Pastor Scott Andrews | August 15, 2021
He was born in Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia, a prosperous city just off the northeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, modern-day Turkey. While born into a Jewish family, he was also born a Roman citizen. No doubt as was customary, he received three names at birth – we only know two of them: his Jewish name was Saul, named after the first king of Israel, a hero of his ancestral tribe of Benjamin. His Greek name was Paul, which means “little.” Tradition tells us he was indeed short of stature, and frankly, not much to look at.
But, as a Roman citizen, he likely received an education from one of the three outstanding universities in the Roman Empire, since it was located in Tarsus. Later, he spent time in Jerusalem, studying at the feet of the famed rabbi, Gamaliel, grandson of Hillel, perhaps the most famous Jewish rabbi of all time. Saul was therefore trained in the most advanced Greek and Jewish schools of his day.
But, he was Jewish Jew. Born of the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised the eighth day, just like he was supposed to. It was probably right after his thirteenth birthday that he was sent to Jerusalem to study with Gamaliel. He would have memorized lots of Scripture – to include the first five books of the Old Testament. He would have learned how to interpret the Scripture under strict rabbinic tradition, using a commentary called the Talmud. He became a Pharisee – a group deeply committed to Judaism, the Law of Moses, and their brand of holiness. In fact, the word Pharisee comes from a word meaning separated – they saw themselves as separated, aloof from others in their pursuit of holiness – which they thought they alone achieved.
The truth is, this Saul had it going on. After school in Jerusalem, he likely spent time back in Tarsus teaching in a leading synagogue. He was becoming a veritable who’s who in Jewish circles. Vocationally, he was in the residential building industry – a maker of tents, no doubt just like his father. But his great love was the Law and teaching – he was gaining a reputation as a Hebrew of Hebrews, an up and coming Pharisee – as to the external observance of the Law – Pharisaically speaking, he was blameless. He was voted most likely to succeed; Saul was all that.
At some point as a young man, he was in Jerusalem – no doubt one of many trips there. It’s even possible he was a young member of the Sanhedrin – the Jewish ruling body of the day, comprised of 70 members plus the High Priest. Most assuredly Saul had heard about a man from Nazareth named Jesus – an itinerant carpenter whose teaching had baffled his colleagues – whose followers claimed He was the Messiah. Of course, there had been many self-proclaimed Messiahs, and they all faded away. I’m sure Saul would have relished going a round or two with this would-be Messiah – he would have taken Him down a notch or two. But, the various political and religious parties of the day had joined forces to eliminate Jesus – they had Him crucified for treason at the hands of the Romans. And that, as they say, was that.
But rumors soon began to circulate this Jesus had risen from the dead – and His movement called The Way actually began to grow. Go figure. He gained followers throughout Jerusalem and surrounding cities – groups were springing up everywhere. Why, earlier on the Day of Pentecost when the city was bustling with people, one of the sect leaders had preached about this supposedly risen Jesus, and thousands declared their faith in this crucified Messiah.
Well later, on this particular trip to Jerusalem, one follower named Stephen actually had the audacity to preach the Old Testament that Saul knew by heart, to his colleagues in the Sanhedrin. This took things too far, and they rose up and stoned him – laying their coats at Saul’s feet in the process, who vigorously gave assent to his death. The only thing is, this man, as the stones were pelting him and he was dying, looked to heaven and exclaimed, “I see the Son of Man, standing at the right hand of God.” That always haunted Saul. But, this heretic deserved to die.
Something about that event inflamed Saul’s passions. He would now lead the opposition against this fledging, heretical group. He began persecuting followers of The Way, followers of Jesus – ravaging the church – hunting them down, beating them, dragging them off to prison and ultimately to court – he himself led the vote against them demanding the death penalty. Soon, he was seeking and receiving letters of authorization to travel to outlying cities wherever there were Jewish synagogues – wherever this dangerous sect had sprung up – opposing, persecuting, breathing out murderous accusations against its followers. But the more he persecuted them, the more they spread out, and grew.
So one day, he received such letters to travel all the way to Damascus, northeast of Israel in Syria, to find and arrest followers of this carpenter. But…on the way there, something startling happened. There was suddenly a bright light and Saul was knocked to the ground. He heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” to which Saul responded, “Who are You, Lord?” Interesting choice of words – Saul seemed to understand this was a divine encounter. And the voice said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Stop in this short biography to consider. Saul was persecuting followers of Jesus to death. And Jesus appeared to show this man, of all people, grace. It’s rather stunning.
That encounter changed Saul’s life, and the lives of millions since. He was blinded by that bright light, and had to be led to the home of a man named Ananias in Damascus. The Lord told Ananias that Saul was His chosen instrument to bear the name of Jesus to the Gentiles, to kings, and to the Jews. He would actually become the Apostle, the one sent, to the Gentiles, and write half of what became the New Testament. What an act of grace.
Saul had been miraculously converted to The Way – to this Jesus, a crucified and risen carpenter – to this movement he once vehemently and violently opposed. Later, reflecting on this remarkable time, he wrote, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” (I Timothy 1:12-15) Do you ever feel like the events of last year, last month, last night are beyond the reach of God’s loving grace? They are not. Saul’s life had forever been changed. And he never forgot the circumstances of his conversion – that he received a grace he did not deserve.
Saul spent time in Damascus, instead of persecuting the church, proclaiming powerfully in the synagogues that Jesus was indeed the Christ. The very truth he had come to oppose he was now promoting – preaching. It’s no wonder those who listened to him were amazed and said, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” Isn’t this Saul the persecutor?
Saul was so successful in Damascus that soon, his former colleagues came from Jerusalem to kill him. They even enlisted local military and political support. But their plot became known, so Saul escaped under the cover of darkness, being lowered through an opening in the city wall in basket. Think of that: he intended to come to the town a hero of Judaism, accompanied by Temple police – he left alone, a fugitive fleeing for his life – a follower of a carpenter turned Messiah – crucified, but raised from the dead.
He went into Arabia where he spent three years, in his own personal seminary, being taught this time at the feet of Jesus. You see, he later said he learned the gospel not from any man, but by direct revelation from Jesus Himself. He then went back to Damascus for a time, then traveled to Jerusalem – his first time back since leaving as a persecutor – now a follower. He spent fifteen days with Peter and James, the Lord’s brother. And, he began preaching boldly about Jesus – again raising the ire of non-believing Jews.
He had to escape again – this time traveling to the city of his birth – Tarsus. Sometime later, when Barnabas was sent by the church in Jerusalem to Antioch in Syria to organize the church there, Barnabas sent for Saul to help him with the work. Under their guidance, the church began to flourish. But, it was never God’s intention that Saul stay in one place – remember, he was to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. So after a period of time, the Holy Spirit said to the church in Antioch – separate Saul and Barnabas – give them to Me for the work I have for them to do.
And thus began Saul’s missionary work in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. On his first missionary journey, he and Barnabas planted churches in Galatia, in cities like Antioch (Galatia), Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. You can read about that first journey in Acts 13 and 14. Oh, and by the way, it was during this journey that Saul began using his Greek name, Paul – no doubt to be more accepted by the Gentiles to whom he was sent.
Now, let’s talk about his ministry in Lystra. It was rather eventful – as in most cities. He encountered a man who was lame from birth. He was listening intently to Paul preaching the gospel when Paul looked at him and said, “Stand upright on your feet” – you know, something the man had never done. But he did – we find he leaped up and began to walk. It was an amazing miracle – and the crowds were duly impressed.
So impressed they began shouting, “The gods have become like men and come down to us.” They called Barnabas Zeus, and Paul Hermes, who in Greek mythology was the son of Zeus and the messenger of the gods. They called him Hermes because he was the chief speaker. Now, why would they jump to this conclusion?
Well, about 50 years before, a Roman poet named Ovid told an ancient legend about how Zeus and Hermes had visited Lystra once before. They came incognito, asking for lodging from a thousand people, and no one gave it to them, until finally, an elderly couple. The legend says their home was turned into a magnificent temple, but all the rest of the townspeople were destroyed in a flood. So, these people of Lystra were a little concerned about what appeared to be a second visit from the gods.
So, the priest of Zeus showed up with garlands for Paul and Barnabas – and oxen – he was going to offer sacrifices. When the missionaries saw what was happening, they tore their robes, ran into the crowd, saying – hey, stop, we’re men just like you. But, you need to turn from these vain beliefs to the true and the living God. So, they stopped the idolatrous sacrifice. However, soon thereafter, some Jews showed up, incited the crowds, who then stoned Paul, drug him out of the city, and left him for dead. Talk about fickle – from sacrifice to stoning, just like that.
Now, we’re perhaps familiar with the story, but don’t just breeze over it. Paul was stoned, just like Stephen. Do you know what stoning is? The crowd would circle you so there was no escape. They would pick up stones the size of baseballs or bigger, and begin pelting your body. This was not necessarily a quick death. Welts would begin to rise – gashes would begin to appear – bones would begin to break – blood would begin to flow. And sooner or later, a well-thrown rock would perhaps strike his head, and life would cease. Still, they would throw rocks until he was virtually covered with stones. Then, they dragged Paul out of the city and left him for dead. And where did they leave him? On the road outside the city gate? No – there was a refuse pile outside every city where they dumped garbage and human waste. He was flung on top of a nasty garbage heap to rot. It’s interesting, later, when he wrote a letter to these Galatians, he said, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.”
Well, while the disciples were standing around Paul, wondering what they were going to do – Paul stood up – went back into the city – probably said something like, you missed me – and then left for Derbe the next day. That concluded their first missionary journey, and Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch to report to the church about their trip. But what’s important to note is that believers – a church was planted in Lystra. One of those was a young man named Timothy, who later joined him on his second missionary journey.
Sometime later, some false teachers began teaching heresy in those churches, so Paul wrote his first letter to become part of our New Testament, his letter to the Galatians to correct the error.
After traveling back to Jerusalem in Acts 15 to take part in the Jerusalem Council to settle once and for all whether the Law of Moses was necessary for salvation, Paul was sent with Silas to share the results of the Council to those new churches, and to plant other churches. This began his second missionary journey, when Paul planted churches in Macedonia and Achaia and Asia Minor – in cities like Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth and Ephesus before traveling back again to Antioch. This second journey took a bit longer than the first – perhaps as long as three or four years. After that trip, he wrote letters to Thessalonica and then Corinth – letters which also became part of our New Testament. So far, then, we have Galatians, I and II Thessalonians, and I and II Corinthians.
Sometime later, he set out on a third missionary journey, wanting to check on these churches, before ending up in Corinth. He spent about three months there when it occurred to him, through his three journeys, the church of Jesus Christ had been planted in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, all the way over to Illyricum. The work wasn’t done, but the church was healthy – so they could now do the work. It was time for Paul to go to places beyond. He began thinking and praying about taking the gospel to the western part of the Empire – even as far west as Spain. So he writes a letter to the church at Rome to introduce himself, share his gospel, and request that his base of operations be moved from Antioch in the East, to Rome in the West. From there, he would continue his missionary work. So now we’ve got another letter from Paul – and they’re growing, and listed as follows:
- Galatians, I and II Thessalonians – His Early Epistles (written early)
- I and II Corinthians, Romans – His Major Epistles (major because they’re long)
Now, Paul’s plan was to leave Corinth, travel to Jerusalem to deliver an offering for the church there. He had actually encouraged the collection through a young man named Titus. Well, his plan was then to set out for Spain, stopping by Rome on the way. Incidentally, by this time, he’d been preaching the gospel for about 20 years. This ended his third missionary journey.
Now, Paul did make it to Rome – twice that we know of – just not the way he planned. You see, when he got back to Jerusalem to deliver that offering, he was arrested by the Temple police and imprisoned. On the night immediately following his arrest, the Lord appeared to him and said, “Take courage, for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.” Paul would go to Rome, just not the way he planned.
After a short time, an assassination plot against Paul was uncovered, so he was transferred to the port city of Caesarea. There, he was able to share his gospel before governors Felix and Festus. Festus wanted to take Paul back to Jerusalem, so Paul, as a Roman citizen, appealed his case to Caesar. Meaning, he would be sent in chains to Rome to stand trial. You may remember the story: after a long journey by ship, including a shipwreck, Paul made it to Rome, where he spent two full years under house arrest proclaiming the gospel – in Rome, just like Jesus said.
It was during this time he wrote the New Testament letters of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. We call them Prison Epistles, because he wrote them during his two-year imprisonment in Rome. And by the way, that takes us to the end of the book of Acts. But tradition tells us after this two-year imprisonment, he was released and eventually made his way to Spain. Now, we kind of have to fill in the blanks from this point, since Luke doesn’t record it in Acts. It was during this time – we’re not sure exactly when – that he wrote two of his final letters, I Timothy and Titus. A short time later, perhaps after his return from Spain, he was arrested again – because a full-fledged imperial persecution had broken out against the church – led by the Emperor Nero himself. It was during this final imprisonment he wrote his last letter – II Timothy – before tradition again tells us, he was beheaded for his faith about 66 AD.
So, we have accounted for all of Paul’s letters, in the order he wrote them:
- Galatians, I and II Thessalonians – The Early Epistles
- I and II Corinthians, Romans – The Major Epistles
- Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon – the Prison Epistles
- I Timothy, Titus and II Timothy – The Pastoral Epistles
These final three letters have been called the Pastoral Epistles, because they were written to young men who were in some sense pastoring churches – Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete. So Paul writes I Timothy and Titus to give instructions to these young pastoral protegees. But don’t for a moment think these letters are only for pastors – far from it. They’re certainly letters pastors can benefit from, but no doubt Paul intended them for the entire church. Why do I say that? Well, first, they’re in the Bible – God superintended these personal letters to individuals found their way into the Bible you read and study. Secondly, they carry much instruction about the nature of the church – its organization, its administration, its purposes, its ministries and responsibilities – and we’re all part of the church, so we all benefit. Not only that – the closing lines of I Timothy and Titus are a blessing written in the plural – Grace be with you all. The idea seems to be Paul expected Timothy and Titus to read their letters to the whole church.
Now, if you have been at Alliance for awhile, you know that after covering the Book of Acts many years ago, we embarked on a journey through Paul’s letters in the order he wrote them. To date, we’ve made our way through 12 of Paul’s 13 letters. When we arrived at the Pastoral Epistles, we covered I and II Timothy. I decided to wait for Titus, since there were some similarities with I Timothy. We then made our way through the General Epistles.
So note, Titus is one of the last letters Paul wrote. It was after his release from his first Roman imprisonment, and before his last imprisonment, which ended in his death. We don’t know if he wrote I Timothy or Titus first, but they were both written in the early to mid 60s – after Paul had been in ministry for about 30 years. Both Timothy and Titus were his apostolic delegates to set things in order in the churches – Timothy in Ephesus, and Titus in Crete. And let me say, given much confusion regarding the church today – there is no better time for us to look at Titus.
By the way, in our thirty-year journey through the NT on Sunday mornings, we have four books left. Titus is the last of Paul’s letters we will study. Jude is the last of the General Epistles we have yet to cover. Luke is the fourth of the four gospels we’ll cover. And Revelation is the last book of the NT we’ll cover.
But who is this Titus? We know he has this book bears his name, but who was he, and why does Paul write to him? You might be interested to know that he is not even mentioned in the book of Acts. We first read about him in Paul’s first letter – his letter to the Galatians. Paul is giving his autobiography, much of which I just shared:
1 Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.
2 It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.
3 But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.
During his ministry, maybe while he was still in Antioch with Barnabas, perhaps fourteen years after his conversion, he went to Jerusalem and took Titus with him. Poof, Titus just appears. Titus is a Greek name – and in fact, we read he was Greek. Now, I told you Paul wrote Galatians because of some false teaching, namely because of the Judaizers who were saying Gentile believers needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul took Titus with him to show that he believed the gospel and was saved, even though he was uncircumcised. We’ll talk more about that later.
The next time we see Titus is throughout the book of II Corinthians – still an early letter – when Paul sent Titus to help the Corinthians with the offering he was taking for the church in Jerusalem. We’ll talk about this later, but please notice how Titus, a Greek, was being used to collect money from a primarily Gentile church for the Jewish church in Jerusalem. Maybe because the Gospel unites people of different ethnicities. Maybe because the Gospel is the answer to racism as God makes one new people – the people of God.
Sometime later, Titus is in Crete. Poof, he just appears again. Paul appears to have been with him, because he says in verse 5 of chapter 1, I left you in Crete to set in order what remains to be done in the churches. So apparently, outside the book of Acts – after release from his first Roman imprisonment at the end of Acts, Paul and Titus spent time in Crete, evangelizing the island and planting churches. Paul left, and left Titus as his delegate to order the churches.
Finally, the last time we see the name of Titus is in II Timothy. Paul is in his second and final Roman imprisonment that will lead to death. He is summoning Timothy to come see him, and mentions he has sent Titus to Dalmatia. Titus always seemed to be a partner in ministry to Paul – going wherever Paul sent him.
So why do I give you all this Pauline NT survey this morning? I want you to know who Paul is, the author of this letter, and who Titus is, the recipient of the letter. I want you to know where it falls in the canon of Scripture. I want you to know the occasion or circumstances for the letter. Paul wants Titus to set things in order in the church, meaning, if we want to order our church rightly, we will pay attention to this book. Here’s the outline of the book as Paul gives instructions to Titus, and to us:
- Salutation (1:1-4)
- Appoint Elders (1:5-9)
- Deal with False Teachers (1:10-16)
- Teach Concerning Various Groups in the Churches (2:1-16)
- Teach Concerning Believers in the World (3:1-11)
- Conclusion (3:12-15)
So there is much for us to learn here – about elders, about false teaching, about living as believers in the church and in the world. I know that was a lot of academic information, but it is incredibly important that we understand the historical and cultural aspects of a book in order to interpret it correctly.