We’re continuing our series in the epistle of Paul to Titus, who was left on the island of Crete to appoint elders and instruct/model how to teach sound doctrine and godly behaviour. In chapter 1, we saw how elders were to be of good character (in order to model right behaviour) with the ability to teach and defend truth – in contrast with the false teachers, whose self-serving behaviour undermined their message. In chapter 2, Paul gives some instructions on how Titus and the elders are to carry out this teaching:
Titus 2:1-10 You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. 2 Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.
3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
6 Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. 7 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
9 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10 and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.
If you were with us last week, you’ll notice that the worms are back out of the can. Let’s try to make sense of them, again.
Firstly, let’s not minimise how culturally conditioned the specifics are. The reference to slaves should make that obvious in the final two verses, but the rest of the instructions are no less a part of first century culture. The clear instruction is in verse 1: teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. The rest of the passage fills out what that teaching looks like and how it is best done by Titus on the island of Crete in the 60s, which serves as a great model as we work out how to do it in our own cultural context.
There are two significant parts to this: the content of the teaching (what Titus is to teach), and the process of the teaching (how Titus is to ensure people are taught). They’re related, of course, but for convenience we’ll first deal with them separately: content this week, process next week.
Paul highlights particular aspects of “sound teaching” to particular subgroupings in the Cretan church – aspects which have a particular significance given their role within the believing community and society as a whole. Let’s start with the older men, as Titus does, for two reasons: it’s the least controversial, and it will help us see the dynamics of what’s going on before we get to the more debatable areas.
Titus is to teach the older men 7 virtues, grouped as 4 + 3* (which is significant). Temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound are all standard Graeco-Roman virtues which the rest of society would all heartily endorse and promote. (Temperate is important, since Crete seems to have had an alcohol problem; but even on boozy Crete, public drunkenness by the elderly was seen as shameful.) To paraphrase Paul, he’s telling Titus: teach the older men in the church to be model citizens the way society around defines it. But – and here’s the twist – do it in faith, in love, and in endurance, three distinctly Christian virtues.
To bring it into twenty-first century Australia for a minute, we might say: sure, teach the Aussie values of mateship, a fair go, a healthy disregard for class distinctions, and whatever else you might want to put here – but do so in a distinctively Christian way, in which these principles are grounded in God’s character and actions in history, and are held up to critique or even subversion if and when they run counter to the ethics of God’s kingdom.
To think about
What values of our world are aligned with kingdom values? How might we think of them and be motivated to practise them differently, in light of both who God is and our kingdom worldview?
What values of our world run counter to kingdom values? How are we sometimes tempted to avoid standing against them? How might we stand against them effectively and graciously?
* See Quinn, The Letter to Titus, p.130-32. The “in faith, in love, in endurance” bit could refer to the final characteristic of “sound,” or, as I’ve taken it above, to all four virtues as a whole. Either way, Paul is calling believers to virtue as defined by the surrounding culture and to distinctively Christian characteristics.