Conduct That Fits the Gospel
Series: Titus: A Church That Lasts
Just as there is clothing that fits an occasion, there is conduct that fits the gospel. This passage describes that conduct for older men, older women, younger women, younger men, ministers of God’s Word, and employees.
The Letters to Timothy and Titus, Philip Towner
I recently officiated a wedding, and afterwards I overheard a conversation between some of the attendees. One lady talked about a dress she had considered wearing, but said that it was too close to the color white. At a wedding, the only person who wears white is typically the bride. This friend could have said, “Well I want to wear what I want to wear,” but if she had worn a white dress to a wedding, she would have been presenting herself as the bride, when in fact she was not, leading everyone else present astray. The central truth of Christianity is the gospel, or what is called in the passage at which we are looking today, “sound doctrine” in verse 1, or “the doctrine of God our Savior” in verse 10, and what this text shows us is that there is a proper way of dressing, or adorning the gospel, by how we conduct ourselves. We’re all prone to say, “I want to conduct myself how I choose,” but if we do, we will represent the gospel inaccurately, and so lead others astray, just as a wedding attendee would do if she wore white. Therefore, Adorn the gospel with conduct that fits it.
As older men
The conduct that fits the gospel is first spelled out for older men. If you were with us a couple weeks back, this may sound familiar, as these qualities are similar and, in some cases, identical with the qualifications for elders. Old men and elders are not the same thing; elder is an office to which a man is appointed, but what this shows us is that all men, not just elders, should aspire to the kind of character elders are required to have. In this list we have sober mindedness, which does refer to moderation in the use of alcohol; your mind should be under control, not led astray by substances. But bigger picture, sober mindedness is often spoken of in the Bible in relation to understanding the times in which we live. There is a real offer of salvation to whoever would believe, and a real judgment coming. You have a heavenly home to press on toward or a hell in which to perish; so do the people around you. Your life matters: to be sober minded means not to waste it on becoming as comfortable as possible in this life, but to lay it down and pour it out for the glory of God. Older men must be dignified, meaning there should be something in their conduct that attracts respect.
They should be self-controlled, ruling over their desires rather than being ruled by them, and they should be sound in faith, love, and in steadfastness. To be “sound” in faith here means he should believe the right things and not waver from them. But right belief should be accompanied by great love, such that God and people are truly dear to him, and a steadfastness in both: An ability to keep believing the same things over and over again, and an ability to keep choosing to die to his own interests for the joy of others over and over again. This is the clothing that fits the gospel for older men. Men, this is a model of what you should be growing up into. These are the kind of men to look up to, and these are the kind of men to be for those who are younger than you. It’s worth noticing that the term “older men” is a comparative term, not an absolute one: Until you hit your 90s, you always have men that are older than you, and once you’re about 30, you have men who are younger than you.
Now it’s no secret at Citylight that we have more men in their 30s-40s than in their 50s or greater. There are a number of reasons for that: Demographically the area of the city we’re in just younger than the general world population, and and generally if there are older, godly men around, they are older and godly precisely because they’re already committed to another church that was around before ours began. So what this means for us is that if you are a man over the age of 50 even, you have an incredible opportunity in this church to model for a lot of younger men who want to follow Jesus what it looks like to conduct yourself as a man in a way that fits the gospel. We should also pray for God to bring more older men to our church, and in the meantime, pray for God to supply His strength where we are weak. Finally, it’s just worth recognizing that if you’re over the age of 30 in this church, you are one of the older men here. Now’s the time to grow up. In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” And as there is a conduct fitting for older men, so there is one fitting for older women.
As older women
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, verse 3 says. So there is an essential unity between conduct that fits the gospel for older men and for older women. And that makes sense, right? When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He didn’t say, “Well now that depends; are you a man or a woman?” He just said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Nonetheless, Paul doesn’t just repeat the words of verse 2 in verse 3. While there is essential unity between conduct that fits the gospel for men and women, there are distinct styles. The analogy of clothing is again helpful here: For a human to be fully adorned, there are certain essential pieces: Underwear, some kind of pants, and some kind of shirt, at a minimum, but the styles are different. So with conduct that fits the gospel, there is essential unity, but different styles: There’s a men’s clothing department and a women’s clothing department. So women, whether old or young, play a vital role in adorning the gospel, and in this passage, even get more attention than the men.
For older women it means respectable behavior, just like the men, but then the text adds that they are not to be slanderers or slaves to much wine. We tend to think of the ancient world as uniform in its attitude toward women, but at this time in Crete there was a movement within the Roman Empire calling for a “new kind of woman,” who would be “free” from working in the home, and spend her days on…you guessed it: Talking and drinking wine, talking that often degenerated into slander, or what we might call gossip. And you can see there’s nothing new under the sun, right? This image of womanhood is still popular in some circles, but it’s a shirt that doesn’t fit the gospel.
Instead, here’s what older women should do with their time: Teach what is good, in order, verse 4 says, to train the younger women. Sometimes people wonder, since the office of elder is restricted to men in Scripture, how are women with the gift of teaching to use that gift? And don’t you love it when God just gives us an answer in Scripture? Teach the younger women! Do you see the opportunity you have here in this church if you are an older woman, just as there is an opportunity here for older men? Consider starting a discipleship group with a younger woman where you have regular, intentional time to do spiritual good to her. I know many of you are busy with many things, but get creative with it. If you’re a busy mom, invite younger women into your home, let them hold your baby while you cook dinner, let them see how you enjoy and discipline your kids, teach them how to manage work at home and work outside the home if you do that, ask them how they’re doing, talk about what you’re learning from God’s Word. If you don’t have kids, you may be just as busy, but consider ways to include younger women in things you’re already doing: If you have to get groceries, invite a younger woman to go with you, ask her how she’s doing, talk about what God’s teaching you. If you have the flexibility, go over to a younger woman’s house who has kids, help her out, and teach her while you’re there. The church is like a village, and even older women who don’t fit into traditional family roles have a vital role and opportunity to play in teaching younger women. During my preparation for this sermon I talked to one mom who mentioned how much she’d learned from single women in this church about parenting. And that is one of the specific things older women are to teach younger women about as we continue in verse 4, where we read that the purpose of this teaching from older women is to train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands.
As younger women
To love their husbands and children is more literally to become “lovers of husbands and lovers of children.” It’s more of an identity than an action. Younger women should be trained in such a way that they become lovers of husbands and children. That means they like serving their husband and caring for their kids. They are to be self-controlled, pure, and kind, things once again commanded of every Christian, but emphasized here for younger women. We’ve talked about self-control and will have plenty of opportunities to do so again, but here purity and kindness are added. “Purity culture,” where women are shamed for their bodies and blamed for the sins of men, is unbiblical. But purity itself is a good thing. God is pure, and every member of Jesus’ church is called to be pure, meaning undivided in our devotion to Him, because we are His bride. If married, that would also mean an undivided devotion to one’s spouse, and given the household context, that’s probably especially what’s in view here. The word for kind here could be better translated “virtuous,” meaning she is to give herself to the cultivation of godly character, rather than all the other things vying for her attention.
Then there are also a couple features of the distinct style of gospel clothing for younger women: Working at home, and submissive to their own husbands. The text does assume that younger women will marry, because ordinarily they do, and therefore even younger women who aren’t married should be cultivating the kind of character that will make them lovers of husbands and children, working at home, and submissive to their husbands. Of course, that doesn’t mean if you aren’t married or never get married, that you can’t adorn the gospel with conduct that fits it. You can certainly be self-controlled, pure, and virtuous, you can support and encourage other women in their marriage, and you can love the children in your church family. This text does show us the importance of the family in God’s sight, but the church is meant to be a kind of extended family or village where everyone has a vital role to play. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul suggests the greater flexibility of the single life, a life he and many more of Jesus’ disciples lived, provides unique opportunities to adorn the gospel.
But for the younger women who are married with children, you should work at home and be submissive to your husband. It doesn’t say you can’t work outside the home, nor does it tell us how many hours you must work at home vs. outside the home. The greater opportunities for education and employment afforded to women today than in the ancient world are cause for rejoicing, and may that progress continue. We also have great examples in Scripture of women who worked outside the home: The ideal wife of Proverbs 31, Lydia in Acts 16, and a number of you in this church are great examples of faithful moms who also work outside the home. So you’re certainly free to work outside the home as a mom, but, this text does show us that you ought to work at home. It’s not that work outside the home isn’t valuable, but this passage is showing us that work at home is. To give just a few examples, if you cook a meal for your family, that adorns the gospel: Your husband and kids will eat because you did that. Feeding, clothing, cleaning, teaching, training, disciplining, rejoicing in the little images of God that He’s given you as your children adorns the gospel. You are making disciples of them. That’s valuable. And submit to your husband. In the Bible any time a human is commanded to submit to another human it’s never in an unqualified sense: Submission to Christ always trumps submission to another human. So, for example, this doesn’t mean submit to your husband even if he’s abusing you or tells you to sin, but it does mean genuinely respect, empower, and encourage the leadership role God has given him, rather than resisting it, so that, as the verse ends, the word of God may not be reviled. In other words, put the right shirt on the gospel, so people won’t have reason to revile the gospel because of the shirt. And then it’s on to younger men.
As younger men
Once again, there’s a difference in style here: They aren’t told to work at home or submit to their wives, but they are told to be self-controlled, just like the younger women, the older men, and by implication with the reference to wine, the older women. Self-control is important for all of these groups, but it’s especially important for younger men. Younger men are often prone to excess: Crazy foods, crazy amounts of alcohol, multiple sexual partners, crazy vacations, etc. And, once again, our world glorifies this and markets to it, presenting youth as the time to experience it all before you “have to” settle down. But no, the gospel teaches us to life self-controlled lives now, whatever age we are, so that we could give that energy God has given younger men to nothing less than His glory covering the earth as the waters cover the sea, not winning our next fantasy sports league. Guys, now is the time to learn how to set an alarm and get out of bed when it goes off. Now is the time to learn how to say no to the next beer or the next slice of pizza. Now is the time to learn how to get off Instagram and into your Bible. Now is the time to make commitments and learn how to stick to them. Start small: Make your bed, clean your room, get up a half hour earlier, open your Bible, pray, get to church, cook a meal and have someone over to enjoy it with you, call up someone in the church to encourage them, share the gospel with a neighbor who doesn’t yet believe. If you’re single and really even if you’re married without kids, unless you’re a medical resident or a CPA in busy season, your life is only going to get busier from here, and that’s a good thing. Dads, I know you’re tired, but your wife is probably more tired. Say no to that extra hour of sleep so she can have it. Put the phone down and help out with the work at home. Change a diaper. Put some limits on the hobbies, the time with the guys, and your job, so you can be home. Work diligently at the job God has given you. Channel your energy to God’s glory. Younger men, be self-controlled.
Paul then moves on to Titus and how he should conduct himself as a minister of God’s Word. Since the office Titus left behind after his ministry was the office of elder, that’s the most direct application of verses 7-8 today. For myself and the one other elder in the room today, this should be the style of our shirt. For any who aspire to the office of elder and as you all try to identify elders, this is what we should expect. An elder should show himself to be a model of good works. An elder can’t do good works for the members of his church, or make them do good works, but he can model good works. The things an elder gives himself to should give a model to others of what they should give themselves to. And since he is entrusted with a teaching office, in his teaching he should show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned. No Christian should lie, but again a distinct style feature here is that it’s especially important for elders to speak with the utmost honesty and clarity in their speech, so that, as verse 8 says, an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Again, the goal here is to give opponents no legitimate reason to say something evil about us. Opponents make up evil all the time, but our speech should be above reproach, so that such accusations lose their plausibility.
Finally, Paul moves to employees, or what in the first century were bondservants. When you see bondservants in the Bible, don’t think American chattel slavery. The American slave trade was based on racism and manstealing; Greco-Roman bond slavery was not. It was often the ancient form of bankruptcy law and a sort of employment arrangement, though a bondservant had less rights to determine his hours and compensation let’s say, than employees do today. A bondservant couldn’t just quit. There are good biblical reasons to see our system today as an improvement on this, but for one in Paul’s time who already was a bondservant, there was a way for him or her to adorn the gospel before the whole system was abolished, and that’s what verses 9-10 spell out. Today, the most direct parallel is in our employment, when for a set time, we are “bound” to a certain task in service of an employer.
And the conduct that fits the gospel for someone in a situation of employment is to be submissive to their employer in everything, even the things the employer does that the employee doesn’t like, although as with all of these passages, never submitting to the boss while disobeying Christ. Hopefully your boss will value your input, but if you notice whenever your boss tells you to do something or announces a change in the company, your first response is typically a kind of, “Well how dare she? Nobody asked me about this,” that doesn’t fit the gospel. And employees should not be pilfering, like literally you should not steal from your company. If you have an expense account or product for business use, you should genuinely use it for only for real business, and so on.
And finally, the reason is given, a similar reason to what we saw in verses 1, 5, and 8: Because such conduct adorns the doctrine of God our Savior, the gospel. It shows what this doctrine is really like. The gospel is true no matter how we act, but when we act in these ways, we not only show that it’s true: We show that it’s good. Now some don’t want what’s good; this is not a magic bullet to get people to like us. But it is because we care about the people around us, and we want them to see how good the doctrine of God our Savior really is. In these instructions to older men, older women, younger women, younger men, elders, and employees, each are instructed to show the goodness of the gospel rather than serve their own interests, and that fits, given the content of the gospel itself. The gospel, the doctrine of God our Savior, supremely reveals the goodness of God. In it we hear of a God who is infinitely good in Himself, who was faced with a humanity in rebellion against Him. We all had nothing good to adorn ourselves with, and so the infinitely good God put on the clothing of human flesh and became man in Jesus Christ. And His adorning was not impressive in the eyes of the world: Scripture tells us He had no form or beauty that we should desire Him, and describes Him as one from whom men hid their faces. Yet He was self-controlled to the point of saying no to a comfortable, pleasurable life on earth to take the position of a servant go to the cross for our sins. In the doctrine of God our Savior, the goodness of God is adorned with a cross, and God Himself, become man, stripped of all His clothes, hanging on it for our sins, and days later rising from the dead to eternal life, so that whoever believes in Him would receive eternal life in Him.
And so what is the clothing that fits such a gospel? It’s the clothing of self-control, the clothing of love, the clothing of self-denial, the clothing even of submission in the case of wives and employees, as Christ in His humanity submitted to the Father. It’s a conduct that says, “I have eternal life; I’ve been saved; I don’t need anything this world has to offer anymore, so instead of my life being about me, I want it to be about displaying the goodness of this gospel by which I’ve been saved, so that others around me would be saved by God my Savior too!” When an older man is steadfast in what he believes and how he loves, not because he’s anxiously trying to “do it all right,” but because he’s tasted of salvation and now needs nothing else, that adorns the gospel. When an older women couldn’t think of wasting her time on gossip, but gives herself to teaching younger women the goodness of God our Savior, it adorns the gospel. When younger women really love their husbands and children, are self-controlled, pure, and kind, work at home, and submit to their husbands, not because they’re weak or inferior or anything of the sort, but because they’re so at rest in the eternal life they’ve received, that adorns the gospel. When younger men couldn’t be bothered with the silliness of excessive food and drink because they’ve been captured by something greater, that adorns the gospel. When elders model good works and are honest in their teaching because they really believe the doctrine they’re teaching is as good as it gets, it adorns the gospel. And when employees refuse to compromise their integrity, not because they’re a goody two shoe, but because they have something so much better than what money can buy, it adorns the gospel. So adorn the gospel with the conduct that fits it.