It's All Good Week Two - Good Discipline
This week I was having a conversation with my teenage son. He attends a Christian school where Bible class is a requirement for every grade, every year. I don't mind this, honestly. In my opinion, the more opportunities that you have to interact with the Bible, the better.
But he had a bit of a confrontation with some of his classmates the other day when they were studying some of the Apostle Paul's writings. My son had the gall to ask aloud in class, "Do you ever wonder why Paul was so angry? He seems like kind of a jerk." Some of his classmates, who attend conservative churches couldn't believe that my son would actually say such a thing about the author of half of the New Testament.
So as he is relating this to me, he goes on to elaborate on the reasons that he doesn't like reading Paul's writings. "He's always yelling at someone," "He's all about rules and regulations," and "He says dumb things like women need to cover their heads." There were other comments, but you get the picture.
The moments when I get to talk to my son about Scripture---just the two of us---are pretty rare. You don't want to mess those moments up, you know what I mean?
My son was right. Paul does sound angry more often than not. And he does spend a lot of energy trying to discredit false teachers and prove why his teaching is correct.
And he does say some things from time to time that seem pretty dumb to the average teenager---or adult---or anyone.
St. Peter wrote, "The words of our brother Paul are difficult to understand." Peter would have known. He knew Paul. Peter and Paul had a throw down at one point about eating with Gentiles.
So, have you ever wondered whether Paul needed a chill pill? Or why he seemed so concerned with rules?
And what do we do with all of the rules and regulations we find in Paul's writings? What do we do with all of the tough language? What do we do with the words of our brother Paul?
I'm going to start with something personal...
Here are some things that I have learned from my one-year-old.
1. He will eat anything, and I mean ANYTHING. Decorative moss, toilet paper, grass, ABC gum, aquarium rocks and dog food... lots of dog food. I could go on.
2. If he can reach it, it's going to go on the floor. We've lost a lamp, a Disney collectable snow globe we've had for 15 years, photo frames, a small book shelf, remotes, and a whole bunch of other stuff.
3. When he's quiet... beware. He knows enough about what he's NOT supposed to do that if he's left alone for a moment, he'll get into it and be quiet about it the whole time.
4. He has no concept of how bad it will hurt him if he falls from some of the places he wants to climb.
It's for these reasons and a host of other ones that my son needs some boundaries in his life. If I didn't create boundaries based on the things I know that he will do without them, I would be a lousy parent.
Boundaries are acts of love.
In the book of Titus, Paul says some pretty hard things. Read Titus 1:10-16 to see what I'm talking about.
Paul straight up begins this passage by essentially saying, "Those lousy Cretans." He's talking about the people from the very community Titus is serving as a pastor. But Paul wasn't really saying anything new. Cretans were widely believed to be quarrelsome, greedy, sneaky and basically out for themselves. The Greeks even had a word that came from the Cretans reputation---"cretize" which meant to lie, cheat, etc.
Paul specifically calls out the Jewish Cretans by quoting a guy named Epimenides, who was Cretan himself---and who didn't have a very high opinion of his fellow Cretans.
So what were these people doing to raise Paul's ire?
According to Paul they were undisciplined.
They were also "Empty Talkers" - a word that had to do with worship, or rather worship that wasn't transformative, but just went through the motions.
He also said they were deceivers, spreading fals doctrines and false expectations.
Paul asserted that because of their behavior, they were disrupting families--causing division in the church.
They were also only concerned with their own personal gain.
But what they were really doing was trying to impose a works based, intellectualized, cold, going through the motions, counterfeit kind of faith on the excited new Christians in Crete.
Paul said that these Jewish Cretans needed to be muzzled. It sounds harsh, but what it really means is to "silence with reason."
Then he says, "To the pure, all things are pure..." This is a simple, but pretty deep statement that reflects a teaching of Jesus from Mark 7:15 where Jesus said that it's not what's on the outside that makes you unclean, it's what comes from the inside.
Paul is establishing a boundary here between authentic and counterfeit faith. He goes on to say that someone who has a counterfeit faith is adokimos
This is the term that is used to describe a counterfeit coin, a cowardly soldier, a loser in an election, a brick that doesn't fit.
It's hard to understand some of the things that Paul writes. He does seem angry at times. He does seem to be obsessed with getting things right. But when you begin to see boundaries a bit differently, it also helps to put Paul's writings into perspective.
We need to hear his words today just as the church at Crete needed to hear them 2,000 years ago. There are so many people in our culture, who see nothing good about Christianity. They don't see the point. In fact, they see many of us who are Christians as counterfeits---people who are going through the motions. Our insides don't match our outsides.
We need some boundaries in our faith. We need to know that there is a difference between what is authentic and what isn't. And it requires discipline to keep those boundaries in place and to adhere to them.
Has your faith transformed you? Do you feel joy and unbelievable hope in your Christian walk? Do you experience God in the world? Are you any different because of your faith?
Or have you been going through the motions? Is worship a chore? Do you know deep inside that whatever you call your Christian faith is not faith at all, but something else?
It's time for some discipline. Boundaries are acts of love.