The Pastoral and the Personal

Posted: April 7, 2016 in Philemon, Route 66, Titus, Uncategorized

Route 66: Titus & Philemon, “The Pastoral and the Personal”

Although the letters to Titus and Philemon don’t have much in common, they do share one essential item: their author.  Both letters were written by Paul, and each shares a different aspect of Paul’s personality.  As much as we know Paul as the mighty apostle to the Gentiles & missionary extraordinaire, he was also a simple pastor & loving person.  Paul had a passion for the local church, and beyond that – Paul had a passion for individual Christians.  Both of these traits are on display in the letters he wrote to Titus & Philemon.  To Titus, Paul wrote as a friend, but primarily as pastor-to-pastor.  Titus had been sent to organize the church in Crete, and Paul gave him sound advice on how to do it.  To Philemon, Paul wrote with all the authority of an apostle, but he kept it in the background as he wrote friend-to-friend, appealing on behalf of someone they both knew in common.  Just as each of us individually wear different hats from time to time, so did the apostle Paul.  There’s no one-size-fits-all that fit him (nor with any of us).

Because we’re looking at two different books, we’ll take each one sequentially as they appear in our Bibles.

Although it canonically precedes Philemon in our Bibles, Titus was chronologically written afterwards.  Although it’s difficult to pinpoint a precise date to the letter, it seems most likely that Paul wrote to Titus at the same time he wrote his first letter to Timothy.  Titus is considered the last of the pastoral letters, organized that way primarily due to its content on church organization.

As to when the letter was written, it is impossible to find a specific date in the Scripture – but that’s because there is much apostolic activity that was not actually recorded in the Scripture.  Remember that the book of Acts ended with Paul under house-arrest in Rome, where he stayed for around two years.  After that point, Paul was released and he returned to evangelism and church planting.  It wasn’t until 66-67AD that Paul was rearrested & soon executed by command of Caesar Nero in Rome.  Thus from the period of around 62-65, Paul was relatively free to travel and minister around the Roman Empire.  It was at some point during that timeframe that he wrote to both Timothy and Titus, giving them each advice on how to go about their own pastoral ministries.

Who was Titus?  Like Timothy, Titus was considered by Paul to be a son in the faith (1:4), and was a trusted representative of his.  Unlike Timothy, Titus is not mentioned once within the book of Acts, which is curious considering that Titus seems to have actively been with Paul during some of that time.  Some scholars have speculated that Titus might have been a relative of Luke, which is the reason for Luke’s silence – but there’s no Scriptural proof of the theory.  What we do know of Titus is gleaned from Paul’s own writings.  Titus had accompanied Paul & Barnabas on one of their trips to Jerusalem (Gal 2:1-3), and he became Exhibit A in Paul’s case against the Judaizers.  Unlike Timothy who had a Gentile father & Jewish mother, Titus was fully Gentile, and no one among the Jerusalem elders saw the need for Titus to be circumcised (2:3).

As time passed, Titus became crucial to Paul’s ministry, basically serving as an extension of Paul himself.  If Paul couldn’t go, he’s send someone like Timothy or Titus in his stead.  Corinth was a case in point.  After all the time Paul spent in Corinth, he still had quite a contentious relationship with them.  Timothy apparently took the letter we know as 1 Corinthians, whereas Titus served as Paul’s intermediary with 2 Corinthians.  Titus is mentioned no less than 8 times throughout the letter, and Paul relied upon him heavily in both administering discipline and grace to the church.  Titus would also be mentioned much later on in Paul’s life, as Paul wrote his 2nd letter to Timothy (just prior to his own execution) have having left Paul’s side in Rome to go to Dalmatia, presumably to minister there.

As for this particular letter, Titus had been sent to the island of Crete to organize the Christians there as a local church.  The only Biblical record we have of Paul ever visiting Crete was during his trip to Rome, while under arrest (Acts 27:7-8).  The sea voyage started out well enough, although it ended in shipwreck off the coast of Malta.  Paul didn’t seem to be in Crete very long, but it’s not unlikely that he was there long enough to convert some to Christ, and the numbers of believers would have grown over time.  That said, there’s not enough evidence to pinpoint that event as the time Christianity first came to Crete – due to the fact that Paul wrote this letter to Titus after his release from jail, it’s possible that he returned to Crete & founded the church at a later time.  In any case, there were now Christians on the island, and they needed help organizing into a functioning congregation.  That’s where Titus came in.  Paul could trust Titus to carry on the work that he himself was unavailable for, and thus he wrote to Titus giving him specific instructions.

Titus may have been a young man, but he was a capable man.  Paul could trust him to do the work, from one pastor to another.

Titus is a short letter, only three chapters long – and the content readily divides along the traditional chapter headings.

  • Leaders (1): What Titus (and thus ALL of us within the church) was to look for in potential men to ordain as elders.
  • Laypeople (2): Beyond the elders, how were all the other groups within the church supposed to function?  Paul gave instructions for each of them.
  • Everyone (3): Certain truths apply to everyone within the body of Christ, no matter who you are – especially those things that pertain to grace and good works.

Introduction (1-4)
Paul’s opening to the letter of Titus stands out in its depth.  Other letters have been rather straightforward, with Paul simply introducing himself & his audience.  With Titus, Paul launches into doctrine and a doxology.  Titus 1:1–3, "(1) Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, (2) in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, (3) but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior;"  Paul is both slave & sent one of God (bondservant & apostle), according to what?  According to the gospel.  Paul preaches but one thing: the truth manifested in Jesus Christ.  This is the faith to which God’s people (the elect) hold, and this is the truth that lines up with holy living as we look forward to eternity with God.  How do we know we will enter that eternity?  Because God doesn’t lie.  More than that – God cannot lie.  He is truth by His very nature, and once God promises something, He never takes it back.  God promised salvation through Jesus from eternity past, proclaiming it even in the Garden of Eden, and it was made manifest when Jesus walked the earth, died on the cross, and rose from the grave.  That same message was preached by Paul, who was commanded to do so by the Lord God Himself. 

  • Paul was amazed at the privilege he had to proclaim the gospel of God, and so ought we to be the same.  The message we preach is the eternal plan of God concerning Jesus Christ.  This IS His plan of salvation for the entire world, conceived of before the world was ever created.  God always knew our sin, and always knew what He would do to save us.  God knew it, brought it pass, and proclaims it through us.  We are His tools in His work to build His kingdom.  What a privilege it is to participate!

What elders should be (5-9)
Paul gives his reason for writing to Titus in 1:5, “For this reason…that you should set in order…and appoint elders…”  IOW, the church needed leaders, and Titus was the one trusted by Paul to find them and train them.  It was one thing for Paul to plant a church – it was another thing for that church to thrive in his absence.  Paul could plant, but he couldn’t remain there.  Other leaders needed to pick up where he left off.  All healthy churches need to be able to survive beyond their founding pastor.  Thus Titus was left in Crete to ensure these necessary leaders were found.

What was Titus to look for?  The same things Paul wrote to Timothy.  Bishops (elders, pastors) were to be searched out in terms of godly character, first & foremost.  They were to be blameless, engage in marital faithfulness, be good fathers, good stewards, patient, etc. (1:6-8)  Although doctrine and ability to teach was truly important (1:9), the primary qualifications for ministry positions were character-based; not education-based.

  • This is too often reversed in modern-day evangelicalism.  The pastoral search is organized like any other employee head-hunting exercise & résumés & CV’s are looked at before anything else is examined.  Far too many men are chosen for ministry based on their ability to communicate & the number of letters after their name, rather than the character that they have demonstrated over time.  Education & skill is important, but without godliness, it’s useless.

What elders should NOT be (10-16)
This is where Paul hones in on education.  Godly men ought to have godly doctrine – and it is the combination of the two that Titus is to search for in potential leaders.  Even in the early days of the church, there were already false teachers popping up everywhere (1:10) – something that has only increased over time.  Then (like today) they were greedy & rude & deserved a godly rebuke.  Shepherds who take advantage of the sheep of God ought to remember that they themselves are but sheep who answer to a far Higher Shepherd.  It ought to be a sobering thing to be entrusted with teaching the people of God!

In the case of Crete, it seems that the false teachers Paul knew of were heavily influenced by some form of Judaism.  Whether or not these were outright Judaizers is unknown, but they certainly focused upon Jewish fables & traditions/commandments of men (1:14).  Titus needed to remind them that the Jewish kosher law was not binding upon the Gentile churches, for “to those who are pure all things are pure.”  The ability (or inability) to keep kosher law did not demonstrate any knowledge of God; all it showed was their own legalism & thus disobedient works (1:16).

Good group qualities (1-9)
From elders, Paul turned his attention to the other small groups within the church.  Titus was to provide “sound doctrine” for all of them, helping them live in such a way as to glorify God.  Both older men & women were to live lives of godliness, serving as an example to those who were younger in the congregation.  Call it mentorship – call it discipleship – whatever you call it, just do it.  Those who are mature in the faith ought to look for those who are younger, and invest in them.  Build them up so that they can know what a godly husband/wife/man/woman looks like.

That’s not to say that Titus was to ignore those who were younger.  As he instructed the older men & women (exhorting them with respect), he was also to be an example to the younger people among the church.  IOW, Titus was to practice what he preached.  If the older men in the congregation should live as an example of godliness, so should Titus.  Whatever the group, be it young men or slaves – all were exhorted to do what was right and give glory to God.  No matter what station in life you had, you could still live your life to the glory of God.

  • Social status & finances are never an excuse for godless living.  We can’t blame our circumstances for our behavior.  If we have been called out of the world through the gospel of God, then we are called by God to live for His glory.  We can do that whether we’re young, old, rich, or poor.

Keep looking for Jesus (11-15)
In the process, as we live for the glory of God, we are to live with hope, looking forward to the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.  That is the essence of Christianity, is it not?  We have been saved, so live as though you have been saved, and look forward to the One who has saved you.  Jesus gave Himself for us in order that we could be saved – redeemed from all of our sins & lawless deeds.  Now we have been made His people.  So live AS His people.  Look forward in hope to His return.  Live every day knowing that you are going to see the Lord Jesus.  Those were the things Titus was to teach the people of Crete – and it’s still good instruction today!

  • Do you look forward to the coming of Jesus with hope?  Why or why not?

Grace: the reason for good works (1-8)
Paul goes on to write of the things Titus should instruct for everyone.  Whether leaders or laypeople, all were to obey the governing authorities, to be ready to engage in good works, to refrain from speaking evil & stirring up strife. (3:1-3)  Again, the idea is godliness.  Live in such a manner that people can see how your life has been transformed by Jesus Christ.  Why?  Because it has been transformed by Jesus Christ!  That’s the point of vss. 4-7.  It is because of the kindness of God, not because of anything we’ve done, that God saved us.  He gave us new life & He justified us through the work of Jesus Christ, solely because He chose to do so.  That was an act of His grace…period.  We didn’t deserve how we were treated by God, neither does the world deserve any good deeds from Christians based on how they treat us.  Yet we do it anyway.  God gave us His grace, so we extend that same grace to everyone else around us.  We do good works & keep doing good works (vs 8) because GOD deserves it; not because anyone else has earned it.

  • We live in a world that is becoming more & more overt in its opposition to Christianity.  We live in a nation that is becoming more & more godless in its character.  None of that changes our mandate from God to live humble God-honoring lives in the midst of it.  None of it changes the need for us to engage in good works.  In fact, it gives us more opportunity to actually practice those good works.  After all, we can’t ever turn the other cheek if we’re never slapped on one in the first place.  It is only when we are offended that we have the opportunity to demonstrate grace.  So demonstrate it!

Dealing with division (9-10)
As Titus was to help the church in Crete continue in good works, there were other things that Titus was supposed to keep the Cretans from: division & divisive people.  Some things are worth parting over; other things are not.  Essentials are to remain essentials, and we need to draw a line on things like the deity of Christ, justification by faith, the resurrection, etc.  However, not everything is essential doctrine.  Some things are important, but not essential.  Other things are simply not important at all.  It’s easy to get caught up in “foolish disputes” & other things (3:9), but they serve no profit to anyone.  What’s the use of winning an argument if you lose a brother or sister in Christ?  Some people argue over Bible codes & the nature of the Nephilim & the order of angels – but none of those things are important issues.  They aren’t worth the division that comes as a result.

As a rule, division is to be avoided.  Jesus prayed for the church to have unity (Jn 17), and when people purposefully sow division, they are acting contrary to the will of Christ.  Thus Titus was to warn people who tended to start arguments (3:10-11).  If they were unrepentant, they were to be avoided altogether.  The fruit of the Spirit is love (Gal 5:22) – purposeful division works directly against it.

  • Don’t waste your time on divisive people.  They will only drag you down to their level.

Close (12-15)
Paul ends with some specific instructions to Titus about co-workers who would be coming and going.  Paul valued Titus’ service in Crete, but he didn’t want Titus to remain there forever.  There was other work to do, and Titus was just the man for the job.  May God give us more Tituses!

The letter from Paul to Philemon is notable in a couple of ways: (1) It is the shortest letter from Paul that is preserved in our New Testaments, and (2) it is the most personal of all of the letters of Paul.  Although every Pauline epistle contains some personal notes of one kind or another, the letter to Philemon is entirely personal.  Here, Paul isn’t concerned about doctrine, so much as he’s concerned about an individual.  But even here, it is doctrine put into practice – this is where the rubber meets the road.

The occasion for the letter finds Paul attempting to navigate some difficult waters.  He has two mutual friends, one of whom greatly wronged the other, and Paul is attempting to reconcile them in Christian love.  The backstory is always important when attempting to understand Scripture, and in this case, it is absolutely essential.

There was a Christian in the city of Colossae by the name of Philemon.  The church at Colossae had not been planted by Paul, but Paul knew many of the people there & was greatly involved with the ministry that took place.  Philemon was a key member of the congregation, perhaps even offering his home as a meeting place for the church.  Philemon was also a slave owner.  This was not unusual for the day & age – up to 40% of the population in Roman Italy were slaves.  Slavery is never promoted within the New Testament, but it is acknowledged as a fact of the day.  Many people were slave owners before they came to faith in Christ, and they were exhorted by the apostles to be good & kind towards their slaves, hopefully exampling the love of Christ to them & treating them as equal brothers and sisters in the Lord.

In any case, Philemon had an slave by the name of Onesimus.  While serving Philemon in Colossae, Onesimus was not a believer, and at some point stole from his master & fled from his house.  He travelled all the way to Rome, and by the providence of God, found the apostle Paul who brought Onesimus to faith in Christ.  Onesiumus was discipled by Paul, and eventually became so useful to him that Paul wanted to keep Onesimus with him for as long as Paul was under house arrest in Rome.

And therein was the problem.  Onesimus wasn’t free to stay with Paul.  He was a thief & runaway slave – and even more to the point, Paul personally knew the man that Onesimus had wronged.  This turns out to be a wonderful problem to have.  After all, if you were in need of someone to plead on your behalf to another Christian, who better to have writing your recommendation other than the apostle Paul?

So Paul does the only thing he knows to do: he sends Onesimus back to Philemon with a letter written on his behalf.  Incidentally, that wasn’t the only letter Onesimus carried.  He was also the carrier of Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians – all written at the same time (60-61AD, the prison epistles).  Onesimus came with Paul’s appeal, Paul’s guarantee, and Paul’s blessing.  How would Philemon respond?  Hopefully, within the love of Christ.

Broadly speaking, the letter can be divided by Paul’s thanksgiving – his intercession for Onesimus – and his confidence in Philemon.

Greeting (1-3)
Notably, Paul does not introduce himself as an apostle in his opening.  He certainly had the opportunity to do so, but refrains from overtly using his apostolic authority.  The things he asks Philemon to do, he desires that Philemon do out of the sincerity of his heart and thankfulness to the work of God; not out of grudging obedience to Paul.

That said, Paul doesn’t greet only Philemon.  He also greets Apphia & Archippus, presumably elders within the Colossian church.  Archippus was actually mentioned directly in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and was instructed to take heed to the ministry given him by the Lord (Col 4:17).  What that ministry was, we don’t know – but he was obviously called to ministry in some fashion.  The point is that although this was a personal letter to Philemon, it wasn’t a private letter.  The things that Paul wrote to his friend were going to be known to more than just him.  This isn’t Paul necessarily guilting Philemon into acting, but it does put a little public pressure upon him.  Philemon would not be able to pretend that he never received a letter, nor lie about its contents.  Onesimus was coming back to an entire community that knew him, not just a single person.  Thus the community needed to know what Paul said of him.

  • The things we do as believers don’t take place in a vacuum.  We have the tendency to believe that what happens with us doesn’t affect anyone else.  That’s simply not true.  When one part of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer.  We can rejoice with those who rejoice & weep with those who weep.  All kinds of things within the body of Christ are public among one another.  Sometimes, that includes sin.  When sin is known publicly, repentance from that sin ought to be known publicly.  And if that repentance does take place, then that restoration and forgiveness ought to be made known as well.  What if someone repented from sin, but rumors about him/her still persisted?  That was potentially the case here with Onesimus, and that’s why Paul made it public.

That said, Paul never assumes the worst of Philemon – to the contrary, he assumes the best.  He specifically writes that Philemon is beloved & a fellow laborer.  Paul has every assumption that Philemon is going to do the right thing – it’s just that Paul doesn’t take anything for granted.  He knew that it was within his power to at least put in a good word for Onesimus, so that’s what he did.

Thanks (4-7)
Paul continues his compliments, having heard of the wonderful things that God did through Philemon.  Whoever this man was in Colosse, he was a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.  There’s an underlying implication here that Philemon was a generous man, who took pains to share with & refresh the other believers in the church.  The love that Philemon had for Jesus wasn’t only something that he proclaimed with his lips – it was made known through his actions as well.

  • That’s exactly the way it ought to be with all of us.  It’s easy in our culture today to give our hearts to Jesus in faith, praise Him in song, but then do nothing in our lives in action.  James will write much about this in his letter – how important it is to let our deeds match our faith.  Paul hasn’t hesitated to call for exactly the same thing throughout his writings.  Every time Paul has written of doctrine, he’s also written of deeds.  One simply accompanies the other.

Intercession (8-15)
This is the heart of the letter, where Paul makes his request known.  He knows that he could command Philemon to do this, but he doesn’t want to.  Instead of legalism, Paul comes in love.  He appeals to him as he was: an old man in prison, who had spent the better part of his life suffering for the Lord Jesus Christ.  It was in the midst of his sufferings that he met Onesimus, who Paul now considered to be another one of his sons in the faith (10).  This runaway slave had come to faith in Jesus Christ, and this fact changed everything.  Using a play on words, Paul writes how Onesimus was once “unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and me.”  Although a different word is used, the name “Onesimus” actually means “useful.”  In a sense, Paul is saying that once this slave was useless, but now because of Christ, he lives up to his name.  He’s got a new life & a new start & is truly useful not only to Philemon in the household duties once assigned to Onesimus, but in the ministry of the gospel as Paul was bound in prison.

  • When we come to faith in Christ, everything changes!  We’re new creations – the old is gone, and the new has come.  We’re no longer the people we used to be.  We ALL used to be worthless (no matter how skilled we believed we were).  Even on the best of days, we were all bathed in sin, simply because that is who we were.  No longer!  In Christ, we are brand new!  Now we can be used for the glory of God because it is the gospel of God that has transformed us!

With Onesimus’ transformation in mind, what was it Paul did?  Send him back.  From Onesimus’ viewpoint, this must have been the scariest thing in the world.  As a thief and runaway slave, he could easily face jail-time, physical punishment, or perhaps even death.  From a worldly perspective, Onesimus had absolutely no reason whatsoever to go back to Colosse.  He was hundreds of miles away in Rome, and he could very easily disappear wherever he wanted within the Roman Empire.  Yet he went back.  Paul wanted him to go back.  It was the right thing to do.  Now that Onesimus had repented & come to faith, he needed to do what was necessary for restoration with others.  Like Philemon, Onesimus’ faith couldn’t remain private just between himself & God.  There were outward ramifications, and that included making restitution with the one from whom he stole.

  • We might all do a gut-check at this point.  Is there anyone that deserves restitution from us?  Not everyone we’ve wronged will be willing to reconcile with us, but we all ought to do what we can to live at peace with all men.  Even Jesus told us that before we bring our offering to God, if we remember that our brother has something against us, we ought to go and be reconciled to them (Mt 5:24).

Thus Paul sent him back.  He would have rather kept Onesimus with him (13), but knew this was the right thing to do.  In retrospect, Paul wisely surmised this may have been the very reason for Onesimus’ flight.  In God’s sovereignty, God could even use the sin of Onesimus to bring him to a saving knowledge of Jesus.  It was as the slave ran that he ran to Rome, found Paul, and then found Christ.  Now this slave was more than a slave to Philemon – he was also his brother in the Lord (16).  Philemon lost much when Onesimus stole from him and ran away, but he would be gaining so much more upon his return!

Confidence (17-22)
Paul had every confidence in the world that as he and Onesimus did the right thing, so would Philemon.  He asked Philemon to receive Onesimus as if it were Paul himself walking through the door (17), and even offered to pay Onesimus’ debt on his behalf.  Of course, it’s not as if Paul owed Philemon anything; quite the contrary!  Philemon owed Paul his soul because it was through Paul’s ministry that Philemon first heard the gospel and was saved.  What is mere money in relation to that?

  • Question: Is Paul getting in a bit of a guilt trip here?  Perhaps.  But it was a different culture & time.  What is offensive to us may not have been offensive to them.  Even so, it was still true.  Like the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18, the servant ought to have forgiven his fellow servant of the little amount, after he himself had been forgiven the far greater amount by his king.  It’s all a matter of keeping things in perspective.  The little wrongs done between us as believers is nothing compared to the massive offense we caused against God.  If God forgave us of much, we can forgive others of little.

Again, Paul didn’t doubt Philemon’s obedience in this.  He even trusted that Philemon would go up and beyond, writing, “knowing that you will do even more than I say.” (21)  What that “more” is has been debated, but it seems likely a suggestion that Philemon offer Onesimus more than forgiveness, but his freedom as well.  Did he do it?  There is no way to know, but it’s interesting that history records an Onesimus serving as a bishop to the church in Ephesus (via Ignatius), which was another city to which the slave had taken a letter from Paul.  Perhaps Philemon did grant the slave his freedom, and that slave engaged in a far greater ministry than he had ever previously imagined!

Close (23-25)
Paul hoped to come to Philemon soon (whether or not he did is unknown), and sent greetings from the various people with him.  He lists off five different men, adding to the public nature of the letter.

To Titus, Paul wrote pastorally.  To Philemon, he wrote personally.  Praise God both letters are included in our Bibles!  We need to know what to look for in church leadership, and how to act as church members.  Godly teaching and godly actions go hand-in-hand.  At the same time, all of that instruction is not merely intellectual.  It works out in very practical ways, whether we are the ones seeking forgiveness from others, or the ones who need to extend forgiveness to someone else.  We are called not only to proclaim the faith & have faith, but to live out our faith.  It’s not always easy, but it is always worthwhile.

Maybe there’s been something you know the Lord has been impressing upon you to do.  What’s stopping you?  Go and do it.  It may be difficult, but ask the Lord for strength & He will give it.  It’s not always easy to extend forgiveness, and it’s hardly ever easy to ask for it.  It’s not always easy to do the right thing.  But that is what we’re called to do.  We have been saved through the glorious gospel of grace, and now we need to live like it.


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