Saturday, July 28, 2018

Reading Through Paul’s Letter to Titus

cornerstone tim to hebI am continuing my devotional study of Paul’s “pastoral” letters. I am reading  Paul’s letter to Titus accompanied by The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. The 2 Timothy commentary is written by John Laansma. Paul wrote to Titus to instruct him to organize the church in Crete, develop godly leadership, oppose false teaching and disciple the new converts there into a lifestyle that showed God's grace at work in their lives. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

In the first chapter Paul jumps right into the issue. His greeting outlines the basis of the ministry Titus was called to and into which he would ordain and train leaders. God has entrusted his word to people who are gifted to train others in understanding and applying the scriptures, especially the message about Jesus and what he has done. As grace is applied the church grows. Thus, elders must be people of integrity who demonstrate the work of grace in their behavior, families, and relationships and are able to teach that to others. This is important because the surrounding culture (each culture has its own manifestation of God's image, but also its own pet sins that demonstrate its rebellion against God) is trying to influence people away from grace. Thus, Titus must appoint leaders who will stand against the false teachers and be shining examples of gracious living.

The church has the profound privilege of sharing in the work that Christ came to do; our work in the present is an extension of his saving appearance in the past... In some sense, which is only hinted at, we participate in eternal life now. Titus 1.1-4, 227

The elder-overseer must be a theologian, deep and true. This is true for whatever the precise form the job profile takes in a given church or cultural setting. That person must be steeped in the Scriptures, must be schooled in the church’s teaching, and must possess the ability to teach the Good News in truth and correct error. Titus 1.5-9, 241

Paul’s argument seems to assume the fact that sin and evil were not for him merely abstractions and universals. They always take particular forms within the world, uniquely expressing themselves in each time and culture. Our own struggles with sin, too, are not merely struggles with a timeless, transcendent reality but with the concreteness that sin has taken in our culture and society, both locally and globally. Titus 1.10-16, 249

Thus, the church must be characterized by grace in its teaching and behavior. The mature people must be able to live as examples of people who know the word and are able understand how to apply it in their specific cultural, family and social situations. Grace should not result in license, but in disciplined, serving, and loving lifestyles that are attractive to the people within the culture around them, even as they change many aspects of that culture to bring them into step with the movement of grace in their midst. The church does this in the world because that is how Jesus came to them. He meets people where they are and changed them into the image of God they were meant to be. If believers really understand this they will want to be like Christ. God's grace changes people!

Application must have a theological basis or it withers and dies. Once again, theology (which is not merely propositional, but it is propositional) is the soil in which right living grows or the vine from which it sprouts. Application without theology is a cut flower, beautiful only for a short while. The modern church craves relevance and authentic living. That is very good. But if this represents a neglect of the underlying wholesome teaching in all its depth and richness, things will not fare well for long. Titus 2.1-10, 260

Receiving God’s grace means more than just getting a ticket out of hell. It means “getting on board” with what God is doing in the world. The language of the past and future “saving appearances” of Christ is exciting stuff, and we are called to participate in it—to be a part of the game, not merely to applaud it; to join the struggle, not merely to watch it. Titus 2.11-15, 272

This doesn't mean it will be easy. Believers need to work hard, be good citizens, stand for grace and sometimes endure opposition and persecution because of their stand. All these things must be handled as Christ handled them. The ultimate purpose of grace is that you might share in Christ’s character for all eternity. Believers must Work hard to give God’s grace to others as He has given grace to them.

For both Paul and Jesus, believers are those who follow their lead into the public square, and the good works have a point that goes well beyond staying under the speed limit, keeping a nice lawn, and paying the bills on time. The ambition is larger: the promotion of faith, love, and hope, justice, mercy, and faithfulness to whatever degree possible, always with a view to the expansion of the ultimate and perfect salvation and life that are in Christ. Titus 3.1-8, 281

Certainly this depiction of God’s behavior in salvation was meant to serve as a model for the behavior of the Cretans toward their compatriots. Titus 3.1-11, 285

As individual believers center their identity in Christ, this means they also center their identity within the body of Christ, the church. It has been noted more than once in the preceding commentary that Paul’s churches were sharing in and animated by the same life-giving vision that propelled his own apostolic mission. The spiritual gifts of the body are distinct, and the individual members of the church accordingly have different responsibilities, but the body as a whole is unified in its purpose and activity. Titus 3.12-15, 295

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