Declare! Exhort! Reprove!Fr. Barnabas Powell
It’s amazing how quick folks get upset if they feel like they are being bossed around. I had a couple come to see me once about how to raise their child and they informed me they had decided to not say anything about God to the child so that he could make up his mind once he got older. Imagine their surprise when I pointed out that was not just foolish but actually communicated to the child that God was, at best, an afterthought for his parent. I pointed out they wouldn’t take the same attitude about their son’s learning to brush his teeth or how to read or even cross the street safely. We moderns aren’t so much confused as we are lazy and self-centered. And narcissism always leads to destruction personally and as a society.
Ever since we humans enshrined “rights” and “personal freedom” as the highest good in our society, we seem to have forgotten the power and necessity of true obedience and humility. But, of course, we humans tend to allow the pendulum to swing to the extremes in our history. And isn’t it interesting that all we do is trade one form of slavery for another?
But the wisdom of the Faith gives us the insight we need to avoid the extremes and embrace true balance and sobriety. It’s only when we have the courage to embrace this discipline of obedience and humility that we are ever truly free to pursue that which makes us who we truly are.
Look at our lesson today in Titus 1:1-5; 2:15; 3:1-2, 12-15:
PAUL, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who never lies, promised ages ago and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by command of God our Savior;
To Titus, my true child in a common faith:
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for any honest work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all men.
When I send Artemas or Tychicos to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to apply themselves to good deeds, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not to be unfruitful.
All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith.
Grace be with you all. Amen.
St. Paul is writing to St. Titus, one of his spiritual sons whom he has placed as a parish priest in Crete, and instructed him to set up leaders in every city there. And Paul understood that Titus was going to have to be an effective leader if he was going to accomplish the pastoral and missionary tasks Paul gave him. So, he gives Titus some clear instructions on how to be an effective leader.
First, Titus was to Declare the message of the Christian Faith. Notice he doesn’t command Titus to convince but to declare. He expects Titus to declare the message of Jesus Christ. And he insists Titus do this from a heart convinced and a life shaped by that very message. It’s why the Church calls the message of the Faith the Evangelion, the Good News. Well, that presupposes the folks who hear the message are hearing the news, not some rote habit they’ve heard all their lives, but a message that actually is received as Good News! Too many today are tone-deaf to the message of Christ because they treat the faith as an afterthought, not as the Good News it really is.
Of course, St. Paul instructs Titus on how to fix that problem too. He tells Titus to “exhort and reprove with all authority.” Exhort means to encourage strongly as if there aren’t any other choices and reprove means never help others stay sick! Straighten them out. Of course, both of these leadership tools must be motivated by a deep and sacrificial love for your audience. That is the true source of real Christian authority – your sacrificial love for the people you serve. Not to be the boss, but to rescue the perishing!
Finally, St. Paul tells Titus to not allow himself to be ignored! Leaders don’t allow themselves to behave in such a weak way that they are easily dismissed. And true leaders reinforce this reality through “honest work,” gentleness, and courtesy! If you want to have followers, be the person who should be followed!
St. Titus was a Greek and a pagan before coming to Christ through the ministry of St. Paul, the Apostle. St. Titus stuck to Paul and assisted him in his many missionary journeys, sharing the Faith and building the Church. St. Paul finally made St. Titus the bishop on the island of Crete where St. Titus practiced what he preached and lived out his many years as the humble servant and wise spiritual leader of this area. He died at around 94 years of age and was buried. The life of St. Titus showed he took St. Paul’s words to him to heart and both served his flock with a commitment to being the Leader that should be followed and being a leader that has earned the right to correct and restore. God grant us leaders like this today!
Today, are you a leader? If so, who’s following you? Your children? Your spouse? Your congregation? If you don’t think of yourself as a leader, are you wise enough to follow wise leaders? You see, dear one, true authority and leadership flow from love and service, but true leadership also doesn’t let us off the hook just to not make you mad. True leadership loves you enough to tell you the truth even when the truth will upset you. It’s like when folks fuss at me for insisting they be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. O yoke-mate of Paul, together with him, you did preach the tidings to us of saving grace bestowed of God, O Apostle Titus, blest and elect revealer of mysteries; for which cause we cry out to you: Cease not to entreat Christ God for all of us.
You can reach out to Fr. Barnabas at email@example.com