What does a good church look like? Can churches be led effectively in a day and age where so many leaders/Pastors of the church have fallen into sin by either abusing their power and authority, living secretive and sinful lives, or depending solely on their abilities, personalities, and gimmicks? Can a good church exist in a culture that so clearly and willingly embraces and celebrates all things ungodly and anti-Christian? Is there such a thing as good Christians who live in a highly secularized and sexualized world that is continually vying for you affection, minds, and loyalty?
These are three questions we will look at today and, in the weeks, to come. The Apostle Paul was facing these same issues the church faces today regarding Christianity and culture. In fact, he describes and shows us in his letter to Titus that good leadership, and good churches can and do lead to the good life. By defining the good life, I am not talking about what many consider “the good life” today. It is not about having a life that is carefree, easy, and effortless. I am talking about the good Gospel-centered life. It is a life that is rooted in the hope of the Kingdom of Christ and the power of the transformed Gospel life in Christ. This life may not be easy, but it is good, and it is a fulfilling life.
For the next three-weeks we will be going through the book of Titus. This short letter is one of three Titus Pastoral Epistles in the New Testament written by the Apostle Paul. An epistle is simply a letter written by an Apostle to an individual. In this case Paul writes a letter to his travel companion, church planting partner and gentile Christian named Titus. Although this letter was a personal letter from Paul to Titus it was intended to be read to congregations on the island of Crete. In a few moments we will see Titus’ purpose in ministering on the island of Crete and we will see that the Apostle Paul defines Titus’ assignment as difficult because of the general brutishness of the Cretan people. With that said, I think it is important for us to gain a little understanding of the culture and people of the island of Crete.
Crete is a large island in the Mediterranean Sea approximately 100 miles southeast of the Greek mainland. It is a long and narrow island, spanning about 160 miles east to west. At its widest point, it is roughly 35 miles across north to south.
Cretan culture held firmly to the mythology of the Greek gods which held to the belief that most of the gods were born on their island, including the chief god Zeus, who was allegedly buried there. Cretans believed that their island was the central place of the worship of the gods.
Greek mythology was so much a part of society and culture that the churches in Paul’s day were mixing their understanding of the Christian God with their beliefs in the Greek gods, namely Zeus. They believed Zeus was a man who became god and this is significant as Paul addresses this in Titus. It’s recorded that Zeus loved to seduce women by any means necessary, even by assuming godlike characteristics to get what he wanted. There is a story that he took on the form of a husband to get a woman into bed with him and then resorted to lying and deception when seduction didn’t work. It was well-known that the god Zeus was a liar and a womanizer, and the Cretans celebrated him for this.
In writing to Titus Paul determined to refute idea that the Christian God had any likeness to Zeus whatsoever, or any other gods for that matter. He wanted to make clear that the God of Israel is totally different and unique from the scoundrel Zeus, and he did so by contradicting the Christian God of truth to the Greek mythological god Zeus, the liar. It would not surprise you to know that since their primary god was a liar, womanizer, and self-indulgent his followers took on these characteristics for themselves. Thus, the Cretans were known as a lying, self-indulgent, sexually promiscuous people that eventually led to the name Cretan being synonymous to a liar and cheat. This holds true today, if someone calls you a Cretan, you can be assured you are not being complimented.
The men of Crete often served as mercenary soldiers to the highest bidder and their women “enjoyed” a greater deal of privileges than their Greek counterparts, but this often led to the misuse of their freedoms to shirk off marriage, mothering and such in lieu of casual sex and chasing after worldly appetites.
The challenge for the Christian follower in Crete was that their commitment to Christ meant changing the way they lived as they transformed into the image of Christ. Unfortunately, Paul receives a report that the Cretan Christians were looking and acting more and more like Zeus than they were Jesus. Even worse, the young churches of Crete had come under the destructive teaching of some so-called Christian leaders—who were Jewish born Cretans. They claimed to follow Jesus, but they also demanded gentile Christians become circumcised in order to be true followers of Jesus Christ. These leaders were also engrossed in Cretan culture, and ended up endorsing the moral, or lack thereof, values of Crete thus creating bad doctrine.
In all this misrepresentation of Jesus and the church, the gospel didn’t look very attractive to many on the outside. It is a bit reminiscent of today. People were turned off from the church because of the actions of the church and inevitably the church did not look much different from the world around them. Why would people reject Zeus in favor of Jesus if there was no compelling evidence of transformation in the lives of Jesus-followers?
Titus 1:1 - 4
Vs 1: Paul begins his letter in determining why he is writing this letter and in establishing his authority for writing it. Paul first and foremost defines himself as a servant of Christ. This is significant because he states up front that he is not a great and mighty theologian or prophet who is to be revered and exalted, but instead he is a servant (his position) of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Greek word for servant or slave is Duolous which means a slave or a bondman. A bondsman is one who is devoted to the disregard of one’s own interest. Paul was a servant or a slave to Christ and his desire was to please the master and not the masses. Jesus taught that those are considered leaders are to see themselves as the servants, even slaves, of others. In calling himself a slave he endorses Jesus’s leadership philosophy or servant leadership. Paul is a slave “of God,” who will uplift those who are humble for his sake.
Secondly, Paul is a called to be an Apostle (his authority). The word “Apostle” is defined as one who is divinely selected by the decree of God to be a delegate or messenger. Paul is not a self-appointed Apostle. He is a God appointed Apostle. Being called as an Apostle was essential to Paul’s ongoing service. He needed to establish his authority to affirm what he is doing is not by the appointment of man, but by the appointment of God.
Thirdly, we see his purpose (calling) which is “to proclaim faith to those God has chosen and to teach them to know the truth that shows them how to live godly lives.” Immediately, he describes and affirms his calling to preach the truth to God’s chosen ones and in teaching the truth it will guide and point those in the ways of how they should live God-honoring lives.
Vs 2 - 4: Paul starts by contrasting the Christian God to the Greek mythological Cretan god Zeus. The Christian God is one of honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness. He is not a cheater, liar, or self-indulgent God. He is a promise maker and a promise keeper. The faithful and truthful God of Israel has made promises of eternal life from the beginning of time, and we can have confidence that God will keep his promise, because He is not a liar. He is trustworthy and worthy of praise.
Titus 1:5 – 9
Vs 5: We do have any account in Acts that documents Paul and Titus establishing churches in Crete, but as we see here, they did, and here we read that Titus was left behind on the island to appoint elders for in each town. This was a big task. Titus is just one person and Crete is a large place with many towns, and we would assume, many congregations. Titus needs help. He is instructed by Paul to find, confirm, and train elders to assist him and lead their churches. This is necessary because if he does not establish good leadership the “rebellious people” will have their way. They will destroy faith, souls, and churches. The congregations’ daily existence and longer-term mission will run aground. We will look in more detail at verse 10 where Paul addresses the opposition and issues hindering the churches in Crete. Here Paul is giving Titus instructions on how to bring order to the church, but notice there is nothing on structures, processes or meetings. It is not that these things are unimportant, he just doesn’t mention them as essential to leading effectively.
The Qualifications of an Elder
Vs 6 – 9: In order to protect the churches from false prophets, sinful behaviors, and legalism there needed to be individuals or appointed elders who would oversee the churches. The job of an elder was not for any ole Cretan. In fact, the job had special qualifications to ensure the flock or church would be healthy and protected. Paul describes the qualifications for an elder for the church. Notice these qualities are opposing to the Greek god Zeus.
Titus 1:10 - 16
Vs 10: The reason for appointing elders was apparent; there were rebellious and deceitful people amid some of the congregations. There are rebellious teachings going around that go against the Apostles teaching. The is in reference to these opponents who insist on circumcision for salvation. Paul talks in other passages in the Bible where he identifies former Jews who joined the church with a gospel message that was not doctrinally sound. They taught faith plus for salvation. They said, “Faith saves you through the work of Christ plus special, religious knowledge, diets, rites, or practices that qualify you for Heaven.”
Vs 11: Paul declares that these teachers are dangerous, and they must be silenced. They must be silenced because they are turning people away from faith. The motivation behind these false teachers was not gospel centered or Christ oriented. Their motivation was money. They apparently made some decent money proclaiming their false message and Paul is exhorting Titus to raise up elders who would silence them and proclaim the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Vs 12 - 14: Paul indicts these leaders by capturing the saying of an ancient Cretan poet Epimenides, “Cretans are always liars, cruel animals, and lazy gluttons”. The problem in Crete is that these Christians do not want to be part of the flock under the shepherd. They want to be like solitary, wild animals. They want to think of themselves individually, not as part of faithful body of believers under the headship of Jesus Christ.
The people need to hear the truth and quit listening to the Jewish myths and the teachings of those who walked away from the truth.
Vs 15 – 16: The way you live your life gives evidence of the God you serve. Actions speak louder than words. These Cretans were living contrary to the way God calls them to live and in doing so they have become detestable, disobedient, and worthless when it comes to doing anything good.
To go back to the question, can good churches be led effectively in a day and age where so many leaders/Pastors of the church have fallen into sin by either abusing their power and authority, living secretive and sinful lives, or depending solely on their abilities, personalities, and gimmicks? The answer is yes it can. For a church to exist in this culture it needs good leadership. This leadership is not worldly the leadership that is prominent today. The church does not need more people to lead in worldly ways that consist of people who are confident in their abilities, self-assured, well-trained in business and financial matters, eloquent speakers, and highly motivated. The church today needs less of these kinds of leaders and more leaders who are people of good standing, humble, upstanding, Christ-confident, and dependent on the Holy Spirit servants. The Pastor and leadership of a church must govern and oversee the flock and help congregations become strong in the faith through sound doctrine and servant leadership.
It is important for church leaders to pray for their flocks and love them in Christian love and it is also important for the congregation to lift up the leadership regularly so we may lead effectively and in ways that bring honor to God and expands His kingdom. So, my challenge for today is a commitment to prayer. I am committing to praying for each of you personally for God’s protection, provision, and blessings upon your lives. I ask also that you would commit to praying for the leadership here at Southside and at West Bradenton 43rd Street. For us to lead effectively and in a God-honoring manner, we need and covet your prayers.
Next week we will tackle the question can a good church exist in a culture that so clearly and willingly embraces and celebrates all things ungodly? Make sure to come back as we look at a church that promotes sound doctrine and wholesome teaching.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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