Parenting with Ephesians 1 in mind

In the first 14 verses of Ephesians, Paul lays out 6 benefits that the Father has given to us through our immersion into Christ (Romans 6:3-4). These benefits are “spiritual blessings” , enabling us to succeed in the new life we have been born into through the spirit. (John 3:5-8):

  1. A privileged standing before Him (v.4)
  2. A Father-son, family relationship with Him (vv.5-6)
  3. A forever forgiveness from Him (V.7)
  4. “Insider” truth about the purpose & end of human history (vv.8-10)
  5. A shared inheritance with Christ (vv.11-12)
  6. The Holy Spirit as a present benefit & guarantee of our inheritance (vv.13-14)

In reminding the Ephesians of these things, Paul encourages us  to live lives transformed as a result of keeping these realities on the forefront of our minds.

This leads to an important question: Since every area of our lives are impacted by the Good News about the Kingdom of God, how can these six benefits help us to succeed as Christ-honoring parents?

If I were to boil it all down into one phrase, these six blessings from the Father transform us by changing our priorities. If we stop to examine  our interior lives, especially the sinful tendencies that reveal themselves in the trenches of marriage and parenting (anger, resentment, anxiety, selfishness, etc.), I think we will find that we misvalue things and people. We tend to value our projects, possessions, “me time”, convenience and comfort. We tend to misvalue people who interfere with those “treasures”.

In considering the benefits the Father has given, we come face to face with a Divine Person who doesn’t operate that way. We are not obstacles to Him, so he doesn’t treat us as obstacles. We are made in His image, so he values us highly. The Trinity always exist in perfect, loving community, so the Father doesn’t need our obedience or behavior to validate himself.

I’ll illustrate how these benefits have been personally helpful. I will admit that when I am doing something I enjoy or am immersed in or even “have” to do, I feel resentful when I have to intervene in a squabble. Where does this feeling come from? It comes from my belief that my personal satisfaction is more important than my relationship to my children as their teacher and representative of their Heavenly Father. How can the six benefits help me?

  1. Since I have a privileged status before the God of Everything, I should reflect on what he values.
  2. Jesus died in order to secure a Father-Son relationship with me, therefore the relationship with my children which mirrors that most important of relationships is worth the small sacrifice of time I give.
  3. Since I have forever forgiveness, I must remove all bitterness or resentment towards my children from my heart.
  4. The Father’s long term plan is to unify all things in Christ. I should value helping my kids grow in their understanding and experience of life in Christ more than my personal comfort or entertainment.
  5. I share in the inexhaustible wealth the Father will lavish on me. Why am I making a big deal out of things that are passing away? The novel I’m reading or the show I’m watching are negligible in the face of eternity with Jesus.
  6. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on me as evidence of the transformed life I am called to. I have full access to the life of God through the Spirit so I can absolutely overcome my bad attitude or anxiety or anger.

 

 

Just like a board game will sit unused if you forget that you have it in your closet, these benefits–given to us by the Father in the Son through the Holy Spirit–can do nothing if we don’t keep them in focus. Remember, these are not things you DO they are blessings you HAVE. A sports car is meant to be driven. A gift card is not a bookmark. A gourmet meal is not a table decoration. Spend some time thinking about the things you misvalue and let the truth of God’s Word show you how to experience the benefit of living in the Family of God.

 

 

 

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GOSPEL BEAUTY ON DISPLAY

During the month of February, with Valentine’s Day as the occasion, advertisers and other purveyors of culture naturally emphasize romantic love. The proliferation of balloons, cards and chocolate, while a delightful opportunity to  appreciate “beloved ones” is accompanied by the darker side of Cupid. What in former times was delicately  veiled and enjoyed within the protection of marriage is emblazoned on magazine covers, graphically described in popular music, and endlessly forwarded and tweeted about on social media platforms. Our children are flooded with ideas, words, images assumptions and expectations about sexual experience that are difficult to filter. As followers of Christ, living under his rule of Agape love, we as parents have been given a wonderful gift to help us steer our children through these turbulent waters.

In Mark 1, we are introduced to the concept of “the gospel” in the very first sentence, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”,  or to put it in a more expanded way : “The start of the good news of Jesus the divine rescuing King”. Later in verse 14  Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  No cross is mentioned, no sin is mentioned, no resurrection mentioned. Instead, Jesus’ gospel is that 1) the time is fulfilled and, 2) the kingdom of God has arrived. What is going on here and how does this help parents?

Jesus understood himself as the climax of a huge story. Throughout the New Testament reference is made to Jesus’ ministry including his death and resurrection as the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament (e.g. Luke 24:25-27). His coming inaugurated God’s rule on Earth: the overthrow of rebellious spiritual rulers , the rescue of a humanity that had be enslaved to sin and death, the unification of Jews and Gentiles into one people empowered to live in perfect fellowship with God. Now, anyone who is in Christ is part of a renewed humanity, living lives of others-focused, self-giving love just as our Divine King has done. It is a beautiful, magnificent story, with a divinely given, Holy Spirit empowered calling! And it effects everything we do, think  and say.

Flash forward to now.

As we—Christian parents—grow in our capacity to grasp the immense love of God for us displayed in Christ, and the beyond-our-wildest-imagination privilege we have as belonging to God’s divine family, we must paint in vivid colors the beautiful vision of the good news: God’s divinely-appointed King has established God’s Kingdom and we can all live in it — right now. When we talk about learning, or playing, or music, or marriage, nature or anything, we bring the good news about the Right-Now-Kingdom-of- God into the conversation. We commend to our children the beautiful vision of a deeply loving, merciful Creator, a self-giving rescuing Savior, and an ever-present teaching, guiding, helping and comforting Holy Spirit who free us from the chains of depression, anxiety, hopelessness, loneliness, worthlessness, bitterness and every other torment of that other kingdom . We have been given everything we need to live in the new Kingdom and to lives of joy in the face of difficulties and hope in the face of suffering. Our worth and value are unshakable because we are hidden inside the perfection of Jesus.

We are not called to be fearful of our culture: it is passing away. We are not called to be anxious parents: we have a Heavenly Father who cares for us and for them. There is a place and a time to talk with our children about the empty temptation and confusion that our culture offers up under the guise of sexual pleasure and fulfillment. It is tempting for us to focus on the negative consequences of engaging in sexual contact outside of a marriage covenant… but that is not the best way.

The best way, or as Paul put it , the more excellent way, is to commend a massive and breath-takingly beautiful vision of life in the Kingdom of the Beloved Son, including the complimentary nature and shared purpose of male and female image-bearers of God, and God’s design for sexual union in Marriage. To paraphrase a well-known hymn, when you consistently show the beauty in the face of Christ, “the things of Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace”.


QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

  1. Are you fearful and anxious for your children when you think of the direction our culture is moving in?
  2. When thinking on the topic of sexuality—especially in regards to teaching your children—do you mostly think about the negative consequences of sexual sin (e.g. disease, teenage pregnancy, gender confusion, divorce) or do you think with wonder and joy at God’s design for men and women, living in a community of love, whether married or unmarried?
  3. Has your grasp on the massively beautiful story of God’s love revealed in scripture, in Jesus and in your own life, grown over time?
  4. How can you make a beautiful picture of the gospel central to all your discussions about life with you children?
  5. Read Ephesians 3:14-21. Paul prays for the Ephesians to have supernatural power by the Holy Spirit to grow in their comprehension of God’s love so that they may filled with the “fullness of God”, in order to live like He lives. Take time to pray for yourself and your children this way. God’s love is so massive, you can’t understand it without His help.

Rethinking Your News Diet

“This idea–that there is a content called “the news of the day”–was entirely created by the telegraph (and since amplified by newer media)… the news of the day is a figment of our technological imagination. It is, quite precisely, a media event. We attend to fragments of events from all over the world because we have multiple media whose forms are well suited to fragmented conversation. Cultures without speed-of-light media…do not have news of the day.”
–Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985)

“And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” –1 John 2:17

An article published on the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission website addresses a significant but often invisible element of modern society: the News. As Christian parents, we communicate our values and beliefs by more than just what we say. As the adage goes: “More is caught than taught”. What lessons are our children learning by how we engage with and respond to our news sources?

As children of God, we are called to live in the light of Eternity  (i.e. act like our Father, 1 John 1:5-7), ambivalent to the attitudes and desires of the world which continually pass away (1 John 2:15-17). Few things are more temporary than the daily news cycle which constantly shifts its gaze–more to titillate than to educate–through stories seemingly selected to stir fear, outrage, anxiety or pride… only to be forgotten and replaced in 24 hours. Is this emotional tug-of-war in harmony with the new life we have in Christ? In an effort to be well-informed world citizens are we instead being co-opted into conforming to old habits and desires?

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-24: 

Christ himself gave [variously gifted servants] to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ…

…you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding …Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

That, however, is not the way of life you learned …You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Rather than be “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching”, we are commanded to actively develop a kingdom perspective characterized by:

  • Unity in the Faith & Knowledge of the Son of God
  • Maturity in living like Jesus, speaking truth in love
  • Stable in our understanding, no longer misled or distracted
  • Renewed in the attitude (direction) of our minds
  • Living as true image-bearers of God: overflow with goodness and life

Take some time to consider how your media consumption impacts both your spiritual maturity and the spiritual and emotional health of your family. As  Neil Postman wrote, “daily news” is itself a new and limited idea, and while it constantly passes away, “the Word of the Lord remains forever.”  (1 Peter 1:25)

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  1. Where do you get your news (TV, Radio, Social Media, Friends, Magazines, Newspapers)?
  2. How much time do you spend in a week absorbing, sharing news, and being emotionally affected by the news media?
  3. What are the positive results of your news diet?
  4. Are there any “benefits” that are actually sin? (e.g. pride at being “in-the-know” , self-righteously comparing yourself to the world, people pleasing by being able to commiserate with friends)?
  5. Read Colossians 3:1-10. Is your news diet a source of life that draws you into living in the manner Paul describes?
  6. Read Romans 12:2. Does your news diet renew your mind, enabling you to live with confidence in the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God?
  7. What steps can you take to be more spiritual healthy in how you interact with the news?

>>> READ THE ERLC ARTICLE

A Parent’s Worst Nightmare

Being a parent means being vulnerable to unexpected suffering. From health and safety concerns (“Will my child survive to adulthood unharmed and whole?”), to worries about success and happiness (“Will my child make good life decisions?”), to issues of character ( Will she overcome her self-centeredness” ?), there are many ways for parents to be hurt through our children. Additionally, of fundamental concern for Christian parents is whether or not our children will put their trust in Jesus Christ. How do we handle these possibilities? We can try to ignore them, but life doesn’t always accommodate us. We can choose to worry and wear ourselves thin. We can try to create our own “Bible Code” of promises that we can hold God accountable to.  Or we can renew our minds with God’s word so the truth, wisdom and confidence of the gospel can guard our hearts and minds.

If I were to boil down gospel hope into one phrase it would be this: God definitively demonstrated the full extent of his faithfulness, love, mercy, goodness and justice when the Unique Son entered human history to be a willing sacrifice for human evil. Since God has shown his character once and for all in the person and work of Jesus, we can choose to trust Him and experience a freedom of mind and heart that does not depend on our life circumstances.

GOD SUFFERED
A rescued and renewed humanity was so valuable to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that the Father sent the Son into the world (John 3:16). Disease and death are so hateful to God that the Son took them on himself to destroy them (Acts 3:15, Hebrews 2:14). Having conquered death, he always lives to intercede on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25) and his Kingdom is growing, culminating in the conquering of death (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).

Conclusion: Human sickness, frailty and death cannot undo the New Life. Even though we as parents may experience the pain of watching our children suffer, perhaps even die before we do, the Good News of Jesus the King removes the sting of death.

GOD PROVIDES
If we are to trust God with our own lives, let alone the lives of our children, we have to first listen to what he promises. After all, it is unjust to demand from God a promise He never gave. A few things not mentioned in the Bible: college acceptance, financial stability, retirement benefits, protection from the earthly consequences of foolishness and sin. Jesus did say that if we set our hearts on the things of God’s Kingdom we could trust that he would take care of our basic needs (Matthew 6:25-34). Jesus also promised suffering and a degree of persecution when we live like he did (John 15:20. Yet he also assures us that he has overcome the source of our suffering (John 16:33). Furthermore, in Christ our children can have the highest status possible: the right become Children of God (John 1:12-13) and co-inheritors of Eternal life with Christ (Romans 8:17).

Conclusion: The Good News about Jesus enriches our kids beyond anything a Fortune 500 company or government pension could do and offers a security that not even death or taxes can beat.

GOD TRANSFORMS
After his resurrection and assention, according to the long-standing promise of God, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit into the world (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17, Jeremiah 31:33-34, Hebrews 8:10-12). He brings conviction, cleansing & renewal, transforming power (Titus 3:5-6) and understanding to live like Jesus (John 16:7-15). His purpose, to draw people into relationship with the Father through the Son, stems from his desire to rescue all who will come to him (2 Peter 3:9).

Conclusion: Connected to the life of God through the Holy Spirit, our children have everything necessary to develop godly character (2 Peter 1:3-4)

GOD SEEKS
The last concern “Will my child receive or reject the gospel?” is in many ways the most painful. The other questions and answers grow from this one. Rather than hunt through scripture for promises that we can force God to keep in a legal fashion, the hope we have is grounded in the revealed character of God. Right out of the gate God promises to send a rescuer to crush the power of the Deceiver whose lies had corrupted humanity (Genesis 3:15). In his covenant with Abraham, God promises a descendent who will bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). Through the nation of Israel, YHWH makes a case study of his long-suffering, merciful, loyal love (Exodus 34:6-7) while consistently giving examples of his love for all people (Jonah 4:11). When Jesus comes on the scene he says he has not come for those who are morally pure but for the lost, the sinners, the strays (Luke 15:1-32, Luke 19:1-10). Finally, God’s own beloved Son, sent by the Father for this purpose, willingly takes the punishment we and our children deserved so that we could have life. No expense was spared.

Conclusion: We can rely on God’s amazing love to woo and guide our children to His Son despite sin, doubt, anger, pride, and hardness of heart. Anything that can be done will be done since God did not spare His own Son. (Romans 8:31-32)

GOD LISTENS
Finally, God who is a Father to us, want to walk with us, comfort us and carry us through our parenting anxieties. Parents, we must, we can, and we get to talk to our Father. We are called to cast our anxiety on Him for the very reason that He does care for us (1 Peter 5:7). We are reminded not to be anxious about anything but in everything to bring our requests before the Lord so that we can experience the peace beyond circumstances that only He can give (Philippians 4:6-7). If we parents, who are imperfect, can give and wish good things for our children, we can rely on our perfect, merciful, persistent Heavenly Father to exceed our care for our children in every way when we ask ( Luke 11:13).

INNER CHRISTMAS TENSION

Thousands of Christmas cards and books display endless variations on scenes from the Biblical account: shepherds with sheep and angels, wisemen on camels, barnyard animals surrounding perfectly illuminated mangers. Like many adults, the Christmas season creates internal tension for me. The familiar postcard depictions draw me toward the nostalgia of a childhood that experienced Christmas without the responsibilities and knowledge that adulthood brings. One scene from the Christmas story doesn’t appear on any postcard but  I believe offers a way to reconcile the joy of the idyllic Christmas season with the realities of life in the modern world.

The human soul longs for peace on earth, rest, harmony. The Incarnation perfectly addresses this deepest of needs and, at its best, Christmas celebration blossoms from the hope of Emmanuel, “God with us”. As Simeon sang after seeing the infant Jesus:

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. 

Luke 2:29-32

As adults, though we feel the need for peace and hope more acutely we less able to engage with the hope. Just because December 25th is rolling around doesn’t mean we get a break from bills, or caring for aging parents. We enjoy the delight of children, but many of us feel we have to “fake it” for their benefit; we don’t want to be anyone’s Grinch. So on top of our burden of life we add the pressure of feeling cynical or hypocritical. (If this doesn’t describe you, keep reading because you will be able to care for other adults in your life who struggle this way).

Some critics have called Christianity “pie in the sky” implying that the gospel doesn’t deal with the realities of life, offering instead good feeling and crossed-fingered blind optimism. Matthew 2:16, a postcard-resistant scene in the Christmas account, dismantles this charge:

 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

Matthew and Luke weren’t writing “Christmas Stories”, they were telling the amazing news of an invasion from Heaven into a world “in sin and error pining”. Jesus’s birth was the cause of great rejoicing for many, but was simultaneously the event that motivated a grasping, jealous king to murder many innocent boys:

 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children;she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2: 17-18

So yes, as Isaiah proclaimed:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder,and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of YHWH of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

At the same time, life continues. We remain in the world and we continue to wrestle with our own human bent toward sin (Romans 8:13), a way of thinking that is opposed to the mind of God (Romans 12:2) and with powerful spiritual enemies who actively war against the expanding kingdom of the Prince of Peace (Ephesians 6:12).

Here’s my advice to myself. Instead of feeling cynical during this season,
Let Chrismas be: 

  1.  a memento of my personal peace with God (Romans 5:1)
  2.  a foretaste of my future glory with Christ. (Romans 5:2)
  3. a reminder that the story isn’t finished yet (John 15:20)
  4. an assurance that Jesus shares in life’s struggles, even at Christmas (John 16:33)
  5. a call to think of the day when Christ will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4)

CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS PASSAGES

If you’ve grown up in the post television world, it’s likely you have watched one or two Christmas specials. One of my favorites is “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in which Charlie Brown picks the most pitiful and neglected Christmas “tree” to bring home. This year  I am preparing to give the Christmas Eve sermon. In anticipation of that opportunity I have been readings those neglected or underrepresented incarnation passages that don’t contain sheep, stars, angels, or wise men.

Humans are created for story and we are interested in almost anything if it given to us in the shape of a story. Case in point: although I am the opposite of a sports enthusiast I am a huge fan of sports movies because gifted writers focus on a few key characters, revealed their motivations, identified a conflict, plotted the most important moments and left out extraneous details. Yep, we sure like stories.

Problems arise in the real world when we over simplify stories. Important realities can get lost. The Christmas Story has a lot of rough edges and startling twists that don’t fit into the “all is calm, all is bright” vision of the holiday that we all enjoy. It’s important to remember that Matthew and Luke (the only two gospels from which we get the pieces of the popular narrative of Christmas) were NOT writing the “Christmas Story”. Those events we commemorate in December were a small part of a larger purpose. As Luke put it: “it seemed good to me also…to write an orderly account for you… that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” How can we recover for ourselves and our families the grand, pre-commercialized, story of Immanuel?

Step 1: Repentance
“At Christmas time? What are you a Scrooge? A Grinch? Christmas is for feeling good. What do I have to repent of?” No, really, recognize that our memories, cultural expectations, traditions and desires for Christmas may not entail the message that God’s word is telling us. Then ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand the incarnation of the Son of God more fully so it connects to the BIG STORY in a way that transforms you into the likeness of Jesus.

Step 2: Recognize the Author’s Intent
Even for the well-known Christmas passages, ask yourself why Matthew and Luke included certain details. Hint: It’s not to fill scroll space or  provide a backstory for your nativity set.

  • For what purpose are the genealogies (Matthew 1:1, and Luke 3:23) included?
  • Why does Matthew focus on Kings, and foreign dignitaries (no shepherds, or Angelic host)?
  • Why does an army (not a choir) of angels show up? Why are they praising God at the events they are now witnessing? Just what do their words really mean?
  • Why does Luke include Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25, 36)?
  • In fact, why the whole temple scene in Luke chapter 2?
  • Why does Luke include two long songs in chapter 1?
  • What’s with the brutal scene in Matthew 2:16? There is no Herod figure in my nativity set. Why did Matthew include this information? It’s not in Luke’s version.

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3: Re-examine scripture to find the point of Christmas

Mine God’s word for Christmas gold and silver. A place to start might be the Old Testament passages quoted within Matthew and Luke. What’s the context of those passages?

  • Genesis 3:15
  • Genesis 12:1-3
  • 2 Samuel 7
  • Daniel 2:36-45
  • Daniel 7:13-14

Turn to other books in the New Testament to find the significance of the Incarnation. Who was this “Son of God”, this “Word that was with God”? Were the biblical writers simply given us facts to be believed or were they describing the “engine” of our new life in Christ: live like your King, serve like your Savior.

  • John 1:1-3, 14
  • John 17:4-5
  • Galatians 3:29-4:5
  • Philippians 2:5-11
  • Hebrews 2:10-18
  • Romans 5:8
  • Romans 6
  • Romans 8:1-10
  • Revelation 21 & 22

Step 4: Recommit to having a transformative Christmas
Can you look back and say that because of Christmas 2016 you were a more faithful spouse or parent, a more joyful child of God, a more faithful disciple in 2017? Or did the good feeling, wrapping paper and food give way to a ‘business as usual’? In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Scrooge promised to keep Christmas all year round. Let us commit to living the full gospel all year round in a deepening, life-transforming way.  View the Incarnation as an example of how we ought to live (Philippians 2:5-11) along with the expectation of our glorification at Christ’s return.

Enjoy the family and friends, the warmth an laughter, the music and lights, the wonder and delight. It is a small taste of the Banquet we await with a certain hope because the God of Everything entered human history!

Let’s Talk Politics and Religion!

Aren’t those the two things we are told never to discuss at dinner?  What is it about these areas of human life that cause so much tension and anxiety? Probably you can recall an uncomfortable conversation with a political zealot or someone who has been religiously dogmatic. Perhaps you frequently find yourself at the center of heated debates. As parents wanting to equip and teach our children to love God and love others it is critically important that we don’t avoid these topics. Why? Because for Christians religion boils down to loving God and politics is how we publicly love our neighbor as ourselves. What does God’s word say about the relation of these two most important spheres of life? How can we equip our children to thoughtfully, biblically, and graciously engage their religious and political culture?

THE RELIGION
The apostle Paul gives a cosmic, “behind-the-scenes” depiction of the gospel in his letter to Titus (Titus 3:3-7). This is the engine of our new life. It is based on our need (v.3), God the Father’s grace (v.4), God the Holy Spirit’s active power in our lives (v.5), God the Son’s willing sacrifice (v.6), and our present and continue position as co-heirs with Jesus and our future hope (v.7).

This “good news” proclamation sounds like real good news! The “religion” that results is first of all humble, since we are no different from anyone else in our great need and our inability to save ourselves (vv.3, 5b). We do not need to convict people, that’s the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11). Our job is to 1) always be ready to give a reason for our Christian hope (1 Peter 3:15), 2) teach others to follow Jesus the Risen King (Matthew 28:18-20), and 3) . . .

THE POLITICS
We are commanded to “adorn the good news” (Titus 2:10b) by living as what we are: children of God and citizens of the Kingdom of the Beloved Son. Elsewhere Paul calls us ‘ambassadors”, official representatives of what a foreign country is like. (2 Corinthians 5:20).  In Ephesians 5 he describes personal holiness and how Christian households show love and serve each other in this new life. In Titus 2:2-10 he describes how a local church—as a family of families—is to love and serve each other in a visible, unmistakably beautiful and attractive way in their local community.

Finally, Paul addresses what we primarily think of when we talk about politics. Notice that Paul does not talk about voting (that wasn’t really a thing in the Empire), he doesn’t share what bills to vote for and which companies to boycott. His assumption is that the Gospel is world-transforming because it transforms the human heart from the inside. To him, it is obviously better than anything else in producing a virtuous citizenry:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14

Since this is the case, Paul continues (Titus 3:1-2) by commanding true lovers of the Savior who gave himself for us, to give ourselves for the good of our community by:

  1. cooperating with the governing authorities
  2. quickly engaging in good works that benefit the polis (city)
  3. refraining from gossip, slander, and verbal abuse toward government officials… or anyone
  4. avoiding pointless quarrels, preferring harmonious living— like you might find on social media (my way is better”, I’m right you’re wrong”, “God is on my side”).
  5. being reasonable—I have in mind James’ admonishment to be quick to listen, slow to speak.
  6. Showing conspicuous deference toward everyone (Philippians 2:3).

There you have it: a clear description of the public life of every citizen of heaven “living in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope.” There is nothing controversial there. Only things that at best will “adorn the good news” and at worst “cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” Make these 6 points your main primer for teaching your children about living a life in whatever polis you live in, city, county, state, nation. Let them be the filter for how you think about the news, how you speak with guests and family and how your family acts locally for the good of your community.

“BUT WHAT ABOUT…”
Okay, I get it, Paul doesn’t live in the time and place we do. There must be some things that he’s going to miss, right? I’m not so sure.

  • Paul lived in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, pluralistic empire that was the peak of western civilization at that time. Box checked.
  • Paul was part of a subculture that was often at odds, occasionally fatally, with the surrounding culture. Box checked.
  • Paul was a citizen who exercised his rights when it benefited the Kingdom of God. Box (hopefully) checked.

POLITICAL REALITIES 
For those of you who still have “yeah, but” hanging in the back of your head, here are a few other pieces of the puzzle:

  • Persecution is an authentication of faithfulness. Christians have a foundationally unique worldview: our focus changes, our desires change, our values change (Romans 12:2). This new reality controls every aspect of our lives and, sooner or later, will bring us into conflict with any culture or society that has a different worldview. Jesus and the the New Testament writers assumed that persecution would be the natural result of following Jesus and was even a sign of faithfulness (Acts 5:41). If you are upset because of political pressures, check yourself to be sure that you are gospel-minded rather than comfort-conscious.
  • Civil authorities are empowered by God. (Romans 13:4) Just as in the church, God has empowered civil authorities to maintain order and to punish wrongdoing in this world
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  • Taxes are biblical. (Romans 13:6-7) You heard me. According to Paul (and Jesus who didn’t begrudge Caesar what was his), taxes facilitate order and peace in society for the general provision and protection of the population. Are governments perfect? No. Corruption? Yes. However, a quick romp through history will demonstrate that bad government is generally preferable to anarchy. “In those days there was no king. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
  • Systems change, God’s principles don’t. Citizens of republics or democratic societies have both rights and responsibilities. Much of the inner turmoil we experience in  politics is the result of how we should use our rights and what our responsibilities are as Christians AND Citizens. In a dictatorship, we would have other concerns, but which laws will or will not pass are not among them.
  • Paul’s main point is to adorn the gospel so that others may find God’s grace. Lowering vs. raising taxes, limited immigration vs. open border, any given topic should be addressed with this key understanding. I believe that Paul has local government in mind in Titus 3:1-2. There is an assumption that the “good works” are conspicuous and local (plus Crete is an island). Local political involvement (serving the city) produces a great return and we can individually adorn the gospel and silence our detractors much more effectively. However, it is notable that Christians in the early centuries did develop a general reputation for being law-abiding, model citizens.
  • The government can never legitimately compel sinful behavior. The New Testament writers assume the general legitimacy of government. However, they also recognized that at times one may be punished for doing what is right (1 Peter 2:20-22). You may recall that Daniel and his three friends ran afoul of a pagan king’s command of idol-worship. Yet notice that in all cases, malicious resistance was never employed. Instead they entrusted themselves to God’s justice.
  • Spiritual transformation can never come from human political ideas or institutions. If getting the right president or law into place would have transformed the human heart, Jesus would not have needed to die on the cross (Romans 3:20) Living in a republic we have the right and responsibility to elect representatives and vote for laws. To the degree we are able, we should want to promote candidates and legislation that we think will benefit others in our community and serve the purposes of advancing the gospel. Ultimately however, we will have more influence in our local communities and local politics. It is in our personal relationships that we will most clearly adorn the gospel with our character. Don’t get anxious or upset over what is beyond your control or your responsibility. As in everything, submit your requests to God on behalf of your community, city and nation.
  • Our political opposition is spiritual in origin. Humans are enslaved to sin and the governing spiritual rulers of the present age (Ephesians 6:12). Whenever we find ourselves thinking in a “them versus us” context, we are operating out of a false perception of reality. “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures“. We do the work of our Father when we love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us. (Romans 5:8)
  • We must emulate Jesus by being willing to bear personal cost for the good of others, even our enemies. There may be financial costs to voting for a measure that will benefit others but impact our own finances negatively. There may be a personal cost to standing up to defend the weak and neglected. We await a glorious Savior and a certain Eternal hope. We have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ. That must change how we live. Remember, Paul focuses on the manner in which we live. Can we disagree but with concern for our political opponent? Can we stand for an unpopular position without becoming self-righteous? Can we suffer a legislative defeat or a disappointing court ruling without slandering or maligning public officials? Can we jump in to help our local communities even if we disagree with policy issues in order to adorn the gospel? Can we graciously receive condemnation for our gospel-informed stance without retaliation? Can we remember that we are in a battle against spiritual entities and that the people around us are not our true enemies?