Titus 2 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

Resources » Commentaries » Titus » Chapter 2 » exegesis

Godly Living and Social Groups

It had been Paul's practice to urge Christians to remain in the place in life that they occupied at the time of conversion (1 Cor 7:8, 17, 20, 24). This meant, among other things, that becoming a Christian did not release one from social assignments. And the organization of roles and behavior in the church was not to diverge unnecessarily from the greater social structure.

But the emphasis on unnecessarily should not be missed. It implies limitations. As important as the mission mandate was to Paul, he would not do just anything to make the gospel appealing to the unbeliever. The church must live within the world, which is fallen, and within cultures, which in various ways express this fallenness, but it must do so critically, measuring everything against the Word of God. It will undoubtedly find that much of any given culture can be accepted, worked with and (in Christ) improved upon; but wherever the culture encourages or advocates behavior that violates the will of God, the church must make its stand for God, whatever the consequences (compare Acts 5:29). The point to be observed in this context is that responsible Christian living within society, which promotes mission while not compromising God's values, is a part of God's will.

Apparently, revolutionary teaching was penetrating the Cretan communities through the opponents' doctrine. The visible effects produced in the churches would not go unnoticed by the outsider; doctrinal subtleties, however, tended to be an "in-house" affair, invisible or irrelevant to the outsider. Consequently, Paul's instructions aim to restore social stability and protect the church's witness.The Sound Doctrine and Social Ethics (2:1)

Christian ethics and the Christian message are meant to be inseparably and harmoniously related. Paul's command in verse 1 binds Titus to this principle. He does so because the opponents had rejected the message and perverted the concept of a Christian way of life.

Sound doctrine, the approved teaching of the Christian faith which produces spiritual health, is the immovable foundation of the Christian life. What is taught about Christian living must be in accord with (or correspond to) it. Paul measures this in two ways.

First, the Christian message is the source of the real Christian life. It is salvation through Christ that has introduced this new manner of life (2:12). Without the message there can be no Christian ethics. Consequently, many of the terms that describe aspects of godly living in verses 2-10 represent the possibilities of belief and in principle do not have their beginning in human effort. Here Christian and secular "respectability" part ways.

Second, the Christian manner of life accords with the Christian message by serving its missionary purpose. It adorns the gospel and makes it attractive to those who look on (2:5, 8, 10).

This opening command is therefore not simply a transition to bring the readers from 1:16 to the practical teaching of 2:2. Rather, it reminds Titus and Christian teachers that Christian ethics to be Christian must emerge from, correspond to and serve the message of the Scriptures. Furthermore, every believer's lifestyle must be subjected to the test of biblical principles; the alternative is to allow our lives to be shaped and approved by a value system that is opposed to God's.Older Men (2:2)

Older men must live lives of observable respectability or dignity. To emphasize this, Paul uses language that, as we have seen elsewhere (1:8; 1 Tim 3:2-3), belongs to the constellation of terms borrowed from secular ethicists. Temperate, worthy of respect (or "respectable," "serious") and self-controlled (or "sensible") tend to overlap in meaning. But the implication of a dignified lifestyle that is free from overindulgence, dissipation and foolish behavior in general is clear. As Paul's use of common terms suggests, this lifestyle would be readily recognizable. Christianity does have a mystical, incomprehensible element to it, but its manifestation in life communicates in a language understood by all.

The rest of verse 2 suggests, however, that Christian respectability has a deeper source. What the NIV has interpreted as three additional aspects of acceptable behavior (and sound in faith, in love and in endurance) could, by virtue of the participle "being sound," express instead the cause or means of the behavior described above. For Paul the most basic constituents of Christianity are faith and love (see notes on 1 Tim 2:15): the vertical, personal relationship with God through Christ and the horizontal dimension of "good deeds" characterized by love (compare Gal 5:6). Endurance here speaks of commitment to this life. The more traditional triad was "faith, hope, love" (1 Cor 13:13; Col 1:4-5); but if the situation called for it, endurance might occur as a fourth virtue (1 Thess 1:3) or replace "hope." Given the presence of heresy in these churches, endurance gave this instruction the emphasis on perseverance that Paul wanted to express.

Within the social structure, older men are to be the models of dignity, respectability and wisdom. Paul knew that if this does not hold within the church as well, Christianity cannot hope to compete in the world. At the same time, the language of this instruction suggests that the absence of respectability means divergence from the faith.Older Women (2:3-4)

Paul's instructions to the older women have the same goal (likewise) of Christian respectability. In their case, respectable behavior amounts to "reverence," which above all means avoiding "slanderous talk" and "drunkenness," and teaching what is good. The term Paul chose to refer to "reverence" was used to characterize the conduct of priestesses, which suggests that he is advocating that Christian women fit an exceptional type. "Slanderous talk" and "drunkenness," on the other hand, were among the vices commonly associated with the negative type of older women in Greco-Roman society.

The positive quality of "teaching good things" reminds older women that they are responsible to model the acceptable and respectable life for younger women. The adjective teaching what is good denotes informal teaching by lifestyle, as verses 4-5 show. It leads directly to the stated purpose of their instruction (then they can train the younger women, v. 4). "Good things" in this context are acceptable patterns of behavior. But the term contains a hidden implication: one teaches with one's life either good things or bad things; pursuit of the acceptable lifestyle will ensure teaching that is good.

This is a resource the church today could draw on much more than it does. We have bought into the notion that older people have had their day of usefulness and ought to make way for the young. But the principle here is quite the opposite. With age and experience come wisdom, and many older women have discovered secrets of godly living in relation to their husbands, children and neighbors and in the workplace that could save younger women a lot of unnecessary grief. And when the unavoidable trials come to the young woman, who better to guide her through than an older sister who has been through it before? Somehow the church must see that younger women have contact with older women. The leadership must encourage (and equip further) specially gifted older women to seek younger women who desire to be trained.Younger Women (2:4-5)

Contained in the instruction to the older women is instruction to younger women as well. In Paul's teaching format, which is limited to the most typical categories of society, younger women means younger married women, for in that day most would have been married. Such a woman was to excel in the socially acceptable role of the homemaker, and therefore domestic concerns dominate. Paul's choice of verb, train, is related to a word that means "self-control," "prudence," "moderation" and "discretion" (2:2, 5; 1 Tim 2:9; 3:2). Though it can mean "to bring back to one's senses" (which might imply that some young women had been influenced by the false teaching; 1:11), perhaps Paul chose it to underline the theme of discretion and self-control in outward Christian behavior.

Although there were exceptions (and Paul envisaged one; see below), for the young woman of that day respectability generally meant marriage. Within marriage she was to love her husband and children. To the honorable Jew or Gentile in that day, the presence of this kind of love indicated an exceptional wife. The Christian wife who sets an example of love sends a powerful message that is understandable even to those outside the church.

The next two terms, self-controlled (or "sensible"--2:2; 1 Tim 2:9; 3:2) and pure (1 Tim 2:15; 4:12; 5:2, 22), seem to digress from the theme of domesticity. However, in that they probably refer to sexual conduct, they are quite appropriate to discussion of a wife's Christian conduct. If the matter of love just mentioned is settled, self-control and purity are bound to follow.

Next, another pair of words either instruct the young woman to be busy at home and kind or together mean "to be an efficient homemaker." In either case, the emphasis on skill in managing the home is typical of Paul's (and secular) thinking about the young woman's acceptable role (1 Tim 2:15; 5:14). A reference to "kindness" undoubtedly would remind the young woman to pay attention to those around her as she goes about her daily business.

Finally, submission to the husband is mentioned. This is a typical feature of New Testament teaching about the role relationship of the wife to the husband (Eph 5:22; Col 3:18; 1 Pet 3:10) and again is obviously in touch with the secular idea of marriage. However, Paul's concept of "submission" contained notions of mutuality of respect and love and thus clearly transcended the secular notion.

Compared with the discussions in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, Paul's "subordination" teaching in Titus 2:5 is abbreviated; he has left off instructions to the husband that would emphasize mutuality of responsibility, and he has added the purpose of protecting God's Word (see below). There are two possible explanations for the "harsher" appearance of 2:5 (see on 1 Tim 2:11-15): (1) All that is set forth in Ephesians is implied; he writes briefly and addresses the more serious problems surrounding the home and women in the home. (2) The instruction is indeed intended to be stricter; disruption in the church that affected the women led Paul to clamp down on women to protect the church's reputation in the world. Given the fact that there is really nothing here that Paul does not say in related passages (he simply passes over the husband's role), the first alternative seems best. Perhaps we should (1) acknowledge the special problems in the Cretan Christian households, (2) consider Ephesians 5 as a more thorough treatment of marriage and (3) focus on the purpose (see below) of the wife's full engagement in the institution of marriage.

There is no question that the behavior of the Christian wife taught here would have pleased the pagan critic. In fact, this lifestyle has the outsider in mind, as the purpose (so that) of verse 5 reveals. One of Paul's concerns was to protect the Christian message (the word of God; compare Col 1:5; 1 Thess 2:13) from charges that it encouraged disrespectful or revolutionary behavior. The Old Testament prophets feared that God's name would be slandered by the nations because of the ungodly behavior of God's own people (Is 52:5; Ezek 36:20-36; see 1 Tim 6:1 and notes). This same theme receives a more distinct missionary interpretation in the New Testament: respectable behavior, which bears witness to the power and truth of God, enhances the church's witness (1 Thess 4:12; 1 Tim 6:1; 1 Pet 2:11-12).

There was, however, an important exception to the rule of marriage, and in view of the modern situation we should pause to consider it. In Paul's thinking, for a Christian woman (or man) to remain single had many advantages for ministry (1 Cor 7:1, 7, 8, 32-34), but it required a special gift (Mt 19:11-12; 1 Cor 7:7). The advantages led Paul to encourage those with this gift to remain single. But alongside the advantages of singleness were dangers in the form of temptation. So the qualities of self-control and sexual purity (v. 5) were to be clearly evident (compare 1 Cor 7:2, 5, 9) among the unmarried. A single Christian woman would be expected to exhibit a lifestyle that avoided any suspicion of immorality.

If anything, the challenges that face the single Christian woman (and man) today are even greater. With greater freedom, mobility and responsibility, combined with society's indifference to sexual behavior, the temptations have multiplied. Yet God's will has not changed. Purity and self-control must characterize the lifestyle of the single Christian woman. And the "countercultural" message she sends will be received all the more clearly.Younger Men (2:6-8)

Verses 6-8 address instructions (in the third person, through Titus) to younger men and blend them with instructions to Titus himself (v. 7). The effect is similar to that achieved in 1 Timothy 5:1-2, where Timothy receives instructions as a member of an age group which generally apply to all members of that age group. What constitutes godly respectability for this group?

Paul draws from the same class of terms to describe observable Christian behavior. First, young men are to maintain a sensible and respectable bearing in all aspects of life (vv. 6-7; the NIV interpretation, self-controlled, captures just a part of this term's intention, and without a break in the Greek sentence between self-controlled and in everything, the latter belongs with the former).

Then Paul instructs Titus (as he did Timothy in 1 Tim 4:12) to be an example of "good works," which means in his visible expression of genuine faith. In his conduct Titus is thus to be the antithesis of the false teachers (1:16).

This contrast continues as the thought turns to ministry. First, Titus must teach, as the NIV interprets it, with integrity. The term envisions avoidance of the corruption introduced by the heretics. Moreover, since verse 8 takes up the thought of the content of Titus's teaching, "with integrity" probably focuses on motive of teaching; of course, the false teachers' motives were manifestly corrupt (1:11).

Second, in his teaching he must exhibit seriousness, the dignified bearing that bespeaks the importance of the Christian task. In contrast, the opponents were unruly, arrogant and rebellious (1:10).

Finally, Titus's message (not speech as in the NIV) is to be "sound"--that is, "healthy" (and health-producing; see 1 Tim 1:10)--in its doctrine, and untainted by the false beliefs (v. 8). This true gospel cannot be condemned by those outside the church as giving rise to disorder and unseemly behavior.

What is the motivating force behind this instruction? The purpose clause (so that) shows that the opinion of the outsider to the faith is in view (though some argue that the opponent in mind is the false teacher; see notes). The early church had to deal with criticism of its "new religion" constantly (1 Pet 2:12; 3:9-16). In Titus's case, the distortion of the gospel and related upset in behavior caused by the false teachers did not make the matter of relating to the world any easier. However, exemplary conduct, pure motives, dignified bearing and sound teaching leave no basis for the outsider's allegations. The outsider will be silenced and even put to shame for slandering those who are innocent. But Paul does not seek solely to legitimate the new religion in this way; his concern is to protect the gospel, continue the evangelistic mission (2:5, 10; 1:1-3) and at the same time encourage a lifestyle that exemplifies God's will for humankind.

Titus's lifestyle and ministry must be exemplary. They must bear the marks of dedicated commitment to the genuine Christian faith. In this way all basis for slander is removed and the way forward for the gospel is opened.Slaves (2:9-10)

Since slaves were part of the Hellenistic household, it is quite possible that the false teachers' disruption of Cretan households (1:11) accounts for the kind of disrespectful behavior among slaves implied by this set of instructions. Something similar had occurred in Ephesus (see 1 Tim 6:1-2).

What is godly behavior in the case of Christian slaves? Propriety in the master-slave relationship was clearly defined in the ancient world. While despotism and cruelty among masters were generally disdained, in practice the bulk of the load in maintaining a peaceful relationship was borne by the slave. The slave was to be obedient and respectful toward the master at all times.

Paul did not dispute this arrangement. Rather, with the customary exhortation, he commanded slaves to be models of decency in their respective roles. "Subordination" (or "subjection") was the traditional abbreviation for willing acceptance of the realities of this social institution and compliant, respectful behavior within it (1 Pet 2:18; "obey" is equivalent, Eph 6:5; Col 3:22). This meant complete recognition of the master's authority.

The remainder of the instructions break this general command into specific applications. First, slaves must seek to please their masters. Only by doing their best could this level of satisfaction be reached. Slaves were generally motivated to this level of excellence by the hope of freedom; Paul does not rule out such a hope, but his motivation is different (compare 1 Cor 7:22-23; Col 3:23-24).

Next, Paul urges that Christian slaves be fully compliant. Not to talk back suggests that Paul is thinking of the stereotype of the ill-mannered, unruly and rebellious slave. One of the first ways that people under authority use to express rebellion is verbal challenges: sarcastic comments given under the breath, defiant contradictions. Generally speaking, orders must not be questioned (especially) by Christian slaves.

The last two items pertain to the slave's performance of household responsibilities. Many slaves managed their masters' business interests and were responsible for any money involved. A Christian slave must not be caught with a hand in the till or embezzling or juggling the books. Rather, the genuine faith of a Christian slave will be reflected in complete honesty and trustworthiness.

This description of the subordinate slave makes use of the secular vernacular. But Paul shows where the difference between respectability and Christian respectability lies in the purpose he describes. For the third time, a purpose clause (so that) connects appropriate conduct within a particular social institution to Christian witness. Slaves were known to be attracted to new religions, often with disruptive results. Christian slaves were to behave in such a way that they would actually validate the "new religion" in front of their skeptical masters. Obviously, excellent behavior and full respect for authority which the slave attributed to the Christian message would make it attractive to the master. Slaves in their humble circumstances either helped or hindered the gospel's penetration.

What appears at first glance to be a time- and culture-bound instruction to slaves applies to all who find themselves under the authority of someone else. But times have changed. For a number of reasons, the modern employer, supervisor or teacher does not necessarily expect to be treated with respect by those under his or her charge. As a social value, respect for those in authority is a thing of the past, even though disrespect is regarded as a disruptive force (affecting the quality of education and workmanship). But it is just at this point that a Christian can step into the confusion and make a powerful impression. Where all around there is disrespect or indifference to those in authority, a Christian's respectful attitude and speech, backed up by good performance, will demonstrate that God's message of salvation produces positive, visible results. This is an opportunity for witness that we must not miss.

Previous commentary:
Instructions for Godly Living

Next commentary:
The Basis of Godly Conduct

About this commentary:
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.