How was your Christmas this year? Good, bad? Noisy, quiet? Hot lunch or cold lunch? Exceeded expectations, or disappointing?
But here’s a more IMPORTANT question. Did it look any DIFFERENT to the neighbours in your street? To the people who AREN’T Christian? Who DON’T rejoice in the birth of their Saviour?
Was there any difference in JOY? In prayerfulness and gratitude? Any difference in priorities? In COST? In GIVING, as opposed to receiving? Any difference in terms of who the FOCUS was on?
Master Chef winner this year, Kate Bracks, has a Christmas tradition in her family. Christmas morning, before they go off to church in Orange. She bakes a birthday cake with the kids, then lights as many birthday candles as she can find, and the whole family sings “Happy birthday!” to Jesus. So the kids are in no doubt what Christmas is REALLY about.
That’s being DIFFERENT. There’s not too many families where Jesus is the focus LIKE THAT.
Or perhaps some of you met I’s sister, S. She was here on Christmas Day. And she had a huge smile on her face the whole time. Because she said it was her FIRST REAL CHRISTMAS. You see, she’s just become a Christian. And so she understands Christmas in a completely new way. She’s never really CELEBRATED Christmas before. She’s seen DOZENS of Christmases, but only ever CELEBRATED ONE. Celebrated the birth of the One who died to SAVE her. Because he loves her SO MUCH.
And that’s what it should be like for ALL of us. There should be something DIFFERENT about the way we approach life. Something COUNTER CULTURAL. People should look at us, and see PRIORITIES TURNED ON THEIR HEADS.
Unexpected attitudes and actions and behaviour.
They should see CONTENTMENT AND LOVE when they expect bitterness and grumbling. They should see generosity and patience when they expect selfishness and frustration. They should see acceptance and forgiveness when they expect finger pointing and misunderstanding.
They should see confident hope and certain assurance when they expect uncertainty and worry.
As Christians, we’re meant to be A COUNTER CULTURE. If you’ve ever been to Nimbin on the NSW north coast, you’ll have seen a counter culture. They’re DIFFERENT. And proud of it. They’re stuck in the 60’s. With long hair, and flower power pot-smoking.
It’s a counter culture. That goes against the flow.
And that’s what Christians are meant to be as well. In a way that’s very different from Nimbin. And very different from the rest of the world as well. Because we DON’T follow the rhythm of the world. We don’t go with the flow.
Christianity is A COUNTER CULTURE. Whether the culture is 21st century Australia. Or first century Crete.
Paul had left Titus on the island of Crete to build up the new churches there. He was to appoint leaders, and to teach the people what living as a Christian LOOKED LIKE.
Crete might be a lovely holiday destination TODAY. But back then, it had a TERRIBLE reputation. The Kings Cross of the ancient world.
So much so that right around the Greek speaking world there was a WORD for it… when you were bending the truth, people would say you were CRETANISING. That was their word for LYING. Oh, you can’t trust what he says – he’s a CRETANISER.
Even their most famous poet, their number one philosopher, he admitted it. In a famous poem. We’ve got I LOVE A SUNBURNT COUNTRY, a LAND OF SWEEPING PLAINS. His name was Epimenides, and he said this. About his own people. He said – and it doesn’t rhyme very well either – “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”
And as Paul writes to Titus about how the church should be DIFFERENT. Paul AGREES. By and large, that’s what the people of Crete are like. Verse 12 in chapter 1, He says,
“Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” THIS TESTIMONY IS TRUE!
As a general rule, they live lazy, unproductive lives. It’s everywhere you look. It’s the prevailing sort of attitude.
So how do you live as a CHRISTIAN… in the middle of a world like that? What’s a CHRISTIAN COUNTER CULTURE GOING TO LOOK LIKE… in a place like Crete?
Trouble is, for a lot of the Christians in Crete, the answer was … “No different AT ALL!”
It’s so much easier, whether it was then or now, to just BLEND IN. To lower our expectations. To settle for excuses. “But everyone ELSE is doing it.”
And yet it’s not what we were DESIGNED for. Not what we were SAVED for. Becoming a Christian isn’t about getting a ticket to heaven, and then life continuing exactly as it did before. Look down to v11 of Ch 2. Pretty much the central verse of the whole letter. And it sums up Paul’s message to Titus and the church in Crete. Ch 2 v11.
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “NO” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to LIVE SELF-CONTROLLED, UPRIGHT AND GODLY LIVES in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to REDEEM US FROM ALL WICKEDNESS and to PURIFY for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
You want to know why you’re a CHRISTIAN? Why the Lord Jesus put his hand on you, and said, FOLLOW ME?
The reason GOD’S GRACE THAT BRINGS SALVATION ever broke into our world in the first place … was to REDEEM YOU… OUT OF WICKEDNESS. To PURIFY YOU from all that stuff.
To make you A COUNTER CULTURE. To make you into a person who’s EAGER TO DO GOOD. Busting for something good to do. And to teach you to say NO… to ungodliness. And worldly passions. Selfishness. The immediate self gratification life style that drives the world around us. Say NO.
And yet the Christians in Crete, seems like they’re still saying YES. Like you might be.
A Counter Culture Curriculum
And so here in Titus chapter 2, Paul’s setting out A CURRICULUM.
And it’s not “one size fits all.” Godliness looks different for different sorts of people. But there are some common themes that run through the curriculum though.
A team sport
Firstly, notice it’s A TEAM SPORT. Even though it’s a letter addressed to Titus, Paul doesn’t say, “Titus, here’s how you’ve got to live.” He’s got a responsibility, before God, as a leader of the church. To teach and encourage EVERYONE to be living godly lives.
And it’s not just the PASTOR’S job. We’ve ALL got a responsibility to be setting an example, and teaching and encouraging others.
Like the older women. There in v3. They’re to live reverent lives. Honouring God in everything. But v4 – they’ve ALSO got a responsibility to train the YOUNGER women.
We’re all part of a TEAM. And we’ve got RESPONSIBILITIES.
How are YOU fulfilling your responsibilities, before God, here at church?
Are you part of a Home Group? Why not make a commitment to join one this year?
And there’s also One-to-one Bible reading. It’s something we’re focussing on this year. It’s pretty simple really. Asking someone to meet up once a week, or fortnight. To read a bit of the Bible. Talk about what it means and how it applies. Then pray for each other.
It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s God’s way of maturing and growing and discipling us. Of bringing people INTO his kingdom. And then teaching them how to LIVE in it. To make us more counter-cultural compared to the world around us.
Will you think seriously about doing THAT this year?
Another common theme in these verses is SELF-CONTROL. It’s what the grace of God TEACHES us. To say NO to ONE thing. And to live SELF-CONTROLLED lives. See it there in v12?
The grace of God teaches us to say “NO” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live SELF-CONTROLLED, upright and godly lives in this present age,
Self-control would certainly set the Cretan Christians apart from the REST of the island. Which was famous for basically following whatever they FELT like doing.
The COUNTER culture to that sort of behaviour is to show some RESTRAINT. Like the older men. Back up in v2. Teach them to be TEMPERATE. Not to get drunk. To STOP after one or two. Teach them to be temperate and SELF-CONTROLLED.
Same thing with the older women. V3. Teach them not to be ADDICTED TO MUCH WINE. If they’re going to drink. Know when to say, “ENOUGH!”
And that gets passed on. If they live like that, v4, then they can teach the YOUNGER women to be SELF-CONTROLLED and pure. To control their words and their actions. Their thoughts.
And then we get to the group who probably need to hear this THE MOST. V6. The younger men. Encourage THEM to be self-controlled. To stand up for what they know is right. To say No. Don’t just go with the crowd. An urge doesn’t HAVE to be satisfied.
But, more than that, says Paul, set them AN EXAMPLE of self-control. I guess Titus falls into that group. SHOW them that self-control is NOT whimpy or weak or girly. It’ll set you apart as DIFFERENT. And it might be TOUGH. But it’s what the gospel TEACHES us to do. It’s how we LIVE IT OUT.
And there’s a few other common themes that pop up. Like LOVE. Gets mentioned TWICE. A different ATTITUDE.
Or not SLANDERING. A different way of SPEAKING about people. TWICE.
Or DOING GOOD. A different way of TREATING people. THREE times.
But the common thread I WANT to spend a bit of time thinking about is SUBMISSION. Because if there’s ANYTHING that’s going to make us stand out as counter cultural. It’s THAT!
Jump down to the start of Ch 3. Paul’s just concluded his curriculum on what Titus should teach. V15 of Ch 2.
15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.
Then he summarises it all. Continuing straight on.
3:1 Remind the people to be SUBJECT to rulers and authorities, to be OBEDIENT, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be PEACEABLE AND CONSIDERATE, and to show TRUE HUMILITY toward ALL men.
Show true HUMILITY. Be CONTENT with your place in the scheme of things. And then SHOW that attitude in the way you SUBMIT to those over you. The way you OBEY them.
DON’T whinge about the government. Don’t complain about taxes, or rules, or bureaucracies. Don’t get your back up when someone tells you not to park there, or to pay this, or to stand over there.
Be subject. Be obedient. Be peaceable. Be humble.
Which is just not the way things normally happen in Australia. Where you stand up for yourself. Defend your rights. Look after number one. Where being independent and self-serving are seen as CHARACTER STRENGTHS.
Instead Christians are to put themselves LAST, not first. In TRUE humility.
In ALL our relationships.
Working backwards through the chapter. Ch 2 v9.
9 Teach slaves to be SUBJECT to their masters in everything, to try to PLEASE them, not to talk back to them,
That’s going to make Christian slaves stand out from the crowd. From the OTHER slaves who get away with whatever they can. Who steal whatever’s not nailed down. Do it because you follow the ULTIMATE SLAVE, Jesus. Who gave up everything to serve US. Do it to show people what Jesus is like.
Or a bit FURTHER back in the chapter. V5. Teach the younger women
5 to be self-controlled and pure, TO BE BUSY AT HOME, to be kind, AND TO BE SUBJECT TO THEIR HUSBANDS,
Now I almost feel like I’ve got to APOLOGISE for that verse in this day and age. Because it’s SO counter-cultural. The ULTIMATE in politically incorrect. Because our society moved past this kind of thing LONG AGO.
But let me remind you it was counter-cultural in Crete as well. Otherwise Paul wouldn’t need to MENTION it. EVEN BACK THEN it wasn’t the done thing for wives to stay at home, to be pure, and to humbly let their husbands lead the family.
Strange picture, isn’t it? Young, intelligent, educated women who are prepared to put other things aside so they can properly LOVE THEIR HUSBANDS AND KIDS. Busy at HOME as their first priority. As if somehow, making A HOME is more important than making A SUCCESSFUL CAREER.
A strange Counter cultural picture. Counter cultural back then, EXTREMELY counter cultural NOW.
Because if you’re a wife these days, you’ll know – you’re not meant to be subject to ANYONE… least of all your husband. And you’re not meant to worry about the home and the kids; I mean, if you’ve got to fill in a form and write HOMEMAKER, it’s about as low as you can go, isn’t it?
And Paul says to Titus, teach the older women to teach the younger women… THAT. Goes against the grain. Which submission always does. And yet it’s a form of GODLINESS. That produces homes and families that are very, very different from the ones the world makes these days.
And you older women, don’t APOLOGISE… for modelling and teaching that to younger women. Because it’s more valuable that you know.
And HUSBANDS, I want you to notice who this stuff’s addressed to… because it’s NOT TO YOU. And it’s certainly NEVER up to you to be LOOKING for subjection – worst of all trying somehow to ENFORCE IT. Which is the least Christian option of all. The sort of submission Paul’s talking about in verse 5 is a submission WILLINGLY GIVEN. As a mark of love.
I wonder if that describes YOU. In those three areas we’ve described this morning. Teamwork. Self-control. And submission.
How much are YOU looking to do your bit as part of the team?
How much are you in control of your TONGUE? DO you find yourself STOPPING SHORT when it comes to returning fire? Or passing on some gossip?
Is there self-control in what you THINK ABOUT? In how HARD you work? In what you spend your money on – those impulse purchases?
Is there self-control in your spiritual disciplines – your prayer life and Bible reading?
Are you in control of your appetites? Or do they control YOU?
Have you seen the ad on TV about will power? It’s talking about quitting smoking. It says will power is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. Every cigarette you say “No” to makes your will power stronger.
And I reckon that’s true about with CHRISTIAN things TOO. Every time you resist temptation. Every time you show some self-control, you’re getting STRONGER. And it gets easier to say NO NEXT time.
Or what about SUBMISSION?
When everyone else is dragging down the boss at work, or the government, or the authorities. Will you happily just get on, instead, with doing your work, or paying your taxes? Or sticking to the speed limit? Or following instructions?
Are you COUNTER-CULTURAL? Do you stand out just as much as a Nimbin hippy would in Westpoint shopping centre?
Do you stand out as different at WORK? At the GYM? Talking to the mums outside school waiting to pick up the kids? Are you counter cultural in the way you shop? Or drive? Or holiday?
Does this describe YOU? A self-controlled, pure, humble, loving, submissive life of obedience. In WHATEVER area of life you’re in. Young men, old men, young women, old women.
It’s what you were saved FOR. Listen again to God’s plans. V14. Talking about Jesus
14 He gave himself for us to REDEEM US FROM ALL WICKEDNESS and TO PURIFY FOR HIMSELF a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
And that’s what people should see when they look at us. People who are DIFFERENT. People who simply reflect the light of the goodness of Jesus himself.
Because, ultimately, that’s what it’s all for. So people will NOTICE. So that Jesus might be HONOURED as people RECOGNISE us as counter-cultural.
There’s one final thread that runs through these verses. THREE TIMES Paul mentions the OUTCOME of all this humble, godly behaviour.
There at the end of v5. Young woman are to be pure and kind and submissive SO NO ONE WILL MALIGN THE WORD OF GOD.
And the end of v8. Young men, including Titus, are to show integrity, and soundness of speech that can’t be condemned.
so that those who oppose you may be ashamed BECAUSE THEY HAVE NOTHING BAD TO SAY ABOUT US.
And again for SLAVES. V10. Be honest and humble
so that in every way THEY WILL MAKE THE TEACHING ABOUT GOD OUR SAVIOR ATTRACTIVE.
Can I ask you again… is that YOU? Living in a way that’s DIFFERENT? In a way that makes our teaching about Jesus ATTRACTIVE? Or just the opposite? Let’s get serious about living COUNTER CULTURE lives. Of love. Of integrity. Of service. Of self control. In a way that instead of giving the world ammunition, instead of bringing Jesus into disrepute, brings him GLORY. And shows we mean business.