Titus 1:1-3 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, 2 in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, 3 but at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior
What is meant when we talk of healthy churches or healthy Christianity? A healthy church, or Christian, has the following traits: they prioritize God, pray, place others first, prize scripture and have a passion for evangelism. What can you and I do, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, to become more spiritually healthy in the upcoming new year? Today we will offer the following answers to this question by noting that the primary trait of Christian spiritual health is when we focus on God. Below we will spell out what it takes to focus our attention on the Lord.
1. Live a life sensitive to God. Titus 1:1,4
If we make it our business to focus on God, it will cost us much. Our world and culture are certainly not interested in our spiritual health. We will battle distraction, disappointment and discouragements in our quest to focus on God - yet, the effort will be well worth it! When it comes to the individual Christian life or church life, God uses testings of all sorts to make us stronger in our faith. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 reminds us:
"For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
When Paul wrote his short letter to Titus, he was urging him to finish up the work that he (Paul) had begun on that island (see Titus 1:5). The island of Crete is a tenth of the size of the state of New York, yet, it was a considerably difficult work. As any survey of the Titus 1:10-16 will discover, Paul and Titus both had their work cut out for them. Nevertheless, Titus had a proven track record of focusing on God in tough situations.
Titus' life evidenced a sensitivity to God. We find 12 or so references to him in the New Testament. We know he was used greatly by God in sorting out the mess Paul dealt with at the church of Corinth. In surveying those letters of Paul, we find a couple examples of how Titus cultivated a sensitivity to God.
a. He refreshed the souls of others.
2 Corinthians 7:6 "But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus."
b. He resolved to influence others for God.
2 Corinthians 8:16 "But thanks be to God who puts the same earnestness on your behalf in the heart of Titus."
Clearly Titus was a spiritually healthy Christian, called by God to leverage such influence upon other believers. As I was reading the little letter written by Jude, Jesus' half-brother at the end of the New Testament, I found a recipe for cultivating sensitivity to God. Let me cite the text first, then give you the recipe. The text in question is found in
"But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life."
Whenever I read that text, I wrote down the following recipe for cultivating sensitivity to God: pursue His word + prayer + practice your faith + put your focus on Christ’s 2nd coming = greater spiritual sensitivity. If we will but consider Titus' example and Jude's words, we will become a more spiritually healthy people and thus, churches. In addition to having a greater sensitivity to God, spiritually healthy people and churches do something else when attempting to focus on God.
2. Lean on the Sovereignty of God.
When we speak of, "God's Sovereignty", we refer to the right He has to have authority over our lives, history and everything. A high view of God, in proportion to a lower view of ourselves, will yield a proper view of everything else. Leaning on God's Sovereignty means I'm trusting Him with the outcomes as I put forth the effort to obey. Psalm 103:19 gives a wonderful description of God's Sovereignty: "The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all." Romans 11:36 is my favorite passage in the Bible, since it speaks of how far His Sovereignty extends:
"For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen."
We can note God's Sovereignty operating in the first two verses of Paul's short letter to Titus.
a. Titus 1:1, “Paul and apostle”. Sovereignty in sending the Gospel.
Paul identifies himself as an "apostle", a "sent one". God sends those that communicate the Gospel to those who need to hear it. Romans 10:14-15 states this truth of God's Sovereignty in the sending of the Gospel:
"How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”
b. Titus 1:1b Sovereignty in saving faith.
We see side-by-side, the necessity of faith to receive the Gospel and God’s Sovereign choosing. The Southern Baptist doctrinal statement, Baptist Faith and Message 2000, notes the following of what we see in Titus 1:1 whenever Paul speaks of doing what he does, "for the faith of those chosen of God" ,
"Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility."
The Bible consistently places both God's Sovereignty in salvation beside mankind's need to respond in faith to that salvation. We find the doctrine of election in roughly 100 spots in the Bible. For example, Abraham was chosen by God and called to be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-7; 18:19). Yet, we also find in Abraham's journey with God that: "he believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" (see Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3).
Within Abraham's own family, we find God choosing Isaac, the younger, over Ishmael, the oldest son (Genesis 17:19). We find that when Isaac had his twin boys, Jacob and Esau, it was Jacob God chose, rather than Esau (Malachi 1:2). Yet, in both Isaac's life and Jacob's, there was a necessary moment where they each needed to respond to God's saving call by faith (Isaac in Genesis 22 and Jacob in Genesis 28).
God's Sovereignty in salvation is continued on in the New Testament, with the accompanying response of faith following. Jesus told his disciples in John 15:16 - "You did not choose me, but I chose you." We find of course in that same chapter of John 15 Jesus' repeated emphasis of "abiding in Him", which is another way of exercising trust or faith in Him. In 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 we read:
"But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14 It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Affirming reliance upon God's Sovereignty gives the Christian, and churches, more reason to actually do evangelism. The Apostle Paul was told in Acts 18:9-11
"And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; 10 for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” 11 And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them."
The underlined phrase in Acts 18:10 tells us that God already was at work in specific people in Corinth whom had not yet believed. God didn't tell Paul who they were. Thus, Paul knew that he and his fellow workers needed to share the Gospel with everyone, while trusting God for the results. Although we may not know how God's Sovereignty and human responsibility exactly fit together, all we know is "that they fit together". We are to exercise ourselves in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, corporate worship and evangelism as prescribed to us by the Lord Jesus Christ. Thankfully, such activities are never in vain, since the goals of such efforts are designed by God, and the results are completely in His hands. We can have a greater level of spiritual health in the upcoming year when we focus on God by developing a greater sensitivity to Him and leaning on His Sovereignty. There is one more thought to consider before we close out today, namely.....
3. Look to the scriptures revealed by God. Titus 1:3-4
As Paul states to Titus in Titus 1:3-4,
"but at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior, 4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior."
Paul reminds Titus, and us, that God's Word, the Bible, is the source of not only Christian salvation, but continued growth in sanctification. Put another way, the preaching of the Word of God, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, is aimed at saving the lost and feeding the saints. We read of the importance of looking to the scriptures for our spiritual health in other key passages. Romans 10:17 tells us: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. Or again, Romans 15:4
"For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."
We also find Paul reminding another young pastor, Timothy, of the central place the Word of God is to occupy in the spiritual well-being of his life and the people to whom he serves in 1 Timothy 4:16,
"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."
The Apostle Peter underscores the necessity of scripture for spiritual health in 1 Peter 1:23-25,
"for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, 25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you."
As we close out today's post, we have expressed how important it is for spiritually healthy Christians and churches to focus on God. We suggested three practices to accomplish greater spiritual health in the upcoming new year:
1. Live a life sensitive to God.
2. Lean on the Sovereignty of God.
3. Look to the scripture revealed by God.