Self-controlled, Upright, Beyond Reproach.
I recently gave a one off talk at church on Titus chapter 2. This is a re-worked version.
Titus is a short New Testament book. A letter written from Paul to Titus, giving instructions to him on how to work amongst churches in Crete.
There is a negative element in the Cretan churches, which Paul summarises in 1:12:
Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons
Mostly, Paul’s instructions to Titus are about reforming the behaviour of Christians on Crete. In fact, there’s much more focus on behaviour in Titus than on theology.
Chapter 2 has a pretty simple structure:
- v1 - Paul telling Titus to teach.
- v2-10 - Instructions about behaviour
- v11-14 - Theology about Jesus (with some behaviour rolled in for good measure).
- v15 - Paul telling Titus to teach (again).
We’ll start with Theology.
This is a neat little summary of the Christian faith. Certainly not an exhaustive explanation, but a nice reader’s digest version.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
It looks back to several things Jesus accomplishes:
v11 - Jesus appears: the “grace of God” is talking about Jesus. And he came at a particular time and place in history. Which anchors Christianity into time and space in a way more philosophical spiritualities are not.
v11 - Jesus brings salvation: salvation is the big ticket item for Christians. It’s not entirely clear in Titus 2 what people are being saved from, although 3:3 probably the closest: we are saved from ourselves and our ungodly behaviour.
v11 - Salvation is by grace: which is a way of saying people get saved because they don’t deserve it. That is, salvation is not based on merit but on God’s mercy.
v14 - Salvation costs: “redeeming” is all about buying. In this case, its us who are bought by God. But there is a cost: Jesus who “gave himself”. That is, the cost is Jesus’ own life - the life of the most righteous and pure, as payment for our rather less than righteous lives.
v14 - New owner, new life: we are saved to be God’s people. God has bought us and made us a part of his family. And he purifies us, as only the pure may be allowed in God’s family. And he gives us a new life - in the sense of a new way of living: “zealous for good works”.
So far, everything I’ve mentioned is in the past, v13 looks to the future: Christian believers, once saved, now look forward to Jesus’ return. This will be when everything gets put right in the world (which includes us as believers), and heaven will be much better than our current world.
But it also drives our behaviour in v12: believers live now as kind of a practice run for heaven. So, our “self-controlled, upright and Godly lives” reflect the lives we will be living in heaven after Jesus returns.
And v12 is my summary verse of all of Titus 2:
Training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.
This is the standard of behaviour we aim for as believers.
We behave this way because of what Jesus has already done in the past: saved us, redeemed us, purified us. And we behave like this because that’s how we’ll live after Jesus returns in heaven.
Because all non-believers expect Christians to have above average behaviour. That is, Christians are supposed to be do-gooders, and we are (rightly) held to account if we drop the ball.
At least, that’s what happens today. Titus at the Cretan church didn’t have that assumption. But Paul urges them to the highest behaviour anyway for a different, if somewhat related reason.
Paul talks in terms of shame and honour extensively in Titus. But not so much the shame or honour of believers, but of God himself. Cretan believers are to bring honour to God and no shame.
Some verses in Titus 2 about shame and honour:
Your message is to be sound beyond reproach, so that any opponent will be ashamed, because he doesn’t have anything bad to say about us. (verse 8)
Verse 8 is about being so good that there’s no (legitimate) claim against believers. If anyone tries to throw mud, Christians aught to be so clean it can’t stick. And, the mud-throwers themselves end up being shamed. No shame for Christians, nor God.
Verse 12 (see above) is about bringing honour to God through behaviour. And avoiding the shame that comes with “godlessness and worldly lusts” - which has some sexual connotations, but is broader: anything in this world which causes believers to forget Jesus.
Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. (verses 9-10)
Verse 10 shows that even the lowest slave can honour God by obeying their masters. Their faithfulness without grumbling or petty theft is said to “adorn” the teaching of God.
Older men are to be self-controlled … older women are to be reverent … young women to love their husbands … that the word of God may not be reviled. (verses 2-5)
Verse 5 ends with the idea of preventing God’s word being reviled (literally “blasphemed”). And a whole list of behaviours for various groups of people is attached to that.
Paul’s language is full of shame and honour thinking. Because the behaviour of Christian believers reflects God himself. That is, Christians are to be like God (highly imperfectly, of course): their character, attitudes and behaviour should be like God’s. The buzzword for this is: “godly”.
And the way non-believers tend to learn about God (at least in the first instance) is by seeing how believers behave. Bad behaviour reflects a grubby, dirty God - not unlike other 1st century gods. But good behaviour reflects a God better than the pettiness of our mucky world. If believers are not worthy of respect or honour, why should anyone pay their God any attention at all. And this is as true today as it was in the 1st century (possibly more so because of hundreds of years of “Christian values” part of our culture).
However, honour was apparently a tough ask on Crete. 1:12 is the headline verse:
Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.
But there’s plenty of less than flattering descriptions though Titus. People who’s “mind conscience are defiled” (1:15]), “foolish, disobedient, deceived… living in malice and envy” (3:3), or “gone astray”.
That is, the culture of Crete doesn’t really help. And it seems the church there has picked up those bad habits. (Hence why Titus is going there to clean it up).
There are lots of good take aways for Christians here. (And lots of ways non-Christians can hold us to account when we drop the ball).
But, they all follow v12.
That is, “renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions, and living self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” is a fine summary of all of verses 2-10. If you follow verse 12 then you’re fine with 2-10.
Now, it’s worth thinking how our stage of life, social position, or whatever label we identify with affects the shame or honour we bring to God. But all the groups and behaviours listed in 2-10 are just how the principals of “self-controlled, upright and godly” work out in the mess of our day-to-day lives.
So do verse 12! And if verses 2-10 help with that, fantastic! If they confuse you, well, see verse 12!
I’m not a cultural expert of Crete in the 1st century - I don’t know if what Paul is teaching in Titus was counter cultural or not. I do know that a crucified Christ was the height of shame. And a God who saves us because of his mercy, not because of anything we did to earn his favour (3:5) is not very attractive.
So my gut feel is the Godly behaviour on view would attract a certain respect in Crete, but the underlying gospel of Jesus would be extremely shameful. I also suspect some of the behaviours would be looked down on to some extent - you can’t please everyone all the time!
There is one which is front and center today in Sydney: verse 5.
Train the young women … to be submissive to their own husbands.
Other translations use “be subject to“. Synonym: “obey“.
“Submit” is a dirty word. In Sydney 2018, for a woman to submit to or obey her husband is borderline abuse, in the same category as slavery or oppression. It’s something our modern culture has fought hard against the the last few hundred years.
So what are we to do? The Bible says “submit”, our culture sees that as the height of shame.
First, some observations from the passage.
The meaning of “submit” is plain: it means to obey. It’s the same word used in 2:9 “slaves are to submit to their masters in everything”, and 3:1 where Christians believers are to submit to (secular) rulers and authorities. Further afield, Christians to to submit to their own (Christian) leaders (Hebrews 13:17), and the ~12 year old Jesus submits to his parents (Luke 2:51).
So wives are expected to obey their husbands. But I don’t think it’s unconditional obedience, because in every case above, I can think of quite legitimate times when disobedience would be appropriate and even honouring God (eg: when obeying means you have to go against the clear teaching of the Bible). But the default should be obedience.
Submission is for wives in respect of “their own husband”. The scope for this submission is quite narrow: one husband, one wife. So this isn’t license for the oppression of all women, it only applies to a specific relationship between two people who have made solemn promises to each other.
Submission is not an excuse for abuse. There is nothing in Titus 2 which condones a husband abusing his wife. Indeed, there is nothing which condones abuse of any sort against any person. Rather, our summary verse 12 teaches us to renounce “worldly passions” (so a husband cannot expect his wife to be a source of pleasure on demand, sexual or otherwise) and to live “self-controlled, upright and godly lives” - none of which allows for a husband to hit, coerce, belittle or otherwise hurt his wife. While there is no specific instruction given to men in respect of women or wives, the general instructions for all believers exclude any possibility of abuse, and promote self-control, respect and love.
Is submission a cultural thing? This is a common argument: while it may have been appropriate for a wife to live in submission to her husband in 1st century Crete, our culture has moved on and women don’t live that way any more.
What does the text suggest regarding culture?
I think it allows for a reasonable amount of cultural scope. When we read it compared to similar lists of instructions in 1 Peter, Ephesians or 1 Timothy we see differences. Both in the people groups identified and the instructions. So it seems reasonable that Paul is talking to the specific cultural situation in Crete. Also, the purposes clauses (usually identified by “so that…”) through Titus 2 (v5b, v8, v10b, 11-14) are talking in terms of shame and honour rather than absolute truth or biblical precedent. And at least part of shame and honour is how you appear in society’s eyes. Indeed, in v5 the purpose is directly after the instruction for submission (although I think v5b applies to all the instructions for young women, older women and older men).
Of course, as soon as we read Ephesians 5, we find that Paul argues for “submission” from Genesis 2 (and husbands who’s love reflects Jesus’ sacrificial love on the cross). So we must accept wives submitting to husbands as the clear teaching of the Bible.
However, Titus reminds us that there is a cultural element: that is, we don’t just live to please God, we also aim to honour him in the eyes of our society. And I think there is plenty of scope for how wives and husbands do submission and leadership to do it in a way that doesn’t bring shame to God (or at least minimises that shame).
So wives must obey their husband, but we as believers aught to think long and hard about how that works in practise. Can we do submission so well that any opponents have nothing evil to say? There might be a way that submission adorns the teaching of our God and saviour, so how married believers live is actually attractive to outsiders? There will be lots of ways we (= husbands, children, singles, etc) can support wives in this.
I don’t know exactly what that will look like, nor do I have easy answers. But it must honour God, and reflect godly lives. And that will show unbelievers that Christians are serious about their faith, which is indeed an honourable thing in today’s society.
After a lengthy analysis of what someone else should do (lets face it, I’ll never be a married women), it’s only fair I apply this passage to myself.
Verses 7 and 8:
Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned.
I take it Paul is speaking directly to Titus at this point. And this instruction can be applied to Christian leaders more generally.
I am a Christian leader - I speak up the front at church (officiating meetings, praying, reading the Bible, occasionally even preaching), I lead a Bible study group. But most of all, I’m a father - so there are at least 2 people in our church who look to me as a leader, they usually refer to me as “daddy”. If there are others, fantastic! But my own kids are a good place to start.
The standards that apply to leaders must be high, and Christian leaders are held to the highest standard. In terms of “a model of good works”, and “sound speech that cannot be condemned”, I feel I very often fall short.
The question for myself is: how can I model the gospel of Jesus and godly living better? How can I encourage and build, rather than hurting and destroying with my words?
It’s when I’m under stress that I find myself the poorest reflection of this godly life. Usually the stress comes when there’s something time critical, something with a hard deadline to meet. Something like a school bus. So 8am on a school day trying to get the kids ready for school is when I need to remember “model of good works” and “sound speech” (and be very careful when I start yelling like a drill sergeant in the heat of the moment).
Titus 2 is all about teaching Christian believers to live godly and upright lives. Lives which reflect the salvation Jesus has won, and lives which look forward to eternal life with God. Lives that honour God, bring no shame on him - both in God’s eyes, and as much as possible, in the eyes of our friends and society.
A Godly life which truly reflects Jesus.