Right doctrine produces right living (Titus 2:1-14)

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.

Proper motivation

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 v15Why 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 kingdomsOne 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.

Younger men

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.

To slaves

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.”

Conclusion

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)

Silence those false teachers! (Titus 1:10-16)

The sheep in the churches on the island of Crete were surrounded by dangerous animals.  One of Crete’s poet-prophets, Epimenides, once joked that the absence of wild beasts on the island could be explained by the presence of humans.  Cretans were known for being lovers of money, viciously greedy, liars and ruthless cheaters.  The Greeks considered Cretans to be among the three most brutish people on the face of the planet.  It is understandable then that the Christians on the island were attracted to false teachers with their insistence that one had to separate from this evil world in order to be saved.  The problem is that while the unbelievers on the island of Crete could rob or maim someone in a dark alley, the false teachers were a danger to people’s souls.  The false teachers in the book of Titus are the kind of ravenous wolves that the Scripture warns against.  And they still roam our churches today.

This is why Paul calls Titus to appoint elders in every city (Titus 1:5): that is, qualified under-shepherds of Christ who are able to refute and rebuke false teachers who deny the gospel (1.9).   * In our passage (1.10-16), Paul describes what these teachers are like and how Titus should deal with them.  The false teachers show by their works that they are corrupt and that they reject the truth of God’s Word.  Therefore, Titus is to silence them with a sharp reprimand in order to preserve the health of the church.  In our passage, the Holy Spirit teaches us about freedom of the gospel, which the church must guard and upon which our very spiritual life depends. *

The character of the false teachers

Paul’s concern for the churches in Crete under the care of Titus is that there are “many” – note many – so-called teachers who are the opposite of the elder-types described in vv5-9.  They are “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers”.  Now remember that the false teachers have gained a hearing in the churches, so evidently their lives are not so obviously scandalous that they have lost influence altogether.  The subtlety of the false teachers is that they had an outward kind of spirituality that was impressive.  They also taught a kind of gospel that appeals to sinful human natureHowever, according to Paul, on closer inspection it is evident that they are fakes.  For one, they are unwilling to submit to church authority, which is derived from the Word of God.  Recall that Paul introduced his letter by defending his Apostolic authority against the false teachers.  In fact, the false teachers had no authority from God or from the church to teach.  Paul is also clear in Chapter 1 that the false teachers deny the gospel (v14), and therefore their teaching is empty.  Instead of teaching the way of eternal life offered by Jesus they are deceiving people with the lies of man-made religion.

Apparently there were a variety of false teachers on the island of Crete.  But Paul’s special concern is for those of the “circumcision party”.  The circumcision party, or otherwise known as Judaizers, were a minority Jewish group that had much in common with the Pharisees that Jesus had to deal with in his day.  They feature prominently in other books by Paul as well, like the letter to the GalatiansBasically, they believed that by keeping various laws that separated them from the defilement of the world, they could earn their salvation before God.  The false teachers, like the Pharisees and the Judaizers in Galatia, were known for putting on a show of outward holiness.  But inside they were corrupt and spiritually dead: like whitewashed tombs.

Perhaps a helpful way to appreciate the attraction of the false teachers is to think of them as celebrities.  The magnetism of famous people, especially TV or movie stars, is often the result of very outward and superficial things: like the way they look, talk and act on the screen or in public.  And yet, how often do we hear about the complete mess they make of their private lives, especially when it comes to money and sex.  The false teachers were impressive showmen in the churches, and yet they suffered from a fatal and infectious spiritual disease – which they could not ultimately hide.

The false teachers must be silenced

The teaching of these false teachers is not a passing fad or a superficial infection that will heal on its own, but is rather a serious sickness that requires swift remedial action.  Therefore, Paul admonishes Titus to cut out the growth of deadly false teaching within the churches by “silencing” the false teachers (v11).  Their mouths must be shut up before they spew forth any further poison.  For according to Paul, whole families are being upset by these self-appointed teachers who are more concerned about advancing their own interests than the spiritual wellbeing of God’s people.  We are told that they were driven by “shameful gain”: which likely means they were motivated by the rewards of money and status, rather than the truth and honour of God’s Word.

According to Paul, what the false teachers need, as well as those blindly following them, is a sharp injection of reality into their spiritually sick world.  And this is what Paul delivers in vv12-13.   He begins by lumping together the holier-then-thou false teachers with a dirty pagan poet, most likely Epimenides.  He then endorses a claim about the moral condition of all the people on the island of Crete, including the false teachers.  Paul writes, v12: “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”  And then in v13, he states: “This testimony is true.”  Do you see what Paul is doing here?  With a clever piece of cutting sarcasm, he shows that despite their reputation for being super-spiritual and super-holy, the false teachers are no different from an unbelieving poet and they are as morally bankrupt as any citizen living on the island of Crete!

Because of their pride, the false teachers are out of touch with the reality about themselves as sinners.  And this fact has produced a deadly counter-gospel that is spreading like the plague among the churches.  Therefore, in v13, Paul calls the minister Titus to “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.”  If Titus had any reservations about confronting the false teachers, Paul’s tongue-lashing here is intended to set an example and embolden Titus to take action.  Now, I want you to notice two important things about Paul’s rebuke here.  On the one hand, Paul’s language here is harsh.  It is similar to his use of graphic words in the book of Galatians.  Why?  Because there is nothing more important to Paul than the preservation of the purity of the gospel.  He is willing to resort to encouraging castration and labeling people “evil beasts” if it will rouse the church to get the gospel right.

The other thing about Paul’s rebuke here is that – though fierce – it is intended for restoration, not hopeless punishment.  Like any form of church discipline, the desired outcome – vv13-14 – is that the false teachers would be “sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. ”  As I mentioned earlier, Paul has special concern for a Jewish kind of false teaching that is still caught up in the OT world of laws for ceremonial cleansings and washings.  What they need to understand is that since Christ has come to fulfill the OT, trusting in OT laws like circumcision and diet restrictions are now the equivalent of “mythology”.  What the false teachers need to know is that their version of the gospel, whether it be of a Jewish flavour or not, is no better than man-made religion, and therefore contrary to the “truth” of the gospel.

Despite all their hard work at making themselves pure before God by human effort, the false teachers are nevertheless still inwardly polluted and displeasing to God.  In vv15-16, Paul gives one final tug in pulling the mask of self-righteousness off the deformed faces of the false teachers.  Paul begins here by comparing them to the Christians who have faith in Jesus.  For the believer, like Paul, who has been purified by the blood of Jesus Christ, “all things are pure”.  In other words, as believers we don’t have to live in perpetual fear of being stained and destroyed by the world.  But rather, we have the freedom to enjoy the pleasures of creation as good gifts from God.  However, in contrast, we read in v15 that “to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”  Again, Paul reveals the ironic predicament of the false teachers.  In their quest to find dirt and impurity everywhere – so that they can separate from it – they have missed the fact that they themselves are corrupt and defiled to the core of their beings before God.

The thing about the false teachers, and anyone who trusting in his or her works for salvation, is that their mind and their conscience has been darkened and warped by sin and unbelief, and is therefore sending the wrong signal about God.  Now, the conscience is the center of our spiritual awareness as image-bearers of God, which tells us whether our behaviour is morally right or wrong before God.  In the case of the false teachers their teaching of salvation by works is keeping their conscience in bondage to the power of the sin and guilt.  Therefore they have a twisted view of themselves, of God and of the world.  Can you perhaps relate to this?

Do you see what a combination of fear and human pride that spurns God’s truth has done to the spiritual instincts of the false teachers?  It drove them to exchange the freedom of the gospel for the enslaving religion of works righteousness.  They ended up calling evil what God has blessed as good and calling good what God condemns.  With their tormented conscience they projected defilement onto everything and everyone around them.  Despite their outward religious show they are godless hypocrites.  Verse 16:  “They profess to know God, but deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”  At the end of the day, their works of obedience that they so loved and that they are so impressed with are the very evidence that condemns them.  For their works are not done in faith unto the glory of God, and therefore God despises them.

The liberty of the gospel must be preached

Brothers and sisters, friends, your life story and mine are found in this passage from the Bible that has been preached this morning.  Like every sermon that you hear each Lord’s Day, God’s Spirit is drawing us all into the world of Scripture today.  We are all like the inhabitants of the island of Crete, whether it is the pagan poet, the Christian or the false teachers.  For, we are all sinners.  We are all by nature evil beasts.  Our works of obedience – no matter how impressive – are all defiled in God’s sight.  None of us can merit God’s favour.

Do you believe these truths about yourself this morning?  If so, what are you doing with your guilty conscience? 

Are you perhaps thinking and acting like the false teachers or at least tempted by their kind of teaching?  Are you trying to separate yourself from good or indifferent things in this world in order to be right with God?  Is your understanding of forgiveness perhaps entangled with all sorts of rules about food, alcohol, tobacco, recreation, entertainment, dating, sex within marriage, dress, friends, education and so on?  Maybe you have been suffering under the hypocritical ministry of celebrities and showmen who insist on all sorts of super-spiritual rules for your Christian walk while denying the gospel.

Jesus said in Luke 5 that if our righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  So how do we become righteous enough to satisfy God’s justice?  By putting our faith in Jesus Christ alone. For by doing so, God promises to exchange our sin for the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.  By trusting in Jesus, our sin is washed away by his sacrificial death.  By believing in Jesus, his perfect obedience to the law becomes our perfect obedience before God, the Father.  This is the freedom of the gospel.  This is where you and I can find peace of conscience.

Brothers and sisters, let us hold fast to the good news of God’s free grace.  For there are many in the churches today who deny it.  Let us therefore be sure to be a part of a church that faithfully preaches the gospel and guards it from error.  For your very life depends on it.  Amen.

Simon Jooste, RCSS morning service (Roncebosch, Jan 13, 2013)