Imagine you are listening to your favorite pastor-preacher (you know who that is, obviously) wailing away and building to a great crescendo on the theme of God’s greatness … listing all of creation from the beauty of the earth to the majesty of the heavens. And then, at the pinnacle moment of the sermon he breaks out by quoting the words of the 19th century Swedish poet Carl Gustav Boberg. You know the words! Right? Boberg? Who? What? Yes, you do know. Again, at the climactic moment of the sermon, out comes …
“O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee, ‘How Great Thou Art!’”
Every one of you would know what that was from – the hymn that is most often cited as the favorite in the western church for the past 100+ years.
After Paul works through a list of the various categories of people in the church who need to serve one another to model the gospel truth, out comes this following paragraph that in the Greek language is very majestically and colorfully composed …
2:11 – For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
We can’t say for sure, but this summary paragraph of theological thought was probably not a hymn, but rather a baptismal liturgy. Imagine the scene of some recent converts in Crete – saved out of a wretched and coarse culture with a public commitment now to live for Christ – ready to be immersed, with the officiant reciting these words over them. The phrase would become familiar, and Paul recites it here as he encourages Titus to consistently remind the Cretans of the high purpose for life that they have in Christ.
But pastoral types like Titus – who is probably not a very old fellow – can talk and affirm truths all day long, but people have to listen and respect the message. To bolster the young man, Paul says to Titus …
15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.
The message of the gospel that promotes preferring others above self is not always terribly popular. It is not only in the “Me Generation” that people like themselves more than others. Serving others at the expense of your own needs truly is counter-intuitive in a world where it is all about the survival of the fittest.
So Titus would be promoting an unpopular message that would land on the ears of the listeners as rather foolish and naïve. Add to this the fact that the messenger is a rather young fellow, and you can readily imagine the push-back and resistance. And so Paul says to Titus to be determined and authoritative, to be bold. Don’t let the hearers reject the message because it came from him, but rather to stand firm with the truth itself having the authority.
Again we stumble over a major theme of the Pastoral Epistles – that of timeless, objective truth. I am reminded of the great quote from one of America’s greatest statesmen, John Adams, who said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” He was not arguing for Scriptural truth on this occasion, but the principle surely applies. Don’t be afraid to stand for truth.