Paul’s Christmas Letter

The sending of greeting cards have been another Christmas tradition for many years. It may not be as popular as it once was and in many cases it is used more by businesses than by individuals. Sometime back someone decided to send letters instead of cards to say more than just a greeting around the Christmas season but to summarize everything that had happened during the year. This is what Paul’s does in the three verses that we are about to look at but his is centered around a time period of more than a year.

Titus was one of Paul’s most reliable helpers. Titus is prominent in Paul’s letters although he is not mentioned in Acts. Paul used him for tasks requiring responsibility and discretion. He was Paul’s emissary to the church at Corinth and was in charge of the collection for the poor in Jerusalem. He was also placed over the churches in Crete, a place which was known for people of very low character. Paul sent him to as far away as Dalmatia, modern-day Yugoslavia.

Paul uses this letter to cover the qualifications of elders and places great emphasis on sound doctrine. The letter also outlines the obligations of elderly men and women, young men and women, and even servants. And the letter strongly warns against false teaching. One of its’ two outstanding doctrinal passages (Titus 2:1-24 & Titus 3:4-7) contains three verses (Titus 2:11-13) we will be considering today. So let’s get started. 

Verse 11 – “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.” Obviously this is what we have just finished studying over the last three weeks or so. And we heard the story from different perspectives and characters in the four gospels. Although the first few words are very similar to John 1:14 let’s take a closer look at how this is expressed in the letter. Notice the past tense of the verb in “has appeared”. It begins in the past, celebrating the Incarnation of Christ. And for the expressed purpose of bringing salvation to the world. Remember the words of the angel to Joseph in Matthew 1:21; “She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins”. Verse 11 gives us a six-word summary of the history of our salvation. Quote: That one sentence captures all that God has done prior to and including the arrival of Jesus: the creation of the world; the covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David; the care for the Israelites in exile; and beyond. And at the very moment Jesus was born, God fulfilled the promise of a redeemer. The grace of God – The undeserved, unmerited gift of salvation and redemption for the world. Has appeared – The debt has been paid and there is no need for it to be supplemented, imitated, or repeated. It is a done deal!

Verse 13 – “Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.” Notice the change in focus of the passage to the future. In this verse Paul seems to express a sense of excitement about things to come. Paul’s Christmas Letter to Titus contains a section about “things to look forward to in the upcoming year(s).” Do you think Paul was expecting Jesus to come back during his lifetime? Although he used just six words to describe the past, the words he uses to describe the future just seem to flow on and on. I believe Paul is having a hard time containing his anticipation of what he knows  is still to come. It is as if he is saying “If you think the birth of Jesus was something, you ain’t seen nothing yet!” Ok. So what about now? What do we do in the meantime? Well let’s look at verse 12 and we will find that answer.

Verse 12 – “instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” Paul uses just three simple words to describe how we should live “in the present age.” while we wait for His return. We as believers are to pursue holiness in the present moment by living sensible, righteous, and godly lives. These three words encompass our relationships with ourselves, with others, and with God himself. In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus summarized the commandments in such a way as to describe these relationships. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart,  with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost  commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Let’s now take a look at these three words individually.

The Sensible Life: For most of us sensible means wisdom, common sense, and intelligence. But the Greek word for sensible also means sober, self-controlled and the noun form means temperance. Generally the meaning in the context of the letter is to live a life of balance and moderation, not one of excess. Therefore the implication is a life of discipline and restraint although the world today encourages the opposite. To live sensibly means to live with self-control and therefore it is the very  means by which we can find inner harmony. The sensible life controls the harmful urges we have that cause deep pain to ourselves and to others. This can only be done because “the grace of God has appeared.” A sensible life is the mark of a life restored by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

The Righteous Life: To live a righteous life means to live with others for the common good and in common regard for one another. In other words to live in harmony with others. The Greek word for righteous is also translated ethical, upright, or just. Our righteous life or ethics are based on the righteousness of God and therefore requires us to live according to God’s commandments. In order to live in peace with others we must do the right thing, follow God’s commandments, and follow the example of Jesus himself. It also means we should live according to the standards of love, self-sacrifice, and generosity instead of selfish agendas. Living righteously is to exhibit a life of a redeemed behavior and one that aligns its’ actions with the will of God. The righteous or ethical life is also a gift from God and then can only be accomplished by the grace of God. As we learned in the past few weeks, the Christmas Story offered several examples of righteous living in the characters of Joseph, Zacharias, Elizabeth and even John the Baptist.

The Godly Life: This characteristic of a faithful life is probably the most important of the three. It has been described as the lynchpin that holds the three together. Without a full and wholehearted devotion to God it is impossible to be at peace with ourself (sensible life) or with others (the righteous life). The word godly in the Greek is also often translated as “to worship” and therefore a godly life is characterized by true worship out of love for God. Godly doesn’t mean divine nor does it mean perfect but it means that we direct our worship to the One who is divine and perfect. It is interesting to note that none of the Advent characters were described with the word godly although no doubt most of them were. However, there are two people in the book of Acts that were described by that word; Cornelius and his soldier. Neither of these men were Jews but both were converted to Christianity and  were the first among the Gentiles to do so. This means that in addition to a godly life being one of worship it is also one of  being open to be used by God to share the gospel to those in need of it. The fact is that the Christmas Story is that Christ himself, godly in the purest  sense, came into the world to be the very means by which all of us might be restored to a right relationship with God.

In summary, Paul’s Christmas Letter written to his beloved and trusted helper Titus speaks volumes to us in this three verse passage. It is one of the few passages in the entire Word of God that refers to both advents. What sets it apart from other passages is that it also details have we should live in the present age while we wait for His return. And folks, we are closing in on that day. I’m reminded of the words of a song that says “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King”. And like Paul’s words at the end of the Revelation, I too say “Come Lord Jesus.”