In a Nutshell…
Read the passage here.
Over the past couple of weeks, we have been looking at Paul’s letter to Titus who has been left to take care of the Christian community, the church, in Crete. Paul seems to be providing Titus advice and guidance as he leads this group of young Christians. Paul’s concern seems to have to do with ensuring that the Cretans are being taught properly – not being led astray by false teachers.
The content of this false teaching isn’t made explicit, but it seems to have something to do with Judaizers who are mentioned in Paul’s other writings. Paul refers to them as, “many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group” (1:10). Further, Paul instructs the Titus to, “rebuke them [the church] sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth” (1:13-14). It’s for this reason (the false teachers) that Paul advises Titus in the appointment of church leaders who are of sound, Godly character (1:5).
In chapter two, we see Paul making reference to the household code again talking about the character and behaviour expected of Christians in their households. He introduces the household code discussion with the words, “You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance” (2:1-2). The “however,” in particular, connects these instructions with the passage preceding it. In other words, what Paul is talking about here is set in opposition to what he was just speaking about – those rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception.
And after giving instructions to older men, older women, younger men, and slaves, Paul gives us the basis for living out the Christian life in this way. He tells them: “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (2:11).
What is the connection between these two chapters? On the one hand, Paul is talking about avoiding false teaching. On the other hand, he is talking about living in households in a particular way. What do the two have to do with each other?
The first thing to notice is that the structure of our passage today is very similar to last week’s passage. In fact, it’s also similar to chapter one. Paul begins with the instruction and then gives us the reason for it. The instruction is to “be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone” (3:1).
This is followed by Paul’s reasons for the church to behave this way in society. Paul says, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another” (3:3). By reminding the church that they also once lived in sin, not knowing God, he emphasizes the grace by which they have been brought into a new life. Therefore, the reason to be subject to rulers and authorities, living peaceably in society, is because, having been saved by grace, the church should also show grace to others. In this way, God’s grace and desire to show grace to all of creation is demonstrated.
Paul closes this section (before the final farewells) with the following words:
3:9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.
Now this is an interesting passage because it brings us back thematically to the beginning of the letter (chapter one) where Paul is warning against “rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group” (1:10). The mention of “quarrels about the law” seem to make it pretty clear that we’re talking about the same group of people – the religious folks.
The word “But” at the beginning of verse 9 ties this passage with the immediately preceding verses which tells us the church to “devote themselves to doing what is good.” In other words: Do this (good); don’t do that (foolish controversies, arguments, and quarrels; meaningless talk and deception).
So again, we’re faced with the question what does living good lives in society have to do with false teaching (that we talked about more particularly in chapter one). In short, I think that if we read the book of Titus as a whole, we can actually infer something about the false teaching that is going on in Crete. We know that this has something to do with Jewish rules and traditions. And we know that these teaching are contrary to what Paul thinks the gospel is about.
I think what might be going on is the Jewish proponents of this community are encouraging a kind of dissociation – a church that is completely cut off from – the rest of society. I feel like the result of this teaching – perhaps even the content of this teaching – is a judgmental, superior posture, that those outside of the church community would find distasteful, off-putting, and even offensive. It’s the kind of teaching that would say, “we are the chosen people, we are the lucky few, and everyone else is worthy only of our disdain and our pity.”
We can easily understand how this could arise from a Jewish worldview. Because the Jewish people understood themselves, rightly, as the chosen people of God. They knew that they were specially selected, that God had sent them into Canaan to destroy everyone who wasn’t of God, and that God had promised them a special future. And they believed that in order to secure that future, to hold onto that future, they needed to make sure that they didn’t allow anything to taint them – to make them impure. So naturally they would want to make sure that everyone who wasn’t like them was rejected and excluded.
But they didn’t understand that the whole point of choosing Israel was so that they could be a blessing to all people. Maybe they didn’t know about Paul’s fight with Peter (one of Jesus’ original disciples) that Gentiles could and should be included in the kingdom – that this was the will of God. They forgot about Jesus’ desire to include sinners, prostitutes, tax-collectors, and Samaritans in his kingdom work.
So Paul’s instructions to Titus, and to the Cretan church, might have to do with rejecting a false doctrine “us vs. them” and living out a gospel that says everyone can be included in God’s kingdom (if they want to). What he seems to be saying is that how we live, and how we live as members of society, says something about the kingdom of God. Or at least it should.
So the question for us, one we’ve mentioned before and we are constantly thinking about, is what kind of church are we going to be? How are we going to live out the kingdom life in this world? How does how we engage with our neighbours, our bosses, our employees, our friends and our enemies demonstrate the purposes of God? And how does how we live with one another demonstrate the life that God intends for us?