Titus: A Model of Joy-filled and Passionate Missions

Old vintage retro golden compass on ancient map

By Joe LaGuardia

You remember Titus, don’t you?  He’s the one who has an epistle in the New Testament bearing his name?

I didn’t remember him either.  We rarely read about minor characters in the Bible such as Titus.  When was the last time your pastor preached a sermon on him?

Titus, as minor as he seems, was actually a critical figure in the early Christian missionary movement under St. Paul’s leadership.  He founded, led, and organized churches.  His ability to bring people together and build coalitions for the cause of Christ is well documented.

In other words, there is much to learn from Titus, and we Christians would do well to follow his example in living the type of evangelism his life espoused.

According to Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Titus was an early convert to the Christian faith.  He was Greek and, therefore, avoided conformity to the Jewish Law while becoming a believer in Christ (Gal. 2:2).  He was Paul’s partner in spreading the Gospel in Macedonia, Corinth, Crete, and Dalmatia.

Further investigation affirms that Titus’s evangelism methods had qualities worthy of mimicry.

Titus, for instance, represented a type of evangelism that was filled with consolation and encouragement.  In the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote that his tumultuous relationship with the Corinthian churches found some healing in the wake of Titus’ efforts (2 Cor. 7:1-7).

Titus consoled the community of Corinth and, in turn, consoled Paul.  He was an agent of reconciliation between two parties that didn’t see eye to eye.

Evangelism that makes a difference is always one that brings consolation to those who are at odds with God.  Too often, evangelists use hostile or harsh words to coerce audiences into a place of conviction.  Consolation, on the other hand, allows people to experience the love of Christ in a way that compels them to follow Christ with sincerity, hope, and sustainable discipleship.

Titus was also a person of joy and enthusiasm (2 Cor. 7:13, 8:16).  Keen readers of the Bible get the sense that Titus’ life was so transformed by the love of Christ that his passion for the gospel became contagious.

Titus confronts those of us who live life in a state of melancholy and despair.  Christ’s salvation should fill us with an unyielding joy that cannot help but affect our life and the lives of others.

Titus promoted a type of evangelism that emphasized personal responsibility and generosity.

According to the Corinthian correspondences, a part of Paul’s conflict with Corinthian Christians was their lack of supporting an offering for the poor in Jerusalem.  Paul sent Titus to persuade the Corinthians to give out of their abundant wealth and love for God (2 Cor. 8).  After all, if God gave them the gift of salvation, how much more should they give to those in need of material resources.

Titus did not let these disciples skate through their faith without taking responsibility in participating on behalf of social justice.  He knew that following Jesus was a task resulting in joy and redemption, but he also knew that it was a task requiring sacrifice, charity, work, missions, and some hard life changes.

In a personal correspondence, Paul encouraged Titus to remember God’s grace and train others “to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly” (Titus 2:11-12).  This discipleship was no watered-down gospel free from the obligations of the cross-shaped life.

Although Titus is a minor character in the bigger plot of God’s salvation, he has much to teach us even today.  Like him, our evangelism and discipleship can take the shape of the joy, enthusiasm, responsibility and generosity that made Titus such a trusted figure in the Bible and the early church.

 

Church is a Collaborative Project

ballchain

By Joe LaGuardia

Christianity is a collaborative faith.

In a letter to churches in Corinth, the apostle Paul confronted several congregations that were arguing with each other.  No two churches were alike and each one served a purpose in the Body of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 12:27, he wrote, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”

Fortunately for us — 2000 years removed from Paul’s situation — collaboration is still highly valued in our society.  Businesses, organizations, and individuals that value collaboration succeed.  We have sent men to the moon and rovers to Mars all because of the cooperation of thousands of individuals.

Non-profit and governmental agencies that promote teamwork are able to combat social ills that have long plagued society.  Churches that cooperate in the public sector not only fulfill part of Jesus’ Great Commission, but thrive in a marketplace in which the lines between secular and sacred often blur.

Rockdale County enjoys a great deal of collaboration on multiple levels.  The Rockdale Coalition for Children and Families, for instance, hosts a free networking lunch monthly for non-profits in the area.

I’ve attended several of these lunches, and I’ve met so many different leaders, laborers, and clergy who also cherish the value of partnering together to resolve some local issues that need tackling.

Without this network, we would have to go it alone; and, for a church as small as Trinity Baptist, going it alone means not being able to reach out as effectively as we hope.

For far too many Christians and churches, however, collaboration still brings with it a sense of fear and anxiety.  Some churches believe that they cannot collaborate with organizations that do not share their exact political or theological beliefs.  They would rather “reinvent the wheel” than partner with another organization that is already making a difference in the local community.

Such churches feel that in order to collaborate they must compromise their convictions.

This approach brings with it more issues than one might initially guess. For one, a church that refuses to collaborate assumes that it has all of the answers and knows exactly what a community needs.  This is not always the case.

Sometimes, Christians can be so brazen about their theology that it actually works against the impact their church can make in the community.  It may also exacerbate needs rather than resolve them.

In other situations, a church that assumes it has “all the answers” can sometimes fail to ask the right questions.  Where social economic justice is concerned, this can mean the difference between a church enabling dysfunction instead of empowering a community to become economically sustainable.

Failing to assess needs can lead to dependence rather than interdependence or, better, synergy that utilizes all of the creative gifts that can benefit an entire spiritual ecosystem.

Such differences of opinion within Christ’s Church is not new.  Paul’s admonishment to churches in his own era prove that divisions and squabbles will always pervade church and society.

Yet, we must be passionate about reaching out, communicating what we have to offer, and seeing ourselves not as lone rangers in a threatening prairie of dry spiritual barrenness, but part of a much larger Body of Christ working within a vibrant oasis of plenty in which God’s Spirit is already present.

May we be ever mindful of our neighbors and the partnerships we share, for we have more in common than we know.

Next week, we will continue this conversation about collaboration as it relates to racial reconciliation in our community.

Bringing Reconciliation in a Divided World

113CongressSeveral weeks ago the results of a major mid-term election allowed Republicans to take the Senate, incumbents to get the boot or barely hold on to their seats, and pundits to have a field day diagnosing the issues related to campaigns and candidates alike.

While people surmised why votes went one way or another, nearly every local election made one fact clear: We are living in a divided nation.  Every winner can’t claim a total victory.  Sure, if you win by 51% of the vote, you win; but at the end of the day, it likely meant that you garnered only half of the voters at the ballot box.

This divide in American politics may strike fear in the hearts of people who simply want their representatives to govern.  Others find the results to be disheartening, hinting at continued gridlock in our nation’s capital.

But what if, from the point of view of the church, this division is an opportunity to help people find their way back to the Lord?

Think about it: The media enjoys divisive politics because it means attracting more viewers.  Politicians can rally their electoral base.  Even we viewers at home like a little drama in our politics as we tune out people who are either boring or non-confrontational (or have common-sense solutions, for that matter).

In all of this, there are few institutions that promote reconciliation and peacemaking.

Enter the church.  God’s purposes for the church not only transcend our society’s politics, they also seeks to bring reconciliation in places divided by all sorts of barriers.

This happened very early on: The day Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples received the Holy Spirit and starting speaking in a variety of languages.  To those gathered in Jerusalem at the time, it was a unifying moment: Each person heard the same gospel in their native tongue.  For once they had something in common.

As the church matured over time, the egalitarian nature of Christian community became a beacon of hope throughout the Roman Empire.  While citizens of the Empire thrived on inequality and hierarchy to manage power and prestige, the church gave everyone–regardless of socio-economic stature, race, ethnicity, or gender–a place at the table.

It was in his letters to the Corinthian churches, in particular, that Paul encouraged the church to spread the Gospel by bearing witness to the unity, harmony, and peace that Christ ushered into the world through the Holy Spirit.

The Bible says, “From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view…All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Corinthains 5:16, 18-19).

In other words, when a person becomes a Christian, she is not a product of her culture or society any longer.  She is redeemed to Christ and brought into a relationship with God.  She is a new creation; and as a new creation, she becomes a citizen of the kingdom of God.

As citizens of the kingdom, Christians are called to be agents of reconciliation in a divided–and divisive–world.

Instead of taking sides, we are to stand on the side of Jesus.  Instead of touting our political victories or condemning the opposing team, we are to remind people that they are ultimately held accountable to God, who doesn’t claim any political party.

Christians are outsiders looking in, objective players who have a bigger vision than those who govern in the moment.

“So we are ambassadors for Christ since God is making his appeal through us” (v. 20).

An ambassador is one who goes to a foreign land to help people make peace with another nation.  In this context, Christians are to be peacemakers that help reconcile people to one another and, ultimately, to God.

Postscript:  I wrote about two weeks ago.  This week, I was disheartened to hear that the events surrounding the death of Michael Brown have escalated protests and violence in major cities, including here at the ATL.   The church needs to encourage local communities in reconciliation, foster conversations between neighborhoods and law-enforcement agencies, and promote honest conversations about responsibility, accountability, the threat of a sensational media, and race relations.  We will be in prayer for all the families involved in injustice and the on-going consequences of America’s love affair with guns and gun violence, which seems to be at the heart of most–if not all–of these conflicts of late.  –JVL