Launching into a study of Titus this month at the Vineyard, I received this comment from a good friend:
As I read Titus, Paul tells him to be really strong, to take command and do the work. This is a tricky deal when we are talking about heirloom, multi-generational Christianity. As I am the Dad of grown children, I am constantly amazed at two or three things in the next generation. First, their living by the idea of not being judgmental, second their lack of boundaries, their disdain for anyone who even smells of taking authority or telling them what to do. If I were alone in this I would think it is just me, but I have talked to and prayed with so many hurting parents that I see I am far from alone. Saying that to say this: how do we transmit to the next generation a true non-legalistic gospel?
I guess if I were starting a study in Titus, I would start in Chapter 3:3-7, which is the heart of Paul’s gospel as expressed in Romans and Galatians. I know we need to build the foundation, but if our generation really wants to impact the next we will have to go to them with the comfort Paul refers to when Titus went to the Corinthians, called them to account, and loved them all the more. (2Cor. 7:6-16 in this passage the word parakletos in verb and noun forms occurs at least five times). So, I pray that we come to the next generation in great compassion. [I’m struck by] Matthew 9:36 [my personal paraphrase]: “Seeing the teens and twenties in their addictions, alternative lifestyles, confusion, pain, without boundaries, their lives flowing out like a flood, with no direction or sense of future, He felt compassion for them, because they were harassed and distressed, thrown down and dispirited, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to his disciples, ‘This next generation is not coming to you, they will not come into your churches or your mental constructs until you go to them.’”
You find your son is playing softball in a gay softball league and you go and watch two hundred gay men play softball. You find your son is having NFL Sunday parties, you go with wood for his outside burner, and even drink one beer. You hear your daughter is in a marriage with an alcoholic, you go and read the blue book, you attend meetings of adult children of alcoholics. You enter their world with compassion, you enter their world with comfort as Titus did with the Corinthians.
It strikes me as I reflect on my friend’s words how monotone the gospel can be as it comes from our lips and through our lives – colorless, odorless, lifeless – whatever the decibel range and tone we tend to employ – when we are not prompted and propelled by the compassion that filled the heart of Jesus as he beheld his generation.
Reciting Titus last week publicly, I was struck by the forcefulness Paul urged upon Titus while he finished up the work needing to be done. “Rebuke them sharply so that they may be sound in the faith.” “These are the things you are to teach; command and rebuke with all authority, don’t let anyone despise you.” Reflecting on the gentle paraclete Titus evidently was among the Corinthians, as referenced above, I wonder if such gentleness wasn’t his “default” disposition and Paul is urging a harder line in Crete because he sensed a more severe tone was necessary in that time and setting and context.
Paul’s words to the Galatians come to mind: “Oh my dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you again, how I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!” Paul’s tone with the Galatians at this point was at a high pitch – he’s often scolding them across the miles. But suddenly he seems to wish he could be right there with them and try any and every other tone possible to see if that might reach them. And if not that, then perhaps this.
Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to remember that though the Message of Christ remains unchanged, the delivery will of necessity vary – different brushes, a variety of strokes, diverse methods and pitches and approaches. But underlying them all will be the driving passion to see Christ formed in others – or perhaps even better, to see emerge into view from the lives of scattered, confused and distressed people the Christ who is already with and even within them.