common faith

Christ Covenant ChurchTitus 1
Marq Toombs
3 August 2014
Sermon Text: Titus 1:1-4

Today we are starting a new series on the Book of Titus called Unfinished Business. 

Think of this church as a building project that was already started but not yet completed. A lot of work has been done, but there is still a lot of work to do. We have unfinished business to take care of, and the book of Titus is going to help us do it phase by phase.

Today we will focus on Phase One: the foundation which is God our Savior.

We have a lot of unfinished business to take care of. So with the help of God our Savior, we will straighten out what is crooked, work out the kinks, fill up what is lacking, and polish off the leftovers.

But first things first.

Our sermon text for today is Titus 1:1-4. Hear the word of the Lord:

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.

May God add his blessing to the reading, hearing, and preaching of his word.

Before we bite into the meat of this book I want to share a little back story with you.

As you know, the letter was written by Paul who was a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. He wrote this letter towards the end of his life, after he was released from house-arrest in Rome (Read the story in Acts 28), before he was imprisoned for the last time and executed.

The letter was addressed to Titus who was one of Paul’s most trusted and reliable coworkers. The letter contains his marching orders; it lays out the contours of his mission and ministry in Crete.

We do not know when or where Paul and Titus met, but we do know that Titus became a Christian through Paul’s teaching and preaching of the gospel, probably in Tarsus or Antioch. That’s why Paul calls Titus “my true child.”

We also know that Paul considered Titus a true partner and fellow worker for the benefit of the church, a man who had the same deep and genuine concern for the Lord’s church in his heart that Paul did.

Here a few snapshots of Titus’ life and ministry that will help you see why Paul thought so highly of him.

On one occasion, Titus accompanied Paul to the Jerusalem Council where the apostles and presbyters met to discuss weighty matters of the law and the gospel, and to debate whether it was necessary for Gentile Christians to be circumcised and to keep the Law of Moses. (Read the story in Acts 15; Gal 2.)

On another occasion, Titus accomplished an important mission of mercy on behalf of Jewish Christians who were suffering as the result of a severe famine. He traveled around the world, from city to city, visiting churches and collecting money for the poor and needy Christians in Judea. (Read the story in 2 Cor 7-8.)

The point of all this is to show that Titus had proven himself to be a man approved by God, a worker who had no need to be ashamed, who rightly handled the word of truth, and faithfully discharged all the duties of his ministry.

Titus earned a good reputation by finishing the work of grace that he started, so Paul charged him to stay in Crete and finish the work that he had started, yet was not able to finish himself.

Titus’ mission was simple and straight-forward: straighten out whatever was crooked and take care of any unfinished business in the churches. No problem!

As we make our way through the letter it will become clearer and clearer that this was no easy task, not even for a minister as experienced as Titus.

Now, the first thing Paul does in the letter is remind Titus that they have a common faith. Not an ordinary faith. Not a dull and boring faith. Not a plain faith. But a shared faith.

In order for Titus to straighten out, build up, and finish out the church he needs to understand that his faith is not just his faith; it is the faith of all God’s people.

The same thing goes for us.

Now we are ready to bite into the meat of this letter.

To keep things as clear and concise as possible, I want us to focus on two things: the foundation of our common faith and the features of our common faith.

Let’s look at these one at a time.

+ THE FEATURES OF OUR COMMON FAITH

Some of the features of our common faith are confession, covenant, and community.[1]

Confessional – Here’s what we mean by confessional. We mean it is the body of doctrine that all Christians everywhere acknowledge, believe, and confess.

When Paul speaks about the faith of God’s elect, he does not mean the subjective, touchy-gooey things that God’s chosen people feel about God, life, the universe, and everything. He means the objective truths and doctrines that all God’s chosen people believe and know about God, life, the universe, and everything.

The faith of God’s elect is not the personal and private faith of individuals, it is the faith that was delivered once for all to the saints in the writings of the apostles; it is the faith that was revealed by Christ to the apostles, and delivered by the apostles to the church. It is the faith that we received from others, not a faith that we regurgitated from ourselves.

As Paul explains in other places, the faith of God’s chosen people is the doctrine and dogma, the teaching and theology, that is based on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Eph 2:20-21)

The faith of God’s chosen people is the teaching and tradition of the apostles of Christ that is kept safe and sound in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. (1 Tim 3:15)

The faith of God’s elect is the faith that all Christians, at all times, and in all places confess because it is true, right, and good — whether we feel like it or not, and whether we like it or not.

Likewise, when Paul speaks about the knowledge of the truth, he assumes that the truth is out there and that it can be known. The word for knowledge can be translated as “full knowledge” or “acknowledge.” I think “full knowledge” is better, but either way you end up at the same place — the truth.

This is a moral issue, not an intellectual one.

Knowledge of the truth is a virtue. Ignorance of the truth is a vice.

The truth is not relative; it is not fluid. It is not determined by cultural situations, social mores, or personal opinions.

The truth is absolute; it is fixed. It is determined by the true and living God and revealed by his Spirit to his people in his word, the Holy Scriptures.

The truth is not shaped by your thoughts or feelings. The truth does not change based on the times and seasons or your beliefs and moods. Why? Because the origin of the truth is God, not man. The truth is eternal, not temporal.

But if that is so, why do men need to proclaim it in space-time history? Why did apostles and prophets preach the faith? Why do evangelists and pastors teach the truth? Why do preachers preach the gospel?

So they can have a career? So they can make money? Or make a name for themselves? Or build an empire? Or hear themselves think out loud? No!

First and foremost, we do it because God calls us to do it.

It pleases God to save sinners, and he could save them any way he wants. He can use extraordinary means (like miracles) and he can use ordinary means (like messengers).

But more often than not, it pleases him to save sinners by the ordinary means of gospel preaching. God takes great pleasure in using ordinary means to achieve extraordinary ends.

And God is pleased to save those who believe the “weakness and foolishness” of gospel preaching, for without faith it is impossible to please the Lord.

Second, we do it because God’s elect need to hear the faith, the truth, the gospel.

We do it all for the sake of God’s chosen people — for Christ’s Covenant Church — that they may know the truth about Jesus and believe him and so be saved.

It’s not always easy, sometimes it is hard. It’s not always pleasant, sometimes it is painful. It’s not always rewarding, sometimes it is costly. But as Paul said, we must endure everything for the sake of God’s elect. Why?! That they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2 Tim 2:10)

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved.”

But how will they call on him in whom they have not believed? They won’t.

And how are they to believe in him whom they have never heard? They won’t.

And how are they to hear without someone preaching? They won’t.

And how are they to preach unless they are sent? They can’t.

So we teach and preach the gospel because faith comes from hearing, and hearing comes through the word of Christ. (Rom 10:13-17)

Now, the faith of God’s elect coupled with the knowledge of the truth should lead us to godliness. Taken together, what this means is that doctrine determines deeds. Like begets like.

Bad doctrine leads to bad deeds. Legalistic doctrine begets legalistic deeds. Moralistic principles beget moralistic practices. Liberal attitudes beget liberal actions. Flesh gives birth to flesh.

But good doctrine begets good deeds. Gracious words beget gracious works. Healthy teaching produces  healthy life. Spirit gives birth to spirit.

The word for godliness means reverence for God. A godly person is not someone knows the truth but does not do it. A godly person is someone who knows the truth and does it. As godly person is someone who takes God seriously enough to put his money where his mouth is and live a God-ward life.

So, that’s what we mean we say our common faith is confessional.

But our common faith is also covenantal.

Covenantal – Here’s what we mean by covenantal. We mean it is based on the character of God who does not lie; we mean it is based on the character of God who makes promises and keeps promises in Christ.

The faith of God’s elect, the knowledge of the truth, and a godly life all point beyond this temporal life to the eternal life to come.

The hope of eternal life is not the expectation that one day we will all escape earth and go to heaven. It is the expectation that the old age of sin and death will be invaded and interrupted by the new age of righteousness and life in Christ

The hope of eternal life is the expectation that God is already putting the world back together, making things right, straightening out what was crooked, and taking care of unfinished business, but he is not yet finished. (And he calls us to participate with him in his gracious work. See Titus 1:5.)

Now, the the faith of God’s elect, the knowledge of the truth, and a godly life all point to the hope of eternal life, but all these things are based on the character of the God who never lies (lit “not lying”).

In eternity past (before times eternal, before the creation of the world) the true and living God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — promised to give eternal life to all who would turn away from sin and trust in Jesus Christ.

Then throughout space-time history God revealed his promise to our forefathers like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Finally, at the proper time — in the fulness of time — the promised hope of eternal life was manifested in Christ, in his word through the preaching of the gospel. What once was shadowy has become reality.

So here is the good news in a nutshell: God never lies; he always tells the truth.

When he promised you the hope of eternal life he meant every word. When he promised to send a savior to rescue you, he kept every word.

When he says he chose you…to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, he means every word.

And when he calls you to faith through our gospel preaching, it is because he wants you to obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (2 Thess 2:13-15)

As we have said many times, the Father arranged for our salvation in eternity past, the Son accomplished our salvation in space-time history, and the Spirit applies our salvation here and now world without end, for the praise of his glorious grace. (Eph 1:3-14)

The point is this: when God desired to give his chosen people more convincing proof for the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things (his purpose and his promise), we who have fled to him for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul: a hope that enters into the most holy place in heaven, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf. (Heb 6:17-20)

God is a promise maker and a promise keeper. It is impossible for God to lie, and it is impossible for God not to tell the truth.

So, that’s what we mean we say our common faith is covenantal.

But our common faith is also communal.

Communal – Here’s what we mean by communal. We mean it is about individuals living together in union with Christ and in communion with one another.

On the one hand, our common faith is horizontal. It is never just about Paul, or Titus, or you, or me. It is always about us. It is for the sake of God’s chosen people, and for their knowledge of the truth, that we live, serve, and work. It is about you, me, and us, sharing life together. One for all, all for one.

On the other hand, our common faith is vertical. Our common faith based on our Savior, the one who rescued us from sin and death, and restored us to fellowship with God.

It is not just about you, me, and us. It is also about the Triune God. Our common faith is about the relationship we enjoy with God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit — especially as grace and peace flow from them to us.

So, that’s what we mean we say our common faith is communal.

To sum up, some of the features of our common faith are confession, covenant, and community.

They are features of our common faith, but they are not the foundation of our common faith.

+ THE FOUNDATION OF OUR COMMON FAITH

The foundation of our common faith is Christ our Savior.

The features of our common faith serve to point us to Christ: So confession is about Christ. Covenant is based on Christ. Community is centered on Christ.

In Paul’s mind Jesus is absolutely crucial. All his teaching and theology can be reduced to this narrow compass: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.

Jesus is the commander who sent Paul on mission to preach the gospel of grace to sinners so that they might turn away from sin and trust in the savior and so be saved.

Jesus is the crux of all things–especially our salvation.

Jesus is the common denominator, the one person, perhaps the only thing, that all God’s people everywhere have in common.

Jesus is the cornerstone of the apostolic and catholic church, from Jerusalem to Antioch, from Rome to Crete, all the way to Mesquite.

We have a lot of unfinished business to take care of. If we intend to make things right, straighten out what is crooked, and take care of unfinished business, we must keep in mind the features of our common faith (confession, covenant, community) and, more importantly, above all else, we must keep in mind the foundation of our common faith — who is Christ Jesus our Savior.

Conclusion

I want to end today with a story. In my reading on Titus I came across a note that John Calvin wrote to two of his coworkers in his commentary on Titus. He dedicated the commentary “to two eminent servants of Christ, William Farell and Peter Viret, dearly beloved brethren and colleagues.” What struck me most about the dedication is what Calvin said to the men in his note:

I endeavor to carry forward, to the best of my ability, that work which you had so well and so successfully begun. This work, I and my colleagues are endeavoring to perform, if not with so great progress as might have been desired, yet heartily and faithfully, according our small ability . . . While each of us occupies his own position, our union brings together the children of God into the fold of Christ, and even unites them in his body . . . May the Lord Jesus continue to bless your pious labors!

He wrote that note in 1549 during one of the one most intense seasons of his life. Not only were his life and ministry threatened by religious and political enemies, but his family was threatened as well. To make matters worse, that same year his wife died of an illness. Nevertheless, he continued to straighten out what was left unfinished for another 15 years.

I am no Calvin, and we are not struggling as much as the church at Geneva did, but I think his words speak volumes to our situation.

This work, this ministry, I, and my fellow pastors and deacons, and our wives, and children, and each and every one of you, and your children — this work, we are striving hard to perform together. Even if we do not yet see all the progress we hope for and desire, still we are working heartily and serving faithfully, according to our small ability.

I am confident the Lord is pleased with us, and our labor in the Lord is not in vain.

But, like you, I am aware that our critics think we are on a fool’s errand. And they are partly right. But even if we are on a fool’s errand, we should keep in mind that “we are fools for Christ and idiots for nobody” (James Sire).

We have a lot of unfinished business to take care of. With the help of God our Savior, we will straighten out what is crooked, work out the kinks, fill up what is lacking, and polish off the remains of the day.

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

Pastoral Prayer — Based on Eph 1:15-20

Since I know of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of glory,
may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,

that you may have the eyes of your hearts enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,
what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,

and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe,
according to the working of his great might

that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead
and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.
For the glory of Christ and the good of his church,
Amen 

Sources:

[1] I got the idea for describing our common faith as confessional and communal came from a sermon on Titus 1:1-4 by Michael Ross. He also described it as Christ-centered, but I substituted covenantal to round out the features of our common faith. I called Christ the foundation of our common faith.

Calvin, Jean et al. Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 2005. Print.

Carson, Donald. An Introduction to the New Testament. 2. ed., [Nachdr.]. Grand Rapids  Mich.: Zondervan, 2008. Print.

Dawn, Marva J, Eugene H Peterson, and Peter Santucci. The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call. Grand Rapids Mich. [etc.]; Vancouver: W.B. Eerdmans ; Recent College, 2000. Print.

Guthrie, Donald. The Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary. Grand Rapids; England: Eerdmans ; Inter-Varsity Press, 1984. Print.

Kelly, J. N. D. The Pastoral Epistles. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993. Print.

Marshall, Ian H. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2003. Print.

Mounce, William D. Pastoral Epistles. Nashville: T. Nelson, 2000. Print.

Thielman, Frank. Theology of the New Testament : A Canonical and Synthetic Approach. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

Wilson, Douglas. Mother Kirk: Essays and Forays in Practical Ecclesiology. Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2001. Print.

Wright, N. T. Paul for Everyone. 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. London; Louisville, KY: SPCK ; Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. Print.

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