The early church, during the time of Paul and Titus, had many things stacked against her. Christians were considered an odd and sometimes dangerous minority in the first-century Greek and Roman world. People were suspicious of them. For one, Christians were notorious for being unwilling to worship Caesar and the other pagan gods. Believers also had a reputation for being social and political revolutionaries. This was in large part due to the public influence of the Second Temple Jewish misconception of Jesus as a radical world changer who would reconstitute the Jews as a nation in the holy land. It also did not help that the church was thought to be engaging in cannibalism when they ate and drank the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.
The Christians on the island arguably had it worse than most other places during the early church. Not only did they have to contend with the labels I have already described, but their reputation was also under threat by false teachers who called themselves Christians. Remember that the false teachers were acting in ways that were quite disruptive to Cretan society. They basically wanted as little interaction as possible with the pagan world beyond their so-called “Christian” bubble, lest they became spiritually polluted before God. They basically made a “scene” wherever they went with their various ceremonies and rites for purification, which routinely treated god’s good creation and his social institutions with open contempt. What compounded matters even further is that there were also recent Christian converts in the churches who were still shedding some of their old pagan vices.
All this to say: these are some of the reasons why Christians could be slandered and ridiculed by unbelievers in Crete. Now, the gospel is always going to be an offense to those who hate God. However, one of Paul’s concerns in his letter to Titus is to avoid giving non-Christians unnecessary opportunity to dismiss the church because of her immoral or unbecoming behavior.
This concerns comes through strongly in our passage this morning – Titus 2:1-10 – where Paul calls Titus and the Christians on the island of Crete to live lives that are different from the false teachers he has just mentioned in Chapter 1 as well as those in pagan society in general. In v1, Paul calls Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine (v1).” And then in vv2-10, Paul sets forth the kind of behavior that should result from the faithful ministry of the Word of God. As we shall see, Paul does not teach a Christian lifestyle that unnecessarily offends and alienates the unbelievers in Crete. He does not draw lines in the sand in places where Scripture does not. Rather Paul draws on our shared morality with non-Christians to encourage his readers to live an integrated and harmonious life in broader society. He wants to preserve the witness of the gospel to outsiders. Brothers and sisters, here the Holy Spirit teaches us important lessons about how we are to conduct ourselves in this world as those who are simultaneously members of the church and broader society. Here we learn how to protect and promote the witness of the gospel as we live in God’s two kingdoms.
While we are only looking at vv1-10 this morning, it is nevertheless important to understand that this passage belongs to a larger unit of Paul’s thought that runs through v15. Why is it important to consider the broader context? It is important because if we take Paul’s commands to live in a certain way and disconnect them from the gospel, then Paul’s words run the risk of being turned into another lesson in morality – like something one would read in a self-help book. If the Christian faith is reduced to behavior change then it is no better than the false teaching of the Jews. This why Paul is careful in v1, and vv10-14, to anchor his call to godly living in the sound teaching of the gospel. In v10, at the end of his list of virtues, Paul states that the motive and purpose of upright Christian living is “so that in everything [we] may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.”
In vv11-14, we notice that Paul proceeds to show how the fruit of righteousness in the lives of believers is at the end of the day the work of God’s grace in us through Jesus Christ. Therefore, our obedience to the moral law cannot be what justifies us before God. Rather, our pursuit of godly behavior is our grateful response to God’s mercy for having already purified us and made us righteous in Jesus. The gospel teaches us to renounce worldly passions and pursue holy living because God has saved us from our sins and will one day glorify us in heaven.
So, with the understanding that Paul’s commands in our passage are rooted in the gospel, let’s consider what he has to say. In vv2-9, he addresses particular members of the Christian community that can be divided into five groups sorted by age: older men and older women (around 55yrs), younger men and younger women and slaves.
Six virtues for older men
Paul begins by addressing the older men, who he says are to be characterized by six virtues. You will notice that the first three are moral traits that are typical of the best behavior of broader society. If you remember, Paul expects similar conduct from those men who aspire to the office of elder. The majority of Paul’s elder requirements overlap with the moral behavior of the best of Greek and Roman pagan society. Should this strike us as odd? It shouldn’t if we understand that Paul is writing to believers in NT times. The NT teaches that Christians are members of God’s two kingdoms. One the one hand, we are members of Christ’s kingdom in the church, which is distinct from the world in its nature and mission. The church is a heavenly institution created by Christ and destined for glory. On the other hand, we as Christians are also part of God’s civil or common kingdom, which comprises of all sorts of institutions, like the state, the family and commerce. Unlike the church, this kingdom comprises of believers and non-believers, and it is temporary in nature.
Another important feature of God’s civil kingdom, which helps shed light on our text this morning, is that it has a moral standard or language that is common to both Christians and non-Christians alike. In other words, because all people are made in the image of God and have a conscience, God has made it possible for Christians to live in relative peace and harmony with non-Christians on the basis of basic shared moral instincts. For example, most people that you bump into on the street will agree with you that murder is wrong (the 6th commandment) and stealing is a crime (the 8th commandment). Non-Christians have more or less of an understanding of what is good behavior and what is evil. This prevents our world from spiraling into chaos.
In v2 of his letter to Titus, Paul commands the older men to be “sober-minded”. Paul’s particular concern here is that elderly Christians do not indulge in a popular vice on the island, which is drunkenness. It is difficult to be levelheaded and have the right perspective on ourselves, God and eternity, when routinely intoxicated by alcohol. To be a drunkard, even in Cretan society, meant a loss of “face” and respect from the community. Instead of being inebriated, Paul calls elderly men to be “dignified and self-controlled”. Their behavior must be courteous and respectful, with a sense of serious gravity that wins the respect of outsiders. He is to have control over his physical appetites and passions, and not be given over to worldly lusts. He is to be a man of temperance and sobriety.
The last three virtues, which can be translated as “sound faith, love, and hope”, take on a distinctly Christian meaning. They are placed at the end to highlight their ultimate importance as the defining marks of believers. While non-Christians certainly love each other and have hopes in this life, and perhaps for the life to come, what makes us as Christians unique is that we love our neighbor and we hope for eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, everything we do as believers in this life is to be done by faith and to the glory of God. However, this does not necessarily mean that the evidence of love and hope in our objective cultural work in the civil kingdom will look different from the non-Christian. While our faith is expressed in a very distinct way especially during corporate worship activities we participate in on the Lord’s Day, it is nevertheless oftentimes hidden (but nevertheless still our inward motivation) as we go about loving our neighbor in broader society.
Virtues for older and younger women
In v3, Paul calls “older women likewise to be reverent in their behavior.” Older women are to exhibit a similar kind of godly behavior to older men. They are to live lives of modesty and moderation. They are not to be “slanderers” or gossips. They should not to be known for standing on street corners, speaking ill of their neighbors – which was common practice in Crete. They should also not be “enslaved to much wine.” Rather, instead of being loose-tongued and intoxicated, “they are to teach what it good” to the younger women.
With regard to the younger women, Paul writes in vv4-5:“Young women are to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” In order to appreciate Paul’s words here, we need to understand that the traditional family unit in the ancient world consisted of heterosexual marriage, which aimed at producing civil and loyal children. However, on the island of Crete there were some young women who outright neglected their families. They were known for loitering on city streets and being involved in various foreign cults.
According to Paul, this kind of behavior is not acceptable for a Christian wife and mother. Rather, she should be known for sobriety, purity and faithfully managing her home. Paul also wants young women to go beyond what was expected of arranged marriages in Crete, which was basically obedience and mutual respect. He expects love, kindness and submission that is motivated by the gospel and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Why? So that in a place where Christians are looked upon with suspicion, the witness of the Word of God may not suffer unnecessarily: that it “may not be blasphemed”.
Before leaving Paul’s directives to young women here, we should be clear on at least two things. One is that Paul is not saying women cannot work outside of the home, for this would clearly contradict other places in Scripture like Proverbs 31. Second, Paul teaches elsewhere that submission is not something that a husband can demand from his wife, but something she gives out of love for Christ and in response to her husband’s sacrificial devotion.
In v6, Paul moves on to direct his attention to young men. They too are be self-controlled, a common theme by now in Paul’s list of exhortations.
To the minister and elder, Titus
In vv7-8, Paul now turns his concern particularly to Titus as an example of Christian living to the churches in Crete, as well as to us. Both as a minister of the gospel and a member of broader society, Titus must be a model of “good works”, which accords with God’s righteousness. Why? Again, v8, for the good honor and reputation of the gospel: so that the enemies of the gospel may be put to “shame” because they have “nothing evil to say” about the church. Paul does not want unbelievers to have any reason to speak evil of the church. He wants Titus and his flock to prove the hostile opinions of unbelievers wrong. Christians are not revolutionaries; they are not about forming alternative “sterile” sub-cultures; and they do not behave like your average uncivilized and morally debauched Cretan.
It seems fitting then that Paul’s final exhortation in our passage is to Christians who are slaves. There is perhaps no more difficult position to have in society than that of a slave. The first century Greco-Roman society was known for the practice of slavery that has at least in theory become outlawed in our modern Western world. In Crete, the kind of dehumanizing abuse that slaves suffered at the hands of their masters often drove the slaves to act in the most despicable ways. As a result there was the constant fear by owners of slave revolts and violence. With this mind, Paul calls Christian slaves in v10 to submit to their masters in everything, and to be well pleasing in all their behavior: “so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”
Brothers and sisters, with Paul’s words this morning God teaches us about the kind of life he expects from us as we live simultaneously as members of his church and broader society. God’s ultimate concern in this life is for the expansion of his heavenly kingdom through his church in this evil world. And God has chosen to do this through the preaching and teaching of sound doctrine. One very important lesson from the Word of God to us today is that we should live lives that are morally upright and integrated with the world for the sake of the gospel. For when we live this way, unbelievers will be more likely to reject the gospel because it gives offence, rather than us.
At the end of the day, may we always remember that it is Christ who builds his church, and oftentimes despite our sin and our imperfect witness as a church. May we therefore rejoice in God’s saving grace toward us, and let it motivate us to godly living for the sake of the expansion of his saving kingdom in this world. Amen.
Simon Jooste, RCSS morning service (Rondebosch, January 20, 2013)