April 29, 2012
The people of Crete lived in hopeless spiritual darkness—until Paul shared the good news of Jesus at just the right time. As they discovered, Christian faith involves both the heart and the mind, enabling us to feel deeply, think properly, and live godly lives. We grow in faith, teaches Alistair Begg, when preaching is ordained by God, led by the Spirit, and filled with the Bible. With perfect timing, God will give us knowledge of the truth and the promise of eternal life.
Sermon Transcript: Print
We’re going to read again, as we did this morning, from Titus—the letter of Paul to Titus, 1:1‒4:
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
“To Titus, my true child in a common faith:
“Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”
Now we pray:
Make the Book live to me, O Lord,
Show me yourself within your Word,
Show me myself and show me my Savior,
And make the Book live to me.
For your Son’s sake. Amen.
Well, this morning we began to look at these verses in Titus chapter 1, and we said that our outline for them was as follows: that we would consider, first, Paul’s position, which we noted is described for us as the “servant of God” and as the “apostle of Jesus Christ”; and then, we went on to begin to look at his purpose, which we considered as being “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect.” And we’re still under Paul’s purpose, because it runs for a way here, and this will be probably the majority of our time spent under this heading before we get to the final two.
We took most of our time this morning thinking about the doctrine of election: that God has purposed and planned from all of eternity to have a people that are his own. And Paul has been entrusted with the privilege of teaching the gospel, and that has resulted in the faith of some in Crete—those who are now part of the family of God. But he then goes on to explain in the next phrase that his apostleship does not only mean that men and women will come to faith but also that they will then grow in “their knowledge of the truth.” In “their knowledge of the truth.”
When Paul writes to Timothy, at one point he refers to some who are “always learning” yet “never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” When the writer to the Hebrews is describing the time of the exodus, he describes those for whom “the message … was of no value to them, because [they] did not combine it with faith,” thus making it clear to us that it is possible for us to have some kind of elemental knowledge of things without that knowledge actually being life-transforming knowledge.
Now, it is the latter that Paul is referencing here. Genuine Christian faith involves both the heart and the mind. If we fail to understand that—that God at work in us causes us not only to feel deeply but also to think properly—we will be tempted to make much of one or the other element. If we make much of our minds, then we may end up with a kind of arid rationalism. If we make too much of our hearts, then we may end up with a kind of superficial emotionalism. And it is good for us just to think about knowledge in relationship to truth and knowledge in relationship to faith, because the last little while in our country has seen an increased interest in things that are, if you like, emotional and less in things that have a rational foundation.
I came across this some time ago when I read a second book by Stephen Prothero, who is a professor, I think, at Boston University; he’s in the chair of the religion department there. And it came to my mind when I was studying this passage earlier in the week, and I was able to find it, because if you write with a pencil in your books, then you can have them recorded for you, and then you will be able to go back and not spend the rest of your life looking for them. And I found this particular quote at the bottom of a page; at the top of the page I’d written “Wow!!” with a double exclamation mark, so I was so delighted to go back and find it. The reason I’m reading it to you is because this is a professor of religion at Boston University, and he’s making an observation under the heading “From Head to Heart.” And this is just a brief quote:
Many trends transformed Christian congregations and voluntary associations into aiders and abettors of religious amnesia. The most important of these shifts were: from the intellect to the emotions, from doctrine to storytelling, from the Bible to Jesus, and from theology to morality. In each case a new approach to religion was offered to Americans with all the seduction of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. In each case Americans succumbed to the temptation. This time, however, knowledge was lost rather than gained.
And there is a way of looking at the things that are in the Bible that is constantly simply looking for that which will give us an emotional buzz, or a surge, or a blessing, or whatever it might be, and we may go for a long period of time and discover that we’re not actually growing in any knowledge of the truth at all.
Well, the reason, says Paul, that he’s been appointed to apostleship is in order that those who have come to faith may also then grow in the “knowledge of the truth.” Not knowledge in an ivory tower, but you will notice that this “knowledge of the truth” is that “which accords with godliness,” so that it is not that they simply have a mind that is set on information, but they have a life that has been transformed by that information.
And he’s going to go on and make the point throughout the balance of this short letter that this practical godliness is then going to be seen in the way women live their lives, in the way younger women are involved in the raising of their families, in the way young men exercise self-control, in the leadership of the church, and in the way in which citizens in an alien society such as Crete live lives which adorn the gospel of the Lord Jesus. And so it is that “for the sake of … God’s elect … their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,” and also they have been brought to the “hope of eternal life.”
It’s because that phrase is in my mind that I was struck by the one of the comments made by Erin, there, as she spoke before she was baptized—and I think I scribbled it down quickly enough. She said that she had discovered the reality of eternal hope, even on the hardest or the darkest of days. Eternal hope in the hardest and darkest of days. Now, how has that come about? Well, it’s come about because she has been brought to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. She has now discovered a knowledge of the truth. She, along with every other believer, realizes that this accords with godliness, and they have been brought into life which never ends.
Now, it’s important that we recognize that when we think of eternal life, the Bible thinks more often than it doesn’t in terms of quality rather than of quantity. We’re tempted to think immediately in terms of quantity, but in actual fact, the phrase “eternal life” or the life of the age to come was that which the Jewish people anticipated, longed for, when the Messiah would come and the age in which they’d been living would be transformed by his appearing. And so it is that Jesus has come. He steps up, and, you remember, as we began Mark’s Gospel, he said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Well, why was it at hand? Well, because the King was present. And in Jesus, the life of the age to come came, or has come. And that’s why he was able to say to people, “I am come that you might have life and that you might have it in all of its fullness,” so that the entering into eternal life is an experience into which we presently go; the quantitative element of it stretches all the way out into eternity, but the reality of it is something that we enjoy now.
So, for example, let me just quote to you from Jesus, in John 5:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.” “Has eternal life”—not “is going to get eternal life,” but “has” it, has entered into the life that lasts for all of eternity, the life of the age to come. “He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
In Jesus, we have all had our own Easter. We have been raised with Christ. We’ve died with him, and we have been raised with him. That’s why Paul is able to say in Colossians 3, “[Since] then you have been raised with Christ, seek [these] things [which] are above,” so that the reality of the life into which we’ve been brought is a present reality.
And if we have “passed,” as it says here, “from death to life”—if we no longer come into judgment—then that means that death has been changed dramatically for the Christian. It hasn’t been removed, unless Jesus returns before we die. Each of us will die. Each of us will face the dissolution of death. Each of us lives our life moving inexorably towards that day. Death, if you like, rattles its chains at us in various ways and beckons us. But what is the difference for the Christian? Well, the Christian has been brought into the hope of eternal life. Death for the Christian is not, then, the awful reality of the judgment on sin, and what we fear most we will never experience. So, we’re going to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord.” We’re going to “depart and be with Christ,” which “is far better.”
And as you think about this in relationship to the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, and the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven as a bride from God, and as you think all of this through—as I’m sure you must—and wonder about it, and wonder about the time lapse between our death and our being brought into the presence of Jesus, and our being clothed with the resurrection body, and our living in a new heaven and a new earth, you’ll be forced to say, “Well, I wonder how it’s going to be? What is it going to be like? What will it be like to have some disembodied state, and how long will it last?”
And some people have tried to resolve that by saying, “Well, what’ll happen is that when you die, your next immediate experience will be that of Jesus at the resurrection with the new resurrection body, so you’ll never know anything else.” And that sounds like a pretty nice idea, kind of like a general anesthetic that lasts for a very long time, and you waken up asking “When will the surgery be?” and they tell you, “It’s over.” But it doesn’t really tie in with what we’re told in the Bible. Because Paul doesn’t say that he desires to leave Philippi and go for a general anesthetic that will last until the new heaven and the new earth, but he says that if he’s going to leave them, he will “depart and be with Christ,” which “is far better.”
And if you remember, when we were dealing with the question posed by the annoying creatures who came to Jesus trying to trip him up over the question of the resurrection, and they said, “You know, this man died, and then his wife married again, and she had seven husbands. And who will be the husband in the resurrection?” And Jesus, remember, says, “Well, the trouble with you fellows is that you neither understand the Bible nor do you know the power of God.” And remember, he says, “Don’t you realize that God is the God of the living? You have Abraham, you have Isaac, and you have Jacob.”
My knowledge of [this] life is small,
The eye of faith is dim;
[It is] enough that Christ knows all,
And I shall be with him.
And this hope of eternal life is not uncertain, you will notice: Paul tells Titus in 3:7 that “being justified by his grace we [have] become heirs … to the hope of eternal life.” That doesn’t mean anything concerning uncertainty. How can we be so sure? Well, he tells us: “in [the] hope of eternal life, which God … promised.” And what is God like? Well, he doesn’t tell lies. “God, who never [tells] lies.” He never lies. Therefore, we can take him at his word. His promise goes all the way back to before the ages even began. He promised this “before the ages began.”
“So,” says Paul, “this is my purpose. I serve God, I’m an apostle of Jesus, so that the faith of God’s elect may be grounded in their knowledge of the truth—a knowledge which then purports itself in godly living, and that grounded in the hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised way back at the beginning of things, before the beginning of things.”
Well, that then brings us to our third heading, which is Paul’s preaching. Because he goes on to say that his preaching has been instrumental in this. You will notice, what God had promised from eternity had been “manifested” is the word that is used here, or revealed, “at the proper time.”
That little phrase “at the proper time” is both interesting and important, because what it tells us is that there is nothing haphazard, nothing arbitrary, about the timing of things. We also know that the disciples, who were a little preoccupied with the timing of things—particularly the prospect of the return of Jesus—were told by Jesus, “It[’s] not for you to know [the] times or [the] seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” So the fact that I don’t know the details of them does not diminish the fact that there are details to them. The fact that these details have not been disclosed to us as God’s children does not mean that God is not working according to his plan. And it is a tremendous assurance to know that God is working all things out according to the eternal counsel of his will—the good things, the bad things, the sad things.
I had a very sad letter this week from a young lady and her husband telling me that they are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their first child on the thirteenth of May. Their anxiety is not simply related to the fact that it will be their first baby but is directly tied to the fact that they discovered within ten weeks of the pregnancy that the child was suffering from a form of encephalitis—that the brain was clearly not forming in the way that it should. And indeed, the counsel that was given to them was to withdraw this pregnancy from further progress. They determined that they will keep this baby to term. They’re awaiting the arrival on May 13; I have it in my calendar.
The girl was a student at Cedarville University. She wrote to say, “When you came and did those talks under the heading ‘My Times Are in Your Hands,’ they were a tremendous help to me and to many of the students. But I did not know that I would have to apply them in these circumstances. Nevertheless, we have named our boy, and we are trusting God with whatever the thirteenth of May brings our way.”
God knows exactly what he’s doing. He doesn’t tell lies. He’s too kind to be cruel. He’s too wise to ever make mistakes. And that little phrase “at the proper time” comes again and again in the Pastoral Epistles, and a similar phrase runs the entire way through John’s Gospel, making it clear that Jesus is operating, exercising his ministry, moving towards the cross, according to the plan and purpose of God.
The people in Crete were living in darkness until, “at the proper time,” the light shone into the darkness of their hearts. They were hopeless until the good news came, and the good news came “at the proper time … through the preaching,” says Paul, “with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.”
It’s an immense thought, isn’t it? That God deigns to consecrate the voice of a mere man to bear the news of his amazing grace and goodness in the gospel and purposes to bring people under the sound of that word in such a fashion and at such a time so as to bring to fruition a purpose that he’s had from all of eternity.
Some of us… I met with some university students this evening; they were asking me hard questions. I didn’t realize how hard they were going to be. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have gone, I don’t think. But nevertheless… And at one point, we were talking about “What’s the purpose of prayer if God is sovereign?” It’s along the lines of this morning: What’s the purpose of evangelizing if God has the elect? And I said to the students, “Let’s turn it round the other way. What would be the purpose of prayer if God wasn’t sovereign? What would be the purpose of praying to a God who couldn’t do anything, who wasn’t sovereign over things?”
No, you see, these mysteries are there to engender in us childlike trust and believing faith, to encourage us to realize that in the mystery of the purposes of God, he chooses to use even the preaching of Paul himself, by his command. And the privilege and the responsibility to Paul was such that he was humbled by it. And it ought to be the occasion of humbling to everyone who is entrusted with it.
The interesting thing about being a preacher, as well, and being a teacher of the Bible is that unlike being a university professor, if you bring a group into your class—whatever it is, let’s say it’s Economics 101—if you do a relatively good job, the people make it through the class, they take their examinations, and they pass out of the class, and you’re done with them. But if you’re a preacher, no one ever makes it out of the class. We never get out of the class, do we? Because we’re always constantly in need of the reminders, always constantly in need of the assurances, always constantly in need of the learning. There is something very humbling about the fact that no one ever graduates from the class. Paul says, “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground[s] for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe [is] me if I do not preach the gospel!”
Now, let me just remind us of something that I think we understand as a congregation but it’s good for us to keep in mind, and that is that the preaching of the Word of God is God ordained, it is Spirit led, and it is Bible filled, so that when God’s Word is faithfully proclaimed, God’s voice is actually heard. Otherwise, this is a futile exercise. In a way that is beyond our ability to fully articulate or comprehend, when we take the authoritative truth of God’s Word—led and prepared by the Spirit of God, offered up as clearly as possible—then the pledge of heaven is that the very voice of God is heard through the agency of a mere mortal voice as it brings forward the truth of God’s Word. Karl Barth, in his day, warned preachers; he said, “The real question that you face about preaching is not ‘How does one do it?’” “How does one do it?” The real question, Barth said to his students, was “How can one do it?” “How can one do it?”
How can you ever do this? Well, the answer is that the preacher must, and therefore, the preacher can—in weakness, in fear, unable to affect the outcome, and yet not so diffident, so unsure, as to be unable to say, “[I] implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
The effective preaching of the Word involves multiple elements, but at least these: a praying preacher and a praying, expectant congregation. There is all the difference in the world in preaching to a congregation that prays with expectancy and preaching to a congregation that is there simply to adjudicate on the message that is brought forth. It ought to be for your encouragement and for mine, too, that when I have friends who visit here and preach, without exception they tell me what an encouragement it is to preach to a congregation that is so clearly interested in receiving the Word of God with gladness.
And finally, Paul’s partner. Just a word or two concerning Titus. You can just look Titus up in a concordance and have fun with him and fill in all the background. “To Titus, my true child in a common faith.” I’m sure that made Titus sit up in his chair a little taller, especially as it was read out publicly—kind of nice to have the apostle Paul refer to him as his “true child,” an encouragement that is there.
I can remember as a young man, there were certain ministers—I may have told you this before—and if they phoned the house, when I went to answer the phone, when Sue told me they were on the phone, my voice went up about an octave just because they were on the phone. Eric Alexander, for example—who has that amazing voice, you may remember. It’s always, “Ohhhhh.” And when he would phone me, and I would say, “Ohhhhh, hello.” And my wife would be like, “Why are you doing that? What is that about?” I even surprised myself. But you know what it was? I was so nervous. I was so pleased. I was so amazed that he even knew me. I was amazed that he would call me, that he would like me. I sat up a little taller.
“Titus, he’s my true child in a common faith. I’m from a Jewish background,” he might have said. “Titus is a Greek. He’s from a gentile background. Titus owes his salvation under God to my ministry, my preaching, but the fact is, we are united in a common faith. That faith is the faith, for the sake of that same faith of God’s elect, that he’s been appointed as an apostle and as a servant.”
And in a passing fashion, Paul actually reminds Titus, and reminds us, that the family of faith extends beyond Crete. This common faith, this koinonia of fellowship in the wonder of the gospel, extends beyond Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, Cleveland, and so on. And each of the communities in which this letter would be read would be strengthened by the reminder of the fact that they’re part of something far bigger than themselves.
And I want to end in that way tonight by reminding us of the same: that we are part of something far bigger than ourselves. On the one hand, that will keep us from discouragement, if we feel that relatively little may be happening. But on the other hand, it keeps us from self-promotion by realizing that God’s purposes extend far and beyond us.
One of the dangers of a congregation such as our own is a kind of inward focus, a kind of self-engendered theological means test that, if we’re not careful, descends into a spirit of judgmentalism that looks not for the work of the gospel in every place but tends to think that it isn’t present in many places. I’m not saying that it is a reality for us; I’m saying that it’s a danger for this kind of church family.
And I want to read a quote for you, to help us in this regard as we draw this to a close, from John Bright’s book on the kingdom of God. And I came upon it because I was thinking along these lines. Now, this is what he says:
The Church … is not at all an organization, nor yet the sum-total of all its organizations: it is an organism; it is the people of … faith, the people of the Kingdom of God. We speak not now of the churches [small c], but of the Church [capital C]—and of a far higher sense of peoplehood than most of us have known. We are not the people of the Rev. Dr. [X]’s church, held there by the power of the Rev. Dr. [X]’s oratory—or in spite of it, by a very stubborn loyalty. We are not the people of the Presbyterian, the Methodist, or the Baptist churches, challenged by the worthy programs of these churches and finding fellowship in them. We are not men of good will, concerned for the foundations of society, aware that these are the gifts of religion to society, and so supporters of our churches. We are the people of the Church.
And the Church is greater than the churches. As the true Israel of God’s purpose was not equal to the Israelite nation, so is the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ not equal to the Christian churches. It is in every one of them, yet beyond all of them—so much so that no church may claim to be the One True Church without self-deification and blasphemy. The Church is an invisible thing. It cuts across the membership [roll] of the churches along a line no ecclesiastical statistician could follow, and reaches out to include the most improbable publicans and sinners. It breathes in and out of the forms and standards of the churches like a wind blowing “where it wills” [or] may indeed “hear the sound of it,” but there is no telling “whence it comes or whither it goes” …. The Church is a supra-earthly community transcending time and space. In it one sits down with Father Abraham and the Twelve, with the Christian brother in the pew and the Christian brother in China. It is the community of all who have heard the sound of the Kingdom of God drawing near, and have said Yes to its coming. It is the new Israel, the new people of God, One Holy Church Universal.
So he writes this little letter. And he says, “I’m writing to you, Titus. You’re the man for the time in Crete. You’re my true child. We share a faith, Titus, that is going to reach far and beyond us. And so I commend you to God’s care.” And he reminds him of the grace of God, in which he stands, and the peace of God, which will then guard his heart and mind in a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. What better way to end his introduction to this letter? And what better way to end our study in the prospect of a new Monday but by being reminded of God’s grace, through which we are justified, and God’s peace, which keeps us in his perfect will?
Father, we thank you for the privilege that is ours to become students of your Word. We pray that you will help us to love it, to read it, to live it, to obey it. We thank you that we’re able to say that the Lord Jesus is our everything; that he is actually, ultimately, everything to us; that all that we have and all that we are, all that we ever hope to be, is all gathered up in the wonder of his love.
And it is a matter of significant import that we can take your name upon our lips and call you our own. That Titus would be known by Paul was surely a wonder, but that Paul would be known by Christ, even more so—and that we, as his children, would be identifiable. Thank you for loving us. Thank you for your grace and your peace. And we pray in your name. Amen.
 R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943). Language modernized.
 2 Timothy 3:7 (NIV).
 Hebrews 4:2 (NIV 1984).
 Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn’t (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 132.
 Mark 1:15 (ESV).
 John 10:10 (paraphrased).
 Colossians 3:1 (ESV).
 2 Corinthians 5:8 (ESV).
 Philippians 1:23 (ESV).
 See Revelation 21:1‒2.
 Matthew 22:23‒33 (paraphrased).
 Richard Baxter, “Lord, It Belongs Not to My Care” (1681).
 Acts 1:7 (ESV).
 See Ephesians 1:11.
 1 Corinthians 9:16 (ESV).
 Karl Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man, trans. Douglas Horton (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1935), 103. Paraphrased.
 2 Corinthians 5:20 (NIV).
 John Bright, The Kingdom of God: The Biblical Concept and Its Meaning for the Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1953), 255–56.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.