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St. Titus “The Tough”

Chris —  March 7, 2017

Spiritual leadership requires guts and grit. You have to be tough to lead. Consider the biblical example of Titus.

When I left the corporate world and went to seminary, I pictured spiritual leaders as clean cut guys in starched white shirts and blue suits. I understood that spiritual leadership wasn’t always easy. I knew that piety was essential. But I didn’t think much about the need for a spiritual leader to be a gladiator.

You might wonder how I missed what was so obvious in Scripture. Had I read about Moses? Or David? Or Jesus! Didn’t I know that Paul wrote to the Ephesians that we are in a spiritual war?

I would have said at the time I knew toughness was important. But I didn’t really know. The dusty world of the Biblical slingshots, Roman soldiers, and stonings seemed so far removed from our modern age.

Twenty six years later I’ve realized what I should have known all along: spiritual leaders are walking the way of the cross. The face of spiritual leadership looks a lot more like the image to the right of Wisconsin wrestler Isaac Jordan (from The Faces of College Wrestling) than that of a button-downed executive. To be a spiritual leader is to go to the front lines of a war. Figurative bruises and black eyes are sure to come. Bloody lips are part of the call.

And the more bruises I get as a leader, the more I can relate to the guts and grit of the biblical leader Titus. If I had deeply understood more about Titus when I began in spiritual leadership, I would not have been so surprised the first time I got flattened.

On the one hand, we know little about the first century church leader Titus. He is not mentioned in Acts. Some have speculated that Luke omitted Titus’s name because he and Luke were brothers: an intriguing theory, but only a guess.

Outside of Acts, Titus’s name appears 13 times in the New Testament (2 Cor 2:13, 7:6, 7:13, 7:14, 8:6, 8:16, 8:23, 12:18, Gal 2:1, 3, 2 Tim 4:10, Titus 1:4). From those passages, we can sketch a preliminary picture. Titus was Greek and one of Paul’s converts (Titus 1:4). He became one of Paul’s most trusted partners and maybe the toughest.

The case for Titus’s toughness is built by reflecting on four assignments entrusted to Titus by the Apostle Paul.

First, Titus represented uncircumcised Gentiles at the Council of Jerusalem.

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. . . But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Gal 2:1, 3

In 50 AD Paul received a special revelation from God that he should travel to Jerusalem for a meeting that was sure to be a showdown. The central question in view was the matter of circumcision. For more than 2,000 years the people of the living God were circumcised as a covenant sign of their relationship with God. Now, under the jurisdiction of the New Covenant, it was rightly argued that circumcision was not required (Gal 2:1-10). The matter was a tremendously contentious issue for the early church. For Titus to go — as something of the token uncircumcised Gentile — meant the authenticity of his faith would be scrutinized and questioned by articulate and combative Judaizers. 

Second, Titus was Paul’s messenger and intermediary with Corinth.

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 2 Cor 8:16

Given its location, the church at Corinth was of strategic importance. Yet, it was full of problems (see 1, 2 Corinthians). The relationship between Paul and the church at Corinth was strained to say the least. Indeed, Paul had so severely rebuked the Corinthians that he wasn’t sure if they were up to another round of correction directly administered by him (2 Cor 2:1). Instead, Paul gave Titus the job of delivering Paul’s severe or sorrowful letter.

Titus delivery of Paul’s severe letter to the Corinthians couldn’t have been a pretty scene. The Corinthians expected that Paul would be arriving in person. Doubtless, those who supported Paul were disappointed to hear he wouldn’t be coming. On the other hand, Paul’s opponents seized on his absence to accuse Paul of breaking his word.

To make matters even more difficult, Titus’ role as messenger included the task of taking up a collection for other young churches (2 Cor 8-9). It takes a tough leader to relay the message of a rebuke while also leading a giving campaign.

Lest you think I’m exaggerating the difficulty of Titus’ assignment, notice, Paul was by no means sure that things would go well. He was so distressed about how things went for Titus that when Titus did not return as expected, Paul left a ministry opportunity and went looking for him in Macedonia (2 Cor 2:12-13). After hearing good news from Titus when he found him, Paul asked Titus to deliver 2 Corinthians.

Biblical scholars believe that Titus probably represented Paul to the Corinthians on three different occasions. And given that 1,2 Corinthians are in the New Testament today, our sense is that Titus was effective in his role. Even so, he took some body blows.

Third, Titus traveled with Paul for extended periods of time.

As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. 2 Cor 8:23

To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. Titus 1:4

As seen above, Titus was with Paul at the Council of Jerusalem (50 AD). He was a key intermediary with the church at Corinth (51-56 AD). We also know that Titus accompanied Paul to Crete (62-64 AD). Putting all of this together, it is also reasonable to assume that Titus was at Paul’s side (or representing Paul) for a large part of Paul’s ministry. Partnering with Paul was one of the toughest ministry assignments ever. Beatings, shipwrecks, or death were never far away. Yet, Titus persevered.

Fourth, Titus stayed behind in Crete to deal with troublemakers and appoint leaders.

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—Titus 1:5

While the book of Acts does not document a missions visit by Paul to Crete, we know from Titus 1:5 that Paul and Titus visited Crete together. The traditional understanding is that Paul was released from his first imprisonment in Rome and he and Titus made a missions trip to Crete. The gospel took root in Crete. But, as we learn from the book of Titus, Crete was a notoriously difficult culture. If the gospel cause was to go further, someone needed to stay behind, appoint qualified leaders, and take on divisive leaders. Paul chose “Titus the tough” to silence the circumcision group in Crete and to deal with other difficulties.

Almost 2,000 years later we don’t know what Titus looked like when he traveled to Jerusalem, Corinth, and Crete. But of this we can be sure. He was a warrior. He has a black eye or two. And so do all leaders who make a difference. To be a spiritual leader is to be called into a battle.

See also:

Grit: What Athletics Have to Do With Academic Success

The Bible Project on Titus

 

Philippians reading ever day cropped

One way to immerse yourself in God’s Word is to choose a book of the Bible and read it over and over again.  Each time you read that book, write the date down in your Bible at the end of the book.  The book of Titus is a good place to begin.

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In 1985 I knew that I needed to grow spiritually, but I didn’t know sic ‘em about how to get started.

By God’s grace, I got involved in a Christ-centered church and started attending Campus Bible Fellowship at the University of Northern Iowa which was one of the best decisions I ever made.  We were led by our intrepid leader, the late Tom Hammond, and the fruit of the ministry continues to this day.

Along with being in church and under Tom’s leadership, I also knew that I needed to be a man of the Word – – – – but I didn’t know beans from buckshot about how to get started.

A friend suggested that I would really get to know the Word if I chose a particular book of the Bible and read it over and over again.  So, I bought a NIV Scofield Bible at the CBF bookstore.  At the time, we thought there was nothing more cutting edge than a combination of the NIV and Scofield’s notes.  I started reading Philippians over and over again.

In the beginning, each time I read Philippians, I wrote the date down in my Scofield Bible at the end of Philippians.  I still have the Bible and you can see a scan above of a number of days in 1985 and early 1986 when I read Philippians (note that I forgot to change the year in January).

I quickly learned that it was easy to just go through the motions of reading Philippians.  So, I determined that each time I read it, I would try and identify at least one thing that I had missed before, that I could focus and meditate on.  Often, I would write a note in the margin of my Bible.

Along with that, I attended CBF and Cedar Heights Baptist Church and prayerfully processed all that I was learning with other believers.

Twenty four years later, one of my major goals in the next five years is to see God develop Brick leaders.  To that end, I will be challenging our men to use the strategy of really getting to know a book of the Bible.  In our case, I will be encouraging them to read the book of Titus over and over again.

I’ll post more about why I am choosing Titus in the very near future.  For now, read Titus repeatedly.  Discipline yourself to prayerfully identify a fresh insight with every reading (Psalm 119:18 – – see this post).  Write the date down each time you do so.