Category Archives: 2018 – Jan/Feb

Editorial: Why Emphasizing Scriptural Doctrine Is Right (January/February, 2018) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

In our post-modernistic culture which shies away from the notion of absolute right and wrong, many do not embrace the idea that one can hold to a position which is authoritatively right and thus make all contrary positions authoritatively wrong. As with most other cultural trends, this relativism has seeped into the minds of many in the religious world, even to the point where embracing and defending doctrinal truth is labeled sinful. In his book, Counterfeit Gods, Presbyterian author Timothy Keller writes, “Idolatry functions widely inside religious communities when doctrinal truth is elevated to the position of a false god. This occurs when people rely on the rightness of their doctrine for their standing with God rather than on God himself and his grace.”

Some within the Lord’s church toy with this notion as well. This writer has discussed theology with many brethren in the church over the years, most of whom are preachers. In many of these discussions I’ve observed that some tend to shy away from the notion of stating with scriptural proof that a particular belief or person is absolutely wrong; others react with outright hostility to the idea that I or anyone else could state with authority and scriptural proof that they or anyone could hold to an erroneous religious belief.

I recently read two blog posts by brotherhood writers. One, authored by Jack Wilkie and titled “A Dangerous Trend In The Churches of Christ,” starts out by saying, “Right doctrine that leads to right actions is critically important, but if we’ve come to the place that our rightness outranks Jesus in terms of where we direct our attention (and I believe we have), we have a problem.” Citing the above quote from Keller, Wilkie then criticizes our “constant dwelling on the doctrines that set us apart from others, like baptism, music, women’s roles, and the like,” before talking about our supposed condescension towards outsiders, an unfriendly, unwelcome attitude we theoretically show towards any who question us, and our “ever-shrinking window of fellowship.” While he repeatedly clarifies that we must teach correct doctrine, the majority of Wilkie’s piece seems to promote the idea that we overemphasize correct doctrine, resulting in making us shallow, prideful, fearful people who de-emphasize Jesus, the cross, and the grace of God.

The second blog post, authored by Steven Hunter and titled “Has Our Bible Replaced Our Lord?”, asks this about our true faith: “Is it in the Scriptures themselves, or the Person to whom the Scriptures point us—Jesus?” Hunter wonders if we “have become more about our Scriptures than the Lord who gave us the Scriptures,” comparing some in the Lord’s church to the Jews whom Jesus chastised when He said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39). Criticizing using the Bible “as a method to win debates and arguments,” “search(ing) the Scriptures to prove others wrong,” and “read(ing) the Scriptures in snippets to establish a doctrine,” Hunter believes the Scriptures “more often make us into Pharisees because we sometimes care more about being right in our obedience than in our carrying the whole of the purpose of Scripture.”

Those who hold to these views are likely sincere, but they overlook some facts of great importance concerning the value of focusing on the Scriptures. First, without emphasizing the Scriptures one would know absolutely nothing about God’s grace, the cross, Jesus, His will, salvation, the promise of heaven, or the curse of hell. One cannot look to Jesus or focus on Jesus without looking to the Bible.

Secondly, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches that we must focus on the Scriptures if there is anything concerning the Christian religion about which we need instruction or correction. If we want to be right as God is right, we cannot achieve that goal without the Bible. If we want to grow more complete spiritually or be thoroughly equipped for any work God considers worthy, we must go to God’s Word.

Much false doctrine exists because most do not do this. The Scriptures command us to expose such error (Eph. 5:11; Jude 3; etc.) by “speaking the truth in love”; this is how we grow more like Christ (Eph. 4:14-15). God’s Word is that truth (John 17:17). Thus, we must teach topics on which error is taught by others such as baptism, worship, and the like. Doing so, even in love, may put us in a negative light in other’s eyes, but such can’t be helped (2 Tim. 3:12-13). The whole counsel of God must still be proclaimed, and the Bible is the sole source of that counsel.

The Scriptures are a major part of the method God chose to use to save us. One cannot overemphasize their importance; indeed, many are lost because they de-emphasize them. May we never do so.

—Jon

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“Big” Sins vs. “Little” Sins — Ken Thomas

When preachers address sinfulness, it is easy for them to list the sins that are in the news. Abortion, deviant sexual practices, addictions, violence, mass murder, and political dishonesty are just a few symptoms of our growing sinfulness as a nation. Because of the social or political pressures to normalize sin, we assume that we will have no argument from the Christians in the crowd when we mention the proliferation of shameless acts and actors in the media coverage of fornicators, drunkards, molesters, and crooked businessmen. Yet it seems other sins condemned in Holy Writ which are equally soul-damning are barely mentioned.

Catholic tradition classifies sins as “mortal” and “venial” based on references to the “sin unto death.” Lies are classified as big fat lies and little white ones, harmful and harmless. Sins are minimized as character flaws, mistakes, and personality defects. Situational ethics diminishes sin, based on the situation.

In Proverbs 6, the hungry thief who steals seems less shameful than the man who commits adultery with a neighbor’s wife. Yet James 2 points out that, legally, the respecter of persons is equally an offender with the adulterer and the killer. So is there really a distinction of little sins and big ones? It seems that the same Bible that announces the wages of sin as being “death” has also defined some sins as worse than others. They are worse in regard to the harm done to others, but more importantly, the insult directed at the Almighty and Holy God.

First, consider the danger of the so-called little sins. Since they seem more harmless, they usually are repeated frequently. Gossip is just sharing the latest news or showing concern for someone else. Rude talk is just “shooting straight and telling it like it is.” Jokes with suggestive undertones are just good humor among mature friends, and after all, “A merry heart doeth good.” (sarcasm intentional) Taking a few inexpensive items home from work, or a “five-finger discount” from a store, is not really a crime because big businesses make excess profits. The reader can easily think of things that “other people” do!

When we take “little sins” for granted, we make it easier the next time. We sear our consciences, thereby losing our desire to live as lights in the world. We may diminish any good influence that we had in the past.

A “small sin” is like the young son who enters the narrow opening so he can open the locked door for his father, the burglar. The smaller the guilt, the more frequent is the sin. It is the little fox that spoils the vineyard. The little tongue is ignited by the fires of hell, and is unnamable, unruly, poisonous.

It has been rightly said that the holiest of men have the strongest fear of little sins. Job made a covenant with his eyes to avoid lust. Daniel feared God, to whom he prayed openly, more than the king who had banned his prayers. Paul disciplined his body to avoid being disqualified after preaching to others.

Those who do not respect God’s love of righteousness and his hatred of sin will minimize the danger of casual and careless sin. We are tempted when we are drawn away and enticed by our own lust, which conceives and brings forth sin (James 1:13-15). Little sins, unrecognized or ignored, grow into strong entanglements which enslave our souls for time and eternity. Yet if this is so, then what are the greater sins?

After extolling the glorious creation of God and the merits of God’s will for his life, David describes the great reward of keeping the precepts of God. More desirable than gold and sweeter than honey, the law of God was the source of His warnings and His great reward. Since we cannot discern our own errors, and need cleansing from our hidden faults, we need God’s help. David writes, “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression” (Ps. 19:13). What is the “great transgression”?

Until writing this article I never made a connection with David’s aversion to “the great transgression” and the man who picked up sticks on the Sabbath day. Moses had just announced the law about this sin: “But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him” (Num. 15:30-31). Immediately we read an account of presumptuousness.

“And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him” (vs. 32-34). The man should have had no need for sticks, since cooking was prohibited. In fact, no burden bearing or rigorous physical labor was allowed on the Sabbath. The Lord said (to Moses), “The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.” (35) The man was executed by the people outside the camp according to God’s command.

It seems to me that the great transgression that stands out in scripture is not a specific act of a single sin or a group of sins. It is more an attitude than an action. While heinous crimes and disgusting lifestyles are to be avoided and condemned for what they are, it is the high-handed attitude against God and the lifestyle he desires mankind to follow that is most repulsive to God. From the choice of the first humans to favor Satan’s urgings over God’s prohibition…or even more so the choice of Satan to lead the opposition to God as the accuser of man…willful sin is the summit of man’s sinfulness.

The call for the crucifixion of Jesus by a vicious mob was an awful sin, but Jesus said they did not know what they were doing. His plea for the Father to forgive them was fulfilled on Pentecost after they realized what they had done. Presumptuous? Maybe on the part of some, but ignorance and mob frenzy was the rule that day.

The persecution, imprisonment, and murder of Christians at the hands of Saul of Tarsus was done by a man with a clean conscience, convicted that he was doing service to God. Heinous for sure. Presumptuous sin? Not at all. He who later defined himself as chief of sinners said he obtained mercy because he did it ignorantly, in unbelief (1 Tim. 1:13-15).

Why, then, was David so concerned about the great transgression? Why the plea to God to keep him from presumptuous sin? And what about the request to not let them have dominion over him? As the prophet Nathan told David, he was “the man.”

The man David was highly qualified for presumptuous sin, the great transgression. He was the king. He was used to being followed and obeyed. Hardly anyone would have been feared by him. Even as a young man, he heard the adulation of the people. The slayer of Goliath, the one who surpassed King Saul in valor and accomplishment before wearing the crown, the king for whom valiant soldiers would cross enemy lines and risk death to get a drink of water for him – this is David.

One day he gazed from his roof to view a bathing beauty. He had perhaps noticed the woman before, but on a certain tragic day he decided he had to have her, the wife of a military man away on the battlefield. The arrangement was made despite the fact that her marital status was known. The tryst was consummated, and an unwanted pregnancy occurred. Now would have been the time to put an end to the relationship and acknowledge the sin. But the sinfulness had only begun. Crafting a plan of deception, David called Uriah home to take a break from the battle and to visit Bathsheba.

Uriah, a loyal soldier, reported how the battle was going. He was sent to “wash his feet” at home, and a royal meal followed him. But he slept at the door of David’s house with David’s servants. The next day David asked why he had not gone home, and he replied that he could not do such a thing while his comrades were in the open field and the people were in tents.

The plot to cover up his paternity had failed, so David again tried to get Uriah to go to his house by getting him drunk. However, a drunk Uriah was still more ethical than David. David sent a note back to the military lines with orders to Joab to put Uriah into the front lines of heated battle, and then withdraw support for him. Uriah had carried his own note for execution. David later sent words to encourage Joab to press the battle. His basic message to Joab was “O.K. . . . so people die in battle!”

After Bathsheba observed a time of mourning, she married David and their son was born. Yet God was highly displeased. Nathan the prophet was sent with a tale about injustice suffered by a poor man whose only lamb, a pet of his children, was taken by a rich man to feed a traveler. Suddenly David’s conscience returned, and he angrily called the atrocious injustice a crime worthy of death. Only after Nathan declared, “You are the man,” did David confess his sin (2 Sam. 11-12).

David took many liberties with his position, with adultery, deceit, and murder being committed in the sight of God deliberately and callously. It is as if he were willing to spit in the eye of God. One does not have to be a king to think too highly of himself, yet David is described as a man after God’s own heart. How can that be? If he had continued his hardened path, he would be seen as one of the most evil of men. But his humbling by God and the events of his life helped to shape our understanding of the grace of God. Had he received what he deserved according to the law, he would have been executed. But he received grace and forgiveness, even for his presumptuous sin.

For the Christian, the warnings are clear. Knowing what is right and refusing to do it creates an atmosphere of “great sin.” “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them” (2 Pet. 2:20-21).

Willful sin, after we know the truth, puts us in the position of having no sacrifice for sins. We can only anticipate with fear the judgment and fierce indignation of God. “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:26- 29). God’s vengeance will determine the “payback.” Our God is alive, and it is fearful to consider what will happen to us if we rebel and defy our creator. He is God, and we are not!

Ken is the minister for the Leeville Church of Christ in Mt. Juliet, TN.

“Swallowed Up” With Selfishness and Pride — Stephen Scaggs

Tremendous joy was in Heaven when it heard the news of Nineveh’s repentance. There is a clever wordplay not apparent in English translations, but it is readily apparent in the Hebrew. When God saw how they had turned from their wicked (ra’ah) way, He turned from the calamity (ra’ah) (Jonah 3:10). In the presence of Heaven, the angels rejoiced over the repentance of 120,000 Assyrians (Jonah 4:10; Luke 15:10). But there was one man, albeit a prophet, who was not rejoicing over the salvation of the pagans: Jonah, the son of Amittai.

Among its contemporaries, the book of Jonah is unique in that it is not the messages of a prophet, but rather it is written about the life of a prophet named Jonah. The tragedy of this narrative is this: it is not the pagan sailors or pagan king swallowed up with pride, but the judgmental child of God. He is so swallowed up in his own bitterness that he cannot see how his sin affects others. So often, it is not the outsiders who struggle with pride, but it is God’s very own people. Little is known about this prophet except for a brief passage in 2 Kings 14:25 which mentions Jonah prophesying in favor of an apostate, faithless king, which immediately casts suspicion on his character.

Jonah’s Selfishness and Pride

There is a witty wordplay in Jonah that most English translations do not pick up, but it is apparent in the Hebrew. “Jonah went down (yêreḏ) to Jaffa,” he went “down (yêreḏ) into the ship,” and he had gone “down (yāraḏ) into the lowest part of the ship” (Jonah 1:3-4, 5). Three times in a few verses, the writer emphasizes where this disobedient prophet had sunk to in his selfishness: down, down, down. Later in Jonah’s Hebrew poem for salvation from the sea beast’s stomach, he bemoans how he had gone “down (yāraḏ) to the bottoms of the mountains” (2:7). So willing was the prophet to run from the Lord that he intended to go to Tarshish, the edge of the known world (modern-day Spain). We might compare this with a modern-day saying that he was trying to flee to Timbuktu.

Does Jonah run from God because the prophet is scared for his life? This might seem plausible. Yet when we read later in the narrative, we find it was much more selfish. Jonah said to the Lord, “That’s what I anticipated, fleeing to Tarshish—for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and full of kindness, and relenting over calamity” (Jonah 4:2). Here, Jonah quotes from Exodus 34:6-7, a poem steeped deep within Israel’s history. The reason the prophet runs from God is simple: if the people respond, God will forgive them. This casts suspicion on the reason Jonah was thrown into the ocean (“If I die, I won’t have to go to Nineveh”) and his short five-word sermon, which could be viewed as prophetic sabotage (Jonah does not mention their sins or repentance). Nonetheless, Jonah serves as a valuable example for God’s people today – because it is a mirror into our own faults.

Lessons For Today

What lessons can we learn from Jonah’s story to combat selfishness today among God’s people? First, we must come to understand that our selfishness and pride affects others. Oblivious to his own sin, the effects of Jonah’s sin began to swallow up the pagan sailors as the storm comes upon them. Sin in general rarely just affects us—the apostle Paul succinctly states, “For none of us lives for himself, and none dies for himself” (Rom. 14:7). When we come to understand that our sin affects others more than just ourselves, we will humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and trust in His grace (1 Pet. 5:6).

Second, we must become more empathetic. Jonah was so wrapped up in his tiny little world that he refused to accept God’s verdict. We read of a short, strange event of God sowing a leafy plant to comfort Jonah, which is the only time in this story that Jonah is happy (Jonah 4:6). But after the worm eats the plant away and Jonah becomes angry again, the Lord asks the seething prophet: “Is it good for you to be so angry about the plant?…You have pity on the plant for which you did no labor or make it grow, that appeared overnight and perished overnight. So shouldn’t I have pity on Nineveh — the great city that has in it more than 120,000 people who don’t know their right and from their left — as well as many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11)

Jonah was so angry about this plant—and was totally oblivious to the fact that over 120,000 people were now saved. Jonah needed to become more empathetic toward His enemies. Let us heed the words of the apostle Paul, “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other just as God in Christ also forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). Are you okay with God loving your enemies?

Third, we must come to know the character of our God. When we come to not merely acknowledge but truly trust that God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and full of kindness, and relenting over calamity, then this truth will truly bring about heart change for God’s children. By becoming gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and full of kindness, and relenting over calamity ourselves, we become more perfect like our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:43-48).

Conclusion

The story of Jonah—just like the story of the prodigal son’s elder brother—is left with an open ending (Jonah 4:10; Luke 15:30). We do not know whether Jonah, or the elder brother, had a change of heart. But the story is not really about Jonah; it is about you and me. Let us not become so wrapped up in our own story that we become swallowed up in pride.

Stephen is a 2012 alumnus of the Memphis School of Preaching in Memphis, TN. He is currently living in Dublin, GA, where he is seeking to further his education in ministry.

The Church and the LGBT Agenda — Adam Carlson

A responsibility of the Levitical priesthood was to know the difference between the “holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” and teach the law (Lev. 10:10-11). As Christians we likewise have a duty to make this distinction and have no part of the unclean (1 Pet. 2:11). Sadly the movement to impose homosexual practices as a normal and mainstream part of our society has made gains over the course of several years and God’s people are not immune from falling prey to Satan’s ploys (2 Cor. 11:3). This article will focus on how this movement may impact us and what we must do.

Acceptance

The LGBT movement has had some of its greatest successes in the area of entertainment. Sitcoms and movies commonly depict homosexuals and transgenders as tolerant, welcoming and enlightening while those who oppose are portrayed as ignorant, close-minded and intolerant of other views. Those who in reality rebel against God labeling those who boldly stand against sin as troublemakers is nothing new (1 Kings 18:17-18).

We must never take the attitude of Judah in Jeremiah’s day: “‘Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,’ says the Lord.” (Jer. 6:15; 8:12). If we aren’t vigilant, we too will fall victim to accepting all manner of sin (1 Cor. 10:12).

Ignoring The Warnings

Certain things are recorded to serve as a warning to not repeat the mistakes of the past (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11). The consequences of practicing and accepting homosexuality are no exception. Advocates of the LGBT agenda dismiss biblical teachings by arguing that passages condemning homosexuality are taken out of context.

The most common is the fall of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:1-29). They claim Sodom’s sin was a lack of hospitality rather than homosexual practices, when in reality they were guilty of many sins (Ez. 16:49-50). When compared to the Genesis account, it is abundantly clear homosexuality was a normal part of their heathen ways. The fact that two inspired New Testament writers give their fate as a warning to Christians is not something to be taken lightly (2 Pet. 2:6; Jude 7). Jude wrote, “Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7).

Fear Of Speaking Out

Yet another area where this wicked agenda has enjoyed success is instilling fear into those who speak against it. Sadly, some have given in to the intimidation. As God’s people, rather than hide our lights (Matt. 5:15) we should have the apostolic mentality: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29).

Children of God are not to be fearful (2 Tim. 1:7). Some fear the IRS, loss of money (Acts 16:19) or the reactions of hearers (Is. 51:7; Ez. 3:9; Matt. 15:12) more than the living God (Heb. 10:31). Brethren, we must never lose or give up our convictions out of fear but rather continue despite the efforts of Satan to water down the truth of the matter. If we do, we’re people pleasers rather than God pleasers (Gal. 1:10).

Targeting Children

Children are one of God’s greatest blessings (Ps. 127:3-5). Yet sadly, the evil tentacles of this vile agenda has reached into the minds of these precious little ones. This has been done through television and literature; now some public libraries are inviting “drag queens” (men who dress and try to look like women) to read to children. The divine imperative to teach them becomes even more crucial for Christian parents (Deut. 6:6 -9). This is not something we can be passive about because souls depend on it.

When we look at the honesty and humility of a child, it is no wonder our Lord uses them to teach us and pronounces condemnation on those who seek to harm them (Matt. 18:1-6).

Redefining Terms

In a post-modern society where truth is viewed as subjective rather than objective & absolute comes putting new terms on what in times past many knew to be sin. Sadly this mindset is permeating in the minds of many who profess to be Christians. In many pulpits, homosexuality (and other sins) is rarely addressed. When it is addressed, the sin is watered down and referred to as “alternative lifestyles.” One may change the terminology but they do so to their own detriment (2 Thess. 2:11-12). Postmodernism leads to the redefining of terms and ultimately turns the truth of God into a lie (Rom. 1:25). We must be vigilant in our efforts to remain steadfast in guarding ourselves and the bride of Christ from blemish (Eph. 5:27). If we allow the philosophies of the world to enter our midst, we are guilty of spiritual adultery like some in Thyatira who permitted immorality in the church (Rev. 2:20-23). Rather, let us be like the faithful in Thyatira and not learn “the deep things of Satan” (Rev. 2:24).

Jesus Never Addressed It

Some elements of Christendom influenced by LGBT proponents are regarding homosexual actions as okay because scripture never records Jesus explicitly condemning it. The Lord also never specifically mentions spousal abuse yet no rationally thinking person will argue that’s okay because He never spoke about it. Those who advocate for this position are like those described by Peter: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Pet. 2:1). Furthermore, they likewise twist scriptures (2 Pet. 3:16).

In reminding the Pharisees of God’s design for marriage Christ appeals to the creation of man (Matt. 19:3-9; Mark 10:1-9; Gen. 2:24). By showing who marriage is for it is evident that all other sexual relationships—including homosexual ones—are excluded.

What We Must Do

What can we do to ensure that even faithful brethren and entire congregations don’t succumb to the LGBT movement?

  1. Set an example by your actions (Jas. 1:27). It is easy to “amen” a sermon that admonishes us to not defile ourselves in the ways of the world, but we must put our agreement into action and live out our resolve.
  2. Be vigilant. Acceptance of sin in Christianity didn’t happen rapidly but rather over a span of time. Our Lord’s enemies are smooth (Rom. 16:18), subtle (Gal. 2:4), and ultimately empty (2 Pet. 2:17; Jude 12).
  3. Stay abreast of current events because whatever is in the world will manifest itself into the church. It is imperative that Christians be armed (Eph. 6:10-20).
  4. Remember there is “nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). Whatever we face today has been dealt with in the past.
  5. Remember the gospel’s power. First century Corinth was a very wicked city but even there Paul proclaimed the gospel (Acts 18:8, 11). Among those who were converted there were homosexuals (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
  6. Be patient as you teach. “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after having been captured by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:24-26, emp. mine).

Conclusion

There is no doubt we live in troubling times but despite this God’s people must press onward and endure so we can finish the race (Phil. 3:14; Heb. 12:1-2). Let us never fear to speak out but do so in a way that will be pleasing to God.

Adam preaches for the Midwest Church of Christ in Ferguson, MO.

A Mother And Daughter Look At Titus And Timothy — Autumn & Kaitlyn Richardson

Editor’s Note:  The church of our Lord is made up of men and women who are older and younger.  Sometimes there can be a disconnect between the generations.  It’s natural for one to easier relate to one’s peers within one’s own generation, but this can easily become a stumbling block to the unity between the young and the old which our Lord would have in His church.  I taught a young man in one of the Carolina schools of preaching who had graduated high school the year before.  One day in class he expressed his frustration about his perception that older brethren were dismissing out of hand any scriptural points he would make in a sermon or devotional due to his youth.  As one who started my preaching career while in my twenties, I could relate.  On the opposite end, I can also remember in my youth dismissing the insights and counsel of those older than me simply because they were older and thus “were out of touch” and “couldn’t relate” to me. 

This generational disconnect between some of our older and younger brethren stands in the way of the church applying the commands and obtaining the benefits of passages like Titus 2:3-5 and 1 Timothy 4:12.  To explore this subject further, I’ve asked a Christian mother, Autumn Richardson, and her college-age daughter, Kaitlyn, to share their insights about the different generations within our brotherhood, particularly among older and younger Christian women.  What follows are their thoughts.  — Jon

Carolina Messenger:  Ladies, thank you for being willing to sit down with us and share your thoughts about this important subject.  To start off, Autumn, has any older woman in your life done for you what Titus 2:3-5 is commanding them to do when you were a very young Christian and a new wife and mother?  If so, how did you react to it?  What benefits did it bring to you as a younger woman, wife, mother, and Christian?

Autumn:  I have been so very blessed to have had Titus 2 role models throughout my entire life.  When I was a teen, a lady named Laura at my home congregation taught our girls’ Bible class and sought out ways to encourage and bless us outside that classroom environment as well.  She was in a struggling marriage herself, and the way she lived out the words in 1 Peter 3:1-6 still impacts me today.  However, during the times she was trying to have a direct influence on me, I did not always receive it well.  Our relationship was great while I was doing good things, but I recall one time in particular when my parents asked her to attempt to “talk some sense” into me because of some bad choices I was making.  I was horrified she knew something less-than-perfect about me, so I became very defensive instead of soaking up her wisdom and appreciating her vulnerability in revealing things about herself to me.  If I recall correctly, we were sitting in a car in the church parking lot, and I sat with my arms crossed and leaning against the door, just waiting for the word that she was done with me so I could bolt.  Looking back, I know that it was my shame making me act that way.  I did ultimately heed her advice that night, and I have learned from her example in many ways, but because of my pride in that moment I did not respect her.  Thankfully, Laura never held my rudeness in that encounter against me, and she and I still enjoy a great relationship to this day.

When I married, these Titus 2 women, as I’ve always liked to call them, became so much more important to me.  When Adam and I first married, I remember the lady whose casserole recipes I always needed and those whose advice I always sought in learning how to host church events in our home.  A couple years later, new mentors came into my life as we became parents.  Some helped me with things like breastfeeding and sleep schedules while others made sure I still valued my husband and my marriage.  We moved several times during our first five years of marriage, and it was always a priority for me to establish a Titus 2 relationship with a lady in the congregation as soon as possible.  It was the thing that grounded me, helped me grow, and gave me an outlet when things were not going well.  The younger I was, the more I tended to buck or push against the advice I was given, especially when unsolicited.  However, I still seek out those relationships now, knowing I have so much more to learn.  I think that all goes back to the positive relationship that I had with Laura, my first Titus 2 mentor.  Otherwise, I might still be trying to figure everything out on my own.

Kaitlyn:  I think it is definitely easier to look back and see who your mentors were.  Hindsight is 20/20, and I agree that in the moment it can be difficult to see what a benefit such an amazing woman can be.  I don’t think we as kids always know what we need until after we have received or lost it.  It’s hard to listen to advice because we often feel attacked, but it is really just our own issues that cause us to feel that way.  I really can’t think of a time that I have looked back on the advice someone I respected gave me and regretted listening.  Even if I disagreed or went in another direction, I always wish I had listened.

C.M.:  Kaitlyn, 1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Let no one despise you for your youth.”  Do you believe any in the church or in our society who are older despise you and your peers for your youth?  If so, in what ways?  How does that make you feel as a young person and as a Christian, especially if it’s coming from fellow Christians who are older?  In hindsight, are any of their critiques and stereotypes about the younger generation right?  Are any of them mistaken?  If so, why?

Kaitlyn:  In the letter from Paul to Timothy, the word he uses for “despise” literally means “to think down.”  I felt the need to clarify that due to the more modern connotation being more about hating than disregarding.

I often feel overlooked by older generations.  A lot of it is just in passive-aggressive comments here and there about how our generation is “so soft-headed” or “stupid little snowflakes” and so on.  It makes it very difficult to get people to take you seriously when they are so caught up in the little things we do differently than they did, whether it be what we wear, our phones, or any mention of anything modern.  I feel as though we are made to feel shame when we even show a slight interest in the latest fad, like we’ve disappointed them somehow.

It also has a lot to do with the fact that people are often patronizing toward my age group.  They pretend to give us credit, or say what they think we want to hear, or tell us how we “just can’t understand” and forget to even listen to what we have to say, often ignoring us completely.  They tell us to grow up and become more mature, but when we try to talk about mature subjects we are shot down and no one will help us learn how to have those conversations.  So the cycle repeats.  Especially as teens, I feel like we are stuck in the middle.  No adults want to hang out with us because we’re immature, but no kids want to hang out with us because we’re too mature.  Funny how that works, huh?

Adults often get so caught up in reprimanding us and becoming exhausted by us that they forget to hear what we have to say.  I mean, everyone who ever changed the world was a kid once, with dreams and plans.  We are important, and we deserve a voice.  I have occasionally made a comment that was just brushed off, but when an older person made the same comment they were recognized and applauded.  We really do think through things.  We just need a lot of guidance, and I feel adults feel more compelled to give orders than to give guidance.  Teens hate orders.  We aren’t soldiers.  We aren’t all the same.  We don’t all think the same way or want the same things or dream the same dreams or have the same pasts.  We aren’t you, either.  While we may be similar, and you may see yourself inside of us, we aren’t you.  You don’t know our whole story.  You have to listen for that to happen, so please hear us.

Autumn:  I have definitely been guilty of brushing off you and other young people because it is the easier thing to do.  It is much easier to load the dishwasher myself than to train a child to do it correctly.  Just like it is so important to train that child anyway to do the dishes, even though it would be simpler, faster, and much less frustrating to do it myself, the same is true with life’s bigger tasks and issues.  It is easier to do things myself and not have the hard conversations that stress me out.  I certainly have never thought of that as “despising your youth,” but if the term means to “think down,” then that is something I have been guilty of from time to time.

C.M.:  Autumn, Titus 2:3-5 commands older women to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not slaves to wine, and to teach what is good and train younger women to love their husbands and children, be self-controlled, pure, workers at home, kind, and submissive to their husbands so that God’s Word will not be reviled.  What efforts do you make to apply the teachings of that passage to your relationship with the younger Christian sisters in your life?  Which of these efforts seems to work best?  In hindsight, would you do anything differently?  When opportunities to teach younger women these things rise, do you find it natural to do or do you have any misgivings or fears about reaching out to the younger generation?

Autumn:  I have attempted to live out being the older woman in Titus 2 in a variety of ways.  It is not something that comes naturally to me, so I have sought out the help of several tools within the church to facilitate that relationship.  I am very involved with the Lads to Leaders & Leaderettes program, whose sole intent is to mentor young people into active service in the Lord’s church.  Through this program I am able to teach skills, but it also enables me to spend time with and get to know these girls so they see me as a part of their lives.  I also teach the teen girls’ and women’s Bible classes, and I frequently remind both groups of their responsibilities toward one another.

The two primary commands of Titus 2:3-5 to older women are to teach and encourage.  Sometimes, probably too often, we do one but not the other.  We have some older women who are strong in encouragement because they value friendship or popularity with the younger generations over teaching and modeling truth.  Others emphasize teaching in the form of pointing out ways to fix or improve behavior, failing to encourage through positive communication and praise.  I believe Paul is expressing a need for balance in this area, similar to what he tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2:  “rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.”  I remind even the toughest, most hardened girls at our congregation that I love them and am always there to listen if they ever need me, while still teaching the things they need to hear but might not want to hear in Bible class.

My active role in being a Titus 2 woman to younger women and girls has become much more intentional in the past few years, partially because of seeing the outcomes of people I cared very much about who did not have those deep connections.  My personal insecurities were what hindered me then, and until recently I never pursued a mentor role in a young girl’s life unless she sought me out.  Until I saw how bad things went without a godly mentor present, I did not realize the seriousness of that relationship.  It had always been present in my life, and I made assumptions that everyone else had that available to them as well and that those relationships happened organically.  That is one of the deepest regrets I have.

Kaitlyn:  I think Mom does a great job of being a Titus 2 woman, even though we mess up sometimes.  I think there are times in someone’s life where they need more encouragement than they are receiving, and there are times they should be encouraging more than they are.  The purpose of Titus 2 women, in my opinion, is to be there for all of those times and to be the level head, the one who can look at it from an outside perspective to help guide you.

C.M.:  Kaitlyn, in what ways do you as a young Christian woman work hard to set the believers an example in the ways listed in 1 Timothy 4:12?  Do you feel you could improve upon any of them?  Have you observed any positive impact in your life or perhaps in the lives of others as a result of working hard to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity”?

Kaitlyn:  I have a “loud mouth” and I like to talk about issues, so showing Christ in speech is both my greatest trait and my biggest weakness.  I fight for those with no voice.  I interact with those younger than me to try to help them.  I am respectful.  I try to make sure I show Christ in everything I say.  I am also a perfectionist and I expect a lot from others, so when they don’t meet my expectations I fall into that deep pit which is gossip.  I live and die on the way others view me, so sometimes I lie to hide my faults.  I am prideful.

I know I am not perfect, no matter how hard I try to be.  Yet I always try to live my life as an example of what a young Christian can look like.  I say “can look like” because I know the way my life looks is not the only way a good, young Christian can look.  Some are quiet and show their Christianity in being submissive and peacemakers, some are talkers and preachers, some are kind, but we really all are amazing human beings.

Autumn:  You got your passion for discussing issues from your parents, so I can empathize with the fact that your speech is your greatest strength and greatest weakness.  I can see your growth in that area, I know others can as well.  James 3 tells us we will never be able to tame the tongue completely, but we have to keep trying.  You set an example for those who are older in so many other ways as well.  In speech, you stand up for what is right no matter the cost.  In conduct, you gravitate toward people who are underserved, unpopular, and disenfranchised and treat them with grace and respect.  You love everyone fiercely and with actions.  With regards to your faith, you teach both those older and younger than you and always are ready to give an answer for that belief (1 Pet. 3:15).  In purity, you strive to keep a clean conscience, something many your age care nothing about.  I believe all of these things have and are having a positive impact on older Christians all around you.  IN the same way that we don’t always acknowledge or appreciate our mentors as they teach, older people sometimes realize the power of the younger generation’s example in hindsight as well.

C.M.:  Autumn, do you see any ways other Christian women apply Titus 2:3-5 in their relationships with their younger sisters in Christ?  As far as you can tell, is this something happening as much as it needs to?  If it is, elaborate on how.  If it isn’t, what do you see in its place in the relationships older sisters have with the younger women?  What suggestions would you make to change it for the better?

Autumn:  I see many women who apply Titus 2:3-5 in the church through formal and informal teaching and training, but there is always a need for more.  Several recent studies over the last ten years have shown that if teens develop meaningful relationships with adults in their congregations, they are much more likely to remain faithful as adults.  I don’t think that is something those of us who qualify as “older” can take lightly.  Souls are on the line!  We have the opportunity to give young Christians a place to belong in a meaningful way and model the love of Jesus to them.  Youth group activities alone can’t do that.  Bible classes alone can’t do that.  This requires intergenerational interaction, something which is very easy to avoid in many of today’s congregations.  Every congregation needs to foster and facilitate opportunities where young and old serve, enjoy, appreciate, and learn alongside each other.  Service activities where young and old work on a project together or reach out to the community in some way can provide the soil for these Titus 2 relationships to blossom.  Having people into our homes is the easiest way to model the teachings of Titus 2:3-5 to others, because it provides a chance to see it in action as we prepare food, interact with our families, and show hospitality.  Teaching from a pedestal of knowledge and experience may look nice but rarely has its desired effect.

Kaitlyn:  I don’t think there could ever be “too many” Titus 2 women, but I think that often there aren’t enough.  It’s very easy to segregate ages and to stay on our own sides with those we connect with more easily, but it is very much worth the work it takes to come together.  I believe both sides will always be better for it.  It may be hard.  In fact, it probably will be.  It may be tiring, but I know it will be worth it.

C.M.:  Kaitlyn, how do you believe the church as a whole and your fellow Christians in your own life — both younger and older — could help you as a young Christian woman to set the proper example in the ways listed in 1 Timothy 4:12 so that your youth will not be despised and, more importantly, Christ will be glorified through you?

Kaitlyn:  I think the best way is the “Paul, Timothy, Barnabas” method.  Everyone in life needs at least one Paul, one Timothy, and one Barnabas.  A Paul is someone to whom you look up as a mentor.  You watch them in an effort to imitate them because you respect them as wiser and more experienced than you.  They are the people you can go to when things are really hard and you need advice.  A Timothy is someone who looks up to you.  You are their Paul.  You should want to guide them, help them succeed, and you enjoy watching them blossom into the great person they can be.  You make sure they know they are safe with you and can rely on you for anything.  A Barnabas is someone whom you view as an equal in experience, someone you can go to when you need the link that comes from being peers and sharing similar lifestyles.  Someone you have fun with and connect to.

If everyone would try to make sure they kept friends on all of those levels — find multiple Timothys to love and aid, Pauls to go to and lean on, instead of sticking only with Barnabases that are easier to empathize with, I think the church would be more united.  Young girls could grow knowing they are worth something, and older women could see what we have to offer while sharing what they have to offer.  If we would mingle among those who aren’t our peers, the church would learn so much from everyone else and we would be more like family.

We all need each other.  We all need to respect each other.  That is the first step, respect.  Don’t talk to those older than you like they are dumb and close-minded.  Don’t talk to those younger than you like they don’t know anything and are all immature know-it-alls.  Talk to Timothys like you would talk to Pauls.  Give us the benefit of the doubt.  Love each other and listen to each other.

Autumn:  I couldn’t agree more.  We taught you, your brother, and your sister the “Paul, Timothy, Barnabas” model several years ago because it works!  That balance of having all three in place is necessary for the growth and unity of the church.

C.M.:  Generally speaking, how would you both describe the relationship between older and younger generations in our society and in the church?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of this relationship?

Kaitlyn:  I don’t think there is much mingling between generations, especially in society.  There are very few things that encompass both old and young women.  We kind of tend to stay on our own sides.  I mean, we even eat at different times than each other, so we barely even see them in restaurants.  At church we have separate classes (which have their benefits; I’m not knocking that), youth events which rarely overlap with the older generation, events between the youngest and even the “youth groups” are very rare.

At the same time though, youth in the church generally respect their elders.  They try to please them, even though they barely interact.  The older generation does try to reach out, I think.  I just think they don’t always know how.  Because we have grown up in such different worlds, it’s really easy to see all the things that are different and we nitpick at them.  Things like fidget spinners manage to cause division.  Progress is always going to happen.  I believe there are things that should be kept as they are, but I also believe we need to move forward.  Jesus brought a lot of social change, so I know it isn’t wrong for things to change.  We just have to stop fearing it.

Autumn:  I would call the current relationship between older and younger generations strained.  If we use tension in relationships as a time for self-reflection rather than judging and blaming, it can be very beneficial.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the norm right now in our highly charged political climate.  Satan is using this to hurt our churches by dividing us.  Issues that are debated politically in our society often have moral implications, so how Christians respond to those things matters.  Yet, how we respond to each other matters too, as people outside the church are watching how God’s people treat each other.

C.M.:  What benefits would result within the church if all of the older and younger Christian sisters in the church actively applied Titus 2:3-5 and 1 Timothy 4:12 to themselves and their relationships with each other?

Kaitlyn:  There would be so much peace!  I mean, imagine if we all respected each other and stopped fighting over silly generational differences!  Then we could talk about the real issues and start making change in the world.  We can’t unite the world if we are divided.

Autumn:  If everyone fulfilled their roles in the church the way Paul describes in these passages, we would have healthier churches, healthier families, and emotionally healthier individuals.  Older people valuing and acknowledging those who are younger makes them feel wanted and useful.  Younger people listening to the wisdom that comes with age helps them build stronger families and make better decisions.  When our congregations are made up of healthy families and individuals, they can devote more time and energy to serving others and reaching out to the lost.

C.M.:  Last question.  What steps need to be taken by both the older and younger generations within our society and within the church to improve their relationships with each other?

Kaitlyn:  We need to stop focusing on the differences and instead expound on the similarities, the best of all being Christ.  If the younger generation would realize the older generation is trying to do what is best for us (even if it isn’t always what is best), we could listen and offer our own ideas and solutions so we could talk.  We aren’t right all the time, and we need to accept that.  We need to have an open dialogue between groups; we could get so much accomplished and we will realize we have much more in common than we think.  If the older generation would be more open to what we say, that would change so much.  I mean, really listen, hear what we are saying, ask us to clarify if you don’t understand.  Just honestly try to see how we think and be willing to see that maybe you were wrong.

Autumn:  I think the two verses that Christians of all generations need to remember when interacting with others are Matthew 7:12 and 1 Corinthians 13:7.  Both of those verses can help us temper our responses to people we don’t understand or agree with, particular with respect to generational differences.  1 Corinthians 13:7 says that “love believes all things.”  Love sees the best in others and gives the benefit of the doubt.  This means that when I hear someone younger than me say that they support something I believe is wrong, I don’t automatically assume they have sinful intentions.  Instead, I might assume they don’t realize the far-reaching consequences of what they support or that they are naïve about the reality of the situation.  Matthew 7:12 then tells us how our interactions should look.  Once we assume the best in a person, we can teach, instruct, model, and treat them with dignity and respect — no doubt they way we would want to be treated if someone disagreed with us.

When those of us who are older happen to be in the wrong, we need to own up to that and trust younger Christians to deal with us in this same way.  When younger people are corrected by the older, they need to feel and see the love and patience from which that correction comes.  When disagreements come that are just differences of opinion, we need to not dismiss or downplay the value of those opinions, whether it comes from a younger or older Christian.

The biggest thing I hear from talking with young girls is that they want older Christians to listen to them.  I think, likewise, the older generation feels that the things they say or teach are being mocked and rejected.  We can’t listen to people we aren’t spending time with, and we certainly won’t have a foundation of where they are coming from to know how to filter the things they have to say.

C.M.:  Ladies, we really appreciate the insights both of you have given to these two passages of scripture and how to improve the generational gap existing to some degree within the brotherhood and our society.  Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. 

Kaitlyn:  Thank you!  I really enjoyed getting to think so critically about all of this!  I hope someone else can glean some information from it as well!

Autumn:  I’m so appreciative for the chance to be a part of this very timely discussion for today’s church.  Thank you.      

Autumn is the wife of Adam and mother of Kaitlyn, Logan, and Macey.  She is also the Assistant Director of Distant Learning at Heritage Christian University in Florence, AL.  She worships with the Petersville congregation, where she loves teaching women’s classes and working with Lads to Leaders.   

Kaitlyn is a freshman communications major at Freed-Hardeman University.  She has a passion for mission work, social issues, and mental health awareness.