Monday, March 16, 2009

Sermon: Titus 1: 5-9 Christian Leaders

I wonder if you’ve ever been to Crete. It’s an island in the Mediterranean Sea, and the holiday brochures look great. With white beaches and stunning mountains, you can see why someone would go there on holiday.

Tonight we’re continuing our study in the letter of Paul to Titus, and as we see, Titus is not there for a holiday. As we found last week, Titus is a younger colleague of Paul’s, involved in preaching the good news of Jesus and leading the church in that place. From the start of tonight’s reading, it’s clear what the task of Titus is. ‘This is why I left you in Crete, that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.’ (v. 5)

So Titus is to appoint church leaders. What should he be looking for in prospective leaders? And for us – what should we be looking for in church leaders, both current, and future? Well, as we’ll see, the important things to look for in church leaders link in with the overall theme of the letter to Titus: Truth which accords with godliness. (1:1)

So as we look at our passage tonight, we’ll see that church leaders must hold to the truth, and also must have a life of godliness. But just before we get into that, a quick reminder of just who church leaders are. Look at verse 7. ‘For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach.’ So the church leader, in whatever role, (here the words elder and overseer/bishop refer to the same people), is a steward of God. It’s the position of responsibility over a household, the chief servant – illustrations that help us to see that Christian leadership isn’t about lording it over people, but about following in the example of the Lord Jesus in humble service.

So what should Christian leaders look like? First, we’ll look at their knowledge of the truth, then we’ll look at the accompanying godliness. So what of the truth in their lives?

Verse 9 shows us clearly. ‘He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught.’ You see, the leader is not free to make up his own doctrine, or to invent new things to teach about God and the gospel. There is the ‘trustworthy word’ – the authentic, authoritative word of the gospel, passed on by Jesus and the apostles to faithful men who have passed it on to us. We have the trustworthy word in the Scriptures – as Paul says, the trustworthy word as taught. We can only trust the words of the Bible, the authentic teaching about the Lord Jesus.

So many supposedly Christian leaders are departing from the trustworthy word, and their people suffer.

The leader then, in particular, must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught. Holding firm – I was visiting a house this week, and a wee dog came and grabbed the front of my shoe, and it held on firm! It wasn’t going to let go! Or think of someone who has slipped from a balcony, holding firm to the edge – to do otherwise is to perish.

Yet, as we see from the rest of the verse, it’s not just holding firm to the Scriptures in order to pass a ‘soundness test’ or a doctrine exam. No, it’s in order to do two connected things. First, to give instruction in sound doctrine; and second to rebuke those who contradict it. Next week we’ll see just why the need for holding firm and rebuking was so vital, with false teachers on Crete.

Remember that the theme of the letter is truth and godliness. This is just as much necessary in Christian leaders, who will then be able to lead and help the rest of the church to progress in these matters. We see the concern with godliness in verses 6 to 8. Each verse neatly breaks down the matter of godliness for prospective leaders into three areas – home, negatives, and positives.

Starting with home, then, verse 6. ‘If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery and insubordination.’ That ‘above reproach’ doesn’t mean that Christian leaders are perfect. Far from it – if the bar for leadership was perfection, then there would be no leaders! But what it does mean is that there could be no accusations against the person. You’ll see it repeated in verse 7, but first what would no accusations mean in home life? Well, he would be faithful to his wife, if married, and his family will be believers. Why is this? Well, the church is a family, albeit bigger than our individual families. As Paul writes to Timothy, ‘for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?’ (1 Tim 3:5).

We’ve already noticed the start of verse 7, and again we see the words ‘must be above reproach’. What does it mean for the church leader’s conduct to be above reproach? Paul outlines five negatives, and then six positives.

‘He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain.’ As we look at this list, it’s probably very easy to see why these qualities would not be useful for those in the teacher-pastor role of leadership. It might be easy to be arrogant if we hold the truth, but it will not help the proclamation of that truth. In pastoring people, it’s not a good idea to be quick-tempered or violent – disastrous things may result! Similarly, the drunkard’s dependence is not on God, but on something else – in this case the bottle. And finally, some may see leadership as a way to gain financially. Do you see how these various features are all about putting self first – my opinions, my anger, my addictions, my fists, my pocket. And all stem from a lack of self-control.

As we scan the other list, verse 8, the positive qualities to look for in Christian leaders, we see the opposite of self first. In contrast to the lack of self-control, we find it twice here, being ‘self-controlled and disciplined.’ This putting of others first also shows up in being hospitable (willing to open your home and life), and in being a lover of good. The last two words speak of being upright and holy. Upright is in terms of being honest in your dealings with people, and holy is the word for devout in your attitude to God.

So what do we do with our passage tonight? If you’re already in church leadership (and I’m speaking to myself here as much as anyone else), then are these qualities developing all the more? How is your knowledge of the truth and your godliness growing?

If you’re considering Christian leadership soon or at some point in the future, then are these qualities evident in your life?

But maybe you’ve been sitting back thinking, well, all that’s well and good, but I’m never going to be in leadership. I’ve no intention, and therefore it all doesn’t apply to me. Friends, there is still much to respond to here in the passage. First, be praying for those who lead – that they will hold firm in the midst of temptations and pressures from lots of sources. Also pray for those who are considering leadership, and for those who make the selections.

But also vitally important to recognise is this: truth and godliness is not just the reserve of the rector and the curate. It’s not just a thing for the Select Vestry. It’s not just for the keen people who turn up to everything. Knowledge of the truth and godliness of the leaders is important, precisely as they can lead the Christians in the church to follow the same path.

In a few weeks time we’ll see that in practice for all members of the church, in chapter 2. So even now I’ll challenge you – as the leaders seek to grow in truth and godliness, are you also growing?

There’s a section of the ordination service, which I want to finish with this evening: ‘Because none of us can bear the weight of this ministry in our own strength, but only by the grace and power of God, let us pray earnestly for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on these persons. Let us pray also that God will each day enlarge and enlighten their understanding of the Scriptures, so that they may grow stronger and more mature in their ministry, as they fashion their lives and the lives of the people they serve on the word of God.’

There’s that double emphasis on truth and godliness. Even so, let us pray!

Discussion Questions

1. What does Paul mean by requiring elders to be above reproach? Why is this so important?

2. Is the quality of life expected of church leaders in the public eye too high or too low? Do we expect more from them than the ‘normal’ Christian? Why?

3. What does it mean to hold firm to the trustworthy word?

This sermon was preached at Sundays at 6.30 in St Elizabeth's Halls, Dundonald on Sunday evening 15th March, 2009, continuing our new series in the Letter to Titus.

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