Remind them” says Paul to Titus (3:1). So much of Christian ministry is just reminding people. The verb is in the continuous tense, suggesting Titus is to give himself to an ongoing ministry of memory-stirring. “All conscientious Christian teachers, once they have been delivered from the unhealthy lust for originality, take pains to make old truths new and stale truths fresh.”1
Titus must remind them “to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work” (3:1, ESV). As in chapter two, Paul is telling Titus what to say to the Cretan Christians. Again, it includes instruction on how to live (behavior, 3:1-2) and the theology which gives the power to live (beliefs, 3:3-7). Instead of the group-specific instruction of chapter two, however, here we have general teaching for all Christians on how to live in the world, in relation to the state (v1), and to society (v2).
WORLD CHRISTIANS IN RELATION TO THE STATE (3:1)
When opponents of the Reformation blamed the reformers for the Peasants’ Wars in Germany and other expressions of uprising, William Tyndale’s instructive response was to write a book called The Obedience of a Christian Man. What posture are Christians to adopt to “rulers and authorities?” We are “to be submissive” and “obedient.”
This is the united testimony of Scripture, whether it’s Paul writing to the Romans (“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities,” 13:1, ESV) or Peter writing to the scattered believers of the dispersion (“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors,” 2:13-14, ESV). These authorities “have been instituted by God.” Thus, to resist them is to resist God and so “incur judgment” (Rom 13:2, ESV).
Under normal circumstances, then, to obey our nation’s laws is to obey God. However, when laws are passed which require us to choose between obeying God or man, the Bible is clear: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29; c.f. 4:19, Daniel 6:10). While the attitudes of governments and courts in the West seem to be getting chillier towards religious liberty, the vast majority of laws do not compromise Christian convictions. Why is it then, that for so many believers, our obedience of speed limits and laws against phone usage while driving is predicated on whether or not we think we’ll get caught? If Christian faithfulness requires courageous civic disobedience in oppressive states (refusing to throw a pinch of incense on the emperor’s altar), surely we can show our allegiance to the true Lord of all by keeping our fingers off our phones when it would endanger those around us.
In fact, Christians are “to be ready for every good work.”2 “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval” (Rom 13:3, ESV).
WORLD CHRISTIANS IN RELATION TO SOCIETY (3:2)
Titus is also to remind them “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (3:2, ESV). There is a progression from verse 1, “rulers and authorities,” to verse 2, “all people.” Showing submission is limited to rulers. Showing courtesy is expanded to all people. But who do we get to “speak evil” of? “No one.” Sure, Paul will still call a false teacher “warped and sinful” (3:11), but only because it’s true and necessary for the protection of others to say so.
Nor are we to be like the quarrelsome false teachers who love “quarrels about the law” (3:9, ESV). Instead, we should be peaceable people who know the difference between standing for the truth and looking for a scrap.
The third term, “gentle,” means “not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom, yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant.”3 The world’s tolerance is actually intolerance; we as Christians are to show true tolerance. Finally, we are “to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” The Greek word behind “courtesy” is hard to convey in English, but it has been defined as “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance” and can be glossed as “humility, meekness.”4
The following verse makes clear that “all people” refers primarily to unbelievers, including unbelievers who are very hard to love: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient … passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (3:3, ESV). How are we to respond to a state and society which are increasingly hostile to followers of Christ? The temptation is to repay evil for evil (Rom 12:17), to respond in kind. But this is to be worldly Christians. We once were worldly, slinging mud at our enemies, trash-talking those of different political views; we spewed vitriol and hate in Facebook posts and comment sections. But as we’ll see in the next article, far from responding in kind to us, God’s goodness and loving philanthropy appeared, and He saved us by His mercy.
Let us, then, be world Christians, not worldly ones, reminding one another to obey our nation’s laws, to show real restraint in how we speak about politicians most people love to hate, to know when to stop replying to an internet troll, to be tolerant and conciliatory to those who see the world far differently than we do, and to be courteous, polite, humble, and gracious to all people, knowing that the same God whose grace brings salvation for all people (2:11) desires “all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Tim 2:4, ESV).
1 John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus, 198-9.
2 Note the contrast to the false teachers in 1:16.