Author’s note: My faith is in Jesus Christ; therefore, I must rest in the Scriptures, which are inspired by God, inerrant, absolutely authoritative, and utterly sufficient. I am convinced the issues churches and individual Christians are facing today, including the controversies, could been null and void if we would only submit to the word. For that reason, I am blogging through Paul’s letter to Titus. You can find all of the posts in this series here.
Along with the two canonical letters to Timothy, Paul’s letter to Titus is often referred to as a pastoral epistle, for the contents of the letter are, to a large degree, intended to instruct Titus, and by proxy local churches, how they ought to conduct themselves (c.f. 1 Tim 3:15). In other words, the pastoral epistles are about telling (no, commanding) the church how to be the church.
And I feel the need to emphasize from the outset that command part, because ours is a day in which many evangelical Christians are quick to say the Bible is the word of God. Many of those will also be quick to say the Bible is inspired by God, inerrant, authoritative, and even sufficient for us. Many say those things. But let’s be honest. Ours is also a day given to pragmatism in the church and the exaltation of feelings above all.
Pastors avoid preaching on hard topics because of how it might make someone feel (or the backlash they’ll get because of those feelings). Very few churches take the holiness of God and the sinfulness of sin seriously enough to practice church discipline. Why? More than any other reason: feelings. And as a I write this, the biggest controversy on Christian social media is about comments one pastor made regarding Beth Moore, specifically, and women preaching more generally; and I would argue that controversy would not be a thing if many in the church weren’t, whether they realize it or not, elevating feelings even above their commitment to the word of God.
Now I realize that last statement might be enough to cause some of you to stop reading, or if you’ve clicked on this through Facebook, leave an “angry” face instead of liking it. I encourage you to wait, though. Be patient.
I realize in the age of Instagram, Facebook, and 280 character Twitter posts blogging is passé. Nevertheless, what I intend to start now and follow through to completion over the next few days or weeks is walk through Paul’s letter to Titus, one of the three pastoral epistles, and think through what it says, what it means – including what it means to the church and the implications thereof. So join me, and let’s look at Titus.
We begin with Titus 1:1–4 (NASB):
1 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, 2 in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, 3 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,
4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
The introductory comments of New Testament letters are often treated like biblical genealogies. They are read and/or preached in fast-forward. You point out the form of ancient letters: for the author to put their name first, say something, then write the name(s) of the recipient(s), then give a greeting.
Let me encourage you, however, to never read through these epistolary introductions in fast-forward so that you can get to the real “meat” of a letter, because there are truckloads of meat to be found in these introductions, and Titus 1:1–4 is no exception. We’ll only begin to scratch the surface in this post.
Paul is the Holy Spirit-inspired author of this letter, along with twelve other New Testament letters. Many liberal scholars have sought to dispute Paul’s authorship of Titus and several other letters, but there has never been a good reason offered for this, and these are nothing more than attempts to sow doubt on the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. After all, if Paul didn’t really write this, why should we trust it since his name is there? Phooey! (Yes, I said that.) Paul, the Hebrew of Hebrews who held the coats of the men who stoned Stephen, then was saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, where he was going to arrest Christians… that Paul is the author.
And he considers himself “a bond-servant of God.” This is, in itself, an important statement when you compare it to some of the other introductions of his letters. In Romans 1:1 and Philippians 1:1, for example, he is a bond-servant of “Christ Jesus.” Now you could take two approaches to the distinction. First, you could say that he is equating the two. He is a bond-servant of God and a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, so God = Christ Jesus. On the other hand you could say is a bond-servant to two different persons, God (the Father) and Christ Jesus.
Or you could say he was taking both approaches at the same time; that is, he was recognizing Christ Jesus actually is God, but also the Father and the Son are distinct persons within the Godhead, what we call the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). If you take all of what is written about Paul and all Paul wrote himself, it’s absolutely clear he believed Jesus Christ is God – that he was what I would call myself today, a Trinitarian in line with the later Council of Chalcedon (AD 451). In verse one he may have had all of this in mind or not, but the bottom line is just as he was a bond-servant of Christ Jesus in Romans and Philippians, he was equally that of God (the Father).
So what of the term “bond-servant.” It is a translation from the Greek δοῦλος (doulos), which generally means “a slave, bondman, man of servile condition. . . one who gives himself up to another’s will. . . devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests.” As I understand it, slave really is the best word to communicate the meaning here, but without reading into the word meanings derived from the American experience. It’s best when thinking about the word slave in the Bible to determine meaning from the Bible, not modern history. And the context of Paul’s usage of the word slave can be clearly discerned from his letters. He was a slave to sin, but through Christ was freed from sin, and became a slave of righteousness (Rom 6:17–18).
A slave was owned by his master, subject to do whatever it was the master desired. A slave could not make himself free, and was not subject to release by contract like an indentured servant over the course of time. A slave was property of the master.
But far from the negative connotation of being a slave to sin, Paul considered himself a slave to God (and Christ Jesus), and to the degree being a slave to sin was an eternal negative, because a slave to God was (and is) to be in joyous right standing with the Master. Thus, Paul didn’t write he was a slave out of regret, or longing for more. It was with the utmost joy and thankfulness to the grace he had been shown that he could report his standing with God. He was happy to the greatest degree God had seen fit to forgive him his sins, release him from bondage to sin, and make him His slave.
That is salvation.
Paul then identifies himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” This is nothing new. He also identifies himself as an apostle in the introductions of Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 & 2 Timothy.
Apostle comes from the Greek ἀπόστολος (apostolos) and means “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders. . . specifically applied to the twelve apostles of Christ. . . in a broader sense applied to other eminent Christian teachers.” This definition is pretty good, giving a since of the purpose of an apostle and who can be identified as an apostle. That said, it is not without ambiguity.
There is virtually no disagreement that the twelve disciples who followed Jesus are to be considered apostles (Matt 10:2–4). Of course, Judas betrayed Jesus. Then, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension forty days later, the eleven remaining drew lots and Matthias was added to their number (Acts 1:26). There is nothing in the text to indicate Matthias was not considered an apostle from this point on, nor is there any indication he was considered a “lesser” apostle of Jesus Christ.
It’s at this point we should understand the distinction in the New Testament between those who were apostles of Jesus Christ and those who were called apostles, because there are instances of others in the New Testament being called apostles (Rom 16:7). Even Titus, in 2 Corinthians 8:23, is named alongside of “messengers [apostolos] of the churches.” The word, at its core, having the connotation of an official delegate or ambassador, Titus, Andronicus, and Junias are written of by Paul as being apostles of the churches – those officially sent by a local church as a messenger to another church(es).
What does that make Paul then? Because he is not one of the twelve, but was he an apostle of Jesus Christ, an apostle of one or more churches, or something else?
When you take all of the Pauline corpus into account the conclusion of this author is that Paul was clearly an apostle of Jesus Christ, not one of the twelve, but one just like the twelve, “a plenipotentiary of his master.” Furthermore, he understood this to be the case. In 1 Corinthians 4:9 he writes “God exhibited us apostles last of all” (emphasis mine), with Paul identifying himself with the twelve. In 1 Corinthians 9:5 he defended his right to take a believing wife “even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas.” Finally, in 1 Corinthians 15, when listing the people Jesus appeared to after His resurrection, Paul mentions Cephas (Peter), then the twelve, then five hundred brethren at once, then last, then to all the apostles, “and last of all, as to one untimely born” to Paul himself (1 Cor 15:8). Paul was untimely born to be one of the twelve, but was still every bit an apostle of Jesus Christ because Jesus Himself had appeared to Paul, and Paul had received his gospel not from men, but from Jesus Himself (Gal 1:12).
Jesus saved Paul, freeing him from slavery to sin, to become a slave of righteousness an His plenipotentiary, His ambassador, His apostle.
There are no apostles like this today. Since the age of the apostles and the closing of the canon, Jesus is not giving personal revelation like He did then. Some may claim to be apostles. In fact, there is a “church” down the street from where I live right now advertising an apostle from Tulsa, OK, appearing next week. But these are not apostles, and certainly not apostles of Jesus Christ. They did not see Him. They have not received their gospel directly from Him. Today, many claiming the mantle of apostleship are nothing more than charlatans and false teachers. The very best one could assume of one claiming to be an apostle today is that they are a messenger from one church to another.
Paul, though, was every bit an apostle of Jesus Christ. His apostle, His messenger, His ambassador.
Some thoughts to wrap up…
While I am not an apostle of Jesus Christ, and neither are you, there is definite application every believer should take just from these first few words of Paul’s letter to Titus.
First, you may not have a testimony like Paul’s. Very few are saved in such a way that comes close to the drama on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. On the other hand, every Christian has just as dramatic a testimony in that, if you are in the faith, through Jesus God has freed you from sin, to which you enslaved, and made you a slave to righteousness. So what is your testimony? And, while yes, we all are at war against sin until the day we see Jesus face to face, could it be said you are a slave to righteousness (i.e., a doulos of God)? Food for thought. To whom and what do you belong?
Second, if you are a Christian today, you are not an apostle, but that does not mean you are any less an ambassador of and for your Master, your Lord, Jesus Christ. Paul was not saved to be static, but to “bear [His] name before the Gentiles and kings and sons of Israel” and to “suffer for [His] name’s sake” (Acts 9:15–16). Likewise, believers today have been appointed to believe and suffer for His name’s sake (Phil 1:29), and to be on mission, making disciples of all peoples, baptizing them and teaching them all He commanded, in accordance with the authority of Christ (Matt 28:18–20). So are you static, or are you doing the work of a slave commanded by his Master?
Author’s note: When I sat down to type this first entry, I had no intention of spending this much time on just the first few words of the first verse in Titus. However, the jewels of the word of God merit mining. I hope you have been edified by this first part and will read the next entry and beyond.