Let Our Lives Speak, Too
When we communicate, there’s a lot that accompanies what comes out of your mouth. There are things that go along with what we say, intangibles that speak a message to people. Today, based on Titus 1:5-9, we focus on our role as communicators and how our lives speak a message. “Let Our Lives Speak, Too.” July 15, 2018.
Two promiscuous women shared the same home and both had babies three days apart. But soon one of the babies died in the night, and its mother decided to take her dead infant, sneak into the other woman’s room and swap their children. The other woman woke up to nurse her child, found the dead baby and knew it wasn’t hers. This real case went straight to the throne of King Solomon, with both women arguing, “the alive son is mine, the dead one is hers,” one pretending, the other pleading. Who was telling the truth?
Solomon asked for a sword and gave the order to cut the baby in half, one half for each of them. The fake mother smiled, “Go ahead, now neither of us will have him!” The other fell apart and begging that he give the baby to the fake mother just so at least he would live. And Solomon said, “She’s the mother. Give the boy to her.” (See 1 Kings 3:16-28) How did he know? Their words were the same, but ... “that’s what a mother does.”
How did Amaziah learn that a prophet of the LORD was before him? Amaziah thought he knew just what to say to Amos to kick him out the door. “No one here likes you, so get out of here.” Surely there were prophets who would just pack their bags if they realized they were unpopular and go find other itching ears. That was the name of the game if all they cared about what popularity or earthly things they could gain by sharing a kind word from the sky. But that wasn’t Amos.
What did Amaziah find instead in this messenger? Amos says, “Look, I was a shepherd - that was my regular job. I’m not some prophet as the family business...this isn’t my way of looking to earn a living or a way into the king’s cool club so I can eat at his table and wear fancy clothes. But I’m here today because God called me to speak his Word so that’s what I’m gonna do whether you like it or not!”
And at that moment Amaziah met the real Amos. Someone actually convinced God gave him his Word and that mattered more than any career, comfort, or control. “Now what do I make of him … and what he says?”
Perhaps by these two examples you can tell that when we communicate, there’s a lot that accompanies what comes out of your mouth. There are things that go along with what we say, intangibles that speak a message to people to say that you are trustworthy or not, consistent or not. Last week is like part one and this week part two. Last week we remembered the importance of the words we speak as God’s saving message everyone needs to hear. This week we focus on our role as communicators and how our lives speak a message too.
In the communication process, what does it mean to someone if you say one thing and do another? Kids notice this right away when they “I only did it because she got to do it.” “But you eat a cookie, dad, whenever you want, so why can’t I?” In the communication process, like we said last week, we want the main thing to be the main thing, but our living can certainly get in the way of that.
The issue isn’t that we have to make the Word of God powerful and persuasive. We’re not replacing the Holy Spirit with our own actions as the conversion agent. Not at all. What I do has no impact on the power the Word has or the Spirit who works through the Word. We aren’t talking about God’s power that converts, but we are talking about normal communication dynamics that God has graciously chosen to use. So, on the one hand, God’s Word is powerful, but I still do must best to communicate it. We’re not going to come here and simply read the syllables of Scripture with monotone voice and yawn and say, “Hey, it’s God’s Word.” No, God has given his Word to us even through ministry, the serving of that Word involving normal communication in our own language.
And today’s readings reflect how there’s a lot to the communication process. You can usually tell when someone is being serious, or how someone earns your respect and trust. You learn about someone’s character and when they are acting in line with it or not, consistently or not. And within a community of believers, you can imagine how believers could begin to identify mature believers, testing over time their words in conversation with the sound teaching of Scripture. How they could point out those who know the Bible and have skills in explaining it and applying it.
What I’m getting at is - Paul isn’t sending Titus through the cities of Crete to show up and draw straws to find a minister for a congregation. No, he’s going to work with them to identify and call overseers they can trust who will serve them with the Word of God. In a word, Paul says, “they must be blameless.” Blameless when it comes to faithfulness to God’s Word, but also blameless in conduct - not so much blameless to God, which we share through Jesus - but blameless in communication, in relationships within the congregation and without, especially in these areas that directly impact the communication of God’s Word.
Let me direct: these qualifications matter because they matter to you - you’re the ones in communication with ministers of the Word. God has hearers in mind with these qualifications, and it’s going to be your congregational due diligence to determine together if a public servant in your midst has reached the point of being unqualified! You will explore and pray about the extent of the offense made in the congregation or community with the help of a synod, district president, circuit pastor, etc.
Look at this list and think of how directly they relate to hearing God’s Word and taking it to heart. Paul mentions marriage. What if a minister preached or taught God’s institution of marriage and love shown to a spouse, but wasn’t faithful himself, found to be a porn addict or adulterer or impregnating a girlfriend outside of marriage? Paul mentions a minister’s family. What if a minister spoke of the importance of the Word and sharing such a Savior with the world, but went home and never talked about God to his own family or you never saw them in church? (Does pastor really care about this message of grace and forgiveness if he doesn’t even share it with his own kids?)
What impact does it have when a minister’s hand is caught in the congregation’s money - so this was his motivation all along? What if you sense he’s always demonstrating a lust for power or position, or is pulled over for a DUI? What about repeating anger issues or consistently playing favorites?
What a huge distraction and offense can be caused by these things. People walk away when they see such hypocrisy - and surely God’s Word and reputation is the innocent victim in it all.
Surely, the very word “blameless” brings us all to our knees, not just to each other at times, but before God as his name is despised. Though these verses focus on public ministers here, they do so because of the ministry to members who are also called to be holy and blameless, self-controlled and examples for others, so that “no one will malign the Word of God” (see Titus 2:1-10). It’s not like only pastors in the pulpits are to be self-controlled and holy and no one in the world cares about parishioners in the pew. They do and they’re watching. And surely there are many days we owe each other and others an apology for the way we only showed them ourselves and got in the way of him. There’s a way all of us can meaningfully return to Paul’s urging to “watch your life and doctrine closely...persevere in them because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Brothers and sisters, what is all this - this life and doctrine?
You’ve probably heard the news from Thailand of the twelve boys and their soccer coach trapped in a cave and now rescued. As I thought about their story I couldn’t help but think of ours. For whatever reason they enter a cave during monsoon season and find themselves in a life and death situation as the waters rose and pushed them to flee deep into its belly, through crawl spaces and jagged cliffs, only to reach a dark perch nearly two miles in, drinking the murky water, huddled together for warmth and doing their best to stay dry and avoid hypothermia. What an impossible situation.
But they were discovered with a picture I saw of them with their arms around their knees, sitting together in helpless darkness. and massive undertaking to rescue them was begun to supply food, prepare an exit route with oxygen tanks, pump as much water from the cave to offset ongoing threat of rain and flooding. One Thai Navy SEAL lost his life. But after over two weeks, one by one, the boys and coach were ushered through the dangerous exit in like ten hours a trip and recovering in a hospital - survivors reborn into their families and life in this world.
Remarkable story, and yet none of it even holds a candle to our story of impossible, helpless state doomed for death and to top it off we despised by nature the only One who could do anything about it. And yet, that world, that my God so loved that gave his Son. How God brought us from there to here, how he ever got us out to own such a new life, it’s all grace. That comes from a God I couldn’t invent and a name I never want to forget and don’t want the world to either. What is this life and doctrine? It’s all his, and it’s the reason Amos wouldn’t move or quit. It’s the reason we care about every last qualification for public ministers and encourage every last quality of a Christian.
Together let us remember the story we’re in and think on the One we represent as the very cure for our souls and motivation to be blameless before the world. Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on July 15, 2018