Protecting and training - Titus 1:10 - 2:10
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Well, its official, watching television, and especially the Simpsons, can apparently damage your health. Dublin politician Martin Brady has urged parents to exercise greater control over their children’s TV viewing habits to stop youngsters becoming overweight. He says ‘ Nutritionists believe that viewers can be influenced about the way they eat after being bombarded with messages promoting unhealthy eating habits.’ And one of the worst culprits is the Simpsons, for Mr. Brady goes on to say, ‘A study of the Simpsons found that 50% of references to food involved fats, sweets and alcohol. ‘The Simpsons clan’, says Mr. Brady ‘was also criticizes for mindless snacking, high alcohol consumption, the use of food as a reward and equating weight loss with starvation.’ So when in a few years time you see Nathan struggling into the pulpit, looking like jaundiced Michelin Christ man, you know he has been watching too much of the TV!
But wrong messages can mess up you health in other ways too, for according to the apostle Paul in his letter to Titus, our spiritual health is invariably effected by the spiritual diet we receive in terms of teaching. In v 1 of chapter 2 he speaks of ‘sound’ teaching, a Greek word from which we get our English word ‘hygiene’, healthy. And that is what the message of the Gospel promotes- healthy living. But there is also teaching which does the opposite, which leads to patterns of living which while of appearing attractive-like stuffing yourself with hamburgers and Duff, actually harms you. So we must watch very carefully our spiritual diet and more specifically be able to discern the good dietitians from the quacks. So let’s give ourselves a spiritual health check as we look at our passage under two headings: doctrines which destroy and teaching which transforms.First of all doctrines which destroy- vv 10- 16. Did you notice that little word 'for' in v 10? Why must we insist on having people in the ministry who hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught-that is, apostolic Christianity? We are told in v 9, so that positively, they can encourage others by sound doctrine, and negatively - refute those who oppose it. Why does they need to do that ? v10 -For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced-lit muzzled- why? because they are ruining whole households-that is house churches-by teaching things they ought not to teach. 'Well, who is going to muzzle them? Who is to have the courage, the ability, and the authority to do that? Primarily the ministers that Titus is to appoint in Crete. There is a spiritual epidemic at large and drastic action has to be taken. And exactly the same holds true for us today.
In verse 10 these people are described as 'rebellious', that is, mere mavericks who refuse to submit to godly authority. Also they are, 'mere talkers', men whose teaching is ultimately of little value because it tends to revolve around speculative ideas which lead nowhere. What is more they are 'deceivers', not necessarily intentionally so, but that is the result of their ministry, leading people astray from the wholesome truth and the good life which the Gospel promotes.
Now let’s not make the mistake of thinking that these are obvious villains. For a start they do claim to know God, as we read in v16. We are also told they are ‘especially’ of the circumcision group- v10 - not that it is one group amongst many, but these are the men Paul is talking about. So at the very least they have a Jewish background- they seem so spiritual.
But you might say, hang on a moment, doesn't Paul paint a pretty grim picture of their character in v 12 when he says 'Even one of their own prophets has said: 'Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons. 'This testimony is true.' Now on the face of it that looks like a crass instance of racial stereotyping and comes over a bit strong. To put it mildly it is not going to go down well amongst the members of the Crete church when they get a glimpse of this letter. It would be like Billy Graham writing to me saying, 'I know you have a real job on your hands at St John's because as we all know 'Yorkshiremen are rather tight fisted when it comes to money.’ Not the most pastorally sensitive statements ever written is it?
But there is another way of looking at this. You see, the Greeks loved intellectual puzzles-and especially what are called paradoxes- self-defeating, statements. And one favourite was the so called 'liar paradox'. Just think about it. If I say: 'I always tell lies. 'Is that statement true or false? In fact it can’t be either. For if it is true, then it automatically becomes false because here is one instance when I am not telling a lie-do you see? Well, one philosopher from Crete, a man called Epimenides loved playing mind games with the liar paradox, and it is probably Epimenides that Paul is quoting here- a Cretan claiming all Cretans are liars-it is a statement which destroys itself- if it is true then it becomes false for he is not lying here and if all Cretans are liars then this too is a lie and so shouldn’t be listened to. So by quoting this the point Paul is making is that clever philosophical arguments ,the type the false teachers like using, don't get you very far in and of themselves, especially ones which involve making claims about oneself-they can be self-contradictory and prove nothing-just like this one. No ,what people claim has to be backed up by the way they live, giving currency to their teaching. In fact the Gospel of Christ blows this saying out of the water anyway, because now there are Cretans who tell the truth, who are not evil brutes and are far from lazy-they are called Christian leaders. i.e. be impressed by a leader's life, not his clever talk.
So what are these people teaching ? Well, it seems to have a Jewish flavour but with a distinct twist, which might be the very thing which is so attractive, for according to v14 they specialise in Jewish myths- interesting but fabricated stories. And they are concerned with promulgating a certain view of ritual 'purity'. So when Paul says in v 15 'To the pure all things are pure', that might be a catch phrase taken from these teachers .And the fact that in the rest of the letter Paul goes to great lengths to spell out what real purity is for the Christian, means it must have been a live issue. Just how do you get pure-acceptable to God? What are the marks of true godliness? Is it something which comes through believing the Gospel or does it come through some added religious extra? Is it something which is primarily internal, involving a spiritual regeneration? Or is it external, a matter of doing the right religious thing? Well, for false teachers, it was the latter as it always is- a Gospel plus. It is interesting that in controversy which surrounded Jeffrey John, his supporters were saying he is gifted, with all the right qualities for a Bishop, he is spiritual- and being from an Anglo-Catholic background you can be sure that he will be meticulous in getting the ritual right, but this is separated off from his gay lifestyle which the Bible unambiguously condemns and any teaching which promotes it. No, right belief is to lead to right behaviour in our church leaders. As Paul says in v 16 'their actions deny God'. So when we hear a clever and impressive speaker in church or Christian meeting, the question we need to ask is: ‘Does what they say promote obedience to the truth or disobedience?’ Does it lead to anything good, primarily in terms of godliness, fostering humility, or is it pride? Does it exalt the Saviour or denigrate him?’ Those are the questions we are to ask. And when you look at the lives of folk who teach things contrary the Bible what do you see? Christ likeness? That willingness to submit as did Jesus to what his Father had revealed in his Scriptures or a putting it to oneside as being out of date? That is the test.
So how Titus to handle these folk? v13 'Therefore ,rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith.' Now here we have a problem. These people have already been described as insubordinate, so what guarantee is there that just because a church leader tells them to stop it they will? Of course, the answer is: none whatsoever. The rebuke is to arise out of the teaching the genuine elders are to give-which links us back to v 9. In other words, the way to counter diseased teaching is to preach up healthy teaching, so that even if the false teachers aren’t convinced some of those who are being led astray might be and so rescued. That is why church leaders must be able to argue convincingly against those who are messing up God's people. And that is going to be hard. It requires courage. Believe it or not I do not like controversy. But when the health of the church is being threatened by influential leaders, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Oxford it would be a denial of my ordination vows not to speak out. Jesus wants shepherds to care of his flock., not hirelings who when the going gets tough abandon the flock. And when we ministers keep quite when the sheep are under attack, then we become hirelings. So we do need you to support us so that we would speak courageously and graciously in these very difficult days.
In contrast to the false ministers whose teaching acts as carriers of a spiritual disease, Titus is to engage in teaching which is wholesome leading to healthy spiritual lives within the fellowship- and so we come to the teaching which transforms. V1 should read, 'But for you (Titus) teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. 'i.e. .The wholesomeness of God's truth should issue in wholesome Christian relationships. Those extended families which make up the wider family of God's church are to have particular features which should mark them off from the rest of society. And the demarcations are made basically along two the lines -age and sex: male and female; old and young.
But why is Paul so concerned to spell out the sort of behaviour appropriate to these different groupings. Well, because he has an eye on the watching world, the key verse is v 10 'so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.' The word here is kosmeo, from which we get 'cosmetics'- our lives are meant to adorn the Gospel. The Gospel is beautiful in itself ,but when people see how we relate to each other with integrity, how we refuse to go along with the innate rebelliousness of fallen human nature, caring for each other, submitting to each other-that is meant to make people say' What is it that can produce this? It must be something that is out of this world .And I want to find out more.’
Think of it like this: Who wouldn’t want older men to be temperate and dignified, showing wisdom and love? Who wouldn’t be drawn to the idea of a devoted, pure young woman who has been taught to love her husband and children by older ,wiser women? Who wouldn’t want workers to be respectful, hardworking and trustworthy or younger men self-controlled and upright-road accidents would be reduced by half over night if that were the case, not to mention teenage pregnancies. That is what the Gospel offers.
So, what of the pattern of right relationships?
First, older men. You are to be temperate-not given to extremes, self-controlled-that is level headed, literally wise minded. Why? So you will be worthy of respect, commanding the dignity which should come with maturity. Now that doesn’t mean being pompous or patronising ,you know; 'Listen sonny I’ve been there I’ve seen it and done it all' But it does mean, acting your age. I am told that you can spot the man who is reaching a mid life crisis and who is tempted to regress back into his youth when he starts wearing white shoes. But there is something sad about that isn’t there? when older men try to be trendy in that embarrassing way such that even Harrison Ford who is over 60 abandons the wife of his youth and his now dating Calista Flockhart of Ali McBeal fame who is half his age. Most of us have to grow old gracefully. You know we need godly men we can look up to, saying 'I would like to be like that'. Like what? Paul tells us-sound in faith-they really do know what they believe and why; and are great to go to for advice. In love, they practise what they preach, and in endurance-they are still in the race even after all these years ,their love for Christ and his people doesn’t seem to have diminished at all. I don't know about you, but that is the sort of older Christian which inspires me.
Something similar holds for the women too, v 3 'Likewise' teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live. 'How? : watch out for slandering-gossiping behind people's backs. In my last church there was one woman who was notorious in doing this. If you wanted news to spread around the church rapidly, you just had to tell her with the proviso -'And whatever you do don't tell any one else ' and it would be out quicker than by E-mail.
More positively ,the older Christian women are to teach what is good, and they have a special responsibility to the younger wives- v4 'They can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled (lit -wise thinking) and pure ,to be busy at home, to be kind and to be subject to their husbands.'
But you say, isn’t it obvious that younger women will want to do this anyway-love their husbands and children? Not necessarily. There were pressures then as now to downplay the role of wife and mother. In Rome there had already started the equivalent to a radical women's lib movement amongst the upper echelons of society, calling on some women to abandon their responsibility in the home. The last thing needed is for the Christian faith to be linked with a movement perceived to undermine family life. You can well imagine the husbands reaction to that-whatever you do don’t let your wife become a Christian, it will lead to nothing but misery for you.'
And we find the same today-pressures to downgrade marriage on the one hand and the dignity of motherhood on the other by pitting it against pursuing a career for example, so a mother is made to feel guilty or a lesser mortal if she devotes her life to working in the home with her family. You see, with many younger women now coming from broken homes, having multiple parents for whatever reason, who are they going to look to for a role model? It has to be other Christian women in the church doesn’t it? Where are they going to learn the parenting skills their parents never had? From Christian women in the church. And when Paul talks about them being 'busy in the home', he doesn’t mean they are to be chained to the kitchen sink-the idea is of being a 'home lover', so even if she has paid work outside the home, the well being of her family is to be where her heart lies.
But then Paul turns to the young men and to Titus himself who no doubt falls into this category- v6: 'be self-controlled'. Very good advice for a young man isn’t it? Do you see how realistic a book the Bible is? By nature young men are risk takers - acting on impulse, something to do with their seretonin level in the brain I gather, and so it is understandable that sometimes they push the boat out a little too far-so they are quick to give their opinion and not always tactfully, maybe being ambitious and oblivious to the needs and sensitivities of others-just going for it regardless of long term consequences. Hence-self-control is a sign of Christian manhood.
Again think of the difference that would make to onlooking unbelievers. You know I look back with horror at some of the things I said to my Dad after becoming a Christian. I well remember one night trying to convince him of the Christian faith, which wasn’t going too well. And he said to me 'Its all your learning, its haddled your brain.' To which I replied, 'Well, what's your excuse'. Terrible isn't it? But, what if someone had told me about honouring my parents, being self-controlled instead of being quick witted. I tell, you ,that would have impressed my Dad far more than any sermon.
But finally, a word to slaves: v9 We may not be slaves but most of us are in positions of accountability by virtue of our work. What should employers be saying about Christian workers? From what Paul is writing it should be along these lines: 'You really must employ a Christian. ''Honestly, I thought they were a funny lot?'' Maybe, but you couldn’t ask for any better. They are serious about what they do, they give 100%. Polite! -you wouldn’t believe it. Good thinkers too, if they have an objection, they have always thought it through and never put it over in an 'holier than thou way'. And you can trust them with anything, no matter how big or small, they always come up with the goods. They are simply the best’.
So if you are a Christian you are in the cosmetic industry-adorning the Gospel by lovely lives, setting before an increasingly confused and disillusioned world patterns of authentic relationships which are not superficial and ephemeral, but deep and lasting. Isn’t that something to aspire to? Isn’t that a goal with pursuing? God thinks so for he has given to us the ultimate model for human living, the paradigm of all virtue-the Lord Jesus Christ and it is in his name and by his power that we are to seek to do these things.
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