A Christ-Centered Approach to Doctrine and Duty (preaching resource for 12/25/22)

This post exegetes Titus chapter 2, providing context for the 12/25/22 (Christmas Day) RCL Epistles reading. This exegesis draws on various resources, including commentary from John Stott.

"St. Paul" by El Greco (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)


In Titus chapter 1, Paul addresses the false teachers troubling the church on the island of Crete. Then in chapter 2, Paul turns to the responsibilities of his coworker Titus to behave in his ministry in Crete in a way that is entirely different from the false teachers, who profess to know God yet deny him by their teaching and actions (Titus 1:16). 'But as for you' (Paul writes to Titus) *you must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine* [sound teaching]' (2:1). Paul insists that doctrine and duty (behavior; ethics) go together. They must not be separated, and that includes within the home, which seems to be the primary scope of what Paul addresses in this chapter.  

Out of the fount of sound doctrine (2:1)

 You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.
The Greek word translated 'sound' is used in the Gospels of people who, having been healed of some physical defect or disability, are now 'whole'. In the Pastoral Epistles, it is applied several times to Christian doctrine which is 'healthy' or 'wholesome' in contrast to the 'sick' teaching being promulgated by false (heretical) teachers. 

Further, Christian doctrine is healthy in the same way as the human body is healthy, for Christian doctrine resembles the human body. It is a coordinated system consisting of different parts which relate to one another and together constitute a harmonious whole. If therefore our theology is maimed (with bits missing) or diseased (with bits distorted), it is not 'sound' or 'healthy'. What Paul refers to here as 'the sound teaching’ he elsewhere calls 'the whole purpose of God' (Acts 20:27, REB)—the fullness of divine revelation. It is essential that our lives are nurtured by the gospel.

Flows Christian duty (2:1-10)

1 You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. 2 Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. 3 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. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. 6 Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. 7 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. 9 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10 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.

Out of the fount of truth flows what Paul says is ‘in accord’ with sound doctrine (or the things ‘which fit it')—that is, the practical duties (behaviors; ethics) that flow forth from the gospel. There is an indissoluble connection between Christian doctrine and Christian duty, between theology and ethics. And Paul does here what he tells Titus to do. First he outlines some detailed ethical instructions which Titus is to pass on to different groups in the Cretan churches (2-10), and secondly he unfolds the sound doctrines that undergird these duties, in particular the truth of Jesus’ two comings (epiphanies) (11-14).

In this list, Paul mentions six groups (categories) of people according to age, sex and occupation. and selects for each category a few appropriate qualities. Many commentators refer to these as 'household codes', because they parallel the rules for family groups that occurred in secular ethics in the Roman Empire of the first century. But Paul’s teaching is far from a slavish imitation of these secular codes. He adapts them to his own purpose and Christianizes them. Yet he does focus here on Christian relationships in the home where he emphasizes self-control.

1. Duty for older men (2)

Men who are older in age need special advice and encouragement and are here given two main exhortations, which may be summed up in the words 'dignity' and 'maturity'. As for the first, *the older men are to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled* (2a). Secondly, one naturally expects older men to be *sound* or mature in every aspect of their character, not least in the three cardinal Christian virtues, namely *in faith (trusting God), in love (serving others) and in endurance (waiting patiently for the fulfillment of their Christian hope)*.

2. Duty for older women (3-4a)

*Likewise*, Paul continues, hinting at the closeness of the parallel, Titus is to *teach the older women*. Three areas of Christian conduct are singled out for them. First, they are *to be reverent in the way they live*—that is, they are to practice the presence of God and to allow that presence to permeate their whole lives. Secondly, they are strenuously to avoid two moral failures with which they have sometimes been associated. They are *not to be slanderers* (gossips) or to be *addicted to much wine*. Thirdly, and positively, instead of using their mouths for slander, they are to use them *to teach what is good* (3b). Whom are they to teach? Their own family no doubt (children and grandchildren), but also and specially *they can train the younger women...*(4a). 

It is noteworthy that, although Titus is himself to teach the older men and older women (2, 3), and later the younger men (6), it is the older women who are given the task of teaching the younger women. This policy makes special sense when the elder is a bachelor, but may also be wise if he is married. There is a great need in every congregation for the ministry of mature women. They can share their wisdom and experience with the rising generation.

3. Duty for younger women (4b-5)

The younger women are to be trained by the older women *to love their husbands and children* (4b). Thus love is the first and foremost basis of marriage, not so much the love of emotion and romance, still less of eroticism, but rather of sacrifice and service. The young wives are to be 'trained' in this, which implies that it can be brought under their control.

The younger women are also to be trained *to be self- controlled and pure, and to be busy at home.* The AV expression 'keepers at home' is a mistake. It would not be legitimate to base on this word either a stay-at-home stereotype for all women, or a prohibition of wives being also professional women. What is rather affirmed is that if a woman accepts the vocation of marriage, and has a husband and children, she will love and not neglect them.

Next, younger women are *to be kind*, perhaps in the context meaning 'hospitable', *and to be subject to their husbands...* This 'subjection' contains no notion of inferiority and no demand for obedience, but rather a recognition that, within the equal value of the sexes in the home, God has established a created order which includes a masculine 'headship', not of authority, still less of autocracy, but of responsibility and loving care. And one of the reasons the younger women are to be encouraged to comply with this teaching is *so that no-one will malign the word of God* (5b). Christian marriages and Christian homes, which exhibit a combination of sexual equality and complementarity, beautifully commend the gospel; those which fall short of this ideal bring the gospel into disrepute.

4. Duty for younger men (6)

*Similarly*, Paul continues, perceiving a parallel between the younger men and the younger women in the self-control expected of both, *encourage the young men to be self-controlled* (6). Thus the young men are to be urged to develop one quality only, that of self-mastery. Doubtless Paul is thinking of the control of temper and tongue, of ambition and avarice, and especially of bodily appetites, including sexual urges, so that Christian young men remain committed to the unalterable Christian standard of chastity before marriage and fidelity after it.

Some valuable lessons can be learned from this verse. First, self-mastery is possible, even in young men. since there would be no point in exhorting them to an impossibility. Secondly, encouragement is an appropriate means to secure such self-control, especially if it is the sympathetic, supportive exhortation of one young man (in this case Titus) to another within the solidarity of the Christian brotherhood. Thirdly, such an encouragement must be accompanied by a consistent example, which is exactly what Paul comes to next, namely the example which Titus himself must set.

5. Duty for Titus (7-8)

*In everything set them an example ('a model', NRSV) by doing what is good* (7a). We human beings seem to be imitative by nature. We need models; they give us direction, challenge and inspiration. Paul did not hesitate to offer himself, as an apostle, for the churches to imitate. 'Follow my example,' he wrote, 'as I follow the example of Christ.' (1 Cor.11:1). And Paul expected both Timothy (1Tim.4:12) and Titus (2:7) to provide models which the churches could follow. 

Titus was, however, to influence the young men of Crete not only by his example, but also by his teaching. Teaching and example, the verbal and the visual, always form a powerful combination. And his teaching was to have three characteristics, namely *integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned* (7b-8a). The Greek word for *integrity* literally means 'uncorruptness'. It may well allude to Titus' motives in ministry. *Seriousness*, on the other hand, clearly refers to his manner in teaching, while *soundness of speech* means that the matter of his instruction must be wholesome and true. Perhaps the most important emphasis here is that people will not take serious subjects seriously unless there is a due seriousness in the preacher’s manner and delivery.  Titus, then, was to combine purity of motive, soundness of matter and seriousness of manner, *so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us* (8b).

6. Duty for household slaves (9-10)

*Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything* (9a). Paul here does not deal with the evils of the institution of slavery, but he does give Titus instructions to pass on to household slaves concerning their work and character. As for their work, they must *try to please* their masters by their conscientious service, and *not to talk back to them*, but to be polite and respectful (9b). As for their character, slaves were to be honest, *and not to steal from* their masters. Instead, they were to be dependable, *to show that they can be fully trusted* (10a). 

The reason slaves were to be honest and reliable in both work and character was *so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive* (10b), or 'adorn' it (RSV).  For though forced labor is demeaning to human beings, voluntary service — even by slaves — is commendable. So Paul chooses slaves as his example of how good behavior can actually adorn the gospel. The gospel is a jewel, while a consistent Christian life is like the setting in which the gospel-jewel is displayed; it can 'add luster' to it (REB).

Summary concerning duty

Three times in the course of these verses about the Christian behavior of different groups, Paul has shown his concern about the effect of the Christian witness on the non-Christian world (5, 8, 10). In two of them he refers to Christian doctrine. Young wives are to be chaste and loving, in order that the word of God be not maligned or discredited (5). Household slaves are to be honest and reliable, in order that the gospel may be adorned or 'embellished'. Christian doctrine is salvation doctrine, a jewel, called 'the teaching about God our Savior' (10). So either we give no evidence of salvation, in which case the gospel-jewel is tarnished, or we give good evidence of salvation by living a manifestly saved life, in which case the gospel-jewel shines with extra luster. Our lives can bring either adornment or discredit to the gospel.

Sound doctrine is centered on Jesus' two epiphanies (2:11-14)

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Paul now moves from duty back to the sound doctrine from which it flows. The particular doctrine on which Paul grounds his ethical appeal here is centered on the two comings of Christ, which he here calls his two 'epiphanies', meaning appearings. Verse 11 says that *the grace of God...has appeared (epephane)*, and verse 13 says that *we wait for...the glorious appearing (epiphaneian)*. Moreover, both Christ's appearings have a saving significance. For what has already appeared is *the grace of God that brings salvation* (11), while what we are waiting for *is the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior* (13).

The noun *epiphaneia* means the visible appearance of something or someone hitherto invisible, a coming into view of what has been previously concealed. It was used in classical Greek of the dawn or daybreak, when the sun leaps over the horizon into view; of an enemy emerging out of an ambush; and of the supposed saving intervention of a god or gods in human affairs. Luke gives us a good example of its meaning in Acts. It is the only occasion in the New Testament when *epiphaneia* has a secular meaning and does not refer to Christ. Luke describes how the ship, in which Paul and his companions were traveling to Rome, was struck by a terrific north-easterly gale, and was now drifting helplessly in the Mediterranean. The sky was so overcast by day and night that for many days the sun and the stars 'made no epiphany' (Acts 27:20, literally). Of course the stars were still there, but they did not appear.

Apart from this one literal use of *epiphaneia*, the word occurs in the New Testament four times of Christ's first coming (Lk.1:78-79; 2 Tim.1:10; Tit.2:11; 3:4) and six times of his second coming (Acts.2:20; 2 Thess.2:8; 1 Tim.6:14; 2 Tim.4:1, 8; Tit.2:13). Here at the end of Titus chapter 2 the word is used of both of Christ's comings (11, 14)—the ‘already’ of his first coming, and the ‘not yet’ of his second—the epiphanies of his grace and of his glory.

1. Already: the epiphany of God’s grace (11-12)

*For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men* (11). Of course grace did not come into existence when Christ came. God has always been gracious (Ex.34:6), indeed 'the God of all grace' (1 Pet.5:10). But grace appeared visibly in Jesus Christ. God's saving grace, given us before the beginning of the time, 'has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior...' (2 Tim.1:9-10). It was brightly displayed in his lowly birth, in his gracious words and compassionate deeds, and above all in his atoning death. He was himself 'full of grace' (Jn.1:14; 16-17). His coming was moreover an epiphany of saving grace, of grace 'that brings salvation'. It *appeared to all men*, in the sense that it is now publicly offered to all, even slaves (10).

Now Paul personifies this grace of God. Grace the savior becomes grace the teacher. *It teaches us* (12a), or disciples us. What does grace teach? Two main lessons. First, and negatively, *it teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions* (12a). Secondly, and positively, *it teaches us...to live self-controlled , upright and godly lives in this present age* (12b). Thus grace disciplines us to 'renounce' (REB) our old life and to live a new one, to turn from ungodliness to godliness, from self-centeredness to self-control, from the world's devious ways to fair dealing with each other.

It was for this purpose that the epiphany of God's grace in Jesus Christ took place. It is not only that grace makes good works possible (enabling us to do them), but that grace makes them necessary (challenging us to live accordingly). The emphasis is on the necessity, not the mere possibility, of good works.

2.  Not yet: the epiphany of God’s glory (13-14)

He who appeared briefly on the stage of history, and disappeared, will one day reappear. He appeared in grace; he will reappear in glory. In fact, this future epiphany of glory is the supreme object of our Christian hope, *while we wait for the blessed hope*, that is, the hope which brings blessing. How does Paul define it? He calls it *The glorious appearing of (literally, 'the epiphany of the glory of') our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ* (13). Here is an unambiguous statement concerning the deity of Jesus.  The context most naturally requires the reference to be to Christ, since it goes on at once from his glory to his sufferings and death and 'God and Savior' was a stereotyped formula common in first-century religious terminology, normally referring to a single deity, and sometimes to the Roman Emperor.

Already at his first coming it could be said that 'we have seen his glory' (Jn.1:14), for he 'revealed his glory' in his signs (Jn.2:11), and supremely in his death (Jn.12:23-24). Nevertheless, his glory was veiled, and many did not perceive it, or even suspect it. So one day the veil will be lifted, his glory will make an epiphany, and 'we shall see him as he is' (1 Jn.3:2).

Since this will be the epiphany of the glory of 'our great God and Savior', who at his coming will perfect our salvation, Paul reverts naturally to his first epiphany when our salvation was begun. He *gave himself for us* on the cross. Why? Not just to secure our forgiveness (which the apostle does not mention here, though in 3:7 he refers to our justification), but also *to redeem us from all wickedness*, liberating us from its bondage, *and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good* (14).

Paul deliberately chooses Old Testament words and images from the beginnings of Israel as a nation, so as to portray Christ's salvation as the fulfillment of these foreshadowings. Thus 'gave himself for us' ('sacrificed himself for us', REB) recalls the Passover sacrifice; 'to redeem us' the exodus redemption from Egyptian bondage; and 'a people that are his very own' the Sinaitic covenant by which Israel became Yahweh's 'treasured possession'. Paul uses the very expression *laos periousios* ('chosen people') which the Septuagint uses (Ex.19:5; Dt.7:6; 14:2 26:18; cf. 1 Pet.2:9). Thus we enjoy a direct continuity with the Old Testament people of God, for we are God's redeemed people and he is our Passover, our Exodus and our Sinai.

This special people of God, whom Christ died to purchase for himself, is described as *eager to do what is good*, literally 'enthusiastic for good works'. This is not fanaticism. But it is enthusiasm, since 'grace trains us...to be enthusiasts', so that we may live for him who died for us.

Summary concerning doctrine

Thus Paul, in this short paragraph of only four verses (11-14), brings together the two termini of the Christian era, that is, the first coming of Christ which inaugurated it and the second coming of Christ which will terminate it. He bids us look back to the one and forward to the other, for we live 'in between times', suspended rather uncomfortably between the 'already' and the 'not yet'.

Of course the critics of Christianity seize on this with great indignation. 'You Christians are such hopelessly unpractical creatures,' they will say. 'All you do is to preoccupy yourselves with the distant past and the remote future. Why can't you live in the present, in the realities of the contemporary world?' But that is exactly what the apostle Paul is summoning Titus, and through him us, to do. Older men are to be dignified and mature. Older women are to be reverent and teachers of the young. Younger women are to be good wives and mothers. Young men are to control themselves. Titus is to be a good teacher and model. Slaves are to be conscientious and honest. All of us are to renounce evil and to live godly, righteous and disciplined lives *in this present age* (12b). Why? On what does Paul base his appeal? 

Paul's reply is straightforward, namely that in Jesus Christ there has been an epiphany of God's grace, and there is going to be an epiphany of his glory. That is, the best way to live now, in this present age, is to learn to do spiritually what is impossible physically, namely to look in opposite directions at the same time. We need both to look back and remember the epiphany of grace (whose purpose was to redeem us from all evil and to purify for God a people of his own), and also to look forward and anticipate the epiphany of glory (whose purpose will be to perfect at his second coming the salvation he began at his first).

This deliberate orientation of ourselves, this looking back and looking forward, this determination to live in the light of Christ's two comings, to live today in the light of yesterday and tomorrow—this should be an essential part of our daily discipline. We need to say to ourselves regularly the great acclamation, 'Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.' For then our present duties in the home will be inspired by the past and future epiphanies of Christ.

Conclusion (2:15)

15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.

Titus chapter 2 ends as it began with the command to teach. Paul has commissioned Titus to instruct the Cretan churches in both doctrine and duty. *These, then, are the things you should teach*, or 'these are your themes' (REB), both the epiphany doctrines and the ethical duties. Moreover, Titus is not to communicate them as if they were mere cold facts. Paul goes on: *Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you* (15).

May all of us who are teachers and preachers, teach both doctrine and duty, but note that it is duty that flows out of the doctrine of Christ’s grace and glory—not out of the legalistic requirements of the Law of Moses or some other law code. Our lives are to be informed and transformed by God’s grace in Christ alone, through faith in him alone. Approaching doctrine and duty in this Christ-centered, gospel-shaped way makes all the difference.