Titus, 1 Timothy, and 2 Timothy are the three “Pastoral Epistles”, which were written by Paul. These epistles, or letters, were written in order to give instructions to local church leaders in Ephesus and Crete, respectively.
In Titus Chapter 1 this instruction focused on the character traits of a church leader, which he also contrasted to the immoral culture of Crete, which is where Titus is currently serving. In Chapter 2 Paul went into more detail on the ideal traits of church members, especially when it comes to their acts and actions towards one another. And now, here in Chapter 3, Paul will focus on the relationship between Christians and their surrounding culture. So that begs the questions, with such a pointed focus put on how these Christ followers were to live, work, and interact with the world around them, what was the culture like in that area of the world during this time in history?
To better understand the culture of Crete we must first understand a little bit about its geography. Crete is an island located in the Cretan Sea, which is found just south of the Aegean Sea and just north of the Mediterranean Sea. Being an island, Crete obviously has quite an extensive coastline and being in such a hot spot of travel and trade they would have received quite a melting pot of visitors, bringing many different cultures, views, and religious teachings onto this modest 3,219 square mile island.
This hot bed of travel led to many varying civilizations and nations laying claim to parts of this land. At one time, Crete served as the center of the Minoan civilization, as well as the cults of Augustus, Roma, Claudius, Aclepius, Isis, and Serapis, just to name a few. These “cults” as they are known were formed when emperors as well as members of their families were believed to have divinely sanctioned authority, some, for example Asclepius, were even believed to have special powers such as healing. The devotion to and worship of these earthly “gods” took the place of the one true God for many in this geographic area and culture.
We know this to be true not only through scripture and historical manuscripts but also through artifacts. In fact, there was an inscription found at the sanctuary of Asclepius at Lebana that read “Diodorus dedicated to you, savior; two dreams in return for twofold eyes, light being restored”. Another similar inscription, addressed to Zeus and attributed to a Corinthian named Plotius, was found at Knossos. These inscriptions, which reference Greek deities as “savior” provide a clear picture as to why Paul is so diligent to point back to God and Jesus as Savior, reminding the people that there is only one true provider and savior and that is found in the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I can’t help but look at the melting pot that is the island of Crete and not see a bit of our nation and culture in the mix of it all. The United States is known around the World as a melting pot - a place in which diverse cultures and ethnicities come together to form the rich fabric of our nation. And this heritage of many different people and nations coming together to form the patchwork that is the United States is something I personally love about our country. However, with this modge podge of culture comes a plethora of spiritual beliefs and teachings. So what are we to do as the church? Are we to hide away from those of differing cultures and nationalities in our communities? Absolutely not!
Matthew 28:19-20 commands, “Therefore go and make disciples of ALL nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
And Romans 12:2 states, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will.” In other words, we live out God’s will when we change our thoughts (not our surroundings) to God’s thoughts, rather than living like the world around us dictates.
I think we are all somewhat familiar with these verses and have a decent grasp on WHAT we are supposed to do as Christians living in this fallen world but where we tend to get stumped is in the HOW. How are we to live in the world but not of it? How are we to go into all nations when they’ve been taught something so very different? We can begin to gain some understanding in the HOW right here in Paul’s writing to Titus.
There is a lot of great teaching wrapped up in these 15 verses of Chapter 3; however, for the sake of time I am going to focus on giving you a quick overview of the two sections of instruction, if you will, of this chapter.
First, in verses 1-8, Paul instructs Titus to remind the people of their Christian duties, or callings. This reminder includes many things such as the importance of obedience to local law and authority. Much like we see in society today, the Christian religion had been misrepresented as prejudicial to the rights of civil powers, tending toward rebellion against lawful authority. However, Paul reminds us that Christians are to be examples of obedience to the government over them in things that are lawful, honest, and in alignment with scripture. He also points to the truth that, even when in disagreement, we are not to speak evil of anyone. To “speak evil” refers to anything that is false, unjust, or unnecessary; anything that may hurt and do no good to yourself or any other person.
Second, in verses 9-15, Paul addresses what Titus should avoid in teaching. At first this could seem like Paul is telling Titus to stay quiet on sensitive issues in order to avoid conflict but that is definitely not the case. Instead, Paul is telling Titus not to get caught up in all of the “water cooler chit chat” but instead, keep the focus on the task at hand - to spread the Gospel, answering questions and dealing with situations that bring life and health to the church and its people, avoiding the idle and foolish questions that will only distract from the mission, not bringing attention to God’s glory or adding to the edification and building up of the people.
The list of teachings from Paul to Titus is extensive in this chapter and we have only glossed over a small few of them in our time together today, but it stands out in each of these teachings one clear common thread - all of them require that we live lives of submission to the Lord and His leading. Submission to the Lord in our obedience to our local leaders, submission to the Lord in the words we say and the actions we take. Submission to the Lord and His call for us to live lives boldly for Him and His glory and not our own.
I encourage you today to ask the Lord to search your heart and reveal to you what areas you may need to submit to Him today.