When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to a young pastor named Titus, he offered him helpful, practical instruction. But does his counsel remain relevant in our day? Today on Truth for Life, we'll examine the basis for Paul's authority and determine how that makes a difference in our lives.
Here's Alistair Begg with Part 1 of a message titled, Tightly Packed. I invite you to turn with me to the letter of Paul to Titus towards the end of the New Testament, and we're going to read just the first four verses. Titus chapter 1 verse 1. Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began, and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command 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. We pray together. Lord, as we turn to the Bible now, we need your help both to be able to speak and to listen, to pay attention to understand, to believe. You prepared us by bringing us here. You prepared your preacher that his lips might speak for you. You have prepared us by providing for us the Bible that we can read. And so with that preparation and that accompanying sense of expectation, we look to you now.
Meet with us, Lord, we pray, and help us for your Son's sake. Amen. Well, we tried to begin Titus. I said to my wife when I went home, that was a little over the place, wasn't it? There was a pause, and she said, Yes, it was actually. I hadn't a clue where you were going. So I said, Well, thank you for the encouragement. And she said, Well, you shouldn't ask.
But here we are, and we're going to slow the pace and narrow the focus. Paul has left Titus in Crete to shepherd and teach the church. Crete is not a very nice place. I'm not saying today it was not a very nice place. One of the historians at the time said it was almost impossible to find personal conduct more treacherous or public policy more unjust than in Crete.
Personal conduct that was treacherous and public policy that was unjust. And for those of us who are tempted to bemoan our circumstances here in Cleveland or in the vastness of America, just a careful reading of church history will remind us of how vastly different our circumstances are from those who were living in the congregations that were settled in the island of Crete. This is actually a wonderful place to live. It is a great nation.
There are so many freedoms and opportunities that are ours. And we do no service to ourselves or to our fellow members in society by becoming the company of the moaning and the groaning and the bemoaning. It is a bad thing when the Christian who has supposedly lifted his eyes up and beyond things finds himself buried in that kind of preoccupation. So I warn you against it. I warn myself against it. They were in Crete.
We are in Cleveland. Paul's concern for the church there, we could summarize in three words. He was concerned that it would be tidy—tidy in the sense of verse 5, left you there so that you might put what remained into order and appoint elders in every church. Another kind of tidiness that some of us are capable of, where we pile things into a closet and manage just to make the door close, hoping that no one will ever have occasion to open it, because then they will see just how untidy our attempt at tidiness has been. But rather, the tidiness that comes about as a result of doing things God's way, and particularly ensuring that the leadership of the church is put together according to God's plan.
To that will come later. Tidy, and secondly, healthy. That the church there would be healthy.
If you look at verse 13 of this opening chapter, you will see that the people who are teaching falsehoods are to be rebuked sharply with the purpose that they may be sound in the faith. That word there, sound, might equally be translated healthy. In other words, spiritually healthy.
And you find it coming immediately at the beginning of chapter 2. As for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Healthy. Tidy, healthy, and lovely.
Lovely. He says of the slaves that they shouldn't be argumentative, they shouldn't be stealing stuff, but they should live in such a way that they adorn the gospel of grace. In other words, that they make the story of the gospel attractive by the loveliness of their lives.
And, of course, that word extends beyond the boundaries of Crete and comes to us with relevance this morning. And when this is true of a local congregation, then it will stand as an attractive contrast to some who profess to know God but who deny him by their actions. And they're referenced at the end of chapter 1, verse 16. These individuals who were religious, they had much to say about God, but there was a dissonance, there was a gap between their creed and their conduct, between the way that they profess their faith and the way that their faith function. And so Paul says, you should know that these individuals are detestable, they're disobedient, and they're actually disqualified.
They're unfit for any good work. There's no point in giving them a job in the church, because they'll just be a complete menace to you. So, he then proceeds to provide us with one long sentence by way of introducing his letter. And these four verses are tightly packed with truth. And in an endeavor to save us from getting bogged down in the sentence, or alternatively, skimming superficially over the top of it, I want us to consider the opening four verses from the perspective first of Paul's position, then Paul's purpose, then Paul's preaching, and then Paul's partner. So first of all, then, let us look at what we're told about Paul's position. He describes himself, first of all, as a servant of God. A servant of God.
Now, that may not seem like very much of an introduction in these days of blogging and Twittering and self-aggrandisement, where people post online totally irrelevant information that none of us should have any real concern to pay attention to, and often just the exaltation of the self runs rampant. And all such individuals would be thoroughly disappointed with an introduction like this, Paul, a servant of God. But it actually was a title which Berkeley says mingled humility and legitimate pride. The pride lay in actually being described as a servant of God, being called this of all things. It wasn't a task for which he had applied and which he had received an appointment to on the basis of his giftedness, but it rather was a task to which he had been appointed by God's grace.
And the wonder of it was that he now shared the same designation as is reserved throughout the Bible for some of the choicest saints of God. The prophets were described as servants of God, as the ones who were the recipients of the secrets of God. Let me just illustrate it for you in the Old Testament. You can turn here, if you choose, to Joshua and to chapter 1, where we read these statements concerning Moses. After the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' assistant, said, Moses, my servant is dead.
Therefore arise. You go down to verse 7, and you find him designated in the exact same way. I want you to be careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. If you go down to verse 13, you find there, remember the word that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you. If you go to verse 15, then you shall return to the land of your possession and shall possess it the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you.
Do you think that God wants us to know about Moses' position? Again and again and again, Moses the servant of the Lord. Joshua takes over from him. And when you read all the way through the book of Joshua, you find that finally, on his deathbed, he receives the same designation.
And at the end of chapter 24, it reads, And after these things, Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died. Now, keep in mind that Paul wasn't missing any credentials. It wasn't that when he thought about introducing himself, he had nothing that he could have written—no qualifications, no significant background, no fine education.
No, he had all of that. But he introduces himself because he has been arrested and amazed by the same grace that he is now about to remind the readers of. He would have been happy to concur with the psalmist that the job of a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord would be far more significant than pitching his tent in the realm of wickedness.
It is actually a striking thing that he introduces himself in such a simple, humble, wonderful fashion. What is your position, Paul? A servant of God. A servant of God. Secondly, an apostle of Jesus Christ. An apostle of Jesus Christ. So he's a servant of God, and he's been sent by Jesus. He's part of a unique and unrepeatable group who had the privilege of witnessing the ministry of the Lord Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus. And you will recall, if you know your Bible, that in Acts Luke tells us of the occasion when Paul, Saul of Tarsus, discovers that Jesus Christ is actually Lord.
He responds by saying, Who are you, Lord? And in the ensuing moments, Ananias is given the responsibility of nurturing and caring for this Saul of Tarsus, because, says God, he is my chosen instrument to bear my name before the Gentiles. And it is because he was set apart as an apostle of God that his words carried the authority that they carry. He was given, as an apostle, an insight into the secrets of God. So, for example, in 1 Corinthians 2, 9, Eye has not seen nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for them that love him. But he has revealed it to us, says Paul.
He has revealed it to us. And to the apostles has been given this insight in order that they in turn may both speak the Word of God and write the Word of God. Now, the reason this is important to understand is because the apostles are long gone.
They are all dead and buried. So where, then, do we have apostolic authority? It doesn't lie in bishops.
It doesn't lie in a line that comes from the sea of Rome. Apostolic succession does not run down a line of those appointed in that way. No, the authority of the apostles is left to us in the authority of Scripture. God has breathed out. The apostles have written them down. They now are removed from us, and we obey their word.
Why? Because it is the Word of God. Otherwise, on what basis could Paul possibly say to Timothy, in 2 Timothy 2, 2, and the things that you've heard me say—what you heard me say? You entrust to faithful men who will then be able to teach others also. Who does he think he is?
I want you to make sure that the things you heard me say you tell other men, so that those other men may tell other men. Wherein lies the authority as a servant of God and as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Bruce Milne, in his most helpful book Know the Truth—which if you don't have a copy of, you should buy one and refer to it frequently—he makes this wonderful statement. He says the apostles stand between Jesus and subsequent generations of Christians.
Okay? So you have Christ. He's now ascended into heaven. He pours out his Spirit upon his people, and he gives to his apostles the responsibility to proclaim the Word of God and in turn to have it written. We reach him—that is, Jesus— only by way of the apostles. And their testimony incorporated in the New Testament. We reach Jesus by way of the apostolic truth which is given to us, recorded for us, left to us in our New Testaments. Now, you see, the significance of this—people are going around wearing bracelets saying, What would Jesus do?
They've kind of died out now, and I'm fairly glad they have. It has seemed very pious at the time. But the fact is, half the time we wouldn't know what Jesus would do.
So it was kind of a silly question. The real question should be, What does God's Word say? Because the only way that we can find out what Jesus did or would do or has done is in the Bible.
Not in our heads, not in our imaginations, not in ex cathedra statements made by those who are religious professionals, but in the Scriptures. So Paul says to Titus, Here I am, Titus, and realize this is both a private letter, but it's also a public letter. Why would he be telling Titus that he was a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ? Titus would have said, I know that.
Because the letter would get a public reading. And so the people who are hearing it are reminded of the fact that, Here is Paul. Here is Paul. And this is where his authority lies, and this is the basis of his humility.
That's the first thing. His position as a servant and a sent one. Secondly, his purpose. Why is he a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ?
Well, he tells us. For the sake of the faith of God's elect. For the sake of the faith of God's elect. Who are God's elect? The people of God.
Those upon whom God has set his love. The storyline of the Bible is the storyline of God taking the initiative in seeking out a people who are his very own. Completely out of the blue, as it were, from a human perspective, he calls Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees. He calls Abraham to himself, and he entrusts to Abraham the privileges that will flow from him, and tells him that through his seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed. By the time you get to the book of Deuteronomy, you have the record of what God is doing and why God has acted as he's acted.
And let me just read to you Deuteronomy 7 and verse 6. God says, For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It wasn't because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you.
For you were the fewest of all peoples. But it is because the LORD loves you, and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh the king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love," and so on, for a thousand generations, and so on. When you get to the New Testament, you find that the apostles pick up this terminology and use it to describe all who have been embraced by the Lord Jesus Christ, so that the elect of God comprises those who in every age have been redeemed on the basis of the work of Jesus on the cross, so that the Old Testament believers have been redeemed, put right with God, on the strength of a sacrifice that was prospective to them. The New Testament believers, and all subsequently, are redeemed on the strength of a sacrifice that is retrospective to us. But all who are included in the family of God are there as a result of grace through faith. And so you have this amazing juxtaposition of the people of God of the Old Testament being married into those who are added in the New Testament. The one who is a child of Abram is not, says Paul, the one who has been circumcised or comes from a certain lineage, but it is the one who shares the faith of Abraham, and the one who, like Abraham, has been declared righteous in God's sight, who has been justified. Now, there's tremendous mystery in that, but there is no dilemma in it when you realize that it sits on the very surface of the Scriptures. So here we are with the reality of the doctrine of election.
Three things concerning it. Number one, it is a biblical doctrine. It is a biblical doctrine. Secondly, it therefore follows that it is an essential doctrine. It's essential.
And thirdly, it is practical. It is practical in the sense that in the face of all that threatens to unhinge us and to undo us, the children of God are able to rest in the security of the initiative of God. We saw that, didn't we, when we studied Romans chapter 8? What shall we say, then, in response to all of this? If God be for us, who can be against us? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies, who is to condemn, and so on. So when we find ourselves confronted by all these onslaughts, when we are made aware of our own propensity to wander and to stray, our security lies in the fact that we've been loved before the dawn of time.
Now, that is an immense thought, isn't it? He chose us in him, says Paul to the Ephesians, before the creation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless in his sight. So that the significant identifying feature of these Christians in Crete was going to be not simply the healthiness of their doctrine, but the loveliness of their lives. It's not just what we believe or what we say that matters when it comes to representing Christ. It's how we live as well.
You're listening to Alistair Begg, and this is Truth for Life. We've been learning today about the Apostle Paul's concern that the Church would be organized according to God's plan, that it would be sound in faith, and that members would live in a way that would make the Gospel attractive to others. That concern is just as relevant for today's Church. That's why we are recommending to you Toni Morita's new book Love Your Church, Eight Great Things About Being a Church Member. This book is all about why it's important and how important it is for believers to be active in and contributing members of a local church. The New Testament describes the local church as an essential part of life for those who follow Jesus.
And in this book, Toni Morita points out that membership isn't optional. We're called to worship together, to care for one another in Christian love. In this book, you'll look at eight privileges and responsibilities that accompany being a church member, including the responsibility to welcome and witness and to send out the Gospel message and mission. This is a book that will help invigorate your love for your church and help you put that love into action whether you're new to your church or you've been attending for years. Request the book Love Your Church when you donate to support the teaching you hear on this ministry. You can tap the book image you see on the mobile app or visit our website, truthforlife.org slash donate. If you'd prefer, you can call us.
Our number is 888-588-7884. By the way, the author of the book Love Your Church, Toni Morita, has been invited to join Alistair as a guest speaker at this year's Basics Conference for pastors and men involved in church leadership. The conference will take place May 2nd through the 4th.
The theme is Back to Basics. Along with Toni Morita, Alistair and John Woodhouse will be speaking. If you're in ministry, you can register online at BasicsConference.org. I'm Bob Lapine. We hope you can join us tomorrow when we'll find out why the doctrine of election doesn't absolve us from a responsibility to preach and believe the Gospel. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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