Titus: The Goal and Ground of the Christian Life (5)

Letter Opening & Greeting (1:1-4)
Body of Letter (1:5-3:11)
Appointment of Elders (1:5-16)
Group-Specific Teaching on How to Live in the World (2:1-15)
Titus is to teach (2:1)
What to teach – behaviors (2:2-10)
What to teach – beliefs (2:11-14)
Titus is to teach (2:15)
General Teaching On How to Live in the World (3:1-11)
Close Of Letter (3:12-15)

First it was elders. In chapter two, it’s ethics. Announce either as the topic for your conference and the saints will be bracing themselves for a long weekend. Yet, as he did with elders in chapter one, Paul casts a vision for Christian ethics that, once grasped, makes it hard to remain unexcited about them. We could call them evangelistic ethics, as they portray a way of living which accords with, adorns, and is enabled by, the gospel (the evangel). In addition to putting elders on a par with evangelists in importance, when it comes to the gospel’s spread, Paul’s letter to Titus also proves the humdrum lives of ordinary Christians can carry a missionary significance.

Titus is to Teach (2:1)

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (2:1, ESV). “But,” swings the attention from the false teachers (1:16) back to Titus. It also begins a new section of the letter, extending to 3:11, in which Paul instructs Titus to give teaching on how Christians are to live in the world. This section is composed of two subsections, each following a similar pattern:

A – Titus is instructed to teach (2:1, 3:1a)
B – Behaviors to teach (2:2-10, 3:1b-2)
B’ – Underlying theological beliefs (2:11-14, 3:3-7)
A’ – Repetition of the instruction to teach (2:15, 3:8).

Paul summarizes the content of what Titus is to teach as “what accords with sound doctrine.” This is in contrast to the false teachers, who are teaching “what they ought not” (1:11, ESV). Their teaching is ruining “whole families” (1:11, ESV), but Titus’ is to be in keeping with what is sound or healthy. “Safe for the whole family,” in fact, as the following talking points address older men, older women, younger women, and younger men (in another ABB’A’ pattern), finishing with a word to household slaves.

What are these things which “accord with sound doctrine” and which Titus is to teach? The word “accords” means “be fitting, be suitable.” And if you’ll allow me to conflate “sound doctrine” with the gospel message which is its central core (2:10), Titus is to teach the Christians how to live in a way that fits and suits the gospel. Paul is elevating Christian ethics in the very first verse. The way we live is to be tightly tied to the heart of Christian doctrine, so that our lives fit the gospel.

The rest of the chapter reveals tighter connections between Christian behavior and belief. Three times Paul breaks from writing what the Christians should do to explain why they should do it: “That the word of God may not be reviled” (2:5, ESV). “So that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (2:8, ESV). “So that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (2:10, ESV).

The purpose statement in verse 5 states negatively what verse 10 puts positively. One of the great motives for living out the Christian life is that such a life can adorn and make attractive the gospel to other people. Our observable lives are not only to accord with the gospel, but to adorn it as well.

Finally, the “for” in verse 11 signals a third way behaviors and beliefs intertwine. The past appearing of Christ in grace and his future appearing in glory trains and enables us to live radically different lives in the present. The ethics which Titus is to teach are evangelistic indeed –a way of life which fits, fans, and is fueled by, the gospel.

How Older Men are to Live (2:2)

Perhaps the only safe way to define “older” men is to say they are older than the younger men. Some writers suggest 40 years old and up. In any case, Paul authorizes his young helpers to teach older men (2:1), and “encourage” them (1Tim 5:1), but not to “rebuke” them (1Tim 5:1). Older men “are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled” (2:2, ESV). The first word means sober in relation either to alcohol or to conduct. Certainly, the latter would include the former, and is likely the primary sense here (see 1Tim 3:2, 11).

The second term means “worthy of respect” and is also used in the lists in 1 Timothy 3, as is the third term, sōphrōn. This is an important word in this letter. It is used of elders (1:8), young women (2:5), and young men (2:6), and is a virtue the gospel is specifically said to promote (2:12). It “depicts a measured restraint in all things – the opposite of behavior which might be regarded as foolish or ‘Cretan.’”[1]

The world says only youths are beautiful, but the Bible says you can be old and beautiful (Prov 20:29). Here were older Cretans, once “foolish … passing [their] days in malice and envy” (3:3, ESV) and in lies and drunkenness (1:12), and now they’re free of such chains, clothed and in their right minds (Luke 8:35). I can picture the faces of godly men who had gained mastery over their passions and sin, and there was a resulting dignity to their step. It was an honor, not a duty, to attend their funerals, and even now, our voices break when we talk about them. They were the very men we one day hope to be.

Beautiful, yes, but Titus is also to remind them to be healthy, “sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness,” where the latter term replaces “hope” in the familiar NT triad of virtues. Their physical health may be starting to fail them, but their spiritual vital signs of trust in God, love for all, and endurance in hope, are to be stronger than ever.

Some Practical Lessons

Let’s step back and reflect on two practical lessons this chapter has taught us so far.

First, the NT’s habit of giving specific teaching to various groups of Christians is surely a pattern we ought to follow. Passages such as 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Ephesians 5:22-6:9, Colossians 3:18-4:1, 1 Peter 2:18-3:7, and 1 John 2:12-14, join this one in showing us the value of providing customized instruction for specific groups in our public assembly ministry, so that all may know what faithfulness to Christ looks like in their unique context.

Second, the label “teaching”[2] should not be reserved for doctrinal beliefs only, but also for the behaviors which fit with and flow out of those beliefs. And all our teaching of doctrinal beliefs should have Christian behavior as its aim. It is the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness (1:1).

[1] Philip Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 720.

[2] It is true that the word behind the ESV’s “teach” in 2:1 is laleō, not didaskō. But in this context laleō does have the sense of teaching, as the commentaries by Knight, Mounce, and Towner argue (see 2:15, 1Tim 6:2, Mark 2:2, 1Cor 2:6, Acts 17:19, 18:25).