Have you ever accidentally received mail for your neighbor?
It happens to all of us from time to time. The question is, what do you do with it? Usually just walk it over to their house, right?
Do you ever just throw it away? Please don’t! It’s illegal!
Most often misdelivered mail happens when you move to a new house, and you get mail for the people who lived there before you. Here at Faith Church, we get mail for previous pastors or for churches that rented from us. It is almost always junk mail from organizations not aware of the pastoral change or that the church no longer rents space here. So I tend to open the mail and read it, or more frequently just throw it away. You can tell 99% of all junk mail by the outside of the envelope! But if it is real mail we make sure it gets in the proper hands. The USPS says all you have to do is write “Return to Sender” or “Not At This Address” on the envelope and place it back in the mail.
But have you ever read someone else’s real mail?
That’s a bit more personal, isn’t it? There are ethical concerns and legalities, right? It’s illegal to open other people’s mail. But in our technological age, it happens.
Have you ever been sitting next to someone with their phone or laptop out, and you glance over and their email is open for all to see? I’ve heard stories about how that has happened and friends have learned shocking things about one another, and it has led to hurt.
You might think, “Well, you should have averted your eyes.” That is easier said than done. Maybe it was one of those situations where it was unavoidable. Maybe you’ve been there before. You aren’t looking for it, and boom there it is right in front of you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve seen it.
Starting with this post, that is exactly what we’re going to do. Actually, for the rest of the summer, we’re going to read other people’s mail. Letters, to be specific. Ancient letters.
In the Bible, in the New Testament, there are a bunch of them. Letters written from one person to another. We call them books of the Bible, but they are not even close to what we normally think of when we think of books. They’re letters. Many are quite short, more like emails in our culture. Notes, you might even call them. This summer we are going to study the short letters of the New Testament. Formally they are in the genre called Epistles. Often when we use the word, “epistle,” our minds conjure up really long letters. In fact many New Testament epistles are long letters: Romans, 1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians, and Hebrews, to name a few. In our modern Bibles they are all divided into multiple chapters with intricate argumentation, and they frequently get the lion’s share of attention. Since I have been pastor, I have taught through Philippians, 1st Corinthians, 1st Timothy and 1st Peter. Maybe someday we’ll get to the 2nds of those epistles!
There are also a group of short epistles in the New Testament, and they rarely get mentioned. This summer we’re going to study all of them. We’re going to read other people’s mail such as Paul’s letter to Titus. His note to Philemon. John’s two short notes called 2nd and 3rd John. And finally the short note written by Jesus’ brother, Jude. Some are so short, we’ll cover then in one sermon. Today we start with Titus, which is the longest of the short letters.
Let’s begin with a quick overview of Titus. There are many theories about when, where and why Paul wrote this letter, and for our sermon series I am going to take the position that Paul is writing later in life, most likely after the events described in the book of the Acts. By this time, Paul is deeply established in the early church as a missionary statesman who has traveled on numerous long mission trips throughout the Roman Empire, preaching about good news in Jesus, starting new churches, and raising up other leaders. He regularly brought people with him, and trained them to be new leaders. One of those guys was Titus. Peek down at Titus chapter 1, verse 5 and you’ll see that Paul has dispatched Titus to lead the network of house churches on Crete, where Paul had previously ministered and started the churches. Crete is an island right smack in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. You can read in Acts 27 when Paul visited there as a prisoner, and based on what we read in Titus 1:5, he visited there again with Titus. Titus was a close associate of Paul. Though Titus is never mentioned in the stories in the book of Acts he is mentioned in numerous other letters, where we learn that Paul trusted Titus to deal with difficult situations. And that is exactly what was happening in Crete.
Paul has two main concerns for Titus. Good works. Sound Doctrine.
One is prophylactic. The other is evangelistic.
Wait, prophylactic? Isn’t that birth control? While it relates to that, prophylactic has a broader meaning. A prophylactic is something that prevents disease. In his letter to Titus, Paul is writing a prophylactic letter. He wants to prevent disease in the church. And so he will talk about sound doctrine.
Paul also wants the church to reach out, and so he will talk about doing good, which Paul sees as foundational to all outreach.
What we will see in our series through this letter is how much we need to hear this message today.
Check back in tomorrow as we begin reading someone else’s mail.