Titus 3:1-7

A sermon preached last week at the Austin Stone Residents and Interns Chapel.

Good morning. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Travis Whitehead, and I serve at the West Campus. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Well, I’ve already seen this guy preach,” you are correct. I’m filling in for one of the other residents this morning, and I’m looking forward to walking through this text with you today.

When I preached on the first week of this chapel, giving an introduction to the book of Titus and some of the major themes, there’s some information I forgot to include as means of historical setting of this book. Scholars place the writing of Paul’s letter to Titus sometime between 61 and 67 AD, during a period of the Roman empire known as the Pax Romana, The Roman Peace. This is a period of about 206 years when Rome has reached its pinnacle. It isn’t conquering any more new lands, it’s not really fighting against much rebellion, and it’s said to be the first time in human history where there is a sustained period of time with no war. So what Rome focuses on during this time is making the conquered countries and peoples more Roman. It has expanded militarily, now it is expanding culturally. And it’s a great time to be a Roman, but if you are not a Roman, it’s a time when you’re facing a good deal of oppression by the Roman empire.

During this period, the Roman emperor Nero comes into power, and it’s a reign marked by brutality. He has his mother executed, he poisons his brother. In 64 AD, a section of Rome catches fire and burns for 9 days. Many people blame Nero for having the fire lit to clear land for some of his artistic endeavors, so Nero shifts the focus to the Christians. He doesn’t come out and say they lit the fire, but what he does do is say, “Look, they might not have struck the match, but isn’t this kind of all their fault? Don’t they seem to hate our gods, and despise our culture? Wouldn’t it be better if we just got rid of them all?” So begins an intense period of persecution of the Christians. Some are sewed into animal skins and thrown to the dogs, others are dipped in wax and lit ablaze in Nero’s garden, others are crucified and lined along the entrance into Rome.

It is in this historical setting that Paul writes to Titus in Titus 3:1-7. To this point, Paul’s instruction to Titus has been about how to disciple the church, how the church should behave within itself, but now he is going to transition to teaching on how the church should live in relation to the world, and specifically how it should live in a world that is hostile to the gospel and hostile to Christians. And the instruction that he gives is this: “Live as people of grace by remembering your past, present, and future reality.” Read Titus 3:1-7 with me.

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Titus 1:1-4

I’m going to be posting some of the sermons I’ve delivered over the past few months. This was delivered at the Austin Stone Intern & Residents Chapel last month.

Good morning. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Travis Whitehead. I’m one of the church-planting residents here, and I serve at the West campus doing connections ministry because it fits into my incredibly bubbly, outgoing personality.

I’m excited to be with you this morning, and for this interns and residents chapel to become a regular part of the rhythms here at the Stone. And my prayer is that this time is a blessing to you. I pray that during this time, God draws you to Himself, and molds and shapes your heart with the truth of the gospel.

The other CPRs will be preaching through the next few months that we are doing this chapel, and we’re going to be going through the book of Titus. What I want to do today is introduce this book, introduce the author, and a couple of main ideas and give you a general direction for where we are going during this time together.

The letter was written by Paul to Titus after Paul has spent years of his life, traveling around the Roman empire, preaching the gospel to the gentiles. We don’t know a whole lot about Titus, other than the times he is mentioned in Galatians and the letter to the Corinthians, but he has been sent to Crete with the task of organizing the churches there. Specifically, he is going to be appointing elders for these churches, dealing with false teachers, and instructing the Christians in Crete as to how they should live in relation to each other and those outside of the Church.

The dominant theme of this letter that we will see again and again is do good works, in response to the saving work of Christ, and for the sake of outsiders.

Today, by way of introduction, we’re going to look at Titus 1:1-4, where Paul introduces himself, and his purpose for writing to Titus. What we will see is this: The hope of the gospel is our motivation and assurance to obediently follow our calling. Continue reading

Two Ministries of the Word

“The Bible envisions two essential, interdependent, and complementary ministries of the Word. First there is the public ministry of the Word. This is the regularly scheduled public teaching and preaching of God’s Word to gathered groups in the church. This ministry makes up the formative discipline of the church. Every member is discipled from the pulpit with the same body of foundational perspective-altering, life-shaping truths. Here all of God’s people are placed on the same tracks and headed in the same direction. Because this public ministry of the Word is done with groups of people, it must be general in its consideration of audience and therefore in its application. God gifts and sets apart certain people for this important formative ministry. Because it is also important that God’s Word be applied with concrete specificity to the lives of individual believers so that they are clear as to what it looks like to follow Christ in the context of their particular situation and relationships, God has ordained a second, complementary ministry of the Word, its private ministry. This makes up the corrective discipline of the church. This ministry does not have a different body of content. No, it takes the general truths that everyone has been hearing and applies them with specificity to the lives of individual believers so that they can more concretely understand what it means to live in light of the things they are being taught. The radical Word culture of the church as God designed it drafts all of God’s children to be willing, envisioned, trained, and mobilized participants in this second ministry of the Word. Private ministry of the Word depends on public ministry of the Word to give people their formative foundation, and the public ministry looks to private ministry to counsel people into understanding the specific practical life implications of what they have been learning as the Word has been taught publicly. Neither ministry is a luxury. Each is an essential part of God’s bi-factoral, Word-centered growth strategy for the local church.”

– Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling

The Gospel and Northerness; or, Preaching to the Why

C.S. Lewis called it “Northerness”. An overwhelming, bittersweet longing in your gut when confronted with the stark, harsh, beauty of the world. It rests heavy on a man’s heart and in his mind before bleeding into a sense of deep joy. Joy that I am very small and there is something very, very big of which I am a part.

I won’t try to improve on Lewis’s own description of northerness, found in Surprised by Joy:

Pure “Northernness” engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer, remoteness, severity… and almost at the same moment I knew that I had met this before, long, long ago. …And with that plunge back into my own past, there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked for years, that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country, and the distance of the Twilight of the Gods and the distance of my own past Joy, both unattainable, flowed together in a single, unendurable sense of desire and loss…

It’s important for us to understand what Lewis means by “joy”. He says in the same book, “[Joy] is that … unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.”

N.D. Wilson beautifully explains the moments that bring on a sense of longing for more in his book Death By Living:

Those moments in life when we realize that we are standing in open jaws, when we feel so small that it arrives with a dominating immenseness—when the stars are suddenly no longer twinkly things, but massive seething explosions punctuating an unimaginably cold and near-infinite nothing—those are the moments when we feel our true size, our true pitiful (feed me three times a day, keep me breathing, beat my heart once a second, don’t let me stay underwater for too long, don’t let me get hot, don’t let me get cold) dependence. Those moments are when we yearn. That yearning, that groaning against the curse, that desire to feel all that can be felt in a given moment, is how I think of northerness.

This sense of joy is the reason people flock to the Grand Canyon. It’s why families save for years and years to drive to Yosemite. It’s why a walk through the redwoods gives us such a childlike sense of wonderment. It’s why my Californian friends were so disappointed to learn that the namesake of Round Rock, Texas is just a little round rock. They wanted so badly to feel small standing next to some great giant circular boulder, towering over the central Texas plains. What they got was a little stone and a lot of disappointment.

We all long for and seek out things that make us feel small because it reminds us that we are part of something infinitely bigger than ourselves.

In Ecclesiastes 3:11, the Teacher says, “God has made everything fit together beautifully, but he has also placed eternity in the human heart.”

What the Teacher means is that God has woven together existence in beauty that goes beyond our capability of description. He has created an existence so vast in scale that we cannot possibly comprehend. And in His wisdom, He has placed a God-sized hole inside of our hearts so that we seek out this beauty, this magnitude, just to remind ourselves, in the deepest recesses of our souls – in a part of us that we don’t even recognize as existing – that we are missing something we should not be missing. He has set everything in its place, in its time, and all of it shouts His name because it shows us just how small we are.

Isaiah 55:12 looks forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises when mountains will shout God’s glory and trees will clap their hands. But Romans 1:19-20, says that the trees of the field are clapping their hands now, and the mountains and hills are singing now, screaming at the top of their lungs to remind us of our Creator.

As Christians, this truth, this universal longing for God, should profoundly affect the way we preach the gospel. The concept of northerness should change preaching from an argument or a set of instructions into a reminder. It is a presentation of a story of which we are all a part, and a reminder that we have a place within it.

The idea of northerness is one that many of the greatest marketers and business leaders have tapped into, but they call it something else. Simon Sinek (seen below) calls it “The Why?”

Successful leaders, Sinek says, don’t present a product and how it works as an answer to why you should buy something. Rather, successful leaders address the deep purpose that must be addressed. Why do we exist as a company? Why do we need this product? Why must we go to the moon? After answering the Why, they proceed to the how and the what.

Watching this video, I was struck with how often I and other Christians present the gospel as an answer to a question that no one is asking. We say, “Hey you should be saved. By praying this prayer. Because you want to go to Heaven and be with God.”

Well, no, not really. I don’t think I want that at all.

N.D. Wilson comments, “I don’t remember one particular lecture from my entire senior year of high school. And maybe a couple from my time in college. But those lectures happened to me. I engaged with them in the moment. They were never meant to be permanent.”

Preaching the gospel too often becomes a lecture happening to an audience. This is not the way it was ever intended. I know that because all of creation is designed to show people that there is more than this finite existence.

We’ve been seeking fulfillment in a billion different things that never satisfy. Things that turn to dust in our mouths. Relationships that end by death or changes of heart or geography. Identity in jobs – until we get too old or too replaceable. Identity in abilities until all of a sudden I’m 35 and my basketball prowess on the court has changed from a quick first step and a smooth jumper to cheap fouls and old-man-elbow rebounding techniques because my body just doesn’t do what I want it to do anymore. And in everything we try, every pleasure sweet on our tongue, every shiny new product we attempt to sedate ourselves with, we are never satisfied. Because you and I are small, and we were made for much, much more than the latest iphone and houses full of stuff.

So we preach the gospel with all the gusto of some sort of three-step eternal insurance policy?

My brothers, this should not be so.

The gospel is an invitation. Preaching – our communicating the gospel – should be a raucous shout to come drink the living water and never thirst again. Preaching is a plea, joining in chorus with the yearning in each of our souls for more – for joy made complete.

Poverty is a Recommendation


“To one who is willing to give, poverty, on the part of the receiver, is a recommendation instead of an obstacle. Come, then, you who are without merit, Christ will be your merit. Come, you that have no righteousness, he will be your righteousness. Come, you who are as full of sin as an egg is full of meat, and the pardoning Lord will put away your sin. Come, you who are utterly forlorn, and be made rich in Jesus. The trade of a mendicant will suit you, and you will prosper in it; for I see you have a cruel hunger, and an empty wallet. He that cannot dig should not be ashamed to beg. A beggar needs no stock-in-trade. “Old shoes and clouted,” rags worn and foul—these form a fit livery for a beggar. Are you not dressed in this fashion spiritually? The poorer the wretch, the more welcome is he at the door of divine charity. The less you have of your own, the more welcome you are to him who giveth freely and Upbraideth not.”

– Charles Spurgeon, According To Promise

Unreached Peoples and the Church

When we in the church think of evangelism and missions, the first thing that generally comes to mind is The Great Commission. Matthew 28:16-20 describes a resurrected Jesus, given all authority over all of creation, instructing His disciples to stand up and go make disciples where there are not disciples.

In Matthew 24:14, when Jesus is speaking on the end times, He tells His disciples, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth, as a testimony to every Gentile, and then the end will come.”

In Acts 1:6-8, Luke tells the same story as Matthew 28, giving more detail. Jesus’s disciples ask the Risen Savior, “Are you going to restore the kingdom now?” Although the disciples were referring to the political kingdom of Israel (Isaiah 32:15-20; Ezekiel 39:28-29; Joel 2:28-3:1), Jesus does not correct their question. Instead, He gives them a new focus. The Holy Spirit will descend on them, so that they can move from emulating Jesus to continuing His work in the power of the Spirit.

In summing up Psalm 67 John Piper makes a great statement about God’s plan of salvation, saying, “The will of God in choosing Israel and creating the church is to be known, praised, enjoyed, and feared among all the nations.”

God has chosen to create a people for Himself that He will use to draw all peoples to Himself.

To put it a different way, “God’s people have been blessed so that they might be a blessing to everyone else.” This was the message given to Israel in Genesis 12:2-3, and it is the message for Jesus’s church, which Paul explains in Galatians 3:16.

But when I begin to think about the Great Commission, it honestly starts to stress me out. How could we possibly accomplish this task? Make disciples of all nations? Continue reading

On Leadership

This past month, Todd Engstrom asked, “What are the necessary skills, character traits, and cultural understandings a leader should possess?” I spent some time searching through books, articles, and blog posts on leadership, and found a few common themes strung throughout the business, sociological world, and the world of church leadership.

I want to focus this blog from a Christian leader’s perspective, but to say that Christian leaders possess characteristics that are completely separate from leaders outside of the church would create a false dichotomy, so understand the purpose is not to say these skills, traits, and understandings are somehow “better” or “higher” than others. In fact, for the most part, they are incredibly similar, if not the same.

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