Monday, November 20, 2017

Lead Where you are!... reflections from Titus 2

This message was preached at a café style service at St Peter's and was designed to get people reflecting on how they could lead and live out the gospel in the situations and places in which they live. It has discussion questions incorporated at the end... 
Recently I listened to a podcast of a pastor from South Africa talking about how their church moved from seeing themselves as simply members of a Church to being people who were all called by God to serve in the city and place they lived, and see the good news of Jesus Christ bring transformation.

He illustrated this by talking about an unemployed woman teacher who asked the church to pray for her to find a job. The next week the pastor got a phone call from the women to say she had got an offer for a job, teaching, but she didn’t want to take it because it was in the worst school in the worst area of the city, the people were the wrong colour, it was full of problem kids, drug dealers and crime. The pastor said that he though as she was called to be a teacher and they had prayed for a job that just maybe this might be God answering that prayer and giving her the place God wanted her to serve. Long story short, She taught at the school and got to know the kids and their families, that lead to the church getting involved in the community.. They got involved in the notorious housing estate next to the school that many of the families lived in. One of their congregation was called to be a lawyer got involved in the body corporate, and used his legal skills to stop apartments being used to manufacture and distribute drugs. 

We might not see it when we look at our own lives and circumstances, but God has called each one us, and placed us where we are and its there that he calls us to serve and to lead, and see his kingdom come. In the passage we had read out to us today Paul continues to speak to Titus who he has left in Crete to establish the church in what is a difficult situation.  We are looking at it as a way of gaining insight into Christian leadership as maturity and ministry.

Paul tells Titus to teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. The gospel of Jesus Christ results in his followers living the gospel out in the society in which they live. Paul relates that to how should Christians live in the very structured society of Crete. Paul give Titus things to teach people who are at different levels in that structure, because of age, gender and weather they are free or slave: from top to bottom, he is to teach them how they can serve God in the place they are. Then he underpins that by articulating the sound doctrine that they are to live out. Paul finishes by exhorting Titus to teach and not to let anyone despise him, it is an exhortation for him to lead where he is.  

On Crete there seems to have been a disconnect between gospel teaching and gospel behaviour, and people in the church were getting caught up in the more indulgent and promiscuous society round them. So Paul starts by teaching Christian character and behaviour.  He also starts with households because he had talked of the false teaching happening in Crete impacting on households. Household is also a metaphor that was used as a metaphor for the Church.

Greek and Roman society was built around a very rigid and enforced social structure. Aristotle summed up the system very succinctly when he put it in a series of three authority relationships…’ Master and Slave, Husband and Wife, father and children’. It was a very strict patriarchal structure, that had very codified and rigid gender roles and expectations.

Paul’s applies the gospel to that structure in a very radical way. He speaks to the older men who would be seen as the heads of the households and in positions of authority, not to be indulgent and simply accept the privilege of that position, rather to be temperate and self-controlled, to be worthy of that respect rather than simply demanding it. In a radical way he talks of being sound in faith, and in love. It becomes not about power but about care and concern and self-giving service. Likewise the older women were not to simply indulge in gossip and wine, but be about teaching younger women to follow Christ. Teaching is of course an important role in the church, passing on the faith to new generations.  The word for older women here up until the fourth century was also seen an official role in the Church of women elder.

Paul is radical in that he also speaks to the people in the positions of less or no power as well, showing them how to live out the Christian faith where they are.  Avoiding the excesses of the culture round them and acting in a way that reflects Jesus Christ.  They may have to do the things that they do because of their position in society, but he changes it from duty and demand to being about service, and showing Christs love, in fact it becomes subversive rather than submissive. To each group he tells them that their behaviour will help further the gospel… The young women while having more equality in ministry and leadership because of the gospel will show by their behaviour in managing their households…remember most women in Greek society were married at an early age and expected to have and bring up children…  will not give people any opportunity to malign God’s people… likewise the young men are to be self-controlled and have integrity, so that the opponents of the church will not be able to have anything to hold against them.  The slaves are told that by the way they show Christ like character that they will do more than that they will attract people to the gospel. These powerless people in society are empowered by Paul to make real change by their trustworthy integrity.  They can lead where they are.

The rigid social order of Paul’s day makes it kind of hard for us to work out how to apply what Titus is told to teach to today’s society. Sadly, some people have tried to apply the social structure and the household code of the then and there on the here and now. Man is the head of the house, women are to submit… with the emphasis on maintaining the power structures. Walter Liefield in his commentary on Titus gives helpful principles to how we are to apply Paul’s teaching to our very different cultural settings.

The first is that in every age and culture Christians need to evaluate how contemporaries of moral integrity view the relationship between men and women and apply Christlike love to that. In our age where marriage is viewed as a partnership between equals then it is easy to apply Paul’s teaching on the Christian household in Ephesians 5:21 “submit to one another out of reverence to Christ”… working out the nuts and bolts are a little harder.

The second is, that in all our interpersonal relationships like at work where we find ourselves in positions of authority or being under authority we show a level of integrity, that is as least as high as those of non-Christian people. I remember a speaker at a young adults’ camp we ran one Easter saying he knew his Christian faith was having an impact when his coworkers asked him to take on an advocacy role in the office. He was known for treating everyone no matter who they were with kindness and integrity and was never caught up in office gossip or complaining about everything, and could be trusted to keep confidences and do what he said he would do. People found that attractive.

The last principle is that while we point to Christ with our lifestyle, it does not simply take the place of sharing our faith and the gospel. At the end of teaching on behaviour Paul articulates the gospel truth that underpins that behaviour. That God has appeared and offers Salvation to all people, calling us to live out the Kingdom of God in this present age. Turning from the ways of the world to the ways of God. That Jesus Christ has made us his very own eager to do what is right.  As well as living out the gospel we need to be able to tell out the gospel.

In a very real way Paul is instructing the followers of Jesus in the places that they are to lead where they are.  To be an example of what the Kingdom of God looks like in a marriage and family life, at work, in the neighbourhood and community in which we live. In how we exercise authority or deal with other people exercising authority. It’s not simply to keep the status quo of a culture or society but rather Christ is about redeeming those structures and societies as people come to know his great love and reflect it…

I want to give you a few moments to have a think through this stuff in the groups you are in round the tables. Here are some questions which may get you thinking….

1.       What are the different areas of your life God has called you to serve in?

2.       In what ways do you see yourself able to offer leadership and reflect the gospel?

3.       How have you noticed that call change as you move through different life stages?

4.       How do you see it reflected in your relationships to people of different gender?

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