so that you will
remember that if this ministry is going to prosper, it’s going to be because of
God’s grace and peace.’

God’s grace to us, His unmerited favor, is at the
very outset of Christian life. We do not create the Christian life in us; we do
not speak it into reality; we do not create it by believing, or being sincere;
the Christian life starts with God’s unmerited favor reaching out to us
first
. We simply respond. But until God’s grace is there, the Christian
life has not yet begun.

And the Christian life begins with God’s peace,
because when God’s unmerited favor comes to us in Jesus Christ, the just
condemnation which He has against us is dealt with, and our enmity toward Him is
dealt with, so that for the first time in our lives we begin to experience true
fellowship and communion with God. And so the Christian life begins with grace
and peace, but the Christian life ends with grace and peace, as well. And it is
the grace and peace of God that supplies the encouragement to the Christian in
every circumstance, in every congregation, in every culture.

You see, the Christian longs to eternally and
everlastingly experience God’s unmerited and undeserved favor, and the peace
that flows from that. Not just a peace which means the cessation of God’s
judicial judgment against us, but a peace which means all of the blessings of
being in the family of God, of being a child of God. And Paul pronounces this
blessing on Titus. ‘Titus, God’s grace, God’s peace on you.’

And this is just Paul’s “Hello”! This is just,
“I’m Paul; I’m writing this to you, Titus; this is my salutation.” If that’s
his “hello”–and by the way, this is one of my favorite salutations in all of the
New Testament–if that’s his “hello”, just wait till you see what’s coming next!

Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your
word–the word of example from Paul, the word of exhortation about his ministry,
and especially this word of blessing. Grant that we would believe; that we
would know the sanctifying truth of the word; that we would have instilled in
our hearts and stoked by the Spirit that hope of eternal life; and that we would
live dependent, reliant upon Your heavenly benediction. These things we ask in
Jesus’ name. Amen.

Grace and peace from God the Father, and our Savior,
Christ Jesus. Amen.

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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.