Titus, Trucks and Potato Peel Pie (and lots of other stuff) – Part 3

When I started reading Titus, I watched the Bible Project’s overview of the book (well, it’s a letter really, but let’s not quibble), and something they said stands out in these days of COVID and mandates and protests. “The gospel must prove itself in the public square.” If the gospel’s transformative power is going to be proved, they say, Paul’s message to the Christians on Crete is that “that’s not going to happen through social upheaval or by Christians cloistering away from urban life. The Christian message will be compelling to Cretans when Christians fully participate in public life; when their lives and homes look similar on the surface because after a closer look, their neighbors will discover that Christians live by a totally different value system based on devotion to a totally different God.”

I’ve got to chew on that for a while. What do they mean to fully participate in public life and to look similar on the surface, but to live by a totally different value system? Are they being totally wishy-washy here? Or is this what Jesus himself was getting at when he prayed for his disciples just before he was arrested? In John 17:13-19, Jesus talks about his disciples being in the world, actually being sent into the world, but not being of the world. Engaging with the world around them and not segregating or hiding from it, but bringing the values and perspectives of God’s kingdom. (If you’re not sure what those are, the sermon on the mount – sometimes called Jesus’ kingdom manifesto – in Matthew 5-7 is a good place to start. Especially if the term “kingdom” rankles.) That’s consistent with what Paul describes in Titus chapter 2.

Paul’s focus, after talking about Christian church leaders, is on Christian households. It’s not an exhaustive list of how Christians are to operate in the public sphere; actually, it’s mostly about the private sphere. But what happens in the private sphere – in the home – is really the foundation for how you engage elsewhere. Think about it – how often have you heard about people who acted all moral and upstanding at church or at work or out with friends, but were manipulative or abusive at home, or hiding a substance or porn addiction. That completely undermines everything else they do. Maybe Paul doesn’t talk about how to practice our faith in every sphere, but odds are good that if we live with integrity in the place where we can let down our guard the most, we’ll live with integrity elsewhere, too.

Again, two ideas that stand out in Titus 2:1-10 are the ideas of sound doctrine and self-control. It’s helpful to go back to the Greek to find out what Paul meant and, for those of us who don’t know Greek and find it really daunting to learn a whole new language, there are great resources online, like the Interlinear Bible that has links to the Greek words, their definitions and how they’re used in the Bible. So, bilingual word nerd moment: “Sound” doctrine is from a Greek word for healthy, in good working order, “functioning holistically with all parts working together”. Sound doctrine doesn’t pick and choose. It wrestles with God’s word and truth in its totality to the best of its ability. And “self-controlled”, in the Greek, comes from the words for “sound, safe” and “inner look”. It’s “divinely balanced” and dynamic because it’s based on God’s perspective.

I am the queen of the wishy-washy, so the groundedness that Paul is describing is startling to me by contrast. He keeps talking about truth and sound doctrine as key to knowing God “who does not lie”, and to knowing how to live. We need to be grounded in sound doctrine, and self-controlled. Not self-centered. Not pushed around by every influence around us. Rather, we need to be led by the Holy Spirit and truth.

How does that look in the home? Older men, Paul says, are to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, love and endurance. The word “temperate” stands out to me. The Greek word means “sober minded, … free from negative influences, clear minded, free from life-dominating influences.” The word comes up several times. It could be about alcohol in Crete or in our day, or about pot or other drugs or any other kind of influence that clouds our judgment. It’s about keeping our minds clear so that we’re guided by truth, sound doctrine and self-control. If the older men live this way, there are so many admirable qualities that come out of this groundedness. Things worthy of respect. Examples to be followed because they’re proven and credible and make a positive difference to the people around them. The young men, too, are to be self-controlled and grounded.

What about the women? The older women, Paul says, are to be reverent and teach the younger women what is good: to love their families, to be self-controlled and pure, kind, and to take care of their responsibilities at home. Full disclosure: I spent a few years reading every Ms. Magazine that came out and my feminist hackles still go up reflexively when I read words like “busy at home”. Is Paul saying that a woman’s place is exclusively in the home as a wife and mother? Historically, people have interpreted it that way. I’m not convinced that Paul would tell us today that women can’t have careers. But they generally didn’t in Paul’s day (although Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth and, from the sounds of Acts 16:14 might have been considered the head of her household). I think the contrast is important between taking care of one’s home and family responsibilities, and spending their time drinking, slandering others and neglecting their responsibilities. And you also have to remember Paul’s charge to the husbands to not be overbearing, quick-tempered or violent. If Paul were writing today, he might also remind men to look after their responsibilities. Maybe he’d tell them to spend less time surfing the internet, gaming or watching every play-off game, and go help with the housework and kids, or help an elderly neighbor, or mentor teens or young men.

Slaves have a unique opportunity to model the Christlike character that comes from sound doctrine and self-control. Not that Paul is promoting slavery. Rather, it was a fact of life for many early Christians who were, themselves, slaves. It’s hard enough to curb your self-interest for people you love. It’s even harder when it’s for people who hold all the cards and everything in you says to take whatever small advantage you can. Yet Jesus voluntarily took “the very nature of a servant [doulos - “slave”]” for our sake. (Php. 2:7) So while overall the Bible actually dismantles the institution of slavery over time, brick by brick, Paul called those who were slaves to make the most of the unique opportunity to model Jesus’ attitude.

In all these situations – and in all of ours – Paul tells us the reason for living in this groundedness. Followers of Jesus are to live in such a way that other people don’t malign the word of God (Titus 2:5), so that they find nothing credible that they can say against us and our conduct (v. 8), and to make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in its wisdom and truth. We can’t achieve those things through rebellion or reclusiveness but, rather, by engaging with the people and communities around us and investing the values of Jesus’ kingdom in them with integrity.