Today’s readings: Isaiah, chapters 1-3; Titus, chapter 3
Scripture: Titus 3:1-11 (NRSV) – Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure.
I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone. But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. After a first and second admonition, having nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions, since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned.
Observations: It is interesting how many times the New Testament epistles talk about being subject to rulers and authorities. That command was not based on the goodness of those earthly rulers; the Roman government kept peace through overwhelming force and violence. As time went on, the Roman rulers proved more and more hostile to Christians, and persecution became commonplace. So the teaching to be subject to the rulers and authorities was not based on the quality of the rulers; rather, it was grounded in the ultimate sovereignty of God.
The early Christians were under no delusions about their rulers; neither should we be under any such delusions. We are called to be subject to rulers and authorities as a reflection of our ultimate commitment to God. “Being subject” did not mean simply doing whatever the rulers and authorities said, because Christians refused to declare “Caesar is Lord” and offer the pinch of incense as a sacrifice to the emperor. That was a command of the emperor, and those who refused suffered a great deal. “Being subject” in that case meant accepting the penalty for disobedience with grace, in witness of their ultimate allegiance to Jesus.
Today, believers around the world live in many different circumstances and are subject to many different types of rulers and authorities. In some places, allegiance to Jesus places Christians at great risk. In other places – like the United States – we have the freedom to worship, and to participate in the political system through voting, speaking, and even as candidates for election. This means that “being subject” looks different in various places around the world. But we must never forget that our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus, and we can never allow that allegiance to be weakened by anything that we do or say in the political realm.
There’s another thing that many of the epistles talk about, and we see it in today’s passage as well: speak evil of no one…avoid quarreling…be gentle…show every courtesy to everyone. In a world where anger and bitterness seems to have a stronger hold every day, followers of Jesus must bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. How might our communities be different if we followed Paul’s admonition to speak evil of no one, avoid quarreling, be gentle, and show every courtesy to everyone?
Applications: In my readings over the past few months, I’ve been struck by how often these sorts of phrases have appeared, and how often God has directed my attention to them. I believe that God is directing me to be more intentional about these issues, and about how I need to respond when I am confronted with those who speak evil of others, those who quarrel, and those who do not show courtesy to others. Paul’s words to Titus are directed to a spiritual leader, and Paul begins chapter 3 with the phrase “Remind them.” It’s part of my responsibility to remind those whom I serve that this is God’s desire for us, and I believe that God is telling me to pay more attention to that responsibility.
Prayer: Father, it is easy to be joyful and patient when I am alone with you; it is much more challenging when I am confronted with the anger and the bitterness of this world. Help me to bear the fruit of your Spirit each day, in ways that offer an alternative to the spirit of this age. Bathe me in your Spirit each day, so that I may reflect the joy and the peace that comes from your presence and your work in me. Help me today to bear witness to you. Amen.