“All those who are with me greet you; greet those who love us in faith. Grace be with all of you.”
And so, Paul closes his letter to Titus with a final word of greeting to the church. The language reminds us not only of his affection for the Christian church but of the affection that we are to have toward fellow believers in Jesus Christ. Our Lord said that we are to be known by our love (John 13:35). How often this love is not readily apparent within the life of the church.
There are two observations I want to make about this notion that we are to be known by our loving affection for those within the body. The first is that the nature of love is not the “warm, gushy” kind of love that is often portrayed in the culture. Love is strong and it is gritty. Love is willing to get one’s hands dirty in the life of another and even to sacrifice for them. Further, love is not even a feeling that we might have, it is a decision that we make about the way we behave toward one another. “Falling in love” is one of the silliest notions that has plagued our modern culture…and sadly, has led to more break-ups and divorces than anything else, for if you can “fall in” you can “fall out.” Instead, true love is a commitment that we decide to make and we decide to be bound to for our whole life. Those who claim to “fall out of love” are simply trying to displace the blame from themselves, for really they have simply chosen to be unfaithful to the covenant they have made with the body.
Remember, one not only makes a covenant with a spouse when one gets married, one also makes a covenant with the church of Jesus Christ…and to both, the believer will remain until death. In the institution of marriage we call that fidelity; in the church we call it the Perseverance of the Saints. That does not mean that one will remain in one local church all of their lives — circumstances sometimes cause us to relocate from one area to another and sometimes churches cease to be faithful to the Gospel, necessitating a split. What it does mean is that you will remain in the life of a Biblically-faithful local church body that seeks to be a representation of the body of Christ…there is one church, though it manifests itself in many different localities, wherever believers dwell. At the same time, when professing Christians flit about from congregation to congregation, seeking to have their ears itched (2 Timothy 4:3), that is a sign that they genuinely do not love the believers that God placed around them…and if they do not love, then what does it say about their commitment to Christ (1 John 3:17)?
The second observation is more practical than the first. To love someone, you need to know them. That may sound like an obvious statement in principle, but how can believers be said to really love one another in large, “mega-churches” where nobody (in many cases, not even the pastor) even knows their name. Isn’t getting to know a person’s name and a little bit about their life the first step in building a relationship with them? And isn’t it necessary to have a relationship with someone if you are going to speak of loving them? Yes, I am a small church pastor, but I also believe that is a Biblical model. Apart from visitors perhaps, I want to know to whom I am preaching on a Sunday morning and wish to engage with their lives; how can I do that if I don’t know who they are? To me, the very American notion of building large churches to preach to thousands or the model of having main churches and satellite churches where the congregation watches the Pastor on large televisions, is broken and leads much more to a performance mindset on the part of the pastor and church leadership. A shepherd knows his sheep… To me, it seems a much better model to have more small churches scattered about in our communities, each faithfully teaching the Word of God and then with those small churches networking together to do missions, outreach, or ministry work that the churches could not accomplish individually.
In the end, Paul knows the people of this church and sends them greetings, knowing that they love him in faith. Further, there is a care for the church in other places found in the language of his letter (how often churches today view themselves in competition with each other). If a neighboring church teaches the Bible faithfully and the people seek to live out their faith in love, then they are not competitors, but are fellow-believers and we ought to see them as fellow workers in building up of Christ’s Kingdom.
And with these words before us, with Paul, I close out Titus simply with the words: “Grace be with you.”