God didn’t come in flesh for one part of your life, but for your entire life.
Among Christians in America, there is a regular separation between what happens in church and the rest of life. Work is one thing; church is another. School is one thing; church is another. Our home life is one thing; church is another. The walls of a church building function like a boundary between our Christianity and the outside world. There is a divide between the sacred and secular. But that’s not the way things should be.
God wants to reclaim our entire lives, for this is how he is reclaiming the world. This is profoundly seen in the book of Titus and especially Titus 2:6–10, which offers us instructions on how to advocate for Jesus—in all areas of life.
Paul opens his letter to Titus by first explaining his personal calling and ministry (Titus 1:1–4). From Titus 1:1–4, we can see what it means to have a Christian identity: our lives will be defined first and foremost by the “hope of eternal life” of Jesus, the savior. But how do we recognize a Christian leader, a person who has been truly transformed by this idea?
Paul tells us in Titus 1:5–9 that Christian leaders have three primary qualifications. Christian leaders are: (1) capable and respected, (2) loving, and (3) experienced at following Jesus. We also see the opposite of this: trend seekers who propagate ideas of legalism (Titus 1:10–16). While these kinds of people are often elevated in our culture, they don’t represent the Christian ideal. “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him” (Titus 1:16). Paul’s instructions are for the purpose of guiding Titus on how to appoint Christian leaders for the churches on Crete, where Paul and Timothy had formally done missionary work together.
In Titus 2, Paul shifts to a series of pragmatic instructions, covering the different demographics represented in the churches: older men (Titus 2:1–2), older women (Titus 2:3–4), and then younger women (Titus 2:4–5). These instructions are highly contextual, geared at the specific situation on Crete (a point illustrated by Paul’s use of a proverb about Cretans in Titus 1:12). What this means is that we should not attempt to verbatim apply these instructions to our modern context. Instead, we should look to the theological principles behind the instructions.
With this recap in mind, let’s examine Titus 2:6–8, where Paul turns to instructions for young men:
"Similarly [to what I’ve told you for these other groups of people], encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 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" (Titus 2:6–8 NIV).
Here, we first see an emphasis again on self-control. Paul is big on a Christian life of discipline. He is opposed to legalism (Titus 2:14), but that doesn’t mean that he is about an “I’m okay, you’re okay, everyone do what they want, okay?” sort of faith. Instead, he acknowledges that we have to live our faith in how we act.
The basic premise here is that holiness is important to God and that a person who refuses to have self-control will never garner anyone’s respect. If no one respects you, how will they respect Jesus? With this in mind, I’m tempted to ask: What has happened to Christianity in America then, that we so easily accept a sort of cheap grace, without calling people to authentically live for Jesus?
We know Paul is against a cheap grace version of Christianity, where we merely use Jesus as a scapegoat without a response to the grace he has offered. But what is Paul for? How does he tell us to advocate for Jesus? How should we show our Christianity to other people? How do we share our faith? Put simply, be a model, “set … an example” (Titus 2:7).
In Titus 2:7–8, Paul tells us that there are three ways we can be a model for Jesus:
These three methods are how we advocate for Jesus, in all spheres of life.
After offering the above instructions, Paul then turns to another segment of patriarchal, Graeco-Roman society, slaves:
"Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 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" (Titus 2:9–10 NIV).
When Paul offers these instructions, he is not condoning slavery. Let’s remember that he diplomatically argues for the freedom of a slave in his letter to Philemon. Paul also advocates regularly for all people, “slave and free” (Galatians 3:28). There is also the contextual consideration: that in Graeco-Roman society working off a debt was a credit system. They used the word slavery for this context.
Paul offers these instructions because he wants people to advocate for Christ, no matter their context. He is also saying that one person’s injustice does not justify doing an injustice against them. Slaves, Paul says, even in their painful and difficult context can “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10).
My question to those of us that are free is: If that’s the case, that even those in slavery can glorify God in their actions, what then is holding us back? Our brothers and sisters who have incredible injustices done against them may very well be showing Jesus more than us. In our freedom, are we abusing the freedom Christ has gained for us?
“In everything set … an example by doing what is good. … In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech” (Titus 2:7–8). Bring unity to your beliefs in the church building and outside of it. Advocate for Jesus in all that you do, whatever that may be.
This article is part of our series, "How to Authentically Live as a Christian: Paul's Letter to Titus."
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