Text: Titus 1:1-9
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Titus. A feast day is a day set aside by the Church to remember and give thanks to God for a particular blessing. Most often, feast days are celebrated on events in our Lord’s life; for example: His conception, His birth, His Baptism, the Transfiguration, His Resurrection and Ascension. In Christian freedom, we also celebrate the blessings of God we have received through certain people. In Lutheranism, and specifically in the LCMS, we limit these celebrations to those directly connected to Christ and who were mentioned in the Bible. We do not celebrate these days for the benefit of those who have passed before us, nor because we are required to do so. We celebrate them so that we might learn from and be encouraged by the faith and life of those who’ve gone ahead of us and, perhaps, follow their example. It says in Hebrews, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the Word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7, English Standard Version)
Today, January 26th, is the day that the Church considers St. Titus. In the history of the Church, there have been other days set aside for this purpose. In the 60s, however, when the Roman Catholic made some changes, this change was among them: the date of St. Titus was moved to today, so that one could celebrate St. Timothy on January 24th, the conversion of St. Paul on the 25th, then today. You can find this in the front of our hymnal. Now, since we are talking about St. Titus, we should answer the question: Who is he? If you look in the front of the hymnal, you’ll find him listed as “Pastor and Confessor.” (pg. xi, Lutheran Service Book). A confessor is one who physically suffers for the faith, yet does not die. This is why we are in white today, while the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in June is red.
Our text today is from the Epistle of Titus. He was the one who received the letter and not the one who wrote it. That would be St. Paul. Paul wrote to him, “To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.” (Titus 1:4-5) From this we can learn a few things about Titus. Firstly, he was acquainted with St. Paul and, in fact, near to him; St. Paul called him his “true child in a common faith.” We also learn why this letter was written, as instruction and encouragement for Titus as he carried out his work of putting things in order and training pastors on the island of Crete. Titus, as both Scripture and tradition indicate, was the first bishop of Crete. However, he didn’t start that way.
Titus was born a Gentile unbeliever. We don’t exactly know where, but perhaps in Corinth or Antioch, he came into contact with St. Paul. He heard the Gospel preached by Paul and was brought to the Christian faith through the Holy Spirit. He became a traveling companion of St. Paul. They went to Jerusalem in Acts 15, where it was recognized from Scripture that the Gentiles were, indeed, heirs of the same eternal life in Christ as those who had come out of the Jewish faith. Later, Titus became St. Paul’s representative to the Corinthians. The Corinthian congregation had many areas in which they were unfaithful to God’s Word. St. Paul wrote them a severe letter, which remains lost to us. Paul feared that they would not receive his preaching of the Law well and sent Titus to them. Titus wrote back to Paul that they did receive the letter well, repented of their sins, and expected to receive Paul again lovingly. It is because of this that the Church remembers Titus for his churchmanship, his compassion, and his steadfastness in the Gospel.
This is also why St. Paul left him in Crete. The island of Crete was a difficult one; the culture was especially hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, where the Word is preached, there the Holy Spirit creates faith. And He did, though it was initially a small flock. And, no sooner than the true Gospel spread did false teachers also come. Titus’ job in short: raise up men in every town to serve as pastors. In Scripture, the words “elder” and “overseer” are interchangeable, and both describe what we know as the pastoral office. This was the end goal of Titus’ work, that these men, “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that [they] may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (v. 9) We confess, we know little about St. Titus outside of the epistles of Paul and the book of Acts. Early Church tradition is that Titus remained in Crete for his entire ministry, dying there as an old man in about 96 A.D. He was placed into a hotbed of paganism and unbelief, but he did not waver. The Lord worked through him and the Word spread, even unto us.
Titus’ job was to train and equip men for service to the Church, men who were able to both teach pure doctrine and protect their flocks from false doctrine. This same work is necessary today. None of us came into this world as Christians. We confess with King David in Psalm 51 that we were both conceived and born in sin. That sin was washed away through Holy Baptism, where we each received the forgiveness of our sins through the gift of faith. Throughout our lives we’ve learned and grown in our knowledge of God’s Word, most often not from our own efforts, but through the teaching and prayers of our pastors, our Sunday school teachers, and others who assisted the pastor in teaching us the faith. So that the spread of the Gospel might continue and increase, the Lord continues to call men to serve us, His Church.
Who should be considered for the pastoral office? St. Paul writes he should be considered who is, “above reproach, the husband of one wife,” and who, if so blessed by God, has children faithful to Christ. (v. 6) The pastor, St. Paul says, “as God’s steward…must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” (vv. 7-8) This is a formidable list, and humbling one for one who serves as pastor, as pastors too are sinful men. We would do well to recognize, though, that these things are fruits of the Spirit, which He works in us through our Baptism into Christ. The Holy Spirit works clean hearts in us continually to love what is good and be self-controlled, to live an upright, holy, and disciplined life in Christ. For this reason, all Christian men should at least consider whether the Lord is calling them to serve, and we as a congregation should encourage the same among our young men.
I said way back at the beginning of this sermon that we celebrate feast days not because we have to, but we get to, and because we can learn something from those who’ve gone before us. What is something we can take away today? Look at the middle of verse 2. St. Paul praises God, who ”never lies.” In particular, God cannot lie about the salvation He has provided for us in Christ. God the Father set forth His own Son as the payment for our sin and freely – completely – forgives our sins and gives us eternal life through Jesus. Though the whole world falls apart, and though it will be burned up and dissolved as Peter says, this thing remains eternally: the salvation we have in Christ. This is what caused St. Paul to speak and labor. It is why St. Titus worked tirelessly to raise up and train pastors – so that more and more and more would hear the Gospel of Christ and receive the free forgiveness that we have in Him.
This work isn’t limited to pastors, mind you, but it also happens in each of our lives according to our vocations. Some of us are parents, some grandparents, some a step beyond that. We are workers, we are retirees; we are students. It is the Lord who places us where we are, and it is He who works through us to share His love in both word and deed. I happen to serve as pastor, and I pray that the Lord would continue to raise up ever more pastors. Let us all, though, hear St. Paul’s encouragement to Titus, that we also hold fast to the Word we’ve been taught and cling wholeheartedly to the God who does not lie. May the Lord work through each of us according to our vocation, that we – like Titus – would teach the Word truthfully and live faithfully. Amen.