Where The Blessing Begins
February 4, 2007
The three letters, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, are Paul’s final three letters. They are written to two men who are perhaps as close to him as anybody else in the family of God. Yet, when he writes these letters, he must address these two beloved brothers in a way which will cause those with whom they have to work to take seriously what they will do in that work. That means that how he begins is very, very important.
We would like to use as the text for our study today the salutations of these letters. I am going to read them in the order in which I think they were written, 1 Timothy, Titus and then 2 Timothy. 1 Timothy 1:1-2 begin, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Then to Titus, “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.” (Titus 1:1-4)
And then to 2 Timothy: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” (1:1-2)
Those three salutations have some unique things about them as far as the New Testament is concerned, and some precious truths for us to begin with in our Christian walk. In these Ozarks where we are privileged to live, if you were to start with nearly any of the clear, cold streams that are a part of this section of the country, and if you were to follow those streams back toward their source far enough, you would come eventually in most of them to a spring, and that spring would be the origin or the beginning of what we are able to enjoy farther down the stream.
If you take the blessings to be enjoyed be grace, mercy and peace, and if you follow those things to their source, you come, of course, to the God the Father and to the Lord Jesus Christ. Uniquely, Paul refers in these sections of these three letters to God our Savior. That particular phrase is not used outside these three letters. Just in Titus, for example, three times God is said to be our Savior and then three times Jesus Christ is said to be our Savior. What it is telling us is that God accomplishes great things through what his Son has done for us. If you consider the fact that God is the Father, he is the one who is able to choose and to promise and that God is our Savior, and then if you remember that Jesus in these texts is our Lord, that he is our hope and that he is our Savior, then you are reminded of what has to be the source of our lives as Christians. The church must ever remain focused not upon programs, numbers and things like that. The church must remain dedicated to not merely doing what people want and what we prefer, but instead to keeping God the Father and Jesus our Lord in their place as savior.
And then notice that these blessings of God must be expressed to all of us in some way or other. If the Father and his Son are the source of the grace, mercy and peace that our lives require, how do those things come to be in our possession? How does God choose to provide these things for us? That is what these three salutations are about. And Paul’s answer is that the work of the apostles of Christ is the basic and crucial matter in this process. He deals here with the fact, first and foremost, that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ and that his work is to bring people to possess the promises that God has made. This has to remain one of the basic interests of the church of Christ in this world because, beginning in Acts 2:42, the first thing that happens with these people who are baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins is that they continue in the apostles’ doctrine and the fellowship produced by their common loyalty to that teaching.
We want to examine together this morning from these three passages this function in the life and the history of the church of an apostle. Notice that in the letter to Titus, Paul begins by describing himself as a “servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” This is the only place in the New Testament where those two terms are used together in that way. James has something similar, but Paul describes himself as a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. The word for servant, as you know, means “slave.” Paul is saying here that he was not out to please men; that was not the focus in his life, not what his service was all about. He had been bought by God; he belonged completely to God; he was totally dependent upon God and lived in God’s service. It is a marked way of bringing forth the humility that Paul felt about the role which had been given to him.
But notice that his being a servant of God meant that in his case he was a man under orders, he was an apostle of Jesus Christ. Let’s remind ourselves for a moment of what that meant. The word apostle simply means “someone sent with orders,” “someone appointed to a task,” “someone given an official ministry which he goes out to accomplish with the Lord’s authority.” In the New Testament this word is sometimes used in the general sense of someone sent out by the church on a mission or as a missionary. But when it is used of someone sent by the Lord, then it takes on a more technical or official meaning. We go back, for example, to the ministry of Jesus in Luke 6, verses 12 and following, where Jesus after having prayed all night, “called his disciples together and chose from them twelve whom he appointed to be called apostles.” Mark says in Mark 3, verses 14 and following, that he appointed these apostles to be with him and to have authority to be involved in going out in his service so he could send them out to preach. Luke 9 lets us know that he gave these twelve authority and that he did send them out. Being an apostle involved being given a special measure of the Holy Spirit to function in a particular way in the Lord’s service. In John 16:12-13, on that last night, Jesus said to these men that he would send a spirit to guide them into all the truth.
Notice that up to this point now that being an apostle meant being chosen and appointed by Christ, being sent out on a mission with authority, and being given the power to accomplish that mission. When one of these apostles, Judas, forsook that place and left it, he was replaced. In Acts 1:21 and following, remember that the apostles prayed to the Lord, asked the Lord to show them whom he had appointed for that task, someone to be appointed in the place of Judas, and someone then who would be able to bear witness with the others of the resurrection of Christ. We learn here that it was necessary for someone to have been in Christ’s presence and to have been witness to his resurrected body in order to be an apostle, as well as his having been chosen by the Lord.
Time goes along and Paul says that as to a child untimely born, the Lord appeared to him also. (I Cor. 15:7) The record in the book of Acts as well as in Paul’s other writings, suggests that God chose him beforehand, and that the Lord Jesus Christ appointed him to be sent out to the Gentiles to preach to them salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ. This place of the apostle Paul as an apostle to the Gentiles is suggested especially in Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia. In Galatians 2, for example, the apostle Paul says beginning in verse 7, “On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised, (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles).” In I Timothy he writes “For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (2:7).
This means, then, that Paul is claiming for himself the place not only of a humble servant, but also as an authoritative messenger, that he is claiming for himself the right to act and to teach in the name of Jesus Christ, and for his words and his actions to be taken as what the Lord wanted, and for it to become the standard for all of the rest of us.
By The Command of God
Now, let’s move beyond what an apostle means and notice Paul’s emphases in these three letters upon the fact that this happened “by the command of God our Savior.” In fact, here and in I Timothy he said it is by the command of God and then in the other letter it is “by the will of God” that this happened. In Titus it is also said that God entrusted this privilege to him by command. This point is crucial because it says to us that Paul did not seek this position or this place, that Paul did not go out and lay hold to it in some kind of contest with other people, that Paul did not invent opinions and ideas about Christ on his own, but instead, because he was a servant of God, he felt the obligation to do what God sent him to do.
In Galatians especially, you notice Paul’s repeated emphasis on this idea. In Galatians 1:15 he said, “But when he who had set me apart before I was born and who called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his son to me in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles. I did not immediately consult with anybody.” He is acting in obedience to God. That’s what he is claiming here. He says in verses 11 and 12, “I would have you know brothers that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. I did not receive it from any man nor was I taught it, but I received it through revelation of Jesus Christ.” In Galatians 1:1 he says, “Paul, an apostle, not from men nor through man but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead.”
The reason I am trying to emphasize this is to say that one of the basic truths of the New Testament is that only Jesus Christ can make someone an apostle, and then only the word of an apostle can become the foundation for the life and the practice of the Lord’s church in this world. What these men said with the authority of Christ becomes a crucial matter for us.
For The Sake Of God’s Elect
Look thirdly at the way Paul uses his apostleship. Look at the purpose of this command of God. He suggested in three ways. In Titus 1:1 he says that this place as an apostle of Christ is “for the sake of (in the interest of, with regard to, or according to) the faith of God's elect.” In other words, Paul was given this function to go out and allow other people to come to the faith in Jesus Christ so that they could enjoy a place among God’s chosen people. Paul was working in the interest of giving everybody everywhere the opportunity to be citizens of the kingdom of God. What a privilege! No wonder Paul did not regard this as some sort of an odious task laid on him to have to go out and tell people they could be saved in Christ! What a privilege he saw there!
Then notice that he says he works in the interest of their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness. He works for their faith; he works so that they can have a knowledge of the truth. Remember that Jesus’ commission was to go out and preach the gospel to every creature, to let people become Christians, and then to teach them to observe all things whatsoever the Lord has commanded (Matt. 28:18-20). That is what Paul was doing, too – helping them come to the faith and then helping make sure that as people of faith in Christ, they possess the growing knowledge of the truth which was issuing in godly, Christian lives. He couldn’t be content just to look at the truth as if it were a matter for discussion groups. He wanted to see it bearing the fruit of godly conduct and behavior in everyday life.
Then he says that he worked in the hope of eternal life. Hope, that certainty that undergirded everything else about their life, the idea that they had hope laid up for them in heaven through the gospel (Col. 1:5). The idea that Jesus Christ is our hope (Col. 1:27). It is interesting to me that in one of these letters Jesus is described in just that way – not as our Lord, not as our savior – but as our hope (I Tim. 1:1). And why is that this hope is so certain that Paul works in the interest of it? Again, there are three reasons. One is the character of God. God not only never lies, the ESV says, but God cannot lie. Paul will say in 2 Tim. 2:13 that even if everybody else denies the Lord, he will still remain true to himself. He cannot lie. That is his holy character. He won’t lie.
Then second, notice that it is because of the promise of this God who never lies. He promised something before times eternal. He promised, in other words, life in the one he had chosen to be the means by which he would bring sons to himself. That would be Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, there is the word of the truth of the gospel which Paul had been entrusted to preach. God’s character, God’s promise and God’s message all make this hope of eternal life something sure and a place for us to stand.
Grace, Mercy, and Peace
Look with me in the fourth place. Paul takes this apostleship given to him for this purpose, and now he turns his attention to Timothy and to Titus. He refers to both Timothy and Titus as his “true” sons, his true children, his genuine, authentic sons in the faith. That means that both of them were Christians because Paul had taught them the gospel and helped them to obey it. They were his spiritual descendants. This is second generation Christian behavior, then, that we are going to be talking about in these passages from these three books this year. And it is interesting that Timothy is called “my dear child” or “my dearly beloved child.” There is a relationship of affection that exists here between the one doing the teaching and the one who is taught. Paul wants that to be the background of what is taking place. Titus is his child “in a common faith.” He, a man who was a Jewish man, is writing to Titus who is from a Greek background, according to Galatians 2:3, and he is saying we are the same family in a common faith.
Notice very carefully that Paul as an apostle writes to Timothy and Titus, close to him, dear to him, and he doesn’t pass along apostleship to them. He calls them to take what he is teaching them and to teach it to others (Titus 2:15). Timothy and Titus, second generation of Christians, are not free to go out and have one of themselves appointed to be apostles and then to teach what seems best to them for that new time or new day that might lie ahead.
Judas was replaced in apostleship because he left it. But when in Acts 12 the apostle James was beheaded by Herod, no one else was chosen to replace him because his authority still exists. The church has apostles one time and that apostleship lasts. Their word still is the reliable guide for you and me. We still respect their authority. Listen to the truth that God has made known through them and let that be our guide. In I Corinthians 15, it is interesting that Paul says, “Last of all as to a child untimely born, he appeared to me also.” As if to say, there would not be any more apostles, witnesses of the Lord’s resurrection given this type of authority.
Next notice carefully that from that fountainhead spring these wonderful blessings: “grace, mercy and peace.” And once again, these are the only books of the New Testament that have that particular blessing attached. Most of them say “grace and peace,” and that in itself is wonderful. But here he expresses grace, his kindness to the worthless, the guilty, the undeserving; mercy – his presence and help for the helpless, those who have no place else to turn, those who are in over their heads so to speak, and who are facing tasks and responsibilities that are beyond them; and peace – the most comprehensive word for well-being and wholeness that there is.
Why did Paul choose in these letters to group those three things together? Was it because he had left Timothy at Ephesus facing a hard situation and Titus was in Crete facing a difficult task, and that Paul was facing the end himself? And did he know that just strength for the future is not good enough? That all of us in order to have peace must not only enjoy God’s grace for the moment but also to know that the Lord will be with us in his mercy and his compassion to help us. I think that is what it is.
Here is an apostle by the command of God; for the faith, hope and knowledge of the church; whose words will continue to have consequence in all ages until the Lord comes which ought to bring grace and mercy and peace to all of us who give heed to them.
Sometimes, friends, we want words that are comforting enough to bless us when things are difficult without being demanding enough to require something from us all the time. Now I want to tell you there are no such words. We cannot have truths that are powerful enough to bless us in the face of life’s most challenging problems without those truths being profound enough to be the standard for our lives all the time. So, at the beginning of a series that will take us through this year Lord willing, I appeal to all of us to remember the basic truths that it starts with the apostles’ doctrine. The fellowship, the meaningful worship and the rewarding lives that we are looking for has to start with the ones through whom God wants to make it ours. The blessing begins with the authority of the apostles of Christ.
In that passage in Acts 2, these people who heard the gospel and wanted to know, “What must I do to be saved?” were told to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins - of course, that growing out of the fact that they believed the gospel. Maybe you are here today and want to make that beginning. Maybe you have drifted from this and want to come back home to the Lord. If we can help you with that, would you not make it known today right now while we stand and sing together?