On Saturday, many Christians celebrated the Festival of St. Titus. Titus was a young pastor who St. Paul took under his wing and who later became an associate pastor sent by Paul to Corinth and the Island of Crete. Titus received a letter of encouragement from Paul, bearing Titus’ name.
Paul encouraged the young pastor to be “holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). This is perhaps the least favorite duty of a pastor: to correct the most serious errors that exist in a congregation.
Paul sent Titus to consecrate pastors to do just that. They were to be stewards of God — that is, responsible for the proper reading and proclamation of the Word and the right administration of the Sacraments. Such is the responsibilities of the pastor today, for neither God’s Word nor His Sacraments have changed. Paul writes to the young pastor St. Timothy, “Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge — by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith” (1 Tim. 6:20-21a).
Paul sent Titus to Crete to correct the errors that existed there and to rebuke those who persisted in them. He had to go there, armed with the Word of God, to win the hearts and minds of the people. This is not an easy task. Paul exhorted Timothy, saying, “They will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables …”
Paul knew that a pastor’s hearers will not listen to him, even as many refused to listen to Christ Himself. Paul is speaking in the stead and by the command of Christ, writing under inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. So when Paul speaks here, he is essentially attaching the words “Thus says the Lord” to his writing. Thus says the Lord, “Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you” (Titus 2:15).
Paul exhorts Titus and all pastors. The fact of the matter, though, is that pastors are despised. Why? We sinners resent men who are sent from God and are faithful to their calls. We want them to be “friendly,” as if a pastor cannot be friendly and faithful. We choose to not understand what is being taught because we don’t like to think we’ve been in error.
It may well not be our fault, for we might have been led into error. But we don’t want to shun it, and we tend to view our shepherds with contempt, thinking he is self-willed and quick-tempered and not hospitable, a lover of what is good, just, holy, or self-controlled. God has given His undershepherds and their hearers each divinely-mandated duties. He has given pastors the charge to preach and teach the Word and to administer the Sacraments in accordance with the Gospel. He has given the laity the charge to hear the Word of God and keep it and to receive the gifts Christ freely gives in His Means of Grace.
Paul exhorts us to not despair, for the Lord of the Church has sent men to preach not only the Law but also the Gospel. Again, Paul says to Titus, “When the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” [Titus 3:4-7].
This is why the Lord sent Paul to preach, why the Lord called Titus, and why pastors today are sent. The Lord has sent men to preach the Word to save His people both from their errors and from their sins and to administer His Sacraments to bring to you the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation. He has sent undershepherds to give the gifts, He Himself, won on the cross for us, paying the debt we could not pay.
Paul shed blood for the sake of the Gospel, as tradition states that he was beheaded. Christ shed blood for Paul’s sake and ours, as Scripture tells us that He was crucified. This is the message I have been given to proclaim to you: Jesus Christ gave His body, shed His blood, and died on the cross for you for the forgiveness of your sins. This is the preaching of the cross.
We preach not only Christ crucified but also Christ resurrected. “It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34). As Christ is risen from the dead, He gives us the assurance that our prayers are heard, for only Christ has died and risen, and has done so for you, so that you would have eternal life in heaven with Him.
Mark Schlamann is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Tooele.