Titus: Adorning the Doctrine of God

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Titus 2:2, 6, 9-10 – Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, (B)sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Likewise, urge (J)the younger men to be self-controlled. (P)Bondservants[b] are to be submissive to their own masters (Q)in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, (R)but showing all good faith, (S)so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

I was actually relieved that I didn’t have to teach this lesson due to the fact that I didn’t feel at all qualified to speak on this subject. In all reality, I didn’t feel qualified to teach any of this. But true to His nature, the Spirit speaks and reveals, teaching me as I teach others. Here’s what I learned about adorning the doctrine of God.

Older Men

I have decided long ago that I would never label who was an “older” man or “older” woman. From what I gather, men over 60 were considered “older men” on the island of Crete. I’m not sure how they determined this, but at least I didn’t come up with this number!

Paul exhorts the older men with six commands –

  • be sober-minded (calm, even, level-headed, reserved, temperate in the use of alcohol, free of selfish excess, mental alertness, vigilance)
  • be dignified (proper, reverent, respectful and respectable, honorable, above reproach, worthy of respect, noble, faithful)
  • be self-controlled (able to curb desire/impulses, disciplined, composed, sober-minded, prudent, sensible; emphasis on the application of the mind)
  • be sound in faith (steadfast in truth/Word, free from error, unwavering trust in God, pertaining to your relationship with God, under the influence of the Spirit, guided by truth)
  • be sound in love (firm love/affection, gentle, pertaining to love for God and others)
  • be sound in steadfastness (perseverance, endurance, hold firm in trials, dedicated/faithful, connected with trials/persecutions)

Sometimes it’s just as helpful to think about what these qualities do NOT look like –

  • sober-minded is NOT anxious/worried, high-stress, easily subverted by adversity, turbulent, lacking self-control, in bondage to sin
  • dignified is NOT unrefined, undignified/unbecoming, an embarrassment socially or in character
  • self-controlled is NOT out of control in mind/body, never able to say “no”, living only for pleasure, a “train wreck”
  • sound in faith is NOT unsure, doubting, questioning truth, walking in error, “tossed about”
  • sound in love is NOT harsh, unloving, hateful
  • sound in steadfastness is NOT giving up easily, buckling under affliction or pressure

I’m always curious about why Paul chooses certain qualities over others when giving a command to certain people. In this case, he chose these qualities just for older men. Why? As far as I can tell, these men are the role models in the society and must be an example of good character. Perhaps he lists these qualities to challenge the men who have trouble in these areas (being tempted to lose control or to be harsh rather than loving). Maybe their culture was one that had those kinds of temptations more so than other places. We cannot know for certain, but what we can know is that he wanted them to exhibit these qualities.

Younger Men

As for the younger men, Paul only gives Titus one command for them: urge them to be self-controlled. There it is again! Self-control. The image I was taught about the discipline of self-control is that of a race horse. The race horse has great strength, but it is bridled strength. It has the ability in its strength to run fast, but it remains submissive to its Master. Self-control, then, is not to be thought of weak but rather as bridled strength.

The believers at Crete were to look and act differently than their culture. I cannot help but think of the contrast between what the male believers should act like and what the false teachers acted like. Paul calls out the false teachers over and over again for their inability to curb their sinful appetites (problem of self-control). The people of Crete in general had a problem with self-control (liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons). Paul reminded them they all needed the Spirit’s work in their lives.

Bondservants

Most translations use the word bondservant in this passage, but this word is not one we use or have a concept of today. Other translations use the word slave. We definitely have a strong, negative connotation for that word in our culture. So what do we make of this section and this word in Scripture? It was helpful for me to see that Paul (Romans 1:1), James (James 1:1), Jude (Jude 1), Timothy (Phil 1:1), Peter (2 Pet 1:1), and John (Rev 1:1) all referred to themselves as a bondservant or slave of Christ. Other sources talk of the bondservant as being one who makes the choice to willingly submit to and stay with their master. Still others believe that the term slave is more appropriate, because it carries the idea of one who is not his own, one who belongs to someone else.

There are mixed views on slavery during the Roman times because slaves were treated differently depending on the master. Some masters were good and treated their slaves well, but just as there were horrendous slave masters in our country, many masters in Rome were harsh and unjust. Some sources said that roughly half of the people in the Roman Empire were slaves. Paul makes no commentary on the issue of slavery – whether it is right or wrong. Rather, he addresses the attitude and actions of those who found themselves in the situation of slavery (he expounds on this in 1 Cor 7:20-24 and 1 Pet 2:18). He also speaks to the slave master, Philemon, to be gracious to his runaway slave, Onesimus, when he returns to him. The issue was how these slaves would represent Christ who had made them slaves to God, freeing them from their enslavement to sin. It was about submission and obedience – both in action and in attitude. 

Paul writes that he wants the slaves to adorn the doctrine of God by being submissive and not being argumentative and so on. The word adorn is the Greek word kosmeo, where we get our word cosmetics. It meant to arrange jewels to best display their beauty. It was to make something attractive or to give credit to the object in view. The fact that Paul even mentions slaves in this letter showed everyone they had value and that their lives mattered. What is more, the way they lived their lives mattered greatly. They were to be “well-pleasing”, they should not argue or steal, they should submit. Above all, they should do these things even when their master was out of sight because as believers they had a Master who saw everything they did. Their good behavior was an adornment to display the beauty of the doctrines of God. Perhaps their good behavior would attract others to Christ.

Bridging Contexts

Whether you are an older man, younger man, or slave, your behavior should reflect the Master. This is true for the women as well. Right living matters. It matters for every person! Am I making Christ look attractive by the way I live? Would others be drawn to Christ by how I live? Does my life give credit or glory to my Master? 

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