What if the church has the same reputation as the society in which it is found? What if when people talk about the sinful people in a certain neighborhood, they don't make an exception for the people of the church? What if, in effect, the word of God is reviled because of the lifestyle of Christians in a faith community? What if, the Christians' poor reputation results in the opponents of the cross having evil to say about Christ's church?
Our church is currently studying the Book of Titus. This is an excellent place to find answers to address the situations described above. Paul left Titus on the Island of Crete to fix just such a church. Actually many such churches. All of them with the same basic problem: they had the same behavior as the unbelievers on the island.
Paul said much to Titus about how to go about this colossal task, but let us focus first on the mission Paul describes at the opening of the letter. Consider Paul's mission as he was commissioning Titus in that same mission. He lays it out in the opening:
"Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior." Titus 1:1-3
Paul's mission as an authoritative servant was "for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth." Some important things to note in this phrase. The first thing is that faith and knowledge of the truth are inextricably linked. People of weak faith need to be encouraged with the truth. Peter describes ineffectual Christians as "having forgotten that [they were] cleansed from [their] former sins" (2 Peter 1:9). But the opposite is also true. As Christians become intimate (again?) with the truth, their faith strengthens. This is critical for Titus to meditate on as he was faced with an island of churches filled with people not growing in their knowledge of the truth, filled with people of weak faith . That is why they were so susceptible to false teaching with devastating results. Paul speaks of "empty talkers and deceivers...upsetting whole families" (1:10-11). The churches were being taught doctrine that was empty, devoid of the power to change. Thus, the reputation of Cretan believers was indistinguishable from that of the non-Christian islanders (1:12-13). Paul's mission communicates to Titus that a knowledge of the truth was the cure.
Think on your own reputation. If you sometimes muddy your identity as a Christian by your behavior or you've upset your whole family by your empty leadership, the culprit is your sinfully weak faith. If this describes you, begin by meditating on the truth of the gospel of Christ and the blessed results that flow from it. Growing in your understanding of this most significant truth will build up your faith and begin to distinguish you as a man set apart from the world.
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