Studies in the Pastoral Epistles and Philemon
11. Titus 2:1-10 - Making Grace Look Good
In the second chapter of Titus, Paul tells us that people often judge the gospel by the way we live. Do we make the gospel look good, or do we give people a reason to complain? The gospel teaches grace, and grace teaches us something about the way we live.
Self-control: a good example
Paul tells Titus, “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.” He then describes teachings that are reliable: “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance” (Titus 2:1-2). Titus is working with believers who need some guidance about their behavior.
Paul begins with three virtues praised by Greek philosophers—not going to extremes, acting respectably and having self-control. He then gives three virtues important in Christianity: having right beliefs, showing love, and maintaining these qualities even when it is difficult.
For women, Paul gives slightly different advice: “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” (v. 3). These vices are not typically associated with women today, and Paul could easily point these teachings at men—they are appropriate for all Christians.
Paul expects older women to be able to teach: “They can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands” (vv. 4-5). Paul does not tell Titus to teach the young women directly, but he asks the older women to lead them.
Paul lists a number of roles that women had in first-century society and then explains why Christian women should perform them: “so that no one will malign the word of God.” Christianity has several beliefs and practices that unbelievers do not like, and Christians cannot do everything that unbelievers want. But in many customs, Christians can conform, and this is what Paul wants.
If people are going to criticize, let it be for essential matters, not for unnecessary differences. If we break social customs, people will be more skeptical about everything we say, so we want to keep our differences to a minimum. Paul is concerned about how our behavior might affect the gospel.
“Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good” (vv. 6-7). Titus will teach not just by words, but also in what he does. Even his style of teaching is important: “In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned.” Why? Because our reputation as bearers of the gospel is important: “So that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” People will disagree with our beliefs, but we do not want to give any extra offense.
Paul then comments on one more social group: “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, 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, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (vv. 9-10).
Paul is advising believers to perform their social roles well—he is not necessarily saying that those social roles are good. But we can with some modification apply what Paul says to employment situations today. Believers should perform their jobs well, being cooperative, trustworthy, and respectful to everyone.
Why? To make the gospel attractive, so that people will be more likely to listen to what we say about Jesus. The way we live, the way we work, the way we treat our families and neighbors, all make a difference in how receptive people will be to the message we share.
Things to think about
- What virtues are most needed in our culture? (v. 2)
- What behaviors today, although not sins, might cause people to despise the gospel? (v. 5)
- Paul said that slaves should submit (v. 9). Was it therefore wrong for Christians to try to abolish slavery in the 19th century?
Author: Michael Morrison, PhD