The writer now presents his first exhortation: since the supreme divine authority is in Jesus, we must learn, heed and obey all that He has to say. Otherwise we run the risk of drifting away from God into sin, error, legalism, unbelief and chaos. Now some may wonder why we should listen to Christ at all because if He rules all things and has defeated the powers of darkness and death, how come evil runs rampant throughout the world? Why do evil men create such havoc? Why do we still have pain, persecution and death? Theologians refer to this issue as Theonomy.
The writer teaches that all our suffering is within the plan and purpose of God. In the process of teaching this, the writer presents a stunning explanation of the Incarnation. Jesus became man to identify with us, to become one of us, a human being. He did so in order to suffer and die for our sins and so destroy the power of death and Satan over us. He became perfect through suffering, meaning that He fulfilled the Father’s plan completely and He was the perfect sin-offering. Our oneness with Jesus means that we receive the glory and salvation He achieved for us but it also means that, like Him, we too must suffer. Our suffering gives glory to God for it is part of His plan for the triumph of His kingdom and His sovereign will. At the same time our suffering helps us to grow into the image of Christ. The good thing is that because Jesus was like us, endured pain and temptation, He can help us to persevere because He knows what we are going through.
The book of Hebrews is not really a letter but a sermon. As such it contains two of the elements that every sermon ought to have: doctrinal teaching and practical exhortation to holy living. The unknown writer of Hebrews skillfully combines both so that the doctrine becomes the basis and essence of the exhortation. His purpose is to remind his audience that God has spoken to mankind through the scriptures but completely and ultimately through His Son, Jesus. Jesus is superior to all created beings, even angels for He created all things: He is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. Since He is the complete revelation of God, what He has to say is of vital importance for He tells us what God desires of us.
The writer of Hebrews cites several Old Testament Scriptures to prove His case. Christians down through the centuries accepted this presentation as indisputable proof of the divinity of Jesus because the Scripture is God’s word, as sacred and authoritative as God Himself. But today, this is not so even in the church. Our culture promotes the idea that truth is relative; each person determines what is right and wrong, each person interprets the scripture as he or she sees fit, usually in the light of bias, personal experience, feelings and predisposition. Our culture maintains that the Bible may contain some of God’s words and some sound ethical teaching but basically it is a record of the struggles of one group of people to find meaning and purpose in a chaotic world. It is not true for all people. Yet the author of Hebrews says that only the word of God, Jesus, can create order out of chaos and provide meaning in the midst of pain and suffering. Those who place their faith in Him find hope and meaning in life.
This letter which Paul wrote from prison is a deeply personal one written to Philemon, a man he has led to the Lord and who was a partner in his ministry. He writes to him about his runaway slave Onesimus appealing to him on the basis of their deep relationship to accept the man into Christian fellowship and back into the household, to be restored and forgiven. Paul has found him useful, a play on words regarding the slave’s name which means “useful”. Onesimus, like Philemon, was a partner in Paul’s ministry. Paul accepted him though he knew he was a runaway slave and could have easily have been returned to his master, but he has allowed the man to help him in ministry while he himself was in chains. In the process he brought him to Christ and by his continued work enabled him to grow in godliness. Now the time had come to reconcile these two brothers in the Lord. For this reason Paul sent Onesimus back to his master.
We may or may not object to what Paul did with Onesimus because slavery in all its forms is now considered immoral and sinful. Yet in Paul’s day it was part of the social system, one which no New Testament writer ever opposed or called to be abolished. This is because in Christ when the slave and the freeman become brothers, the social system has lost its power and control. Both the slave man and the free are free in Christ yet both are bound as servants to serve Him and His kingdom. The system in which they lived no longer dictated how they lived or with whom they maintained relationship. They obeyed the law and worked within the system as long as it served the interests of God’s kingdom and did not cause them to sin.
Today in America it is against the law to harbor or assist fugitives from justice. This is definitely the right thing to do in the case of hardened and violent criminals. They are a danger to society as a whole. Yet undocumented or illegal aliens are rarely prosecuted in contemporary America. Many of them come to America to escape conditions of extreme poverty or political violence. They perform jobs most would not want to handle. Regardless of the legal ramifications, Christians must treat all peoples with kindness, respect and godly love so that they may experience the presence and power of Jesus working through His Church.
Paul continues to recommend to Titus the teaching of godly behavior. He instructs Titus to teach believers to obey the law and be submissive to those in secular government. He also recommends they treat their neighbors with respect and love. They should always be ready to do good for others, no matter the response. There should be no gossip, slander or complaining. Saints must avoid useless arguments about things which they cannot change, about theological trivialities and things which are not related to the gospel of the truth. They are not to stir up dissension or disagreements from those within the body but discipline them firmly. Paul recommends that we be passionate about Jesus and speak that which befits His grace and truth.
Some of what Paul taught may have seemed odd to the saints in the ancient world. The Roman government and most of society was dominated by immoral, selfish, sinful, and idolatrous pagans. We may feel the same way about contemporary society and our own corrupt governmental leaders. But Paul says that we who are saints were just like them before we came to Jesus. None of us were worthy of Christ’s salvation or His love, and none of our deeds could ever make us acceptable to God. Salvation and right standing before God is made possible only by the work of Christ.
So we have an obligation to work to bless others even those who set themselves up as our enemies so they may be won over to Christ. This means we should pray for those in our government though they are corrupt and we disagree with them as well as those who mistreat us. The idea of such prayer is not that God punish them so we can feel justified and avenged but so that they will acknowledge their sin and come to faith in Christ. So rather than complain so much about corrupt and inefficient leaders, we should pray for them. We should preach the gospel instead of getting hung up with political arguing and dissension.
Paul was very concerned with the behavior of the diverse groups who made up the church in Crete. He maintained that outward behavior was very important for the proper presentation of the gospel for it demonstrated the dynamic change that the Lord had made in the lives of the saints. They could not live as they pleased but had to be aware of the example they set for others in all they did. Their behavior affected the way nonbelievers and society in general judged Christianity. Thus believers had to behave in a proper manner one which befitted their age, gender, and Christian calling, with modesty, sobriety, gentleness and compassion. The pastor and the older men had to set examples of godliness and faith for the younger men. The older, more mature women had to mentor the younger women and show them how to care for their families and the church. This would insure that the next generation would be raised in the truth of the gospel and so teach it to succeeding generations.
Paul also had words for those believers who were slaves or servants that serve as an example for us all. Even though slaves were often abused and mistreated, deemed to be less than human with no rights or privileges they must behave in a way that befit their calling in Christ. In other words they must return good for evil. Their behavior in an evil and ungodly institution such as slavery was to be godly and loving. Paul’s advice to them is for us.
In the midst of harsh and unfair conditions on our jobs, in our schools, in our culture and social relationships, we must always do good to others and thank God for what we have rather than complain or seek vengeance. We must faithfully do our jobs and fulfill our social duties in a way that glorifies God. We must consider what people would learn about Christ from our outward behavior, from the way we look, speak, act and dress.
As we have read through the Pauline epistles we have noted that one of the major problems afflicting the early church was that of false teachers, specifically those who taught a form of Jewish law-keeping and mysticism. There was a terrific struggle going on in the church at Crete between the truth of the gospel taught by Paul and Titus and the lies of these false teachers. The latter insisted that male Gentile believers (such as Titus) had to be circumcised and keep certain rituals of the Mosaic Law in order to be saved. But Paul and Titus preached the truth of the gospel, that salvation is by grace through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ and not by any works of the law.
But there is a need for good works in the church. The evidence of salvation is shown by good deeds, works of selflessness, self-sacrifice, love, liberal generosity toward the poor and needy, honesty and truthfulness. Those who do not manifest these qualities to some degree are hypocrites who do not really belong to the household of faith. Only the Holy Spirit can enable a human being to perform such deeds consistently for only He can truly change a lying evil heart into a heart of righteousness that is on fire for the Lord, one who works to promote His kingdom.
Only those who hear the truth and believe it can receive the Holy Spirit. Thus the best way to counteract the lies and false teachings is to multiply godly teachers who would proclaim the gospel truth. This is why Paul insists that Titus appoint elders who possess integrity and are above reproach, that is, men who cannot be accused of wrongdoing, greed, lying or evil intentions. These men are those who are respected by their families and their communities. Thus we in the church today should compare and contrast Paul’s standards for godly leaders with those we know or hear of through the media. We should also look at ourselves to see how we measure up. Though none of us is perfect we should at least be considered blameless in our marriages, family life, jobs, schools and in all our relationships. Such traits will glorify God with a loving, righteous and merciful Christian testimony.
2 Timothy 4
There is a sense of great urgency in Paul’s final instructions to Timothy. He knows that his time is short and the commission to preach the gospel was far from completed. Therefore he urges Timothy not to be timid or shrink from the task. He must work tirelessly, despite the hardships and the obstacles and ridicule he will face from those who would seek to silence his message. Proper guidance and teaching must be used to correct people, turn them to the right way, and help them grow. He is to preach the Word, the whole body of revealed doctrine, the sovereignty of God, our absolute dependence on Him, and His salvation of sinners through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Sound doctrine will counteract false teachings and maintain the standard of the Biblical truth in a world filled with lying and seductive preachers who pollute the gospel with pagan ideas, esoteric nonsense and human philosophy.
These words stand as an encouragement and exhortation to us all. We live in the world he warned Timothy would come, filled with false teachings such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Animism, Satanism, materialism, reincarnation, and every form of superstition as well as downright atheism. People, including many professing Christians, will follow after any false teacher that will tell them something new and spicy, exciting and unique, that will lead to deeper spirituality. There are plenty of false teachers who have perverted the truth of the gospel with lies from their own hearts or from the devil. We, like Timothy, must uphold the truth of God’s Word against this onslaught. We must always be ready to preach the gospel for every place we go we will be challenged to respond to lies, immorality, compromise, temptation and false teachings.
To be better prepared to preach the pure truth of God’s apart from the biases of our own cultural predisposition, we must be in the Church and in the Word. We must be united with fellow believers and godly teachers who can help us stay on the right path and encourage us with the truth and the love of God.