THINGS LEFT UNDONE
Titus 1 (CSB)
1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness, 2 in the hope of eternal life that God, who cannot lie, promised before time began. 3 In his own time he has revealed his word in the preaching with which I was entrusted by the command of God our Savior: 4 To Titus, my true son in our common faith. Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. 5 The reason I left you in Crete was to set right what was left undone and, as I directed you, to appoint elders in every town. 6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, with faithful children who are not accused of wildness or rebellion. 7 As an overseer of God’s household, he must be blameless, not arrogant, not hot-tempered, not an excessive drinker, not a bully, not greedy for money, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled, 9 holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it.10 For there are many rebellious people, full of empty talk and deception, especially those from the circumcision party. 11 It is necessary to silence them; they are ruining entire households by teaching what they shouldn’t in order to get money dishonestly. 12 One of their very own prophets said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. For this reason, rebuke them sharply, so that they may be sound in the faith 14 and may not pay attention to Jewish myths and the commands of people who reject the truth. 15 To the pure, everything is pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; in fact, both their mind and conscience are defiled. 16 They claim to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good work.
The book of Titus is a very small book, with only three chapters. But it is a very important book for believers to study today – particularly because it outlines a plan for reforming the church in order to reach the community for Christ.
The title of this morning’s message comes from verse 5, where Paul tells Titus that he had been left in Crete “to set right what was left undone.” Before we can talk about what that entails, we need to back up and establish what had already been done. Then we can proceed to talk about Paul’s instructions for completing the mission.
The mission of reaching Crete with the gospel had already been accomplished (1-4).
Paul and his missionary team had visited Crete, had won people to Christ, and had established communities of faith in every town of the island. The book of Acts chronicles how Paul and his team went from place to place preaching the good news and planting churches to continue the work and to support their mission.
The amazing miracle of reaching Crete with the gospel happened because the team had obeyed Jesus Christ and had gone where he told them to go, and had depended on God’s grace and peace to be victorious in their mission.
The gospel that they proclaimed is described in very particular terms here. It focuses on God’s promise of eternal life (2). We have already seen that Jesus promised a resurrection to eternal life on the last day. That promise was a crucial element in the mission to reach Crete.
We have every indication that there was an immediate positive reception of the gospel in Crete, resulting in communities of believers in every town.
But all over Crete there were rebellious people who needed to be silenced and rebuked (10-16).
Many of these new congregations in all the towns had allowed unqualified teachers to emerge. These false teachers were teaching the wrong things from the wrong motives and producing the wrong results.
Let’s take a look at those wrong results.
• Instead of building up families, they were ruining them (11).
We are not told exactly how the false teaching was ruining families. I think if we knew that, we would concentrate on just that problem. Instead, the Holy Spirit told us what we need to know. There are false teachers, and their teaching is ruining families. It would do us well today to investigate the things we have been taught, and ask whether those things are helping us build strong families, or not.
• Instead of teaching gospel truth, they were introducing Jewish myths (14).
Again, we don’t know the nature of the myths. But it would be helpful for us today to examine the things we are being taught, either at church, or at school, or in the social or political realms – and discover whether or not those things are true.
Paul specifically mentions myths. Myths are teaching that are used to explain the world around us, but are not based on actual fact.
Evolution – for example – is a modern myth that is supposed to explain the origins of the world. That myth is so prevalent today that people can lose their jobs in the scientific field or in education just for questioning it. I call it a myth because science is actually based on observation, and no one has ever observed evolution. When observers point out that things are not evolving today, the standard response by those who believe the myth is to say that it takes so many billions of years. There is no evidence that everything that exists today emerged from nothing, no matter how much time you give it.
I’m not sure society today can recover from the damage caused by this myth.
• Instead of producing faith and purity they were “defiled and unbelieving” and producing doubt and corruption in the lives of others (15).
We can see the devil at work in the lives of these false teachers. We can see how their teachings were undoing the mission of the church and replacing the influence of the gospel. They were producing another culture which is anti-evangelism. If left unchecked, that culture would eliminate all the marks of Christianity on the island.
Paul had called them “rebellious people” (10). What were they rebelling against? The kingdom of God had come to Crete with the gospel. These rebellious people were chipping away at the principles that Christ delineated in his teachings. They were rebelling against the coming kingdom.
Now, let’s take a look at what Paul says for Titus to do about them:
• First, their teaching needs to be silenced. Paul says “it is necessary to silence them” (11). If the teaching continues, the corruption and disintegration of the communities will continue. Falsehood needs to be confronted by the truth. False teaching is not a mere academic issue. It damages the church and hinders the advancement of the kingdom.
• Secondly, their behavior needs to be rebuked. Paul says for Titus to “rebuke them sharply” (13). We all know what it is like when we discover that someone we have trusted is living a sinful life. These rebellious people were doing that. But the damage would continue until someone had the courage to call them out for being the hypocrites they were. Paul commanded that Titus be that someone.
In their place, leaders had to be appointed who displayed godly character and were faithful to the truth (5-9).
Paul specifically told Titus “to appoint elders in every town” (5). The Greek word for town is πόλις, which is related to our word “politics” Why didn’t he say appoint elders in every church? Elders are church leaders, but the damage was being done to the entire communities, not just to isolated congregations.
You see, the gospel had already spread to the entire island. But now this false gospel had come in and was seeking to undermine the gospel’s influence and replace it with a false gospel.
In order to rescue their island from the influence of this false gospel, all the people in every town had to learn to do this: “LIVE IN A SENSIBLE, RIGHTEOUS AND GODLY WAY” (2:12).
The word for “sensible” is σωφρόνως which means “marked by a serious awareness of responsibility.”
The word for “righteous” is δικαίως which means “being in conformity with standards for acceptable or anticipated behavior.”
The word for “godly” is εὐσεβῶς which means speaks of a life lived “in a reverent relation to God.”
This is why they needed godly leaders.
So Titus had to train, detect, and appoint people who would manifest godly character.
• They had to be people whose moral integrity was “blameless” (6,7).
• They had to be mature “elders” not inexperienced novices (5,6).
• They had to model faithfulness in their marriages and families first (6).
• They had to manage themselves first by practicing self control over their tempers and temptations (7-8).
Titus also had to train, detect and appoint leaders who knew God’s truth and who were ready to declare it and defend it.
• They had to keep “holding to the faithful message as taught” (9).
• They had to be able “to encourage (people) with sound teaching” (9).
• They had to be able “to refute those who contradict it” (9).
So, the issue is not character instead of content or content instead of character. Elders had to have both. They had to have a firm grasp on biblical doctrine and they had to earn the respect of their community by living in a sensible, righteous and godly way.
Application: It is not too late to rescue our town!
It may seem like it’s too late to rescue our society, our town, our county, state, country, planet… but it is not too late. The damage to Crete was already systemic when Paul sent Titus. What he commissioned Titus to do was impossible. But he had the power of God’s Holy Spirit. He had the life transforming influence of the gospel promise of permanent life. He knew the awesome power of God’s people “living in a sensible, righteous and godly way.” When you have that combination you can do the impossible.
There are some things that God has done among us, and I praise God for that. But we are living in an age which is quickly forgetting what God has done.
After Joshua, the Israelites who settled in Canaan and quickly forgot God and became like the nations all around them. But God would not give up on them. He sent judges – leaders who rescued his people.
We can be leaders like that. But it will take a commitment to do the things that have been left undone.