Thoughts After Reading Saint Paul's Letters to Titus and Philemon
Paul Reveals His Moral Strength
Short Letters Long on Faith
Two of the shortest of the fifteen or more letters written by Saint Paul, the missionary to the non-Jewish world, are the ones written to Titus and Philemon. The letters were sent from Rome to their destinations on the island of Crete and the city of Colassae, both occupied by the Romans as part of their empire.
In Paul's letter to Titus, the Greek whom he'd placed in charge of the newly founded Christian church on the isle of Crete, Paul directed Titus to appoint elders as bishops for the churches in the various cities on the island.
Crete had a bad reputation among philosophers for hundreds of years. Cretans were considered liars and lazy gluttons. Mindful of this, Paul told Titus to ignore idle talkers and deceivers, especially "those of the circumcision" and not to heed any "Jewish fables."
But Saint Paul, himself a Jew, was not coming out against his own kind in any general way. He had been raised and educated as a high-ranking Pharisee and was very respectful of his family's Jewish heritage and faith, just as Jesus also showed respect for Moses and the principles of Hebrew faith for which he stood.
In warning Titus to be on guard against some people, Paul wrote, "To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure...even their mind and conscience are defiled."
Paul's fatherly advice to Titus included advising him to tell the older men in the church to be temperate, and the older women to be reverent and ready to guide younger women toward respectful behavior including obedience toward their husbands.
Titus, said Paul, should advise young men to be sober-minded and should speak soundly so as to avoid any condemnation. He should show himself to be a "pattern of good works."
Wishing to preserve the good reputation of Christians, Saint Paul told Titus to remind the church members to obey all rulers and people in authority and to speak evil of no one, but instead show humility toward all.
Paul felt that Christians should remember that they once perhaps were foolish or malicious themselves, but that through God's mercy Jesus came to the world to renew spirits and offer mankind forgiveness and the hope for eternal life.
In one more letter, a very short one to a wealthy man named Philemon, Saint Paul told of Philemon's run-away slave Onesimus who met up with Paul in Rome.
Philemon lived in Colassae on the Mediterranean coast of Asia Minor in an area we now call Turkey. Many Colassians such as he had been converted to Christianity by Paul.
The slave Onesimus was not converted, however, until after he ran away and found Saint Paul in Rome. The letter suggests that Onesimus also might have stolen from Philemon or caused some financial problems, thus incurring a debt owed to his master.
The purpose of Paul's letter to Philemon was to ask him to take back his former slave and accept him as a fellow Christian. Onesimus was to return to Philemon with the letter, and hope that Philemon would have mercy on him and forgive his running away. Presumably he did, but we are not told much more in the Bible.
Paul promised to make Philemon whole for any damages caused by Onesimus' departure.
These examples of letters composed by Saint Paul show the strong character of a man who was trying to do good for all mankind by instilling faith in his followers. The discussions of human nature in these letters show that Paul was not naive. He knew the crafty people who could ridicule and try to destroy anything.
Over two thousand years ago people were much the same as we are today. History is full of instances with which we can identify. Paul's description of the outlook on life of pure people versus those who are cynically corrupt is contemporary.
As our world gets increasingly sophisticated there will be many to whom the story of the early beginnings of Christianity will be just collections of fables about fictitious people including Jesus and his apostles. But Christianity has endured as the leading religion of most progressive nations.
Still the classic vices--greed, arrogance, corruption--continue and often tarnish the name of religion itself.
The words of Saint Paul, however, are noble and good, regardless of our opinions two thousand years later as we read through the warped translations of damaged manuscripts with a trained skepticism putting us always on guard. Some views on women seem overly dated, so people automatically will tune out. Even though Paul's strong faith is undeniable, that's his faith not ours. So many people will seek comfort elsewhere.
To each of us, especially in a free society, is granted the privilege and responsibility to develop or ignore any opportunities for faith in anything. We might try a prayer in times of trouble. But we are no better than the closed-minded atheist or mechanically programmed doctrinaire fanatic, even if we are acceptably in-between, unless we have a little faith in Someone's listening to our prayer.
The extremist on the spectrum of religious beliefs may be filled with arrogance and excessive pride. Is that wise when we and our world keep "passing away" as Saint Paul reminds us?
Sometimes there's no logic behind faith in God, because no one has seen God. Faith can be based instead on internal spirit not accumulated knowledge of data.
Saint Paul dwells in the minds of many people as some spirit or just an imaginary character. But there are real-life saints in the news occasionally. They must place faith in some principle.
Can an atheist profit from reading the letters of Saint Paul, filled as they are with the sad but glorious truths about people? If so, then how much more can people with faith profit from thinking about these philosophies?
Saint Paul's letters give a glimpse into the mind of someone seeing life from the point of view of a temporary passer-by on the way to an existence that follows life in the visible world, doing no harm to anyone along the way.
Who Was "Saint Paul"?
Who Wrote the Letters of Paul?
Like the Shakespearean plays written 1500 years later, the epistles of Paul are doubted as to their authorship. But the fact remains that someone wrote those letters within a lifespan following the death of Jesus. The story of Paul, especially the miracle of Jesus' apparition on the Road to Damascus, are doubted by non-Christians who are opposed to the religion itself. Others find the tale of miracles irrelevant to their own personal faith in God. Whoever wrote the philosophical passages in the letters of Paul probably was once an agnostic doubter of religion, because the profound reasoning that the writer endures on the intellectual journey culminating in religious faith indicates that he, or perhaps it was a she, did not side-step strong criticism and logical arguments against religious beliefs.
The epistles come out of the First Century. The author is a missionary, traveling far and wide around the rim of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. "Paul," the name ascribed to the author, was a missionary, spreading a very new branch of Judaism called Christianity, which was believed by orthodox Jews to be some flash-in-the-pan fanatic fringe of highly temporary endurance compared with the ageless story of the Hebrew people, their migration into Egypt, their escape from the bigoted and ruthless rulers, and their journey to modern-day Israel, the Promised Land.
The letters of Paul were written by a highly educated person sophisticated enough to show respect for authority and tradition, but brave enough to dispute anyone who would deny the value and wisdom of Christian theology. Paul was proud to be a Jew. He believed he was educating non-Jews to a great philosophy of wisdom by explaining the new religion founded by Jesus. He was excited about bringing a "new" religion into the world.
The new "salvation" Paul brought to the world emphasized life after death. This was something very exciting, and still is. Paul believed in miracles. He wrote of Jesus coming back to life. He told people that they too could come into an afterlife with God. To this day, such beliefs are central to most of the world, who follow the Christian or Islamic faith.