Tag Archives: church

The world-changing power of forgiveness – Philemon 8-25, Part 4.

29 Aug
Photo by Priscilla du Preez on Unsplash

Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to forgive someone who hurt you? Did you find it difficult to do so? It can be scary to forgive, especially when the pain runs deep. Will that person respect your forgiveness? What if they hurt you again? Are they really sorry? How do you truly know? There are many questions surrounding broken relationships, questions that can make forgiveness seem murky. In our study of Philemon, Paul is addressing a situation of brokenness, and one that needed forgiveness. But this wasn’t any ordinary brokenness, and what Paul is asking is, well, a lot.

If you want to catch up on the broken situation I’m talking about, start with Part 1 of this series, and continuing reading Parts 2 and 3. Then look at verse 17 of the letter to Philemon.  Do you see where Paul says to Philemon, “If you consider me a partner”?  It is almost certain that Philemon would have considered Paul a partner.  Guess what Greek word Paul used there for “partner”? Koinonia.  Remember that from the previous series on Philemon 1-7, when we discussed verse 6? “Sharing” is the word koinonia, and it means “fellowship, sharing or participation.” Paul has come full circle, and then some!  Paul says, “Welcome Onesimus as you would welcome me, as a close friend, because that’s what Christians do!”  Further, if Philemon is to welcome Onesimus, just as he would welcome Paul, do you see how Paul is putting Onesimus on an equal level with himself!  That’s the kind of amazing equality that we all have in Christ.

Paul continues.  In verse 18 he says that if Onesimus has done Philemon any wrong, or owes Philemon anything, he should charge it to Paul.  As we said in Part 2 of this series on Philemon 8-25, it is highly likely that Onesimus did something more than just run away; in the process of running away he probably stole money and possessions from Philemon.  Paul knows this, and does not want that offense to get in the way of Philemon embracing Onesimus as a brother.  Paul wants this reunion to go well.  This could be an amazing example to many people of the power of Jesus, and how Jesus wants to reshape the world.  A master welcoming back his runaway slave who stole from him?  The normal response for Onesimus’ behavior would have massive punishment, maybe even death.  Also Philemon’s honor was at stake in the community.  Paul knows that if Philemon acts in a surprising upside-down Jesus kind of way, Philemon’s forgiveness and brotherly-welcoming of Onesimus could have significant ripple effects in Colosse. Imagine the people in the city talking as word gets out: “Did you hear that Philemon welcomed back a slave who ran away from him, and stole from him?” That would get notice! Sure some people, maybe even many people, would think Philemon is crazy, but they would still be seeing an amazing example of forgiveness and brotherhood that Jesus brings to the world. What an impact that could make in the church!  In the world!

Therefore, what we see Paul pushing for is the beginning of the eradication of slavery.  This is how Christians can clearly say that slavery is not supported by the Bible.  This is an upending of the social order and seeing God’s Kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven.  Paul is teaching Christians to be willing to go against the conventions of their day, in the name of Jesus.  To cross color lines sacrificially, lovingly.  To repent where they need to repent.  To forgive.  To pay for crimes they didn’t commit.  This is a distinctly Jesus way of life, isn’t it?  That kind of self-sacrifice, Paul says to Philemon, is what it takes to be the church.

Still Paul isn’t done.  In verse 19 he says he is writing this with his own hand.  Often Paul would just talk and one of his friends would write.  But he is writing this one himself.  It is very personal and important to him.  It could be that his friend wrote the rest of the letter, but at verse 19, he picks up the pen and says, “Philemon, I’m serious about my offer to you to charge Onesimus’ damages to me.  I will pay it back.”  And then he gets back to some, well, could we say, urging?  Manipulating?  Maybe.  Paul says, “by the way, Philemon, remember that you owe me you very self.”  I don’t know what that means.  Paul doesn’t say.  It could be that Paul guided Philemon to faith in Christ. We don’t know. Clearly, though, Paul is pulling out all the stops to help Philemon see things his way.

Then he lays it on a bit thicker in verses 20-21.  Read those verses. How much does Paul want Philemon to forgive Onesimus and welcome him as a brother?  So much.  He wants a benefit from Philemon, so Paul tells Philemon to refresh his heart, as he said Philemon was so good at back in verse 7.  Then he says in verse 21, “Philemon, I know you will do even more than I ask.”  Maybe Paul is trying too hard here.  What we know by all his cajoling is that this situation is extremely important to Paul.  I read this letter and think, “Did Philemon have any choice but to do what Paul is asking of him?” Then Paul finishes up the letter with some further greetings and a closing blessing of grace.

But let’s go back to that question: Did Philemon have a choice?  Sure, he did.  With Paul far away in Rome, Philemon had a choice.  Paul couldn’t make Philemon agree and receive Onesimus, no longer a slave, now a brother.  Philemon would have to overcome his personal anger, embarrassment, and hurt.  He likely felt betrayed by Onesimus.  He would also have to overcome societal pressure that said masters do not forgive slaves.  In a society of honor and shame, Onesimus had greatly shamed his master, and the common response by the master would be severe punishment.  What Paul is asking Philemon to do, then, is radical, earth-shattering, Jesus kind of forgiveness and acceptance.   Paul’s teaching that all are one in Christ, that Jesus removes the distinctions between slave and free, is right, but it presents a tall order for Philemon.  What will he do?

What did he do?  We don’t know for sure.  Ancient historians tells us that there was an Onesimus who eventually became a Christian bishop.  Maybe it was this Onesimus, and if so, that would indicate a possibility that Philemon did exactly what Paul asked him to.  We really don’t know.  Scholars also point out that because we still know the content of the Paul’s letter to Philemon, that, too, is an indication that Philemon received Onesimus as a brother. Why? Because this letter was almost certainly private, and Philemon could have crumpled it up, thrown it away, and burned it. Most likely, he didn’t, and instead allowed the letter to become public, copied and transmitted to many other churches, so they could also benefit from Paul’s teaching. Again, how did Philemon respond to the letter? We don’t know for sure.

The better question is: what will we do? And we attempt to answer that next in Part 5.

Defining true Christian fellowship – Philemon 1-7, Part 4

22 Aug
Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

What is fellowship? How does it look in your life, in your church? How do you know if you are doing it right? As we have seen in our study through Philemon verses 1-7, Paul has been giving his friend Philemon feedback on what Philemon has done with his life. Paul has many nice compliments for Philemon (see Parts 1, 2, and 3 for what we have covered previously). We’ve arrived at verse 6, and Paul is far from the end of his encouragement to Philemon. Is Philemon fellowshipping right?

In verse 6 we face a problem, though, as scholars tell us it is difficult to translate.  Here’s how the NIV 1984 translates it:

I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.

Paul, to Philemon (Philemon 6, NIV 1984)

When you read the words, “sharing your faith,” what comes to mind? Evangelism, right? Sharing the Gospel. Some kind of proclamation of the content of the good news of Jesus. But most scholars believe that is not what Paul is talking about. 

For the word “sharing,” Paul uses the word koinonia.  It is a Greek word that carries the idea of sharing.  But more commonly it is translated in the New Testament using the English word: “fellowship”.  Paul, therefore, is talking about the fellowship of our faith.

What is fellowship?  Churches are sometimes called fellowships.  Faith Church has a room in our building called a fellowship hall, and we also have a Fellowship Serve Team, which is responsible for, among many other things, administration of our kitchen and meals. So there seems to be a connection between fellowship and food.  Fellowship is not equal with food, but the two concepts are connected because of what so often happens around a table of food.  People talk.  People open up.  They share life.  Fellowship is about close relationship.

There are also times in the New Testament when this word is translated as “participation.”  In other words, there is no way we can truly have a fellowship of faith by just meeting together on Sunday mornings.  Sunday mornings are important, and they should launch us into a life of worship and fellowship.  This is why I really encourage you to participate in groups.  Place yourself in settings like Sunday School classes, and small groups, and ministry teams where you can develop deeper relationships.  But fellowship doesn’t stop there.  Fellowship means you invite people in your home, take them out to coffee or lunch, and going deep.  It is one reason why I love our informal runner’s group at Faith Church.  We train together, talk about how race prep is going, hang out, run races, and more than that, we share life. 

So if that is what fellowship is, sharing life together, what is Paul trying to say in verse 6?  One bible commentator, NT Wright explains this a lot more clearly. He points us to Paul’s mention of Jesus in verse 6:

“Paul uses ‘Christ’ here, as in some other passages, as a shorthand for the full and mature life of those ‘in Christ’, so that ‘unto Christ’ refers to the growth of the church towards that goal. Paul’s desire is that the fact of mutual participation, enjoyed by Philemon and his fellow Christians, will result in the full blessing of being ‘in Christ’, i.e. the full unity of the body of Christ.”[1] 

N. T. Wright

What a wonderful picture of what the fellowship of faith can accomplish!  Our fellowship motivates us toward discipleship. Again, Paul is setting a stage.  He wants Philemon to agree with him that all Christians can enjoy the mutual participation of being in Christ, just like Philemon and the other Christians in Colosse enjoy.  Paul is nearly ready to explain why he is talking about this.  He is building toward the “therefore” in verse 8.  For now, we simply need to see what Paul is saying as really important.  Churches should have as their goal that the people in the church grow a more and more mature life in Christ, such that all can mutually participate together in the blessing of being in Christ.  Paul is talking about the strong bond of a church family. 

How can you strengthen the bonds of your church family? Are you participating in a group? What will it look like for you to be more like Philemon?


[1] N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 12, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 183.

How church families can have harmony – Titus 3:9-15, Part 5

16 Aug

Are you a person of grace? Or is giving grace hard for you? As we conclude this series on Titus 3:9-15, we get a peek into the church family that Paul was a part of.  See verses 12-13.  There he mentions his friends who were members of his ministry network, in which he was sending people here and there to serve the needs of the various churches.  Who were these various people?  What did they do?  We don’t know a whole lot.  Artemas is mentioned only here.  Tychichus, however, is mentioned in numerous other letters.  Zenas is mentioned only here.  Apollos is missionary teacher like Paul, who appears in many places throughout the New Testament writings. 

What we do know, though, is that in verse 12, Paul really wants Titus to return to him.  You can see how important Titus was to him.  Titus will only be at Crete a short while after receiving this letter.  Also in verse 13, Paul says Titus and the people in Crete should help these ministers Paul mentions and see they have what they need. Then in verse 14, Paul continues the thought from what he says in verse 13: Christians should be productive to help support those in need. 

There are a number of principles, then, in verses 12-14:

First, devote yourselves to doing good.  We have seen this how many times now in Titus?  Paul repeats it again.  That means there should be no question about what flows out of Christian lives.  God’s goodness should be clear, abundantly clear in our lives. 

Second, Be mindful of the needs of others.  Paul says, “see that they have everything they need.”  Christians are distinctly other-minded.  This doesn’t mean that we neglect ourselves, but it does mean that we look out for and are aware of the needs of others.  Especially in our own church family.  Paul was asking the Christians in Crete to provide for those in need.  In that case it was the needs of his missionary friends.  But this can and should be expanded.  We are a church family that cares for one another.

The last two principles are very related: Provide for daily necessities and Live a productive life. These are very earthy.  Christianity speaks to the nitty-gritty of work and paying the bills and making ends meet.  Boring?  Maybe, but important.  Foundational, even, is the daily work of life, to the mission of the Kingdom of God.  Your washing dishes, mowing the lawn, and working your job are injected with meaning.  I get it that work can be dull sometimes, even soul-sucking.  But no matter what you do, when you see your work from God’s eyes, it is transformed into something vital.  I’m not just talking about paying jobs.  I’m talking about volunteering.  About the chores at home.  Yes, kids, even cleaning your rooms, cleaning toilets or whatever your parents consider to be chores. 

Finally, in verse 15, Paul shares greetings and grace.  He says, “Greet those who love us in the faith.”  Here Paul is focusing on encouraging the church who he had spent time with.  And lastly, he offers grace to all.  Grace has been a theme throughout Titus.  So vital.  Grace from Christ, that transforms.

Grace is favor, good will, from God. We don’t deserve it.  We didn’t earn it.  God gives it, and thus learn from God and give grace to the people in our lives. 

Giving grace can be costly.  It sure was for Jesus.  Who do you need to be gracious to?  Who is it that you perhaps don’t want to be gracious to? 

What will it look like for you shower grace on the people around you?  I think some personalities have a hard time with grace.  For others it is easy.  No matter if it is difficult for you, grace is the goal.  Practice grace to the people in your church family, even those who are difficult for you. Is there someone you need to give grace to even today?  Someone you need to make things right with?  Someone you need to confess to?  So often we just let things go and never deal with them.  I urge you not to avoid this.  Instead go to a person, make things right, be gracious.

What that little pocket on jeans can teach us about church family – Titus 3:9-15, Part 1

12 Aug

Family.  Who do you think of when you think of family?

Growing up my family was my dad and mom, and my brother and sister.  Five people.  I’m so thankful that they are still my family. 

When my wife, Michelle, and I got married, though, we started our new family.  God blessed us with children, and eventually we became a family of six. 

A few weeks ago, our oldest son was married, and now we have a daughter-in-law, making our family seven. Although, it could be said that we have become a family of five, as my son and his wife started their family. (I think we’ll just go with “a family of seven”!)

Earlier in the summer my extended family got together at the beach for my parents’ 50th anniversary.  My parents were once just a family of two, but in fifty years time, their family was now more than 20, with all the spouses and grandkids. 

Furthermore, family is not simply biological.  Three of my nieces and nephews are adopted, and yet they are completely a part of my parents’ family. Also, one of my second son’s friends calls Michelle and me, “mom” and “dad” because of the close nature of our relationship. You may have relationships like that too. For those of you in church families, I hope that you experience that kind of closeness with the people in your congregation. In this series of posts on Titus 3:9-15, we will conclude our study through the letter Paul wrote to Titus, and we will see how Paul describes the church family he was a part of, and how that family was to relate to one another, in the difficult times and in the joyful ones.

When I read what Paul says in verses 9-11, it occurred to me that we might give these verses the following subtitle: How not to be a church family. Why?

Look at verse 9, for example. There Paul will tell Titus what the people in the church should do: avoid that which is unprofitable and useless.  It seems pretty obvious that people should avoid what is unprofitable and useless, right?  But it’s like we’re suckers for it, as much as we can get caught up in it.  Have you ever been involved in an unprofitable, useless discussion? Have you ever participated in an activity that initially seemed worthwhile, but in time was revealed to be a waste? For me it was phone apps and games. You can read about my personal journey to free myself of them here.

What useless or unprofitable activity is Paul talking about? He mentions three things: foolish controversies, genealogies, and arguments and quarrels about the law. Paul here is primarily describing theological controversies in the church, based in what he already said in 1:10-16 about the misapplication of the OT Law to Christians.  Now here in 3:9-11 Paul is saying that the controversies we get caught up in are often silly and thus should be avoided. 

Paul’s principle for Christians in a church family, then, is: “avoid what is unprofitable and useless.”  Let me make an analogy. Did you ever think about that small right front pocket in most jeans?  Why is it there?  Well, when jeans first became popular in the late 1800s, that pocket was pretty handy because lots of people used pocket-watches.  In time that pocket became part of what makes jeans uniquely jeans.  So though those mini pockets are rarely used anymore, clothing companies keep putting them there.  Here’s the thing, in 2019 you could say jeans’ mini-pockets are useless.  Even when cell phones were small, they didn’t fit in there. Try to put anything in there, and it’s almost impossible to get out. But if jeans didn’t have those pockets, they would look weird. That’s the funny thing about life.  We can get accustomed to what is useless, and normalize it!  We can accept it.  We talk about it.  Get excited about it. Or upset about it. 

How does this happen in church families? The classic example is the color of the carpet in the sanctuary.  In a building project one faction says the carpet should be tan, and another faction says the carpet should be blue.  They get angry, fight, refuse to agree, and the church splits.  Talk about useless and unprofitable. Sadly, there are many other such examples that church families have allowed to become divisive.

Paul says in the church, though, we should be people committed to avoiding what is unprofitable and useless.  He was mostly talking about conversations, beliefs, ideas, and practices of how we live out our faith.  The problem is that Christians will have differences of opinion about what is the profitable verses unprofitable, and what is useless versus what is useful.  At Faith Church we have a variety of opinions like this, as I’m sure you do in your church family.

So we need to agree to disagree, lovingly.  We can and should get along in a loving way, though you may have differences of opinion with those who think differently than you. As we continue this series of posts, stay tuned, because we’ll talk further about how Christians in a church family can navigate those differences of opinion in a godly way.

One important way Jesus wants you to live in the world – Titus 3:1-8, Part 5

9 Aug
Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

Why are you here on earth? Do you ever wonder if you have a purpose, a role? Sometimes people say that there is one thing you can do better than anyone else on earth. What do you think about that? I tend to think there is a better way to look at our purpose on earth. And as we conclude our series of posts on Titus 3:1-8, Paul gets to that. He has just taught about the amazing, life-shaping work that God wants to do in our lives. God wants us to be a part of his family! But does God’s purpose for us stop there? Just to get us in the door? Paul has an answer for us, so let’s follow his thinking.

Paul concludes his teaching in Titus 3:1-8 telling Titus “it is a trustworthy saying!  I want you to stress these things.”  That means what we have been looking into in this series of posts on Titus 3:1-8 is important!  Paul is essentially saying, “Titus, you should teach this.  Remind the Christians in Crete of these things.  Make sure this doesn’t get lost.” 

As he continues, notice at how Paul sees this good news in action.  He says, those who trusted in God must be careful to “devote themselves to doing good.” 

I think what Paul is saying is fascinating.  When you have been transformed, when God’s Spirit is poured out on you, when you have become a part of his family, when you have hope for eternal life, you are so filled with God’s goodness that you devote yourself to doing what is good. 

It’s like he’s wrapped back around to verses 1-2, repeating what he said there about how to live Christianly in the world.  Now that he has taught through the good news that God wants to change our lives, Paul has given us a strong reason to be good.  We’ve been transformed by God.  God’s Spirit now energizes and enlivens us to do good in the world.

Does anyone feel déjà vu at this point?  If you read the posts in the previous series on Titus 2:11-15, starting here, you might be sensing some familiarity.  I felt that as I was studying these passages.  Why?  Because Paul’s teaching is chapter 3:1-8 is very similar to what he said in 2:11-15.  And when someone repeats themselves, that means we would do well to pay extra attention.  We don’t want to miss this.  Instead we should shape our lives around this.  God has lavished us with his grace to save us, yes to give us hope of eternal life, but more importantly for the here and now, to transform us into a people who are devoted to doing good.

Believe it or not, some Christians push back against the idea of doing good in the world.  They believe that God is one day going to destroy the world and therefore all Christians needs to do now is focus on eternal life.  I’m not going to debate that in this post. Instead, look again at verse 3.  In the out of control society in Crete, where the Christians to whom Paul was writing lived, there were certainly behaviors that Paul was saying, “You are not to do that.  You are to be different.”

With that desire to be godly, in Titus’ day in Crete, and in our own American Christian history, we can make an error of believing that Christians need to “come out and be separate.” Christians can get the idea that society is so powerfully evil that it will destroy us, and therefore Christians need to remove themselves.  But that is not what Paul is saying. Instead, Paul says, Christians are the ones who have already been transformed by God, with his Holy Spirit poured out on us, made a part of his family, with the hope of eternal life, and thus we are to be eager to do good in society.  We are called to live out a different kind of life in the midst of society.  Not remove ourselves from it, and not just focus people’s attention on life after death.   That’s why Paul says “be good” in the midst of it. 

Remember the story I started this series of posts with? Check it out here.  some people believe that what God really cares about is our life after we die. But in Titus 3:1-8, Paul is saying that Christians have an important mission in the here and now, to be good for the purpose of helping more people become followers of Jesus and for helping our societies embrace the goodness that God wants for all people.

For example, notice what Paul doesn’t say here.  Paul could say “Christians in Crete, evacuate! Crete is awful. Move to Jerusalem where the mother church is.”  But he doesn’t.  He says, “You’ve been changed by Jesus, so you are to be different, and thus you are to do good in the midst of your crazy Cretan society.  That will likely make you stand out.”

Christians in society should be clearly demonstrating the changed life of Christ by their goodness.  How about you and me?

Younger people, what will it look like for you to do good in your neighborhood and school? 

Those of you who work, what will it look like for you to do good in your employment, at your office, with your coworkers, no matter what kind of job you have?

Children, what will it look like for you to do good with your parents?

Parents, what will it look like for you to do good with your kids?

All of us, what ways can we live out the transformed life of Jesus to do good in our community?

When to subject ourselves to the authorities, and when not to – Titus 3:1-8, Part 1

5 Aug
Photo by Jacob Morch on Unsplash

I recently heard what is reported to be a true story from a Sunday school teacher in Dublin, Ireland.  She writes, “I was testing the children in my Sunday school class to see if they understood the concept of getting into Heaven. I asked them, ‘If I sold my house and my car and had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into Heaven?’ ‘No’, the children answered.

‘If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the lawn and kept everything tidy, would that get me into Heaven?’ Again the answer was ‘NO!’

‘If I gave candy to all the children and loved my husband, would that get me into Heaven?’ Again they all answered, ‘NO!’

I was just bursting with pride for them. I continued, ‘Then how can I get into Heaven?’ A little boy shouted out, ‘You’ve got to be DEAD!’ **

It’s funny to hear things from a youthful perspective, isn’t it?  Yet when we tell the Gospel story, we can make it seem like what God really wants is for us to be dead.  You might think, “What?  How can you say that, Joel?”  What I mean is that we often start telling the good news of Jesus with, “When you die,” or “After you die.”   Have you ever heard the method of sharing the story of Jesus that starts like this: “Do you know where you’ll go when you die?” 

Is God only concerned with what happens when we die?  As we continue studying the letter Paul wrote to Titus, Paul will speak about this. Turn to Titus 3:1-8, which we’ll be studying in this series of posts.

In verse 1 Paul says to Titus, “Remind the people.”  Why do they need to be reminded?   Remember that Paul and Titus had been on Crete previous to Titus’ current trip.  They had seen people become believers in and followers of Jesus, and thus Paul and Titus had grouped these new Christians into house churches in various towns on the island.  During that initial trip, Paul and Titus had already taught the people what it means to know and follow Jesus.  Now Paul senses that the people need to be reminded.  So Paul is saying Titus, you need to remind the people in Crete of some stuff, and by extension you and I in 2019 need to be reminded of it as well. As we’ll see throughout this series of posts, God is definitely interested in what happens to humans after we die, but he is also very concerned with how we live in the here and now.

What do we need to be reminded of?  Paul has a list of six things in verses 1-2, and they all relate to how Christians live now.  In this post we’ll look at the first one in which he reminds them to be subject to rulers and authorities.  Paul was talking to a very different cultural and political context than our own.  Crete was a part of the Roman Empire in the first century.  Roman emperors would claim that they, the emperors, had become gods.  Thus the people should worship the emperor as their savior.  So in the Roman Empire there was a religion of emperor worship. 

Into that culture, Paul has been clear in teaching that Jesus is God, the true savior of the world. Just glance back at chapter 2, verse 13, where Paul says, “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  From there you can keep going back and see it in 2:10, and even at the very beginning of the letter in 1:4.  Jesus is God and he is the savior.  Not an emperor in Rome. 

One potential result of this teaching is that the new Christians on Crete could get the idea that they are free from having to obey Caesar or any ruler.  Caesar is no longer their lord.  Jesus is their Lord.  But that freedom in Christ could have disastrous consequences if not handled well.  Christians could believe they were above the law of the land, which could bring them into conflict with rulers, and that could be disastrous.  So Paul says the people need to be subject to rulers and authorities.  

I think it is best to see Paul as teaching that in the vast majority of situations it is right and good to follow the law.  Pay your taxes.  Obey traffic laws.  In a society that is attempting to base its legal system on justice, we can and should be subject to and obey rulers and authorities. 

But what about societies that are unjust?  Or what if one particular law is unjust?  That happens, right? It has happened many times in the history of the USA, and still happens today on the federal, state and local levels.  Thankfully we have a justice system to address this.  But justice doesn’t happen automatically.  It usually starts with individuals speaking up, and often practicing what is called civil disobedience to unjust laws.

The civil rights movement for example broke a ton of laws, but those laws were unjust.  Think of Rosa Parks, refusing to give up her seat on a bus.  What a wonderful Christian example of practicing civil disobedience to unjust laws.  In her case, the law of segregation, was unjust, based on racism and prejudice, and she was right to break it. 

We must remember that we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven first, and if human government creates unjust laws, we practice civil disobedience seeking to move our government and laws in the direction of justice.  In some places around the world, Christians have an exceptionally difficult time with this because in their countries it is illegal to practice Christianity!  We need to pray for the persecuted church.  Here in America, while our nation is far from perfect, there is still, enshrined in our Constitution, the pursuit of justice for all. So, Christians, let us be subject to authorities when they pursue justice, and let us practice civil disobedience when the authorities promote injustice.

**Thanks to Jim Ohlson for sharing this story with me.

What Christians need to say “No” to – Titus 2:11-15, Part 3

31 Jul
Photo by Zach Ilic on Unsplash

How are you with saying “No” to people or opportunities or temptations in life? It can be difficult, especially for those of us who have people-pleasing tendencies or addictive personalities. Being able to say “No” is vital in many areas of life, and in our series on Titus 2:11-15, Paul brings it up.

In verse 12 Paul says that God’s grace teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions. Because we need to learn to say “No” to them, in this post we’ll take a closer look at what they mean.

First, what is ungodliness? What one person thinks is ungodly another might not, so we need to be clear as to what Paul is referring to.  The word Paul uses is defined as “to live in a manner contrary to proper religious beliefs and practice.” (Louw & Nida)

Sounds technical, doesn’t it? What is Paul talking about?  Well, before you can know what is “contrary to proper religious beliefs and practices,” you have to know what are proper religious beliefs and practices.  Thankfully, Paul has already told us. In a Bible or Bible app, look at verses 1-10 of Titus chapter 2.  Remember that section?  There Paul describes how the older people in the church are to set the example for the younger people. (You can read my series of posts on that section starting here.)  Paul says that the older people in a church family are to teach the younger people how to live.  In other words, in Titus chapter 2, verses 1-10, Paul is teaching right practices. 

Ungodliness, therefore, would be the opposite of everything you read in Titus 2:1-10.  Look at Titus 2:2, for example, and turn all the godly practices listed there into opposites, and you will get a description of ungodliness: getting drunk, being disrespectable, lacking self-control.  Now scan down to verse 3 and do the same. Ungodliness is found in people who are irreverent, slanderers, and addicts. Keep going and you find more descriptors of ungodliness: impurity, unkindness, lacking integrity, talking back, stealing, untrustworthy.  These are all evidences of ungodliness. Therefore, in Titus 2:11-12, when Paul says we receive God’s gift of grace, that grace is teaching us to say “No” to all those various descriptions of ungodliness.  It is also teaching us to say “No” to worldly passions.

What are worldly passions?   Passions are desires, lusts, or cravings.  Our bodies are created to have these desires.  Desires are not automatically evil, however, as we can also desire goodness, beauty, and truth.  But look at the word that Paul attaches to desire or passion: “worldly”.  The most literal translation of this phrase is “the desires that people of this world have.” (Louw & Nida)  If that was all Paul meant, he would be talking about passions in a very neutral sense via the basic human biological desire that we all have.  But Paul is not talking about neutral desire here.  Otherwise he wouldn’t have said that God’s grace teaches us to say “No” to it. 

Some people across the ages have actually misinterpreted Paul here (and in other biblical teaching), believing that all desire is evil. Thus they teach that the best way to live is to abandon or deny all desire.  That’s not what Paul is saying.  We know this because Paul specifically mentions that God’s grace teaches us to say “No” to worldly desire. Paul is referring to negative or evil desire that is not in line with God’s grace.  Because he spent plenty of space in verses 1-10 of chapter 2 on this, we aren’t going to cover it again.  Instead, I encourage you to make time this week to dwell on chapter 2, verses 1-10, read the posts on those verses (linked above), and seeking to answer the primary questions we asked in that series of posts: Who is teaching you?  Who is discipling you?  And in turn, who are you discipling?  Who is helping you to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly desire, and who are you helping to do the same?

As I mentioned above, and blogged about previously, there are plenty of disagreements between Christians as to what is godly versus what is ungodly.  In Titus 2, Paul is not so much focused on making lists of rules as he wants to encourage the people that God’s grace has appeared to teach us to say “No” to what is ungodly.  As a result, Paul continues his teaching in Titus 2:12 by pointing us to focus on what is important: “living self-controlled, upright, godly lives in this present age.” 

The best example of that kind of godly life is Jesus himself.  I encourage you to spend time reading the stories of Jesus and learning from him how to live.  Remember that Jesus himself lives in you, through the filling of his Spirit, and wants his kind of life to enliven and energize your life to look more and more like his. 

So often we think about how close we can get to the line of ungodliness without crossing it.  Paul here is saying that we should focus on becoming more godly!  Let’s turn our gaze away from how close we can get to being ungodly, and look to Jesus, asking him to teach us how to live self-controlled, upright, godly lives in the here and now. 

Maybe you desire that kind of life, but you struggle. Maybe you admit that it is difficult to be good. As we continue this series, Paul will talk about a vital process that needs to happen in our lives if we want to live a godly life. Check back in to the next post!