For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you…
In verse 5, the apostle Paul turns from greeting Titus and begins to instruct him. Titus is a pastor on the island of Crete. What is he supposed to do? How does he fulfill his ministry?
Titus’s first job is to “set in order what remains.” So is yours.
The church is God’s field and God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:9). Fields and buildings need constant work, constant tending. They need to be ordered, and the work is never done. Pastors are God’s workers, breaking up hard soil, planting, watering, weeding. They are God’s construction workers, laying foundations, putting up studs, finishing trim.
The work is never done.
Those whom God has called to preach His word He has appointed as masons in the building of His temple. In the same way He desires us to be busy, each in his own sphere… Even when God graciously allows His word to be purely preached to us, and even when some tolerable order prevails among us, let us remind ourselves that all is not perfect and that the work is never truly done. This should not dampen our spirits but should rather prod and prompt us to observe Paul’s injunction and to follow his advice.
If you relax in your work, the weeds start to grow and the paint starts to peel.
But the first things that needs to be set in order is ourselves.
Let each of us look to himself and carefully consider what it is he lacks. We will find that we are still subject to many faults, so that we completely fail to do our duty. Then too, we are so lazy that we do not do a hundredth part of what we should. We ought to turn our thoughts to the life of heaven and, as we pass through this world, to subdue all our evil desires so that they no longer hold us back. Instead, we can hardly even bring ourselves to think, however fleetingly, of heaven. In short, when it comes to looking to God and seeking the life to which He calls us, we are colder than ice. Meanwhile, we are carried away by a surge of feeling and desire. So when we see that we lack so many things in this world, let us be all the readier to correct ourselves, and having done that, to consider the world around us, where we see blasphemy on the one hand and on the other immorality, unruliness, indulgence and other scandals and infections. These things, I say, ought to wake us up, so that we are not so arrogant as to think ourselves so perfect that no further work is required.
Pastor, what do you lack? Where are you lazy? Where do you fail to do your duty?
Calvin says “we.” “We are so lazy that we do not do a hundredth part of what we should.” Anyone who knows Calvin’s constant labor as a pastor should blush to hear him lump himself with the lazy. If Calvin is lazy, then what am I?
If we fail to put ourselves in order, we will not put anything else in order, either. If we fail to save ourselves, how can we save those who hear us?
Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you (1 Timothy 4:15–16).
To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
Every pastor should be a father. Every pastor should have sons.
I’m not talking about biological children, but spiritual ones. A pastor is a father in God’s household, the church. Of course, the norm for pastors is that they do have biological (or adopted) children; that’s the basis for judging their suitability for leading the church:
He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?) (1 Timothy 3:4, 5).
But there are examples from Scripture and history of good and godly pastors who were single or childless. But like the apostle Paul, they still had children. They were still fathers.
For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel (1 Corinthians 4:15).
If you are not a father “through the gospel,” then you do not belong in pastoral ministry. It is of the essence of your calling to have spiritual children. You are not a businessman or a counselor or a public speaker. You are a father.
Titus was Paul’s “true child in a common faith.” It’s likely that Titus was converted under Paul’s preaching and witness. Do you have children in a common faith? Children who have God as their Father because of your faithfulness?
But there was another man that Paul called a son. This man was not converted under Paul’s ministry, but Paul was certainly his father. That man was Timothy.
To Timothy, my beloved son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord (2 Timothy 1:2).
Timothy was not a fruit of Paul’s evangelistic work. He was already a disciple when Paul first met him (Acts 16:1). Timothy learned the wisdom that leads to salvation on his mother’s and grandmother’s knees (2 Timothy 1:5, 3:15). And yet, Paul was his father, Timothy his beloved son.
Paul took Timothy under his wing. He taught him how to be a shepherd, how to preach, how to lead God’s people. Paul was his teacher, his mentor, his father. This is especially sweet when we remember that Timothy’s earthly father was not a believer (Acts 16:1). Timothy needed a spiritual father—not to beget him, but to raise him up to be a man of God.
Pastor, do you have this sort of spiritual sons? Younger men who look to you for counsel, rebuke, advice? Men whom you have trained up for the work of the ministry?
Our world is filled with fatherless men. Their fathers were either absent or unbelieving, yet God is calling them to be fathers themselves—at home, in the church, and in the city. They need you.
There is nothing sweeter than to look back on your life and to see the fruit borne by your sons. Be sure that when you grow old, you have many of them.
The apostle Paul never hesitates to assert his authority. His authority rests on two pillars: God's Word and God's calling. He says that God entrusted him with "the proclamation." Then he says he was entrusted with this proclamation "according to the commandment of God our Savior."
This "proclamation" is connected with his office. He is a public herald, an official representative of the King. His message is the King's message. It is a public message, a message to be cried out from the roof tops and street corners. It is most certainly not a secret message for the initiated, not a private message to be enjoyed within the fellowship of believers only. It is a message to be declared as far and wide as the King's realm extends—to the ends of the earth. It carries with it the universal authority of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20).
And Paul did not choose this office of public herald. It was bestowed on him "according to the commandment of God." To be sure, it is a great honor. But, "No one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God" (Hebrews 5:4). And God calls and appoints men as He sees fit, by His will and authority. John Calvin says, "He declares that it was by God's command, meaning that God did not choose him because he was the fittest and ablest, but because such was His good pleasure" (Sermons on Titus, pg. 31).
What can we learn from this?
First, if you are a pastor, the same is true of you. You have authority by virtue of God's Word and God's calling. You have been appointed as a herald. Your job is to publicly proclaim the Word of the King. Are you? Or are you apologizing for His word, shaving it down, adulterating it (2 Corinthians 4:2)? Are you a herald or a huckster, peddling the word of God for your own gain (2 Corinthians 2:7)?
Second, you didn't make yourself a herald. God did. He gave you gifts and graces. He caused a local church to recognize your gifts and character and to set you apart in the office of pastor. You did not ordain yourself. And your message is not your own—it is His word. He entrusted you with a message to preach, to proclaim, and He did this by His command. You cannot escape it, you cannot throw it off, and you dare not neglect or misuse it. You are a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God, and "it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy" (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). Are you?
Third, if you are in fact a faithful herald, bearing the true message of the King, then you will bear the reproach of men. Are you ready for that? Remember what the apostle Paul said of himself: “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). If you can't take reproach, God has not called you. But if they hate you and reject your message, remember that they are actually rejecting God.
All of these lessons assume that you have in fact been called by God to your office. False teachers have always claimed God's authority. What audacity! Can you imagine the judgment stored up for those who claim to speak for God, but who are liars? The Lord Himself told His prophet, Jeremiah, what false heralds can expect, and it is dreadful:
Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds. Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who are prophesying in My name, although it was not I who sent them—yet they keep saying, ‘There will be no sword or famine in this land’—by sword and famine those prophets shall meet their end! The people also to whom they are prophesying will be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and the sword; and there will be no one to bury them—neither them, nor their wives, nor their sons, nor their daughters—for I will pour out their own wickedness on them” (Jeremiah 14:14-16).
“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, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, but at the proper time manifested, even His word…”
Do you have hope as a pastor? What is your hope?
The Apostle Paul’s ministry was fueled by hope. He served well as “a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ…in the hope of eternal life.” And his hope was well-founded, resting on the truthfulness of the God “who cannot lie.”
The Apostle is not far from his Master. Our Lord Jesus was also fueled by hope. He endured the cross for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). He knew the nations were His, but only after He had suffered (Psalm 2:8).
What was the object of Paul’s hope? God’s ancient promise of eternal life revealed in His word.
In hope we are saved (Romans 8:24). It’s an anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:19). It purifies us (1 John 3:3). It’s our helmet, protecting us in battle (1 Thessalonians 5:8). Without it, we perish (Colossians 1:23).
And this hope gave power to Paul’s preaching. “Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech” (2 Corinthians 3:12).
Do you use great boldness in your speech? If not, your hope is weak.
Without the confidence that God’s word is true, you will not speak as you ought. You will waffle and weasel. You will apologize for God’s word. You will not proclaim it boldly. How could you? You are not anchored by the sure and steadfast hope that God is true, though every man be found a liar.
And you must hope it is true—not just theoretically—but for your soul. Do you believe it? Do you rest in God’s promise for your own salvation? In earlier times, those who wrote books for pastors never assumed their readers were true Christians. Their first exhortation to pastors was be sure you have eternal life. So, do you? Is your fear a fruit of your faithlessness? Did you enter seminary or the ministry for any other reason than your hope of eternal life? If so, your ministry will be useless.
Pastor, what is your hope? Peace in your time? No conflict in your church? In your family? To grow old and retire in peace?
You know better. Those hopes weaken you. The only hope that will strengthen your spine is the solid hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago. It’s the hope that you hold in your hand, even His word.
“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…”
In my last post, I said that God has given you your position of authority in the church to use “for the faith of those chosen of God.” The apostle Paul goes further: God has given you your position “for the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness.”
Truth is the bedrock of your calling. You are to preach God’s Word, and His Word is truth (John 17:17). You must accurately handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). You are a father in the household of God, “which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). You are never to walk in craftiness or adulterate the Word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commend yourself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 4:2). You must with gentleness correct those who oppose you, “if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25).
With the apostle Paul, your duty is to “do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Corinthians 13:8).
Because the truth is according to godliness.
You must get this, pastor: the point of your ministry is not to proclaim the truth as an end in itself. The point of your teaching is not to demonstrate the perfections of your theological understanding. The point is godliness.
And this is the test of your teaching: does it lead to godliness? If not, you are not teaching the truth, no matter how orthodox you think you are.
So look at your life. Look at your people. Does your preaching and teaching mortify their sins or mollify their sins? Does it frighten or flatter? Does it help your people stand against the particular evils of our day or does it make them blind to the particular evils of our day?
This is why your doctrine matters. True doctrine leads to godliness. False doctrine leads to sin.
Our forefathers understood this:
“That truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness; according to our Saviour's rule, ‘by their fruits ye shall know them:’ And that no opinion can be either more pernicious or absurd, than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a man's opinions are. On the contrary...there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise, it would be of no consequence either to discover truth, or to embrace it" (Preliminary Principles of the Form of Government for the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1788).
This isn’t rocket science, but sadly, so-called biblical, reformed churches and seminaries in America fail to understand it.
Theistic evolution? No big deal. Egalitarianism? No big deal. Hell is just the absence of God’s presence? No big deal. The only duty of Christians is to believe more? No big deal.
But it is a big deal. For every Tullian Tchividjian there are a hundred unknown pastors who have drunk from his poison well. And for every pastor who has drunk from his poison well, there are thousands of Christians who have made shipwreck because of that teaching.
The blood of those fallen saints is on the hands of every teacher whose “truth” is not according to godliness.
“Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God…”
Paul’s servanthood and apostleship were not for himself.
Your pastorate is not for yourself.
Paul was a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ “for the faith of those chosen of God.” His relationship to God (slave) and his relationship to the believers (apostle—one sent by Christ with authority) were not for the sake of his reputation or his comfort. They were for God’s people.
The same is true of your status in the church: slave of God and leader of men. God gave you these to use—not for your sake, but for the faith of God’s elect.
Brothers, use your servanthood and your leadership to build up the people under your care. You are a slave of God. You are under His command. Everything you do as a pastor or elder must be according to His will. And the will of your Master is that you strengthen the faith of His people. But how can you strengthen the faith of God’s people if you flatter them? If you make them think twice about the truth and justice of God’s commands? If instead of showing them what it means to be a man under authority, you yourself are a rebel?
And that’s exactly what we are when we trim God’s Word for the sake of our own comfort. I am no servant of God when I twist His Word to serve myself.
As a slave of God, you must do exactly what God commands. And God has commanded you to exercise authority in the church:
1 Peter 5:1-3
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.
1 Timothy 1: 3
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.
These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
Exercise oversight. Charge. Speak and reprove and exhort with all authority. This is not optional: to lay down your authority is to rebel against your Master in heaven.
And to lay down your authority is to destroy the faith of God’s elect.
Does it take faith to obey God’s commands to you as a shepherd? You bet it does. But think of the strength God’s sheep receive when they see God’s shepherds walking in the obedience of faith!
John Calvin was a good shepherd, and he had no patience for so-called Christians who despised their pastors. Brothers, learn from our father in the faith:
"Many evil people therefore look for preachers who suit their taste. We see this happening both now and in the past. Would to God that such things were not so common! More than anything, then, we need to heed Paul’s warning, so that we may have people who are competent to teach and who faithfully do their duty. And when they have preached as they are meant to do, let their life match their preaching; let it confirm the doctrine which they proclaim and give visible proof of it. Moreover we see many today whose ears are so delicate that as soon as a raw nerve is touched, they fret and fume and demand a complete change when the preaching is not to their liking. Scarcely one in a hundred is willing calmly to obey sound teaching. Think of folk who loudly claim to be true believers. If someone tries to instruct them but does not allow them to keep on sinning, they immediately turn nasty or else they go from bad to worse and end up losing even the taste and savor of God’s truth. Others get hot under the collar and challenge everything, happy for things to go to rack and ruin provided they are left free to do their mischief.
"So when we see these things, be sure that the Holy Spirit has rightly made provision for such ills and has supplied us with a remedy, so that each of us may quietly and in all humility obey God’s word. And when we see dissenters and scoffers rise up, intent on needling and tormenting us, let us shun them as we would the plague, and let that be an end to it." (John Calvin, Sermons on Titus, Robert White, translator, pages 2-3.)
John Calvin's sermons on Titus are must-reading for every man in ministry or aspiring to ministry. This new translation by Robert White is excellent. He catches the force and vigor of Calvin's preaching. If you don't have this book, buy it. And if you do, would you please click on the image to get if from Amazon? A small portion of the price will go to support Clearnote Pastors College. Thanks!
Here's a tiny taste from his first sermon on Titus. As you read Calvin's words, think of this: can you possibly imagine his heirs coming anywhere close to this kind of pulpit speech? And this is remarkably mild. Wait until he turns his gaze on the papists!
"Let us consider therefore whether such admonitions do not also apply to our own times, and whether they are not highly useful to us. For what sort of preachers might we have today if we heeded popular opinion? How wily Satan has been in bringing in worthless men in order to bring contempt and shame on God's word! There are many people whose only wish is to propose as pastors and ministers of the word individuals who are either dissolute in like or devoid of zeal, who love merely to chatter and who even deride God. They would sooner grace a tavern than anything else!
"Why do people seem to want that? They perceive that such preachers are easily muzzled, that what they say can be taken in jest, that they might even be silenced or chastened in an instant. Indeed, they might be made to perform to order just like monkeys, and to invite the rebuke: 'Who do you think you are? You don't know how lucky you are to occupy the position you have. You are not fit even to be a pig-keeper or a cowherd, yet here you are a pastor!'"
“Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ..."
This is the first in a series in which I’ll be opening up the apostle Paul’s letter to pastor Titus. I hope these posts will be helpful, especially to pastors, elders, and men preparing for gospel ministry.
Along with 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus is a pastoral epistle. The apostle Paul wrote these letters to particular pastors. We as pastors or pastors-in-training should bury ourselves in these letters. They tell us what to be and what to do. They clear the smog of modern notions of pastoral ministry and set us straight.
Of course, the pastoral epistles aren’t the only source of direction for pastors in the New Testament. The apostle Peter exhorts elders in 1 Peter 5:1-4 to shepherd the flock and exercise oversight as examples, promising “the unfading crown of glory” to those who are faithful. And how could we neglect the apostle Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, where he opens himself bare, pleading with them to follow his example and “to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood”?
But the pastoral epistles are a goldmine of help for pastors: boiled down, concentrated, strong.
And the helpfulness of Paul’s letter to Titus hits us right out of the gate: “Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ…” Both slave and apostle; both servant and leader.
Notice three things: First, Paul calls himself a “bond-servant” of God. A better, more helpful translation is “slave.” That’s simply what the word means: slave. Not butler. Not valet. Not employee. But slave. A man whose will is not his own. Is that what you are? Is that what you want to be?
Second, he calls himself both a slave and an apostle. Apostle is an office of high authority. An apostle is a messenger of Christ, a spokesman for God, a revealer of the Word. Paul is constantly reminding his readers of his office, his apostleship, his authority. You as a pastor or elder must do the same. Your office is not about you; it is about our Lord Christ. You are not an apostle, but as a shepherd, you represent the Chief Shepherd. You are a father in the church, representing the Father from whom all fatherhood gets its name. Bear that authority with dignity and humility and for the building up of the flock—but bear it!
Third, Paul is both a servant and a leader, but he is not a servant-leader. He is a servant of God and a leader of men. Doubtless, a pastor or elder must be like his Master, who “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). Our Lord gives church officers authority “for building up and not for tearing down” (2 Cor. 13:10). Nevertheless, He gives authority. And pastors and elders do not serve their sheep when they ignore or lay down or even downplay their God-given authority. They serve their sheep when they use it. As the apostle Paul will instruct Titus in chapter 2, “These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15).
The modern servant-leader becomes in practice a SERVANT-leader—not a leader who serves by leading, but a servant who would never dream of leading, let alone “with all authority.”
Brothers, learn from the apostle Paul, both slave of God and leader of men.