New Testament


Romans 3:1-4 (New International Version):

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?  Much in every way!  First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.  What if some did not have faith?  Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?  Not at all!  Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”

via Romans 3 – Passage Lookup – New International Version – BibleGateway.com.

I suspect that many a sermon has been preached on this passage alone, not to mention the volumes that exist on the book of Romans as an entirety, but because I can, let me add my thoughts.

I’ve been reading through Romans in large part to coincide with the sermon “series” taking place at Grace Congregational United Church of Christ in Rutland, VT.  The UCC is notoriously liberal in its approach to theology so I won’t devote much time there except to point it out to anyone who may not know that Grace Church’s relationship with the UCC (specifically the Vermont Conference) is on solid ground (to my dismay).  Either way, I’m always looking for anything that will help make my bible study more purposeful and this fits the bill.

As I read the the third chapter this morning (that will be this week’s sermon topic) it was the first four verses that struck me.  I finished reading the chapter and came back and meditated on the first few verses.

The first verse is immediately preceded by these verses from the end of chapter 2:

A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.

I think I am fairly comfortable with the implications of this passage.  It is the heart, or inner man, that matters to God and what matters to God is all that should matter.

In chapter three, Paul asks, “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?”  To which he quickly answers, “Much in every way!”  Now for my limited, human-perspective tastes, Paul is a little short on fleshing out what the advantages are, but regardless of what the advantage means among men, God is still God of both the Jew and the Gentile.

The next part is what strikes me the most profoundly:

First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.  What if some did not have faith?  Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?  Not at all!  Let God be true, and every man a liar.

What if some did not  have faith?  Does that question even need to be asked?  The Old Testament is rife with stories of how the Israelites turned their backs to God and the consequences they faced because of their disobedience.

Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?  Paul hits a home run here in my humble estimation.  Not at all! Wow!  God’s faithfulness is greater than our lack of faith.  A no brainer, but it still hammers home the amazing grace of God and His worthiness to be praised.  If you have a minute, stop and meditate on those few lines and I hope that you will be led by the Spirit to worship God as I have been moved.

With some degree of reluctance I move away from praising God to making it practical for Christians today (I say reluctantly because any manner of disagreement could enter in at this point and make my assertions seem almost political, but that is not what I intend).  As it applies to more contemporary goings on this is how the passage struck me.  A lot is made of the crusades and how bad they were.  Or how was it possible that men of God allowed slavery to be permitted in the founding of our country.  To me, these verses from Romans could, or should, serve as an answer to those accusations and doubts.  It isn’t the faith of men on which we should focus but rather the faithfulness of God.

Most “self-flagellation” over the misdeeds of our forbears in the faith that takes place in the mainline Christian churches (like the UCC) tend to be too human-centered and not God-centered.  In other words, we must make amends for the sins of the past before we can enjoy the fullness of God’s love (although I would argue that it isn’t really God’s love that people seek when they attempt to repent for sins long past, but rather Man’s love).  God’s grace is almost completely ignored in an effort to assuage our collective guilty conscience.  In fact, a case could be made that such “self-flagellation” is sinful in the eyes of God precisely because it fails to recognize the faithfulness of God and His saving grace through faith in Christ.

My fellow travelers in the mainline church need to come to terms with what happened in the history of our Christian church, for better or worse, and allow themselves to be covered by the blood of Christ.  That doesn’t mean to ignore past sins, but to keep in mind and celebrate that God’s faithfulness is greater still than the accumulation of all of mankind’s sins.  What is important is that God be true!

Advertisements

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (Titus 3:3-8)

At one time we too were foolish…

Umm…I’m not sure I’ve stopped being foolish. Despite placing my faith in Jesus Christ and knowing with certainty that my life is secured for eternity by His obedience I can’t help but feel like I am still a fool. Every decision that we make will either bring glory to God or not. And even now, I seem to make far too many decisions that fall well short of bringing glory to God. I lose patience with my children, I grumble at work, or I engage in humor that is not edifying. The list could go on, but you get the point. Even some decisions that have no great significance on the surface prove to be foolish just because I made them without care. It is certainly glorious that Jesus did bring glory to God in everything He did because my “balance sheet” would probably not look good.

…disobedient…

Most days it is my intention to be obedient to God in everything: thought, word, and deed. Most days I fail in at least one of those aspects. Disobedience is not the life to which I was called, but it is the life into which I was born. It is a daily struggle to submit my will to His grand purposes, but praise God that I am washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. His sacrifice is my sanctification and He is worthy of praise.

…deceived…

Who hasn’t been deceived by all the world has to offer? Who isn’t still being bombarded with messages that the world can offer you everything you need and desire? I have come to realize that my faith in Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit has removed scales from eyes and unstopped my ears so that I might see and hear more clearly the deceptions of the world in which I live. Even now, however, the scales that were at one time removed seem like a cancer that threatens to creep back over my eyes from remission to cloud my vision regarding what is pure and holy. My hearing sometimes feels muffled because of the buildup of polluted talk and the din of worldly pursuits. Daily devotions help to keep my sight free of obstructions and my hearing sharp, but again I thank and praise God as the one who delivers me and reveals those things which are pure.

…enslaved…

Is there a more powerful metaphor for what it means to be living with sin and without the promise of redemption? Our 21st century sensibilities treat slavery as something that is abhorrent, and that is good. Because of our centuries long campaign against the evils of human slavery however, we seem to ignore its more subtle implications in our personal lives. God designed us to be free and yet we willingly (or unwittingly) subject ourselves to countless fashions, fads, and lifestyles that have the effect of enslaving us to our passions or other people (albeit without the actual label of slavery). Your “need” to have the latest technology may be motivated by good intentions, but it can quickly enslave you if that need outpaces your means. I confess, it is hard to know where honest pleasure ends and enslavement to pleasure begins. Praise God for His mercy and grace.

We lived in malice and envy.

Again I ask myself, do I still harbor malice and envy? While both malice and envy may creep into my thought life, they can’t remain there long because I am reborn in Christ and the Holy Spirit serves to convict me of these grievances. What was it like to live in malice without the redemption of Christ’s love? Well, Paul writes that we were “being hated and hating one another.” Malice consumes. If God did not intervene on your behalf working “behind the scenes”, then malice could easily overtake all of your good intentions and replace them with thoughts of pure evil. Likewise even the smallest bit of envy had the power to grow into a forest of weeds that would choke all things noble and pure from you. Our selfish nature reigned supreme and any good that we may have done to advance our interests would ultimately be overshadowed by the accompanying pain and suffering of malice and envy. It is enough that I have placed my faith in Jesus Christ, but it is essential for me to live out my love for Jesus by putting away malice and envy.

Enter God’s kindness, love, and mercy.

I’ve already alluded to this phrase, but we should never come away from scripture without pausing to reflect how great our God is. How glorious is it to be redeemed by God so that our lives can be made pure and holy? All the facets of my sinful nature are washed by “rebirth and renewal” and I have become an “heir with the hope of eternal life.” The list of sinful deeds and thoughts at the beginning of these verses is what we would inherit if not reborn in Christ. It is not a tribute to me that I am renewed in Christ, but rather more significantly it is a tribute to the Almighty God who has saved my soul from such a destiny. Do I live a life that demonstrates God’s greatness? That is my goal, but I confess to falling short on a regular basis. But thank God I do not have the task of saving souls because too many would be lost by my ineptness at living out God’s promises. I pray that God will direct my paths so that I might be used by Him for His purposes. I have only to follow by devoting myself to what is good. God’s word is good and trustworthy. God is good.

Before I get back into my study of Titus I want to share a few things about how I’m going about this study. First, I honestly have no idea why I chose to start with Titus or with the second chapter, but that’s where I started so that is that. Secondly, I am using BibleGateway.com as my source for the scripture so that I can cut and paste the text directly into my blog. I prefer to use a hard copy of the bible, but for practical reasons this online version works very well. Thirdly, I am using the paragraph delineations as my own in order to keep my thoughts more organized. I realize that there may be paragraphs that cross chapters and I will try and take that into consideration where appropriate. Of course, these are just guidelines and not hard and fast rules, so I imagine I will be “coloring out of the lines” here and there. (Many of you look at the title of my posts and just skip reading, so I guess I’m just writing this for my own edification.) On with the post…

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. (Titus 3:1-2, NIV)

Subjecting ourselves to someone (or something) else is a challenging command. Whether it’s your spouse, your boss, the government, or your God, the act of subjecting yourself is something that we think of as a violation of our freedom, or free will. And if there is a moral value we uphold more than any other in our country it’s the idea of freedom. (Well, at least individual freedom. You could argue that we are consistently forfeiting our corporate freedoms more and more each day with the increasingly socialized government we allow, which, of course, is stripping individuals of their freedom one small bit at a time and going largely unnoticed by the vast majority of people. More on that in another post.) Because we cherish our individual freedom we cannot imagine voluntarily giving it to someone else for their use (or misuse). What boggles my mind is that men and women in our culture seem more predisposed to submitting themselves to their bosses, or the government, before being willing to submit to a spouse, or close friend. Is that atypical of human nature, or does it fall in-line with it?

No matter who it is we submit ourselves to we are taking a great risk: a risk that our needs will be brushed aside for the needs of our “master” (no matter how temporary). In many cases that is exactly what happens. Of course, there are often delayed rewards for our submission that will ultimately fulfill our needs or desires, but even with the promise of “benefits”, submitting yourself is not easily done. It takes an act of will.

Sometimes I look at submitting as simply “giving in”. While that may be a part of subjecting myself to another, it misses the more important point. I can’t just resign myself to being subject to someone else, I have to intend on subjecting to another’s will. Whoa. This begins to sound a little bit like what our relationship with God should be like. I can’t just sigh and say, “Okay God, take over and do Your thing.” I have to submit to God and if He wills it, He will “do His thing” through me (or someone else, if necessary). If my boss says, “Take out the trash” then I must actually do something: take out the trash. Maybe that’s too simplified an illustration.

For what it’s worth, I’m not expounding on obedience because for the purpose of this study, I’m considering one who subjects themselves as one who is also obedient. Let’s stop and ask this question:

Who are the rulers and authorities?

Well, I’ll list a few: Our boss (or employer), the government (e.g. mayors, governors, presidents, etc.), the police, our parents, our spouses. Our willingness to subject ourselves to these rulers and authorities probably has a huge variance depending on any number of factors, such as whether we respect the person, or whether we agree with them politically, etc. However, Paul writes to Titus to remind his flock “to be subject”. He doesn’t offer conditions or exemptions. It isn’t an optional activity. As much as it may pain me to comply with the some laws, Paul reminds me that I am to subject myself to the law (blasted speed limits!) not because I need to earn “brownie points” but because in subjecting myself I am showing my love of God.

Paul offers some helpful ideas for behaving in a submissive manner:

Do whatever is good.

I imagine that this is Paul’s reminder to us that doing what is good is for the benefit of our relationship with God. God is good. Doing what is good is an act of worship.

Slander no one.

Bite your tongue. How important is this suggestion? Many of us may never get caught in our slanders of friends, neighbors, or colleagues, but that doesn’t make slandering them any less evil in the eyes of God. Slandering others implies that you have an audience for your slander and not only is that evil in the eyes of God, but it is detrimental to all who hear you. Whether positive or negative we all have an influence on the people we talk to and when you open your mouth to spew forth vindictiveness about someone else, you are most certainly acting as a negative influence (or as a force for evil, if you prefer). For what gain are you slandering? Clearly it is for selfish reasons and that violates so many aspects of God’s law.

Be peaceable and considerate.

This can be hard to do, but is no less important. Make peace. Go out of your way to be considerate. Use language that edifies and encourages. This suggestion, probably as much, or more, as any of the other “suggestions for subjugation”, will go the greatest distance in showing other people who your God is. People will notice peaceable and considerate actions and they will remember them.

Show true humility toward all men.

Paul calls it true humility because too often we find ourselves being humble in an insincere fashion. How often have you acted humbly behind gritted teeth? I know that I have done that too many times. Or if you suspect that a little humility toward certain individuals will get you farther in your career then you are not being humble in a true fashion. God knows our motives, so we’d better be careful about how we act in our humility.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother trying to explain what I read in scripture (either for my own edification or for anyone else’s). I can’t imagine Paul using more plain language that these two verses. I guess it’s more a matter of the application of the language rather than just the understanding of it. I suppose it also doesn’t hurt to remind myself who God is by studying and meditating on His word.

MW

These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you. (Titus 2:15, NIV)

 

I find it interesting that Paul instructs Titus not only to encourage but to also rebuke. And not just to simply encourage and rebuke, but to do so with all authority. I have to assume that the authority of which Paul writes is the authority of one who preaches and teaches the good news of Christ as based on the authority of scripture. Perhaps there is more to the authority than my simplified understanding, but for now it will serve us well.

We tend to shy away from rebuking in our culture. Let me rephrase that a little bit. There are certain things that we are free to rebuke and many others that we are cautioned not to rebuke. It is okay for us to rebuke racism and that is a good thing. It is also okay for us to rebuke poor stewardship of the earth’s scarce resources and that is not an entirely bad thing either. However, it has become almost forbidden to rebuke anyone for immoral living and that is truly unfortunate for our nation. Sure, certain types of immorality are “cleared” for rebuking: pedophilia, murder, etc. Other immoral behavior almost gets a free pass from being rebuked: pornography (unless it’s child pornography), lying, cheating, sexual deviancy.

What happened to our culture (speaking of American culture, specifically) that causes us to cry “judgmental” when the authority of scripture is brought to bear in revealing certain types of immorality? Almost all rebuking has been rendered invalid because of the imperfectness of the one delivering the rebuke regardless of what standard they use to levy the charge. The standard of God’s word, however, is becoming especially irrelevant in our culture. Even in the adherence to the law set forth in the United States Constitution, our ability to rebuke is being challenged because of any imperfection found in the rebuke. We are slowly slipping away from a culture based on the rule of law if we can’t point to an establish law and, regardless of our own success or failure with the law, declare someone to be in violation. If, in order to rebuke someone in the law, I need to be in perfect compliance with the law, then the law is doomed. I am not, nor will I ever be, apart from the grace of God, perfect. And nor is there anyone living today that claim the title of being perfect. If no one can rebuke because of their imperfectness, then what happens to the law of God? I will maintain that it will gradually slip into obscurity as is happening today in the United States.

Once the Law of God has slipped into cultural obscurity we can look forward to the laws of the United States to crumble not long afterward.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers in turning the tide in restoring God’s moral law to our precious nation and nor do I have the most stinging and in depth critique. I only offer observations and a hope that God willing, He will restore His law to the forefront of our hearts and minds and that men and women across the country will enthusiastically embrace it. Of course, we cannot impose the law on anyone, we will only be able to encourage and rebuke as Paul instructed Titus. Let us embrace those whose authority lies with scripture and not despise them. Celebrate God’s perfect law and rejoice in Jesus Christ who fulfilled the law that we might lead a life of eternal joy and not of eternal damnation.

Below is an excerpt from Psalm 19 about the glory of God’s law.

Psalm 19:7-11

 

 The law of the LORD is perfect,
       reviving the soul.
       The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
       making wise the simple.

 The precepts of the LORD are right,
       giving joy to the heart.
       The commands of the LORD are radiant,
       giving light to the eyes.

 The fear of the LORD is pure,
       enduring forever.
       The ordinances of the LORD are sure
       and altogether righteous.

 They are more precious than gold,
       than much pure gold;
       they are sweeter than honey,
       than honey from the comb.

 By them is your servant warned;
       in keeping them there is great reward.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14, NIV)

Every time I sit down to share my thoughts on scripture I find myself wondering how I could possibly add any wisdom to the volumes upon volumes of commentaries on the bible let alone what the scripture says to begin with. After all, and I plead ignorance to some of the higher level theological discussions about the authorship of the Bible, if God spoke and men wrote it down, who am I to add anything to it? Nonetheless, I feel compelled to at least meditate and write about scripture if for no other reason than to strengthen my own relationship with the Creator. And if anything I write acts as a witness to God’s eternal glory, then I can consider myself used by God.

Just prior to verse eleven Paul writes, “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” Because God offers salvation to all men, it is imperative for believers to act appropriately in all ways in order to make the teaching about Jesus “attractive”. More appropriately, we might say that in order to avoid being a barrier between men and God, it is critical for believers to behave as God instructs. A lot has been said about whether or not we can behave our way to salvation, and I don’t intend to say too much about it (because those who have done much of the speaking are much wiser than me). However, I do believe that our good behavior is a response to God’s grace not a requirement to earn it.

Is it possible that Paul is asking us to be holy? Acting holy may not be possible for us as sinful men and women, but it is possible for Jesus who is holy and who will dwell in us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus was a perfect man in addition to being God, hence the purpose of the reminders and encouragement to behave in a manner worthy of holiness. If we focus on the way Christ lived, then our behavior ought to emulate His perfect life. Here is how Paul breaks it down for those of us who need it spelled out for us:

Just Say “NO”!

Sound familiar? I know that we shouldn’t reduce our faith to nice little slogans, but there are times when it seems appropriate to keep things simple and just say “NO”.

…to ungodliness

Not only is Jesus our Lord and Savior, but His humanness is also the model on which to base the way we live our lives. It won’t always be comfortable and we won’t always be successful, but do we really have a choice to live any other way? Even though Jesus was fully human, He was also fully God. Everything about Him is “godly”. Everything apart from Him is “ungodly”. Paul warns us to avoid ungodliness and reminds us, indirectly, to focus on the attributes of God and what makes Him holy.

…to worldly passions

Likewise, our involvement with worldly passions separates us from God in the same way that ungodliness separates us from God. What I wonder about here is discerning what constitutes a worldly passion. Is being passionate the problem? Or is it the object of our passion that is the problem? Or is it the zeal with which we pursue our passion? Being passionate about politics in our country may not in itself be a barrier to godliness, but it is easy to see how a passion of politics could become a stumbling block to worshipping God and making His word “attractive” to non-believers.

Live Self-Controlled, Upright, and Godly Lives

Again, self-control makes an appearance in Paul’s letter to Titus. How important is it to practice a self-controlled life? It must be paramount to living a godly life or why would it appear so often in scripture. Our nature is literally hell bent on separating ourselves from God. Only Jesus can bridge that gulf of separation, but our response to His grace ought to be imbued with a desire to control our nature and live an upright and godly lives.

Wait for Jesus, our blessed hope

How challenging it seems at times to wait for Jesus. Even the youngest believer understands the beautiful promises of Jesus’ return: A perfect world where God reigns perfectly through His son, Jesus Christ. At times I am so eager for the return of Jesus and the establishment of His perfect kingdom that I am distracted from living out a life devoted to Him. The trials of life pile higher and higher and it seems that my only recourse is to call out for Jesus to return and take away all of the impurities of this present world. Living a self-controlled life for Christ can become a burden when I am bogged down with my own worldly passions and I lose sight of the awesome work that Christ did for me on the cross. And that is exactly why Paul reminds us here that our souls, our lives, have been purified by Christ. All of our self-controlled living is not an effort to earn the grace of God but rather a response of devotion to Him who purified us. When I return to living a godly life as a response to Jesus’ love and not a requirement of His love, it is then that I find the peace which surpasses all understanding (Philippians
4:7).

Christians, eager to do what is good

As important as being self-controlled is in our response to believing in the amazing love of Christ, it is not the only act of devotion that we can demonstrate. As men and women who believe in Christ is our joy to do what is good. Believers in Christ are eager to do what is good. What is good? I’ll argue that good is only good if it first begins with God. If God commands it, then it is good. If God praises it, then it is good. If God blesses it, then it is good. Anything that the Bible tells us is affirmed by God, or His nature, is good and anything less falls short. Does that make anything not affirmed by God evil? Evil may not be the result of a lack of “goodness” but it is real and we need to be on guard against anything that would lead us toward it. Search for God and discover all of the good things He has in store for you to pursue.

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive. (Titus 2:9-10, NIV)

I’m hard pressed to begin my thoughts on these verses. Anywhere the bible mentions slaves it seems like there is a likely possibility of major misunderstandings. Some people will try and dismiss the bible because they think that it tacitly condones slavery by not outright condemning its practice. Others will go to the other extreme and find a means of justify slavery because of its appearance in both the Old and New Testaments. And still others may seem almost dismissive of slavery by too easily equating slavery, in New Testament terms, with employee, in contemporary jargon. I imagine there is a way of talking about slavery the way God intended and that there are many people who talk about it in a genuine and thoughtful manner. If you don’t listen carefully and speak carefully, then you can miss what people are trying to say when they discern what the bible is saying. I’m not an expert on the historical implications of slavery during the years of Paul’s missions, but I will try and speak sensitively about the subject that is so easy to ignite a fire.

Let’s not forget that Paul is writing to Titus, a disciple of Christ, and he is telling Titus to instruct the believers in his care in a way that honors and glorifies Christ. It is important to remember that when Paul talks about slavery here, he is not establishing some sort of “Christian Policy” on slaves and slavery. He is addressing the one thing that no one can take from us (not even, dare I say, God): free will.

The freedom in question here is our freedom to choose our attitude and, consequently, our actions. God created us each with the capacity to determine our will. If He hadn’t, we wouldn’t be made in the image of God. If He hadn’t, our worship would be compulsory and devoid of devotion. As much as God wants us to love Him, forcing us to love Him would be against the very nature and character of God.

As it relates to where we find ourselves walking in this world, we can’t always choose where we end up in life, but what we can do, no matter what the circumstance, is choose how we respond to the circumstance. Paul doesn’t address this in this passage of Titus, but he does address the way masters should behave toward their slaves (Ephesians 6:9) and there too he addresses the attitude and actions of the believer, not the institution of slavery. What is most important is how we live out our faith in Christ, not where we are when we live out the faith.

Be subject. Paul commands Titus to teach slaves to be subject in everything. Similar to other prominent themes about submission, Paul addresses submission in the hearts of slaves, people whose lives are (sadly) not their own. Our hearts are to yield to Christ as He yielded His to the Father. In practice that means that we subject ourselves to our earthly masters as well as our heavenly master. This is problematic because our earthly masters are not perfect like our heavenly master and submission to someone who is not perfect can be downright impossible to do at times. But the act of submission to our earthly masters is not for their sake and not even for our own sake. It is for God’s sake. Our job is to glorify Him in everything that we do and our submission to our earthly masters is one manifestation of that praise. (Paul could have probably stopped here in his discourse to Titus. When someone says everything, don’t they mean, “Everything”? However, he has to spell it out in details to make sure that we understand completely what it means to “be subject in everything”. I guess that comes with the territory when dealing with depraved souls.)

Please them. Well, that makes sense. Please your master, please God. Part of that “everything” Paul mentioned at the beginning, but expanded moderately to include going an extra step. God expects us to “live right”. It certainly pleases Him when we do, but what must please Him even more is when we take time, with gladness and cheerfulness in our hearts, to praise, honor, and glorify Him either through prayer, worship, or any means that seems noble and true.

Don’t talk back. Again, here is a simple yet practical way to live out being subject in everything and thereby glorifying God. Restraining our tongues is one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate our faith. It isn’t easy to hold your tongue when you have something to say, but watching our speech carefully is important to living a life that glorifies our Father in heaven. Evil thoughts may be generated from the heart, but we have an opportunity to stop them at the tips of our tongues and if we practice the self-control Paul talked about earlier, then we can stop evil thoughts from promulgating and festering in other people’s hearts. And we give ourselves time to examine our hearts and purge those thoughts (to the best our ability and with the help of the Holy Spirit, see Psalm 51, verse 10).

Don’t steal. It’s amazing to me that this would need to be mentioned, but it is and it ought not to be dismissed. One way to look at this is to remind the believer that everything we have belongs to God. If we act as though something belongs to us apart from the ownership of God, then it is as though we are stealing from God. And it isn’t that He couldn’t take it back from us, but rather that it speaks to the condition of our relationship with Him. If we are willing to call something ours without recognizing the ownership of God, then we are spiting God’s blessing in our lives.

Be trustworthy. This seems to flow out of the admonition not to steal. But a master is truly blessed to have someone he can trust, and the same is true in our relationship with God. How much can God trust me? The more I show God that I can be trusted, the more God will entrust to me. I was not born deserving of God’s trust, despite the plans He may have had for me. As stated earlier, He can’t contradict His nature (because it’s perfect) and can’t make me be trustworthy. I have to earn that trust and I will need the help of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Showing trustworthiness to your earthly master is, again, a means of glorifying you Father in heaven.

Make the teaching of God our Savior attractive. I should have started with this exhortation because I believe that it gives purpose for why we believers, either as free men or slaves, are to be subject to our masters in everything. It glorifies God. Sure, there may be earthly benefits as well, but the bottom line is that our God is worthy of all glory and by training ourselves to be subject in everything we are bringing glory to the God that saved us from unrighteousness and sin and prepares a place for us in heaven for all eternity. Critics of Christianity often point to the behavior of men and women who have talked the talk but at some point failed to walk to walk as an example of why following Christ is foolish. Paul addresses this many times and many ways, but it may be as clear as anywhere when he sums up this segment of his letter to Titus with the phrase, “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”

MW

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled.  In everything set them an example by doing what is good.  In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.  (Titus 2:6-8, NIV)

Self-control gets a lot of press time in the first six verses of the second chapter of Titus.  On a theological level, I believe that self-control would most appropriately be labeled a response to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ rather than something that needs to be done in order to earn salvation.  Thus encouraging young men to be self-controlled is simply a reminder of their sanctification in Christ.

On a practical note, self-control yields earthly as well as spiritual benefits.  As noted in an earlier post, it has been my experience that young students fall into basically two categories.  Those that exhibit some degree of self-control and those that don’t.  Obviously, a youngster is still learning about what it means to be self-controlled, but it is clear that there are those who are learning and practicing the concept of self-control and then there are those that are not.

A child who is being taught, and is expected to learn, self-controlled behavior has a distinct advantage over the child who has no similar expectations in place.  For all of those in our culture who tout education as a means of escaping a life of drudgery and poverty (read: salvation), where are they when it comes to educating a child in the ways of a self-controlled life?

A boy who is learning self-control is able to sit still, focus, and learn.  A boy is not learning self-control can’t get past sitting still.  If he isn’t able to sit still, how can he focus?  If he can’t focus, how can he learn?  This may be oversimplifying the process of learning, but I’ve seen enough of both types of boys to draw my own conclusions without the benefit of extensive, costly, and typically pointless scientific studies.  The child that enters the classroom with less, or no, self-control than his peers will suffer at the hands of the very same system that claims to offer him a way of hope.

I digress…back to Titus…

Older men (in this case Titus) are to set an example of what is good.  How many men set examples of what is good in our culture?  Turn on the TV and you’ll think that there are no men left who know how to set a good example.  Sports heroes and movie superstars are the most prevalent examples of those who set examples and typically the news is focused on their behavior when it is bad, not good.  To be certain, there must be a least a few men (and women) who exhibit good behavior in both of those industries, but we don’t hear much about them unless you do a little research.

Unfortunately, our culture is obsessed with the idea of the hypocrite.  Men who speak out against immoral behavior are carefully observed to see if they are walking the walk, or just talking the talk.  And when one man is captured by the temptations he faces, the world is quick to pounce and shout, “Hypocrite!”  Sadly, this shouting beats back any serious discussion of the behavior and whether or not it is actually immoral.  Instead, we are lead to assume that the behavior that was considered to be immoral by this man was really, in fact, just a lifestyle “choice” and it isn’t necessary to decry it as immoral because there is no such thing as an absolute standard by which to measure morality.

Then again, Paul warns us of the importance of setting an example that is good.  At the conclusion of the seventh verse, Paul instructs us to “show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned.”  So, the poor bloke who spoke up about immoral behavior and then succumbs to it in the end, learns Paul’s lesson the hard way.  Being filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18b, NIV) is the only way to live a life that comes as close to pure as we can while living in the sinful, earthly vessels we call our bodies.

It is a goal of the Christian to be above reproach and to live a life of speaking and doing all good things in advance of the message of the good news of Jesus Christ.  The goal is notable because by living the way God intended through faith in Christ, we might silence the critics of the faith for they will not have anything bad to say about the faith because of what we do.  Hence, self-control is paramount to the lives we lead as believers.

The good news is that our behavior does not change who God is and what He plans to do for us.  I can strive to live as Paul has instructed me in his letter to Titus, but it is still God who will complete the work.  Self-control is not just a response to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, but the act of yielding to the presence of the Spirit who will then direct my life on the path of God’s perfect will.

MW

Next Page »