how faith devotes us

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I am concluding my series based on the book of Titus today.  Titus is an epistle, and we have seen that its words were first written by Paul to Titus as a sort-of instruction manual for the missions assignment in Crete.  Titus was a younger missionary, and Crete was a hard place to plant the church, so Titus needed all the help and encouragement he could get.

In his epistle, Paul described what the church should be in that hostile environment.  He described church members who were disciplined so that they set the standard for the community around them, and devoted to Christ and the gospel, so that the Cretens would know where the difference came from.

Here is my translation of Titus 3:

1 Keep reminding them to be submissive to their rulers and authorities, to obey them, to be ready to do every good work, 2 to insult no one, to be a non-combatant, to be gentle, and to demonstrate consideration of all people. 3 Because we ourselves were once stupid, disobedient, led astray, slaves to our lusts and various pleasures, spending our lives by being mean and envious, hateful, hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness appeared from our Saviour God, 5 it appeared, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, 7 so that having been declared not guilty by his grace we might become heirs, confident of inheriting eternal life. 8 The word is trustworthy, and I intend for you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are good and profitable for people. 9 But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, arguments, and fights about the law, because they are unprofitable and useless.  10 As for a person who causes division, after warning him once and twice, refuse to participate with him, 11 since we know that such a person has been warped and is being sinful; he is self-condemned. 12 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, put forth your best effort to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Put forth your best effort to support and send Zenas the lawyer and Apollos; so that neither of them lacks the resources to join me. 14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so they can bring relief in these urgent cases, and not be unproductive. 15 The ones who are with me send greetings to you. Greet our friends in the faith. Grace be with you all.   (Tit. 3:1-15 JDV)

Slide3Just as he did in chapter two, Paul sets the foundation for Titus’ ministry assignment in the gospel message itself.  Nothing that Paul instructs Titus to do is arbitrary.  Everything is based on what God had already done for us in Christ.  Notice the elements of the gospel message here. In theological terms, incarnation, justification, regeneration and sanctification are all works of grace and they are the foundation of the church’s ministry.

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Now, notice what Paul says the church in Crete should be doing because of what God in his grace had done for them.  The faith that was given by God’s grace should produce a change in inner character and outer relationships.

Even in an environment known for its abuse of authority, Titus was to teach the Cretan believers to submit to those very authorities and obey them.  The reason had nothing to do with the worthiness of the authorities.  It had to do with the task of the church: to demonstrate God’s grace among the unbelievers.  This was the reason that Christ submitted to the earthly authorities.

Also, in a world where you have to look out for number one or you will be stomped on, Titus was to teach the Cretan believers to be considerate and kind to others.  Just like Jesus, who went out of his way to minister to the poor and marginalized, the church was to demonstrate God’s grace by being considerate of and kind to the unbelievers.

When it came top their relationships with each other, the church in Crete was to avoid division and promote unity.  This was another way that they were to stand out among the various brawling groups in Crete.

We could all use a character makeover in the direction of mutual submission, consideration and unity.  But this is especially true for members of Christ’s church, because that is how we demonstrate God’s grace within our context.

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But let’s not forget the final words of Paul here in Titus.  I know we need to be careful not to read too much doctrine into the travel arrangements that Paul is making for his fellow missionaries.  But I see it as especially significant that Paul slipped so naturally into this subject while he was talking about demonstrating God’s grace as a church.

The missions mandate is present in every gospel presentation.  It is part of every believer’s job description.  The church is made up of those who serve as missionaries, those who send missionaries, and those who support the missionaries and missions work.

  • The servers particularly implied or listed in this chapter are Paul, Titus, Artemas, Tychicus, Zenas and Apollos.
  • The senders particularly implied or listed in this chapter are Paul and Titus.
  • The supporters are Titus and the Cretan believers, whom Paul calls “our people” (14) and “our friends in the faith” (15).

Our church has a long history of missions involvement. We have those who have served, senders, and supporters.  Jesus commissioned his apostles to make disciples of all nations, and we understand that commission as extending down to each disciple and each church.  Our faith directs us into a relationship with God, and also devotes us to reaching others with the gospel.

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So, there you have it.  The little book of Titus in the New Testament.  It turns out to be more significant that we might have thought.  It challenges us to confirm what we believe by living up to the gospel, and by sharing it with others.

how faith disciplines us

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This sermon series is based on Paul’s letter to Titus. Paul was writing as a missionary who was overseeing the churches in Crete. He wrote to Titus, because Titus was the missionary Paul had left in Crete to finish the work of establishing the church groups there. The whole idea of establishing and perfecting a church work suggests that our faith is supposed to change us. I wanted to use the letter to Titus as a model to talk about how being people of faith should change us.

Today we are going to look at a section of the letter which describes what Titus was responsible to do.

Titus 1:5-16

5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you- 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. 10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

TITUS’ JOB DESCRIPTION

Titus was not a local pastor hired by the believers in Crete to preach sermons and manage their church’s ministries. He was a missionary, appointed by Paul, and under Paul’s direction. In verse five, we see what Paul had left Titus in Crete for.

…so that you might put what remained into order,

and appoint elders in every town …(5).

Titus had two basic functions as a missionary. He was responsible to straighten out the things in the churches which were disorderly, and dysfunctional. He was also responsible to develop leaders who would lead the church groups which were being formed in every town. As the gospel spread throughout the island, more and more groups were being formed, and these groups were going to need local leadership. Titus was not responsible to preach every message, and lead every group. If Titus did his job well, he would make himself redundant.

THE ELDERS’ JOB DESCRIPTION

There are a lot of good studies of the qualification lists for elders like we see here in Titus and also in Paul’s letters to Timothy. I wrote one myself and used it to train pastors in the Philippines. There is another recent one written by my friend Geoff Paynter who lives on the South Island. He wrote his to train church elders in Africa. Usually these studies focus on the moral qualities and leadership skills needed to lead churches and serve in church ministries. The lists do focus on those moral qualities and leader skills. But notice what Paul said was the function of these elders once appointed to lead church groups:

… so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine,

and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (9).

Paul’s primary concern was not that Titus pick out some good moral people with good leadership skills, and just turn the church over to them. No, Paul had planted the church in Crete by bringing people the gospel message. Paul wanted to protect the gospel from being replaced by some other teaching. Paul was confident that if a church keeps preaching the gospel of Christ crucified, then it would stay strong and keep leading people to Christ. But Paul was also aware that something else could happen at Crete. The wrong doctrine preached could lead to the wrong kind of elders being appointed.

FALSE AND TRUE ELDERS CONTRASTED

Notice the way Paul contrasts those who are false elders with those who are true elders.

False elders

 

True elders

 

  • upsetting whole families (11)
  • devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth (14)
  • They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works (16).

 

  • … hospitable,
  • a lover of good,
  • self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. (8).

 

 

  • False elders destroy families by inciting people to divide over doctrinal differences. But true elders are peacemakers. They help to stabilize families.
  • False elders focus on insignificant trivial differences. True elders devote themselves to what is good for everyone.
  • False elders tell one thing and show another. True elders live self-controlled lives. They have been disciplined by their faith.

That brings me back to the title of today’s message: “how faith disciplines us.” Paul expected Titus to find and train and appoint elders to take over the leadership of all the new groups being formed on Crete. Where did he expect to get those true elders from? There was no bible college or seminary on Crete. He had no denominational recruiter with a list of vetted ministry professionals from which he could pick his choices. No, Paul expected the church itself to produce its own leaders. By focusing on preaching the gospel of God’s grace demonstrated by Christ crucified, a church should automatically produce next generation’s leaders. I’m not saying that there is no need for intensive training. But I am saying we should stop using these qualification lists as disqualification lists. Look in your heart. Is your faith genuine? If your faith is genuine, you have what you need to lead someone else to genuine faith. Let that genuine faith discipline you into the kind of person you should be, then dare to lead others into that same kind of genuine faith!

how faith defines us

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Titus 1:1-4 From Paul, servant of God, and missionary sent by Jesus Christ, representing the faith of God’s chosen ones, and the awareness of the truth which godliness brings; 2 In hope of eternal life, which God (who is free from deceit) promised before the ages began; 3 But he has revealed that promise in our own times through preaching, a task which has been handed over to me by order of God our Saviour; 4 To Titus, a legitimate child representing that shared faith: Grace, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.

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I’m starting a new series of messages today based on Paul’s little letter to Titus.

Titus is not mentioned in the book of Acts, but he is mentioned 13 times in Paul’s letters, which leads me to assume that he was a trusted and valuable member of Paul’s missionary team.

Given what Paul says about the inhabitants of Crete in the letter to Titus, he had his hands full. The Cretans had a reputation of being untrustworthy, lazy, and scoundrels who lacked self-control. In fact they actually had a Greek word kretidzo, which was formed from the name. The word meant to lie. So, the Gentile inhabitants of Crete were going to be hard for Titus to deal with.

But there’s more. The Jewish population at Crete was apparently infested with teachers of that false doctrine that had given Paul so much trouble in Galatia and Rome. Paul called them the troublers. So you had former pagans having trouble living like Christians in a non-Christian culture, and you also had people who were teaching them that they had to become more Jewish to be blessed by God, which goes against the gospel of salvation by grace.

On top of all that, there was a scarcity of leaders in a growing church community. Titus had to find appropriate leaders for churches on the island, train them, and appoint them to head those churches, and he had a limited time to do it. Titus had what you might call a high stress/ high pressure mission.

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So, what can we learn from this little letter – one of the last to be written by the apostle Paul? I’m assuming that Crete was a kind of test case. Titus’ mission was to see if the gospel, and faith in Christ – would work there. Can a community with so many problems actually change simply by believing and living the gospel message? Can the Christian faith change us? Those are the questions I want to ask as we examine the message of Titus in this series.

My hypothesis is that faith can change us. No matter who we are, no matter what our background, no matter how many mistakes we have made in the past, no matter how many questions we have today, faith in Christ can transform us individually and as a community.

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From these first few lines of Paul’s letter we get the impression that the Cretans’ faith in the gospel had already begun to change them. I think this community had put their faith in Christ, and that faith had begun to redefine them as a people. That’s where it can begin with our community as well.

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FAITH DEFINES US BY MAKING US AWARE OF THE TRUTH

Paul sometimes says things that are really quite profound, and if we are not careful we will miss them. This is an example. He uses all the words that we would expect, except he puts them in the wrong order. We might expect Paul to say that recognizing the truth leads to faith and faith leads to godliness. But what Paul says in verse 1 is that both faith and the awareness of truth are the result of godliness. Many miss this fact, and never get real faith or confidence that they know the truth.

It all starts not with a confession of faith, but a commitment to godly living. Submitting to the Lordship of Christ leads to obedience to his commands. The results of that obedience are faith and awareness of the truth. So, if you are struggling with your faith in Christ, there is an answer. That answer is obey what he taught. The resulting godliness with empower your faith and solve your truth issues.

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FAITH DEFINES US BY GIVING US HOPE BEYOND TODAY

Today is a problem for everyone, because none of us totally live up to our own expectations, and we never completely get what we want. But the secret of the Christian life is that there is hope beyond today. That hope rests on the foundation of the faithfulness of God, who promised to make us his everlasting children.

If your faith rests on what is happening in your life today, you are on shaky ground. Because even if you are having a good day, you know it won’t last. You know the other shoe is going to drop, and failure is just around the corner.

But if your faith rests not on your today, but on what God promises for your tomorrow, that faith is based on him, not you. So, even if you are having a bad day, God remains faithful, and you can still end the day encouraged.

You just have to keep telling yourself that God is faithful, and he is not a liar. What he promised is what is going to happen.

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FAITH DEFINES US BY GIVING US PURPOSE FOR TODAY

I like the way Paul narrows the focus of his life and ministry, making it a very simple matter. Reading about Paul in the book of Acts and his epistles, we realise that he had a very important role in the establishment of the early church. He was a missionary, and planted churches all over the known world of his time. He brought around him a large group of missionaries, and put them to work on that same missions task. Titus was one of the members of his team. He trained many of those people, and he oversaw their ministries, as is made clear by epistles like Titus and 1 & 2 Timothy.

But Paul described himself as a preacher. He did not allow the complicated nature of what he did to confuse him as to his purpose. Paul found his purpose in preaching the Gospel. The details as to how he would do it were going to lead him to do what he did. But his purpose was always in the back of his mind. That kept him going when it became no longer possible for him to do this or that. His faith defined him as a preacher. When he could no longer go and preach, then he would write and preach.

Every one of us has to find our purpose, and for each of us it will be different. Ask yourself, what is it that God wants you to do, no matter what. Then, find a way to do it.

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FAITH DEFINES US BY REWRITING OUR PAST

Notice that Paul describes Titus as a legitimate child. Why would he say that? It could be that Titus was not a physical legitimate child, so Paul described him as a spiritual legitimate child. Titus could not change what he was. But his faith in Christ did change what he had become. If I’m reading that right, it makes sense for Paul to send Titus to Crete. His ministry there would be a demonstration of how God can take a messed-up life and make it special and godly and beautiful.

That’s something that faith can do for us. Each of us has things about our life that we regret. But a life focused on Christ, obeying and preaching his word – can rewrite our past. It can turn our past ugliness into something nice and desirable. It can heal our hurts and use them to heal the hurts of others.

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Each of us has a choice. We do not have a choice about all the challenges and difficulties that we face. They are here, and here to stay until Jesus returns. But we do have a choice as to what we allow to define us. We can be defined by our fears or our faith. In Titus, we are challenged to let our faith in Christ define who we are.

We are… seeking to live out his teaching

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We have been exploring some biblical texts that line up with our vision and mission statement as a church. Here at Takanini Community Church we describe ourselves as “an open family of believers seeking to follow Jesus Christ and live out His teaching while we watch for his return.”

Today’s text helps to clarify what we mean when we talk about living out Christ’s teachings. It is found in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 6 and verses 46-49.

46 “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? 47 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. 48 It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against the house, it stands firm because it is well built. 49 But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”

In the last text we looked at in this series, we saw what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ. We saw four men on a beach being challenged to let Jesus change them into fishers of men. We saw a large crowd bringing all the broken people they could find to Jesus, so that he could heal them.

We can naturally pick up from those images, and see another aspect of the gospel message in today’s text. Reading the larger context, we see that Jesus had prayed all night on a mountain. When he came down to a level place, he then called the twelve whom he was training as missionaries. Joining them was a large crowd of other disciples, and an even larger crowd of people from all over the surrounding regions, and they had brought all the people with something wrong with them for Jesus to fix. So, there were four groups in all, interacting with Jesus: the twelve apostles, the larger group of disciples, the even larger crowds watching, and the people being helped. The message Jesus taught was directed to all four groups. It was a message about being authentic in one’s Christian walk.

Now, consider this: of all the people in all the groups I just mentioned, no one doubted that Jesus was real. They brought crippled people to him, and he healed them. They brought people attacked by demons and after Jesus did his thing, those people left with their lives back under control. Jesus was the evidence of his own genuineness. But, what about the Christians? What was to be the evidence of their authenticity?

Here is where you will find some differences in answers depending on who you ask. Some Christians come from a background that teaches them to expect God to always heal the sick and do other supernatural things as the sign that their faith is real. I do not doubt God’s power to heal at all. Neither do I doubt that the Holy Spirit gifts certain Christians with supernatural healing gifts, or manifests his power through some other kind of miracle. But I’m not one of those Christians who comes from a background where we always expect God to do that. When I look carefully at this text, I see Jesus authenticating who he is by his miracles. But he teaches the apostles and disciples to authenticate who they are some other way. We Christians authenticate ourselves by living out his teaching – by doing what he commanded us to do.

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Jesus had noticed that there were many who had professed faith in him, and even owned him as their Lord, but their confession had not produced any obedience. There are some groups that emphasize God’s election so much that it sometimes seems like they are saying what you do does not matter. But what you do does matter. It matters to Jesus. Those he chooses choose to obey him. Simply claiming that Jesus is your Lord puts you in the latter two groups, not in the former two groups. Those in the latter two groups have had some awareness of who Jesus is and what he can do. They may even have had some experience of him. He may have even healed them or delivered them from demons. But simple awareness or even a simple experience is not enough. The question Jesus asked challenged them to seal their commitment by becoming part of group two: the larger group of disciples. He had given a number of commands in his gospel sermons. He expected those who were really sincere about calling him Lord to start obeying those commands.

The message for us today is that professing faith is still not enough. We can say we are Christians all we want. We can even attend Christian services, listen to Christian music, back Christian political candidates, and put a fish sticker on our car’s back bumper. Still not enough. So, what is enough? That’s what Jesus teaches here. A life of obedience demonstrates authentic Christianity.

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Jesus describes that life of obedience by comparing our lives to a house built on the solid foundation of a rock. He talks about floodwaters rising and breaking against that house and – nothing happens. In the simile that Jesus is using here, you can tell an authentic Christian life because the trials and troubles which destroy the lives of others cause no destruction in the true Christian’s life. The evidence is … nothing. No cracks, no leaks, no landslides, no roof caving in, no disintegration. The evidence is a lack of negative evidence.

But do not forget the reality that we saw first. Simply professing Christ as your Lord is not the same thing as building your life of the rock. There is only one way to build a Christian life. It is not having good Christian parents. It is not having a good Christian education. It is not learning a solid Christian theology. All of these are good things, but neither is the thing that Jesus identified as building one’s house on a rock. Building my life on the rock is learning and obeying the teachings of Jesus.

The apostles who wrote the epistles of the New Testament picked up on this same building analogy to teach their churches how to live authentically as Christians.

  • — “let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up” (Romans 14:19).
  • — “We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord” (Romans 15:2).
  • — “ (Equipping ministers’ ) responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).
  • — “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
  • — “But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith” (Jude 1:20).

What I find most significant about the way the New Testament epistles read Jesus’ teaching about building our lives is that they all describe the process that Christians do for each other. We’re not used to thinking of it quite like that. I think of building my own life on the rock, and I tend to think of obeying Christ’s teachings personally, remaining pure, not being hypocritical, staying personally devoted to the Bible, etc. But the apostles understood that Jesus actually gave very few commands that his followers can obey individually. In fact, it is in the laboratory of community living that we will find the most challenges to our desire to live out his teachings. So, that is one reason why Christ taught his disciples to form churches. It is in the context of church, family, society where we can build our lives into something stable that will outlast whatever destruction comes our way.

clip_image008Of course, there is a cosmic, future, ultimate sense in which Jesus’ illustration applies as well. The ultimate challenge that we all face is our own mortality. The ultimate floods that sweep down on the house are age and disease, accident or violence. If the atheists are right, and there is no God, we all just die. But if Jesus was right, and God exists, there is a solution to the death problem. Jesus taught in many different ways that there is hope for a second life, an eternal life. How do we guarantee that we will make it into the right side of the judgment? Answer: the same thing we do to authenticate our Christian profession: living out his teachings.

 

 

 

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We have committed ourselves as a church to learning Jesus’ teachings, and applying them to our lives as individuals and as a Christian community. We want to build each other up into a building that will survive the disasters of this life, and make it into the future life. You are invited to join us. We are an open family: there’s always room for more. But if you are serious about joining us, you have to know that we do not compromise the teachings of Jesus. Living out those teachings is the building process itself.

 

Jefferson Vann

Takanini Community Church

Auckland, New Zealand

full-time work

July 2015 (8)“Our commitment to follow Jesus is not like the decision to join a casual club. We are not just members who join by being baptised, pay our annual membership fee and then watch the professionals do the work. No, the Christian life requires letting Jesus change us so that we accomplish what he wants. And it also requires of us all that we make it our full-time work to find ways of bringing the broken in our community to Christ.” –Jefferson Vann