This is week one of a four part series in the Apostle Paul’s letter to Titus, where he teaches Titus about becoming a church of irresistible influence. Titus is really one of the most profound books of the Bible to help us understand what makes churches healthy and strong. This week we look at what spiritual influence is, how we can have it in our community, and the standard God holds spiritual leaders to.
If we haven’t met yet, I’m Matt VanCleave, one of the pastors here at Blue Oaks.
I’m excited about the new series we’re starting today from the New Testament book of Titus called Irresistible Influence.
I want to start today by talking about influence.
This is how I would define influence:
Influence is the ability to have an effect on the behavior of someone else.
In his book 360 Degrees of Influence, Harrison Monarth writes:
“New York taxicabs have a touchscreen on the back of the front seat suggesting how much passengers should tip the driver upon arriving at a destination. Big colorful buttons give the option of paying $2, $3 or $4 if the fare is less than $15. If your fare is more than $15, the buttons display percentages from 20 to 25 to 30 percent.
Clearly counting on people’s laziness or inability to calculate and self-select a fair tip, cabbies are happy to report that gratuities have shot way up, again due in part to these highly suggestive buttons that are tilted toward generosity.”
There are so many people in our world who influence us… from taxicab drivers to celebrities to CEOs.
John Maxwell lists a number of famous influencers:
William Wallace leading the charge of his warriors against the army that would oppress his people.
Winston Churchill defying the Nazi threat as much of Europe had collapsed.
Mahatma Gandhi leading a 200-mile march to the sea to protest the Salt Act.
Mary Kay Ash going off on her own to create the world-class organization Mary Kay Cosmetics.
Martin Luther King Jr. standing before the Lincoln Memorial challenging the nation with his dream of reconciliation.
Each of these people has made an impact that has touched millions of people.
There are other types of influence as well:
Like fashion police who have a huge influence over style.
One day they say, “Straight-leg tight pants are in, tailored slim fit shirts are in, fluorescent yellow in work out gear is in, Birkenstocks are in, high rise baggie denim is in. Bright purple colored sweatshirts are in.”
And we all just march in locked step because of the influence of fashion.
We make lists every year of the 100 most influential people in business, sports, entertainment, and media.
But I was thinking, reading through the book of Titus, getting ready for this series, about spiritual influence. I was thinking about the ability to impact another human being’s character, about the ability to affect another person’s immortal soul, and the extent of they’re intimacy with God. I was thinking about spiritual influence.
I was thinking… if you were to create a list of the ten most spiritually influential people in your life, who would they be? Maybe give that some consideration today.
Now, in our society, influence — just general influence — is usually based on quite temporal values. It’s usually positional influence. It’s based on someone’s title, or on their gifts, or on their attractiveness, or on their status.
And when they lose their position, or their money, or their looks, or when their term of office is over, their influence evaporates.
But spiritual influence is another kind of influence altogether, and it’s mysterious. Because spiritual influence is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit.
Spiritual influence happens when a human being becomes so Christ-centered — when they’re doing and saying the things Jesus would do and say — and the actual life and power and love and presence of Christ begins to change that human being.
And other people see it — they see the difference Christ is making in a human beings life, and they realize they want that for their own life, and they begin to change. That’s spiritual influence.
And you may have experienced this in your life. I know I have.
Spiritual influence is, very often, unrelated to positions or status or achievement.
Spiritual influence is the primary way that Christian community gets formed… as we model a Christ-centered life for each other, and teach each other, and pray for each other, and encourage each other, and challenge each other as the spirit guides us.
As you do that, you leave your fingerprints all over what matters most to God, which is his church — the group of people in this room.
You can be a person of great spiritual influence in your home, in your small group, in your neighborhood, in your workplace. Or right here, today.
Now, in the first chapter of Titus, we see the critical role of spiritual influence in the church.
This book of the Bible is really one of the most profound books to help us understand what makes a church healthy and strong.
And if we could all learn together from this book… and live it out, together in community, it really will mark us.
But we see, early on, the crucial role of spiritual influence in the church.
We see, first of all, Paul’s influence on Titus. He begins with the introduction of how God has sent him to proclaim faith to those God has chosen and to teach them to know the truth that shows them how to live godly lives.
And then he says in verse four:
I am writing to Titus, my true son in the faith that we share.
I want to reflect for a moment on the significance of that phrase: “My true son in the faith.”
What would be especially striking to anyone in the first century that read this letter is the fact that Paul was a Jew, but Titus was a Gentile.
This meant they were sworn enemies.
Devout Jewish rabbis used to pray a prayer every day thanking God that he didn’t make them a Gentile.
A devout Jewish rabbi wouldn’t touch a Gentile, wouldn’t speak to a Gentile, wouldn’t eat with a Gentile, and considered any contact with a Gentile to make him unclean.
And here’s Titus, a Gentile, and Paul, a Jew, but the love of Christ so transformed, so influenced Paul’s heart, that he reached out to a Gentile.
And Titus was spiritually transformed largely through Paul’s spiritual influence.
Paul would take Titus with him on journeys. He would travel with him, eat with him, teach him, mentor him, pray for him, and Paul’s fingerprints ended up all over Titus.
And sometimes, this was not easy.
Titus is mentioned a number of times in the New Testament in the early section of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
Paul says that many years earlier he had been with Titus in Jerusalem, and a group of legalistic Jewish Christians found out that Titus was a Gentile. And that he was traveling with Paul but he had not been circumcised, and they were furious.
I’m not making this up.
So they said to Paul, “Titus has got to be circumcised.” And Paul said, “No, he doesn’t.” And they said, “Yes he does. Titus has to be circumcised right now.”
And I was just thinking about that this week. I’m guessing Titus was very interested in that conversation, don’t you think?
Imagine going on a trip, just out of the blue, and this group of strangers said, “By the way, you have to be circumcised right now.”
I imagine Titus saying something like, “Well, I wasn’t really planning that on this trip, but maybe next time I’m in town.”
There was this tremendous conflict, and Paul, at great personal risk, refuses to cave in to some very powerful people.
And above all what he’s guarding for Titus is Titus’ spiritual freedom. He says, “I’m going to refuse to let Titus, whom I love, be crushed by legalism in an oppressive, mechanical approach to God. I’m not going to let that happen.” Paul saw tremendous potential in Titus.
If you read through Paul’s letter to Corinth, you realize the church at Corinth had some real serious problems. Paul refers to this letter in 2 Corinthians 7 as a severe letter because of the great sorrow it caused the Corinthians.
Guess who had to deliver that letter?
Titus. Titus was Paul’s emissary who delivered that letter.
And then Titus was the guy who had to deal with all the fallout because of that letter.
To a large extent when Paul sent that letter, he put the fate of the church of Corinth in Titus’ hands.
And they received Titus with high regard. The text says they received him with fear and trembling and a spirit of affection.
And Titus was said to have walked in the same spirit with the people of Corinth.
Titus was able to resolve very difficult problems, which could have destroyed the church of Corinth.
So Paul’s fingerprints are all over Titus, his true son.
And then Titus’ fingerprints are all over the church of Corinth.
And now as we open up this letter in verse five, we find out that Paul is very concerned about the church in Crete.
Now, Crete is actually an island to the south of Greece, and it was made up of many towns. So there are actually many churches on this one island that Paul is quite concerned about. And he says in verse five:
I left you on the island of Crete so you could complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you.
There are really two classic passages in the New Testament that have to do with elders. One of them is right here in Titus, and then there’s a very similar passage in 1 Timothy 3.
Paul teaches that elders are to be people of spiritual influence, and I want to answer a couple questions as we walk through this text.
One of them is, “Why is it so important that a church have elders? What does an elder actually do? How do you ‘eld,’ if you are one?”
Well, look for a moment at what’s happening in Crete, because there are no elders. This is verse 10 of Titus one:
For there are many rebellious people who engage in useless talk and deceive others. This is especially true of those who insist on circumcision for salvation.
They must be silenced, because they are turning whole families away from the truth by their false teaching. And they do it only for money.
And then in Titus 3:10 we get another little picture of what’s going on in these churches in Crete. Paul says to Titus:
If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them.
This is very serious language.
For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.
Now Paul does not use this kind of language casually. The church in Crete is in very serious trouble. They face division. They face false teaching. They face un-confronted sin.
And the reason they face this has to do with the lack of the spiritual influence. They lack the spiritual influence of effective elders.
And I want to say a word or two about this because this happens a lot in churches.
I’ve been a part of a number of churches in my life. And I want to tell you, from personal experience, you have no idea what can happen when a church does not have effective spiritual leadership in place, or when the wrong people serve as elders.
Elders are like guards for a community.
I’ve read a little bit about the Lewis and Clark Expedition. They had to face a lot of misbehavior in the soldiers that were with them — fighting, drinking, theft, desertion.
Do you know what behavior received the worst punishment?
It was when someone fell asleep during guard duty.
Now, even though this was an accidental deal, it was punishable by death.
And there’s a good reason for that, because that’s the one act that would place the whole community at risk.
To be a guard was a sacred trust.
Well, the same thing is true when it comes to a church, because we face a very serious enemy. And this enemy is a lot more serious than any Lewis and Clark faced.
And when there is not appropriate elder influence, churches can drift off mission, and no one ever identifies it, or mentions it, or corrects it.
In churches that lack the spiritual influence of effective leadership, conflict gets mishandled, as it was here in Crete, and unresolved conflict gets tolerated.
This really happens in real churches, more often than some of you could imagine.
Factions form and people for whom Jesus died to make them brothers and sisters quit speaking to each other.
And they believe the worst about each other. They say slanderous things about one another in loaded language behind each other’s back.
Over time, the whole church — God’s dream for community on this earth — gets poisoned by a spirit of bitterness.
Also, a church’s commitment to theological truth can get fuzzy, and whole churches drift into theological error and heresy.
Well… elders are to evaluate what is taught to make sure the church is staying on course doctrinally.
If they don’t do that, teaching often becomes ineffective, or even unbiblical, and no one confronts it.
Elders should also help evaluate to make sure the right people are in the right places serving in the church.
People with wrong gift fits, or sometimes people with real serious character flaws can end up in key positions they should not be in, and a church like that will wither up and die.
Also, without mature elders overseeing an appropriate process of church discipline to make sure that wrongdoing is confronted appropriately… a church is just headed for disaster, because then there is no appropriate accountability.
And the church gets real vulnerable to financial mismanagement, to abuses of power, to loss of trust. A church’s spiritual integrity can get compromised.
Now, anytime a church is being ineffectively lead, or there is nonexistent spiritual influence, the Evil One rejoices because of the damage that’s done to God’s dream, to his bride.
So I want to spend our remaining time on another question about elders. And that is:
How does someone become an elder? Who ought to be an elder?
I want to do this for two reasons.
One is: we’re always looking to add to our elder board at Blue Oaks, and it’s important for all of us to be real clear on the criteria as they’re laid out in Scripture.
But there’s a second reason I want to look at this question: “What kind of person ought to become an elder?” And that is… these criteria are something we all should aspire to.
God’s goal is not that the church have a few mature elders and then a bunch of real immature followers.
His goal is that all of us should have the kind of maturity and character that would be characteristic of an elder.
His goal is not to have a place where there’s this real top down hierarchical community — and I get real concerned, because there are a lot of churches that are that way — that’s not God’s goal.
His dream is to have a community of committed, mature, responsible, discerning men and women of God.
So here are the marks of spiritual influence and the things that make someone a potential elder. Starting with verse six now:
An elder must live a blameless life.
Let’s pause here for just a moment. How many of you are now out of the running? Raise your hands, would you? Okay.
How many of you are okay, but your spouse is out of the running now?
Let me say something about this word blameless.
The idea here is not that you have never sinned. If that was the case we would not have to worry about having an elder board.
If I said, everyone who has ever sinned leave the room, everyone would have to leave the room. I would be standing up here all alone.
No… I would be the first one out the door.
Now, what Paul is saying is that elders need to have a public reputation that’s not marked by scandal or by a lack of integrity.
Again, in some churches, elders are chosen on real bad ground. Sometimes it’s just whoever is real powerful. And people just kind of automatically make them elders.
Sometimes, it’s just who’s real popular, and the elder board becomes a popularity contest. And that gets churches in real trouble.
It takes maturity on the part of the congregation to have appropriate elders.
And Paul is saying, “No matter what a person’s other gifts, power or qualifications, a church cannot put a person in a position of influence where that person has character flaws that could make a mockery of the church’s mission.”
So that’s his first word on this subject.
And then, he goes on, and you can really put the qualities that he talks about into three categories.
The first one is in the category of personal and family life. Verse six:
He must be faithful to his wife, and his children must be believers who don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious.
“He must be faithful to his wife.” Some translations say, “He must be the husband of one wife.”
Now, I want to say a word about this phrase. This is one of those passages where well-meaning Christians disagree with each other on how to interpret it.
It could be read as Paul saying anyone who’s divorced could not be an elder, especially if they’ve remarried.
It could be read as Paul saying that women could not be elders.
It could be read that you couldn’t be married again if you were widowed, because then you would have two wives.
It could be read that you couldn’t be single, because then you wouldn’t be the husband of one wife, which would disqualify Jesus and the Apostle Paul himself from being elders.
Here’s the deal — I don’t think Paul is saying any of these things. The context here is Paul is concerned about ethical and character issues. That’s the context he’s writing in.
He’s writing in a day when polygamy and promiscuity were so common that the ancient Roman ethicist, Seneca, said, “Only the ugly are faithful.”
Now, I believe what Paul is saying here is an elder who is married — you don’t necessarily have to be married to be an elder — but an elder who is married must live in a faithful, monogamous relationship that honors God.
A person living in violation of this cannot have spiritual influence — not positive spiritual influence — and must not serve as an elder.
I believe the heart of what Paul is saying here is — authentic spiritual influence begins at home.
And this teaching is very relevant to our day because we do not live in a world that influences people to form great marriages.
Our society, from athletes to actors to politicians, advocate infidelity, dishonesty, sexual promiscuity, and the list could go on and on.
And it was a similar culture that Paul wrote to when he said husbands and wives must be faithful to one another.
Elders in the church should be models of faithfulness, integrity, loyalty and truth-telling in a marriage.
Alright, Paul goes on to speak about parenting.
And again, this does not mean that your marriage or your children must be perfect.
God’s children, Adam and Eve, were not perfect. Children can choose to rebel. Paul’s primary concern in this category is what we would talk about as authenticity.
People who know me the best are the people who see me in my most unguarded moments — the people I live with.
The litmus test of authenticity is my spiritual influence on people who see me the most and know me best. That’s the litmus test.
So what kind of fingerprints are you leaving on the people you live with?
Let me ask you this question: “What is one do-able next step that could help you leave positive spiritual fingerprints on the people you’re closest to?” Just one do-able next step.
Maybe it’s praying with your kids on a regular basis.
Maybe it’s reading something of spiritual benefit with your spouse or with a roommate if you have a roommate.
Maybe it’s saying sorry more — seeking forgiveness from those you live with and work with.
Maybe, like Paul with Titus, you can challenge the people that you are closest to, to have an experience that would create growth.
Maybe you can serve someone in need together.
Maybe you can start a small group together.
What’s one step you could take?
Well, Paul says, when you’re looking for an elder — and I would say, just generally, a person of spiritual influence — look at what kind of spiritual fingerprints they’re leaving around the house.
Spiritual influence requires home-tested authenticity.
Then Paul goes on in verse seven to talk about a second category. In this section he’s basically saying, “Check out their character. Spiritual influence requires integrity of character.”
An elder is a manager of God’s household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money.
He runs through five negative categories that have the capacity to destroy positive spiritual influence.
Here’s what I want to do here. This will just take a couple minutes.
Grab something to write with… or use the notes on your phone.
I want to do a quick character check just looking at these first five qualities Paul mentions.
I’ll walk you through each of the five. Just write one through five on your notes.
I’ll ask you to rate yourself on these five areas over this last year. Just honestly rate yourself in each one of these categories.
If you find yourself growing in a category, give yourself a 1.
If you’re neutral – the same place you were about a year ago, give yourself a 2.
If you’re sliding backwards, give yourself a 3.
1 — Growing
2 — Neutral
3 — Backwards Movement
Okay, the first one is Arrogant. Or proud. One translation says, “Overbearing.”
Do you find yourself getting more judgmental toward others these days, or more accepting?
Are you more able to rejoice when someone else gets the spotlight, or do you find yourself suddenly trying to make sure other people know how impressive you are?
Do you take credit for the accomplishments of your team or do you pass on the credit to others?
Do you need to be seen as the most significant person in your family, or team, or organization?
How do you respond when people compliment someone else on something you do really well?
Where are you at, relative to pride?
Give yourself a 1 if you’re growing — becoming more humble.
2 if you’re the same as you were last year.
3 if there is backwards movement in this area.
Alright, number two is Quick-tempered. “Must not be quick-tempered,” Paul says.
How often do you let it fly?
Do you use words to hurt people these days?
Are you growing in your ability to show patience and gentleness?
Are you less likely to engage in patterns like avoidance or passive-aggressiveness?
Where are you at on this one?
1 — growing
2 — neutral
3 — backwards movement
Alright, the third one is Drinking. “Must not be a heavy drinker,” Paul says.
Heavy drinking was a common problem in Paul’s day, and let’s not pretend that it’s not in ours.
You can include in this category any addictive patterns.
Do they have a stronger or weaker grip on you?
Are you in a deepening relationship of accountability or just trying to go out on your own?
How are your habits? One, two or three.
The next quality has to do with the misuse of power. Paul says, “Not Violent.”
He’s not just talking about physical violence, but the use of force or intimidation to get your way.
If you get people with power issues serving as elders, that’s a real serious problem.
So how about you? Would people say you’re more or less of a servant these days?
Do you ever try to use people or intimidate people?
How’s your stubbornness quotient?
Do you have a need to be in control?
Do you have a problem receiving instruction gracefully?
Just rate yourself one, two, or three.
If you haven’t even gotten a pen out yet because you don’t like to be told what to do, give yourself a three on this one.
If you’re sitting next to someone like that, and they still haven’t gotten out a pen, give them a three on your paper. Just write their name down and put a 3 next to it.
Alright, the last negative character quality Paul talks about here is Dishonest with money.
Are all your financial dealings — expense accounts, taxes, business ethics — all above reproach?
Let me get real concrete on this one.
Are you giving a greater share of your money away these days, or a smaller share than you were a year ago, or about the same? Is your desire to give greater?
Now… just look at this character check and you’ll see if you’re growing in such a way that you’re likely to have the right kind of spiritual influence.
Alright, Paul lists negative qualities in verse 7. In verse eight, Paul goes on and gives what is really the flip side — the positive qualities that ought to replace them.
Rather, he must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life.
Paul is saying not only does spiritual influence begin at home, but spiritual influence requires integrity of character.
We need to have those kinds of people as elders, and we ought to all aspire to that.
Then look at verse nine. Paul says about elders:
He must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong.
Spiritual influence, and elders especially, require a mind that is immersed in Scripture and a heart that is gripped by love for people.
A mind immersed in Scripture and a heart gripped by love for people… that encourages them as well as rebukes them. This is what’s required.
It’s not just knowing a lot of Scripture, but it’s using it to benefit people.
I think one of the real significant contributions to immaturity in many churches in our day is simply biblical illiteracy.
So I want to ask you, are you reading the Bible? Are you immersing yourself in it?
As a church, we’ve got to be immersed in Scripture. We will not reach our potential of spiritual influence without that.
We also have to use a biblical mind to encourage others. Paul says elders will be able to encourage others.
I read something recently from a book called “Becoming a Person of Influence.”
This is by a teacher whose name was Helen Roswell, and she had a student named Mark Ecklund, back when he was in middle school.
She writes how it’s not easy to be a middle school teacher. There’s a lot of burnout there.
This is what Helen wrote:
“One Friday, things did not feel right. We worked hard on a new concept. The students were frustrated with themselves and edgy with one another.
“I had to stop this crankiness before it got out of hand. So I asked them to list the names of other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name.
“Then I told them to think of the nicest things they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish the assignment, but as the students left the room, each one handed me their paper.
“That Saturday, I wrote down the name of every student on a separate sheet of paper, and I listed what everyone else said about that individual. On Monday, I gave each student his or her list. Some of them ran two pages long.
“Before long, the entire class was smiling.
‘Really?’ I heard whispered.
‘I never knew that meant anything to anyone.’
‘I didn’t know others liked me so much.’
“No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. I never knew if they were discussed after class or with their parents. It didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another.
“Many years later,” she writes, “I was visiting my parents and my dad said to me, ‘The Ecklunds called last night.’
‘Really?’ I said. ‘I haven’t heard from them for several years. I wonder how Mark is.’
Dad responded quietly, ‘Mark was killed in the war. The funeral is tomorrow, and his parents would like it if you could attend.’”
Helen writes, “As I stood there by the coffin, one of the soldiers who had acted as a pall bearer came up to me. ‘Were you Mark’s math teacher?’ he asked.
“I nodded, as I continued to stare at the coffin. ‘Mark talked about you a lot,’ he said.
“After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates gathered for lunch. Mark’s mom and dad were there, obviously waiting for me.
“‘I want to show you something,’ his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. ‘They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.’
“Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped and folded and refolded many times. I knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which I had listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said to him.
“‘Thank you so much for doing that,’ Mark’s mother said. ‘As you can see, Mark treasured it.’
“Mark’s classmates started to gather around us. Chuck smiled rather sheepishly and said, ‘I still have my list. It’s in the top drawer of my desk at home.’
“John’s wife said, ‘John asked me to put his in our wedding album.’
‘I have mine too,’ Marilyn said. ‘It’s in my diary.’
“Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet, and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. ‘I carry this with me at all times,’ Vicki said, without batting an eyelash. ‘I think we all saved our lists.’
“That’s when I finally sat down and cried,” Helen writes.
What would make so many adults hold on to a little piece of paper that they had received so many years before as kids, carrying it with them everywhere they went, even into battle halfway around the world?
I believe it’s because the soul lives on words of love. It’s like the body lives on food and water.
The soul lives on words of love.
One day, around two thousand years ago, a pretty lonely guy named Titus on the island of Crete got a piece of paper. He picked it up and he started reading it, and he saw what Paul wrote to him.
“My true son.” My son.
I have a feeling Titus carried that piece of paper with him for a long time.
And you know what? You can write words like that for someone. You can become the words that breathe life into a human soul.
You can do that right now, before you leave this room today.
There may be someone in this room who desperately needs to hear words of encouragement from you.
There’s someone in here who needs to have someone put a hand on their shoulder.
There’s someone here who needs to be embraced.
There’s someone here who needs to be prayed for.
There’s someone here who needs to get a note.
There’s someone who feels real lonely, who needs to hear that they’re loved by God and they’re loved by another human being.
Blue Oaks Church, you can be that for a person in this community who desperately needs to receive love and encouragement.
Your fingerprints of love and encouragement can be all over this place. And you can become a person of influence in someone’s life.
Alright, let’s pray as Michaela and the team come to lead us in a closing song.
Blue Oaks Church