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Living with Integrity Is Painfully Countercultural - a study of Titus 2

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

Jesus died for us; we should live for Him.

Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Titus 2:1-15

Titus is leading a church planting movement in a culture filled with immorality and bizarre beliefs. The best way to protect new Christians in that environment is to give them clear instructions and provide solid examples (and good leaders). But Paul always gave the theological reason why . . .

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age. Titus 2:23

[Throughout the years, I have produced a newsletter for teachers to help with that week's Bible study. I'm going through the very slow process of online-ifying old lessons in order to easily reference past ideas and topics.]

Getting Started: Things to Think About

What Kind of Church Member Are You?

A lot of books divide church members into three groups:

  1. The Pew Sitter. This person comes when he feels like it, rarely participates, and rarely contributes anything positive.

  2. The Faithful Consumer. This person considers himself a faithful church member and may even be on a committee or in a Sunday School class, but his commitment is lower than he thinks. Why? Because he really won’t do anything that inconveniences himself, and he certainly won’t give sacrificially (or probably even tithe), and if there’s something to complain about he’ll be glad to.

  3. The Faithful Disciple. This is the church member we all want to be—someone who is actively, humbly, faithfully building the Kingdom and making disciples. Ask your class members which one they think they are, which one they want to be, and what they think it would take to get there.

[Perspective: everybody in our churches should say something to the effect of “I can be a better church member”. That’s really the whole point of this opening question. If you or someone you know needs a dose of perspective, here are two ways you can prod: talk about giving and talk about attitude. Someone once said a church operates by the 20-80 rule: 20% of the members do 80% of the work, which would imply that 20% of the members fall into the “faithful disciple” category. I think any pastor would be thrilled to have those kinds of numbers. In reality, most churches operate more like on a 10-90 rule. According to the giving website PushPay, between 10-25% of church members actually tithe, and church members on average only give 2.5% of their income to the church. I believe that sacrificial giving is a good measure of someone’s commitment to discipleship. If you think that “giving” would be a subject to get your church members thinking about their membership, and if you don’t think it will get you into unnecessary trouble, give it a try.

Or . . . Obviously, we want to be a “faithful disciple”, and we shouldn’t be satisfied with being a “faithful consumer”. But there’s another way to look at what kind of a church member we are: are we being positive and constructive, or are we being negative and destructive? The letter from Jude describes 6 bad church members in much the same way that Paul did:

  1. The Sinner. This person doesn’t care about sin because “God has to forgive it anyway, right?”

  2. The Rebel. This person has little respect for authority and just wants to be contrarian.

  3. The Meathead. This person isn’t interested in the facts or the truth but only his very narrow-minded view of things.

  4. The Taker. This person sucks everything he can out of the church without giving back in any meaningful way.

  5. The Grumbler. This person can find a cloud on any silver lining, and his biggest satisfaction is in spreading general dissatisfaction.

  6. The Prima Donna. This person thinks really highly of himself and his contributions to the church.

Each one of those six types of church members causes real headaches and strife in a church. If you think that this illustration will get your class members’ attention without creating trouble, then give it a try.]

This Week's Big Idea: Catching Up on Titus and Crete

At FBC, we "missed" the first lesson due to our school year kickoff (and thanks again to everyone who brought food and worked so hard!), so we will want to take a few minutes to orient our classes to this short letter. The fact that Titus does not appear in Acts has complicated our understanding of Titus and this letter. Paul said that Titus accompanied him on the first journey to Jerusalem with Barnabas (the relief visit of Acts 11; see Gal 2--remember that Galatians was likely the earliest of Paul's letters) and was a part of Paul's first missionary journey (which is how the Galatians knew him and why Paul would have talked about him there). This means that Titus almost certainly met Paul during Paul’s 14 years in Antioch. Titus delivered the "severe letter" from Paul to Corinth (see 2 Cor 2) and served in a Timothy-style role there on Paul's behalf, likely delivering 2 Corinthians to them as well. What's odd is that Timothy was mentioned prominently in Acts, and he actually would have joined Paul well after Titus did, so why did Titus not make the record in Acts? No one knows. Because Titus was the living example of a believing uncircumcised Gentile (from Acts 11), he might have been a controversial figure in Jerusalem? Else, Titus was young and immature when Paul first met the apostles in Jerusalem and was seen as little more than a servant, so perhaps Titus didn't reveal his full potential as a Christian leader until after Luke had written Acts? (I know, that's a stretch.) I don’t know.

Anyway, Paul sent this letter to Titus about the same time as he sent 1 Timothy. Perhaps Paul was not able to go see Timothy in Ephesus because he was at that time traveling with Titus, eventually ending up in Crete.

Crete, the largest island in the Mediterranean, was once the seat of the greatest empire on the Mediterranean, site of the famous palaces of Cnossos and Phaestos. Of course, that was 2000 BC. By 1400, the civilization practically vanished (maybe an earthquake?). By Paul's day, Crete was mainly known as a hideout for pirates (it was dangerous to travel around--remember that Paul was shipwrecked there while being transported to Rome for trial—with lots of hidden coves [think Jamaica during the “golden age of pirates”]) and a home for lazy gluttons. It's quite possible that the influence he had in being able to start a church planting movement on the island can be traced to his time as a prisoner!

An important difference between 1 Timothy and Titus is the fact that Timothy was being sent to correct an established church that had been corrupted by false teachers. Titus, on the other hand, was being sent to an area in which the church was just taking root. Titus was tasked with identifying and training leaders for new churches. Instead of rooting out the rot that had already infected a church, Titus was protecting a church from the rot of the outside world. Now, the function of the letter was the same: protect the church by teaching the true gospel and appointing godly leaders.

Why did Paul choose to send Titus to Crete? Well, Crete had a large, mobile, networked Greek population, consisting of very wealthy Roman merchants and landowners and also very poor colonists. It also had a colony of Jews who had emigrated from Libya and (according to Tacitus) were trying to leave behind Jewish culture. Titus was from Syrian Antioch, a large Greek trade center with a very mobile population, including the super-rich and the super-poor. He was also not circumcised, so he could not be confused with the Jewish culture that the Jews there were trying to leave behind. He could connect with just about everyone on the island.

What We Skipped in Titus 1

Here's the likely situation in Crete. There are towns all over the island. Families from all over the island had heard Paul's preaching and some had converted to Christianity. How could Paul protect these new Christians from the Jews who lived around them looking for a new religion to latch onto? By creating local churches and putting trustworthy disciples in charge of them who would not be afraid or confused by the strange talk of the weird Jews or the gluttonous Cretans. We talked at great length about that in 1 Timothy, so FBC members should already have a decent idea of where Paul was going with that. In our chapter this week, Paul turns his attention from the leaders to the church members. This is Paul’s most forceful letter in drawing the connection between right doctrine and right behavior. It is not enough to claim to be an evangelical Christian; that person must also live like an evangelical Christian (and Paul will give us an overview of what that means).

Aside: The Cultural Condition of Crete

Let me add some details to the paragraph I gave you earlier. Crete claimed to have the tomb of Zeus, implying that Zeus had died. This put Crete on the outs with the Greeks (and then the Romans), which is why there’s a poem famous enough for Paul to quote in Titus 1:12 that claims all Cretans must be liars. (Others believed that Zeus was born on Crete.) (It didn’t help that after the island’s collapse in the 1400s that it had become a haven for pirates and people escaping Greek authorities.) When Rome conquered the region, it saw Crete as a trouble-spot and thus settled Italians on the island, giving them large farms (which were taken from the locals). Colonies were planted along the coast near the natural ports (Crete was a great stopping point for merchants). So—there was a lot of cultural tension between Romans and Cretans, and Crete was isolated enough that its own unique subcultures developed. Enter the Jews. Jews from Crete were present at Pentecost (Acts 2:11), and they took their Christianity back with them. By the time Paul had come around (15-20 years later), there were a number of struggling Jewish-Christian communities scattered around the island. They had not gotten support from anyone, didn’t know much about churches, and didn’t have much access to Jesus’ teachings, making them very vulnerable to the other Jews on the island who were escaping Jewish culture (for whatever reason) and were happy to jump into this “new” Jewish expression, mistaking the new doctrines for made-up doctrines (to which they were happy to contribute). In many ways, Crete was just like a modern urban backwater, filled with people both escaping and making something. A message of grace and second chances plays very well, but the tendency is for the people to want to go far beyond what Jesus said and make their own religion. A very challenging environment for a church planter like Titus!

Bonus Aside: Comparing Titus and Timothy

There are many parallels between Titus and 1 Timothy. Both are written to a close associate of Paul that he asked to be his “proxy” in an area in which the church was struggling. Both had the assignment of helping the church’s organization and leadership. The occasion in both is the threat of false teachings (for Timothy, the teachings were already in the church; for Titus, they were on the island around them). The solution in both is to have sound church leaders (pastors and deacons) who will safeguard the truth and protect the flock. Some content is similar (both have confessions, hymns, Jewish commentary, qualifications for elders) but there are still significant differences.

In tone, the letter to Titus is much less personal that 1 Timothy—much more compact and business-like. Paul focuses on duties/conduct more heavily (whereas in 1 Timothy Paul focuses on sound doctrine). I actually think that’s a fun detail/big deal. I would say that Titus is like me (or, I’m like Titus): very to-the-point, matter-of-fact. Sound doctrine didn’t need to be a big focus because Titus already focused very heavily on doctrine. He needed to be reminded on the importance of doctrine-in-life (sound doctrine doesn’t mean very much if it doesn’t result in a changed behavior). Perhaps Timothy was more emotional/personal? Perhaps he cared a great deal about people and relationships, which is why Paul spent so much time encouraging him to be a “tough” leader. Perhaps he hadn’t shown as much interest in doctrine/theology in their talks, which is why Paul focused so heavily on sound doctrine in that letter. Obviously, that’s raw speculation, but I like it. It tells me that God has always had a place for a wide range of personality types in church leadership, and it also tells me that no one personality type is “better” for church leadership.


Part 1: Spoken (Titus 2:1)

But you are to proclaim things consistent with sound teaching.

I think it’s kind of funny that after I just said that Paul’s big focus in this letter in on right behavior that he starts with a comment about right teaching. But it should only make sense. Christianity is not a pattern of behavior based on some vague idea of being a good person or a decent human being or a nice guy. God has given us rules of behavior in His Word as explained and modeled by Jesus Himself. These other teachers were telling people how to live, but they couldn’t back up those commands with any truth (does that sound like people today?). In other words, they would tell people what they could do, but they couldn’t explain why it was right. [Note: Christians can kind of do that because we have the Holy Spirit living in us helping us know what to do—but the Holy Spirit will always direct us in line with the Bible.] Ask (briefly!) what sort of rules for right living Jesus gave us (send them to the Sermon on the Mount if on one is sure where to start).


Part 2: Acted (Titus 2:2-10)

Older men are to be self-controlled, worthy of respect, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and endurance. In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not slaves to excessive drinking. They are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, workers at home, kind, and in submission to their husbands, so that God’s word will not be slandered. In the same way, encourage the young men to be self-controlled in everything. Make yourself an example of good works with integrity and dignity in your teaching. Your message is to be sound beyond reproach, so that any opponent will be ashamed, because he doesn’t have anything bad to say about us. Slaves are to submit to their masters in everything, and to be well-pleasing, not talking back or stealing, but demonstrating utter faithfulness, so that they may adorn the teaching of God our Savior in everything.

Okay—this is one of those sections where people roll their eyes at Paul’s old-fashioned (out of touch?) morality. If anyone says something to that effect, challenge them to tell you exactly what’s wrong with anything Paul said.

I would recommend drawing a chart with “Older Men”, “Older Women”, “Younger Men”, “Younger Women”, and “Slaves” and asking your class to list the characteristics associated with each in this letter. Then, write a column called “Generations” and ask your class why the rules might be different for the different generations.

Here, “older men” does not mean “elder” as in the church officer. It means men advanced in years. Some scholars say this applies to men in their 60s, others say 50s. Most church leaders Timothy and Titus appointed were probably in this age bracket. (Why might that be?) “Self-controlled” actually refers specifically to drunkenness. It has a broader meaning of controlling one’s tongue and mind, but it focuses on drunkenness. (Why might that be?) Paul uses it of pastors (1 Tim 3:2) and deacon’s wives (1 Tim 3:11). “Worthy of respect” is the same word Paul used of deacons (1 Tim 3:8) and their wives (1 Tim 3:11). It means what you think it means—they don’t demand respect, they command respect. Their lifestyle makes them worthy of respect. We know lots of people in our church who are worthy of respect. What it is about them that gives them that? “Sensible” means “of sound mind” or “modest” (what would be a “modest” decision?). Older men should make decisions that are responsible and God-honoring. They should be past the age where they are clouded by ambition or insecurity. Finally, they should be firm in “faith, love, and endurance”. Of course, we think of the trio “faith, hope, and love”—is there a connection between “hope” and “endurance” that makes these two lists parallel? Why might they be super-important for an older man (who is setting an example for a church)?

By starting the comment about “older women” with “in the same way”, Paul is trying to make sure that he has no lower expectations for women. Remember that in that day, women (and children and slaves) were in a “seen but not heard” category. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the women Titus was ministering to had never had serious ethical and moral training. They needed to be “reverent”—a word used of people who served in a temple. In other words, they should be holy (note: this is similar to Paul’s expectations for widows who received financial support from the church). The word for “slanderer” comes diabolical, which literally means “of the devil”, making it the obvious opposite of “reverent”. It’s not just that they do the right thing, they also avoid the wrong thing. The older women were also to avoid drunkenness (get a sense that heavy drinking was a problem in Crete? Do we have the same sense that it’s a problem in our culture today?). But I really want to make sure you catch the “teach what is good”—older women were to take an active interest in the younger women and help them/mentor them in godly behavior. Those younger women had never had a good role model in Christianity; there are plenty of young women in our churches who are in the same boat. I pray that our older church members take an interest in helping our younger members learn how to follow Jesus in life.

And then there’s the younger women. Does it seem strange that Paul tells them to “love their husbands” and children? Does that seem like a low bar? We kind of touched on this with Paul’s earlier comment about it being good for women to have children (how dare he!). There was a kind of early-feminism in this decadent, stagnant culture which said that in order for women to prove how strong and independent they were, they should leave their husbands and children. Sad, isn’t it? Paul’s counter-cultural message to younger women was that they could be strong, valuable, and important while being devoted to their husband and children and even submitting to their husband (gasp!). “Self-controlled” and “pure” together in this context mean that the young woman should be modest in her dress and behavior around other men, and also dignified and respectful of her husband when around other people. “Workers at home” has unfortunately been given a sexist overtone in our culture. And while Paul did intend for the younger women to keep their house in order, his real focus was that they didn’t sit around all day being lazy gossips. If the husband was expected to work for the family living (remember that in that day, females didn’t have access to careers), the wife needed to take the lead in nurturing the children, managing the house (and any servants), and supporting the husband (note that “kind” refers to how she should perform that duty). In today’s world where women have access to reputable jobs, the duties in the home have to be distributed. But Paul’s point is about not being lazy. “In submission to their husbands” has been discussed by us many times and I hope explained well. The main thing that I would want to have clarified is that Paul never says that all women are to submit to all men. A wife is only asked to submit to her own husband (and respect the leadership of the church). The “God’s word be slandered” circles back to the idea of the busybody—young women who just went around gossiping, slandering, and conniving accomplish no good for God’s kingdom.

Young men should be “self-controlled”. Before you say that Paul is letting them off the hook compared with the other groups, realize that Paul is basically applying every rule of behavior from the other groups to the young men. They should treat their wives with respect; they should behave dignified in public; they should watch what they drink. And because Titus would have been a young man, I think that the next phrase for Titus also applies to the rest of the young men. If they want to be accepted as leaders in their churches, they need to be worthy of it.

Remember from my intro about Crete that there was a huge disparity between the Roman landowners and everybody else. I’m guessing that a large percentage of the island functioned as slaves, which would be most of the churches. They needed to understand that as a Christian, they were to be absolutely committed to their “jobs”/masters, regardless of how well they were treated. Jesus was treated very poorly by the people He came to serve; we have nothing else we can say. He demonstrated utter faithfulness to us; we are to show the same to one another. If a slave cannot do that to his master, then he has no credible testimony to the outside world. (And yes, that applies equally to us in our jobs today.)


Part 3: Empowered (Titus 2:23-26)

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works.

Remember that I said Paul draws his tightest connection between right beliefs and right behavior in this letter. Well, just read these verses (it’s one long sentence in the Greek). Ask your class if there is any way a Christian can justify anything less than the most godly, self-controlled behavior. Here's a fun exercise: ask your class members to “teach” this section. Ask them to explain Paul’s logic and argument.

Does it hold up? Does it apply in exactly the same way in our time and culture today? The answer is of course yes because Jesus’ sacrifice was for all people in all times, and so we should all respond with the same gratitude and commitment to discipleship, regardless of our age, culture, background, or situation. (Does your class understand?


Part 4: Authority (Titus 2:15)

Proclaim these things; encourage and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Why do you think Paul included this exhortation? I think it’s because Paul knew how much of an uphill battle Titus was going to face introducing these teachings into that culture. Does it sound a little like Paul’s statement to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because of your youth?” I think it does. Paul is saying the same thing to Titus: “Titus, be bold and speak with authority. But that authority is not found in you! It is found in your message. You have faith in your message, so you can have faith in yourself.”

Your main summary is that our lives have to measure up to our message. It’s hard enough for people to listen to the gospel—it’s impossible if we aren’t testifying to the truth of what we proclaim in how we live. This high standard is always out of reach, but that serves two purposes: (1) it helps us see the power of the Holy Spirit active in us, and (2) it gives us opportunities to explain grace and mercy and forgiveness. Have your class members identify their “generation” and see what characteristics Paul wanted them to live by. Then have them take a look at themselves in the mirror, so to speak. What is one behavior they need to change to live out the gospel?


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