Archive | July, 2019

Learning how to be a good employee from an unexpected source – Titus 2:1-10, Part 5

19 Jul

Are you a good employee? How do you know? Do you receive good evaluations? What would your bosses say about you? In this post we’re going to learn how to be a good employee from an most unexpected source.

In this series of posts on Titus 2:1-10, Paul has been talking to various groups in the church: older men and women, and younger men and women. That pretty much covers it, right?  Especially when you consider that parents are to lead their children. But nope, there is another group.  It might have been the largest group.  Do you know who Paul hasn’t talked about yet?

Slaves.  In the Greco-Roman era around first century AD, there were millions and millions of slaves.  Slaves in the churches?  Yes.  Slavery was a normal part of that culture, though theirs was a different kind of slavery than what we are used to in our American past.  Ours was racially based. There’s was not.  You could become a slave through war, for example, when Rome defeated your country and conscripted all your people.  Slaves could also earn freedom, become Roman Citizens, and gain property and wealth.  But slavery in any era is still slavery: slaves are people owned by other people, and at times the owners could treat their slaves horribly.

So why were there slaves in churches? Shouldn’t the Christians set their slaves free? As we look at verses 9-10 where Paul addresses the slaves in the churches in Crete, I first want to confirm that Paul is not supporting the concept of slavery.  Paul’s approach to the institution of slavery will come up on this blog in the near future when we finish Titus and study the next short letter in the New Testament, Philemon, so we’ll get there.  For now, Paul is simply providing teaching for slaves who are Christians, and how they should live the life of Christ in their current enslaved position. 

He says, “Please your masters.  Don’t talk back or steal, so you can be trusted.”  Interestingly, in Ephesians 6, Paul says, “slaves obey your masters because it is the right thing to do, not just to win their favor.” Now here in Titus he says that slaves should obey their masters to win their faith in Christ. See what he says in verse 10, “so that in every way slaves will make the teaching about God our savior attractive?”

Paul is showing how much he is concerned for the mission of God.  Imagine, in other words, a Christian who also happens to be a slave behaving with respect and truth and honor before their master.  That will stand out.  Especially if the master is a jerk.  That will increase the likelihood that the master could become a Christian.

Even though slavery is illegal in the USA, and many parts of the world, it is still an awful problem. As I mentioned above, we’ll talk about Paul’s thoughts on the institution of slavery when we study the letter of Philemon in a few weeks. Because Paul doesn’t address the institution of slavery in his letter to Titus, what can we learn from his teaching to slaves? I think there are some principles in verses 9-10 that carry over to employees and employers.  How many of you are an employee who has a boss?  Me too.  In my denomination, I have a District Field Director and a Bishop who are my bosses.

I’m not saying our bosses are like slave driver, by the way!  What I am saying, though, is that they way you work, the way you handle your employment, will say a lot to your boss about your faith in Jesus.  Maybe your boss is a Christian.  But maybe not.  You make the teaching of Jesus attractive by working hard, by being competent, trustworthy, and creative. 

So we need all these groups in the church.  Especially, we need the older to teach the younger.  First, older men and women, you set the example for the younger by how you live.  Live lives of discipleship to Jesus, clearly showing the young what it means to be selfless, committed to Christ, passionate about the mission of his Kingdom. 

And then train others to follow Jesus.  Teach them to live like Jesus.  Meet with them.  Weekly.  Read the Bible together.  Talk about how to apply it to your lives. 

Who is your Titus?  This passage is a discipleship passage.  Paul is discipling Titus through a letter, and in turn he wants Titus to disciple or train the people in the churches in Crete to train others.  Who are you investing in? You’ve got a really wonderful guide here in Titus 2:1-10.  As you meet with a person, read this passage, maybe for starters, and talk about how their life and your life is demonstrating all these areas that Paul is talking about.  So, who is your Titus?

How older people can impact younger people – Titus 2:1-10, Part 4

18 Jul
Photo by Monica Melton on Unsplash

Older people, are you irrelevant? Out of touch? Maybe you feel that way. But know this, you can and should have an impact on the younger generations. They need you. But how can you connect with them?

Thus far in our series on Titus 2:1-10, Paul has taught older men and women how to age well, so that they can have an impact on the younger people in the church. In the previous post, for example, he describes what the older women are to teach the younger women. Now in verse 6 the one and only thing he says to teach the young men is to be self-controlled, which is the idea of being sensible, making wise choices. 

You might think, “Why doesn’t Paul say more about what to teach the young men?”  It sure seems like there is a lot more he could suggest.  Follow his flow of thought into verses 7-8, though.  There Paul returns to addressing the older men.  It seems that Paul is primarily concerned about the older men, and that makes sense because they hold such an influential position in that first-century Greco-Roman society.  The older men are to have an impact on the younger men.  If the older men can live the way of Jesus, then they can pass that on to the younger men. 

So of course he says in verse 7, “In everything, set them an example by doing what is good.”  The older men are to set the example for the younger men.  Their example is the best teacher.  How we live says more about what we believe that what we say. 

Older men and women, what example are you setting the younger men and women in the church family?  Parents, what example are you setting your kids?  Grandparents, what example are you setting your grandkids? 

Older men and women, could the younger ones learn how to live the way of Jesus by observing you?  There is a sense, older ones, that you are teachers whether you choose it or not.  You teach by how you live.  You teach by the choices you make.  You teach by the way you spend your money.  You teach by the way you spend your time.  And the younger ones are watching. 

So, in particular, Paul says that the example the older men and women set is by doing what is good.  All along in the letter to Titus, we’ve seen how there are two main themes that Paul wants to convey: sound doctrine and good works.  In 2:1-10 we see both very clearly.  The older men and women should hold to sound doctrine, and they should set an example of good works.  By this they will teach the younger men and women. 

Teaching, of course, also includes words.  And Paul addresses that next in the latter part of verse 7 and into verse 8.   There he says that, in their teaching, the older ones should show integrity, seriousness, and soundness of speech.  There’s that word “sound” again.  In chapter 2 we’ve heard about sound doctrine, sound faith and now sound speech.  Paul wants the older men to be sound, to be right.  He is referring to teaching that is marked by right doctrine, right faith and right speaking. It is very sincere speech.  That doesn’t mean that their teaching shouldn’t include humor.  Humor can actually be very helpful to sound teaching.  What Paul is talking about is an intentionality about our teaching, where we are purposefully seeking to pass on the truth about Jesus. 

It might seem that this is obvious, and Paul shouldn’t have to say this about sincere speech. Isn’t it obvious that teaching should be sincere?  Well Paul wants there to be no doubt, especially in a Cretan society that was wild.  The Christians were to be different, and that should be clear in their teaching, both in what they teach and how they teach it. 

Paul concludes verse 8 explaining why this sincere teaching is so important.  Sincere teaching cannot be condemned.  It is not hypocritical.  It is truth.  It is not a sham.  It is serious.  It is sound doctrine.  And when that sincere teaching is matched with a life lived in congruence to the teaching, the teachers cannot be condemned.  So older men and women, practice what you preach. 

How not to become a bitter old maid – Titus 2:1-10, Part 3

17 Jul

I’ll never forget the time, as she in hospice and weeks away from passing, when my maternal grandmother admitted to me, through tears, that she was afraid she was becoming a bad Christian. She was referring to the aging process, and how she could become impatient and angry, or judgmental. No doubt she was always a rather intense person, but she was concerned in a new way. I am fully confident that my grandmother remained a faithful Christian to the end, but she was pointing out something that many others going through the aging process can identify with. As we age, we can struggle. Sometimes we hear about an older person who “has no filter,” or “doesn’t care anymore.” Do you have an older relative that no one wants to be around because they are so negative? How can you avoid becoming that person?

In the previous post, we saw how men can age with grace and dignity. But what about women? As we continue looking at what Paul has to say to various groups in the church in his letter to Titus, in chapter 2, verse 3 he talks to the older women.  What that means is that, older women, you matter!  How you live will be an example for the younger people in the church. 

First, he says the older women should be reverent in the way they live.

Reverent?  This is pertaining to being devoted to a proper expression of religious beliefs—devout, pious, religious.” (Louw & Nida)  Just as he did with the older men, note how Paul is connecting their beliefs to the way they live.  In both cases, there is a direct and important relationship between their belief and their life choices.  Sound doctrine leads to right living.  Or in this case, reverence.  They are to practice their faith in Jesus.

And when they do, Paul goes on to describe what they will look like.

They will not be slanderers.  This is the Greek word diabolos – which is a word that has a connotation of something being of the devil. In this context it is referring to speech, such as slander, gossip.  Gossip can ruin a group.  Older people should set the example by keeping confidences, by being encouraging and uplifting in their speech.

Next he says that the older women should not be addicted to much wine.  Clean water in that society was hard to get, so wine was everywhere, and as with our society, people could overdo it. Some people have said that Jesus changing water in wine or starting the practice of communion must not have been using alcohol, but grape juice, something with little or no alcohol content.  But clearly it was addictive and could lead to drunkenness.  So the point is not the wine, but the addiction.  Christians should not be addicted to anything.

Finally, a great summary for the women.  Teach what is good.  There’s that word “teach” again. This is a theme popping up numerous times as we have seen in the previous posts about Titus 2:1-10.  Older women, you are to teach.  And when you think of teaching, Paul is not thinking of creating lessons for Sunday School classes.  Some of you might think, “I’m not a teacher.”  But the reality is that you all teach.  Yes, some teach in a more formal way in a class setting, but everyone teaches in many other ways, especially through your life choices, your example.

So who are you teaching?  The church needs you!  Who do you mentor?  Who is your Titus?  Who are you having an impact on, even in a very informal way?

In 2:4 Paul describes what they should teach, and as you’ll see, Paul is not talking about a classroom.   The NIV 1984 edition uses the word “train.”  This means: “To instruct someone to behave in a wise and becoming manner.” (Louw & Nida)  Paul is not talking about sitting in a classroom to receive knowledge.  Training implies action.

Training in our American concept can have a negative connotation of mindless obedience.  Almost brainwashing.  We do this with dog training.  We take them to obedience school so that that obey perfectly almost every time. Is this what Paul is talking about?  Creating robots?  No.  Instead, he is talking about older women helping younger women to creating godly habits, practices. 

Paul then lists what the older women are to teach the younger women. Rather than go into detail examining each point, we can summarize Paul as saying that if the older women set the example and live like Jesus, they are then to teach the younger women to live like Jesus too.

And what will that look like?  They are to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled (again the idea of being “sensible” or “moderate,” as we have seen in Titus 1 and 2). Paul says he wants the older women to teach the younger to be pure, busy at home, kind, and to be subject to their husbands. Why? So that no one will malign the word of God.  What does that mean?  “Malign the word”? 

If the Christians in the church behave according to the pattern of life of Jesus, with purity, kindness, love, self-control, and so on, not only will they be living the best possible life that can be lived, they will be practicing what they preach.  They will be consistent.  They will not be hypocritical.  And no one will be able to say otherwise.  Remember that Crete was an unruly place, and these Cretan Christians more than likely were going through a change from living the old Cretan way to now living the Jesus way.  And their friends, family and neighbors were watching.  If the Christians were hypocritical, saying they were now living like Jesus but actually living the old Cretan way, the people in their community would have cause to accuse the Christians of being hypocritical, and thus to say that the word, the message about Jesus, was a sham.  In other words, how you and I live should be in line with what we say we believe.  Our life choices are the most important way we share the good news about Jesus.  This is what Paul wants the older women to teach the younger. Don’t just believe in Jesus. Live like he lived.

I do want us to look a bit more closely at a few phrases in Paul’s list. There were two phrases that might sound offensive to contemporary ears:  “Busy at home” and “subject to husbands.”  Before we get offended, we have to remember context. Paul is speaking to a first century Greco-Roman culture that was super patriarchal.  He is not saying anything here that would have been surprising to them.  Instead, he is reflecting exactly what that culture was like, in the area of the role of women in marriage. He knows that the church is in a precarious position, as it was brand new and very different from the culture in Crete.  So the Christians in the church need to be cautious about how different they are.  For now Paul wants them to focus on being different in their behavior, choosing to live blameless lives.  It seems that Paul does not believe the Christians and the church are at a place where they could lead societal change such as equality for women, or the eradication of slavery, which we will get to later in this series on Titus 2:1-10.  Instead, Paul maintains what were cultural norms of marginalization of women and slaves, instead asking the church to focus on living blameless lives.

How not to become a grumpy old man – Titus 2:1-10, Part 2

16 Jul

I wonder how I will age. Obviously, my body will get older and change. It already is, as more and more gray hair pops out of my chin and head. I’m also feeling new aches and pains as the years go by. That is all inevitable. What is under my control is how I will age spiritually, behaviorally. Most of us have heard stories about or know people who have not aged well, often getting meaner, angrier, and more unhappy in their elder years. I’m referring to the classic “grumpy old man.”

Want to avoid becoming the disdain of your family and friends as you grow older? Want your grandchildren to actually desire to hang out with you? And furthermore, want to have the opportunity to make a positive impact on their lives? Then you don’t want to become a grumpy old man. Instead, follow what Paul teaches Titus in our next section of Titus 2:1-10.

First, Paul says Titus is to teach: “what is in accord with sound doctrine.” He already talked about this in chapter 1.  But as we will see, Paul, when he starts to describe this sound doctrine in verse 2, he does not describe sound doctrine using theological categories.  You’d think that he should be teaching first and foremost the content of the good news of Jesus.  He will eventually get there in verse 11.  Instead he starts with teaching various groups in the church about their behavior.

Why would he start with behavior?  Because our life choices are perhaps the best way to show that we understand what it means to follow Jesus.  It is so easy, too easy, to say that we are a believer, and demonstration nothing or very little of the life of the Jesus in our lives.  In Crete, the general pattern of behavior was selfish, out of control, lying, and self-destructive.  So Paul starts with what is really important, that these new Christians should follow the way of Jesus in the midst of their culture.

Now go to verse 2, and he addresses the first group – older men.  Scholars tell us that Paul is specifically referring to adult males advanced in years, not just any grown men, but the kind of men that we think of as having greater status and dignity. 

In first-century Greco-Roman culture age was honored, much like many places around the world today, for example in Japan.  As I said in the previous post, here in the USA, for decades, we have an infatuation with youth culture.  In Paul’s culture, the older men set the example.  This is important for us to hear too, even 2000 years later: older men can and should still set the example today.  Even in our culture where youth is prized. 

Older men, you are not irrelevant.  In fact, you are important.  What we will see from Paul in Titus 2:1-10 is the vital principle that how you live matters.  What are the older men to live like? 

First, they are to be temperate.  We don’t use that word very much, so what did Paul mean?  It means restrained, in control. 

Next, older men are to live a life worthy of respect.  They are older, but are they worthy?  Just because they are older doesn’t mean they are worthy of respect.  How do you become worthy?  First, Paul said, older men become worthy of respect by making a set of life choices defined by being temperate. Now he continues describing more life choices.

Third, they are to be “self-controlled,” though this is better translated “sensible” or “moderate.”  We saw this same concept in chapter 1 verse 8.  What is sensible or moderate?  It is wisdom to choose well. The opposite of this is when people lack sensibility, lack moderation, when people give in to temptation.

He continues with his list, next saying that the older men are to be sound in faith.

Sound is one of those classic English words that has multiple definitions that are wildly different, making you wonder how that one word got all those meanings. Sound is noise that we hear.  Sound is the name for a body of water.  But in this case, Paul is talk about “being correct in one’s views, with the implication of such a state being positively valued—to be correct, to be sound, to be accurate.” (Louw & Nida)

In this case, he is referring to believing and teaching what is true about Jesus.  Sound or true faith is in line with the teaching of Jesus, and the teaching of the apostles. 

Next, older men are to demonstrate love.  If you want to know how to love, first and foremost look to Jesus.  He is the example of love.  Spend much time thinking about Jesus, contemplating who he is.  Then you love like he loved.  It is a selfless, generous, gift of your love on behalf of others.

Finally, Paul says that older men should practice endurance, which scholars define as the “capacity to continue to bear up under difficult circumstances.” (Louw & Nida)  Paul himself demonstrated this in many beatings, shipwrecks, and stonings.  For example, in the city of Philippi, though Paul and Silas were in prison, they sang songs of joy.

So take a good look at this list of life choices. Do they describe you? What do you need to address in your life so that you can be an example for the younger ones around you?

How to have a multi-generational church – Titus 2:1-10, Part 1

15 Jul
Photo by John Moeses Bauan on Unsplash

Actor Brad Pitt, now 55 years old, recently commented that acting has become a younger man’s game.  Increasingly, so is much about our culture in America.  Where does that leave those who are older?  Retirement homes?  Are you only worthwhile if you are young? 

For a number of years now, America has been in a phase where youth and youth culture are prominent, and thus older people want to be seen as younger than they are.  Look younger, dress younger, act younger.  Work out like crazy, diet, and get surgery. How should we think about this focus on youthfulness?

One of the things I love about Faith Church is that our church family is multi-generational.  We have young and old and everyone in between, as families normally do.  We’re not a young church, and we’re not an old church either.  We are a church comprised of all ages.

We believe that people, no matter what age they are, are equally loved and important in God’s eyes.  Today we return to Paul’s letter to Titus, and we see how deeply Paul felt about the various generations within the church family. If you’d like, feel free to pause reading this post and open a Bible to Titus chapter 2.

Before we study this section, we need to remember the context.  Who is Paul writing to?  Paul is writing to Titus, his younger ministry associate who Paul has sent to go back to the island of Crete, which is right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.  Paul and Titus had been there previously on a mission trip, and they had preached the good news of Jesus, and people responded by placing their faith in Jesus.  Then Paul and Titus grouped these new followers of Jesus in house churches located in some of the towns across the island.  Now months later, Paul has sent Titus back to Crete with a very specific job.  We learned this in chapter one: Titus is in Crete to appoint godly leaders in the house churches.  We also heard Paul say that the Cretans had a reputation for being wild and unruly.  Further, there were people already in the churches who were behaving poorly.

Look at the very last verse of chapter 1, verse 16.  This is a crucial verse for understanding Paul’s concern in the letter to Titus.  There in 1:16 Paul says that there are people who claim to know God, but by their actions they show that they deny God.  They don’t really know God. 

So let’s summarize the context: people from Crete have a reputation for being out of control, and already in the churches, there are people who are showing by their behavior that they deny God.  In chapter one Paul tells Titus to select leaders who are blameless, and then gives Titus and those leaders the job of confronting the ungodly people in the church.  But what about the rest of the church?  What about those who are not causing trouble? How should they live?  That’s who Paul addresses next, by generation, gender and social status. Now go ahead and read Titus 2:1-10.

Right away in 2:1 he says “you must teach.”

“Teach” is a word that relates to discipleship.  Paul is teaching Titus in this letter, as he had already taught Titus when they were together.  Now Titus is to teach others.  Do you see the multiplication happening? From Paul to Titus to various groups in the church to even more people.  

So I want to ask, who taught you the faith?  Who is your example?  Titus 2:1-10 is grounded in the task of communicating with others how to follow Jesus.  How could you do this in your family?  This is a question that I’ve mentioned before, but one I sense that we Christians should perpetually be asking and answering: who is your Titus?  Who is the person you are investing in?  Who is the person or persons that you are seeking to help live like Jesus lived? 

We had a wonderful discipleship training last month at Faith Church, and our trainer presented a very clear, biblical, approach to discipleship: meet weekly with a few other people, to study and apply the Scriptures, for the purpose of multiplication. Who will you meet weekly with for the purpose of discipleship?

Check back in to the next post, as we see who the first group of people Paul says Titus should teach, and we’ll learn what he is to teach them. 

Should Christians make rules to follow? Titus 1:10-16, Part 4

5 Jul

When my wife and I were students in Bible college, at the beginning of every semester we had to sign a document stating we would abide by the student handbook which had loads of rules.  You couldn’t go to the movies.  You couldn’t kiss on campus. There were pages and pages of rules. One rule was that you couldn’t dance.  That was in the early 90s when grunge music was popular, and our area was a hotbed for local Christian bands. Every weekend we could pick from multiple venues featuring grunge style rock and roll.  If you’ve ever been to a grunge concert, you know that you don’t really dance to that style of music.  Instead there is a mosh pit, featuring a rowdy form of jumping around and crashing into each other.  It is a lot of fun.  So because we Bible college students couldn’t dance, we would mosh. 

Were we breaking the college rules? Should the college even have rules like that?

As we continue studying Paul’s teaching in his letter to Titus, I want us to think about the intersection of Christianity and rules. In Titus 1:15-16, what we saw in our last post is that Paul was teaching something very new about rules. I want ask: are there ways in which we have been taught that Christians have certain rules to follow?  Oh yes. 

A heritage of rules is a long-held part of evangelical Christianity.  Yet, I think Paul would say the same thing to us that he said to the churches in Crete in his letter to Titus: We are free. We shouldn’t have rules like the OT Law. 

So where did our contemporary Christian rules come from?

Our evangelical heritage had a strong holiness emphasis.  It started off well and good, I believe, where people wanted to pursue the blamelessness we talked about in the series of posts on Titus 1:5-9.  But it is so interesting how a pursuit of blamelessness can lead to creating new rules. 

When my Bible college’s administration discovered, for example, that many students were moshing at grunge concerts, and they created a new rule about it. I’ll never forget the college chapel service when the dean of students got up in front of the student body and tried really hard to read the new decree that there would be no more…and he stuttered…he couldn’t get the word out right…he said, “mooshing?”  He didn’t know how to properly pronounce it, so he kept saying, “mooshing.” We were not allowed to moosh.  There was much laughter in the crowd that day. 

My dad was a professor at the time at the college, and he regularly taught in his New Testament classes the exact kinds of passages that we are looking at this week, “To the pure, all things are pure.”  His suggestion was that we should scrap the entire student handbook, and just allow the Bible to guide us.  I agree. 

This is tricky, though, because we have so many rules in a church family that we disagree about.  We’ve talked about this many times over the years on this blog.  Can girls and women wear bikinis?  Can we watch R-rated movies, smoke, drink, dance, curse, work on Sundays, and on and on it goes

Clearly, Paul was saying to Titus that those people in the church who made following OT cleanliness rules a test case for faith were wrong.  Likewise, we should not be creating any rules and regulations and trying to bind people to follow them.  We Christians are under the New Covenant in Christ, which is the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament.  That is what guides our lives.  When people are trying to teach us to follow some other rules and regulations, we should rebuke them just as Paul is saying here. 

But as we rebuke, we can do so using the principles of patient encouragement and inclusion that Paul taught Titus. We want to encourage people to sound doctrine so that they can be part of the church family.  We give them chances.  To that end, we pursue unity, not uniformity. 

There is plenty of room for disagreement, so long as people in a church family are willing to agree to disagree, in a gracious manner.  There is a phrase that I have mentioned before, and I’ll say it again here because I think it is so helpful to guide us during those times when we disagree.   

It is the Pyramid of Doctrine: “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

What are the “essentials”?  I would suggest that the top part of the pyramid should be tiny.  It is why I so appreciate the my denomination’s membership ceremony which does not require new members to agree with the 25 Articles of the EC Church.  Admittedly, different denominations and churches have disagreements about what should be included in this top level, but for the EC Church we only ask people to agree to faith in and discipleship to Jesus, baptism, and commitment to the church.  Some people have suggested that we Christians should just rally around the Apostles’ Creed.  Either way, the top level is reserved for the major doctrines of the faith, and we should major on the majors, and minor on the minors.  As the phrase goes, at this top level of the pyramid, we should have unity. Not uniformity, by the way, as, even at this level, we can have some differences.

What are the minors, the “non-essentials”?  I would suggest that they are things like Predestination vs. Free will, Church government format, Evolution vs. Creation, how to do baptism, communion, and worship services.  There are a great many issues about which Christians will disagree, but we should do so with grace, love and humility.  In our church, we have a variety of opinions about these matters.  As the pyramid moves downward, the levels grow larger, meaning that there will be more and more areas of disagreement.  But that is okay.  At this middle level of the pyramid, we should have liberty, meaning we give people freedom to choose and disagree, while still maintaining loving family relations with them. Again, it is unity, not uniformity, that allows for liberty.

Finally, what are “all things”?  In this, the largest level of the pyramid, there are so many areas we could include: politics, issues of ethics, gray areas in Christian behavior, and so on.  Here, as the phrase goes, we should have charity, meaning love is our focus, because we could have sharp disagreements, but we should still love and not break relationship with one another. 

Paul is saying, in other words, that leaders take divisiveness in the church seriously.  We pursue unity in doctrine and in relationships.  Paul said we should not tolerate sin and divisiveness in the church family.  Church leaders should commit to following his teaching of silencing, rebuking and encouraging rebellious ones among them to return to sound doctrine. 

What is sound doctrine? Titus 1:10-16, Part 3

3 Jul
Photo by Inactive. on Unsplash

In this series of posts on Titus 1:10-16, Paul has been talking about redemptive church discipline. He has described how to practice faithful confrontation that seeks to encourage people away from divisiveness toward sound doctrine. But what is sound doctrine? What is going on with these people?  In today’s post, we’re going to focus on verses 15-16, where Paul gets to the heart of the church discipline issue that needs to be addressed in the churches in Crete.

If you haven’t already, turn to Titus 1:15. Let’s break it down phrase by phrase.  First Paul says, “to the pure, all things are pure.”  What does that mean?  The people in the churches in Crete who Paul points out as divisive were Jews who said they were Christians, and they also said that all Christians should follow the stipulations of the Old Covenant that God made with the ancient nation of Israel, as described in the Hebrew Bible.

Paul taught something very different, however, when he and Titus had spent time ministering on the island of Crete.  Paul taught the good news of Jesus, that anyone who believes in and follows the way of Jesus is no longer under the Old Covenant. Even Jews.  Paul’s way of describing this is to say, “Those followers of Jesus are pure.” They are not to categorize foods, for example, as clean or unclean, which was something that God told the Jews to do, as described in many texts in the Old Testament.  Instead, to the pure, who are the followers of Jesus, all things are pure. 

That is so different from what the Jews were used to. You might remember in our Deuteronomy series that we covered texts like Deuteronomy chapter 14 where God listed clean and unclean animals, and the people of Israel were only allowed to eat the clean animals.  There were rules about cleanliness and ritual purity and washing.  But fast-forward a thousand years or so to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and it was a new day.  Paul taught that in Christ we are free from the law, and all things are pure.  

For many Jews who became Christians this freedom in Christ was scandalous.  Paul, therefore, had to respond to Christians around the Roman Empire, as the Jews followed Paul, disagreeing with him, saying that Christians needed to follow the OT Law. 

Paul wrote about this numerous places in his letters. Here are a few examples :

  • In 1 Timothy 4:4 he says that everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. 
  • In 1 Corinthians 8:8 he says that food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. 
  • In Romans 14:14, he says “no food is unclean in itself.” 

In other words, we Christians are free from the OT Law.  Or as Paul describes in Titus, “To the pure all things are pure.”

But there remains a problem.  Not everyone thinks this way.  Look at the next phrase in Titus 1:15, “to those who are corrupted, and do not believe, nothing is pure.” 

Paul is saying that the people in the church, who were teaching that Christians must follow the OT Law, were actually corrupted.  They did not believe in Jesus.  They are still thinking about life through the lens of the Old Covenant.  Paul even goes on to describe them, at the end of verse 15, as having minds and consciences that are contaminated!  This is his way of saying that they do not believe in the sound doctrine or the true message of Jesus.  Instead they believe in a false message.

Notice how Paul concludes in verse 16.  Scholars tell us this verse is critical for understanding the whole letter: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” Strong language from Paul, isn’t it?

Even though they were in the church, even though they might have called themselves Christians, Paul reveals how they were not so.  His words couldn’t be clearer.  By their actions they deny God.  They show they that are not Christians by what they teach and by how they are living.

This correlates with what he says over in chapter 3:11, “You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

In other words, the “circumcision group” (see verse 10 where Paul gives them this name) has not made the jump from an Old Covenant way of thinking to true faith in Jesus.  They are wrapped up in the rules and regulations of the OT Law.  They are teaching the people in the churches in Crete to follow the OT Law, and that is a major threat to the teaching of sound doctrine, which is the good news of new life through Jesus, life, death and resurrection.  Paul’s conclusion?  Muzzle it.  Give them a chance to repent, and even give them a second chance, but after that, move on.  The true teaching of the Gospel must be preserved and undiluted in the church.

Check back in to the next post as we search for ways the church in 2019 might be like the “circumcision group.”