How would you describe yourself? If you had just a few words or a short sentence to sum up what you think you are like, what is it that you would say? How do you want to be remembered?
Often an epitaph etched onto a gravestone indicates what others thought of a person’s life. It acts as a kind of summing up of the way they lived. So what would yours say? Would it focus on your relationships: ‘Loving husband, devoted father’ or ‘Caring and generous mother’ or ‘Much-loved sister’? Would it focus on your impact in your chosen career: ‘Successful entrepreneur and business leader’ or ‘Renowned entertainer’ or ‘Discoverer of cancer cure’? Maybe the inscription would focus on your community work: ‘Chair of governors at Town High School’ or ‘Long-serving coach of local Under-12s football team’ or ‘Prolific sponsored swimmer for charity’? None of these things would be bad things to be remembered by, but are they really the best possible thing to have as a summary one’s life?
In Acts 18 we have a glimpse of a man named Titius Justus. And in this glimpse we are given the equivalent of his epitaph.
The apostle Paul had been in Corinth (18:1) for a while and has been ‘reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks’ (v4) of the truth of the gospel. When Paul’s companions Silas and Timothy arrived he gave himself full time to the study and proclamation of the gospel to the Jews (v5). His continuing declaration of the truth of Jesus being the Christ led to him being ‘resisted and blasphemed’ (v6) and him leaving to go to preach to the Gentiles. He didn’t go far. Verse 7 tells us that Paul ‘left there [the synagogue?] and went to the house of Titius Justus, a worshipper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue’. I am not sure that I would want to welcome into my home a man who has managed to seriously offend a significant group of people who regularly frequent the property next door! However, Titius Justus welcomed Paul into his home and from this beginning we see that God promises Paul that He has many people in the city (v10) and he begins a lengthy period of 18 months of ministry there (v11).
As a slight aside, it is fair to suppose that Paul stayed with Titius Justus for the whole of that 18 month period. When Jesus gave instructions to His disciples as He sent them out (see Luke 10:2-12) He said that they were to enter a home and stay there for the duration of their time in that place – ‘Do not keep moving from house to house.’ (Lk 10:7). This was unless they and their message were not welcomed in the city or house (see Matthew 10:14), in which case they were to shake the dust off their feet and leave. Paul seems to have done the dust-shaking part in verse 6 and so there is no reason to think he didn’t adhere to the other principles Jesus outlined.
Luke, the author of Acts, surely could have reported much more about Titius Justus. He could have painted much more of a picture of the man: Did he have a family? How did he make his living in that bustling city- port? When and how did he come to faith? He could have given greater detail about the hospitality he so generously provided: Did he just have Paul to stay? Or did he also have Silas and Timothy and any others who were also in town? Did he just provide bed & breakfast or was an evening meal thrown in? Were the beds comfortable? But instead what we are told is just one thing: that he was a worshipper of God. How incredible is that? The single standout fact that Luke feels is worth reporting is that this man worshipped God. What a testimony! What an epitaph: ‘A worshipper of God’!
It is in our worship that we truly reveal who we are. Who, or what, we worship gives the game away entirely in terms of revealing where our heart, passions and priorities lie. Assuming that our worship is directed towards God, worship becomes the offering of ourselves to our Creator, Father, Saviour and Lord. It is in worship that our praise and adoration exalts and magnifies our Sovereign God to the place of which He is worthy. It is in worship that we join with all of creation and proclaim ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, Who was and Who is and Who is to come!’ It is in worship that we, as created beings, connect with our Almighty Creator. It is in worship that we again recognise our great salvation that He has won for us through His indescribable sacrifice of His Son on the cross. It is in worship that we, as adopted sons and daughters in the family of God, draw close into the intimacy of the presence of our heavenly Father. It is in worship that our hearts are exposed as we focus on the One who holds for us ultimate value. It is in worshipping, an act of sacrifice, that we surrender ourselves to Him again and again.
And this is how Titius Justus lived: as a worshipper of God. This is what marked him out. This is the fact worth reporting. This is what enabled him to have a right focus and extend long-term hospitality in dangerous circumstances to and unpopular man for the sake of the gospel. This is what enabled him to live righteously in the godless city of Corinth where immorality and sinfulness abounded. This is his epitaph:
‘Titius Justus – a worshipper of God’