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.