After his brief salutation Paul is remarkably positive about this church. He is full of thanksgiving for them. But how can this be so when he is about to open up a can on them? It is because of Paul’s mature gospel based perspective. Do we really understand thankfulness as described and displayed here by Paul?
Without thankfulness we betray an evil heart of unbelief (Romans 1). So we must guard our hearts against ingratitude and learn from the Holy Spirit ways of maintaining a thankful heart.
Remember this is a grace thing – a gospel thing. It cannot be manipulated, true thankfulness is gospel driven.
Grace Promotes Unity
In the third paragraph (10-17) we have Paul’s opening salvo against the fundamental failings of the church. They have written to him about a few things (7.1) – but he will not touch on them until he has got some things off his own chest. He has been told that there is serious division amongst them.
There is nothing about Paul’s message and ministry that should naturally lead to factionalism and party spirit. So another influence is at work here. The culture of Corinth was affected by an obsession with popular orators – who had a kind of rock star image. The believers in Corinth had transferred some of that man-centred hubris into the church, imagining that they belong to a particular team in the congregation – not realising that the preachers themselves – including Paul were simply servants.
Paul brings them back down to earth by pointing out the centrality and sufficiency of Jesus and his work.
Why the City?
There are many similarities between the ancient city of Corinth and our own city of Brighton.
There are unique opportunities in Brighton as, like Corinth, it is a city of consequence. Some cities are just influential. What is created in Brighton will have a much wider affect beyond our city, the ripples go out from here.
What could be possible in the next 20 years if we really make a difference in this city?
How the City? The story of Corinth from Acts 18 emphasises the sovereignty of God in mission – and our partnership with him in it. Our story here in Brighton will be the same. Despite all our efforts and publicity it all rests on His sovereignty.
Like Paul we should seek ‘men of peace’, those who God is already working on, perhaps even people who’ve been part of CCK in the past.
What Price the City?
This great mission will take perseverance and faith.
When the gospel is loudly proclaimed, resistance and persecution will come and sometimes in very public ways. This is when we need to be strong in faith and remember that it’s His gospel.
Having handled the impact of the gospel on internal relationships amongst God’s people, Paul now specifically calls Titus to set the churches straight in terms of their relationships to outsiders.
In reality this has been Paul’s burden throughout the whole letter [e.g. 2.10]. He wants healthy churches in Crete for the sake of the people in Crete who don’t yet know Jesus. None of this happens in a religious vacuum. We are always God’s sent people, being made holy for the sake of His mission to the multitudes still in darkness [John 17.15-19]. Our lives will either help draw people to Jesus or block people from Him.
The more we get our lives and relationships in line with the gospel, empowered by the gospel, the greater the sway the gospel will have in the city.
Most of us will have stories (perhaps even our own) of those who came to Christ barely needing any persuasion since they saw enough in the revolutionary kinds of relationships on display in the church community. They knew God must be real because they saw how the believers treated each other.
That is what Paul is on about.
This will be an incentive for bringing friends to church. They should see something different – even compelling – amongst us.
Specifically Paul wants Titus to look for submissiveness to those in authority – and courtesy to all people. These things need emphasising as it is easy for Christians to fall into a very ugly superiority complex and self-righteousness in dealing with ‘sinners’ without God.
Perhaps this was especially worth nailing in Crete – with its reputation for squabbling people. The gospel sets us free from the kind of grasping attitude that makes us embittered towards those in authority. Trouble is believers can swap one antagonism for another showing their new zeal for the Kingdom for God by becoming pretty obnoxious.
Remember the Old You? 
The root of this nastiness is pride. So Paul typically goes back to the gospel to get us down to earth. He rubs our faces in the hideous human condition without grace (and this leads to one of the most densely packed gospel descriptions in the Bible).
Isn’t it striking how God sees humankind (and God sees things as they are)? It’s an ugly list of evils. It’s also striking that it is not limited either to things we perpetrate (foolish, disobedient, malicious, envious, hating one another) or to things we suffer (led astray, slaves to passions, hated by others). None of us can hide behind our grievances – as though God couldn’t understand. God sees both the wrongs we have done and those done to us – and looks with compassion.
All of us must bear the responsibility of sin. And this is why we need to be saved.
Look What He Did [4-7]
The concept of salvation is odd enough in our culture to make many Christians – even preachers – awkward about using it. Many would rather reduce the gospel to self-help, or moralising, or having a social conscience. All this talk of needing to be saved seems over the top – from a less sophisticated age and culture. But our blindness to our need is just another symptom of the need.
And this blindness leads to religion – where we put together a spiritual construction (God, gods, a force, whatever…) to suit our preferences. But such a thing can have no power to change and rule over us. No more than any kitchen appliance.
The answer for mankind comes not from somewhere within. Our only hope is from someone outside. And this is just what has happened.
Look at how he has saved us. There are a couple of ideas locked up together in verse 5 which come together especially in the phrase ‘washing of regeneration’.
These words allude to promises made back in Ezekiel 36.25-27. God knew that the state of the human heart would always prevent his people from living for him. Something more radical than mere law – even law with great threats – was going to be necessary.
Firstly they would need to be made all over again. That is what this word regeneration is getting at. Paul is saying that, through Jesus, God’s grace has appeared in a new way – a way that was promised centuries before.
And in fact, this grace is not destined for the mere personal fulfilment of some nice religious types. God is bringing his new creation (gk: paligenesis) to the cosmos. Yes, people get to be born again – but that is because the universe will be born again – and God is just starting with people.
So be careful asking Jesus into your life – you are playing with a fire hose.
Secondly they would need to be cleansed, washed – forgiven. Ezekiel gets at this and Paul picks it up here. You word washing may well allude to baptism – but only as an outward demonstration of something which happens through the work of Jesus. Water itself will not deal with our sins. This is why the saviour gave his blood.
The result: we are declared righteous because of the perfect life, death and resurrection of Jesus and given a new nature as part of God’s renewal of the whole creation.
Can this actually be true? Are there really people of whom this is true? In Brighton? They would really stand out, right?