There is an island in the Mediterranean Sea off the southern coast of Greece named Crete. In the mid-60s A.D., it was a place widely regarded in the ancient world as extremely disorderly, unruly, out of control, and rife with dishonesty and treachery and greed. Its culture was infamous for the depth, breadth, and sheer volume of its sinfulness—think Las Vegas as the size of an island.
Most of the men on the island had served as mercenaries to the highest bidder, and most of its major cities were considered unsafe, filled with violence and sexual corruption.
It was so bad, that even one of their own thinkers and prophetic voices—we’re pretty sure it was Epimenides of Crete—had this to say about his own countrymen:
“The people of Crete are all liars, cruel animals, and lazy gluttons from the time they exit the womb.”
To which Paul says—
“Epimenides certainly spoke the truth!” (Titus 1:12-13)
However, there were also many strategic harbors on the northern side of the island, that serviced many of the major cities all over the Mediterranean sea, and therefore extended their reach into most of the known world at the time. So from a missionary’s point of view—a missionary like Paul—this would be the perfect place to have a network of churches that could impact a culture with very bleak characteristics.
You see Paul believed that Christianity could provide a civilizing function to any society, even Cretan society—he was confident of this, of Christianity’s power. And if Cretan culture could be infused with Christianity’s truths and realities, rather than exporting treachery, violence, corruption, and greed through its strategic harbors, it could export Christ.
So Paul devises a plan—he will take one of his best missionary partners, a young man named Titus, and send him into Crete to strengthen the churches there by establishing a beachhead for the civilizing force of Jesus in the culture. And this letter serves as the guiding strategic and tactical plan for this missions enterprise, then (and now) in this bleak culture and age in which we live. A mission that works in this culture, and every culture across the globe.
And there’s this remarkable thing about Paul’s guiding document. It begins almost humorously—I mean, we aren’t used to extended self-introductions like this. How would you feel if I came up to you and said,
I, Matthew, husband of Susan, father of Colton, Isabella, Ezra, and Nehemiah; son of Dennis, son of Georgene, of the house of Molesky; pastor of Calvary, whose mission is to make more and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ, as a resident of St. Cloud; on the estate of 1900 at the Drive of Shannon, greet you…..Bob.
You’d probably think I was pretty weird!
So I wonder if our unfamiliarity with such introductions causes us to mistakenly pass by them in these letters too quickly. For it is in his far-better-than-mine-self-introduction that Paul gives away the whole structure of our mission strategy, and tactics. He sets up everything else he is going to say, giving us the summary up front so we’ll know how to follow, and what he’s on about.
And here it is:
Titus 1:1-4, ESV
Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of the chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth that is according to godliness, in the hope of eternal life which God, who does not lie, promised before eternal ages, but at the proper time has disclosed his message in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the command of God our Savior, to Titus, my true child according to a common faith. Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
And now I’d like to summarize Paul even further, to guide our study together:
We have a mission mandate made up of compelling components,
a transforming truth,
and a motivating, consoling, blessed hope.
I invite you now to watch or listen to my sermon from Paul’s letter to his mission partner, Titus. And if you’d like some additional resources on this book, head on over to the Bible Project page for this part of the Whole Story.
May God use his Word to inspire you to help just one other person move one step closer to Jesus.
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