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It might be asked, Why should Christians pursue this respectable and dignified life? Surely God's people should turn from sin; but what warrant is there for endorsing such a mundane form of respectability? Actually, it is not mundane at all, if it is properly understood. It is a part of God's plan. This is what Paul meant to prove in this passage.
The language of this text, especially verses 11-14, is majestic and somewhat allusive. Content, tone and form suggest the passage was probably originally constructed for a baptismal service. Its use of terms that were widely popular made it applicable in this context in which Paul seeks contact with the outsider. But despite these points of contact, the theological basis for the new life that Paul establishes places this life into an entirely different category.
It may seem strange to us to speak of God's grace "appearing." Pagans used the term grace to signify divine or regal beneficence--something good done by a god or king for those who could not do for themselves. For the Hebrew and the Christian, however, the grace of God is the essence of God's covenant with humankind. It signifies God's unmerited love. The language of verse 11 shows that this grace culminated or found full expression in a particular event. But what event does Paul mean?
The verb appeared is a technical term for the manifestation or "epiphany" of a god (or hero) to bring help. Paul (or his material) has borrowed this concept to denote the "appearance" of Christ (2 Tim 1:10), and elsewhere in these letters the term refers to the second, future "appearance" of Christ (2:13; 1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 4:1; compare 2 Thess 2:8). It is this historical event that gives full expression to God's grace.
This event, too, brought help. But the help associated with God's grace, salvation, transcends any pagan notions of help or deliverance from physical calamity. It is salvation from sin and sin's extensive, destructive results. Salvation is an adjective in the Greek sentence which describes something intrinsic to grace: God's grace is not simply beneficent in purpose, it means to save.
This event is unique in another respect. In scope it is universal, reaching in some way to all men. This does not mean that all people respond to the appearance of Christ--to his birth, ministry, death and resurrection--with equal acceptance. In fact, the change to us below (vv. 12, 14) implies the need for belief. But as a means of salvation God's grace in Christ is offered to all. Compared with pagan beliefs in patron gods who might deliver a city from crisis, the claims of Christianity are startling.
Thus Paul's logic begins with the event of Christ's incarnation and earthly ministry. But his main point is yet to come.
Without a break in the Greek sentence, verse 12 gets right to the point. Christ appeared to "teach" us to live a new life. Thus we might say that "living" or "how to live" is God's curriculum. In this respect, Christ (or God through the medium of his grace) followed a long line of teachers. Moreover, Paul's material employs the Greek teaching model in this description. In Greek thought, education (paideia; here the verbal form of this term occurs) produces virtue. Paul makes good use of this model here, but while maintaining contact with secular ideas, he describes the Christian counterpart to virtue in a way that it is placed on an entirely different level.
1. The new life and conversion (2:12). Part of the earliest gospel message was the call to repent (Mk 1:15). It meant "to change the mind," to leave behind an old way, a godless way, and turn to follow God. Paul's material here uses a different word, "deny." But the thrust is the same. The original language of this verse makes it clear that pursuit of the new life below is actually contingent upon this denial. As the NIV interprets it, say "No," this denial is to be final and almost vocal. Of course, if the event of baptism lay behind this creed, it would indeed have been a vocal pledge.
What is to be denied if we are to pursue life? It is the way of this world. Ungodliness is a general reference to all that is anti-God (3:3). Worldly passions are the sinful impulses that express themselves through the body (1 Jn 2:15-16). Together these two expressions summarize the old life, the life natural to the inhabitants of this world before they have the knowledge of God.
But the appearance of Christ demands that the old way be abandoned. A conscious choice of denial must be made. It is the first step in a new life.
2. The new life (2:12). The goal of God's curriculum is the living of a new life. After the old way has been abandoned, what then? If Christianity ended there, it would consist of a life of avoidance. We could sum it up with a divine "Thou shalt not." But the focus in this passage (and above in vv. 1-10) is actually on "being" or "living," and a far more appropriate and positive summary is "Thou shalt."
As we saw, the Greeks thought that education would lead to virtue. Now Paul translates that into Christian thinking. His translation is really more of a transliteration, for he describes the Christian's new life with three terms that designated cardinal virtues in Greek ethics. In doing this he emphasizes again that Christian conduct should be observable.
The new life is described as self-controlled and upright. We have come across these two terms already in the description of the lifestyle of the church leader (1:8). "Self-control" was to be exercised over the impulses and sensual desires common to human life (see discussion on 1 Tim 3:2). "Uprightness" is a more general description of observable "rightness" in all aspects of life.
If only these two terms were used to describe the qualities of the new life, one might get the idea that Christianity is acting a certain way, putting on an acceptable performance. The third term, however, at least as Paul uses it, takes us beyond that to show that true spirituality is meant. Godly, as a description of life, brings together faith in or knowledge of God and its visible outworking in life ("godliness," 1:1; see notes on 1 Tim 2:2). It is Paul's term for genuine Christianity. Consequently, the life to be lived as a result of Christ's entrance into human history (v. 11) is not only characterized by visible respectability but is also born of the knowledge of God.
Further, it is the antithesis of the old life. Formerly the values of the world shaped life (v. 12), but now a new set of values and goals define life in Christ (compare 3:3-4; Rom 6:20-22; 11:30-32; Gal 1:23; 4:8-9; Eph 2:1-22; 5:8; Col 1:21-22; 3:7-8; Philem 11; 1 Pet 2:10).
Finally, the new life introduced by the appearance of Christ pertains to the present time. Christianity or spirituality is not something that is unattainable or something that is proper to life outside of this world. The time reference in this present age focuses readers' attention on the now. Salvation may not be complete (or completely realizable) until the return of Christ; but it has made possible a new quality of life in this present age. With the Christian possibility goes Christian responsibility to live fully engaged in this world.
3. The new life and the forward look (2:13). While it is true that genuine spirituality is not foreign to existence in this present age, it is also not wholly at home in it. Salvation has begun, but the struggle with sin (and therefore imperfection) hinders the believer from experiencing it in full. Consequently, an important aspect of the new life is the forward look to the culmination of redemption in Christ's return. This is not to be confused with "living in the future" or "living for tomorrow." It is rather an acknowledgment that the Christian's hope is ultimately beyond this world.
Paul's material uses language that was used of kings and emperors to describe the Christian's hope in Christ's future appearance. The blessed hope means "the hope that brings blessing." As the rest of the verse indicates, this hope consists of another "appearance." The NIV's glorious appearing smooths out the cumbersome Greek sentence (literally, "the appearance of the glory of the great God"). However, "glory" is probably not to be taken as an adjective but rather as that which will appear. It picks up the theme of an ultimate manifestation of God's glory at the close of history (Is 24:23; 35:2; 40:5; 58:8; 60:1), which in the New Testament is understood to be the return of Christ (Mt 16:27; 24:30; 2 Thess 1:10).
But there is a question whether the following appellation, our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, is of one person, Jesus Christ, or of two, God the Father (great God) and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Depending on the interpretation, we have either a unique, direct affirmation of the deity of Christ or an unprecedented reference to God's accompaniment of Christ at his Second Coming.
In favor of the first interpretation: (1) In the Greek sentence, one definite article (the) governs the two nouns, God and Savior, which ordinarily would imply a reference to one person. (2) God and Savior was a title current in religious writings during the first century, usually denoting a single deity. (3) The use of epiphany language in the New Testament is primarily limited to Christ, and in the Pastorals there is a strong tendency to describe each "appearance" of Christ in this way (1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim 1:10; 4:8).
In favor of the second interpretation: (1) It is unusual, perhaps unprecedented (compare Rom 9:5), for Paul to refer to Christ as "God." (2) It is argued that in the epiphany passages of the Pastorals there is a tendency to distinguish between God and Christ (1 Tim 6:13-14; 2 Tim 1:9-10). (3) Paul tends to emphasize Christ's dependence upon God in the Pastorals, so that a reference to Christ as God would be out of character.
On the whole, grammatical and background considerations recommend the first interpretation. It is best to conclude, therefore, that the blessed hope is the hope in God's ultimate manifestation of glory in the return of Christ. Paul affirms that Christ is God. The use of epiphany language ("appearance") in this passage for both events of Christ not only implies the "helping" character of these events but also characterizes the present age between them. What began with Christ, salvation and a new manner of life (vv. 11-12), will be brought to completion only with his return (v. 13). The present age, and life in it, thus takes its meaning from these two reference points. The past reference point is certain, historical; it is the substance of the gospel message. The future reference point is based on the past event, but its time is uncertain, requiring hope and the expectant forward look.
The identification of the God and Savior as Jesus Christ at the end of verse 13 leads to a discussion in verse 14 of the actual outworking of God's grace (v. 11). The language of this description was well known and would have immediately struck a chord with the readers; Paul's material combines a saying of Jesus (that the early church made good use of) with well-known citations from the Old Testament, which together explain the significance of Christ's death for the formation of God's people.
Verse 14 describes the death of Jesus Christ as an offering/sacrifice that was made for those who could not make it themselves.
First, the verb gave (and indeed the entire saying--who gave himself for us) portrays Christ's death as a ritual offering made specifically to atone for sins (Rom 4:25; 8:32; compare Gal 1:4). Although here the traditional saying of Jesus is attenuated (compare Mk 10:45; 1 Tim 2:6), the same thoughts are in mind.
Second, the note of willingness is emphasized, for it is said that he gave himself. Consequently, it cannot be said that Christ's death was an accident that took him by surprise. This death had to occur; it was an intrinsic part of God's plan of salvation (Acts 2:23).
Third, the phrase for us reveals that this offering was both representative and substitutionary. In giving himself as a sacrifice, the God-Man represented sinful humans, almost as a modern-day attorney would take a case. Furthermore, his death for us was a death rightly required of people; he stepped in as our substitute and suffered what is rightfully our punishment for sins.
Christ's redemptive death, understood in this way, is without question the ultimate illustration of God's grace. The act originated in God's plan, was executed in behalf of undeserving people and accomplished their salvation. But the theme of Christian living that runs throughout Titus 2 suggests that Paul's focal point in verse 14 is on the purpose or result of this event, which the following clause introduces.
Two metaphors and two Old Testament passages combine to describe the purpose of Christ's sacrifice (of course, from the church's standpoint this purpose is now result!). The first metaphor is that of redemption: the offering was designed to redeem us. For the first readers this statement would have conjured up a picture of being bought out of slavery or servitude through a ransom. It was the practice in ancient warfare for conquerors to make slaves of captives. Redeem described the process of paying for such a prisoner's release. In a different context, slaves might secure redemption by having the right to ownership of them transferred to a god. Either picture naturally suited a description of Christ's redeeming work in the life of a believer: though a person was formerly enslaved to sin (Jn 8:34), Christ himself paid the price of manumission, setting the believer free to serve God. As the imagery of Psalm 130:8 reveals, the servitude or bondage from which we are released is all wickedness (literally, on the Old Testament model, "lawlessness")--a state of complete opposition to God's law.
This description of purpose continues with the metaphor of washing or purification: the offering was designed to purify . . . a people for himself. Here the imagery is not of baptism (compare 3:5; Eph 5:25-26). Rather, as the Old Testament context of the citation suggests (Ezek 37:23), "washing" denotes God's act of purifying or sanctifying his wayward people from the defilement of idolatry--claiming a people out of the sinful world. The early church understood this action to be executed ultimately in the shedding of Christ's blood.
Consequently, God's action in Christ purified a peculiar people of God. This idea goes back to Exodus 19:5, where God's purpose in establishing a covenant with Israel is revealed (Deut 7:6; 14:2; 28:18; compare Eph 1:14; 1 Pet 2:9). In response to God's grace, the new people were to observe God's law (Deut 26:18). In New Testament and Pauline terms this is translated into being "zealous for good works." Salvation results in works of the Spirit (see notes on 1 Tim 2:10).
God's grace (v. 11) in Christ's self-offering (v. 14) has established a special people for God's own possession (v. 14). Set free from sin's bondage and purified, they are able to pursue a manifestly new manner of life, characterized by good works. From the interweaving of Old Testament citations it is clear that the early church viewed itself as being continuous with Israel, the true Israel, enjoying the fulfillment of God's Old Testament promises to his people. Jesus' death is the decisive event in the fulfilling of God's promise to create a special people for himself.
Paul's thought turns briefly to remind Titus of his duty in relation to the doctrine just laid down (these . . . things refers at least to vv. 1-14, perhaps also to 1:5-16). In the original Greek sentence three verbs combine to describe Titus's responsibility toward the Cretan churches. First, he must teach (literally, "speak") this doctrine. Thus at the outset Paul emphasizes the need to communicate not only the practical teaching of verses 1-10 but also the content of the creedal material in verses 11-14, particularly as the latter provides the reason and basis for the former.
The following two verbs, encourage and rebuke, reveal the two main thrusts of communication. Encourage can also mean "urge" and "exhort." In any case, it is a positive use of Christian doctrine for edification. Rebuke, however, is corrective in its thrust and implies that Paul's teaching is also designed to get wayward believers back on track (1:13; 2:1). Of course, uppermost in Paul's mind here are the effects of the false teaching on the conduct of individual Christians in Crete.
As one chosen by God to serve the churches, the Christian teacher or leader has authority to carry out such a command. Titus, as the apostle's delegate, shared Paul's authority. The gravity and need of the situation required that the people recognize that this doctrine was to be accepted and responded to as God's instruction. These were not merely helpful suggestions, but divine commands.
It is in view of this delegated authority that the personal command is given: Do not let anyone despise you. Obviously, neither Titus nor any Christian leader can control the feelings and actions of others. And in this situation Paul anticipated opposition to his delegate's authority (1:9-10, 13; 3:10). But for his part Titus was to insist on his authority (and not allow others to ignore him or "go over his head") and behave in a commendable manner (so that no one would question his suitability to lead). Christian leaders should keep in mind that authority and exemplary behavior are to be inseparable.