Tag Archives: Crete

How to live Christianly in the world – Titus 3:1-8, Part 2

6 Aug

In the first post in this series on Titus 3:1-8, I introduced the series saying that so often we Christians talk about the good news of Jesus by focusing on its implications for life after death. While it does apply to the eternal realm for sure, what we notice in a letter like Titus, is that God cares greatly about how we live. In fact in Titus 3:1-2, Paul lists six ways that God wants Christians to live in the world.

First, we saw that God is concerned that Christians be subject to rulers and authorities. You can read that post here. Now Paul continues this line of thinking about God’s desires for how his people live, with what Paul says next about how Christians should live in in relation to all people.  Remember what I have been saying in this study through Titus about the reputation of the people on the Island of Crete?  They are wild and out of control.  Time and time again in Titus we have seen that Paul wants the Christians to be different.  In this post we are going to look at the next five ways Paul describes in Titus 3:1-2 that Christians are live God’s way in the world.

Next he says that Christians are to be obedient. 

Obedient to who or what?  Certainly to the rulers and authorities as he already said.  But there are plenty of other ways to be obedient.  First and foremost, we obey God.  And as long as what we are being asked to do is in line with God’s ways, we obey in other situations as well.  Children obey parents.  Employees obey employers.  Students obey your teachers.  Athletes obey your coaches.  Christians are known for being obedient.

After obedience, Paul says Titus is to remind the Cretan Christians to be ready to do what is good.  Are you seeing a thread here?  Christians are to be subject to authorities, obedient, ready to do what is good.  Christians will be very easy to spot, if they follow what Paul is teaching in the middle of a society that is unruly.

Often when I preach these messages at Faith Church, I use PowerPoint to illustrate them. As I was trying to find a picture to depict “doing good”, I learned that there is such a thing as International Good Deeds Day.  People all over the world give time to clean parks, plant trees and gardens, visit the elderly, or feed the hungry.  I thought that was amazing, something that we Christians should be participating in. But you know what? For Christians, every day should be Good Deeds Day. 

It is very easy to be self-focused in this world.  The busyness.  All the hours at work.  Just keeping up with dirty dishes and the laundry, keeping vehicles going, and then, those of you that have kids and all they have going on, all school, sports, and extra-curricular activities, and more!  We come to the end of most days exhausted.  When that happens, we can think we have no time for doing anything extra.  Doing good?  Many of us have house projects or yard work that we’d love to have time for, letting alone serving our community, volunteering, or reaching out to neighbors.  But Paul is saying that Christians are people who are ready to do what is good.  They will make a difference in society.   This is why we are so concerned about the concerns of social justice in our society.  Feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, housing the homeless, and finding the roots of injustice that may be causing these problems.  Roots of greed, racism, and so on, and we work to bring justice to them.  The work of mercy and justice is doing good.

Next Paul goes on and says that we slander no one.  Speak with kindness and gentleness and truth, and do not gossip.  Be committed to radical confidentiality.  It seems to me that this is an area that many Christians could dwell on.  Whether it is on social media, or face-to-face, it can be hard to control our tongues.  Christians should be known as people who have control over our tongues, even when we are hurt and offended, or even when we disagree with something. 

Very much related to that, Paul next says Christians are peaceable and considerate.  Christians should be peaceful, peace-loving, peace-making, people.  Our Anabaptist brothers and sisters, like the Mennonites, are really focused on this, and for good reason.  We can learn from them, because generally-speaking they have done deep study into peace-making and are much farther along than others.  We strive to make peace between genders, ethnicities, and generations. 

Finally, Christians show true humility to all.  This means not thinking more highly of yourself than you ought.  Look to the humility of Jesus.  His willingness to associate with people of low position, to be friends with sinners, not to be judgmental, but forgiving.  So in summary, in verses 1-2, Paul is saying, Christians, you will be so different in society because you will be so good.  You’ll be living like Jesus did.  Not exactly like he did, of course.  But you’ll stand out, in a good way.  Sure some people get grumpy at people who are trying to be good.  You’ll have that.  Kind, peaceable, humble people expect that, don’t let it get under their skin, and love those people anyway.  Not easy, I grant you, especially when the difficult people are from within your own family, friends or even church family.  But still we follow the example of Jesus in practicing kindness and humility to all.

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 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. 

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.”

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. 

Spotting deceivers in the church – Titus 1:10-16, Part 1

1 Jul

“They didn’t teach that in seminary.”  I had a wonderful seminary experience, and I would recommend my seminary to anyone. But there are some aspects of pastoral ministry that you just have to experience, and it is about those that pastors can say, “they didn’t teach that in seminary.” Dealing with funerals.  The emotional toll.  How it can feel being on call.  But for sure one of the most difficult is dealing with church discipline.  I’ve never met a church discipline situation that I liked, and we’ve had a number of them over the years.  Each is unique.  Each is emotional and taxing. But each one is important. 

I became senior pastor in July 2008, and by the first week of August we were embroiled in a really thorny situation.  I’ll never forget the day in the office as the phone rang, and who was on the other end, but my bishop at the time.  In my denomination the bishop is leader of the whole denomination. In that era, there were actually mid-level conference ministers who were my direct “bosses.” The bishop was their boss. So I was getting a call from my boss’s boss. Maybe you’ve experienced that too. I answered and said, “Hey Bishop Kevin, how can I help you?”  Imagine my surprise when he revealed that he was calling me because some of the people in the difficult situation in my church had called him to tattle on me!  I will admit that I had not handled that difficult situation perfectly, and as I talked with the Bishop, I conceded that there were some things I would have done differently. 

The larger context, though, was that there was sin in the church family, and not just me alone, but our Leadership Team had confronted the sin, and the disgruntled people ended up leaving the church. We tried very hard to handle the situation in a faithful manner, and the result was very hurtful. Just about every church discipline situation I’ve encountered has been like that. I’ve learned that when our Leadership Team has confronted people, they usually don’t say, “Thank you, I needed that.”

As we continue reading other people’s mail, we come to Titus 1:10-16, where Paul talks about confronting sin in the church.  What Paul says relates to church discipline for any reason, but what Titus needs to deal with in Crete is a very specific situation.

When we studied Titus 1:5-9, we learned that Paul gave Titus his primary mission, which was to select leaders for the churches in Crete.  Now in this series of posts we learn why Paul had such specific guidelines for who Titus should appoint as leaders. 

Remember the one word that Paul used to describe the leaders?  It’s like bookends to verses 6 and 7: blameless.  There Paul gave Titus a variety of lists, so Titus had an unmistakable idea of what blameless leaders are all about. 

Why?  Because those blameless leaders had a job to do in Crete.  Look at verse 9.  Those leaders were going to hold firmly to the message as it had been taught, so that they could encourage others by sound doctrine, and refute those who oppose it. 

There were people in the church in Crete, Paul is saying, who opposed sound doctrine.  Now in verses 10-16, Paul teaches Titus who these people are and how to refute them.  Go ahead and read Titus 1:10-16, and see if you can discover why Paul is so concerned. 

Verse 10 presents a very negative view of a certain group of people in the church.  Who were they?  He calls them, “rebellious, mere talkers, and deceivers.”  Paul’s mention of rebellious people needs to be seen in the context of what he has just talked about in verse 9, sound doctrine, which is the true faith.  The rebellious ones are rebelling against that true teaching, as Paul will go on to describe in the verses that follow.

Paul describes them as mere talkers which conveys the idea of idle talk, empty talk, that they are foolish babblers.  They talk a good game, and likely talk a lot, but it is empty, and it is not in line with the true faith.  Think about babbling.  It is what infants do when they are learning to talk.  They love to hear themselves make sounds.  But their noises have no meaningful content.  Paul says those rebellious people in the churches in Crete are teaching something that has the doctrinal equivalency of baby talk. 

Finally, he says they are deceivers.  That flows from the rebellious description and from the mere talking.  By being rebellious and by their empty talk, they are deceiving the church. 

Next he points out a subset of the larger rebellious group.  Paul has a special name for them: the “circumcision group”.  That’s a pretty focused word, and it is not coded at all.  Paul is talking about Jews.  They were Jews who said that they believed in Jesus, but also the believed that Christians must still follow the Old Testament Law.  Do you know the outward sign that indicated that a person was a Jew who followed the Law?  Circumcision.  All male babies in Jewish families would be circumcised on the eighth day after their birth, showing that they were a part of the covenant God made with Israel.  It was a special mark that distinguished Jews from others. 

There on the island of Crete where Titus was going to appoint leaders in the churches, many people were not Jews, and thus were likely not circumcised.  Paul is saying that the circumcision group, the Jewish Christians were especially the problem in the church.  We’re going to see why in the next post.

Appoint or Elect? How should we select leaders in the church? Titus 1:5-9, Part 1

17 Jun

I recently heard the story of a pastor who got in a predicament.  The story goes like this: “A minister parked his car in a no-parking zone in a large city because he was short on time and couldn’t find a space with a meter. Then he put a note under his windshield wiper that read: ‘I have circled the block 10 times. If I don’t park here, I’ll miss my appointment. ‘Forgive us our trespasses’.’ When he returned, he found a citation from a police officer along with this note: ‘I’ve circled this block for 10 years. If I don’t give you a ticket I’ll lose my job. ‘Lead us not into temptation’.”

Maybe you know the feeling.  It is a human condition to be tempted and fall into it.  Yet we followers of Jesus are called to live differently. Therefore in this series of posts on Titus 1:5-9, we’re going to try to answer the question: Is it possible to be blameless?

In this blog series we are reading other people’s mail. Ancient mail, yes, but it’s still mail! Last we looked at the beginning of a letter from one of the earliest Christians, a guy named Paul, who was writing to his friend Titus.  Today we continue studying that letter.  If you’d like, you can read Titus 1:5-9, which will be our focus this week.

Let me review a bit of the background to this letter that we studied last week. We need to remember that Paul invested in Titus, discipling him, helping Titus become a leader in the fledgling Christian movement.  Titus had even traveled with Paul to the Island of Crete, which is right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.  There they spent time talking with people about Jesus and starting churches in towns across the island.  When I refer to “churches,” don’t think of buildings.  Instead they were groups of people who believed the message of the good news about Jesus, and gathered together.  Think of house churches.  Paul knows there is still much work to be done among these new Christians on Crete, and he has a plan.  Paul’s plan is a mission to send Titus back to Crete with a very specific goal.  I encourage you to pause reading this post, and read Titus 1:5-9 to see if you can discern the mission that Paul has for Titus.

Think about these brand new Christians on Crete. They have no Christian history like most Christians do around the globe in 2019. In America, for example, we are used to centuries and upon centuries of Christianity being the major religion in our nation.  But for the Cretans Paul is writing to, Christianity was totally new.  They had no Bibles to read.  They had no leaders to guide them.  All they had was maybe a few weeks or months with Paul and Titus.  They were far from established. 

And what’s more, they were in Crete.

The Cretans were, well, Cretans.  Peek ahead to verse 12 and we get a taste of why the word “Cretan” is still used today to describe people that are out-of-control.  Their own poet, Epimenedes, said that they were liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons.  We get the idea that Crete is Mardi Gras all the time.  OK, maybe that is an exaggeration, but life in Crete was wild. Contrast that to the fact that when Paul and Titus were on Crete, they had preached a whole new way of living life.  That new way of living was the way of Jesus.  Paul knows that these very new Christians are in the middle of a Cretan society filled with opportunity for them to turn away from the way of Jesus.  Cretan Christians were going to be faced with difficult life choices.  How could Cretans live the new way of Jesus?  Would they be able to live a new way?  Would they be tempted to live the old Cretan way?  Sure they would.  Paul is very concerned about this.

To make matters worse, there were Christians who were causing lots of trouble in the churches already.  We’re going to talk about them further next week.  For now, look at verse 10, where Paul calls them the “circumcision group”.  Scan through verses 10-12 and you can see how destructive these people were to the church, and Paul is not reserved in his feelings about them. 

Suffice it to say, society and culture in Crete could be tough for the new Christians there, and Paul is rightly concerned.  There is some serious work to be done, or this young church could fall apart. 

What is Paul’s response to this very tricky situation?  He sends in Titus.  Look at verse 5.  He writes that is he is sending Titus to deal with what was left unfinished.  Paul and Titus had started the churches together, got them off the ground, and then had to move on.  So these young churches are in a precarious position, and Paul wants to strengthen them by sending Titus back to them.  Now Paul has a very specific mission for Titus.

See how he describes Titus’ mission in verse 5?  Titus’ main objective is to appoint leaders in every town. This tells us that church leadership is very important to Paul.  He talks about godly leaders in many places in his various letters.  In this week’s posts, then, we are going to study Paul’s teaching about Titus’ mission to appoint leaders in the churches in Crete.

First of all, Paul uses the word “appoint.” It is not a vote.  Titus is to do the choosing.  Titus is making the picks.  It is not up to the Christians in Crete.  This is not a democratic process.  At this juncture it is important to note that this letter was to be read in public to the churches.  Paul wants all the Christians in Crete to know that they don’t get a say in who their leaders will be.  Titus is choosing. 

That means that we don’t need to elect our leaders in our church.  Many American Christians think that we should always vote for leaders in the church, that somehow God works through elections.  I think, though, that we have very good reason to doubt that idea. Yet we Americans especially are use the method of elections in the church.  You won’t, however, find elections and voting in the Bible.  You also don’t find elections and voting condemned in the Bible.  So I think we would do well to approach this with caution and wisdom.  At Faith Church, this teaching from Paul is the foundation for why our Leadership Team selection is not just a vote, but a process where we try hard to only have candidates on the ballot whom we are okay with being on the Leadership Team.  Therefore, when we vote, we’re okay with any result.   

We also need to see that the public reading of this letter to Titus is some accountability for Titus. Why? Because Titus doesn’t get to choose whomever he wants.  Paul goes on to give Titus some very specific guidelines he can use in the choosing process.  And the people listening to the letter will hear these guidelines too.  They will know if Titus is following Paul’s instructions or not based on how Titus makes the selections.  So what kind of people should Titus be looking for to be leaders of the church? Check back in tomorrow, as we begin to look at what Paul has to say about who should be selected to be leaders in the church.