Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Power of Grace

Titus 2:11-15 

Last week, Paul gave Titus some instructions for leading different groups of Christians on Crete. He called Titus to teach what is in accord with sound doctrine, which would enable them to stand against the prevailing culture. Remember that living a holy life, which is really counter-cultural, is not what makes God love us. It’s not what saves us. It, however, does provide us the opportunity to present Jesus Christ in the best possible light. We who are Christians already love and trust Him. That’s the context in which we surrender to Him.  But why should we expect a world that doesn’t know Him to turn over their entire lives to Him? This is why we have a duty to share Him accurately.

Paul doesn’t want any of this accuracy left to chance, so he continues with a power-packed sentence. He wants to make it clear to his audience which God he is talking about, and, as has been his form in his letter to Titus, he proclaims a God who is in direct contrast to the cultural norm. One notable contrast is with Zeus, who was said to have started out human, but because of his beneficence, he was accorded the status of a god. This contrasts with our God, when about it in the opposite direction. Instead of being a man and becoming a god, our God, who was God from before there was time, became a man – in the Person of Jesus Christ. Instead of having to give people gifts to be accorded the status of a god, the path Zeus trod, our God became man to give the perfect Gift to us:

The grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people (Titus 2:11). Without God’s grace, salvation would be impossible. This is God’s unmerited favor; we don’t deserve it, but because of God’s extravagant love, He gives it, and that grace brings salvation, not just to a certain group of people, but to all people. God does not withhold His grace from anyone who accepts it, because God’s grace has appeared in the form of a Person: Jesus Christ. God brought us salvation, paid for by the gift of Jesus on the cross. This grace is not just for a select few people; it is freely available for everyone. This is the power of grace – not only is it given when we don’t deserve it, but it is freely available for everyone.

This grace both saves us and teaches us. One aspect of our salvation is that as we accept Jesus’ gift to us, we begin to live it out. God’s grace teaches us to turn away from godless living and sinful pleasures. God’s grace teaches us that the things that the world is passionate about are not important in the scope of eternity. In eternity, it won’t matter if Ohio State beat Michigan. It won’t even matter if Ohio State has a football team. It won’t matter if you were a millionaire. The things of this world won’t matter. What will matter is being in the presence of God.

So God calls us to live with an eternal perspective. I’m not saying that this world doesn’t matter, because God created it in such a way that it matters a great deal. The choices we make now have eternal consequences.

I have said this before and I will continue to say it: we have the choice to control our attitudes and our actions. This is why Paul instructs Titus (and us) to turn away from godless living and sinful pleasures. What do you think of when you hear the phrase “godless living?” I usually think of a party lifestyle, drugs, alcohol, and everything that old timers used to call debauchery. That is only a small portion of godless living. 10Godless living is doing anything without God’s blessing. Anything. There are certain things that are obviously outside the sphere of godly living; sinful behaviors are sinful behaviors. But what happens when God has a plan and we, by making our own plans, work against God’s plan?

When I was in preschool, I remember this little boy who would grab all the toys he wanted and then he would sit on them like a hen sitting on a nest full of eggs. Even as a three year old, I thought this was dumb; he couldn’t even play with those toys because he was so worried that someone else might get one of them. The church has gotten a lot like that little boy; we sit on our toys and don’t even enjoy them because we’re so worried that someone will encroach on our territory.

God has not called us to be stingy. Godliness is generosity. God has not called us to cater to ourselves – God has not called us to simply sit back and take care of me and mine, us and ours. He calls us to reach out to our community, to people who desperately need his saving grace.

But God doesn’t call us just to say “no” to ungodly living. God calls us to live life in a certain way: self-controlled, upright, godly lives. God calls us to total devotion to Him, devotion that extends to every aspect of our lives, looking forward with hope to Jesus’ return.

It is popular these days to focus on this life and this world. I hear phrases like “live your best life now” that miss out on biblical truth. When the “best life” is centered on externals like health and wealth, it just might not be the best life that God has to offer. Jesus calls anyone who will follow him to a life of self-denial. Our best life is never a life centered on ourselves. It is a life surrendered totally to God, awaiting Jesus’ return.

What does Jesus’ return have to do with anything? Is it just bumper-sticker theology: Jesus is coming back… look busy! I remember being sent to clean my bedroom and I would generally start cleaning, but then I’d find a toy I was interested in or a book I wanted to read or something, but then I’d hear my mom on the way to my room, and I’d get busy. But until I knew that she was coming, I would hurry to get something done. This isn’t the kind of life God has called us to!

Jesus gave himself, not for us to sit around uselessly. Jesus gave himself to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:14). Jesus didn’t come without a purpose: his purpose was to save us. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45). He ransomed us. He bought us. He cleaned us. He makes us pure.

He does this because he loves us. In Exodus 19:5-6, we see God speaking, giving Moses His instructions for people Israel. His final words: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.

Peter recognizes that God has opened that priesthood to all who would follow Jesus. In 1 Peter 2:9-10 he writes: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

We are that royal priesthood. What is a priest’s main role? A priest mediates between humans and God. Jesus, as our High Priest, has filled that role for us, so we no longer need to go to another person to go to God for us – just as an aside, this is why I always pray in Jesus’ Name; because Jesus is the One who mediates between me and God, the only One by whom I am allowed in God’s presence. If I am asked to pray without Jesus’ name, I can’t do it. It’s only because of Jesus that I can approach God boldly, and without Him, I can’t do it. So that’s why I can only pray in Jesus’ Name.

But to a world that does not know Jesus or God, we have been commissioned as mediators. Therefore the picture we carry of Jesus is important. How we, as Christians, live our lives, how we interact with others, our willingness to share Jesus in our words and our actions – this is the picture we carry of Jesus. If your life was the only Bible someone had, what conclusions would they come to about God?

If you are a Christian, you are publicly saying that you are one of God’s people. If, then, you don’t live like one of God’s people, you are declaring treason against God. Why do we think we can do that? Is it that we’re American? Since we have so much freedom, we think we can just make our own rules to follow? We are not our own! 1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a tells us You are not your own; you were bought at a price. The price was Jesus’ life!

Not only are we not our own, but God calls us to be eager to do what is good. Our attitude is extremely important. Do we obey grudgingly? Or do we eagerly look for good to do? I think I know the answer.

We have struggled with ways to communicate with one another, especially to communicate the need for servants in various areas, most specifically the food pantry and the nursery. Somewhere, someone got the idea to pass around a clipboard with open slots on it. Sounds good – that way people get the information and they can just put their name down. But there are two unfortunate side-effects. First is that the clipboard is a horrible disrupter of worship. You’re in the midst of pouring out your heart to God when you get this tap-tap-tap on your shoulder as someone passes you a clipboard. If you’re anything like me, you’re already way too distracted and it’s hard enough to concentrate, especially to concentrate on a God you can’t physically see, and when you’re finally in the zone, worshiping God with your whole spirit and body, what a downer to be pulled away from Him just to pass a clipboard down the row.

The other problem is that we’re not eager to do what is good. Why is it we have felt like we had to pass a clipboard to staff our nursery and minister to our smallest ones or to serve the hungry? It is precisely because we’re not eager to do what is good. We are much more eager to do what we want to do. If we were eager to do what is good, we would never have an issue with finding volunteers to do ministry. Our issue would be how to tactfully tell people that we had too many servants – maybe they could serve next time.

Instead we expect ministry to be done to us or for us. That’s never what God calls his people to.

Finally, Paul reminds Titus that he has a responsibility to teach these things and to encourage the Christians in Crete to obey. Next week we will get a little more into authority. But in the meantime, remember that God has called us to be His priests. We get to bring God to the world. If they choose to despise God, that’s up to them, but do not let them despise you for being a jerk.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Titus: Instructions for Christian Life

Titus 2:1-10

In 1993 I went on a mission trip to Russia. Our trip was primarily a cultural exchange; we were college students, all paired with roommates who were all English language students, and our job was to teach them about America and to share the Gospel with them. There were several students who made commitments to Jesus Christ while we were there, and the goal was then to help them get plugged in to the local college ministry.

College ministries were flourishing in Russia in the early 90s, but there were some issues. One big issue was that they were all led by foreigners. There weren’t any vital, vibrant ministries led by Russians. One of our goals was to share Jesus with them, but our plan was to turn leadership over to them, but when the missionaries left, the ministries crumbled. The problem was that the Russian students didn’t trust one another. They had spent the previous fifty years in a culture of mistrust, never knowing who was a possible infiltrator or informant. Now we were expecting them to share openly with one another, and it wasn’t working.

Culture is hard to change. In Crete, their culture was rough. Liars, evil brutes, and lazy gluttons, they were called by their own prophets. Crete was a culture that prized deception and unbounded appetites, and somehow they managed to assimilate the Christian message into their culture in such a way as to not affect their behavior in any way.

So Paul instructs Titus, whose job is to install and train leaders in the church in Crete. Of utmost importance for Titus is the teaching of sound doctrine. (You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Titus 2:1) The big idea here is that the teaching needs to be such that Christians, whether they are in Crete or in Millersport, in what is taught and what is practiced, need to rise above the prevailing culture. This is why I spend as much time as I do preparing the weekly sermon; because I want to make sure that what I am teaching is in accord with sound doctrine. I can’t just decide whatever I want to preach on. So when it comes to Paul’s letter to Titus, what follows is what he means by sound doctrine.

Paul initially divides the teaching with regard to gender and age, starting with older men. In Ancient Near Eastern culture, older men were the leaders, in public and in the family. So it’s no surprise that Paul starts with instructions for them. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and endurance. (Titus 2:2)

Temperance, in other words, sober-minded, is the starting point. Crete was known for their gluttonous dinners and banquets, and Paul is saying that this should not be how Christians are known. The problem is that when temperance is not shown, everything else goes out the window. I think I’ve told you that my junior year in college was a year in which I renewed my commitment to Christ, and one thing that entailed was steering clear of the fraternity parties for the year. As a senior, I was generally present at the parties but in a different role; I was watching out for my fraternity brothers. It’s amazing what someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol will do. It’s unbelievable, really, what seems to be rational behavior for someone who is drinking heavily. Unless you’ve lived in a fraternity house, you might be surprised at what was considered “normal” behavior in a culture devoid of temperance and how many other problems arise because of it.

Older men must live lives worthy of respect. There are people who, just by who they are, command respect. I remember meeting Dr. Elsworth Kalas in seminary; I was picking up my seminary mail and I heard him. He was talking to the person at the mail counter, simply asking for a package, but he had this voice. Not having any idea who he was, I told him, “Your voice makes me want to listen to you.” His voice and his presence simply commanded respect. Usually, however, the way we get respect is by treating others respectfully. How do you treat other people? I hear from my friends who work in restaurants that they usually do not respect Christians very much. Why not? We come in all dressed up after church, but we are rude to the wait staff and then we stiff them on the tip, or, even worse, we give them one of those fake $20 bill tracts instead of a tip. That is not living a life worthy of respect.

To temperance and worthy of respect, Paul adds self-control. This would mark a direct shift against Cretan culture. We’ll find Paul calling people of all ages and genders to self-control. We are not mere animals, driven by instinct. We are set apart by God for God, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, leading us, directing us. Some of us aren’t very self-controlled. We allow ourselves to be controlled by every kind of external circumstance. Make sure you clearly hear this: You can control your attitude, and you can control your actions as well.

Finally, Paul stresses that older men need to be sound in faith, love, and endurance. Everything will flow from your foundation, and a firm foundation is a sound faith in Jesus Christ. With such a foundation, love is no longer some emotional good feeling, but it is a verb. When Paul defines love, he does so in light of Christ’s love for the church; in other words, love is sacrificially pouring oneself out for others. In the Church, faith and love always go together, because solid faith leads the believer to sacrificial love. To faith and love, Paul adds endurance.

Living a Christian life in a hostile environment is tough. There are times when we are really tempted to give in. After all, everybody else is… (fill in the blanks with all of the things you know you shouldn’t do and stoop to justifying yourself that if everyone else is doing it, it must not be all that bad). Anyone can change a behavior for a while, but we’re being called to endurance, to live out a different ethic. James focuses on this perseverance when he says to Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

God calls us to persevere, reminding us that the hope we have will fulfill even our greatest longing.

Now that we’ve covered the older men, Paul turns his focus to the older women. To be fair to the cultural situation, women in Crete were much more “liberated” than women elsewhere in the Ancient Near East. Unfortunately, this did not mean that they were righteous. In fact, they used their liberty to behave as badly as the men. They were known to be just as deceitful and promiscuous as their male counterparts. Let me pause a moment and remind you that just because some people haven’t lived up to the biblical ideal is not a valid reason to throw out the ideal. I know people whose excuse for not being a part of a church is that church people have treated them poorly, so they have thrown out church and rejected God altogether. Unfortunately, when we get a bunch of humans together, we show up with all our human limitations and foibles… and sin. We don’t always get it right. But that’s no reason to throw out “right”. I hear this all the time when people are talking about marriage. They say that marriage as an institution has passed its usefulness – just look at all the divorces. Therefore, all kinds of other partnerships need to be honored just like marriage. This is the worst justification I’ve heard; it’s worse than “everybody else is doing it” because it doesn’t acknowledge what we can see here; there are still many, many marriages across our culture who continue to stand the test of time.

Anyway, here are Paul’s instructions for the older women. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.

Live reverent lives. Not only are the older men supposed to live lives that do not conform to the culture, but the older women are, too. This, again, is because Paul is calling upon the link between our beliefs and our outward behaviors. Older women must be reverent in order to be good teachers. Paul expressly forbids the kind of loose talk associated with drunkenness – many of us know someone who gets ugly when she’s drinking, who’ll say things she wouldn’t ever say sober. But even more unfortunate is when the person in question is quite sober and still spews gossip and slander. If that’s your character, you’re disqualifying yourself from Christianity!

There are older people in our culture who wonder why nobody will listen to them anymore, why they are increasingly marginalized. Much of this has to do with our culture being obsessed with youth, but it’s important to note that sometimes the behaviors of older people has led younger people to turn away from them. Pastor Craig Groschel relates a story about his wife and the women’s society. In a church where he served as a brand new pastor, his wife saw a lack of spiritual activities. The existing women’s group wasn’t focused much on Christ. They met regularly, but their meeting topics ranged from “creating centerpieces” to “gardening” and so forth. Not bad topics, just not Christ-centered topics. So she started a Bible study, and soon there were quite a few young women participating. The older women finally decided to “recognize” the younger women by asking them to participate in their annual fundraiser. Their group was asked to do a certain task, and they set about doing it, but Mrs. Groschel soon realized that the older women were going back and re-doing what the younger women had done. Guess what that did to the credibility of the older women.

When the older women live out good Christian doctrine, however, Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. It’s important that if you want to teach someone to do something, you’re going to have to live it out first. But when you are living it out, please, please, please share it! There are some awesome older people in our church, some who have embodied what it means to have strong, healthy marriages – if that’s you, perhaps you might spend some time with someone who is younger, even a couple who isn’t yet married, helping them grow, teaching them about life. Some of you are prayer warriors. Invite someone younger to come alongside and pray with you – you can teach them about living a powerful prayerful life. You want to help a young couple out? Send them on a date and offer to babysit their kids.

As we look at the virtues Paul lists here, we are simply looking at what were widely approved in secular society as how a respectable wife lived: loving her husband and children, self-controlled and pure, busy at home, kind, and subject to her husband. Before some of you get wound up about how we’re a different culture now, yes, you’re right. I’m not advocating going back in time to when women were considered less than men. That said, the virtues here are worth looking at.

The first virtue was loving her husband and children. This came in contrast to prevailing Cretan culture, which gave women the permission for promiscuity and permission to virtually abandon her family. Women in Crete felt justified in their freedoms as they were the freedoms that men enjoyed in that culture, but again, that’s not a Christian viewpoint at all. As my mom told me numerous times, “If everybody else was jumping off the roof…”

The second pair of virtues for older women to teach younger women is self-control and purity. This speaks again to the culture in Crete. As you have probably seen, a lack of self-control was a big problem in Crete. I believe it is here, too. How many times does Dave Ramsey have to tell us to cut up our credit cards before we’ll listen? Shopping addictions are just a lack of self-control. Affairs: they don’t just happen one day. They’re symptomatic of our lack of self-control. Self-control and purity go together, because how much sin renders someone impure? It only takes one, even a little, so-called harmless sin, to leave us impure. Our calling, men and women, is to live pure lives.

The next virtue Paul advocates is for the young woman to be busy at home and to be subject to her husband. Our culture bristles at this notion; why should a woman be “stuck” at home and subject to her husband? I’ll go ahead and be controversial on this: one of the problems in our society is children who have no parents at home. I understand that there are many women who don’t have a choice but to work; this is a demonstration of the failures of our society: men who impregnate women and leave them, churches who haven’t set as a priority caring for the most powerless members of our society (orphans and widows), couples who overspend on houses and cars and leave no room for the loss of an income when someone stays home with children, selfishness in marriages that says, “I deserve…” Honestly, all of that is beside the point, because Paul is not talking about women going to work here. Paul isn’t saying that; in Acts 16, when Paul goes to Philippi, he meets Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, and she and her household were baptized, and never does he even mention the possibility of her quitting her job.

The problem wasn’t that women were working; the problem was that they were living scandalous lives. They were not taking care of their homes and families; they were partying. Paul is saying, “Stay home and take care of what is yours. Get out of the party lifestyle.”

Elsewhere, Paul remarks on women being subject to their husbands. He calls women to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22) as to the Lord. But this is in the context of mutual submission (Eph. 5:21) and the call to the husband is to love his wife… as Christ loved the church. That is a call to lay down one’s life for the other. So if you still want to complain about the call to submit, remember that you are called to submit to someone who is called to lay down his life for you.

Paul is calling older women to live godly lives so they can best teach younger women to live godly lives, with the final goal being so that nobody can malign the word of God. In his book The Christ of the Indian Road, E. Stanley Jones quotes Bara Dada: “Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians – you are not like him.”

If we live out the Gospel, there are those who will not like us (Jesus himself made that clear) but let them dislike us for our Christlikeness, not for living without him.

Now Paul turns to the young men. Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. Yes, young men, you are called to be self-controlled. In our culture, like Cretan culture, we give a special dispensation to young men. We say “Boys will be boys” and have phrases like “sowing wild oats” that young men are expected to live out. In fact, when a young man like Tim Tebow from Florida announced that he was a virgin, you would have thought he had grown a third eye in the middle of his forehead. My freshman year in college, I had a classmate down the hall named the Dissman. He didn’t drink, and the guys made fun of him all the time. The problem was first that the expectation was that college guys drink. The second problem was that he was trying really hard to fit in, and he just couldn’t seem find a way to without drinking. Did he have any role models who were living out a holy life? I remember being a senior in college on our fall retreat, getting to talk to some freshmen about the pitfalls and difficulties of joining a fraternity. It was a very negative environment, one that surely needed Christian leaders, but a very difficult environment in which to live a holy life. Paul told Titus to live out the faith and set an example for the young men. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

Integrity means living out the Christian life no matter what. It’s been defined as having character even when nobody is looking. It’s living with authenticity; being the same person in public as you are in private. In a former pastorate, I worked with someone who was the president of the UM Council on Evangelism, and one of his jobs was to book speakers for their yearly conference. Some of them had unbelievable requirements in their contracts and were absolutely nit-picky, and they didn’t match up with the character that these speakers portrayed in public.

Paul calls Titus to be serious and sound in speech that cannot be condemned. One of my favorite pastors to listen to is Pastor Craig Groschel, who is a fantastic preacher. He said he used to be pretty crass, even in the pulpit. He had a quick response to those who frowned on his crass jokes: you think I’m crude because you’re a prude. A loving friend came to him with a concern about it, and he mostly shrugged the friend off, but his friend told him to pray about it. Shortly after that conversation Pastor Craig was preaching and started to tell a rather crass joke, but as he started to tell it, he looked down and saw his little daughter, just old enough to be in “big church” for the first time, and he thought, “Do I really want her hearing this?” – that was the end of crude jokes from his pulpit. I know pastors who sprinkle their messages with mild profanity and with crude or demeaning language. Paul is saying that has no place in Christian leadership. One reason is that it provides God’s enemies with fodder to use against the church and against God.

Finally Paul goes into some instructions for slaves. Please note that Paul is not saying this to condone the institution of slavery; he is simply looking at the real world he lived in. Slavery was a part of this world. He instructs Christian slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.

This word isn’t really about slavery at all. It’s about living a Christlike life in the midst of hard circumstances. You could think of it in terms of working in a job you can’t stand and even working for a terrible boss. Paul is saying that even when the job is bad, as Christians, circumstances never justify sinful behavior. If you work hard, learn obedience in your job, live a trustworthy life, you will make the teaching about God attractive. “What does she have that makes her so willing to work so hard?” “Why doesn’t he do all the things that everybody does these days?” But we are called to a different standard than the world is called to.

Sound doctrine is the beginning of everything. If we don’t have a high degree of respect for the Scriptures, we are not likely to follow God’s commands – or even to know what to believe about God. This is why the Bible has to be central to everything we teach, to every group and ministry in this church. If we don’t get our wisdom from the Scriptures, where do we get it? If we don’t understand morality from the scriptures, whose morality will we accept? This is also why loving God has to be our first priority. If we are not motivated by our love for God, then we miss the point and we try to work our way to salvation. We become legalistic, following the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. The Bible says if we do everything but don’t have love, we are just noisemakers. So when Paul tells Titus to instruct the church, especially to be self-controlled, yes, we all need to exhibit self-control. But what it means is that our relationship with God absolutely must have an impact on the way we live. If it doesn’t, perhaps you really don’t love God.

For next week, I challenge you to read Titus 2:10-15 every day. It’s only six verses, but they are powerful verses about God. In the meantime, if you don’t know God well enough to impact your life, it’s time to seek him with everything. Not as an afterthought, but as someone who is starving seeks food, as someone thirsty seeks water. And when you seek him with all your heart, you will find him, because he is not far.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Liars, Brutes, and Gluttons, Oh, My!

Titus 1:9-16

For the last two weeks, we have focused on the introduction to Paul’s letter to Titus, including some background on Crete and on Titus and finishing up last weekend with Paul’s instructions for church leadership. The final sentence regarding church leaders changed course a little, so I decided to wait until this week to handle it. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:9)

More important than the qualities, behaviors, and character of a leader is the truth of the gospel. It doesn’t matter if a leader is of impeccable credentials if he is preaching anything other than the truth of God. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes: Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)

If your belief is that there is anything other than the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus Christ that will save you, then your belief is in vain. There are times when life is tough and it can be easy to reach out to a different savior. People in our culture hope in their health, in their wealth, in their talents and physical abilities and experiences, even in the government. But none of those can save you.

Church leaders and mature Christians have a special responsibility to hold to the truth. Jesus himself said, “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:5-7) If our hope is in anything other than the love of God through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, then not only have we missed the point and believed in vain, but we also end up causing others to sin, and Jesus says you’d be better off dead than to cause others to sin.

This is a serious accusation, and it needs some serious attention. Many of us have done a good job in trying to teach young people to live solid, Christian lives, but if they don’t see us living the Gospel ourselves, we are implicitly teaching them that there is something else worth living for. If you’re living out an ethic that says that Bible reading, prayer, loving one another, and evangelism are things that are only done by “professional Christians” then you’re not only missing the point, but your actions are giving others a skewed view of God, and thus you’re causing people to sin.

On the other hand, when we hold firmly to the Good News of Jesus Christ, we have everything we need for life and eternal life and further, we can encourage others and refute non-Christian myths. After all, who wants to be the person who knows all the truths but doesn’t live it out? The one about whom people say, “You say all the right things, but you obviously don’t care about the things you say, because you don’t live any differently than the world.”

In Crete, we find the exact situation: For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach – and that for the sake of dishonest gain.(Titus 1:10-11).

There’s something about me that really, really wants to go on the attack here, especially in the realm of dishonest gain, and I think we might do well to listen to a well-crafted treatise on the circumcision party, the ones who said, “To be God’s people, you have to submit to circumcision.” Today I’d rather look at this phrase: “mere talkers and deceivers.”

Mere talkers and deceivers. The issue is an issue of talk. We all talk a good game. In the Sunday Columbus Dispatch sports section, there is a column of letters to the editor, and almost every letter writer is a better coach than the poor saps hired to coach the Buckeyes, the Reds, the Cavaliers, the Browns, and the Bengals. Or, in another realm, everyone is talking about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it. In churches, we tend to talk a lot about what we’re supposed to do, but if we don’t do it, we’re mere talkers. Full of hot air. On the way back from vacation, we stopped by my aunt’s house. They are in the process of moving, and everything is in boxes. My cousin was there, and he showed off his box of fishing lures to my boys. Jeff told them all about the lures, what kind of fish they were for, how they worked, and so forth. Then he said, “Guess how many fish I’ve caught with these lures.” Any guesses? One fish. Now, the reason isn’t that he’s a mere talker, but because he’s spent all his “lake” time remodeling the cottage, so it’s not really fair for me to pick on him, but how many people have a plethora of lures but haven’t caught any fish? Over half of the churches in our Conference have not had a baptism or profession of faith in the past year. We, who Jesus called to be “fishers of men” aren’t called to sit around and talk about it!

Now, not only are there mere talkers, but there are also outright deceivers. This is where false doctrines come into play. One of the most destructive false doctrines prevalent in our culture is that all we need is Jesus+. If you believe a gospel that says that your salvation requires anything beyond Jesus Christ, then you’ve been deceived. Your salvation doesn’t require you to be morally upright. Your salvation requires you to trust in Jesus. If we could be saved by our moral behavior, we wouldn’t need Jesus.

There are plenty of Christians who have swallowed, hook, line, and sinker, the deception that we have something to do with our salvation and that moral failures are the enemy of salvation. That leads to people working really hard to get their morals under control. Yes, Jesus tells us to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) But the paradox is perfection doesn’t come by us working harder to be perfect. When we simply work on our imperfections, we’re saying that we can do it on our own, that we don’t need God.

In Romans 1, Paul writes that The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness… for although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God, nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:18, 21-22, 28)

What he’s saying is that all of our moral failures aren’t the problem; they are only the symptoms of the problem. And while we’re diligently working on modifying our behavior, we’re just treating the symptoms. Anyone knows that when your doctor is only treating the symptoms, you’re in trouble. The real problem is a heart problem. We don’t love God enough.

The deception, then, is convincing people that they should just work on their behaviors, while the truth is that our calling is to love God more, and that when we do so, our behaviors will follow. It never works the opposite way.

Think of it this way: I really like to drink Coke. And I like to recycle the cans. Eventually. But my habit has always been to leave the cans sitting around until I get around to recycling them. If you hadn’t guessed, that drives Tara nuts. And why not – what adult really wants their house to look like a fraternity house on social probation? So here’s the thing: me picking up pop cans has never made me love her more. It always works the other way: because I love her, I try to pick up my pop cans. This is how it works with Jesus; loving him doesn’t come from working harder. But our love for God spurs us on to good deeds.

Mere talkers and deceivers must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach. It’s vitally important to hold firmly to sound doctrine.

In Crete it was said that “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” Paul even makes sure to add that This testimony is true. Cretan prophets were the ones who said that Cretans are always liars. Aside from the liar’s paradox (a liar saying that what he is saying is a lie), we learn a lot about a people from what their own self-critiques (and sometimes what they brag about themselves). The people of Crete were notoriously brutish, and it was even said about the lack of wild animals on the island that   “Crete had no wild beasts, for its own inhabitants were sufficient.” Ironic was the claim that they were lazy, because Cretans were constantly involved in warfare, mercenary services, and piracy; they were hardly “idle.” But this speaks to the uncontrollable and excessive appetites of Cretans, who had no self-control, gentleness, or uprightness, and would do anything to turn a profit.

We live in a similar culture, where our appetites are excessive and uncontrollable. We don’t know how much is enough. We have to invent words like “designated driver” to describe someone who chauffeurs around people who are too drunk to drive for themselves. We have terms like “house poor” for someone who buys a house they can’t afford to live in. We throw away food while people in our own communities go hungry. And for the most part, we ignore these aspects of our own culture. In fact, we laugh about our own gluttony. I have pastor friends who pat their oversized bellies and joke, “Just putting an addition on the Temple.”

What’s worse is that we allow the seedier aspects of our culture to impact and affect our Christianity. We often focus on peripheral matters as if they were central to the Gospel. Our church buildings, for example. We focus so much attention on the building that in our culture “church” means “the building we meet in” while the church is really the people.

We focus on money, often to the exclusion of God from the decision-making process. If we “don’t have the money” for whatever it is, then we throw out the idea. Far be it from our God to be bigger than the dollar. We print our attendance and offering numbers in the bulletin and throw them up on the wall every week, and every week some of you get all concerned about them. When will our faith grow up? When will we realize we’re worshiping a God who created precious metals, a God who isn’t stumped by a lack of money?

Paul’s critique of the church in Crete is that they didn’t behave any differently from the unfavorable stereotypes of Cretan culture. They were mixing the gospel with sinful cultural values. They had this ridiculous notion that they could live as a part of their culture without being transformed by the Gospel, that aside from calling themselves Christian, there was nothing that differentiated them from their pagan neighbors. How ridiculous is that?
I wonder how different we are from our pagan neighbors these days…

Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in their faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or the commands of those who reject the truth.(Titus 1:13b-14)

For anyone who thinks that a Christian leader’s duty is to get along with everyone, you didn’t get that from the Bible. The Bible tells us to sharply rebuke Christian leaders who are leading others astray. Church discipline isn’t popular, but that’s just a reminder how far from the narrow road our culture is.

Paul finishes this section up by saying:  To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.(Titus 1:15-16)

This goes back to what I said earlier. God’s calling on our lives is for us to love him. When we accept Jesus’ sacrifice as completely sufficient for us, then we accept that God has purified us. Therefore all of our striving is pure. In Romans 14, Paul writes about this, saying that although we have a duty to make sure that our freedom does not cause someone else to stumble, no food was unclean in itself. But for those who do not have Jesus, nothing is pure. Even the very attempts at moral uprightness are impure, because these are the means by which they attempt their own salvation, mocking Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Jesus quoted Isaiah 29:13 “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.’” (Mark 7:6-7)

A high majority of Americans claim to be Christians. Does this mean we are?  The people of Crete claimed to know God, but denied him by their actions. Paul is saying if we really love God, our actions will follow. We will look like people who love God. We will act like people who love God. You can tell someone who is in love. They’re always talking about the object of their love. They can’t wait to be with them. Everything revolves around the object of love.

Does that describe you? This week, take the time to love God more. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Titus' Mission: Titus 1:4-8

Titus’ Mission
Titus 1.4-9

Last week we focused on Paul’s self-introduction in his letter to Titus, in which he clarified the purpose of his calling; an apostle, one sent forth to encourage the faith of the faithful and to spread the knowledge of the Truth, the Gospel, which leads to godliness.

Paul sent his friend Titus to Crete to accomplish this mission. As we read in Galatians 2, Titus was a Gentile Christian who had been with Paul as early as the time when Barnabas went to Tarsus to bring Paul back to Antioch. Paul had previously called on Titus to be his representative in Corinth, especially in the matter of the collection for poor believers in Jerusalem. It is important to note that Titus was a Gentile, because it solidifies Paul’s commitment to be the apostle to the Gentiles, the one God sent to the Gentiles, not just to “convert” them, but to fully include them in God’s people. One problem that Christian groups often have is that they want to minister to certain people, especially when “those people” are different from the ones who are going, but there is no plan to minister with them. Paul will have none of that, as he has ordained Titus to lead.

Paul calls Titus “my true son in our common faith.” Not only is this an affirmation of how Paul cares for Titus, but it’s also an opportunity for Paul to stress that Titus, and not others, truly represents him in Crete. Furthermore, however, the father/son language places Titus in a position where he is obligated to serve Paul as a faithful son. Paul is both affirming Titus to the church in Crete as the one who will share his words faithfully as well as reminding Titus of his obligation to do so.

So now we get to Paul’s words for the church in Crete. Titus’ assignment is to be Paul’s representative there in every sense of the word. He is to appoint leaders, rebuke rebellion, teach, remind, disciple, and lead Cretan Christians to break from the current Cretan value system. Paul tells Titus: The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. (Titus 1:5)

In the current church, there is some confusion about what an elder is. In the United Methodist Church, an elder is simply an Ordained Pastor. There are pastors who are not elders, because some are local pastors, who have not gone through the ordination process. Other denominations appoint leadership from within the church. Within a local congregation, multiple godly elders make leadership decisions for the church. Apparently, in Crete the process of appointing elders had not been finished.

Paul lays it out who is to be appointed elder. An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. (Titus 1:6)

An elder must be blameless. As humans, we are all sinners, and how can any sinner be called blameless? The answer is Jesus. If we have repented of our sins and accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are blameless. He has removed the guilt and punishment of our sin from us. This doesn’t mean that Jesus is some kind of “fire insurance policy” where we just accept him and then go on behaving like we always did. Accepting Jesus means repenting, turning 180° from our sin. When Jesus saves us, it doesn’t mean we are perfect, but we are moving in the direction of perfection. This is sanctification: an initial real cleansing and a gradual, total cleansing. This means that those who would lead in the church must be repentant of our sins, whatever those sins may be. In 1Timothy 5, Paul instructs Timothy: Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses (in other words, make sure that the accusation is credible). Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others might take warning. (1 Timothy 5:19-20)

Being a leader in a church means taking responsibility, and the first of our responsibilities is blamelessness.  If you’re unrepentant, you should not be a leader.

In his list of qualifications for elder, Paul listed “blameless” first because it calls upon our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This is the most important relationship in any of our lives, and if it’s not most important, then you shouldn’t be a leader in the church.

Next, Paul calls an elder to be the husband of but one wife. Did you notice that Paul puts family second? It’s not first. I know a lot of Christians who have mixed these up; their family takes precedence over God. This is simply wrong. Family comes after God. Your spouse is probably pretty awesome, but he or she can never save you from your sins.

When Paul references “husband of but one wife” he is directly refuting Cretan culture. The people of Crete worshiped Zeus, a womanizer who even resorted to trickery and deceit in his attempt to seduce another man’s wife. The culture in Crete even prized such deception, but Paul is saying that there is no room in Christian leadership for this type of behavior. An elder is called to sexual purity. No matter what the current culture says is OK, an elder in the church is called to a higher standard. The United Methodist Church says it this way: fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness. Marriage is an institution created by God. There are some who want to undermine marriage by pointing out that it hasn’t worked for many people, that the divorce rate is through the roof. Just because some people’s marriages haven’t lasted is no reason to throw out the entire institution of marriage. That would be akin to me going out and finding a bad tomato on one of my plants in the garden and ripping up all the tomato plants. For a Christian, marriage isn’t simply marriage. It is also one of the main metaphors through which God describes his relationship with his church. This is reason enough to keep marriage pure.

The next qualification for an elder is a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. I know the stereotype is that American PKs are the antithesis of this command, but this derives from unhealthy expectations of American pastors: that our churches come first in our lives, that we’re always on call, that it is the pastor who does ministry to the congregation, that we work 80 hours a week, that our children are on a pedestal and expected to behave better than everyone else’s children. I will never apologize for the fact that my children come before you in my life. If they don’t, I have confused God’s calling on my life, which is always for me to be first: God’s child; second: Tara’s husband; Jonathan and Andrew’s dad; and fourth: your pastor. If you are a parent, spending time with your children is important. You’re never going to lie on your deathbed lamenting, “I wish I’d just spent one more hour at work.” And if you miss out on spending time with your children, you won’t have any standing when it comes to discipline. Your children are bound to be wild and disobedient – just to try to get your attention.

Parents are still the #1 influencers of their children’s behavior. We have largely given that responsibility to the schools, daycare providers, and peers while we chase the almighty dollar and the ever-elusive American Dream, or even the ministry to which God has called us. I know parents whose children resent them fully because they spend all their time and energy at the church and don’t have anything left over for the kids. Ministry was never meant to be something done by a few. It was meant for the entire church!

Let’s continue. Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. (Titus 1:7-8)

Paul repeats the qualification of blamelessness. This is important because blamelessness is not something we get on our own. It requires God’s transformation! So Paul lists some of the ways a leader is supposed to be blameless. What does this mean? It means that all leaders must be all about God’s transformative power in our lives. Does this come all at once? No. So instead of taking a brand new Christian and shoving them into a leadership position, we have a duty to discipline that Christian in blamelessness, to walk with them in the journey of sanctification and then we can consider them for leadership.

It can be easy to focus on the negatives, what a leader is not supposed to do, and these are rather obvious (but remember that this is not an exhaustive list – Paul is specifically pointing out characteristics that are present in Crete), but let’s focus on the positive attributes of a Christian leader.

A leader must be hospitable. I didn’t really understand hospitality until I went to Russia. If you were invited into someone’s home, they would truly go the extra mile to serve you. Not only would you expect to eat heartily, but they might even end up going hungry so as to make sure to feed a guest that heartily. In contrast, I have clergy friends who make sure to be the one to pray before fellowship dinners so they can be the first in line.

Hospitality is having a giving heart, and to be an effective leader in a church, whether paid or unpaid, is having that giving heart. We are called to be servant leaders. The key to hospitality is being filled with the Holy Spirit. Not just knowing of  him, not just experiencing him every once in a while, but having a filling, vibrant relationship with him, being filled to overflowing. Then generosity will flow from you, and giving will not seem like a burden. It’s not an attitude of “what more will they take from me?” but “I have so much to give – how can I give more?”

A leader must be a lover of the good. God made us with all sorts of tastes and preferences, but it’s helpful to understand that the true measure of good is God’s goodness. All good things, whether good deeds or good art or good music or anything else good is meant to point us toward God. Part of the fall is that we have perverted good things and have used them selfishly, and they have thus lost their goodness. Food, instead of eliciting praise for the creator, has been used for gluttony. Music, instead of being used to praise God, has been used to advance perverse ideas, often unbeknownst to people who “don’t listen to the lyrics – I just like the music” (which is the second oldest lie in the book).

In his final instructions to the church in Philippi, Paul writes: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. (Philippians 4:8) Why is this? Because we can train our minds to love what is good, and when we do so, we are able to rejoice in adverse circumstances.

Have you seen those dog collars that, instead of going around the neck, go around the snout? The idea is that wherever the snout goes, the dog will follow. The same is true for our minds and our behaviors. Wherever our minds go, our behavior will follow. We will act upon what we care about. This is why loving good is important; if we do so, we will live it out. Paul tells Titus that a leader must live an upright and holy life. God makes us holy, but we have our part to play. If you want to live an upright and holy life, you’re going to have to work at it.

A leader must be self-controlled. Why is self-control so important? 1 Peter 4:7 says: The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Did you catch that? Peter links self-control with our ability to pray. It only makes sense; if we have no self-control, we will be controlled by self. Selfishness is, at its root, setting ourselves up as little gods, and if we’re serving ourselves as little gods, how could we also claim any standing with the God of the universe? Self-control, on the other hand, is a recognition that we have some control over what we do. We are not mere animals, driven by instinct. I get really sick of hearing people excuse sinful behavior with the comment, “I was born this way” Of course you were. We were all born sinful. But God calls us to holiness, and that’s hard work! Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

No, it’s not easy. That’s why Paul uses the analogy of an athlete who beats his body to make it do exactly what he tells it to do. I was talking with a fellow long-distance runner about running fast. He’s pretty fast, but he was saying the fastest he can run is how fast he was running in the 5K race we ran. He can’t run any faster. The reason is because his legs aren’t used to the quick turn-over. If he wanted to be a sprinter, he would have to work differently.

As we strive wholeheartedly to live holy and upright lives, it’s usually a lot easier to not live that way. You know how it is: there are certain people and situations that push your buttons and strain every last nerve. It would be a whole lot easier to blow up than to love them. Or there are other people who just invite gossip, and besides, you have some really juicy “concerned information” that you just need to tell them so they can pray about it... Or there are those things that nobody will know about or that “don’t hurt anyone.”

When you are tempted to go astray, speak Truth into the situation. I mean it, speak it out loud. Try saying out loud, “Because I am a beloved child of God, I have been set apart for holiness. Therefore I do not need to…” and fill in the blank with whatever your temptation is.

We must be disciplined every moment. I’ve found that having someone with whom I can share mutual accountability is of utmost importance, someone who loves me no matter what and is willing to speak truth even when it hurts. In New Knoxville, I was a part of a group of five pastors who met every Wednesday morning for accountability. One morning one of the guys said, “We’ve been meeting for so long, and nobody’s doing anything about these ‘pet’ sins. We keep confessing the same things, and while nobody’s happy about them, we’re not doing anything about them either. It’s time to do something.”

That was a turning point in that group. There are a whole lot of superficial friendships in this culture – superficial meaning “on the surface.” Proverbs 27:17 says: As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.  People don’t want to offend, so instead of iron sharpening iron, we just dull one another with superficialities. It’s time that we love one another enough to tell the truth, and to walk together toward healing and wholeness.

Next week we will continue as we hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that we can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Titus Introduction

Titus 1:1-3

What happens when different ethical and moral standards collide? In college, I lived in a fraternity house. Now, most of the guys in my fraternity were good guys at heart, and many of them have gone on to be productive members of society, but there was a general ethos of fraternity life that was stuck somewhere between brotherhood and Animal House. A lot closer to Animal House than most would like to admit.

The ethos that was celebrated was, to put it frankly, sinful through and through. It wasn’t always easy to live in the fraternity as a Christian.

The island of Crete had its own ethos as well. Crete is an island in the Mediterranean Sea. They were a fiercely independent people, and were one of the last strongholds to resist Roman domination and occupation, finally becoming a Roman province around 70 BC. They were a sea-trading people and a famed haven of pirates. The Cretans believed their race had emerged from the earth, that they were the original Greeks. They contested the historicity of the Greek gods, saying they were but men and women of Crete elevated to deity because they were so benevolent to humanity. Crete, then, was the birthplace of most of the Greek gods, especially Zeus, the “man became god”, who was also said to be buried in Crete.

I don’t know what you know about Zeus, but I don’t know much. But John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople and one of the most influential Church Fathers, preserved a fragment of the Greek historian Diodorus’ writings about Crete, and identified Zeus as the king Picus, who was a well-known womanizer (and had many children to prove it). He apparently assumed godlike qualities to seduce women, and for this reason some people thought he actually was godlike. His grave bore the epitaph: Here lies Picus, whom men also call Zeus. Diodorus tells the story of Zeus assuming the form of the husband of a woman he is unsuccessfully trying to seduce. Because of his failure, Zeus resorts to deception.

Now, if your god is a deceiver, it stands to reason that you’re probably going to live that out as well. And by reputation, Cretans were exactly that. They were a deceitful, self-indulgent, belligerent, wild, immoral society. In fact, the term “kretizo” was coined to mean lying, and a “Cretan point of view” meant deception.

Into that situation comes the Christian message; in Acts 2, Luke includes Cretans in his list of peoples who heard the Gospel proclaimed in their own languages on the day of Pentecost. Crete was included in the list of “God fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” (Acts 2:5). The unfortunate thing, as is often the case, was that the Gospel didn’t transform the people of Crete – they just added the message to what they already had, creating a Frankenstein monster of spirituality.

Paul’s friend Titus has been tasked with getting the church in Crete back on task, helping them be transformed into the people God had called them to be. We will get to Titus and his qualifications next week, but now that we have some background to the book of Titus, we can jump in. Paul doesn’t waste words; they’re all important. He doesn’t just throw down a ‘sup when it comes to greeting; he always tips his hand to what he is going to include in his letter.

Paul, a servant of God.

As usual, Paul introduces himself with his qualifications. The word “servant” here does not mean what we mean when we say “servant”. Doulos always means slave. We get easily offended at the term slave, and rightly so, because God created us for freedom, but called himself “slave” here on purpose. In Paul’s Jewish and Greco-Roman culture, a slave was the property of a master and had limited rights. Therefore the slave lived in servitude and submission to the master. A slave not only obeyed without hesitation, but also completely depended on the master for subsistence and protection.

This is important as Paul makes his identity known, to Titus and to the church in Crete. He is completely obedient to God and God only. The words he says are not his own; a slave is not afforded the right to speak his mind. He is speaking (or writing, as the case may be) God’s words to Titus.

Let’s continue with Paul’s self-description: an apostle of Jesus Christ. In calling himself this, Paul is recognizing Jesus’ unique call in his life, for the term apostle denotes one sent forth. Paul, then, is sent forth by Jesus Christ, for Jesus’ purpose: for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness. (Titus 1:1)

Jesus’ first purpose for calling Paul was for the faith of God’s elect. Paul, under the direction of God, sent by Jesus, is writing to Titus to uplift the faith of God’s elect. God’s elect are simply the people of God. The Old Testament concept was that the people of Israel were God’s chosen people, called out by God for God’s purposes. They were blessed to be a blessing to the world. In the New Testament, Jesus opened up this blessing to “the world” and Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles, opening up God’s Kingdom, and thus extending God’s election, to Gentiles as well. Election here does not refer to everyone who will come to faith in the future; it refers to those who have already done so.

Meaning the letter to Titus was to encourage Titus as he empowered, encouraged, and uplifted the church in Crete. This isn’t a letter to non-Christians.

Jesus’ second purpose for Paul was for the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness. Notice that Paul hasn’t even finished his introduction, and he is already stirring things up. The culture actually valued deceit, but Paul is clear that it’s the knowledge of truth that leads to godliness, for, unlike the people of Crete, we worship a God who does not lie.    

There are a lot of American Christians today who are more like Paul and Titus’ audience than we’d like to admit. I found online a Powerpoint game called “The Bible or Ben Franklin” in which you had to determine if a quote was from Ben Franklin or from the Bible (note: the game is no longer on the website; if you'd like to see it, let me know and I can e-mail it to you). Here are some of the quotes:“Be in general virtuous, and you will be happy.” How about this good one: “Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.” This is probably the most quoted one of the lot: “God helps them that help themselves.”

Like the people of Crete, we have mixed elements of our own culture into the Gospel to the point where the Gospel doesn’t look like the Gospel anymore. Our culture has long prized a strong work ethic, so even though we know that God’s grace is free, we try to add work to it. Our general ethos is as long as I outweigh my bad deeds with equal or more good deeds, I’ve worked my way to being “OK” or “good enough.” This is not truth, and it doesn’t lead to godliness! Being helpless in sin and realizing the magnitude of the grace of God through the personal sacrifice of Jesus Christ – that leads to gratitude and thanksgiving… and transformation. The Gospel, the Good News, which is news of Jesus life, death, resurrection, and return, is Truth, and that Truth leads to godliness.

Our culture loves a health and wealth, name-it-and-claim-it gospel, one in which our comfort and happiness are the end goal of everything, but Jesus never claims the Christian life is easy. Comfort and happiness don’t necessarily lead to godliness. We often get very mixed up about what’s the American Dream and what’s Biblical Christianity. Jesus tells us that following him is filled with suffering and self-denial.

In contrast to our cultural values, many of which were originally based on Judeo-Christian values and upon the Puritan work ethic, Jesus’ calling on and sending of Paul were based on true faith and biblical knowledge, which both rest on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior. (Titus 1:2-3)

Everything rests on the hope of eternal life promised by God (a God who does not lie). Again, this is an obvious contrast with the Cretan image of their gods, but it goes deeper than this. Paul is reminding his listener of the covenant God made with humanity. God gave his covenant to us, basing it on his character. The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. (Exodus 34:6-7a).

If your god lies, even if your god simply has the ability to lie, then what basis might we have to trust in that god for the present or the future? It drives me nuts to see young women going after the guy who has already cheated on her. “But he loves me!” What has he done to win your trust back? Did he just come crawling back to you when he got tired of the other woman? That’s not the basis to trust him! Or the people who think that money is their savior – money is a liar.

But Paul is saying that our God is trustworthy, from the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his Word through Paul.

God’s timing is always perfect. God doesn’t say, “whoops, I guess I was a day late and a dollar short this time. My bad.” God has perfect timing, and Paul is claiming God’s perfect timing. God still has perfect timing, and when God is telling you to share Him, that’s His timing. Did you notice that Paul didn’t claim God’s “suggestion” here? It’s God’s command.

One of the problems of the American church is that often we have mistaken our preferences for God’s commands. Instead of focusing on God’s mission and purpose for us, we focus on our personal preferences. We have created the term “church shopping” – meaning we look for a church that caters to our wants and needs.

Here’s a little video to illustrate what I’m talking about.

Paul’s message to Titus and the Church in Crete is important, because it is rooted in the hope of eternal life. It is not rooted in selfish desires. It is not rooted in personal ambition or preference. It is rooted in the character of God.

Is that where our root is?

Next week we will continue by looking at Titus and Paul’s initial instructions for leaders in the church.