“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness – a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.”
I was in Silicon Valley this week meeting with geneticists, venture capitalists, and people who are thinking about, among other things, the ethics of how technology and science are creating futures that are both wonderful and terrifying. One of the discussions was around the serious interest of a growing number of tech people (Christian and non-Christian) in the extension of life – not just by a few years but even the prospect of eliminating death completely. A human design for eternal life. That is why Paul’s phrase of “faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life” caught my eye as I was preparing for this morning. In some sense, because many no longer believe in heaven, hell or the eternal life in which Paul puts his hope, they are creating their own. I know it sounds outlandish and beyond comprehension but this and many other applications of technology blended with biochemistry, physics, engineering, and neuroscience are creating possibilities that only seemed like science fiction a few years ago. I don’t have time to report on what I heard and saw but I’ll be thinking about it for a very long time. Billions of dollars are flowing to incredibly talented and motivated people to push the limits of what we can do.
In an odd way they are proposing an answer to Paul’s question in Corinthians, “Where, O death, is our victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” It’s not the one we expected. It is not about heaven and the hope of resurrection but about knowledge that can produce eternal life here on earth.
I want to read a few excerpts from an interview titled “Peter Thiel’s quest to find the key to eternal life.” Peter Thiel is a co-founder of PayPal and the person most identified with this movement. He’s funding dozens of scientists to press into this project. I probably should add that Peter is a Christian, gay, and to the dismay of his Silicon Valley peers a major supporter of President Trump.
I’ve always had this really strong sense that death was a terrible, terrible thing. I think that’s somewhat unusual. Most people end up compartmentalizing, and they are in some weird mode of denial and acceptance about death, but they both have the result of making you very passive.
I prefer to fight it.
Leon Kass — the physician who was head of the President’s Council on Bioethics from 2001 to 2005 — as well as a number of other prominent historians, philosophers and ethicists have spoken out against radical life extension. Kass, for instance, has argued that it’s just not natural, that we’ll end up losing some of our humanity in the process. What do you think of their concerns?
I believe that evolution is a true account of nature, but I think we should try to escape it or transcend it in our society. What’s true of evolution, I would argue, is true of all of nature. Even basic dental hygiene. If it’s natural for your teeth to start falling out, then you shouldn’t get cavities replaced? In the 19th century, people made the argument that it was natural for childbirth to be painful for women and therefore you shouldn’t have pain medication. I think the nature argument tends to go very wrong. . . . I think it is against human nature not to fight death.
How long is long enough? Is there an optimal human life span?
I believe if we could enable people to live forever, we should do that. I think this is absolute.
What does the future look like if everyone lives to be, say, 150?
Certainly if we could just live to all be 100, that would be quite a transformation. There is good news and bad news. The bad news is: If you don’t believe in the good news, you’re not saving enough for retirement and likely to spend much of your old age in poverty. I suspect if people live a lot longer they would be retired for a somewhat longer period of time. Just the financial planning takes on a very different character.
I think if you had a much longer life span, I do think the question of the future becomes more important. What would the 22nd-century world look like?
That’s not the focus of the lesson this morning but I could not leave it out. There is such a difference between Paul’s “knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness – a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life” and what we have just read. However, what we have just read is not as far off as we might think and is more appealing than heaven for a growing number of people.
Now, on to the lesson:
While there is not much known about Titus, what is known is enough to paint him as a remarkable man, friend and confidant of Paul and someone who helped shape the early Church.
He is first mentioned by Paul in Galatians 2 when he travels with Paul to Jerusalem to meet with the Council of elders to defend his gospel to the Gentiles. We also know he was sent by Paul to the believers at Corinth to deliver Paul’s scathing letter of correction concerning the man who was sleeping with his father’s wife. While the believers there had little trouble dismissing Paul and belittling him, they were respectful of Titus. So much so that when Paul wanted to encourage the Corinthians in the collection for the saints in Jerusalem he sent Titus and Timothy because they were both so trusted by the believers there.
“There are two kinds of people. There are those people who can make a bad situation worse, and there are people who can bring order out of chaos and peace out of strife. Titus was the man to send to the place where there was trouble.” William Barclay
You know the story of Robert E. Lee’s most trusted general, Jeb Stuart.
In June 1862, in defense of Richmond, Gen. Lee sent Stuart to scout and assess the right flank of Gen. McClellan’s Federal Army. Stuart not only achieved his mission, but rode completely around all McClellan’s troops to deliver a comprehensive report to Lee.
In his next campaign, Stuart was ordered to infiltrate enemy lines and destroy a large cache of Union weapons and supplies. However, while there, Stuart confiscated secret documents showing the strength and position of other Federal forces.
Stuart’s bravery and extraordinary skill as an intelligence officer were unparalleled in Civil War battles. With each mission, Stuart would submit his report to Lee, signed, “Yours to count on, Jeb Stuart.”
That was Titus. Yours to count on.
Paul says later, “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished.” Titus was the man who could not only bring order to chaos but he could straighten and finish the work. It is the sense of putting structure under what Paul had begun. Paul was great at starting and having a Titus must have been an encouragement to him in the same way Barnabas, Luke, Timothy and, ultimately, John Mark were. Starters need builders and finishers!
Then he goes on to say “In everything set them an example by doing what is good.” He doesn’t say teach them by preaching with good examples or illustrations. He says he is to be the example. What a difference! He doesn’t tell him to communicate brilliant insights or become a local celebrity with a growing audience or following. He doesn’t say be a Bible scholar in residence. No, he is to incarnate the gospel Paul preaches.
“The greatest compliment that Paul paid Titus was that he sent him to Crete, not to talk to them about what a Christian should be, but to show them what a Christian should be.” William Barclay.
What does that look like? What was his example to be? Well, Paul starts with a negative example of church leadership and lays out the characteristics of people who should not be elders in the church.
Authades (overbearing)- is a man who obstinately maintains his own opinion while he recklessly disregards the rights, opinions and interests of others. He is contemptuous of what others think. He is arrogant. Studies of marriages that last or don’t last have shown that the best indicator of a marriage that will not last is one of the spouses rolls their eyes in response to the other. It is the universal sign of contempt. That is what this person does.
Orgilis (quick-tempered)- is a word used to describe the kind of anger that is not the sudden losing of one’s temper and exploding but is an anger that is always there simmering beneath the surface. This person is always at 211 degrees – just short of boiling over. It is anger that is deliberate and purposefully maintained. As well, it is a person who is able to stir up the anger of others, to punch their buttons of resentment and bad feelings.
Paroinos (not given to wine)- This is not limited to “given to much wine” because it can be used to describe people who do not even drink. It is the word for outrageous behavior. It describes the character of a man who, even when sober, acts with a lack of self-control and the outrageousness of a drunken man. His behavior makes him, like a drunken driver, weave from one lane of thought and action to the next with nothing predictable. He is erratic.
Plektes(violent)- This is not just physical violence but he must not be one who brow eats or verbally abuses others. He does not beat up on people one way or the other.
Aischrokerdes (greedy of base gain)- This describes a man who does not care how he makes money as long as he makes it. He is inordinately proud of being rich and wealth has become so important to him that it is what props up his identity. Without wealth he would be lost.
That is the kind of man we are to avoid for guiding the church. What kind of person do we look for and someone we can follow? Paul gives us a vivid picture.
Philoxenos (hospitable)- is the quality of hospitality. It is the word that describes one who loves strangers and opens his home to them. The early church did not have buildings or hotels in which to stay. They met for church in their homes. They stayed with each other when they travelled. They lived together sometimes. The home was not so much “private property” as it was the foundation of the church. The early church depended on hospitality towards strangers.
Philagathos (loving good)- is the word for someone who loves what is good in people and whatever good is being done. He sees the good in life and encourages it. There are some people who are experts in discovering flaws in people and all the negatives in the world. Not these people. They love what is good.
Sophron (self-controlled) – describes someone who is prudent. Prudent does not mean risk-averse or overly careful or living in fear. It is one with passions and desires but who has learned to control them. I’ve told you before about the valve from a “Christmas tree” that tops a new oil well I have in my office. It does not stop the flow but it directs it and makes it productive. That is what prudence does in a life.
Dikaios (upright)- is a picture of a man who gives others respect that is due them as well as reverence for God. He does not demonize people who disagree with him because he thinks God would do the same. He does not feel he is defending God when he argues with someone on a point of disagreement but treats the other with the respect they deserve.
Hosion(holy) – means one who respect the common decencies of life. Those things that we all agree should be observed whether they are Christian or not. There are some things we just don’t do because we are decent people. The turning point of the McCarthy hearings in 1954 was when Senator McCarthy had launched into an outrageous tirade against the Army. The counsel for the Army, Joseph Nye Welch, responded: “Sir, at long last have you left no sense of decency?” McCarthy’s inquisition was over from that day. He had finally gone beyond common decency.
Elenchein (refute)- For me, this is the most remarkable trait of all. It is one who has the ability to rebuke and correct another person in such a way that they are not demeaned or insulted but is able to see their own error. “The aim of the Christian rebuke is not to humiliate another person, but to enable him to see and recognize and admit the duty and the truth to which he has been either blind or disobedient.” William Barclay. It is not the same as what Steve Jobs said about those who disagreed with him. “I just keep talking until they see it my way and admit I am right.” Totally different! This is the ability to correct and leave their integrity in place.
I like the Shaker hymn that says:
“Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free.
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and bend we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.”
That is the gift of rebuke. People come round right.
So, Paul leaves us with a choice. He leaves us thinking about what kind of person we want to be and what kind of people we want to follow. For, who we follow and whose example we accept is likely the person we will become.
Who do you want to be? Who are you following? It’s never too late to grow by changing who you follow or the example you are to others. It’s never too late to become someone able to sign their name with “yours to count on.” It’s never too late to turn and come round right.