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.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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