Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Sermon: Titus 1: 5-16 Entrusted with God's work

The summer holidays are on the horizon. But where to go? So you check out the websites, or you go into the travel agents; you look at the brochures; you ask your friends. Crete seems to be nice: warm and sunny, scenic and peaceful, so long as you stay away from the party capitals with drunken teenagers from the UK and Ireland. Titus, the person Paul is writing this letter to is on Crete, but he’s not there for a holiday. There’s work to be done.

After the introduction (Paul the apostle telling Titus his son and fellow worker about God’s promised eternal life and the truth that leads to godliness), we’re straight into Titus’ task.

‘The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.’ Titus is to appoint elders (also called overseers (bishops) in v7 - the same people). But what should you look for in a church leader? In the life of the church there are all sorts of leaders doing all sorts of things. What should we be looking for in the parish, in organisations, in vestry? As we’ll see, the important things to look for in church leaders link in with the overall theme of the letter to Titus: ‘the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness.’ (1:1)

The two must go together - truth and godliness. It’s not an either/or pick and mix. It must be both together, truth leading to godliness. First up, then, we see in verses 6-8 the quality of godliness. The word that sums it up is in those verses twice: blameless. Let me be the first to say that this doesn’t mean perfection. None of us are perfect. So if the standard was perfection, then we wouldn’t have any Christian leaders.

Rather, what we’re looking for is someone with integrity. And this can be seen in three ways, in each of these verses - verse 6 at home; verse 7 in negative form; and verse 8 positively. At home (v6), blameless, as the husband of one wife, not running after lots of women; and whose children (if there are any) being believers. Just as the church is God’s family and household, so our families are the place where leadership is seen in practice.

Verse 7 shows what being blameless is not like: ‘not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.’ It’s easy to see why these kinds of behaviour would make someone unsuitable for church leadership. Each of these are modes of selfishness - putting me, or my anger or my addictions or my fists or my wallet first; all a lack of self-control.

In verse 8, we see the opposite of selfishness - hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. These are the things to look for as we select new leaders. These are the things to pray for in our leaders, that they would be increasing.

Godliness is important for those in church leadership. But as we’ve said, that’s just one part. We also need the knowledge of the truth which leads to godliness. It’s truth we find in verse 9. ‘He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught...’

When I was a Curate in Dundonald I was visiting a home when a dog came and attached itself to the front of my shoe. It wasn’t for letting go. It hung on for ages. This is what Paul is looking for - a firm grasp, holding firmly to the trustworthy word.

You see, if God doesn’t lie, then we need to hold on his word - especially church leaders. Why? Because the work of the gospel is the work of the word. Paul gives us two parts of the work: so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine’ - so that what is preached is healthy, is sound. (That’s why it’s important for you to have your Bible open during the sermon to make sure that what I’m saying is what the Bible is saying). It would be great if that’s all that is needed, but there’s a second part of the work: ‘and refute those who oppose it.’

Do you see how the two parts fit together? encouraging other by sound doctrine, and refuting those who oppose it. Why’s this bit needed? There are those who contradict sound doctrine. There are those within the church who don’t hold to the trustworthy word. Not everyone who wears a clerical collar is a Christian preacher. I know this might be hard to believe, but it’s true today, just as it was true in Crete in the first century.

That’s why church leaders are needed. Do you see the ‘for’ at the start of verse 10? Here’s why we need sound teaching: Paul gives us a picture of what these false teachers were like. ‘rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers... ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach - and that for the sake of dishonest gain.’ You see, these false teachers were tapping into the natural Crete temperament. They were saying what the people wanted to hear, and were gaining, because it was an easy message.

It’s easy for us to see how the Cretans are far from godliness in their ‘always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons’ mode of being. But what about us? You see, we are also far from God and godliness by ourselves. What would Paul write of us? ‘People in County Armagh are...’ Richhillians are always... If someone came with a message that you’re basically all right the way you are, with no challenge or change needed, it would be popular enough. But it’s not the gospel. It’s not the trustworthy word that leads to godliness.

Titus is called to do something harder. As he holds to the trustworthy word, Paul tells him in verse 13: ‘Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith...’

Titus, and therefore church leaders must administer this rebuke in order to take people from their sin-sick nature to being sound in the faith. If you were sick, you would ring up the surgery and get an appointment to see a GP. You want them to stop you being sick and to make you well, healthy. This is what ministry is all about - we want to be healthy in the faith, but if we’re stuck in our sinful nature then we’re not healthy, we need the treatment of the gospel.

The false teachers had turned away from the truth, but it wasn’t that they believed in nothing; rather, they were now believing in anything - Jewish myths or the commands of those who reject the truth. But the end results of their belief and teaching is clearly to be seen. Throughout Titus we’re seeing that the truth leads to godliness. What you believe is seen in how you live your life.

We see it here with the false teachers. They rejected the truth. They still claim to know God, ‘but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for doing anything good.’ What they do doesn’t match up with what they say. False teaching needs to be rebuked; corrected; and instead the truth proclaimed.

So what do we look for in church leaders? People marked by holding firm to the truth which leads to godly living. People who proclaim sound doctrine and rebuke those in error.

If you’re in leadership, perhaps like me, you’re feeling the weight of the requirements. Could we possibly do this? So please do pray for those who lead in this parish. And please do pray for me - in study and in homes and in the pulpit to hold and hold forth the word of truth, to apply it to my own life and household, and to the church family.

Who could do this? Who is sufficient for these things? There’s a section of the ordination service, which is our answer: ‘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. So let’s pray.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday evening 27th May 2018.

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