Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Christian Example - Titus 2 notes

Read Titus 2

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, 14  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Followers of Jesus live in a now-but-not-yet reality. We live in the hope of the Kingdom consummated, the return of Jesus (v13), when all will be put right in justice and love. The redemption he offers is for the benefit of the entire world (v11). It is a hope that includes subversion of the present authorities (v13). Titus 2:13 calls Jesus "God and Saviour", a title used to describe Caesar, who claimed to have "saved" the colonies by assimilating them into the Roman empire. Jesus followers have a new King, a new Lord, a new Saviour. The Kingdom of God is coming, and the empire and its authorities will crumble.

Still, we live in the reality of the order as it is now, what Titus 2:12 calls the present age. We are called to be a people "zealous for good works" (v14). In the original language and context, "good works" were the practices of radical generosity and community shared in the early Jesus community. Acts says there was no poor among them. We have a passion for justice. We live contrary to the corrupt patterns of the world as they are. However, the patterns of the world are still as they are, and in this present age, we must find how we can practically live as Kingdom citizens in the midst of the reality of empire.

The early Christians were watched closely by their Roman neighbours. The Christians were significantly separated from the Roman world politically and socially by their abstinence from the temple and the party scene. Temple sacrifice was an assumed practice in Ancient Rome. Keeping the regional gods happy was a civic duty, showing that you cared for the well-being of the community. To not sacrifice was a political act, and also highly suspicious. Drunken orgies were also a common practice, and the early Christians also stopped participating in these. For these to acts alone, they had gained a bad reputation amongst some of the mainstream Romans. Suspicions led to accusations of atheism (for not worshipping the gods), incest (because they called each other "brother" and "sister", and greeted each other with kisses), and cannibalism (because of misunderstandings surrounding communion, the Eucharist). For these reasons, the early communities were watched very closely by curious neighbours and enemies alike. They wanted to know what these people were about.

Titus 2:7-8 (ESV)
Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.

Christians are ambassadors of the living Kingdom. The things we do and say reflect the nature of the Kingdom as it is and the Kingdom to come. By the Holy Spirit, we are "self-controlled" (v12), meaning we have within us the ability to govern our own passions, desires, and actions. We are not lawless (v14), but the law we follow is written on our hearts, not imposed by an outside authority. The Roman Empire's system was the true lawlessness, based on power and control held by the violent and corrupt few. The spirit of the empire filtered down to every citizen, each acting in the same self-interest and hedonism that led the powers to oppress them. Our lives seen by others should demonstrate the passion for justice this chapter describes, in the present age of empire as it is.

At the time this letter was written, fully one third of the population were slaves. The entire economy rested in the foundation of slavery. Romans lived in multi-generational family units, and they represented the building blocks of the empire's system. To live contrary to that system would be tantamount to a community in North America today trying to live entirely outside the country's system of capital, using no money for anything, ever. It was corrupt and unjust, but it was the reality in which the early Christians lived.

With such an understanding, the chapter gives practical advice for how to live in that present age, according to the empire's system, without compromise. Paul instructs the oldest matriarchs and patriarchs of the households to remain sober. The reputation of the oldest in the family units of ancient Rome was drunkenness that would lead to violence and control of the family. Not so for Christians. For every member of the family unit, Paul urges self-control. They were to be models of restraint and discipline, not because it was imposed upon them, but for honour to God. Slaves that would have been taught for the first time in the early Christian communities were not to use their faith as an excuse to rebel. Elsewhere in scripture are examples of slaves that are treated as free equals in the Christian community (particularly Philemon), but the principle in their relationship is to love and respect for the possibility of gaining an ally, rather than creating another enemy of the movement.

Christians and resisters today find themselves in a similar situation. We may believe that the overuse and abuse of fossil fuels is an injustice to the creation we were called to steward. Still, we live in a world that runs on oil and coal, and we must live within it even as we organize and act toward a world not dependent on oil. We may believe that the inequity of the wage system is unjust, and that an fully organized workforce is the only way workers will truly be paid what they are worth. Still, we must live and work within the world as it is. We do not have the choice to quit working, but we can organize toward a more just system even as we work in the system as it is.

Our hope is for a world that is just, loving, and good. Our lives lived now in the power of the Holy Spirit are a hint to those that watch us of how the world can be. Our lives lived in freedom and self-control witness to those that see us that the world can be different, is indeed different, and that the ideal and just world we speak of truly is coming.

Read Titus 2

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