If you are in paid employment, you may be familiar with the idea of an annual appraisal. This is where, each year, you have a meeting, usually with your line manager, to discuss your performance over the past year. Typically, you might have to fill out a form beforehand with your own views on your performance, and then your line manager adds their opinion, and you meet to discuss what you have written. If it’s done well, this should be a positive experience - you get a pat on the back for what has gone well, and you get encouragement and helpful suggestions to deal with things that could be better.
I have to say - I experienced this appraisal system in my old job, and I hated it! Mostly, that’s because I wasn’t very good at the job, and I didn’t much like being told that that was the case. Also, though, because it focussed a lot on the past - on what I had done. In my current job, I have weekly meetings with my boss, which are much less formal, and also tend to be more forward-looking, which is much more pleasant.
January is often a good time of year for giving ourselves appraisals - not just for our job, but for every aspect of our lives. We make resolutions about what we will eat, how we will look, our fitness, how we will spend our time and our money. I wonder what it would look like if you gave your spiritual life an appraisal? How do you think you you’ve been doing over the last year? More importantly, what are your spiritual goals for the next year and beyond?
If you were here last week, you will know that we are in a short series looking at Paul’s letter to Titus, in the New Testament. The apostle Paul has appointed Titus to oversee some fledgling churches on the island of Crete, so he’s sort of Titus’ line manager. And he’s written this letter to set the spiritual goals for Titus, and for the Cretan Christians.Paul’s first goal for them, the first objective he gives them, is that they should teach Godly living.
1. Teach Godly living
Last week we were thinking about the types of men who would be leaders in the Cretan church. Phil was helping us to see that Christian leaders need to have the right character - they need to be morally upright, calm and generous. And they need to have the right beliefs - they need to understand the Christian faith so that they can teach it to others.
In Chapter 2, Paul turns to the question of behaviour. But this isn’t just for the church leaders; here, Paul is casting the net much more widely. This is an issue for the whole church, for every man and woman. How should Christians behave?
The first thing that Paul says is that we must teach what is right. That’s in verse 1 of chapter 2: Paul says that “you must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine”.
First of all this is an instruction for Titus. The letter is addressed to Titus, and Paul had sent him to be a leader in the church in Crete, so of course he needs to teach people. Titus, then, needed to “teach what is in accord with sound doctrine”.
But, like all of the letters we find in the New Testament, this letter is _*not*_ marked “Private & Confidential”. Rather, Paul wanted it to be read out to the whole church. You can see that at the end of the letter, where Paul writes “Grace be with you all”. This is a letter that everyone needs to hear. And Paul is keen that the churches should follow Titus’ example - part of Titus’ mission was to show these Cretan Christians how they should live - not just with his words, but with his actions as well. And so, as we get into the detail of this chapter, we see that Paul wants ordinary Christians in the church to be teaching other Christians how to live. Specifically, in verse 4 we see that the older women should be training the younger women in Christian living. So, Paul is setting a general pattern here - it is the duty of wiser, more experienced Christians to get alongside those younger in the faith and give them advice.
The sort of ‘teaching’ or ‘training’ that Paul is talking about is immensely practical - we can see that as well in the detail of the chapter. This is not about teaching doctrine - that was primarily the duty of the church elders described in chapter 1. This is about teaching ‘in accordance with’ that doctrine - about helping each other with the issues that we face in our lives, and working out how we can approach those issues in light of our Christian faith, in a way that will honour God. But it is to be *based* on sound doctrine. This is teaching founded, not on human experience, but on right knowledge of God and on experience of living faithfully as his servant.
You may have heard of the Christian missionary and writer, Elisabeth Elliot, who died and was called home to glory in June last year. Her first husband was a missionary killed by an Ecuadorean tribe with whom they wanted to share the hope of the Christian faith. She wrote this to encourage older women in their role of training the younger:
“It would help younger women to know there are a few listening ears when they don’t know what to do with an uncommunicative husband, a 25-pound turkey, or a two-year-old’s tantrum. It is doubtful that the Apostle Paul had in mind Bible classes or seminars or books when he spoke of teaching younger women. He meant the simple things, the everyday example, the willingness to take time from one’s own concerns to pray with the anxious mother, to walk with her the way of the cross - with its tremendous demands of patience, selflessness, loving kindness - and to show her, in the ordinariness of Monday through Saturday, how to keep a quiet heart. These lessons will come perhaps most convincingly through rocking a baby, doing some mending, cooking a supper or cleaning a refrigerator. Through such an example, one young woman - single or married, Christian or not - may glimpse the mystery of charity and the glory of womanhood.’
We could say similar things about men.
This sort of training needs those with some Christian maturity, who can encourage others with their own experiences of seeing God at work. But, more than that, it needs all of us to be willing to be trained. We need to be willing to be open with each other about our lives if we are going to receive the advice and help that we need. The friendships that we build with others within the church are of crucial importance, because they allow us to be part of that training process - to train others and be trained ourselves.
I’d like to encourage you with a few ways that we can be part of that process. The first is to plan to stay around for tea or coffee after the end of the service. Have you ever wondered why churches lay on hot drinks and biscuits on a Sunday morning? It’s not simply because some of us are hungry after church, but because we are building a Christian community here. We need to get to know each other. As an introvert myself, I find it really difficult, and I’d love to head straight home for some time by myself! But I’m persuaded that, if I’m to grow in my faith, I need the support of other Christians.
The second way to get more involved is by joining one of our homegroups. We meet together every fortnight to look at a Bible passage together, to catch up with each other’s lives, and to help each other live as Christians. Exactly the sort of training that Paul had in mind!
So, that’s the ‘how’ of Paul’s objectives for the church - we are to grow in living out our faith by training one another in Godly living. But what about the ‘what’? What is it that we should be aiming to do? What does Godly living look like?
2. Be self-controlled
Well, Paul here pauses to address different groups within the church. Older men, older women, younger women and younger men are each addressed separately, with a final additional comment for slaves in that Roman society. We’ll look in a minute at the specific comments to the different groups, but first I want to point out the common thread running through them all.
Over and over again, Paul exhorts them to be self-controlled. In verse 2, the older men must be self-controlled. In verse 4, it’s the younger women. In verse 6, the younger men. Then, in verse 12, Paul tells us that God’s grace teaches all of us to live self-controlled lives. The other comments too, are in keeping with this command. Clearly, Godly living for a Christian means being *self-controlled*.
What does it mean to be self-controlled? We tend to think of it like this picture - it’s about turning down the things you *want* in favour of the things you *ought* to have or do. The things that will be better for you in the long run. Turning down the fattening treat in favour of a healthy snack when you are trying to lose weight. Choosing to pour yourself a sparkling mineral water instead of a glass of wine or pint of beer. And that’s certainly part of it. The trouble is, that our culture associates ‘self-control’ with being boring and dull. If you want to have *fun*, we are told, you should just go with the flow, do what you feel like, and worry about the consequences later (if at all). Self-control is fine for January, but no good for the rest of the year.
I don’t think that’s how Paul sees self-control. He is not suggesting that we simply resist everything that is desirable, as if every time we see something attractive, we should put an electric fence around it in our minds with lots of “DO NOT TOUCH” signs. Instead, self-control is about recalibrating our desires, so that what seems attractive isn’t that shiny thing which is ultimately worthless, but the thing which which is really of greater value.
It’s like this: January is traditionally the time for booking holidays. There are lots of adverts around, on billboards, in newspapers and on the TV, for holidays in fabulous destinations. Imagine that you’ve been saving up for some time, and this weekend you’ve been down to the travel agent and booked the holiday of a lifetime. I don’t know where that would be for you - the beach somewhere hot? Somewhere exotic with interesting cultural experiences? Mountains and adventure? Whichever, what would you do between now and your dream holiday? You could just ignore it completely, and get on with living your life. Enjoy nice meals with your friends. Spend your time on facebook or watching your favourite tv programmes. But self-control would mean that you spend at least some effort getting ready for that holiday. Making sure that your passport is valid and you know where it is. Buying travel insurance. Checking that you’ve got the appropriate clothes. Changing money. Booking a taxi to the airport. Things that might seem boring if they were done for their own sake. In reality though, they are exciting because they are part of something much better, much more exciting.
Verse 12 contrasts self-control with ‘ungodliness and worldly-passions’. Instead of lusting after the things that our world finds exciting, we should be pursuing the qualities that are desirable to God. These desires will not come naturally to us, so we need to train ourselves to seek them, and we need to encourage each other to do the same.
Let’s turn then to the specific groups that Paul addresses.
Older men should ‘be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance’. Us men have a tendency, as we get older, to become more eccentric, to be more self-indulgent. Paul says that, as Christians, we need to resist that urge. Instead we should maintain an appropriate level of dignity. Older Christian men should serve as models of the Christian virtues of trusting God, loving others, and patiently enduring hardship.
Likewise, the older women are to be reverent - that is, they should model a lifestyle appropriate to their calling as Christians. Paul highlights two particular temptations that the women of Crete needed to watch out for - malicious gossip, and excessive drinking.
Younger women, it seems, are cautioned to treat their family and home lives with respect. They are to love their husbands and children, and not to neglect their duties. I don’t think here that Paul is condemning the idea of a woman having a career - rather it is a warning against laziness and socialising when there is work to be done.
Young men are encouraged to show integrity and to be appropriately serious. The young Christian man is not to go chasing after a career, money or after women, but is to learn the self-control that is necessary for the Christian. Titus himself is included in this group - he is to model the behaviour that Paul is encouraging.
Finally, slaves are to obey their masters - not just by doing what is commanded, but by giving them respect and showing themselves to be trustworthy. The modern analogy would be for those of us in paid employment - we should not grumble or criticise our bosses.
These things are not going to be easy. If they were, Paul probably wouldn’t need to tell us to do them! How will we make sure that we don’t give up encouraging others when our advice is, at best, ignored and, at worst, thrown back in our faces? What will motivate us to be self-controlled when our friends seem to be having more fun?
Paul’s answer is to remember Jesus. Remember what he has done in the past, but especially in this passage, remember what he is going to do in the future.
3. Remember your future!
This is spelled out for us in verses 11-15. We are not trying to be self-controlled because we want to better ourselves. Paul is writing to Christians - those who have been rescued. We have personally experienced the ‘grace of God that brings salvation’. Our status has changed. And that same grace teaches us to be self-controlled.
Specifically, it teaches us to be self-controlled now, in the present age, because of what is to come. Paul reminds us that our saviour, Jesus Christ, has promised to return. This life is not all there is - we have a certain hope that one day we will live renewed lives in the presence of our Lord. In that time, there will be no more sin, no more tears, and no more distractions from a perfect knowledge of Jesus. That future is certain - it is guaranteed by Jesus’ death on the cross in our place, by his resurrection, by his ascension to the Father, and by his giving of the Holy Spirit to live in us.
And so Paul wants to encourage us to live *now* in light of that future hope. Because, one day, we will be single minded in our worship of Jesus, we should make every effort now to focus our desires on him and on living lives that please him.
Think again to that holiday of a lifetime. Suppose the big day came around, and your friend came to pick you up and take you to the airport, and you weren’t ready. You hadn’t packed a suitcase. You didn’t have any money for the country you were going to. You weren’t sure where your passport was. Wouldn’t your friend say to you, “Didn’t you remember? Didn’t you remember going to the travel agent? How the holiday was paid for in full? How the travel agent printed off your tickets? You *knew* you were going on holiday - why didn’t you get ready?”
There’s another reason why Paul thinks we should live self-controlled lives. We are ambassadors for Christ and the Christian faith. Other people will see the way that we live, and they will make a judgement about us, about how much we value Christ, about whether it is really worth living for Christ. In verse 5, Paul tells the young women that they need to live self-controlled and family-loving lives ‘so that no-one will malign the word of God’. Titus is warned in verse 7 to teach with integrity ‘so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us’. And in verse 10, the slaves are told that by obeying their masters, ‘in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savour attractive.’
This is important, because the day of Christ’s return won’t be a day of celebration for everyone. Jesus himself said that, when he comes in glory, those who don’t know him will be condemned to eternal punishment. It will be too late then for those who don’t know Jesus. But it’s not too late yet. As Paul wrote in verse 11, the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. We must take care that our behaviour shows people what good news that is.
So then, let’s all of us resolve this year to encourage each other in living self-controlled and godly lives, as we remember the future appearing of our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.