Have you ever heard the expression “beat the air?” It’s been around a long time in English and it means to “continue futile attempts” and “fight to no purpose.” St. Paul used this idea in 1 Corinthians when he said that he didn’t “run aimlessly” and he didn’t “fight like a boxer beating the air.”
I get it. There have been times in my own life where I felt like I was doing the same things over and over again even though my actions weren’t accomplishing any purpose. It felt like I was wasting my time and energy. And yet, it seems our society is filled nowadays with a focus on “narratives” that feel empty and pointless, even destructive!
But maybe that’s the goal of these “narratives” to be so nonsensical as to try to unravel reality to remake it into something else.
Look at our lesson today in Titus 1:5-14:
Titus, my son, appoint elders in every town as I directed you, if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of being profligate or insubordinate. For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it. For there are many insubordinate men, empty talkers and deceivers especially the circumcision party; they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for base gain what they have no right to teach. One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, instead of giving heed to Jewish myths or to commands of men who reject the truth.
St. Paul lays out for his spiritual son, St. Titus, the stark difference between the sober and mature leaders we are called to be and the “empty talkers and deceivers” gripped by the delusions of false teachings.
Just look at the comparison. A true bishop (literally “overseer) is to be blameless, faithful, a good steward of his home and children. He is to not be arrogant or quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness or greed. He’s to be hospitable, loves good, disciplined, and self-controlled, as well as able to teach and be teachable. All of these attributes insist on an attentive and focused life.
But the opposite is true of the “empty talkers.” They are gripped by insubordination and deception. They upset whole families and, here’s the key, they do it for “base gain.” In other words, they are motivated by self-interest and not by selfless love. They are “drunk” and their lives reflect the lack of sobriety that focused discipline living engenders.
St. Paul comes across as particularly harsh towards these “empty talkers” precisely because of what is at stake if they are not “silenced.” The results of allowing this drunkenness to continue in our lives mean we don’t live in reality, but in the fantasy world where we are forever enslaved by perpetual immaturity and spiritual bondage. And you were not created for that prison. You were made for the freedom of a sober and attentive life!
Paul isn’t trying to be cruel or “destroy” his “rivals” for leadership. He is defending his spiritual children and protecting them from the false leaders who only want to capture them. They are “empty talkers” with nothing to truly offer and that is too dangerous to ignore!
This is what the whole of our Orthodox Faith offers us; a sober and attentive life that becomes something much more powerful and meaningful and purposeful than the mere acquisition of “power” or material wealth. This sober and attentive life offered to us by our Faith in her liturgies, prayers, seasons, and focus, reforms the drunken and self-deceived person into a true and eternal companion of God and others. This is what you were made for, my dearest. Anything less, and you very well may have been captured by an “empty talker!”
Today, as we step into a new calendar year, we are living in drunken times where shrill and panicked voices all seem to be screaming alarm at us all the time as if this life is all there is. But at this very moment, you are invited by this timeless and sober faith to embrace the peaceful wisdom of being Orthodox on Purpose. Please choose that wisdom.
P.S. O Lord of Mercy, You are eternally at peace. You are not hurried or worried, and You invite me to join You in this perpetual state of mature peace and joy. You give me, through Your Church, the body of wisdom I need to stay sober in an intoxicated age. You invite me to embrace this life of sobriety so that I won’t waste my precious life here and now on “beating the air.” Thank You, Lord, for this loving place to become by grace what Christ is by nature. Help me to continue to enflesh this peaceful life to others who are desperately looking for a fulfilling and attentive life. Amen
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