In The Present Age

I rarely write my sermons out, preferring to stick with a basic outline. But for this lesson, I wanted to think through the words for each point. I post it here in the hopes that it will help point someone to God’s wisdom.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,

(Titus 2:11–12, NASB95)

God’s grace appeared, and His appearance not only brought salvation, but instructed us to deny our godless ways, to think how God wants us to think and act how He wants us to act. We heed these instructions because we look in hope for His appearing again (Titus 2.13). The present age matters because there is an age to come!

For much of my life, the present age hasn’t seemed so bad. Sure, there have been difficult times and times of loss, but when compared to others I’ve been fortunate and blessed. And yes, I’ve always known that this life paled in comparison to the life to come, but in general life has been pleasant for me. But 2020 has been tough. Pandemic; societal unrest after the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks; anger boiling over into looting, vandalism and disregard for civil authority; tough discussions being held over various aspects of our nations’ history; economic uncertainty; a federal government typified by rancor and partisanship; a society that has lost its moral compass. It is a confusing and difficult time, yet we still have been instructed to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age. This is an attempt to explore how we can do just that.

I have a fear that whenever I address societal issues that many will tune me out, assuming that I am giving a slant based on my personal politics, or lack thereof. I confess that it is impossible to keep my personal views out of a lesson like this, but I pray those views are shaped more by Scripture than by politics, the media or by personal experience. Our goal is to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age. And with that in mind, I have a charge to keep: “these things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” (vs. 14). I pray you will not disregard me.

“…and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;

(Acts 17:26–27, NASB95)

This passage beautifully portrays the value and dignity of human life, for not only did God create ALL men, His desire is that ALL men find him. These points are emphasized throughout Scripture as we read how God made us in His image (Genesis 1.26); not only forbade us from killing each other (Exodus 20.13), but from hating each other (Matthew 5.21-22); sent His Son for all of us (John 3.16) and made His Kingdom open to all people (Isaiah 2.2-4; Galatians 3.28-29; etc.). To say that life matters to our Father is an understatement!

And so we come to the phrase that dominates the headlines today: black lives matter. It’s unfortunate that the phrase (I use in reference to the idea, not the political action group) elicits such strong reactions. While agreeing in principle, many are quick to point to the progress that’s been made (this isn’t the age of slavery or Jim Crow after all), to the opportunities afforded to all people, or to the success stories of minorities in our country and even in our congregation. Or we point to the problems of crime and drugs in many inner city neighborhoods and lay the blame solely at their feet. Or we fixate on the lawless actions committed by some in the name of social justice.

And maybe many of the points made are correct, at least in part. But here is the problem: we aren’t thinking sensibly, that is we aren’t thinking how God would want us to think. We’re allowing our vision to be clouded to the point that we may be blind to the real issue: there is a segment of our country that feels they don’t matter as much as they should. Yet, as we’ve already seen, they matter immensely to the God who made them and who desires to be found by them. And if we want them to find God we better make sure they know they matter! The two are linked and cannot be separated.

That doesn’t mean we have to join a march or post black squares on Facebook. Nor does it mean we give approval for lawless measures or advocate for causes that may themselves be unjust. It does mean we open our ears and our hearts to our neighbors, coworkers and brethren who may be hurting. It means we reaffirm our love for them. It means we adorn the gospel and not the talking points we heard from a politician, media outlet or from a post on social media. Life, yes all life and yes black life, matters to our God. And that is to be seen in His people!

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed,

(Titus 3:1, NASB95)

And now we need to examine the other side of the coin, an issue important to many of us. The news has been filled with stories that vilify the police and pictures of them being subjected to all manner of abuse and disrespect. I can unequivocally say that Christians have no business doing or saying anything that doesn’t show subjection and even honor to those in positions of authority (see also 1Peter 2.13-17). It’s a sad commentary on our society when social justice is pitted against respect for civil authority and you are told you must choose one or the other. For God’s people, there is no choice; we must advocate for justice AND honor those in authority.

But respecting the police doesn’t mean we oppose accountability or that we should resist policy changes that may prove helpful. You may be aware that Roman soldiers and centurions are generally spoken of favorably in Scripture. That would have been puzzling to Jews of the first century who generally hated the Romans and often for good reason. Thus, I find it significant that when soldiers came to John asking, “what shall we do?”, John responded by telling them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3.14). Power carries with it the temptation to abuse power and that temptation will always be present for men and women in authority, even good men and women.

Brethren, we must live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age. Submit to and honor those in authority. Pray that they will use their power well. Pray that any reforms that are made will result in peace, justice and mutual respect between those in authority and those under their authority.

‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’

(Jeremiah 29:7, NASB95)

Perhaps the Lord’s words to His people in exile can help shape our own attitudes toward our country. We too are in exile (1Peter 2.11) and we happen to find ourselves living in the USA. We pray for her welfare and we have benefitted greatly. And there is much to appreciate and be patriotic about: her ideals of liberty and equality, even though crafted by less-than perfect men, have been a beacon of hope for many; they are worthy ideals to strive for. Furthermore, most of us have had friends and family serve her as members of the armed forces. Yesterday, we celebrated the birth of our country, and I continue to believe it’s an event worthy of remembrance. It’s not wrong to be patriotic and each of us should continue to pray for the welfare of the country of our exile.  

But there is a line between patriotism and the deification of one’s country. Do you know why the Jews were in exile? It was because their homeland lacked those who practiced justice and sought after truth (Jeremiah 5.1). So, we should ask ourselves what benefit it is to love one’s country, but ignore her failings? Our country may have been founded on the highest of ideals, but she has also struggled to live up to them. Slavery, the displacement of native Americans, Japanese internment camps are all stains on our national conscience. And while I believe and pray that we have learned and grown from our past, we must not assume that we’ve now reached perfection and that injustices no longer occur. That is why we must continue to plead the cause of the unborn. That is why we must continue to pray that our leaders will find their moral footing. And that is why we should extend our hearts and hands to the oppressed and to the unloved. God is grieved by any and all injustice, not just the ones that line up with the ideological viewpoints of either political party in our country. Remember, we are in exile here. Let’s continue to pray for the welfare of our country and that her blessings are experienced by all her people. 

Remind them… to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.

(Titus 3:1–2, NASB95)

These are convulsive times and change is occurring rapidly. So, it should not surprise us that some brethren embrace the changes, some view them with wary skepticism and others find themselves somewhere in the middle. But regardless of where each of us falls, the truths of Titus 3.2 apply to us; this is how we live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age. Contrast Paul’s exhortation in Titus 3 with what you see in the news and on social media. Have you seen people with contrasting views seeking peace, demonstrating gentleness and showing every consideration? Perhaps occasionally, but chances are what you’ve seen is people maligning each other. So, no matter what our views may be regarding the issues of our day, if we fail to give “every consideration” to all men, we’ve failed to live sensibly, righteously or godly.

And if you find that you’re having a hard time heeding the exhortation of Titus 3.2, let me issue this challenge: regardless of your race, political affiliation or views regarding recent events, take the next week and rather than reading the news and social media posts that reinforce your own opinions, spend your time trying to understand the perspectives of others. Don’t get distracted by all the noise surrounding the issues of the day, but rather focus on why others feel how they do.  And be prayerful while doing so. In the end, your opinions may or may not change very much, but you will increase your capacity to understand and appreciate the men of every nation who are called to seek God; you will have shown them every consideration.

Brethren, we cannot know what the results of this current turmoil will be. I pray it will be for good, but ultimately I know this world will continue to prove that it is not our home. But we have “the hope of eternal life, which God who cannot lie, promised long ago.” (Titus 1.2) He has appeared (Titus 2.11) and will appear again (Titus 2.13). So, let us live sensibly, righteously and godly in this present age (Titus 2.12).

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