Sep 15 2019

91. THE EPISTLE TO TITUS part 4

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The Epistle of St. Paul to Titus

Chapter 3 (contd.)

6- Dealing with the State (3:1 & 2): and 7- Our salvation through grace, through the second birth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit – deeds are a testimony to the Faith (3:3-8): See previous Newsletter

8- Dealing with heretics (3:9-11):

Therefore, such is the practical Christianity: exploiting time with positive, useful work.  The Church will grow, as a result, becoming a light for the world.  On the other hand, St. Paul asks Titus to avoid and sidestep pointless debates, “foolish disputes,” “genealogies”1 and “strivings about the law [with the Jews and heretics],” “for they are unprofitable and useless.2 If heretics should arise, they should be warned a first, then a second, time. Their persistence warrants no further attention, since their insistence on their deviation would have sealed their own fate.

9- Observations and tasks (3:12-14)

St. Paul concludes his short letter with some observations and tasks.  He advises Titus that he would send Artemas to Crete (this is the only mention of him in the New Testament), or Tychicus3 so that one of them would take over the service in Crete, allowing Titus to meet St. Paul in Nicopolis (in Greek, “Nicopolis” means “the city of victory”), where he had intended to spend the winter – likely due to the warmer climate.  He subsequently asks Titus to prepare “Zenas the lawyer”4 and Apollos the Egyptian5 so that they may lack nothing on their journey.  It seems that their ship had docked for some time at one of the Cretan ports, eventually setting sail towards the destination of their upcoming service, according to St. Paul’s plan.  Naturally, Titus would have had to assign some of the church’s members the task of preparing whatever was necessary for God’s servants, in order to“… let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.”  Such is the regime that believers should follow.

10- Concluding salutations (3:15)

At the end, St. Paul sends his disciple Titus salutations for his companions, asking him to greet those who love him “in the faith.”

His concluding words are “Grace be with you all;” in other words, not solely to Titus, but also to all who read and heed his message.             (End)

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The Epistle of St. Paul to Philemon

(Part 1)

INTRODUCTION

Despite the apparent personal touch of this epistle6, and the fact that it addresses a specific case, it reveals much about St. Paul’s service; he wrote it during his first imprisonment period in Rome, as mentioned in the latter parts of the Book of Acts: “Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” (Acts 28:30, 31)

Put differently, imprisonment never impeded St. Paul’s service: he neither lamented his plight, nor was he depressed, bitter or withdrawn.  Rather, he remained committed to the gospel’s service: “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16)  He thus continued to receive his disciples and other believers7, writing letters overflowing with hope and joy: “… preaching … and teaching … with all confidence …” (Acts 28:31)

This letter is one of four which St. Paul, aged about 62, had sent from his prison (the four are his letters to Philemon, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians.)

This letter also gives us a glimpse of how Christianity dealt with social issues.  It did not intervene decisively, thus avoiding potential negative consequences.  Rather, it resorted to a slow change in the souls of those who had converted to Christianity, combined with the natural societal evolution, the product of spreading constructive ideas.

Concerning slaves, who numbered in the millions in the vast Roman Empire, the Church never incited them to rebel against their masters.  Rather, the Church called on all believers to live harmoniously as brothers.  Hence, a master should neither oppress, despise, nor rob his slaves of their rights, knowing that someday he will be held accountable for his deeds by his master in heaven.

On the other hand, a slave should not serve as one trying to please his master, rather, as one serving Christ.  Slaves should thus perform their duties more honestly, since they and their masters had become members of God’s family.  Slaves should not rebel against their masters (Eph. 6:5-9, Col. 3:22, 4:1, 1 Tim. 6:1,2 and 2 Tim. 2:9,10.)  Gradually (albeit over several centuries), inequalities were dissolved, and human rights were applied to all.  Revolutions may lead to rapid changes, but they are characterized by much bloodshed, revenge and hatred, all of which leave a trail of mostly-innocent victims.

The stars of this epistle are three: St. Paul, his friend Philemon, and the slave Onesimus.  Philemon (whose name means “affectionate,”) is from Colossae (or Laodicae), since St. Paul mentions that Onesimus carried his letter to the Colossians (Col. 4:9).  Furthermore, Archippus (mentioned in the letter to Philemon, likely his son,) is also mentioned by St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians (Col. 4:17 – all those whom St. Paul greets in his letter to Philemon are mentioned in his letter to the Colossians.)  Philemon was a Gentile, who converted at the hands of St. Paul: “… you owe me even your own self besides.” (Phil. 19)  It has been said also that he was Gaza’s bishop before Colossae.

Onesimus (whose name means “profitable” – a meaning typically characterizing the person) started by behaving contrary to the meaning of his name: “… who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me.” (Phil. 11)  He had erred against his master (he stole or embezzled), then he fled (which carried the death penalty.)  But eventually, he became a useful servant.

The epistle does not contain any particular teaching.  Rather, it presents the Divine truth in a practical way, through the relationship between the three stars of this short letter.

Although the Church positioned the epistle to Philemon at the end of the letters that St. Paul had sent to specific persons (Timothy, Titus and Philemon), it is clear that the epistle to Philemon was written prior to the apostle’s letter to the Colossians. The epistle to Philemon refers to the conversion of Onesimus, and his return to his master Philemon “… no longer as a slave but more than a slave–a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”  (Phil. 16)  St. Paul states that although Onesimus was useful to St. Paul’s service, he did not want to detain him against Philemon’s wish.  We deduce from the epistle to the Colossians that Philemon did in fact accept his friend Paul’s request.  He liberated Onesimus and returned him to serve with Paul who subsequently tasked him with carrying his message to the Colossians.

It is said that Onesimus eventually became bishop over one of the Macedonian cities, where he was martyred.  On the other hand, about four decades after the writing of this letter, the martyr St. Ignatius Theophorus wrote from Smyrna his letter to the Church of Ephesus praising its bishop “Onesimus.”  He also referred to the congruence of his service with the meaning of his name (“profitable”), as St. Paul had done in his epistle.  It is thus likely that St. Ignatius was talking about the same person who was once Philemon’s slave.

It is also said that the first attempt at collecting St. Paul’s letters was done in Ephesus, towards the end of the first century.  Onesimus could have been the one supporting the idea of including this short letter (about one papyrus page), so that everyone could see what the grace of God could do, and how the bishop of Ephesus was once a thief and an escaped slave.  Despite the personal shame that this story conveys, it glorifies our omnipotent God for Whom nothing is impossible.

              (To be contd.)

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Saint Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship urges you to study the Bible and encourage others to do the same. Please feel free to make copies of these notes to distribute them. The Fellowship welcomes any questions, or comments. Write to us (or comment/email on SMOF websites):PO Box 6192, Columbia, MD 21045

Footnotes:

  1. Here he is referring to the imaginations and superstitious hallucinations resulting from a mix of Jewish superstitions and pagan philosophy.
  2. He directed the same warning to Timothy in both of his letters (1 Tim. 1:4, 7-10, 6:4 and 2 Tim. 2:23).
  3. He was mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, as well as in St. Paul’s epistles to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:21), to the Colossians (Col. 4:7) and to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:12)
  4. He was knowledgeable in Scriptures and a qualified lawyer.
  5. Some Corinthians had followed this eloquent speaker and expert in the Scriptures, hailing from Alexandria (Acts 18:24-28). St. Paul had thus written to them saying they should follow none but Christ (1 Cor. 3:4-11).
  6. This was St. Paul’s only remaining personal letter which, it is believed, he had written to others during his service over three decades.
  7. This was St. Paul’s only remaining personal letter which, it is believed, he had written to others during his service over three decades.

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