May 31, 2019
Titus 3:12-15 (NLT)
I am planning to send either Artemas or Tychicus to you. As soon as one of them arrives, do your best to meet me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to stay there for the winter. Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos with their trip. See that they are given everything they need. Our people must learn to do good by meeting the urgent needs of others; then they will not be unproductive. Everybody here sends greetings. Please give my greetings to the believers—all who love us. May God’s grace be with you all.
We’re back where we started with Titus: getting personal. Paul wrote this letter for a local audience, so he said some tougher things. Personal conversations carry more weight, and sometimes we don’t like what people say. We call it someone “stepping on our toes,” which means what they’ve said is upsetting because it gets into something personal. This happens in almost all relationships (and sermons) at some point.
Pastor Louie Giglio once told a crowd he was going to step on their toes with his sermon, but he wanted to illustrate how he would do it. He called someone on stage and said he was going to physically step on their toes. As he did, he also put his arms around them. What that means, Louie said, was that if if I’m close enough to step on your toes I’m also close enough to embrace you.
At the end of this letter Paul lists some seemingly unimportant names with some instructions that don’t mean anything to us. A lot of these letters end like this and we usually skip them, but they meant something to Paul. And in the middle of listing his itinerary he drops: “Our people must learn to do good by meeting the urgent needs of others; then they will not be unproductive.”
Maybe not the nicest way he could have encouraged them, but it’s said in the same sprit as what he wrote earlier in the letter: “You must teach these things and encourage the believers to do them. You have the authority to correct them when necessary, so don’t let anyone disregard what you say” (v 2:15).
In other words, he and Titus have the authority to step on toes, but only because they’re close enough to embrace.
Paul has invested himself in Titus and the other folks he names. These tough letters are rooted in deep relationship, and show us we can give and receive challenging words if they are rooted in deep love.
Consider the Pharisees. They are the ubiquitous bad-guys of the Gospels. Jesus always railed against these religious leaders for playing politics. We’re warned never to be one, and yet we often give the title to other religious people we don’t agree with.
But Jesus loved the Pharisees. Of all the Jewish groups, they were the ones he probably most identified with theologically. They were the Law keepers, they just couldn’t see he was The Law (see Matthew 5:17). That’s why he was so frustrated with them and stepped on their toes all the time: because his authority to correct them came from a place of embrace. Don’t believe me? Look at the story of Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee who had reached a point of holy discontent. So he seeks out Jesus in the cover of darkness, and Jesus steps on his toes: “You are a respected Jewish teacher,” Jesus tells him, “and yet you don’t understand these teachings?” (John 3:10)
But here’s something you may never have noticed: It is during their conversation that Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16. The most trumpet-blasted, well known, publicly professed Scripture in human history. But it wasn’t said in a sermon to the crowds. Jesus said it to Nicodemus, one-on-one in a middle of the night conversation. Jesus just stepped on his toes, but now he was embracing him. And Nicodemus must have embraced a relationship with Jesus, because when Jesus is being taken down from the cross, one of the people helping embalm his body is Nicodemus. And then Nicodemus must have built a relationship and told John 3:16 to someone else, because now we all know it.
If you take nothing else away from this series, take this: There is a time for words that are challenging, words that defend the faith, and words that take a stand. But they must be words rooted in an embrace of the love that comes from a deep relationship with Jesus and a deep relationship with others.
In his book Shaped By the Bible, Will Willimon says, “The Bible is ‘political’ in the classic sense of the word politics — the formation of a polis, the constitution of a people through a discussion of what needs are worth having, what goals are good. Thus the Bible must be read ‘politically,’ that is, it must be read from a desire to form a new people.”
We say we want a Holy Spirit awakening in our world, but our public posturing, online arguments, and hash-tagging is not going to cut it. Why? Because whatever God does big he first does small, in our personal relationships and home communities meeting the urgent needs of others. So if what Wilimon says is true, then Paul and Titus — and Nicodemus and John 3:16 — are proof that when it comes to the gospel, all politics is local.
Jesus, because you loved me help me love the others closest to me like you do. Amen.
Where and who is your local?
For the awakening,