It’s A Trap

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May 31, 2019 

Titus 3:9-11 (NLT)

Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws. These things are useless and a waste of time. If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.

CONSIDER THIS

[This post is a bit longer today, but it needs to be said.]

Mark 12 tells the story of two different groups working together to get Jesus arrested. Some Pharisees (the religion team) and some supporters of Herod (the political team) ask Jesus if it is okay for Jews to pay taxes to Caesar. 

As we saw yesterday, the coin used to pay the tax had an image of Caesar on it that read “Son of the divine and high priest.” Under Jewish law the image of Caesar was a carved image – an idol – and so was not to be touched. But under Roman law, the tax had to be paid. 

In his iconic response, Jesus takes the coin and says, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him. (Mark 12:16-17 – NIV).

His answer amazed them because their question was a trap. If Jesus said yes then he’d be breaking Jewish law and could lose his crowd of followers. If he said no then he’d be breaking Roman law and arrested. Both the religious side and the political side were saying, “You’re either with us or against us.”

The most accepted interpretation and application of this story is that Jesus was saying, “Be a good citizen and a good church member. Pay your taxes, but also pay your tithe.” 

But what is so amazing about that? 

I once met a rabbi who said this story is really Jesus riffing on a popular rabbinic teaching question that went something like, “Whose image is on humanity?” And the answer is, “God’s.” 

The coin bears the image of a fake god. But humanity bears the image of the Trinity. So imagine Jesus seperating church and state by saying, “Who’s image on the coin? And who’s image is on humanity? Well then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give back to God what is God’s.”

He walked out of their trap by not falling for the argument between religion and politics. 

In today’s text, Paul moves his discussion of religion and politics with the admonition to “not get involved in foolish discussions,” or get into “quarrels and fights” because they are “useless and a waste of time.” Then he ups the stakes by saying if people do get into those kind of fights to “have nothing more to do with them.”

This follows his own testimony from yesterday’s text that, “Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other” (Titus 3:3). 

Paul is warning us about the you’re either with us or against us trap of religion and politics many of us fall into today in our current cultural, political, and denominational realities.

The issue is not a difference of opinion. We all come from very different theological backgrounds, denominational traditions, and varying experiences. Our religion wasn’t even crawling before these differences came up (see Acts 15). 

The issue is how we talk to one another and treat each other in the midst of these differences. And no where is that a more dangerous issue than online. Lost in the tweets and comments section are our tone, facial expressions, and body language… those non-verbal cues that makeup almost 90% of effective communication. 

This leaves us with only the words we use, which is really important since the words we say have the power of life and death (see Proverbs 18:21). 

The issue we’re struggling with is not debate but argument. There is a difference between defending the faith and destroying your opponent; between having the right words and warring to be right. A rebuke is not the same as a takedown. Name calling is not the same as “in the name of Jesus.”

Scripture has a bunch to say about how to deal with each other in our disagreements, and some examples include:

2 Timothy 2:24: A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.

Titus 3:2: [Believers] must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. 

James 3:9-10: With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

Titus 3:10: If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them.

Ephesians 4:29: Do not use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

And of course, all the love in 1 Corinthians 13 can’t be read apart from the warnings in chapter 12. This last one is most important because we are in a very angry era, so let’s just call it what it is: Sin. Satan is using social media and 24-hour news commentary to steal, kill, and destroy. 

It’s a trap. 

True love is a subversive counter-attack, but loses all it’s power if we’re just attacking each other. We need to always be praying for the Holy Spirit to help us confront without being confrontational and to not be conformed by the ways of the Twitter world. This is the difference between bearing the image of Caesar and bearing the image of the Trinity.

We can easily end up the people Paul says “have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.” But thankfully Paul gives us another option – a Jesus option – to walk out of the trap: “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone” (Colossians 4:5-6).

Let today’s Caesars and their followers have all the nasty conflict and conversation. Instead let’s give to each other, who are made in God’s image, what is God’s. And tomorrow as we finish Titus we’ll see what that looks like.

THE PRAYER

(Taken from the Election Day prayers at the Francis Asbury statue in Washington D.C.) 

Jesus, cleanse us from the scourge of insult and incivility of our nation’s discourse. Govern our hearts, our minds, and our words that we would no longer contribute to the discord but become sowers of your peace and of your Word. Awaken us again to your high calling to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Amen.

THE QUESTION

Where do you see the traps laid before you, and where have you fallen in? Let’s confess them and repent.

For the awakening,
Omar Al-Rikabi

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Omar Rikabi is a United Methodist Pastor serving in North Texas. When not telling stories, Omar likes to watch movies with his wife Jennifer, read books with his three daughters, and work in the kitchen cooking and grilling for family and friends. You follow him on Twitter @omarrikabi or visit his blog omarrikabi.com

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