Introduction to the Book of Titus

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A few years ago, I decided that I would I do online bible studies for the lesser known books of the Bible. It seems even amongst Christians, we have our favorite books of the Bible.  From the Gospels to Paul’s most popular letters (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Corinthians…etc) to Genesis and Exodus in the Torah to Psalms and Proverbs and so on.  Even though I’ve heard many pastors proclaim that we should learn and study the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation.  However, the reality is far different from that proclamation.

Well, I have taken that proclamation seriously and I did my first study on the Book of Ecclesiastes several years ago and most recently did a study of the Book of Habakkuk.  Since I have done two Old Testament books for study, I thought it is time do one on a New Testament book.

My hope for these studies is that we as believers truly begin to read the word for ourselves and apply these principles to our daily lives and truly live out faith in an honest and unashamed way for a world that needs to see authentic Christianity.

For the next three weeks, I will post the Book of Titus one chapter at a time.  Well, there are only three chapters and the entire book can be read in about 30 minutes.   Here’s a introduction to the study of Titus:

The letter of Titus was written by Paul to a young protege named Titus somewhere between AD 62-64 on the island of Crete.  It has been considered that Paul did a fourth missionary journey to Crete, but it was not recorded in the Book of Acts.

As a result, there have been some critics who have questioned the authenticity of Paul’s letter to Titus.  However, the letter of Titus has strong evidence that it was written by Paul and theology of the letter is aligned with Paul’s doctrine.

The theme of Titus is the inseparable link between faith and practice, belief and behavior.

–The letter covers the church’s need of authentic leadership and how that can be destroyed by false teachers. {Titus 1:1-16}

–True leaders live by the gospel and their actions reflect their faith. {Titus 2:1-3:8}

–Discipline false teachers and troublemakers.  Cut them out of the gospel in order to preserve the foundational truths of the faith.  {Titus 3:9-15}

Paul wanted to give Titus instruction on what a healthy church should act and look like. This lesser known epistle is relevant to our day because I believe we accepted entertainment and number-counting as being authentic expressions of our faith.  Instead of equipping believers how to live out being a Christian in world that has decided to turn away from Him.

See you next week!

Habakkuk 1:12-2:20 (His 2nd Complaint and God’s Response)

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Are you from everlasting

O Lord my God, my Holy One

We shall not die

O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment

And you, O’Rock have established them for reproof

You who are of purer eyes than to see evil

And cannot look at wrong

Why do you idly look at traitors

And remain silent when the wicked swallows up

The man more righteous than he;

You make mankind like the fish of the sea

Like crawling things that have no ruler

He brings all of them up with a hook;

He drags them out with his net;

He gathers them in his dragnet;

So he rejoices and is glad

Therefore he sacrifices to his net

And makes offerings to his dragnet;

For by them he lives in luxury

And his food is rich.

Is he then to keep on emptying his net

And mercilessly killing nations forever?

I will take my stand at my watchpost

And station myself on the tower

And look to see what he will say to me

And what I will answer concerning my complaint.

(Habakkuk 1:12-2:1 ESV Bible)

The main key of Habakkuk’s second complaint is in verse 13 where the prophet writes, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong. Why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” That verse shows the prophet’s (and our) misunderstanding of God and who he is. Because he is pure, because he is good, because he is righteous, and because he is everlasting, how could He let evil go unpunished and run rampant across the world.

This is where unbelievers decide to get off the train in believing in God. Also, this is where believers get confused and disheartened in their belief in Him. Well, I think this explanation on Habakkuk’s perspective is pertinent for this discussion:

Habakkuk reviewed his own belief in God as well as what God has just revealed to him. Because God was of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. Habakkuk failed to see how He could use a nation more wicked then Israel to chasten Israel. From a human perspective it appeared as if God were looking with favor upon those who dealt treacherously. (p. 34 from Everyman Bible Commentary, Habakkuk and Zephaniah by Cyril J. Barber)

God is letting evil get away in our society. God is letting the bad CEO get away scot-free with a severance package after ruining the company I worked for. God is letting my ex-husband or ex-wife get away with adultery as they start their new life with their mistress or paramour. God is letting our country go down the tubes because the people elected the wrong person as president. Well, our complaints like the prophet comes from a limited perspective and here’s the reason for that:

Habakkuk looked for the punishment of the wicked so that the prosperity of his people could be assured, but God, who knew the end from the beginning, looked for the punishment of Habakkuk’s people so that they could be restored to fellowship. (p.36 from Everyman Bible Commentary, Habakkuk and Zephaniah by Cyril J. Barber)

God was going to reprove his people in order to restore them to fellowship with Him. He’s going to give judgment and grace at the same time. Isn’t that what we truly need from Him? Isn’t that what we need from our parents? Isn’t that what we need from our boss or some other authority figure?

It seems in our culture, we want grace without judgment or we want love without correction. However that’s not consistent with how God operates. In both, the Old and New Testament shows God’s judgment and grace working together. And since reading Habakkuk, I’m seeing that we can’t have one without the other.

God responds to Habakkuk in verses 2:2-20, but for me the key in His response is this section:

Write the vision;

Make it plain on tablets

So he may run who reads it

For still the vision awaits its appointed time

It hastens to the end–it will not lie

If it seems slow, wait for it

It will surely come; it will not delay

Behold, his soul is puffed up;

It is not upright with him,

but the righteous shall live by his faith.

(Habakkuk 2:2-4 ESV Bible)

God doesn’t answer the prophet’s complaint directly. But tells him to write the vision, wait for the appointed time, and if it seems slow believe it will come. That tells us God doesn’t want his people to wallow in self-pity or disappointment or even depression for a long time. He will lead to us to act.

Moreover, God does address the evildoers in his response. Using this phrase, His soul is puffed up means He was referring to Babylonian kingdom. Because they were a proud nation that relied on themselves instead of God, he gives the prophet a contrasting phrase, the righteous shall live by his faith.

Those of you who know their Bible should have recognized immediately where that phrase has appeared elsewhere in scripture.

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteousness shall live by faith. (Romans 1:17 ESV Bible)

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the Law, for the righteous shall live by faith. (Galatians 3:11 ESV Bible)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8 ESV Bible)

But my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:38-39 ESV Bible)

All those scriptures from the New Testament point back to that verse in Habakkuk. It shows this obscure and overlooked book in the Bible laid out one of the bedrock themes of Paul’s ministry and is preached by many pastors in our churches today.

In closing, I believe this passage will sum it up:

The truth contained in Habakkuk 2:4 was designed to bring comfort to believers. It showed that faith in God was the key to consistent living, even though violence abounded and justice was perverted. Today that short statement helps believers to persevere even though God chastens them and they cannot understand His ways. It provides a solution to the doubt they sometimes feel in His all-wise providence and helps them to understand his righteous judgments. In the final analysis, faith provides the key to understanding the Lord’s sovereign purpose, and it leads men to worship. (p. 39 from Everyman Bible Commentary, Habakkuk and Zephaniah by Cyril J. Barber)

That’s right on.  See you next week!

Here’s a question to think about until next week’s post:

1) What does it mean to you that righteous shall live by the faith?  (Review the New Testament Scriptures alongside Habakkuk 2:4 as a starting place.)

Habakkuk 1:2-11(The 1st Complaint and God’s Response)

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O Lord, how long shall I cry

for help and you will not hear?

Or cry to you Violence!

and you will not save?

Why do make me see iniquity,

and why do you idly look at wrong?

Destruction and violence are before me;

strife and contention arise.

So the law is paralyzed,

and justice never goes forth.

For the wicked surround the righteous;

so justice goes forth perverted.

(Habakkuk 1:2-4 ESV Bible)

This was Habakkuk’s first complaint. It seemed to him that God was not answering his prayers to the wickedness and injustice he saw around him. Here’s what happened at that time to make the prophet cry out to God in this manner.

Josiah was the King of Judah and considered a righteous man in the eyes of the Lord and the people. The Book of the Law was recovered by the high priest, Hillkiah and read to the king.

After hearing the Law, the king tore his clothes and repented to God for his Judah’s unrighteousness. Then he decided to make a covenant with the Lord and made sure he and the people would follow the commandments for the rest of his days as king. Josiah got rid of the altars on the roof from a former king, the houses of male prostitutes, all the mediums and necromancers in Judah, and restore the Passover.

With all of that, you could have seen how the prophet was upset at God for not answering him. You had a righteous king that repented for Judah’s past and was reforming the nation to suit the Lord’s image. This should have pleased God and made him answer Habakkuk’s complaint immediately.

Well, Habakkuk fell into the trap that many of us who walk with Christ have fell into quite often. Because we are living a Godly lifestyle or doing everything that we believe what God wants us to do, then He must answer us right away when there’s trouble in our lives or when injustice is happening in a society.

“Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him. Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him.” (2 Kings 23:25-26 ESV Bible)

What Habakkuk didn’t realize was that God would recognize and honor King Josiah for his faithfulness and righteousness to Him. However, Judah still had to be judged for their unfaithfulness and immorality years before Josiah became king. The king’s reforms were needed and appreciated but the Lord had another plan to wed out Judah’s immorality and it had to be addressed.

Look among the nations, and see;

wonder and be astounded.

For I am doing a work in your days

that you would not believe if told

For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans

that bitter and hasty nation

Who march through the breadth of the earth

to seize dwellings not their own

They are dreaded and fearsome;

Their justice and dignity go forth from themselves

Their horses are swifter than leopards,

More fierce then the evening wolves;

Their horsemen press proudly on.

Their horsemen come from afar;

They fly like an eagle swift to devour.

They all come for violence,

All their faces forward.

They gather captives like sand

At kings they scoff and at rulers they laugh.

They laugh at every fortress,

For they pile up earth and take it.

Then they sweep by like the wind and

go on, guilty men, whose own might is their God!

(Habakkuk 1:5-11 ESV Bible)

There’s His answer in response to the prophet’s complaint. Instantly, we can recognize that God did not answer Habakkuk’s complaint, why directly? “He is sovereign. He does not need to explain or apologize for his actions.” (Everyman Bible Commentary: Habakkuk and Zephaniah by Cyril J. Barber)

That last sentence bothers both believers and non-believers. We want an explanation for something we don’t understand or something that happen we deem unfair or unjust. As a matter of fact, we will demand it.  However, God is sovereign and his ways are higher than ours and He doesn’t have to answer us if He doesn’t want to. I would recommend reading Job 38-42 to read God’s response to Job’s (another righteous man) complaint about the unfair treatment happening in his life.

Let’s be honest, we don’t like that kind of treatment from God or man.  When we see injustice there has to be reason or answer why its happening. We are considered the highest on the evolutionary food chain and things like this must meet our understanding before we can judge it to be right or not. Like I mention in the last post, I believe this action here is the biggest barrier for non-believers into becoming believers. If this God so good, why does he allow injustice or evil to reign free on a society?

Well, God does answer the prophet in verses 6-11. He’s raising up the Chaldeans (Babylonians) against Judah. God knows about their violent history and their evil ways. They just defeated the Assyrians and were coming for Judah. Also, He uses metaphors like swifter than leopards or more fierce then the evening wolves in response to Habakkuk to drive home the point on whom he’s dealing with.

What this first section of the study has said to me, that God will use anyone or anything to do his will. This theme is consistent throughout the Bible.

For example in the Old Testament, God uses Pharaoh’s hardness in the Book of Exodus to get him to free the Israelities from slavery.  God uses King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther to keep him from wiping out the Jews in that kingdom thus preserving the bloodline where Jesus would descend from.  Over in the New Testament, there is the parable of Good Samaritan from the Book of Luke or Jesus speaking to the woman at the well from the Book of John.  There are many other examples in the Bible showing God using anybody for his purposes.

As Christians, we must come to grips with this reality.  There is no one out of God’s reach and He will use anyone to do his will.  Just because we are following Him and living our lives to reflect Him on Earth as best as we can doesn’t mean we will always understand what He’s doing or why He’s doing it. We have to trust in Him and truly understand his plan is better than ours.

As for non-believers, I know this still doesn’t meet your logic or reason sensors. However, I can write for myself that I was a non-believer for many years and critic of Christianity. I believed in Astrology, Numerology, and dabble with Taoism and thought I could be “spiritual without being religious” and I’m here to write that God has used to me too.  I’m not trying to convert to you all…but to let you know that if God wants to use you to do His will…He will.  I can testify to that.

I believe that this is first lesson we can learn from this opening section of Habakkuk. See you next week!

Here’s a question for you to think about until the next post:

1) Do you think God should use anyone or anything for His purposes?

If so, why?

If not, why?

Habakkuk: An Introduction

Last summer, I did an online Bible Study on the Book of Ecclesiastes(my favorite book) and now I’m going to write and post a study on the Book of Habakkuk.

Let’s face it, many Christians when they open their bibles don’t go looking for the Book of Habakkuk for their reading, studying or devotion time. Shucks, I don’t think we can even pronounce his name correctly!

Even among serious biblical students and theologians, Habakkuk has been overlooked and ignored.  Here’s an example:

“When a well-worn Bible is allowed to fall open at random, the possibility of its opening at the Book of Psalms or the Gospel of John or one of the Epistles is good. Even among zealous Bible students, the books of Habakkuk and Zephaniah are seldom read. One is tempted with the thought if they were somehow surreptitiously removed from the Bible, they would not be missed.”  (from the preface, Everyman Bible Commentary: Habakkuk and Zephaniah by Cyril J. Barber)

My hope for this study is to show that Habakkuk is an important book of the Bible and an integral part of God’s story to us. Also, that it would be missed if it was suddenly removed from the Bible.

Habakkuk is the eighth book in the Twelve books of the Minor Prophets from the Old Testament. However, little is known about the prophet apart from this book. Scholars believe his prophecy can be dated around 609 B.C., which is at the end of King Josiah’s reign (640-609 BC) to the beginning of King Jehoiakim’s reign (609-598 BC). And to get the historical background of Habakkuk’s prophecy, I would suggest reading 2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 34:1-36:4.

It’s been said that Habakkuk’s name in Hebrew means “to embrace” or “to wrestle with.” Well, if that’s true then after reading the aforementioned scriptures of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles will give you a good idea of what the prophet was trying to embrace or actually wrestle with during that time.  Here’s a sample:

“The peace that had accompanied the reign of Josiah had allowed the people to enjoy a greater degree of prosperity than had been possible for many years. In a real sense they thought the new era would last indefinitely. The realities that faced them, however, could not have been anticipated by either the political liberals or the religiously-minded conservatives.

The power of Assyria had collapsed. Political supremacy belonged to Egypt. Strong political ties, however, had been established with the emerging kingdom of Bablyon. Because she was a vassal of Egypt and a friend of Babylon, it seemed as if nothing could threaten the progress of Judah’s prosperity.

The nation owed its prosperity to God’s favoring of one man, Josiah (2 Kings 22:1, 12-17). Josiah had led the nation in several notable reforms. Although those reforms touched only the outward observances of the people, God said He would honor Josiah for his faithfulness (2 Kings 22:18-20).

The leaders of the people ignored the spiritual reasons for their material prosperity and thought God’s favor could be enjoyed without interruption. It was not long before greed and avarice became prevalent. The rich exploited the poor. Justice favored the wealthy. Those who were God-fearing found themselves oppressed by an ever-increasing number whose desire for power led them to secure, by one means or another, those positions that met their personal (and often pathological) needs.

It was amid such conditions that God revealed His will to Habakkuk. Turbulent times lay ahead for the Lord’s people. The message Habakkuk was told to proclaim was one that would please neither the Left nor the Right. The delusions of the decision makers were to be dashed to pieces before the harsh reality of God’s sovereign justice.” (pp. 13-14, Everyman Bible Commentary, Habakkuk and Zephaniah by Cyril J. Barber)

It is interesting that writer mentioned politics several times in that previous passage. I know after this past presidential election, there are many Christians who are done with politics.  But, it’s unavoidable and whether in Habakkuk’s or our time, we have to deal with it and ultimately trust that God is in control no matter what happens politically.

I will confess this was the impetus for doing this study. The things I’ve heard and read after the election has shocked and saddened me. For political commentators like Glenn Beck saying “God really sucks right now” to States wanting to secede from the Union to some Christians proclaiming the rapture is finally coming since Barack Obama has been re-elected.

But, after reading Habakkuk has shown me that there’s truly nothing new under the sun and human nature doesn’t change.  And what happened over 2600 years ago during the prophet’s time is relevant to our time today.

The prophet asks the question to God that I believe most Christians and non-Christians would ask Him if they had the chance: If God is so good, why does he allow evil and injustice to happen?

I will assert this question not being answered satisfactorily is the biggest barrier from non-believers into becoming believers. On the surface and even logically, it doesn’t make sense that God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and omniscient could allow evil or injustice to get by without him stopping it.

Well in the Book of Habakkuk, the prophet complains to God twice and God answers him both times.  God’s answers range from indifference to actually what he was doing and going to do for Judah. And Habakkuk’s response to God’s answers is something we as Christians should apply in our lives and give non-believers at least an intellectual understanding of who God is even if you don’t agree with it.

There are only three chapters in Habakkuk and can be read in within twenty minutes. However for the next three Saturdays, I will post in this order:

1) Habakkuk 1:2-11 (His 1st complaint and God’s response)

2) Habakkuk 1:12-2:20 (His second complaint and God’s response)

3) Habakkuk 3:1-19 (His prayer)

I believe if you read the Book of Habakkuk in this structure you will get the full context and meaning of this obscure book and its importance for us today.

Finally, I believe this song by Chris Tomlin is an appropriate theme for this study.

See you next week!