Monday, January 3, 2022

The Letter to Titus: How to Live a Good Life


(A passage of scripture, Titus 2:3-5, forms the outline for this series on the core values and responsibilities of Christian women. In today’s post we will examine the context surrounding these important verses so as to more fully understand their meaning and application. The goal here is truth and the only way to get at the truth is to look at the big picture.)

Paul’s letter to Titus gives a picture of the early church of Christ at Crete and the obstacles they were facing. Thankfully it is also full of godly instruction on how to overcome these obstacles. The letter was written to meet a specific time and situation. However, human need and the human situation do not change significantly. We face similar obstacles today…and we find that if we come with open hearts, God still speaks to us through this letter and is applicable to Christians living in the modern world.

The new Christians Paul was writing would have been just one step away from a degenerate society. Old ingrained values, priorities and habits would still have been a part of their daily lives. But as born-again creatures in Christ, they had to have been wondering how to go about living day-to-day in their own world. As they awaited the return of Christ and the restoration of all things, how should they live? In this letter, Paul answers this existential question.  He says, in essence, that their response to God’s grace and salvation is to live the very best life possible. An excellent life.

This experience of alienation resonates today as well. Those being saved in non-Christian societies will recognize the difficulties that go along with being a new believer in a non-Christian culture. Those of us in the traditionally Christian West similarly find ourselves in a society with increasingly secular values and lifestyles. How should we then live in this present world?  The letter to Titus gives guidance and hope as we navigate our way through the world.

Paul, God’s Messenger

The author is Saul (65-67 AD) who was born in Tarsus in Asia Minor. He was a Jew but also a Roman citizen, and educated according to the Greek classical model.  He wrote this personal letter to his associate, Titus, around 65 A.D.  Saul’s letters are the earliest documents we have from an inspired New Testament writer, probably written even earlier than the Gospels. 

Interestingly enough, it seems that Saul had been a dedicated persecutor of the church of Christ (Acts 8 & 9).  However, God had different plans for him! Saul of Tarsus encountered the resurrected Christ and everything changed.

How did all of this unfold? 

According to the written account found in Acts Chapter 9, Saul was on the road to Damascus (in present-day Syria) to deliver letters to the Jewish synagogues authorizing them to persecute the church. All at once, he was surrounded by a “light from heaven” and heard a voice that identified Himself as Jesus Christ. He asked Saul why he was persecuting Him and then told him to go on into Damascus.  Saul was literally blinded by this light, but he obeyed and the men with him (who also heard the voice) guided him into the city.  While Saul was there, a follower of Christ named Ananias had a divine vision from God and was told to go and pray for him.  Naturally, knowing Saul's reputation for hounding Christians, Ananias objected.  But the Lord told him:  Go thy way for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel;  for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake (Acts 9:15-16).

So, in spite of his reservations, Ananias obeyed God.  He found Saul, laid hands on him and prayed. Immediately, Saul received back his sight and was filled with the Holy Spirit.  He got up right then and was baptized for the remission (pardoning) of his sins (Acts 2:38). Now Saul had a different message to deliver: instead of a message of death, he brought life….the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ.  

Saul of Tarsus went on to become one of the great apostles of Christ, traveling thousands of miles, preaching powerfully the Gospel of the Savior, performing miracles and founding congregations of disciples.  Because of his extensive work with the Roman-Greco world, Saul took on the Latinized version of his name, and became known as the Apostle Paul. 

As Paul traveled, he also kept up an active correspondence with the new Christian communities by means of written letters.

Titus, God’s Man on the Ground 

Paul was writing to his associate, Titus, and this letter is one of three written to his co-workers (along with 1 and 2 Timothy) written around AD 64-66 from Ephesus. 

Who was Titus? He was a Gentile (Galations 2:3) who was led to faith by Paul (Titus 1:4), and he might have been converted on one of Paul's missionary journeys throughout the Roman Empire. His name means “protected” or “pleasing” and Paul called him his “own son after the common faith…” (1:4).  He was trusted by Paul and is mentioned in the letters to the Galatians and the Corinthians as accompanying him to a council in Jerusalem and overseeing the collection of relief funds in Corinth (Galatians 2:3, 2 Corinthians 7 and 8). Titus was a prime example of a Gentile Christian.

Titus’ assignment was to organize and give direction to the church at Crete.

Crete, a Degenerate Culture

Crete is a large and mountainous island that lies in the center of the Mediterranean Sea not far from Greece. It was at one time the center of the Minoan civilization which flourished from 3000 BC to 1450 BC. Over time, that civilization decayed. As it did, migrants came from the mainland of Greece, bringing their Greek way of life with them and eventually becoming the dominant culture of Crete.

Crete was conquered by the Romans in 69 BC and at the time Paul was writing it would have been a peaceful, prosperous and somewhat backwater province of the Roman Empire. The presence of the Romans, however, did not have a large influence on the daily habits and culture of the Cretan people. They kept their Greek language and customs. In fact, as the Romans expanded, they incorporated much of the Greek culture into their own traditions, especially male and female roles and the household structure of the home, as we will see later.

Chania, the capital city of Crete (Wikimedia Commons)

But with time, as did the Minoan, the high classical Greek culture began to decline. In fact, it was definitely on the downhill slide. William Barclay, in his commentary on the letter, describes the level of vice in Cretan society: 

Their avarice was proverbial. ‘ The Cretans,’ said Polybius, ‘ on account of their innate avarice, live in a perpetual state of private quarrel and public feud and civil strife…and you will hardly find anywhere characters more tricky and deceitful than those of Crete.’ He writes of them: ‘Money is so highly valued among them, that its possession is not only thought to be necessary, but highly creditable; and in fact greed and avarice are so native to the soil in Crete, that they are the only people in the world among whom no stigma attaches to any sort of gain whatever.’ (p. 242, The Letter to Titus)

Polybius gives us a picture of a materialistic, dishonest, immoral people. But did Paul say to just give up on the Cretans? They were toxic, after all.

Paul recognizes and calls out the corrupt culture:

For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers…One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, the Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. (1:10,12)

But I like Paul’s positivity. Even as Paul calls out the Cretans on their immorality, he doesn't give up hope for them. Instead, he makes the claim that individuals can be saved from sin through Jesus Christ. Instead of shouting into the darkness, Paul shows them how to be saved right in the middle of it:

But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour…(3:4-5)

No matter what we have done, we can, through the mercy and grace of God, come clean, and we can be made new through the Holy Spirit.

Then he goes on to show us how to respond to God’s grace and how we should live:

For the grace of God hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world. (2:11-12)

He tells the believers to be transformed here and now and to devote themselves to good works:

…looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all unrighteousness and purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works. (2:12-14)

Paul didn’t tell Christians to “go with the flow” of the culture but rather to earn its respect by a life of good works. But just what are those “good works” I should be doing to glorify God?

A Good and Holy Life

Paul gives Titus and the church great responsibilities.

He begins with his own duty and that is to preach the Gospel (1: 1-3):

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;  but hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Savior...(1: 1-3)

Right at the beginning Paul calls himself both “a servant of God” as well as an apostle, or messenger, of Jesus Christ. The word in the Greek translated servant is doulos, meaning slave. Paul is saying that his life is totally submitted to God and to His service. This placing himself under God puts the demands he makes on the disciples in context. Paul isn’t exercising authority upon them in a tyrannical way but rather as one who is also serving God and living for Him.

And so Paul preached the gospel which drew the Christians together and it was Titus’ work to guide them into effective congregations. He tells Titus to get the church at Crete in good order by:

  • appointing good leaders

  • putting a stop to false teaching

  • exemplifying good conduct (1:5,11; 2:1-15)

Paul calls on Titus to give constant instruction in practical Christian living and to avoid arguing endlessly over the law, fruitless speculation and debates.

The appointed leaders, or elders, must also be men above reproach in their conduct and lifestyle. Paul insists that they be the husband of one wife and the father of obedient, believing, faithful children. In addition to these things…

They should not be:

  • self-willed or quick-tempered

  • given to wine

  • violent

  • greedy

But should be:

  • hospitable

  • a lover of what is good, philagathos (Strongs: “a promoter of virtue”)

  • upright, holy

  • disciplined

  • holding closely to sound doctrine

Why must the elders be men of such high character? Why must they be men who know and hold closely to the Word of God? so that they can effectively teach and defend the congregation from false teachers infiltrating the church: (1:9)

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. - Titus 1:9-11

A false teacher will turn a family and a church upside down. Paul says they must not be allowed to bring chaos to the flock of God.

Paul goes on to lay out different groups within the church and their specific responsibilities.

The older men are to be sober, grave, self-controlled and sound in faith, charity and patience (2:2). 

Older women are to be reverent, not false accusers, not addicted to much wine, teachers of good things.

Paul instructs Titus to have the older women take the younger women under their wings and teach them to be loving wives and mothers, sensible and chaste, good keepers of their homes, kind and submissive to their own husbands (2:3-5).

Paul only makes one demand here on the young men. They are to be sober-minded (2:6). The word Paul uses here is sophron and was considered to be one of the foundational virtues of Greek society. A man who is sophron is wise, self-controlled, sensible, balanced. He doesn’t go to extremes. He doesn’t act like a fool. He makes good choices in life.

And then he addresses servants. Again, Paul uses the word doulos so we can assume he is referring to slaves here. Paul tells them to be honest, loyal, respectful, and submissive to their masters (2:9-10). 

Why does Paul make a point to lay out good works for everyone?

Paul typically gives reasons for his commands and claims.  He says that these good things make the Gospel look good (2:5,10), and the life of the Christian fruitful (3:8,14).

Makes sense. Christ literally came to bring about for Himself a people “zealous of good works.” (2:14). And so this is what Christians must be about.

John Calvin comments on the length of Paul’s exhortations in this letter as compared to the letter to Timothy:

Besides the reason why he is longer in his exhortations is, that they who gave their whole attention to idle questions [the Cretans] - needed especially to be exhorted to the practice of a good and holy life; for nothing is better fitted to restrain the wandering curiosity of men than to know in what duties they ought to be employed.

The Greeks had a habit of speculating about what a good life was more than actually living the good life. In contrast, Paul tells Titus to avoid endless speculation and gives them things to get busy doing…now.

In future posts, we will focus on the priorities and responsibilities given to Christian women in this letter and other places in Scripture.

The result of faith & knowledge must be a truly religious life. Faith must always issue in life and Christian knowledge is not merely intellectual knowledge but knowledge how to live.Many people have been great scholars & yet completely inefficient in the ordinary things of life and total failures in their personal relationships. A truly religious life is one in which a man is on right terms with God, with himself & with his fellow-men. It is a life in which a man can cope alike with great moments and everyday duties. It is a life in which Jesus Christ lives again. 

- William Barclay, Commentary on Titus


Amy Laurie <3

If we stay the course, we will surely arrive at our destination.

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