Part 1

The portrait of a nation in crisis. The people have lost their way. The law and the courts are no longer concerned with justice and righteousness. Rather, everything is settled in terms of money. Its people are consumed with wealth and they will use every means legal and illegal to acquire more. Call it greed or call it stealing, it works the same. Ethics and morals are no longer based on what is right and wrong, but they are defined in terms of financial loss and gain. What is profitable is of greater value than what is true. This is the portrait of a nation in crisis.

Families are falling apart because relationships have very little meaning. Adultery and infidelity are taken for granted. Marriages are collapsing for any number of reasons so much so that many people choose not to marry. Homosexuality, casual sex are highly regarded. Children are not considered a blessing, but a financial liability or asset. Children are born to parents who neither love each other nor are they committed to one another. The law even supports a woman's choice to destroy her unwanted child as long as she adheres to certain rules about notification. This is the portrait of a nation in crisis.

Honesty is something rare or laughed at. Most people agree that honesty makes you vulnerable. Military leaders and politicians are using their own people for nothing more than financial profit. Greed and dishonesty are considered necessary in business so much so that no one trusts anyone. This is the portrait of a nation in crisis.

The Situation on First Century Crete
It would be easy to assume that this portrait of a nation is our USA, but I am in fact talking about civilization on the island of Crete over 2000 years ago – in the middle of the first century A.D. But the similarities are stunning! Perhaps this will help us learn how the people of God are supposed to thrive in a nation in crisis.

In the rest of the world regarded Cretans as reprobates, dishonest, and uncultured. In Paul’s letter to Titus (which we will get to in a moment) he quotes one of their own philosopher-prophets, Epimenides (6th century B.C.) who said "Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons." Paul wasn’t alone in this view. It was a widely held view among first century writers.

  1. The courts of law were not interested in justice, but in financial compensation. (Law Code of Gortyn) For instance, a crime as serious as rape did not incur punishment, but a fine. On Crete, mothers could choose to leave their children to die, but only if the father did not want the child. And when a mother killed an infant without the father's consent, she was charged a hefty fine.
  2. Crete's major industry was piracy. The northern shore of Crete was a haven for pirate bands that terrorized the Mediterranean. "The Cretans both by land and sea are irresistible in ambushes, tricks played on the enemy, night attacks, and all petty operations which require fraud" - Polybius.
  3. The Cretans were well known for being greedy and dishonest. "Cretanize" was first century slang for lying. Writers describe their materialism: "So much do the lust for wealth and underhanded gain prevail among them that they are the only people in the world among whom no stigma attached to any sort of gain whatsoever" - Diodorus of Sicily. "Cretans are devoted to riches as bees are to a honeycomb." - Plutarch. "The Cretans do everything in hope for cash" - Livy. Writers describe their dishonesty - "Cretans even consider highway robbery to be an honorable profession" - Cicero.
    The story is told of a military officer who betrayed his men to the Romans. The Roman general offered the man the honor of Rome to which the Cretan laughed. The Cretan was only interested in cash.
  4. Sexual deviancy was held in high esteem. Its impact on families has been noted. In his travelogue, Strabo noted that homosexuality was held in high esteem by the Cretans during 1st century A.D.

How do you bring the gospel into a culture like this? Where do you begin? Is there any hope?
Paul and Titus stopped in Crete on one of their journeys. Paul departed and Titus was left there to complete what remained to be done (1:5). The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. He encounters opposition from a group of charlatans (Cretans who are using the faith and Jewish teaching as an opportunity for profit and power) who capitalize on the immature faith of the new converts. They distract the young missionary from his proper task. Paul is aware of this problem and is writing to give Titus advice on the situation.

Paul’s advice to nurture spiritual growth and holiness is proactive – not reactive! Paul urged Titus to teach sound – that is healthy – doctrine. The best way to overcome sickness is to keep oneself healthy – that’s proactive. Rather than focusing his energy and effort on disproving and discrediting the trouble-makers, Paul urges Titus to focus on proclaiming the grace of God and the hope of Christ’s rule so that people will get in touch with the transforming message and Spirit of the gospel.
Titus needs to spend his time finding the sort of leaders and elders who can model this type of life for the others. If he spends all of his time in stupid controversies, the trouble-makers will always outmaneuver him. But if he nurtures godly leaders then Titus can actually change the environment.

Read Titus 2:1-8 to get a look at the practical application of this approach to nurturing spiritual growth and holiness.

Perhaps in examining Crete we do not look at the past, as much as we see our own possible future as a nation. For instance, we wonder how we will ever influence our society for good with the gospel. Why can’t we follow the same proactive strategy the Paul gives Titus.

We have lost our influence because we have become reactive. We know what we are against, but we don’t know what we are for. Think of how the enemy has outmaneuvered us. How much time have we wasted by getting involved in "foolish controversies, arguments, quarrels, and fights about the law." Paul says that, "These things are useless and worthless." But we still think the goal of nurturing Christ-like people is more information! In fact, the grace of God that has appeared in Jesus Christ and the hope of eternal life we have calls us to something more! – We have a much better goal that calls us to devote ourselves to doing good – this is excellent and profitable for all. This is spiritual TRANSFORMATION, not just INFORMATION.

Nurturing Spiritual Growth and Holiness – What can we learn from Paul’s advice to Titus?

  1. Leaders that help us live right – Notice that Paul’s vision of leaders has very little to do with managing institutions. Paul doesn’t describe administration. That seems to be Titus’ responsibility more than anyone else’s (straighten out what remains to be done). The work of the leader on Crete is to keep people spiritually healthy. Spiritually healthy people will grow. But what about the work of the church? Who manages that? Spiritually healthy people are eager to do what is good. It doesn’t have to be managed. Why put limits on what is good? Leaders are not enforcers of rules. We are not called to be rule-keepers. We are called "to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in this present age." (2:12) Lists of rules can change from generation to generation. They change with styles and cultures. They are not absolute. Rules and lessons can become outdated or inappropriate in some circumstances - but self-control, righteousness, and godliness are always appropriate!
  2. Loving Relationships – Notice that Paul wants Titus to encourage what is good for everyone. In a hostile environment, the people who are being changed by God’s grace will need one another. The teaching that goes on between the generations has to be in the context of a loving relationship. If the older generation assumes a role of arrogance or power – then the transformation and spiritual growth is lost. If the younger generation is resentful for the older generation then the same. Their good deeds are not just for their own sake, but for the sake of others. I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have put their faith in God may devote themselves to good works. These things are good and helpful to other people (3:8). When all of us work together to nurture spiritual growth and holiness we become living lessons ...
  3. Living Curriculum - Paul's advice to Timothy on Crete: Forget the debates, don't get anxious and worried. Don't suppose that you have to have better, snappier curriculum than your opponents. Develop a living curriculum! Older men who model the healthy teaching. Older women who model the healthy teaching and form loving relationships with the generation women. Younger men who hold one another accountable and strive to be like the older men who live out God’s grace and healthy teaching. Why? Why do it like this? Wouldn't it be better to create a code of behavior? [It's interesting that one of the earliest extra-biblical documents, the Didache, is not canonized.]

11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 14 November 2004

Making Disciples for Jesus Who Are Eager to Serve Others
Notes for the Sermon – "Nurturing Spiritual Growth to Transform All into God’s Holiness" – Part 1
November 14, 2004

  1. First Century Crete
    • "Cretans are always l_______, vicious b_______, lazy g_________." (Titus 1:12)
    • Paul is quoting a Cretan prophet-philosopher, Epimenides.
    • Cretan courts of law were interested in f______________ compensation, not j__________.
    • Lying was typical and being h___________ was considered weakness.
    • S___________ deviancy was held in high esteem.

  2. Titus and the Mission to Crete
    • Titus remained on Crete to c_______________ what remained to be done. (1:5)
    • This included the appointment of e___________ in every town. (1:5)
    • Titus is distracted by Cretan c____________ who are using Christian teaching as a profit-making scheme with disastrous results. (1:10-16)
    • Paul urged Titus not to get involved in stupid c_______________ with the charlatans and trouble-makers. (3:9-10)
    • Rather, Paul urged Titus to devote his energy to n_________ spiritual growth and h___________ in order to form people who are e__________ (zealous) to do good deeds. (2:14; 3:8)

  3. How do you do this? In a place like Crete?
    • Read Titus 2:1-8

  4. Nurturing Spiritual Growth and Holiness
    • The goal of spiritual growth and holiness is t__________________ not just i_________________. (See Titus 3:1-8)
    • Because of God’s grace and his Holy Spirit, Titus has resources that the Cretan trouble-makers do not have (2:11-14). We have these resources also ...

      1. L_____________ that help us live right (1:9, 2:1)
      2. L_____________ relationships (2:2-8)
      3. L_____________ curriculum (2:2-15)

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to renounce ungodly living and worldly passions so that we might live sensible, honest, and godly lives in the present world as we wait for the blessed hope and the glorious appearance of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He gave himself for us to set us free from every wrong and to cleanse us so that we could be his special people who are enthusiastic about good works." – Titus 2:11-14

Making Disciples for Jesus Who Are Eager to Serve Others
"Nurturing Spiritual Growth to Transform All into God’s Holiness" – Part 1
Driving It Home Discussion Guide
November 14, 2004

  1. Read Titus 1:5-16. In today’s sermon, you heard a brief description of the first century culture of Crete. If you were a missionary to Crete and had to deal with Titus’ problem with the trouble-makers, how would you begin?

  2. Why are we sometimes reactive rather than proactive in our faith?

  3. Read Titus 2:1-8. Who are the people that taught you how to live right? Who in your life has been a living curriculum of God’s grace and salvation?

  4. What characteristics and qualities did you learn from these people? How did they teach you these things? How are you sharing that with people younger than you?

  5. Read Titus 2:11-14 and 3:4-8. How does the grace of God and his Holy Spirit nurture spiritual growth? How does it make us eager to do good works?

  6. Why is spiritual transformation superior to spiritual information?

Living the Lesson Application:

  1. How will you nurture spiritual growth and spiritual transformation? In yourself? In others? Be specific about your context – in your family, in your small group, in your ministry, in your congregation.

  2. How will you encourage your leaders to help you live right? Do we sometimes ask our leaders to do things we ought to do ourselves? Give an example. Do we make demands on our leaders that really aren’t part of their calling? Do we sometimes neglect to ask them to help us live right? Why?

  3. What sort of relationships do you have that help you to grow spiritually and become more holy? How can you build these relationships?

  4. Who do you mentor? Are you more interested in communicating spiritual information or nurturing spiritual transformation? How can you emphasize the latter without ignoring the former?

Prepare for Nov. 21 – "Nurturing Spiritual Growth and Holiness - Part 2"

    Read Ephesians 4

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 14 November 2004

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