“Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1:12 ESV)
How is London’s story shaping how you live? Are you able to summarise London's negative impact on you in a sentence?
That is what Paul did. Well, not actually PauI (and not actually London) but an important Cretan leader about the Mediterranean Island called Crete. Paul might as well have qouted Cicero who was even sharper in his assesment of Cretans:
“Moral principles are so divergent that the Cretans … consider highway robbery honourable” (Republic 3.9.15)
It’s to this culture that Titus is called to start new churches and Paul is using this letter to teach Titus an important lesson: bad behaviour starts at bad beliefs. The Cretans were living in the wrong story.
What did the Cretans believe about God, themselves and others that lead to their immoral behaviour? That is what Titus needs to figure out and address with the Gospel.
In fact Paul doesn’t only tell him to address it, but to “rebuke them sharply…” (Titus 1:13). With surgical focus he needs to confront the false beliefs that lead to their culture’s degenerate behaviour. But pointing it out, even with laser sharpness will have no effect if he doesn’t propose a better belief system.
Or story. Belief system sounds complicated. All of us find ourselves in the middle of a story we’ve not made up for ourselves. Our own story is shaped by the the city or culture we live in. This large story is dynamic, ever changing as different culture shapers have an impact on what people believe.
Paul wants Titus to help them switch stories to one that is “sound” (Titus 1:13). Their current story is obviously not “sound”. They are falling apart as they’ve become “…liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1:12). But merely switching to a similiar story, only now also full of “Jewish myths” (Titus 1:15) will not help them. They need to switch to “the truth” (Titus 1:15).
How to switch stories
The strategy to switch stories is simple: show them living stories. Putting people who are like them but living the Christian story or “the truth” (Titus 1:15) in front of them is his basic strategy. People living lives that hold together in a culture that is falling apart will eventually have an impact on a city’s story. In this way Paul called Titus to live the Christian story on Crete. Titus had to call elders (Titus 1:5) who were going to live the Christian story (Titus 1:6-9) in their towns and villages. And the people these elders welcomed in to see their lives would eventually show the whole island what it looks like to be Cretans but Christian.
This didn’t start with Paul. It started with Jesus Christ. And it didn’t stop with the Cretans. Jesus Christ is God who left heaven to become one of us. He welcomes everyone in that would admit that the best of human stories is flawed and falling apart. With outstretched arms he closed our story of being rebellious lawbreakers as he died on the cross - while at the same time inviting us to find our place in a new story. One where we are reborn, loved and called to live life-giving lives in a broken world.
Through the elders and Christians at your local church God is calling you to this life. Come and find your place in his story where nothing you’ve ever done can overwhelm his death in your place - to give you life in his.
This past Sunday I preached on the whole Titus 1, Paul’s letter to the churchplanter on the island of Crete. You can listen to the talk over here.