Friday, December 30, 2005

Another Seasonal Message: Titus 2

Remember what I said on Christmas Eve about finding things you never really noticed before when reading certain passages in particular seasons? Well, here's another! In fact, it first came to light to me on Christmas Eve at the Communion service in the Cathedral, but these past few days I have been reading the Epistle to Titus, and it has struck me again, just what this current season of Christmas is all about.

Yet, while the Christmas Gospel in the particular set of readings from the Revised Common Lectionary we used on Saturday night don't really set the verses in context, we'll deal with them in context here. But first, a bit of background.

Paul is writing to Titus, as he also wrote to Timothy, leaving some encouragement, as well as instruction to those who will carry on the work of the gospel, in terms of preaching and teaching, and overseeing the church. Titus is in Crete (1:5) to appoint elders. But he is also to teach certain things to certain people, and the early part of chapter 2 details what each group needs to hear, in order to live a good and holy life. I find this particularly interesting, because an older Christian I respect always argued that there was no place for a children's talk in a church meeting or service, because they should listen to the sermon and find teaching in it. Yet here, in Titus 2:1-10, Paul outlines the specific ways of living, so that all people, whether older men or women, and younger men and women, as well as slaves can live 'what accords with sound doctrine' (2:1).

But there is a specific reason why we should live holy and godly lives: "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." (Titus 2:11-14, ESV)

We should live holy lives because Jesus has redeemed us to be his holy people, as we wait on the appearing of his glory. So as in all the Epistles, we find the ethical instruction, not just for its own good, but rather, as a direct result of the theological implications of the Gospel. It is just like the 'Therefore' at Romans 12:1.

So at this Christmas period, we find in this reading both the Advent hope, and the Christmas message. The blessed hope of Jesus' second coming, when his glory will appear, which we have been thinking about for those weeks of Advent. But also the great news that the grace of God has come, bringing salvation for all people. This salvation, however, means that there's going to have to be changes within us - changes that can only come about through the gospel, and the Holy Spirit working through us - as He trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions. As Paul says elsewhere: 'and such were some of you' (1 Corinthians 6:11). Each of us have lived for ourselves too long, revelling in ungodliness and in worldly passions. The Spirit trains us to turn our backs on them.

Yet there's something I have noticed more and more recently in Timothy and Titus. And this is that where there is an instruction to flee from something, then there will come a corresponding instruction to flee towards something (for example, in 2 Timothy 2:22, 'Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness')- and here we find it again! When we are being trained to turn away from ungodliness and worldly passions, we are also being encouraged to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives' (2:12). This is because Jesus, who was born in the stable of Bethlehem, who grew up to die on the cross of Calvary, who is seated at the right hand of the Father, this Jesus is coming again to gather this people of his own possession who are zealous for good works.

May we all find salvation in the Babe of Bethlehem, the Lamb of God, the King and Judge, and so flee from ungodliness and live holy and righteous lives as we wait with the blessed hope for His coming again! Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.

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