Optimistic Christians

28 Apr

I want us to look together at Titus 2:11-14 and think a little bit together about change.

What does the Bible teach about change? Do we as Christians really believe that people can change? And if we do, why do we as Christians believe that people can change?

Because, the fact is, a lot of people don’t.

Believe that people can change.

At a fundamental heart level.

And really, if we are going to be just super honest with one another, I even wonder how many of you, have ever asked yourself that. I wondered if you have ever asked yourself whether people could really change? Because while I know most of us, we wouldn’t say straight out, that we don’t believe people can change, I am not really talking so much about what we say when we are at church as much I am talking about what we actually believe.

Do we really believe that people can change?

This is a really important question for us to ask ourselves as a church, because it kind of gets to a big part of what we are about, do we really believe people can change?

Because the reality is it sometimes doesn’t feel like it.

It sometimes doesn’t feel like people can change.

I mean, obviously superficial changes, we all believe that happens; but I am talking about fundamental changes, way down deep, at the heart level. And really, if we are just listening to what people say, I just don’t think there is a lot of hope for that kind of change in our cultures either.

I know where I come from, while there is some optimism when it comes to changing at least your financial circumstances, the American Dream is about that, there’s not very much optimism, when it comes to your character, your heart, there really isn’t a lot of hope for change when it comes to that, instead, we tend to think everything is a medical condition, and so we just put a label on it.

It’s almost offensive to say someone can change.

And I know, one of the things I have noticed, since I have been here in Africa, is that if many Americans are pessimistic about change, most Africans are even more pessimistic about it.

There’s even a saying, a term people use to describe the way Africans and others sometimes feel about this continent, it’s called Afro-pessimism and it has to do with this idea that it’s just impossible for Africa to ever really move forward, that it’s beyond the possibility of change and while I am not so much interested in trying to answer that question about Africa as a continent, I am interested in us thinking about that question about ourselves as individuals.

Is it really possible for people to change?

We sometimes have a difficult time believing that, especially, now listen to this, about people from cultures or backgrounds or particular sin struggles that are different than our own.

That’s the thing.

Now, of course, we really don’t like to say this, because it isn’t polite, it isn’t politically correct, but the fact is, if people are pretty hopeless about themselves changing, they are way more hopeless about people from other backgrounds and other cultures ever actually being any different.

We put people in these little boxes, and we say white people aren’t going to change or black people aren’t going to change or people from this country or that country aren’t going to change, or rich people aren’t going to change or poor people, especially poor people aren’t going to change, and we feel justified then, about not going in there and helping or working or teaching because we really in our heart of hearts don’t think change is actually possible.

Not for people like them.

And what’s interesting to me, and I think important for you to understand, as we come to Titus 2, is that if there was one group of people, out of the entire ancient world, I am talking about when Paul was writing this letter to Titus, if there was one group of people that most would have felt were beyond the hope of change, it would have been the people who lived on the island of Crete.

I mean even Cretans didn’t have a lot of hope for Cretans.

Paul quotes one of their prophets in Titus 1:12, who said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” and what gets me of course is that word, always.

People didn’t have a lot of hope for Cretans changing, but when it came to the church, and to Cretan believers, Paul definitely did.

This is a big part of why Paul left Titus there, actually.

He’s writing Titus to show him how to help the churches that had started on the island of Crete get themselves in order, and one of the primary things he’s calling on Titus to do, is to teach the church how to live in such a way that matches up with the gospel they have embraced.

That’s Titus 2:1.

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.”

As you might remember, there were all kinds of false teachers there in Crete. You can see up in 1:10.\

“For there are many.”

And these false teachers were popular, basically because they were saying the same things the culture of Crete was saying. They were in Paul’s words, verse 16, professing to know God, but denying him by their works. Or to put it another way, they were offering up a religion that allowed people to continue on in sin, while feeling better about themselves, that allowed them to talk about God and sound spiritual, while undergoing absolutely no fundamental change.

And Paul’s telling Titus, it is vital that he be different than that.

This is basically one of the first steps to planting effective churches in this pagan culture.

“But as for you,” in contrast to these false teachers, “you need to teach what accords with sound doctrine.” In other words, you need to help the church learn how to live in a way that is suitable for what the Scripture teaches.

You need to help these believers on Crete actually and truly change.

And what I want us to ask, as we look at the verses before us, is why is that Paul had any hope for that? If the whole world was looking at Crete and thinking ahh Cretans are always like that, why is that Paul has such hope for real and lasting change?

Because he obviously does.

Now he doesn’t think it is going to be easy.

I don’t want you to think that. There is a lot Titus is going to have to do.

Titus is going to have to silence certain false teachers, and he is going to have to constantly be teaching sound doctrine, and it’s going to be serious, Paul talks about urging, and declaring and exhorting and rebuking, and not letting anyone disregard him, but I mean, all those things Paul is telling Titus to do, at the most basic level, assume of course, that Paul thought these people could live lives that were suitable to the gospel.

Otherwise, obviously it would have been a lot of wasted effort.

And the thing is, in case there is any question, Paul’s not content to leave all this talk about change out there in a general way, either.

When we look down at chapter 2 we see he gets specific.

He tells Titus you are going to have to get in there and work with all these different groups of people in the church, old men, old women, and you need to have a plan for helping the young women, and you are going to have to definitely get in there and work with the young men, in a serious way, urging them, and even yourself, you need to be a model of good works, and then also don’t forget the slaves as well, which in those days, would have been considered a lower class, you need to work with all of these kinds of people because they all need to know how they are supposed to change.

And Paul recognizes there is going to be all kinds of resistance.

It’s hard enough to disciple people, but there’s more going on here, there are is going to be active antagonism to these people changing, especially from the ungodly people around them, who are going to be looking for them to fail. That’s why he talks about the danger of the word of God being reviled and he talks about opponents who are looking for bad things to say.

But at the end of the day, Paul’s convinced, the church, these believers, can live in a such way that actually is so different from the way they did before, that in everything they do, they can, verse 10, adorn or make beautiful the doctrine of God our Savior.

Which sounds wonderful of course, that’s a wonderful goal, and that’s what we want to be about as a church, living this beautiful life in the everyday that brings God’s glory, but the fact is a lot of people are going to think it isn’t realistic or even possible, the way they might have wondered, about what Paul was hoping for there in Crete, and so they might have asked, how is that you have any hope of that, what is it that gives you confidence that this is even possible, and we find Paul’s answer here in Titus 2:11ff.

“For”

That’s how it begins.

Verse 11.

“For”

This is what this verse is about.

Titus get in there and teach all these different kinds of people how to change, for.

I have always read these verses as if they were primarily addressed to the church at Crete, meaning Paul is writing to encourage them as to why they should obey all the commands he has given in verses 1-10.

Older men, younger men, younger women, live this way for.

But actually if you look a little more closely, I think you can see that even before Paul is addressing the congregation as a whole, he is actually addressing Titus and the leaders of the church.

He’s been telling Titus he is supposed to get in there with these believers and help them not only understand what they are supposed to understand, but also how to live the way they were supposed to live, which, thinking especially about where Titus was ministering was no question going to be difficult and I have got to believe as Titus was getting in there and doing the work of discipleship, on a day to day basis, especially as an outsider in this culture, which had such a bad reputation, there was going to be some temptation for him to wonder, whether these people actually could change.  

So, Paul, here pauses in order to give Titus some reasons.

Why.

He could be confident.

Change was possible.

And even more that, for believers.

Certain.

That is what this passage is about.

In such a sinful world, with such sinful people, what are the reasons we can be confident enough to go out there and teach the word and expect that people really will change?

For.

I know sometimes when it comes to ministry, I am always in a rush, I just want to get out there and do, but you know, ministry is hard, and you can’t just know what to do, you need to know why, if you are going to keep on even when everything is pressing against you.

And Paul’s answer here, in terms of why we should keep discipling and ministering, has to do with the grace of God.

For the grace of God.

Obviously Paul didn’t have hope that people could change because of people. He was realistic about people. You think you know people. Paul knew people. I mean even up in verse 13 of chapter 1, after quoting that one prophet about what Cretans were like, how they were always liars and stuff like that, you know what Paul says, he says this testimony is true. He got it.

He wasn’t naïve about what Cretans were like.

It’s just that Paul didn’t stop with what Cretans were like.

Paul was a man with a realistic view of the sinfulness of people and big view of the grace of God.

I mean, obviously, when it comes to change, if we look to people of course we have every reason in the world to be pessimistic.

Live lives that are suitable. Come on. Look at us. Live in such a radically different way than the world around us that people notice. Seriously. You think this guy or that guy up there teaching what accords with sound doctrine is going to make a difference.

What?

If all we did was focus on ourselves and what we can do, we would have no hope for becoming this kind of church that Paul describes, this church that makes the gospel look beautiful through our transformed lives, but of course Paul won’t let us focus only on ourselves and what we can do.

He takes us back to God and what God has done.

“For the grace of God has appeared…”

The word appeared reminds us, he’s talking about a historical event.

And that’s important.

Because this is not just some idea out there for Paul. When he talks about the grace of God.

He’s talking about a point in time in history, where the Creator of this world broke into what’s going on in this world, to demonstrate His kindness in a unique and stunning totally undeserved way, and of course, he’s talking about the life and ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When we think about what we are doing, as we go about working with people, this is what we have to keep in the forefront.

We are not just going out there and sharing ideas and thoughts about how to live life.

And you know Paul he’s not just telling Titus oh man Crete is really in a mess and they are bad people and you better help them, you better get in there and help them learn how to get themselves together and be different, or else things aren’t going to go that well for them.

No, as Christians, everything we are about centers in on this, flows out of this, something has happened, something has really happened.

The grace of God has appeared.

And I think sometimes we just get tired and we don’t stick with the work of reaching out and teaching and discipling because we haven’t really been gripped with the significance of that reality the way Paul is. Paul wasn’t telling Titus to work so hard and teach there in Crete because he was an optimist. Oh I just think if you try a little harder maybe they will want to change this time.

No.

That’s not what is going on. Instead Paul was gripped with the significance of what God had done through Christ, and over the next several posts, I want us to see what he saw in the gospel, in this event, this historical reality, so that we too will have hope to pursue change ourselves, and to keep pursuing change as a church.

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