Quiet Dynamite

Do you remember, without checking your Bible’s index, where the book of Titus is located? I didn’t. It’s in the New Testament, and it’s the last of the five “T-books” – 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, 1st and 2nd Timothy, then Titus.

I don’t recall a single sermon on Titus the man or the letter Paul wrote to him, but Titus was a major influence of the New Testament era. From Paul’s comments to and about Titus, we can see what a heavy responsibility being an elder, pastor, or church-planter is.

Titus was a Gentile Christian. It may be that he became a believer in Jesus because of the apostle Paul’s witness, because Paul calls him “my true son in our common faith”. (Titus 1:4) That is the highest compliment Paul ever paid anyone. As far as we know, only one other person won such trust from Paul – Timothy, whom Paul also called “my true son in the faith” (1st Timothy 1:2).

Both Timothy and Titus were assigned serious responsibilities by Paul. Paul‘s instructions to Titus seem to me to indicate that Titus had the tougher assignment. Part of Paul’s instructions to Titus were, “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” (Titus 1:5) When you read the qualifications for elder that follow, you realize that wasn’t going to be easy.

It gets tougher. Crete is an island located roughly in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It has many seaports, and was a busy center of international trade. The Cretan people had developed a particularly unpleasant reputation morally and ethically. describes succinctly: “…most of the men on the island had served as mercenary soldiers”.

Couple that with multiple seaports and the habitual graft and corruption from international trade between pagan nations, and you realize that Paul had saddled Titus with a wild bronco to tame.

Paul mentions in his letter to Titus a Cretan poet who declared of his countrymen that “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” Paul also said that there were many on Crete who were troublemakers, deceivers, and insubordinate. He said that these men were “upsetting entire families” by teaching for money “what they ought not to teach”. Among other things, some were teaching that Gentiles could not be saved unless they were circumcised. (Titus, being a Greek convert, had been through that fight already, with the support of the Christian leaders at Jerusalem, so he was ready to deal with the issue: Galatians 2:1-5) Paul’s instructions to Titus about these men were, “They must be silenced! … Rebuke them sharply!”

Paul expected Titus to face that pressure, appoint elders in every city in Crete and thoroughly teach Christian living to the individual Christians.

It makes me think of the movie about Sheriff Buford Pusser in “Walking Tallwhen Deputy Obra Eaker, a black deputy, called him for backup to deal with several tough white troublemakers: “Obra, you’re a sheriff of McNairy County, not a shoeshine boy! If they’re out of line, arrest ’em!”

Sure thing, boss. Whatever you say.

But Titus was up to the task: “Gortyn was the site of the largest Christian basilica on Crete, the Basilica of Saint Titus, dedicated to the first Christian bishop in Crete, to whom Paul addressed one of his epistles.” The influence of the Gospel through Titus was so powerful that it remained until Crete was invaded by Muslims around 820 AD.  Wiki

Of course, only by the power of the Holy Spirit does any work of God last that long. But Titus had to be a man of tenacity, extreme dedication and wisdom, with a close relationship to God and maturity in the faith. I don’t care how smart you are, such character does not come easily. Spiritual stamina, determined love for everyone, and knowing God well enough to be useful in such situations don’t come without time and discipline in the believer’s life. Only those who walk in the Holy Spirit consistently are capable of dealing with these kinds of problems.

Not only did Titus tame the wild bronco, he also delivered a letter of strong censure from Paul to the Corinthian church when Paul had his hands full in Ephesus and Macedonia. He did this with the necessary firmness but without ugliness, without destroying the Corinthian church. Paul had “boasted” to Titus about them. Both his bragging and his estimate of Titus were justified when Titus returned to Paul with a report that was so encouraging that both he and Paul were “comforted”, and Titus’ spirit had been “refreshed” by the Corinthian believers’ response. In fact, Paul wrote that in returning to Corinth a second time, Titus went with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative.” (2 Corinthians 8:16-17)

After Crete, Titus was also involved in some sort of work in Dalmatia, an area known to the Romans as stubborn, rebellious, and hard to conquer, let alone govern. Apparently God created Titus specifically for the tough spots!

God‘s appointed shepherds for His people are gentle, though firm if needed. They are wise in the Spirit, humble, and reliable. If we respect them and follow their instructions, we will have the kind of Christian witness we should to our communities. Assuming, of course, that the leaders are God’s leaders and are walking in the Holy Spirit and teaching sound doctrine. Titus obviously was one of that breed. He didn’t make headlines, is only mentioned briefly in three of Paul’s letters, and today you don’t often hear his name from the pulpit. But his example is one of determined faithfulness to God and to the Lord Jesus, and of a blameless character uncorrupted by prolonged immersion in potent pagan cultures. His was a remarkable example of what God can do with a willing, whole-hearted believer’s life.

Thank You, Abba, for having sent us leaders like Titus. may we be worthy of them and especially of You. In Jesus’ holy name, amen.

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