We’re continuing our series in the epistle of Paul to Titus. Over the past two days, we saw Paul give instructions on what to teach the older men in the church on Crete, followed by the (more controversial) instructions concerning the teaching of women. But in both cases, the principle seems to have been: live out the values of your society in an exemplary fashion (insofar as they align with the values of God’s kingdom), but in a way that’s informed and motivated by your Christian faith. We now come to the two last categories in Paul’s list: younger men and slaves.
Titus 2:6-10 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 Saviour attractive.
Titus’s role is to encourage self-control in young men, which really needs little explanation. (There’s the obvious area of sexual self-control, but we can add all kinds of risky behaviours like drinking, drug-taking, reckless driving; but also other areas where young men are typically more prone to lacking self-control, with violence towards women, aggressive behaviour, ruthlessness and arrogance in the workplace, just to name a few.)
Notice how Titus is to do it: by setting an example. His own teaching is to show integrity (in contrast with the false teachers in 1:16, who “claim to know God but by their actions deny him”), seriousness (as opposed to the false teachers’ “meaningless talk” in 1:10 and “foolish controversies” in 3:9), and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned (unlike the “Jewish myths” and “merely human commands” in 1:14). In other words, don’t just teach different content: model your teaching both in the way you teach it and in the way you live it out.
If you’re in a position where you’re leading teens and young adults (of either gender), keep this in mind. I say this not just from Scripture, but from experience as a young adults’ pastor, too: long after people have forgotten precisely what you taught, they’ll remember how you taught and how you lived.
The final word is to slaves. And it’s a similar situation to the one we encountered with women, yesterday. Yes, slavery is evil. Yet it was also a fact of life in most ancient cultures, providing employment for many. To condemn slavery and/or agitate for the release of slaves would also have put the cart (transformation of society) ahead of the horse (proclamation that Jesus is king), and risked the Gospel being seen purely as a slave-liberation movement. So what does Paul do?
Elsewhere he offers some more nuanced teaching. In 1 Cor 7:21-23 he says that if slaves can gain their freedom then they should do so; but if they can’t, no big deal, as a slave is free in Christ, and a free person is a slave of Christ! And he then gives more than just a hint that slavery isn’t part of God’s ideal world: “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings.” Further, the whole letter to Philemon is Paul intervening between a runaway slave (Onesimus) and his master (Philemon), urging reconciliation to the extent where Philemon frees him and welcomes him back as a brother in Christ. Paul doesn’t think slavery is good, and proclaims that in Christ there is no longer slave nor free (Gal 3:28).
But here, he’s dealing with the reality that there are people in the Cretan church who are slaves, many of whom have no means of gaining their freedom. Although free in Christ, how should they live? In light of the bigger, kingdom picture he says: be the best slave you can be, with a Christian motivation and goal. (Sound familiar?)
Specifically, he says: to be subject to their masters, which they were already in a legal sense, but Paul seems to be saying to embrace their role rather than resist it. They are to try to please them not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted. The “best” slaves – those who ended up with higher status and household responsibility, like we spoke of last week – were those who behaved with integrity and earned their master’s trust. The further down the “slave food chain,” the worse their behaviour seemed to be, quite understandably. When people are treated as property, abused, and disrespected, it doesn’t tend to inspire loyal and honest service – so it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle that slaves are dishonest and lazy and deserve to be beaten and mistreated.
Here, Paul seems to be saying: no matter where you are in the slave hierarchy, be a model slave. And the further down the chain you are, the more striking your integrity and hard work will be! This will then have benefits for the kingdom: so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive. Can you imagine the talk around the slave owners in Crete? You simply must get one of those Christian slaves – they’re honest, reliable, and hard working…
Without overlooking the vast differences between the first century master-slave relationship and the twenty first century employer-employee relationship, the common principle should, by now, be obvious: be the best employee you can be (even when your boss isn’t looking), enhancing not just your own reputation but that of Christians generally – and, by extension, Christ. This doesn’t mean just put up with abusive or exploitative bosses: you’re an employee who can leave (although you may have plenty of pressing economic incentives not to) in a society which does have mechanisms (however imperfect) to report and sanction abusive and exploitative practices. But it does mean showing appropriate respect and loyalty – even when there are decisions you might disagree with or be negatively impacted by; even when you don’t think your boss deserves it; even if fellow employees are doing the exact opposite!
To think about
If you’re an employee, how can you be a better one this week – in terms of attitude, work ethic, respect-giving, showing care rather than rivalry toward colleagues, etc.?
If you’re self-employed, how can you be an advertisement for Jesus and his kingdom to your clients?
If you’re not in paid work, how can you extend this principle to what you do at home, at study, as you search for work, etc.?