By Pastor Glenn Pease
Over the years I have read the mail of many people. It is because it is because I buy a lot of old books and people leave letters and postcards in these old books. Seldom have I found anything worth reading, but the fact is, much of the best reading in history is found in reading other people's mail. The joy of reading other people's letters is that you do not have to answer them.
In the book, A Treasury Of The World's Great Letters, you can find letters from Alexander the Great, Christopher Columbus, Leonardo DaVinci, Michelangelo, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and just a host of famous people all through history. Only one Bible author made it into this book and that was the Apostle Paul. He wrote more of the world's most famous letters than any human being who has ever lived. Nearly half of the New Testament is composed of his letters. When you read the New Testament you are reading a lot of other people's mail. Most of it was written to the church however, and was intended to be read in public. But 4 of Paul's letter were written to individuals as private mail. But they were so instructive and valuable for the whole church that God guided the church to include them in the New Testament.
We want to begin the study of the letter to Titus. He was one of Paul's key troubleshooters. He sent Titus into the church at Corinth where it was going through great turmoil and strong criticism of Paul. It was a delicate mission calling for tact and wisdom. Titus was able to calm the waters and return to Paul with a good report. Paul considered Titus a good friend, but he gave him the dirtiest jobs because he was gifted to handle them. He left Titus in Crete because it was a hard place to grow a church. The people were a bunch of lying, lazy gluttonous brutes. I am not making this up. Paul says so in verse 12 and 13. They had a bad reputation and they deserved it says Paul. This was not the place for his most tender son in the faith-Timothy. This was a job for tough Titus. Paul left him there on the island of Crete and took off. This letter is one he sent back to Ttius to instruct him in the management of this difficult local church.
In the very first paragraph of this letter Paul makes it clear that there are 2 key ingredients in a body of believers becoming a church that brings honor to Christ, and those are faith and knowledge. Paul says that is why he was chosen to be a servant of God and a Apostle of Jesus Christ. It was to impart faith and knowledge to God's elect. These 2 paths lead even the toughest of people to a life of godliness. Without faith and knowledge people live in fear and ignorance, and that is why they are so ungodly. Show me crude and rude ungodliness, and I'll show you people who live in fear and ignorance. Show me poor or rich Christians who live a life pleasing to God and I will show you people who walk in the light because of faith and knowledge. The individual and the church that pleases God and fulfills His purpose in history is one where these two pillars are conspicuous.
How do you get the church in Crete to be a better church? You increase faith and knowledge. Both of these are expandable and capable of growing from lesser to greater. Faith comes in all sizes. Just as you can get a small, medium, or large cone, so you can get a great variety of sizes of faith. In Mark 4:40 Jesus said to His disciples who feared the storm was going to sink them, and they would drown, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" That is the least amount of faith you can have, which is none. The mustard seed size looks pretty good compared to this. So what we see is that a Christian can have anywhere from no faith, to little faith, to great faith. Jesus said to them on another occasion, "Oh you of little faith." It was so little that it did little to overcome their doubts.
Then you have the account of the Centurion who had a severely ill servant, and he told Jesus he did not have to come to his house, but just say the word and he would be healed. Jesus was astonished and said in Matt. 8:10, "I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith." Here was a man with a ton of faith. The Bible gives balance and tells of the Canaanite woman with the demon possessed daughter. She came to Jesus and was so assured that He could heal her daughter that she refused to take no for an answer. Jesus said to her in Matt. 15:28, "Woman, you have great faith," and He healed the daughter.
The point is, faith can be small and weak, or big and strong in either sex, and in every degree in between. The goal of the church is to help Christians move from a mini-faith to a mega-faith. If faith is not growing, the church is failing, for this is a primary purpose of the church. This was Paul's job and the job of Titus, and it is the job of every church leader to help Christians grow in faith. the RSV puts it, "To further the faith of God's elect." Goodspeed has it, "To arouse faith in God's chosen." The Amplified has it, "To stimulate and promote the faith of God's chosen."
The reason the Bible teaches that faith without works is dead is because all works grow out of a living faith. Faith is the foundation for all action. Have you ever had a salesman tell you that his is a great investment, and that you can't go wrong. And yet you could not bring yourself to buy, and the reason is you just did not have an adequate faith. There was too much doubt and fear to overcome, and the result was you took no action. Fear paralyzes and prevents action. You can only take action when there is some degree of faith that motivates you. Without faith you cannot make a commitment. The goal of all sales pitches is to increase your faith, for without faith there will no sale. If you have no faith in the product, or the salesperson, you will not respond, for the will cannot go where faith has not prepared the way.
Faith is the pioneer that blazes new trails, and if faith has not done its job the will cannot stick its neck out into that uncharted territory. Every action we take is based on faith. When faith says jump, and only then, will we take the leap of faith. Faith gives the green light and says go for it. Robert Louis Stevenson said, "Faith forms the axles of the universe. We do nothing apart from some faith. We can't even walk unless we have faith our legs will hold us up. Faith is the working principle of daily life."
Lack of faith is the cause for all of the insecurity and uncertainty of life. Adam and Eve fell because they lacked the faith to believe that God's way was best. Every sin we commit is because we do not have the faith to believe that God's way is better. We worry because we don't have the faith to believe that God will work in all things for our good. We let anxiety rob us of our peace because we do not have the faith to believe that God will give us the strength to handle whatever comes. Every weakness and defect in the Christian life can be traced to a lack of faith, and every strength and virtue can be seen as a product of faith.
Faith and knowledge go together, for you have to have some basis for faith. Faith is trust in somebody or something, and you have to have knowledge to person or truth in order to trust them. If you ask me if I want to ride on a thig-a-magig, I will not be able to respond until you give me some knowledge of what it is. Only when I have enough knowledge to overcome the doubts and fears of ignorance will I have faith to take action. Now I might just have faith in you, and trust that you would not lead me into danger, and so in blind faith follow you to ride on this unknown thing. But it is my knowledge of you that leads me to that step of faith. There has to be some basis in knowledge for faith to be born, and the greater the knowledge, the greater the faith.
But keep in mind that knowledge is not faith. They are two distinct realities. Faith needs knowledge to motivate trust and action, but it does not necessarily lead to that response. What if you inform me that a thig-a-magig is a very high ride where at the peak they let you float to the earth on a parachute. You can explain the whole process so I understand its safety completely. I can be thoroughly convinced, but still not have the faith to act an take a ride. Knowledge can just take you so far. I can believe in the parachute and know beyond a doubt that it is safe, but still not have the faith to take the ride because my faith is not great enough to overcome my fears. I have a fear of heights and this fear makes it impossible for faith to get beyond the level of weak faith. The result is I cannot act on my belief. My knowledge is sufficient, but my faith is not.
If you stay lower to the ground, I have a faith that will take me there, for it is stronger than my fear on that level. The point of all this is to make it clear why faith is so vital to all that we do. If my fear of sharing my faith is stronger than my faith, I will not be a witness for my Lord. My fear of ridicule or rejection will keep me from telling others about the love of Christ. I will be a silent Christian in a world that desperately needs to hear good news. I will know it is a shame, but I won't be able to change unless my faith grows to a point where it is stronger than my fears. This is true in every area of the Christian life. I will not be the Christian I ought to be in any area of life until my faith is stronger than the fears that reign in that sphere of life.
The kind of Christian you are is in direct proportion to your growth in faith. If you remain with weak faith in any area of your Christian life, you are a weak Christian in that area. You are only as strong as your faith, and that is why growth in faith is the very essence of what the Christian life is all about. The strong mature Christian is one who, like a child, leaps off the table, or some other high place, into the arms of the father. It has always amazed me that children can have such trust, for failure on the part of the parent or grandparent could lead to death or serious injury. Yet, they take the leap of faith and do so in full confidence which it makes it fun and not fearful.
If we do take risks for our heavenly Father, it is often with fear and trembling rather than with a sense of joyful adventure. Fear hold us back and robs us of much of the joy of being a child of God.
O for a faith that will not shrink,
Though pressed by every foe;
That will not tremble on the brink
Of any earthly woe!
This was the kind of faith that Paul and Titus had. That is why Titus took the chance of staying in Crete. Fear would have compelled most to move on to safer territory, but Titus took the risk of working with the worst, for he had the faith to believe that God would bless his labors. Without faith it is impossible to please God says the author of Hebrews, and it makes sense why, for without faith you will never be motivated to take a risk for God. Faith is what makes you act and do the things that make you grow and learn, and to become more of what God wants you to be. Faith is the fuel that gets you where you ought to be. Without faith you are stranded and remained locked in at your present level. Only a growing faith can produce a growing Christian.
On the other hand, is the sad state of a Christian who is losing faith. You can lose things and even loved ones and be growing in faith, but when you begin to lose faith you are suffering the greatest lost possible. Someone wrote, "Sad loses have you met, but mine is heavier yet, for a believing heart has gone from me." Those who are not advancing in faith are usually regressing, and this is the key sign of a failing Christian. Their faith is weaker and the result is that they do less and less for the kingdom of God, and they become less and less of a witness, and care less and less about God's Word. The mass of weak Christians is the result of the church not making growth and faith a priority, as it was for Paul.
You only produce a Titus by strong faith. People only take risks and become missionaries, or enter some other life of service because of strong faith. Lay people only become strong leaders in the local church and develop their skills in Christian leadership if their faith is strong. Growing faith is behind every Christian who becomes a leader and a doer. Receding faith is behind every Christian who becomes a dropout and who with draws from service. You are what you believe. That is why G. A. Studdert-Kennedy became a great servant of Christ during the great war. It was hell on earth on the battlefield with many questions without answers, but he served unwaveringly, and the reason he could do was because of his faith. Here is his famous poem that has been quoted millions of times in sermons around the world.
"I know not why the evil,
I know not why the Good, both mysteries
Remained unsolved, and both insoluble.
I know that both are there, the battle set,
And I must fight on this side or that.
I can't stand shiv'ring on the bank, I plunge,
Head first. I bet my life on Beauty, Truth,
And Love, not abstract but incarnate Truth,
Not Beauty's passing shadow but its Self.
It's very self made flesh, Love realized.
I bet my life on Christ-Christ crucified.
You want to argue? Well,
I can't. It is a choice. I choose the Christ."
He was a Titus who served in a tough situation because he had the faith to take risks for his Lord. Men and women of faith produce fruit no matter how tough the situation. Titus built people up in Crete even, and it is people of faith who go on producing fruit in places where others see no value. Tennyson in "The Ancient Saga" wrote of faith.
"She sees the best that glimmers through the worst;
She feels the Sun is hid but for a night.
She spies the summer through the winter bud.
She tastes the fruit before the blossom falls;
She finds the fountain where they wail'd mirage!"
So what if Cretans are creeps. A man of faith can see them become mature children of God by increasing their faith. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world and all of the obstacles in the way of sinners becoming saints pleasing to God. Most Christians know they have little faith. They spell their faith with a small f, and they feel very inferior about it. God knew this would be the case, and that is why He chose men like Paul and Titus to be faith builders in the early church. The church never could have survived without these kinds of men to cultivate faith.
J. N. D. Kelly, the great scholar, says of these opening verse of Titus, "Defines more completely than any other New Testament passage the scope and function of apostleship." If the goal is the growth in faith of God's people, then the purpose of the Bible is the same, and that is to help Christians grow in faith. It provides the knowledge they need to grow in faith. Bible study is not just a past time, but it is a striving to increase our faith by gaining the knowledge we need to exercise faith. You cannot have faith in what God has promised if you do not know what He has promised. You cannot claim what you do not know.
Paul says the faith and knowledge he aims for is that which is based on the hope of eternal life, which God promised before the beginning of time. We see some complexity here, for now hope is thrown in as the basis for faith and knowledge. We can easily get confused here, and so what we tend to do is just skip over this introduction like we often do to that of other books, and not even try to figure it out. To simplify matters let me use the engine in your car as analogy. It has spark plugs and a fuel pump and wires of all kinds. It looks quite complicated. If you take each part out and lay it by itself it does not do anything. It is just a part. But together they become a machine, and they work in harmony to give power to get you to your destination. That is the way it is with the parts of the Christian life. Each by itself is just a part. It is only as they are put together that they work in harmony to get you where God wants you to be.
When we study the Bible we are often like someone browsing in a parts department. We study faith, and then knowledge, and then hope, and we tend to forget they all work together as a total package. It is conceivable that you could become an expert in the parts department and never drive a car. The goal of Bible study is not just to learn to identify the parts of the Christian life, but to get them in working order together so they propel you on to Christian growth. The study of Titus is not so any of us can be ready for a quiz, or be better prepared for Bible trivia, but that we each become more effective and fruitful Christians of faith.
Knowledge of the truth leads to godliness says Paul. In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Jesus is the truth and the author of all truths. He had a love for people, plants, animals, and all of creation. He makes this clear in His use of knowledge from every aspect of creation in His parables. Christians are expected to be students, for knowing is the companion of faith, and of all doing. This is true in the secular realm of life as well. Admiral Peary, the Artic explorer reported that men with more knowledge withstood the rigors of the North better than those who had less knowledge. Months of nothing but endless ice impoverished the souls of those who depended upon their environment for life's interests. Those who had rich resources within because of their greater knowledge could draw upon that when cut off from the world outside.
The Christian who knows more of the Word of God can be content and even delighted in a waste land of boredom. They have inner resources that others do not possess. Take a boring sermon for example. The Christian with little knowledge is forced to wander and find water in some oasis in the desert of their own imagination. But the knowledgeable Christian can be thinking of truths that are being missed or poorly communicated, and they can use even the badly lighted path to take them into the deeper riches of God's Word. The point is, knowledge will help you redeem the time that otherwise would be wasted.
Knowledgeable Christians will always be more enthusiastic where those who don't know will tend to be bored. The more you know of the Bible, the more you can appreciate how all knowledge and all truth relate to God's Word. Ignorance cuts you off from so many of the wonders of the world, for you cannot see how everything it is fits into a part of God's plan. Science and history, and art, and everything you can imagine are all a part of the fascinating work of God. Those who do not know of the vast variety in God's revelation do not see how all of life and knowledge fit into God's plan. The more you know of the Bible, the more you know that all truth is God's truth. There may be some exceptions, however, like the epitaph I read,
Here lies poor Johnnie,
Late husband of Ruth.
She asked how her hair looked,
He told her the truth.
The letter of Titus stresses the importance of not lying like the Cretans, but of telling the truth. But even Paul might have made an exception for poor Johnnie. Something that is true is not necessarily the truth. When Paul writes of knowledge of the truth he is referring to knowledge of what God has revealed. That is what leads to godliness. The less we know of God's revealed word, the less we can live a godly life because we would just not know what godliness is in many situations.
The Bible deals with more of life than anyone can imagine. I have studied the Bible for over 40 years and I have not begun to cover all that it reveals. There is no end to growing in the knowledge of the truth. But that is what makes it exciting, for there is endless new ideas and insights which make Christian growth and adventure for all of life. The bottom line is, knowledge and faith and hope work together to give the Christian the motivation to obey God whatever the cost, for he is assured that even if he dies by his obedience he has eternal life, and so he cannot lose.
Knowledge is basic, but we need to keep in mind that the Christian life does not consist in accepting a creed. It is more a matter of trusting God. It is of little value to believe all that is true, but not do what God wills. You have to trust God and act to be a growing Christian. Adding information to your head is not enough. Hoping, knowing, and trusting all lead to living the Christian life more effectively. You can ask which is most important, but it is like asking which is the most important part of a hammer. Is it the head or the handle? One without the other is not a hammer. It takes both together to be the tool it is meant to be. So it is with these Christian virtues. They all work together to make us what we ought to be.
Knowledge helps us gain from the past; hope helps us gain from the future, and faith brings them together to motivate us to act in the present. I believe the sun is 93 million miles away, but I do not act any special way because of that knowledge. It is true, but it has no impact on my life. Truth is knowledge that does effect our life, behavior, and attitudes. Every time we come to church, read the Bible, our prayer should be, "Lord help me to see truth that will increase my faith so I, like Paul and Titus, can be willing to take chances for your kingdom.