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Saturday 28 January 2023

A Church Community Effort (Titus 3:12-15)


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Sermon Twelve – A Church Community Effort, (Titus 3:12-15)

You can watch the video of this sermon here.


Today we come to our final sermon in our Titus series which we began a few months ago with a sermon on who are the Elect? I chose this book for several reasons. One, we want to put on some new elders and this book reflects on the qualifications for the men that you choose to represent you in the eldership. We are going to look at more of what the Bible says about this in coming weeks as well. Two, because this book challenges modern conceptions of gender roles, and I think it is incredibly fruitful to compare our modern ideas and conceptions of gender roles to what the Bible actually says. We tend to assume that we are wiser than the ancients, I call this kind of thinking modern supremacy and it is foolish. In some ways we are wiser, in other ways we live on the shoulders of their greatness, and in many ways we are just dumber.

Third, because this book contains one of the most powerful verses regarding the meaning of Grace in the whole Bible, Titus 2:11-12 – “11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,…” Many people see grace as permission to sin, permission to walk in rebellion, as one preacher I know puts it, “Most people confuse grace with grease, making it easier to sin.” But true Biblical grace changes a person, develops them, makes them more Christlike. It trains us to say no to ungodliness. I love this verse and quote it a lot, and thought it was time to preach it in the context of the book of Titus.

Titus is a powerful little book because it challenges in many ways modern Church culture. Just as do other parts of the New Testament. But it also gives us powerful wisdom for maintaining a biblical church in today’s culture. This is becoming more challenging, because increasingly the Church is sanctifying Australian culture as Christian culture. And they are not the same. From family, to gender, to life’s focus, to understandings about godliness, and so many other things, more of the Church is capitulating to culture, and it is becoming easier for Christians to find a church that affirms their way of life, rather than challenges it. And really, we all need to reflect on whether how we live is culturally or biblically influenced? All of us, every single one of us, is influenced by the culture that we live in, and we need to examine these influences. Titus does this for us beautifully.

Today we are bringing this series on Titus to a close with one of Paul’s famous endings giving final directions to him in his ministry. I want us today to look at what he says at the end of Titus, and then compare it to what he says at the end of some of the other letters in his book. Let’s see what this ending to Titus tells us about Paul, his ministry and his ministry partners.

Final Greetings (3:12-15) – Paul ends his letter to Titus in this way,

“12 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. 14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. 15 All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.”

The first thing we see here, is that even lawyers can be saved…just stirring. But in all seriousness, Paul’s final greetings give us a bit of a window in the who this man was. Paul is giving his final instructions to Titus. Titus himself was not exactly a pastor, or an elder, he was an apostolic helper or assistant. Paul had a big team that he relied upon to make his ministry work.

It is important to remember that Church ministry is a team effort. We tend to think of Paul as this stand out missionary, who went about all his work and stood alone in a world against all kinds of unrighteousness, and advanced the gospel.

We tend to remember the man Paul, and his writings, but forget that he was always a team player. Paul never went about his missionary journeys alone.

In fact, from the very beginning of the Bible we see that God says it is not good for man to be alone, Genesis 2:18 - “18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” The initial context of this is that a young man should aim to find a wife. But we also see this principle applied in various ways in the Bible.

-        God designed his people to flourish in a community, first a nation and then the Church.

-        Jesus, the Lord himself on earth, did not do ministry alone, but built a team around him.

-        Peter, James and John, are often described as ministering together. Peter later took his wife with him ministry (1 Peter 9:5).

-        Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Silas, Paul and Timothy, Paul and Titus. Again and again we see how Paul worked with others.

Our modern individualistic society places the emphasis on individual success and effort. But the Bible wants us to always think in terms of fellowship, and companionship, doing things together, not on our own.

I use the terms fellowship and companionship deliberately instead of relationship, because relationship, a word I don’t think the Bible ever uses, carries the idea of face to face knowing and experiencing. This idea fits with intimacy between married couples, and knowledge between God and ourselves, and certain other contexts.

But fellowship carries the idea of side-by-side adventuring and achieving and doing together. You still become close and get to know each other, but you do it in the context of advancing the kingdom. We are created for this kind of fellowship, especially men, which is why some of the greatest stories ever told centre around this idea. As does much of the Bible.

Fellowship carries this idea of being part of something important with others, something worth doing, worth advancing.

Paul’s ministry is filled with evidence of how he had this focus. And there is no doubt that this is a big part of why he achieved so much.

Let’s have a look at the team he took with him.  

The Dream Team – Here at the end of Titus we see Paul mentions four of this team. Artemas, Tychicus, Zenas the lawyer and Apollos, let’s have a look at what we can know about these guys, biblically and historically.

Artemas – The Bible does not tell us much about Artemas, except that he was a helper of Paul’s. According to Church history Artemas became a bishop in Lystra. We can see however, that Paul sending him as his representative tells us that to some degree he trusted him. His becoming an overseer, or elder in the early church, shows that he was a man of note.  

Tychicus - you have probably never heard of Tychicus, I could not recall his name, but he is mentioned five times in the Bible:

Acts 20:4 tells us that he was one of the missionaries that accompanied Paul on one of his missionary journeys, “Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus.”

When it says Asian, it means he was from Asia Minor, what we today call Turkey or Anatolia, but what was for most of history part of Greek civilisation. So, it means a Greek from Eastern Greece. In fact, the ancient Illiad, or what most people remember as the Battle of Troy, happened in this region.

Colossians and Ephesians tell us how much Paul relied on Tychicus:

Ephesians 6:21, “So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything.”

Colossians 4:7, “Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.”

This man was incredibly close to Paul, he was a beloved brother and a faithful minister. He was the kind of guy you wanted working with you and this last verse really highlights that.  

2 Timothy 4:9-12 lets us know this man was there till the end,

“9 Do your best to come to me soon. 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. 12 Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.”

Towards the end of Paul’s ministry, even after all he had gone through, and many had abandoned him, still Tychicus was supporting Paul’s work.

This man is obviously not just a name in a list, he was a vital part of the ministry of Paul. But if we skip over these kinds of verses we miss how important he was.

Zenas the Lawyer – We don’t know much about this man, just that his name was short for Zenodoros which means “gift of Zeus”. And that he was a lawyer either of Roman or Jewish law, we do not know. We know he is mentioned alongside of Apollos, so Paul believed he was someone of note.

I can’t help but wonder that Paul took a lawyer with him, when he could, because he got in so much legal trouble so often. From both Jews and Romans. Paul was constantly being arrested, jailed and beaten. Not a bad idea to have a lawyer on your team.   

Apollos – The most famous of all these people mentioned in this passage is Apollos, he is mentioned about 10 times in the Bible, and is a major figure. We read of him in Acts 18:24-28 –

“24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.”

Apollos was a giant in the early Church. He worked closely alongside Paul and had every bit the same kind of recognition as Paul in the very early church.

We read of him in 1 Corinthians these statements which show his stature, 1 Corinthians 1:11-12 - “11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.””

That’s an illustrious list there. Some people are placing Apollos on the level of Paul and Peter. Of course, the one’s who say, “I am just following Christ”, are always the “truly spiritual” ones.

It was not just the Corinthians who saw Apollos as one of the great teachers, Paul himself tells us,

“5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building” (I Cor. 3:5-9).

Paul says Apollo watered, implying he did much of the teaching.

Can you imagine the quality of teaching that Apollos must have been capable of? Think of it like this, if you have the Apostle Paul coming to your Church, and you hand the microphone over to some other guy, he must know what he is doing.

The Romans 16 list – Before we get to what this list tells us about Paul, I want to briefly show you Paul’s crack team in Romans 16:1-16 –

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. 3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.”

There’s a few things to note in this passage, Paul’s ministry team across his years of ministry was vast and it was filled with all kinds of people. Paul was very clear in other letters about the differences between the roles for men and women, but this does not mean there is no place for women in various serving roles in the churches.

Paul mentions Phoebe the deacon (the word for servant there is deacon), Prisca and Aquila a ministry team that mentored Apollos, the great teacher, Mary, not sure which Mary, but there were many great Mary’s in the Bible, Junia, who is famous among the Apostles, Rufus’ mother, who was like a mother to Paul. Among others.

The men and women in this list were beloved by Paul, and served the Lord in ministry in various different ways.

Our Church also has female deacons, serving alongside the men, and many other male and female ministry leaders which make the work of ministry here possible. Many of whom serve behind the scenes.

These guys all made up part of Paul’s crack team. So, what does Paul’s team here tell us about the Apostle himself?

What does this tell us about Paul? So what does Paul’s team tell us about him?

Team-based ministry – Well, we already noted this, but it shows us that Paul had a team-based focus in his ministry. The team changed over time as well. Some people moved on for good reasons. Some were sent by Paul to a certain church, and some people moved on for bad reasons, like Barnabas, who did not see eye to eye with Paul over Mark, or Demas, of which we are told, 2 Timothy 4:10, “10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.”

Some people will give up on you because they don’t agree, or they love what the world has to offer.

But despite this, Paul was willing to work with others, and to some degree he trusted himself to these other people. This is an incredibly hard thing for a lot of people to do. Some people have been hurt by others in the Church, they have been used by a Church leadership, they have burnt out for some other reason. Paul experienced all of this, but he still continued to minister in the team way that God intends for his people.  

Good People – But we also see that Paul worked hard to minimize the damage to himself, by choosing good people to work with, Ephesians 6:21, “So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything.” Barnabas chose Paul, and for a time they appeared to be an invincible ministry team, but Paul eventually overshadowed Barnabas. Paul observed what having someone abandon him in ministry could do, so he chose not to go with Mark again, at least for a time. But we see from his description of men like Tychicus, that Paul chose people to minister with him that he could rely on.

Paul faced all kinds of dangers. When your life is on the line, and you have to entrust yourself to people, you want them to be the kind of person that is described like this, “beloved brother and faithful minister.” Minister in this context could mean that he was a church leader, or just could be being used in the sense of servant. But either way, he was faithful in his duties.

You are better to surround yourself with faithful people, as opposed to gifted people. Some people will disagree with me, here, but faithfulness trumps giftedness for me every time. It is ideal when people have both. But faithfulness needs to come first.

Gifted People – That being said, we should not avoid working with people who are gifted, maybe even more gifted than ourselves, if they are faithful. Some ministry leaders or pastors can feel threatened by people whose gifts are like theirs, or even superior. I think this is a silly way to see things, I understand it, but it is foolish to think this way. It’s obvious to me that Paul was not like this, we read this before, 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 –

“5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.” Paul’s emphasis in this passage tells us a few things,

-        He was not over competitive, he was happy to work with others.

-        He encouraged and utilized the very gifted Apollos, instead of feeling threatened by him.

-        He correctly saw himself and Apollos as fellow servants of God, and nothing else. It was not Paul’s ministry, it was not Apollos’ ministry, it was God’s ministry. Because of this he was not worried about his position, but was able to focus on using the gifts God had given him.

People Who Fought till the End – And of course, alongside of these faithful ministers, Paul himself fought all the way to the end. We see no diminishment of the passion for the gospel and good works as Paul got older, he kept working faithfully till the end.

I think it is more important to find people to minister with that will stand by you, rather than agree with you. You don’t need to agree with somebody on everything. And even those you do, you will find things that you disagree on. The rare treasure, and it is a treasure to be valued, is someone who will stand with you in tough times.

Like Tychicus did for Paul.

Let’s work more and more to be this kind of church.

Conclusion – I want to finish by sharing a simple illustration which helps put this all in perspective:

“When you see geese heading south for the winter flying along in a "V" formation, you might be interested in knowing that it has been discovered why they fly that way. Research has revealed that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately behind it. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. 

Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone. It quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front. When the lead goose gets tired, he rotates back into the formation, and another Geese now takes the point position.

The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

And finally, when a goose gets sick, or is wounded by gunfire and falls out, two other geese fall out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with the goose until it is either able to fly again or dead, and then they launch out on their own or with another formation to catch up with their group.”[i]

This illustration is self explanatory. In many ways our church is already like this, let’s continue to build on this in the coming year. Let’s pray.

[i] John C. Maxwell. Developing the Leaders Around You (pp.8-9).

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