Written by Pastor Ed
Be an Example for Christ
Books of the Bible – Titus
September 21, 2014
II Corinthians 8: 16-24
Titus 1: 5-9
When Mennonite World Conference put out a request for homes to billet people in next summer in Pennsylvania, they asked a lot of people including many friends and neighbours. When one woman was asked if she could billet some Mennonites she said, “sure, I’ll take 15!” The person asking knew that the woman only had one extra bedroom, with at the most a king-sized bed, so she wondered how in the world she could take 15 people. “Well,” the neighbour replied, “I heard that Mennonites were so narrow I figured they’d all fit.”
I’m sure that story has been used with numerous other denominations slotted in, or perhaps just Christians as the example. And we can laugh at it, and yet recognize that perhaps sometimes it comes rather close to the truth, or at least there is a hint of truth. All too often our actions speak quite loudly and don’t always send the message we’d like to convey. I cringe sometimes when I hear comments or see actions that are contrary to the gospel.
It was that kind of concern that prompted Paul to write his personal letters to Timothy and Titus. Some one has characterized these pastoral epistles as being about “polity, policies, and practice.” We know a bit about Titus, our subject for today, because he is mentioned quite frequently in other letters, particularly in II Corinthians, where he is called “my partner and co-worker” by Paul and is highly recommended to the church.
We also know that Titus went along with Paul to Jerusalem for the Jerusalem Conference to decide if Gentiles could be part of the church without following Jewish practices. Titus was Paul’s prime exhibit in a sense, since he was a Gentile who had become a believer without being circumcised and had become a leader in the church as well.
Titus had accompanied Paul on his journeys and when Paul left the island of Crete he left Titus behind to finish up organizing the church, appointing leaders and making sure they stayed true to Paul’s teaching. As with the letters to Timothy, Paul encourages Titus and gives him some specific instructions regarding the church.
After you get a group of people together for some reason, whatever it may be, you eventually need some kind of organization even if it is fairly informal. The church began probably as house fellowships and small groups, but as the church grew it became clear that there needed to be designated leaders and others charged with certain tasks. How the church is organized is what is known as polity. Basically “how we do things around here.”
Some denominations have highly structured polity with court systems, hierarchy, and detailed instructions for just about everything. At one point, because I was consulting with a Christian Reformed congregation, I had the CRC Polity Manual which is a thick book. In contrast, our Mennonite Church Canada and USA Polity Manual is this small document which is just newly revised. It outlines items like who can be credentialed for ministry, how that happens, ministerial ethics, and so forth. As a Conference Minister it was a document I was very familiar with as it guided much of my work.
So part of Paul’s concern in this letter to Titus was about polity; how the church was organized and who was qualified to be in leadership were and are important matters in the church. Part of Titus’ ongoing work was to get the church on Crete organized and in good hands.
Once you decide what your polity will be, then you need to put policies in place to standardize theme across the church. One of Paul’s concerns, evident throughout his letters, was that the church should have some standard that was common to all. Clearly he was knew that the Jewish synagogues were governed by a similar set of standards, and so it only seemed natural that the church should do likewise.
Our polity manual is for all churches and conferences in Mennonite Church USA and Canada. So I can easily move from one area to another and still know fairly well how the church will operate in that part of the country, my credentials will be recognized wherever I go, and issues of ethics and misconduct will be handled similarly. It’s one of the things that unifies us across the church.
But above all, to return to the theme I began with, these letters are about practice. How should aa Christian act? As Christians we can never say that the ends justify the means. As Paul says in Titus 1: 16, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions.” And so much of the letter is filled with instructions for how people are to act in order to bring glory to God.
Leaders are to set an example. Women and men, both young and old, have a duty to exemplify their faith be how they live their lives. Even slaves are to act differently when they become Christians so that they bring a good name to the church. As one commentator put it, “the only evidence for Christ is that of Christians.” That applied in Paul and Titus’ day, and it applies in ours as well. And it applies no matter what the issue is, whether local or international, political or social. How we act speaks louder that what we say about any issue.
There are really two reasons why this is important. One of Paul’s concerns in the early church, and hopefully one of the church’s concerns today, is a missionary one; that is inviting other people to faith in Jesus Christ. So one of the questions we should always be asking ourselves is, “Am I acting in such a way that people will be drawn to faith and the church, or will it turn people off to Christ and the church?” All too often I have heard people comment that “if that’s the way Christians act, I certainly don’t want to be a part of that.”
People these days seem quick to paint all Muslims with the paintbrush of the extremists that are active in Syria and elsewhere, as though they represent all Muslims. But in the same way, Muslims and others will paint Christians with the extremes of Christianity. And if we claim that real Christians aren’t like that, then we have to be ready to show it, and allow that extremists in other religions don’t represent all either.
Paul is concerned that the mission of the church continue, and that can only happen as Christians act in accordance with the gospel so that they make a good name for Christ. No matter what other group we may be part of, we are first and foremost Christians, part of Christ’s body and representatives, ambassadors Paul calls us in I Corinthians, of Christ’s kingdom.
And that applies not only to our actions outside the church with non-believers, but also to how we treat each other. Again and again in these letters Paul warns against spending our time quarreling and arguing. “Avoid stupid controversies and quarreling, which are unprofitable and worthless.” Now I don’t think he was saying we can’t disagree on issues. Clearly he and Peter didn’t always see eye to eye on everything. But as Marlin Miller, former president of AMBS once said, “Many good arguments are ruined by disagreements.” When we get caught up in name-calling, stereotyping, and calling fellow believers sincerity into question then we are ruining our relationships and wasting our energies on things that don’t really matter in the long run. I have seen congregations that have to spend so much time patching up relationships within the congregation that they have no time for making any new relationships outside the congregation.
While we can sincerely disagree on issues, we should always do so in such a way that fellowship is maintained – and if we get carried away, then apologies are in order. When people see the church in action together, do they see a body that functions for the good of all and cares for all, or do they see splits, fighting, and brokenness?
We are not Christians simply because we come to church on Sunday mornings. Most people outside the church don’t pay much attention to whether we do that or not. It’s what we do the rest of the week that people notice. Being a Christian means we have made a decision to follow the way of Jesus with our whole life and in all we do. That even includes how we handle our disagreements and conflicts.
Paul’s pastoral letters call us to live lives consistent with our beliefs and in harmony with the gospel we profess. Doing so will draw others to faith, and draw us closer to each other. May God’s spirit help us to live in such a way.