May 18, 2019
Titus 1:9-13 (NLT)
He must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong. For there are many rebellious people who engage in useless talk and deceive others. This is especially true of those who insist on circumcision for salvation. They must be silenced, because they are turning whole families away from the truth by their false teaching. And they do it only for money. Even one of their own men, a prophet from Crete, has said about them, “The people of Crete are all liars, cruel animals, and lazy gluttons.” This is true.
Recently I received a very important award. It was a “Certificate of Awesomeness” for “Chief Happiness Director and Excellence in Humor.” I earned this distinction for my volunteer work at my daughters’ elementary school. I think the certificate is suitable for framing, but my wife says it’s just proof that my dad humor finally works somewhere… with small children.
Maybe this “award” is really a grace outlet for me. Because I’ll be honest and say that preaching and teaching and leading Bible studies and pastoral work is always such a serious endeavor that I can forget to have fun with it. Yes, we’re talking about serious stuff, but didn’t God create laughter?
That’s the case in today’s text. Yes, Paul is addressing serious stuff (it is Scripture after all). But in digging around for a little scholarly advice on this passage I found that Paul’s harsh declaration that even a local said his own people are liars and gluttons, and then finishes it off with his own, “This is true,” is what scholars call the “Cretan liar paradox.” Paul is quoting a famous Creten philosopher who called all Cretan’s liars, which meant he himself was a liar.
In other words, it was a joke.
According to NT Wright, this was a “tongue-in-cheek” statement, intended to be funny: “Paul is laughing, not unkindly, but finding ways of warning Titus that he’s going to have to be robust and be prepared to work with the people of Crete.”
As we’ve seen before, Paul has given Titus a serious task: to live a life that calls others to live a life that the culture doesn’t want. And in today’s text we see a big obstacle to that work: folks coming over to tell new Gentile believers that they have to follow specific Jewish laws and customs if they want to “really be saved.” Specifically, they’re telling grown men they’re not really saved unless they get circumcised (imagine being a twenty-something Greek man hearing he’s got to go through that procedure to be saved… no wonder they were turning away).
These folks were pedaling fear and guarantees for attention and profit, not really discipleship or sanctification. Thankfully that’s not a problem in the church today.
See what I did there? Tongue-in-cheek… just like Paul!
The point is that yes, this is serious and eternal stuff we’re talking about here. But sometimes… okay a lot of the time… we can get so worked up debating and arguing the details of every last theological detail for all the wrong reasons. But let’s not. In today’s culture it can be exhausting, “turning whole families away.”
Buried in the midst of this letter is grace for all of our “holy seriousness.” Paul is trying to be funny. He’s telling a joke. It’s pastor humor. But that’s okay, because after all God began his rescue mission with a kid name Laughter.
This is serious stuff, but let’s not take ourselves so seriously.
Jesus, the joy of the Lord is supposed to be my strength. So help me to laugh when I am weak so I can be strong in you. Amen.
Heard any good jokes lately?
For the awakening,