Titus, Trucks and Potato Peel Pie (and lots of other stuff) – Part 5

As I wrap up with Titus today, the rubber really hits the road. This is the first time I’ve ever done a week-long blogging blitz, and will probably be the last. (If you’ve read through all of them, wow! Thank you!) It’s just that there’s so much in Paul’s letter to Titus that’s timeless and so very relevant.

With the ever-evolving theories about COVID-19, restrictions and mandates, and all the effects on our day-to-day lives, we’ve all seen so much fear, divisiveness, information, misinformation, and contentiousness. And with all the news about the “Freedom Convoy” and now the implementation of the Emergency Measures Act in Canada, the polarization continues. There are Christians on both sides of the debates. And really, are there only two sides? Real life and real people are way more nuanced than what we see in the headlines or on social media.

With everything going on right now, it’s hard not to read Titus 3:1-11 solely in light of COVID and protests. But while what Paul says is relevant to these situations, his teachings here apply across centuries, cultures and circumstances – wherever Christians live in community with each other and in the context of a wider community and culture. Looking at Paul’s letter to Titus, we need to be careful to examine our own motives and hearts first and foremost, and not focus on pointing fingers at others as tempting as that is. It’s not about declaring who’s right and who’s wrong in our current impasses over things that Paul identifies elsewhere as disputable matters (Rom. 14 & 15). In our current context, it’s not about dictating whether or not we wear a mask, get vaccinated, or protest. It’s about why we do what we do and how we go about doing those things. That, in turn, may well guide our discernment about what we choose to do and not do, or when it’s time to join in or to bow out.

There’s so much to chew on in just the first two verses of chapter 3, and that’s where I’m going to spend the most time. It’s especially helpful to look at the Greek words Paul used and try to unpack them. (For Greek text and translations, all the information I present below is from the Interlinear Bible at

Paul writes, “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities”. There’s a time for civil disobedience. Even the Bible gives examples, like the Hebrew midwives refusing to report the births of male babies (Ex. 1), or Sadrach, Meshach and Abednego refusing to bow down to the golden idol (Dan. 3). Peter and the apostles refused to quit teaching about Jesus when the rulers commanded them to stop (Acts 4:18-20). Like for Peter, there are times when our civil laws come into conflict with God’s commands, and then we need to put obedience to God first. But that’s not the same as declaring ourselves free from all responsibility to obey laws, or to respect governments as a whole or leaders individually. God, himself, has established the idea of authority and living under governance as part of being able to thrive as humans (Rom. 13:1-7). So, in our day-to-day lives, do we cultivate a healthy respect for authority in how we think, talk, and act? When we do take a stand, do we represent Jesus well and are we guided by his example, or are our thoughts, words and actions shaped more by fear, contempt and animosity?

Titus is to remind Jesus’ followers to be obedient. Boy, that’s a word we hate, because a lot of people think it represents all that’s mindless and oppressed. But “peitharcheo” means “persuaded of what must come first, of what has the higher authority; not mindless, but grounded in sound doctrine and reliable information.” True obedience involves intelligence, reliable information, and active engagement.

We’re also supposed to be “ready to do whatever is good”. “Good” is such a bland word, but “agathos” means intrinsically good in nature, with God being the standard of what’s good. It’s “what originates from God and is empowered by Him in their life, through faith.”

We’re to slander no one. Blasphemeo is “to speak evil against” or to “use abusive or scurrilous language” about God or other people. Which pretty much rules out carrying “F***” anybody signs.

Instead, we’re supposed to be “peaceable and considerate, and to be gentle toward everyone.” “Peaceable” is “amachos”. It means “abstaining from fighting, not contentious”. “Epieikes”, translated “considerate”, means gentle, reasonable, fair, moderate. It’s “true equity that appropriately fulfills the spirit (not just the letter) of the law”.

The word for “gentle” is where the real surprises come in. I come from a Mennonite, “peace tradition” background. There’s lots that’s good in that heritage, but as someone who, by temperament, hates conflict and avoids it as much as possible (which is not always a good thing), that background can also be a smokescreen I hide behind. On the other hand, people who come from other traditions view gentleness and meekness as weakness and avoidance. “Prautes”, the word Paul uses here for gentleness or humility, is closely related to “praotes”, which also gets translated as gentleness, meekness, or kindness. But dig deeper into what it means, and you find “strength in gentleness”; it “avoids unnecessary harshness, yet without compromising or being too slow to use necessary force.” That “necessary force” part shocks me with my Mennonite upbringing, and I really need to study that further to understand what that would entail in a Jesus-following context, although it’s important to note that “force” doesn’t only mean violence or aggression. On the flipside, to other people the idea of strength being at the core of gentleness might sound like a total oxymoron.

I don’t have the answer to the conundrum. All I can say right now is two things. First, gentleness (“prautes”) is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and works in concert with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. (Gal 5:22-23) Second, look to the example of Jesus. He showed force in his denunciation of religious leaders (being called a “brood of vipers” has never, to my knowledge, been a compliment) and in his clearing of the temple. He also showed strength in gentleness, forgiveness and self-sacrifice. Maybe the key isn’t in either/or – following the one “side” of Jesus or the other. (Seeing it as two “sides” of Jesus is a false dichotomy, anyway.) Maybe it’s how we think, act and speak the 99% of the time when force isn’t necessary (whatever “necessary force” permits; I don’t totally know) that gives credibility to our actions when it is needed, or undermines that credibility. After all, it’s who Jesus was and how he lived day to day that proved the authority behind his more forceful words and actions.

Expanding on those verses, in v. 3-12 Paul contrasts two ways of being. He describes what life looks like before being justified by God’s grace and receiving the “washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” with what it looks like – or should - afterwards.

Before, we are foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by passions and pleasures. We exhibit malice and envy; we hate and are hated by others. We get caught up in foolish controversies, arguments and quarrels that are unprofitable and useless. And we’re divisive.

A renewed life after receiving Jesus and being transformed by the Holy Spirit is a lifelong process and our path is never strictly upwards and linear. But Paul paints that transformation, as it progresses, as being marked by our recognizing that we’re saved because of God’s kindness, love and mercy, and not by anything we’ve done. We have the hope of eternal life, and we trust in God. We’re careful to devote ourselves to doing what is good. “Careful” - “phrontizo” - means “continuously connecting insight … to the necessary outward behavior.” And I think it’s fair to say that that insight is tied directly back to the sound doctrine that Paul’s been mentioning all along.

We live in divisive, frustrating, difficult times, and we need sound doctrine as much as we ever have. So read your Bible – the whole thing – lots. Know what’s in there, not just what you think is in there. Learn what the different types of writing in the Bible are and how to read them. Learn from people who know the Bible well, who don’t dismiss big parts of it because it doesn’t fit with their paradigms, and who show the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.

And when we look to the Bible for guidance on how to respond well to what’s going on around us, think about why you’re drawn to a particular response or stance. Are you responding to fear (I get that; that’s my natural tendency) or to sound doctrine, faith in God, and hope? For any course of action you choose, how will you represent Jesus well? And as things around us can change very quickly, where is your line in the sand where you need to bow out – not to compromise your beliefs but to not be carried along by other people’s anger or fear?

What we do, why we do it, how we do it – all these need to be guided by what represents Jesus well to a world that’s watching. A world that needs to see a totally different value system based on devotion to a totally different God.