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The Titus Series: A Vision of Ecclesia


The passage we read in Titus this evening falls into the third sermon in our series on Titus. Therefore, I will start with a quick recap of the first two sermons dealing with chapter one. Paul's purpose for writing the letter to Titus, his assistant on the Island of Crete, is to instruct Titus and the Cretan Christians in the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness so that they will not be unfruitful. That is, he passionate that they will come to know the full truth about Christ Jesus, their saviour and through this truth become like him. Living a godly life rather than a wasted life. Titus had a battle on his hands in Crete as many false teachers of Jewish extraction were attempting to sway the Churches away from the truth. Paul told Titus to make every effort to muzzle them and encouraged him to stand bravely with sound doctrine teaching. Titus had the task of appointing elders in Crete and Paul gave him a clear portrait of what an elder should look like.

“he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.”1:8

These are not qualities exclusively for prospective elders but these qualities are expressions of godliness in a person who knows the truth and so are qualities we should all aim to replicate.

So having instructed Titus for his task to appoint elders and having warned him against the work of the false teachers Paul now intends to lay out what kind of Church Titus should be aiming towards in his work on Crete. Paul intends to explain what a Church fellowship will look like if they are filled with the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness. Such a church Paul says will Adorn the gospel and not let it be reviled, it will be submissive and self-controlled. It will live in the present knowing the past and the future and it will have a zeal for good works.

This evening we are going to catch a glimpse of Paul's vision of such a Church. We are going to take a look at the Church through the Apostles eyes and in the processes, I hope, take a look at our own Church, as a whole body, the Church of Scotland and our individual fellowships. Does this Church reflect Paul's vision? And we may ask ourselves, do we really have a place in such a Church?

Paul says in verse 10 that the Church of his vision will

“make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.”2:10

and will give no-one the excuse to

“malign the word of God.” 2:5

That is, the purpose of this Church will be that in every action, in every effort they will be seen to be blameless, that their reputation both individually and as a body will be highly respected so that those who encounter them will consider the beliefs which their actions are built upon to be wonderful.

Such respectability was a highly sought after commodity in the 1st century world. Business interactions were based on trustworthiness and often clientèle would only be seen by referral from other clients who had proven to be trustworthy. Those on the higher rung of the ladder were unreachable by those on the lower rungs unless they were given a hand up. In Crete especially, where all were considered lier's, as Paul tells us in the previous chapter, trustworthiness was a rare and remarkable thing. Minor religious groups were held under special suspicion, as many Romans considered such cults, groups of rabble rouser's with malicious intent. The early Christians were considered such a cult by many who thought that they practised cannibalism, a misunderstanding of the Lord's supper and incest as married Christian men and women seemed to call one another brother and sister. They met quietly in members houses and who knew what went on beyond those doors? In the first century the Christian cult was treated at best with casual suspicion and at worst with persecution, hatred and detest. Therefore, it was very difficult for the Christians to evangelise to those with such attitudes. Their witness was hindered by the public's perception. When I was preparing this sermon I wondered. Has anything changed today? How do the general public view us? In the vast majority of countries Christianity is no longer thought of as a cult which practices cannibalism and incest. People are a little less ignorant of what goes on beyond these Church doors. However, I'm sure that our witness for Christ is still hindered by the general public perception of the Church.

I don't know if many of you are watching the series on channel four called The Bible: A History. Its presented by the former MP Anne Widdecombe, who is a professing catholic. The episode this last week was on the ten commandments and there influence on modern day national law. Anne Widdecombe can be a bit stuffy but I thought she presented the Bibles teaching on morality and ethics pretty well and made a good argument for why we should be continuing to implement them in modern day law. That was my opinion, however I went on the channel four website and found that not everyone held my view. I'm going to read you an except from a review on the show by a lady called Sarah. I think her words reflect how many people perceive the Church and Christian believers.

“I thought this episode of The Bible was extremely poor, badly-handled, and prejudiced. Ann Widdecombe displayed such ignorance towards any different viewpoint except her own, and put forth the same age-old assumption that all believers- and all Christian believers- are perfect, and the only ones who know right from wrong, and that all atheists, people of different religions, and people like me who are spiritual but not religious, are evil, immoral, silly, shallow, and lacking in morals. What right does she have to judge like that? Has she met every person, in the entire world, who is not a Christian? Has she seen concrete evidence that every last person who's not religious is a bad person, who doesn't know right from wrong? And if Ann Widdecombe blames all the ills of today's society on a lack of religion, then who does she blame for the child abuse scandals that have shook the Catholic Church to the core, for the Magdalene laundries, the industrial schools, and all the things that have had such an impact in Ireland today. And have any of the priests or church members, or the Pope himself, apologised for any of this? Of course not- they're still going on about homosexuality, abortion, and unbelievers, as if they were the worst problems in society. How can anyone still stand by this church- or by any denomination- when it has treated people this way?”

-SARAH

Like I said I don't think Sarah is the only one who has such a scathing perception of the Church and Christian believers. There are many in today's society who are actively anti-christian. Stephen Fry the famous actor and comedian is one who scathingly attacks the church for being full of;

“fatuous bishops, pompous, illiberal and ignorant priests, politicians and prelates, sanctimonious censors, self-appointed moralists and busy-bodies”

and he considers the bible to be outdated and prejudiced. Whether, you are willing to accept the wisdom of Stephen Fry or such an appraisal of Christians and the Church it is obvious that such a perception runs all the way through society.

Is that really surprising? Should this shock us? Christ himself told us that many persecutions would come and Paul warned Titus in this very letter about such false teachers who would deny the gospel. It doesn't worry me that the Church has its critics. It doesn't scare me that we are often the brunt of persecution and ridicule. The Gospel is life to those who are saved and utter foolishness to the world. No. What is really disturbing is that so often such critics are given every right to voice such opinions by Christians. The Church seems to be intent on providing fuel for the fire on which it is being torched. Sarah, has every reason to feel angered and aggrieved by the child abuse scandals that have often reared their head within the Church. Stephen Fry has no end of examples of illiberal and ignorant priests and ministers may I add. You don't need to dig deep beneath the skin of the Church today to find a rotten core.

In our own body Church of Scotland there are elders and ministers who have openly committed adultery without recognition of wrong-doing or repentance and have not been removed from their posts. There are ministers who open the word of God and proclaim justification of sin rather than salvation for the sinner. The current situation in the Church of Scotland is summed up in those words. Don't let anyone tell you it is purely about a man's sexual feelings for another man. It is about how we define sin and salvation. Do we define it by what we think is right and wrong, do we take a stab in the dark, can we dethrone God and make man's heart king? Or do we trust the word of God alone, do we rely on the master of the universe to instruct us, do we need a Saviour? I will say this bravely cause I am only a student minister and can be brushed easily aside, our Church is rotten to the core.

And so, with such a justifiable public perception of the Church, how can our witness for Christ be effective!? The answer is it cannot be. This is not Paul's vision of a Church that adorns the gospel. Instead we dress it in rags and throw it to the dogs. It is a mournful sorrow that the glorious gospel of Christ or saviour is treated in such a way by those who claim to belief in it.

This the state of our witness as part of the wider body of the Church of Scotland, however, I am glad to say it is not reflected by us here as part of the Churches we represent although I cannot speak for you individually. If you feel a conviction that your life has not adorned the gospel or simply need a reminder of how to do so, Paul is ready to tell you.

His message comes in two key words. Submit and self-control. Paul uses the word self-controlled four times in this passage v2,5,6,12 and the word submissive (translated in the NIV as subject to, but rightly understood as submitting to.) he uses three times v5,9,3:1. Lets look at each one of the uses of these words and try to look through the eyes of the apostle Paul to see the type of people he envisions will make up the Church.

Firstly, lets look at the word self controlled. We see its first use in verse 2

“Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.”

We learn here that Paul wants older men in the Church who are worthy of respect. And for what reason are they worthy of such respect? Because they evidence self control in their lives. They demonstrate it in their conviction of true faith, their love towards God and man and their endurance in the hardships of life that would tempt them to doubt and despair. They are remarkable and steadfast role models. In the same way he wants older women who are of such blameless virtue that the younger women look up to them and come under their wing to learn how to practice such self-control. Paul wants the Church to look like a family, in which the younger members look up to and revere the older members. Valuing their experience that has come to express itself in godliness. Like earlier in the letter when Paul lays out the requirements for an elder, he places the bar almost unreasonably high. In verse 6 we read

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled”

Again I don't think this is best translated by the NIV. And if you think I am talking from ignorance your right, cause I don't have much training in biblical Greek. But the renowned commentator William Hendricksen agrees with me so it might be worth considering. He says that this verse should read;

“Similarly, urge the younger men to exercise self-control in every respect.”

As he considers what the NIV has as the beginning of v7 should be the end of v6. We can see the NIV have translated v9 in a similar way and I think this demonstrates Paul's intent more clearly. Paul does not allow for any area of life to be outside this command. He does not allow for our compromises. As this is a commandment specifically to men, I think we males should take a moment to realise just how stark it is. Every area of your life needs to be controlled by faith, love and endurance. I know that when daily I commit my life to Christ almost without exception it is not wholeheartedly, there is always something I will hold onto inspired by boyish immaturity or manly pride. There is a well known quote from a Catholic knight in the middle ages who had a desire to be baptised “all but my sword arm”. Christ can have every bit of me... apart from that bit that I'm keeping for myself. I'm sorry guys, that won't do. Paul's God given vision for the Church will not allow such half hearted sacrifice. Every aspect of our lives must be brought under his will. This is Paul's mantra for young men and let it be ours;

“Nothing in my hand I bring,

simply to the cross I cling;

naked, come to thee for dress;

helpless, look to thee for grace;

foul, I to the fountain fly;

wash me, Saviour, or I die.”

Attitude of self control is to be expressed in our relationship to God, our love for one another and our inner endurance in testing times.

In comparison Paul uses the word submit in reference to three relationships, that of a relationship of a wife to her husband, a slave to his master and the whole Church towards the state rulers and authorities. The first use of this word in verse 5 has caused much upset in the Christian Church in-fact only yesterday I found this article in a newspaper.

REV TELLS HIS FLOCK: WOMEN SHOULD SHUT IT!

A VICAR has been blasted by women parishioners for saying they should keep quiet and “submit to their husbands in everything”.

The Rev Angus MacLeay said they should “be silent” if questions could be answered by their husbands. In a leaflet for parishioners, he wrote: “Wives are to submit to their husbands in everything in recognition of the fact that husbands are head of the family as Christ is head of the church

Now we should consider that this newspaper has probably misrepresented this minister's words or almost certainly what he meant by them. Nevertheless it is certain that many women struggle to apply the word submission within marriage. I'm not going to try to justify Paul's use of the word here in his letter to Titus, rather I want to help us catch a glimpse of the vision Paul has for Church families.

Firstly, I think it is only responsible to recognise that the word submit is only used in the circumstance of self-control. That is Paul is calling married women to submit themselves to husbands who recognise their need for self-control. Such a husband who is loving, faithful and enduring should be responded to with submission from his wife. Paul is not saying a wife should submit to a drunken, violent, ungrateful pig. But rather that she should encourage her husband to become a model of self-control by submitting to him.

I hope that helps some of you to approach these words in a new light and perhaps Paul's vision of family life will be more attractive to you. If that is not the case however, I think it's important that we again realise Paul's purpose for such submission. In verse 5 it says;

[Wives are]“to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”

Like the command to be self-controlled, Paul wants wives to be submissive so that the word of God will be adorned. The family relationship between Christian husband and wife will be so attractive to the outside world that they will want to know the beliefs that inspired such love, faith and endurance. Therefore, if you struggle with the idea of submission within marriage. Please do feel free to wrestle with the scriptures and with God, asking with a humble heart how Christian marriage can best adorn his word. But do not bring his word into slander. Do not let it be reviled because of your personal uncomfort. Don't be like the women at this church in England who went to the papers fuming,

“I will not be going back and will have to seriously consider my faith if this is the nonsense they are spouting.”Another fumed: “We’re supposed to let our husbands talk for us and remain silent? What kind of medieval sermon is that?”

The word of God is too precious to be clothed in rags and thrown to the dogs.

The final two uses of the word submission can be grouped together. As we do not have any slavery in our society the first is not directly applicable, but the second;

“the people to be subject to rulers and authorities”

This can be directly applied to our society. Many in our society are so quick to slander and bad-mouth the authorities. Gordon Brown our God-appointed prime minister is so often, his name is so often dragged in the gutter. He is scape-goated for all our nations problems. Blamed for every hardship and difficulty. Paul wants his Church to leave such hypocritical nonsense to the heathens and instead to submit itself to rulers and authorities. And Paul is not talking about Christian authorities. He isn't talking about righteous, gracious and affectionate leaders. He is talking about the Roman government. Senators and governors who had no sense of justice, no care for those in need, no desire to produce a prosperous society for all. Paul wants the Church to submit to such rulers and authorities? Those authorities who persecuted the early Christian Church, who martyred the saints and who crucified the Son of God. Has Paul made a mistake? Perhaps, Paul's teeth are gritted as he give this command. However, it is clear to him that this is how it must be. This is the way God has chosen. We can see this in the example of Christ our LORD. Who v14

“who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness”.

Christ himself, demonstrated the ultimate in self control and submission by giving himself up to death, even death on a cross. He controlled himself by choosing to be our sacrificial lamb and he submitted himself to God and to the earthly authorities to do so. The Church is called to make such a sacrifice for the lost. Now please don't think I'm saying we should let authorities and rulers commit terrible injustices and simply sit back with hands tied. That's not what Bonhoeffer did when the Nazi's massacred thousands of Jews and Hitler lead his country into a horrific war. Christians must stand up against such atrocities. We must never let the weak suffer at the hands of the ungodly, we must make every effort to remove injustice in our world. However, the way Paul calls the Church to do this is by submitting itself to death, to sacrifice for the world itself like Christ sacrificed himself for us.

Finally, on this point I conclude. Paul's vision of the Church seems to be interrupted in verses 11-14. It's almost as if his is momentarily aroused from a dream by a question. What is the reason for such a Church to exist. What is its motivation to be submissive and self-controlled. What is the driving force behind this vision? Here is his answer in verses 11-14, which are really amazing verses of scripture, lets read them again.

“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 Saviour, 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.”.

Why is the Church to become like Paul envisions? Because it exists in the present knowing the past and the future. We as Christians know where we have come form. We have been saved by the grace of God v11 that has appeared to us through Christ Jesus. And we know where we are going to v13. We are awaiting a blessed hope of glory. A heavenly kingdom, in which we will be given an everlasting inheritance, an abundance of peace and joy and where there will be no-more pain, sorrow or anguish. And greatest of all we will meet our God and Saviour, Christ Jesus face to face. We know where we have come from, we know where we are going to therefore, v14, we should be eager to do what is good so that the gospel of God which has brought us salvation and everlasting life will be adorned and our world might give glory to God for such grace. Let the Church of Paul's vision be our Churches of today, by the power of God in our lives.