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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?

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
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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.”

How to have restorative church discipline – Titus 1:10-16, Part 2

2 Jul

When you discover troublemakers in the church, what is a faithful way to respond to them? Confrontation is difficult, so we might be tempted to avoid the troublemakers and think the problem will work itself out on its own. It rarely does, though. Instead, as we will see in our continuing study of Titus 1:10-16, Paul teaches Titus that he (Titus) and the leaders in the churches in Crete will need to confront the troublemakers. Paul has some very specific guidelines for this action, and it might surprise you to learn that it is filled with grace.

First in verse 11, Paul says, “They must be silenced.”  This is a bold claim, and it doesn’t sound gracious, does it?  Shouldn’t there be freedom of speech in the church?  Yes…and no.  Let’s see what Paul has to say about this. 

Having heard Paul describe the rebellious circumcision group in verse 10, we can see why Titus had to be so careful about who he picks as church leaders, and why it is so important that those church leaders are strong in the faith, self-controlled and blameless.  Those church leaders are going to have to implement church discipline.  In verse 9, for example, Paul said the church leaders will refute those who oppose sound doctrine.  Now in verse 11, he is saying that the church leaders silence the people in the church who are teaching false doctrine.  This is a very picturesque word.  It is the idea of putting a muzzle on an animal.

Our dog is so loud when he barks.  If you pull into our driveway, he immediately hustles to our backdoor like a sentry, barking incessantly.  He will not stop until whoever has arrived enters the house and greets him.  I can understand why muzzles were invented.  Paul is saying that when there are rebellious, idle talkers in the church, deceiving people, they have to be muzzled.

Why?  Look at how Paul describes the consequences of their teaching in the rest of verse 11: “They are ruining whole households.” Here I suspect he is talking about the fact that the churches were house churches.  But how could it be that false teaching was breaking up families?  How many of you have families where you can’t talk about certain things without starting a shouting match?  My guess is that relates to just about every family, and Paul knew the same thing could happen in these families who were new Christians, hearing conflicting doctrines because these idle talkers were teaching things they ought not to teach.  He’ll explain the content of what they were teaching when we get to verse 14. For now Paul teaches Titus, and the leaders Titus will appoint, “Muzzle those people.”

Paul goes on to say that the idle talkers are teaching false doctrine for the sake of dishonest gain.  He doesn’t explain how they get money from their teaching, but we know from the historians that Cretans were known for their greed.  One of those ancient historians, Polybius, said this about Cretans, “So much in fact do sordid love of gain and lust for wealth prevail among them, that the Cretans are the only people in the world in whose eyes no gain is disgraceful.”  Cretans were known for their love of money. That still doesn’t tell us how the false teachers gained wealth through their teaching. All we need to know is that it was an issue, revealing their selfish desires rather than a commitment to Jesus and his Kingdom.

In verse 12 Paul supports his claim about the character of the greedy Cretans, using a quote by one of their own, Epimenedes, describing how rough the Cretans were.  We do not need to read Paul as saying that every single person on the Island of Crete was like this.  But this tendency of Cretans being wild and unruly was prevalent enough that Paul says, in verse 13, this quote is true. He is saying, Epimenedes knew what he was talking about, it is true. Sadly, that wild rebellious spirit was present in some who were in the church.  So Paul builds on what he said in verse 11.  There he said, “Silence them,” to stop the false teaching, and now in verse 13, he adds: “Rebuke them sharply.” 

Those are strong words.  It is the idea of a public, audible statement to the person, saying to them, “You are wrong.  Here is the proof.”  When people are wrong, church leaders are to silence them, and to correct them.  Paul adds the qualifying word, “sharply,” which can be translated “to deal harshly with someone.”  When I read that I think, “Really, Paul?  Are you saying that when someone is acting sinfully or teaching false doctrine, we can be mean to them?” I doubt that’s what Paul is saying.  Here’s why:

Paul could have suggested that these people should just be put out of the church immediately.  See Paul’s heart here.  It is not a heart of shunning and just getting rid of people.  Instead his heart is for reconciliation and growth, so that the people who are not dwelling in the truth would be corrected and become healthy. 

Again, we need to refer back to verse 9 where the leaders are to encourage others by sound doctrine.  Paul wants the rebellious ones to be encouraged.  He wants the leaders to see their task of correcting as a task of encouragement.  I love that.  If we encounter those with whom we disagree, or those who we believe are rebellious, Paul has now said that those behaving badly in the church must be silenced and they must be rebuked. While those sound like harsh words, remember that he is also saying that the posture of the one doing the rebuking should have a heart and a tone of encouragement.

Rebuking is for the purpose of healing.  How do we know this?  Because he says in the next phrase, “So that they will be sound in the faith.”  What does it mean to be sound in the faith?  Sound doctrine.  What is sound doctrine?

Paul first explains what it is not.  Look at verse 14.  He wants the false teachers rebuked so that they will pay no attention to Jewish Myths or the commands of those who reject the truth.   Here again we can make the connection that Paul is talking about Jewish Christians who believed that Christians needed to follow the OT Law.  But he is saying that they need to be rebuked so that they don’t pay attention to that stuff anymore. 

Turn over to Titus 3:9 briefly and notice how Paul reiterates his teaching.  There were numerous speculative teachings within Judaism, some pertaining to the genealogies the OT Law, and Paul says that disciples of Jesus should avoid all that.  Sounding very much like he does in 1:10-16, in chapter 3, he says, “warn a person about this.”  He calls them “divisive” meaning that their teaching was dividing the church.  So warn them to stop.  If they keep going, give them a second warning.  If they keep going, he says in verse 10, “have nothing to do with him.”  Again, these are very strong words from Paul to Titus and the church in Crete.  Paul is taking decisive action against false teaching to the point of breaking fellowship with people who are unwilling to repent.  But note that he teaches a process, and it is not quick.  As we saw above, church discipline should involve grace and multiple chances to help restore people. 

Non-negotiable qualities of church leaders – Titus 1:5-9, Part 4

20 Jun
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In Titus 1:5-9, Paul says leaders of the church should be blameless. This week we have been looking closely at this passage to see if we can learn what blameless leadership is all about. In today’s post, we see that Paul tells Titus to look for leaders who have demonstrated a number of qualities that are non-negotiable.

First, in verse 6, Paul says that blameless leaders have one wife.  Is he talking about polygamy here?  Did the Romans have multiple wives?  It is highly doubtful, historians tell us, that polygamy occurred much in the Greco-Roman world.  Instead, it seems that Paul is referring to the common practice in which Greek and Roman men would have concubines. Sadly, this wasn’t considered aberrant in their culture.  It was accepted.  Paul says Christians will have a different viewpoint.  They will not have concubines.  Christians will have only one wife. In other words, church leaders’ should have a high view of the sanctity of marriage. Why? Their marriages will have a profound impact on those leaders’ relationship to the church, and vice versa. What this means is that Titus should be looking for leaders who have strong marriages, and who protect their marriages from infidelity.

Next in verse 6, Paul says that blameless leaders of the church will have faithful children.  That’s a tough one because at a certain point, kids who have been raised in a loving home can choose to rebel.  Even if they were raised right, and at no fault of their parents, they might choose to give up the faith.  While grace needs to rule the day here, Paul has something important for parents and kids to consider.  Parents are to parent their kids toward faithfulness, and kids are to choose to be faithful. What you teach your children and how you parent matters.  God doesn’t want leaders who are all about leading in the church but not caring for and leading in their homes.  That is part of being blameless; it’s a lifestyle that you are living, not just a way you behave in one spot.

Paul goes on to tell Titus to look for blameless leaders who see themselves as God’s stewards.  The word he is using here is defined as a household manager.  The leader of a church does not own the church, God does.  Paul says, therefore, that the blameless leader will view the church as God’s work.  None of us should think that we own the church, or that the church is somehow ours. It is God’s. We are simply stewards, managing the church for God.  That means Titus should look to appoint leaders who handle the church like God desires.

After talking about blameless leaders’ various roles and relationships, he talks about their character. Under the general principle of blamelessness, Paul now says that these leaders will be people who avoid five things and attain six things.

The blameless leaders avoids the following five vices.  They are not:

  1. Over-bearing.  This is an arrogance that is the result of self-will and stubbornness.  They think they are so much better than everyone else.  They are always looking down on others, always saying, “I am better.”
  2. Quick-tempered. The person is a bully. 
  3. Addicted to wine. This could be expanded to addiction in any of its many forms.
  4. Violent. This is a person who is ready and willing to pick fights. They are demanding.
  5. Pursuing dishonest gain.  Specifically this word has greed at its core. This person is shamefully greedy. 

As I look at this list of five vices, the word “narcissist” comes to mind. While I don’t believe narcissism encapsulates all that Paul is talking about here, it sure relates to much of the five. What is narcissism? As the Gravity Leadership crew discovers in this fascinating and helpful podcast interview with Chuck DeGroat, narcissism is more than “a person who is in love with themselves.” Narcissists have a strange attraction for many of us, and yet they’ve caused immeasurable damage. After listening to the podcast, I’m convinced Paul would say to Titus, “a church leader must not be a narcissist.”

So what kind of character qualities should Titus be looking for? Paul says that the blameless leader will demonstrates that they are pursuing six virtues (starting in verse 8).  They are:

  1. Hospitable.  This word has a connotation of hospitality particularly to strangers.
  2. Loving what is good.  This person really likes goodness. 
  3. The NIV 84 says the third quality is “self-controlled”, but the word the NIV 84 translates as “disciplined” at the end of the list in verse 8 is better translated “self-controlled.” Granted, they are very much related.  The word here is more about what is prudent.  A person who is sensible, making wise decisions.
  4. Righteous, “upright”. This person does what God requires. Follows God’s ways.  It is more outward.
  5. “Holy”. A person who is growing a heart that is more and more like Jesus. It is more inward. 
  6. Self-controlled. See #3 above. This person is in control of their emotions and choices.

That’s quite a list, isn’t it? It seems like only Jesus would qualify. Years ago I served on a denominational team that was administrating the process of nominating candidates for the role of Bishop. In my denomination, the Bishop is the leader of the whole denomination, and thus we created a list of qualities that we were looking for. We used biblical passages like Titus 1:5-9, and the result had me thinking, “No one fits this. A person would have to be perfect. We’re looking for Jesus, and there was only one Jesus.” But as we discussed earlier in this week’s series, blameless leadership does not equal perfection. You might review that discussion, as the list above could be intimidating. Paul did not intend to give Titus an impossible task, but he does set the bar high.

In conclusion, Paul says, “Titus, look for people who have distinguished themselves using these lists.  Appoint them to be leaders.”

And what will these leaders do?  Paul has a job description for them, which we will look at in the next post.

The one word that should define church leaders – Titus 1:5-9, Part 2

18 Jun
Photo by Nick Abrams on Unsplash

What one word do you think should define church leaders? In part 1 of this week’s posts on Titus 1:5-9, we learned that Paul had sent Titus to the Island of Crete to appoint leaders in the churches there. So what kind of people should Titus be looking for to be leaders of the church?  Paul says these leaders, he calls them “elders,” should have one key word that defines them.  Read Titus 1, verses 6-7, and see if you can find that word.

You see the word Paul repeats there? He uses it like bookends, one time at the start of verse 6, and the other at the end of verse 7.  The word is “blameless.” Some translations use the phrase “above reproach.” What is Paul talking about? Blamelessness is the idea of someone that cannot be accused of anything…because they didn’t do anything wrong.

We’ve started the next presidential election cycle.  How many of you have a sense that it is going to be brutal?  I think it’s about to get really ugly as politicians make accusations against each other.  We have a name for the TV commercials that get nasty: attack ads. 

When Titus is selecting leaders, the he is to look for people that could not be the subject of attack ads.  They are blameless, above reproach, meaning they haven’t done anything wrong. 

When I hear that, I think, “Wait a minute, Paul. Are you saying that leaders in churches should be perfect?”  The only way that someone would be truly blameless or unable to be accused of any wrongdoing, is if they were perfect, right?  And that’s a problem, because no one is perfect! 

I am certainly not perfect.  There are ways that I have misstepped.  In fact, I know our Faith Church Leadership Team members well enough to say that none of them would say they are perfect either.  By saying that, am I disqualifying myself and our leaders?  Is Paul saying that church leaders have to be perfect?  No.  Let me explain.

Blameless leaders aren’t perfect.  If perfection was the standard, no church anywhere would ever have leaders.  But there are Christians who demonstrate blamelessness.  They follow the way of Jesus, they practice the life habits of Jesus, they spend much time with Jesus, and as a result, throughout the course of their lives, they become more and more like Jesus.  Are they perfect? No. They mess up from time to time, but they admit it and they deal with it.  They seek forgiveness, they make things right.    

That is what some have called the pursuit of holiness.  And that pursuit is for every Christian.  Not just leaders. 

You might say, “Well, Paul is talking about leaders, Joel.  Not everybody.” To that I would counter that Paul is saying to Titus, look for the people who have achieved this blamelessness in their lives.  They are not currently leaders.  And they are not necessarily blameless because they thought, “Well I want to be a leader, so I am going to become blameless.”  No, they pursued being blameless because it is the way of Jesus.  Jesus calls all people to this.  This is an expectation for us all. 

As followers of Jesus, we are to pattern our lives after his, we are to do what he did, to live like he did.  It is astounding to read how many times this comes up in the New Testament.  Whenever you’re reading in the New Testament and you come across words like “holiness, righteousness, purity, etc.,” look and see if that writer is referring to a way of living life.  They are likely talking about the way of life that followers of Jesus should live. 

The tricky part about living a blameless life is that it can be hard to know what that look likes in 2019.  So I would encourage you to think about real world people.  Who do you know that is doing a decent job of living the blameless life?  Ask them how they do it!  Learn from them.  If you are a part of Faith Church, look at our Leadership Team members. All of our Leadership Team members are excellent examples of this.  They’re all humble, so if you ask them about it, they’ll say this sermon makes them think they shouldn’t be on the Leadership Team. But that humility is just more evidence of their blamelessness, and why you should ask them how to live a blameless life. So for all us of followers of Jesus, blamelessness is our goal.  For leaders of church, blamelessness is a requirement.