It’s providential that this post, part 2 of a whatever-part series, arrives on July 4, US Independence Day. You’ll see why in a bit.
As I noted last time, I’ve found some things in Paul’s letter to Titus that I think apply directly to addressing the polarization dominating our country’s public discourse, and even the church’s public discourse, in these days.
If I’m going to make points from the Bible, I need to start with context, to ensure that I’m not pulling proof-texts wildly out of context but reflecting what the author actually intended to say. So let’s start there.
This epistle Paul wrote to his protégé, Titus, after leaving him on the island of Crete to care for the fledgling churches there. (And yes, I believe Paul actually wrote this letter, despite the huffings and puffings of contemporary critical scholarship. I don’t think there’s any substantive reason to doubt that, and several substantive reasons not to.)
Paul lays out his assignment for Titus in what amounts to the thesis statement of the letter, Titus 1.5:
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would
1) set in order what remains and
2) appoint elders in every city as I directed you.
He then expands on these two statements in reverse order. (That’s called a chiasm, if you care to look it up.)
- Titus 1.6-9 appointing elders in every city
- Titus 1.10-3.11 setting in order what remains (to be done)
And what remains to be done?
- Silencing the false teachers (Titus 1.10-16), and by contrast
- Instructing specific groups how to reflect the grace that God has shown them (Titus 2.1-15) and
- Instructing the body as a whole how to reflect the grace that God has shown them (Titus 3.1-11)
In my thinking, it’s the third chapter that gives us special help with the polarization that surrounds and dominates us. Beginning with the truth of the gospel—Christ “gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2.14), Paul demonstrates that our life with one another should be fundamentally different from the way it used to be. In the most literal sense, it should be extraordinary.
So chapter 3 is a map of social life, corporate life, public life, among redeemed people. How do we see, and thus treat, one another? How do we operate within society? How do we get along? On what basis? And to what end? And what do we do with deviations?
I’m convinced that if the church, corporately and individually, adopted this model and implemented it—by the grace of God—we would treat one another very differently. And the world would sit up and take notice—for some, for deliverance, and for others, for hardening and eventual destruction. But for all, for good.
So what are the evidences of a godly social life, including citizenship (Titus 3.1-2)? Why are those the evidences (Titus 3.3-7)? What is the key criterion for proper relationships (Titus 3.8-9)? And what do we do when somebody goes off the rails (Titus 3.10-11)?
Your homework for next week is to spend some time in this brief passage and note the answers you find to these questions. We’ll get down into it in detail next time.