Labelling or Loving

Throughout the often-overlooked book of Amos we read that social injustice will not be tolerated (8.4-6 for example). If you Google a definition of social justice, you will probably get something like this,

“Social justice is the equal access to wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.”

Society’s version of social justice will tell you that we need to look around and see everybody’s differences, we need to acknowledge just how different we are, and we need to affirm and accept all these differences. 

Society’s social justice says I see your differences, we need to recognise them, then treat everyone the same despite the fact we are all different. But first though, let’s differentiate between ourselves as much as we can. Then, when we’ve done that, let’s work towards equality for all these groups we’ve just made.  

Gospel social justice says it doesn’t matter what colour skin you have, or what passport you hold, or what social status you have.

Gospel social justice says we are all made in the image of God (see Genesis 1), that we all have inherent and intrinsic dignity, worth, and value, and that is what we need to affirm and acknowledge, not our perceived and conceived differences.

Saying, “I am going to treat all nations the same” still acknowledges that there is a difference. 

Gospel social justice just doesn’t see the difference. 

Saying, “I am going to treat all people the same, the rich ones and the poor ones” still acknowledges that socioeconomic levels are noticeably different to you.

Gospel social justice just doesn’t see the difference. 

Social justice sees difference but works to treat people equally. 

Gospel social justice simply sees everyone as equal

We live in a fallen world that expects submission based on social status, country of origin, the colour of your skin, but, as Christians we know this is not right. We know that true submission is given to God, who does not distinguish by race or colour or gender or bank balance.  

Gospel social justice is not equality

it is impartiality. 

Jesus came to redeem all, regardless of social status, country of origin, religious background; all.

Galatians 3 summarises this well, 

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek,

there is neither slave nor free,

there is no male and female,

for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

On the Day of the Lord, Jesus died for all. He died to bring all into His kingdom, no matter who we are, no matter where we are from, no matter what we do, no matter our social status, our career path, who we were, Jesus died for all. So what do we do with this?

Perhaps this is marginally easier for me to grasp given that where I live, I am the minority. I am the minority linguistically, socially, religiously, dermatologically, and economically. Where I live, whenever I go anywhere to do anything, I am talking to and interacting with people who look different to me, who think differently to me, who speak differently to me, who worship differently to me, and who spend differently to me. I am the minority in this demographically rich and diverse place. 

This means that when I go anywhere other than my own house, I see people who are different to me. I see people, not categories of people. It would be utterly exhausting to differentiate between them all based on society’s social justice framework and then do the work needed to treat them all equally. A trip to the supermarket would require military-grade planning and precision just to make sure I don’t offend anyone. So, instead, when I go out, I see people. Period. I don’t see a Bangladeshi man, a Filipino lady, a Bahraini family, an American, a Brit, an Indian, an Aussie, a Kiwi…I see people. I would encourage you to do the same. Stop differentiating and labelling and putting people into societal boxes, and just see people. Be salt to people. Be light to people. Don’t see them for who they are on the outside, see them for who they are on the inside; created in the image, formed in the womb, fearfully and wonderfully made, loved to the point of death, and redeemed by resurrection.

Simply then, Gospel social justice is not equality, it’s impartiality. See people as people. Stop labelling, and start loving. 

Titus 2.2 – To The Men

Today Paul gets more specific on his command to Titus to teach what accords with sound doctrine (v.1) and speaks to the men under Titus’ charge.

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.

Titus 2.2

Titus was most likely younger than these older men, and it takes a great deal of humility to be pastored and led by someone younger in years than you. The fact that Paul needs to tell Titus how they ought to behave shows us that this kind of behaviour doesn’t always come naturally with age; if it did, there would be no need for Titus to teach them! (cf. v.1).

There is often a misconception that once an older man stops work, he is to move on to the next stage of his life and either become immersed in his hobbies or just simply live out his days quietly and without much fuss. But, here Titus is told to teach the Cretans that no, your older men are to be examples in character, they must enter this phase of their lives and not ‘let go‘, rather, they ought to be the living embodiment of one who has years of experience to share, tales of trials that have been overcome, and words of wisdom that come from walking with the Lord for so long. 

Being sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness are all great qualities that we want the older men in our lives to be displaying. Titus is being told to teach the Cretans this, to have them set an example for those around them, and we would all do well to take stock of how we are measuring up, and who God has put in our lives to model this for us. 

If you are in your 40s, 50s, 60s, or even older, look around and see who you can come alongside and mentor, who you can pass on some of these wonderful qualities and experiences to. If you are that younger man, receive this wisdom and mentoring with joy!

Titus 2.1 – Right Living

Titus 2 begins with a huge contrast to the end of ch.1. Paul is telling Titus that as the minister in charge, the called and installed pastor (1.5), his life must be of stark contrast to those detailed in 1.10-16.

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

Titus 2.1

As an instruction for a leader of God’s people, perhaps this is the most singular and succinct – teach what accords with sound doctrine. This command carries the meaning of teaching people and exampling for people what it means to live a Christian life, not just know about a Christian life.

There is something immensely practical being taught here from Paul, to Titus, to his people, and by extension and application, to us. 

We often don’t like being told what we can and can’t do, what we should and shouldn’t do. But, to claim to be following Jesus whilst paying no heed to the practical dos and don’ts of His Word is tantamount to hypocrisy. I read recently that ‘The Bible is a book that tells us how to live‘. 

Towards the end of what we call ‘The Great Commission‘ in Matthew 28 are these words, 

…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…

Jesus didn’t say ‘teach them to understand all that I have commanded you…‘, but rather ‘…teach them to observe…’. The path is clear; Jesus, Disciples, Paul, Titus, people.

We are the people.

We are being commanded to observe and do all that Jesus commanded.

We are commanded to live a life of right Christian living.

We are commanded to take literally the passages of the Word that instruct and inform our character and conduct.

Taking the right living parts of the Bible seriously and literally is not just for the ‘extreme’ or ‘devout’ Christian, it is for all of us who have professed and confessed to be believers.

Is that you?

Titus 1.12-16 – Talking the Talk

Paul has established the need for Godly character in the leaders and we said that we all ought to be working towards this, and now he gives his younger charge the reason why such character is needed.

One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

Titus 1.12-16

The problem all boils down to the truth of v.16; that the people Titus has been tasked with leading (with the help of his newly-appointed eldersprofess to know God, but they deny him by their works. Their character is severely lacking when compared to the elders appointed (vv.5-9, cf. vv.12-16), they are prone to myths and legalism (v.14), and have seriously misunderstood the liberty to live life to the full that comes with Christ (v.15). All the more need, then, for consistent Christian character to be displayed by Titus and his elders.

The crux of the problem is professing to know God, but denying Him with works. This comes up again and again in Scripture, doesn’t it? James 2.14-26, for example, makes a strong case that if you truly believe in what you claim and profess, there will be evidence, examples, and fruit borne from the root. 

Friends, it is one thing to talk like a Christian, but more important than all the terms, the lingo, the big theological words, the Christian-ese, is actually living the life. Talking the talk is one thing, but can we walk the walk?

Paul writes of those who simply talk a good game, they are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

These are strong words, but Paul means it. These difficult people probably pretended to have a higher spirituality than Titus or other godly leaders.

David Guzik

So, today, stop and think: am I talking the talk but not walking the walk?

Were I to keep silent for a day, would anybody be able to tell I am a Christian by my conduct and character?

Titus 1.10-11 – Character in Action

Having laid out for Titus the character of those whom he should appoint as elders to help him lead, Paul now details one of their tasks; to silence false teaching.

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.

Titus 1.10-11

Sadly as true today as it was when Paul penned this, there are those who move in Christian circles who are insubordinate, not wishing to submit to the authority of the Word or to those whom the Word installs as leaders. This is usually followed by empty talking, deceptive speech, upsetting speech, and often comes with a personal agenda (…for shameful gain…).

The character of an elder, there to help put what remains into order must be ready and willing to speak out against such divisive, deceptive, and destructive talk. If, as we said, this character is what we are all progressing towards, by extension we should all be ready and willing to speak out against such talk. 

That’s not to say today that you must seek out and silence those who err from an orthodox teaching of the Word, but, when presented with a false teaching, when presented with empty talk, with deceptive talk that doesn’t line up with Scripture, with upsetting speech, or with personal agendas, our Christian character in action must be ready and willing to take a stand, knowing that those who take a stand for the truth of the Word will be rightly rewarded (1 Peter 3.13-16Matthew 5.12). 

Is your Christian character ready for this?

Is your Christian character willing to do this?

Titus 1.5-9 – Christian Character

After a few introductions, Paul gave Titus the task to put what remained into order, and appoint elders…He now lays out the exemplary character that needs to be displayed by these men who are to be appointed by Titus to spiritually oversee the churches.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

Titus 1.5-9

Even though this list of character qualifications is specifically listed as being needed by those who are appointed elders in the church (v.5), we would all do well to see that really, this is the benchmark for Christian character in general, elder or not, male or female, Jew or Greek, this is how Christians should conduct themselves.

Don’t we all want to have such a solid character reputation that people trust us,

don’t we all want to be loyal, have a great family life, be humble, peaceable, consistent, content, welcoming, Spirit-filled,

and a good witness of Christ to those around us?

Don’t we all want to be known as someone who stands on Scripture for our equipping, edification, and examples (Timothy 3.16)?

Yes, elders are appointed to model this character to us all in church, but they should never be the only people who live like this. Simply, this is how we are all to live having professed faith in Jesus and submitted and committed to living under His Lordship.

It might seem like a tough task but, as we said previously, we need only say ‘Here I am, send me!‘, and allow the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to work in us as we are being transformed, day by day, towards the image of the ultimate example of Christian character, Jesus.

Living a Life of Truth

In Judaism, in the mind and the culture of the day in which James lived and wrote, truth was the basis of the law. Reading James 5.12 it would be very easy to hyper-moralise and say something like, 

You need to be so careful to tell the truth
so you don’t fall under condemnation.
Be a better, more truthful you.

The law-minded person would simply see this as a law to keep.

What about when we look at this through the lens of Jesus? We see that our character is lacking so we feel the need to make oaths, we feel we need to substantiate our claims by saying something like ‘I swear to God I will…I swear I didn’t…’

The fact that James is saying this at all is proof it was happening, isn’t it, you don’t teach about situations that don’t exist, do you? If we are honest, this is still happening; we feel the need to make stronger our own words, our own claims than with a simple yes or no.

Jesus, on other hand, didn’t.

Jesus spoke only truth in love. We fail, He succeeds. You will never be that more truthful you until you are a born again believer in Jesus with the Spirit of God living in you. How is that possible? 

Faith in Jesus makes this possible.

Truth, Biblical truth, Christian truth, Jesus-emanating truth is authenticity, Divine reality. John in particular in his account of the life, ministry, death, resurrection of Jesus uses this word ‘truth‘ to describe the fact that this reality, this authentic, Divine reality is actually possible for you and me as humans, but in our natural state, it’s out of reach. We are out of touch, out of step with it, but, through the revelation of the Word of God, the incarnation and work of and faith in the Word of God, it is reachable. 

So, with James writing about yes be yes and no be no, in our natural state, sadly, nobody is ever going to be able to get to that standard. No motivational speech, no self help, no self improvement, no amount of burden that you put on yourself will ever get you there. There is only one way to be able to live this life, there is only one way to practice truthfulness as God Himself is truthful and that is through the authenticity, the Divine revelation, the Word become flesh, through Jesus. 

Everything that we want, everything that we need to live a life of truth, true, actual, authentic, real truth, is available to us in Jesus, and nowhere else.

So, simply, your life of truth has to be rooted in, has to stem from, to grow out of, Jesus.