Unlike Timothy, Titus receives no mention in the history of Acts. He was, however, present with Paul when he and Barnabas went to Jerusalem, according to Galatians. He was also one of Paul’s emissaries to Corinth. Paul describes him as “my true child in a common faith.”
Paul’s concern is to instruct and encourage Titus in establishing proper order within the church in Crete. There is consistency between the instructions to Titus and Timothy, but there also seem to be specific concerns regarding the residents of Crete themselves, whom Paul affirms – in an almost humorous tone – that they are “always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Later, the commands around teaching sound doctrine have as their center the charge to “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”
Turning the page to Philemon you’ll find a document that, on the surface, has the same basic feel as those to Timothy and Titus. There is, however, a singular point. Remember the final greetings in the Colossian letter:
Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you.
This “brother,” we learn today, was in actuality Philemon’s slave. The circumstances of Onesimus’s break from his master are unclear, though Paul’s “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge it to my account” indicates the separation was not with Philemon’s consent. Listen as Paul asks his fellow worker to receive Onesimus back, “not as a slave, but more than a slave, as a beloved brother.”
Given the cast that sends greetings – Timothy and Mark, whose presence Paul requested in 2 Timothy, have now joined him – it’s possible that this is one of Paul’s final recorded letters. Indeed, Paul refers to himself as both a prisoner and “an old man,” the only time he does so, even as he requests Philemon to prepare a guest room for him, just in case he’s released. In any case, the letter to Philemon is Paul’s personal gift to Onesimus, and to the church at large.
Our verse for this week is Psalm 71:3: Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I continually come; You have given the command to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress.
The Epistles to Titus and Philemon. Now, let’s read them!
1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
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—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He 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. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.