A mobster had been arrested for gambling and was talking to a prosecutor. The discussion turned to the lottery and the mobster recalled a recent news story about a young lady with mental disabilities working on a tobacco farm. She got her paycheck and went to a convenience store and spent her whole paycheck on scratch-off lottery tickets. She took what little she won from those tickets and bought more tickets until, eventually, she ran out of money. The mobster looked at the prosecutor and said something like, “I’m in jail and you have people who do that with the state approving? If someone in our organization did that, we’d break his legs. We got standards, ya know.” The prosecutor didn’t have much to say in response to that.
Followers of Christ come from people in all walks of life. Because of that, people are in different stages of their walk with Christ. Some are shining examples of what the grace of God can do in the life of a new believer, and some, let’s face it, still have a long way to go to exemplify Christ in their lives. We should always be encouraging those who claim to follow Christ but don’t necessarily show it in their lives: encouraging, not disparaging. We must remember that some of us need a lot more grace to be formed into the image of Christ than others. While we can understand and accept those who have a long way to go, when it comes to leaders in the church, though, “we got standards, ya know.” “Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” (Titus 1:7-8)
Paul never understood the concept that some Christians have called “sinless perfection.” He recognized his own sinfulness. With that understanding, he outlines some high standards for the leaders of the Church. Lest you think this was an easy task for Titus, he was supposed to look for these leaders on Crete. Later in this chapter, Paul used the words of a Cretan to insult the people of Crete – in a loving fashion of course, since Titus needed to know what he was up against. Titus was to look for leaders in the church who were blameless, not, overbearing, etc. among the Cretans. It was an impossible task, of course, not just because they were Cretans, but because they were humans. What gave Paul the confidence that Titus could be successful in his quest was knowing that Titus would be looking for people who had been changed by the grace of God.
All of us, by human nature, would fail in one or more of those requirements. It’s not that we’re bad, it’s that we’re human. We’re sinners. As the grace of God overwhelms us because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we’re slowly changed into the image of Christ and those qualities are being formed in us. I can look at that list and know that in my human nature, I fail in at least 6 or 7. I’m not perfect, according to that list even still, but God’s grace has changed me so that some of the areas I would have failed before, I can now “pass.” Other areas that I may not pass, I’m a lot closer than I used to be. Sometimes, becoming a leader and knowing the standards is part of the way God’s grace works in us. It’s easy to sit back and feel defeated when we know that we don’t live up to the high standards God has set. That’s not God’s purpose in setting standards. The standards are there so we’ll understand the road ahead of us as we seek to draw closer to God. As His grace works in you, you develop the qualities He wants.
Lord, as I look back on my life I can see how much You’ve changed me. As I look ahead, there’s still a long way to go. Keep working on me. Keep molding me into the image of Jesus.