“Godliness in Conflict”Categories: Bulletin Articles, M. W. Bassford
The book of James has the reputation of being the most practical book of the New Testament, but Paul’s epistle to Titus surely must be considered in the same light. Titus is only three chapters long, but all three chapters are light on abstraction and heavy on concrete application. Especially in the second chapter, Paul aims these applications at specific groups, but often they apply equally well to all of us.
This is true of Paul’s words to Titus himself in Titus 2:7-8. Paul is aware that when Titus travels to Crete, he’s going to run into all sorts of opponents of the gospel. If these people can discredit Titus’ preaching through criticism of the preacher, that’s exactly what they’ll do.
As a result, Paul counsels Titus on how to deprive these critics of the personal attacks they love. Today, all Christians need to listen to his advice because there are plenty of people who want to attack us for the same reason. According to Paul, if we want to put these opponents to shame, we must excel in these four areas:
- Good Deeds. Christ-haters rejoice whenever they find religious hypocrites. If they can prove that we don’t obey the truth we proclaim, they don’t have to obey it either. We defeat this attack by living godly, blameless lives. When everybody knows that we practice what we preach, charges of hypocrisy have no force. What’s more, our example often proves to be as powerfully influential as our words.
- Purity of Doctrine. It’s easy to dismiss somebody who doesn’t know why he believes what he believes. Christians claim to be the people of the Book; if five minutes of religious conversation with us reveals that the Bible is unknown territory to us, that makes us another kind of religious hypocrite. If we clearly don’t study the Scriptures, why should anyone else? By contrast, when the time we have spent with the Bible is evident in the way we talk about it, we show that we deserve to be taken seriously.
- Dignity. Sad to say, dignity is out of fashion these days. Politicians, celebrities, and talking heads behave deplorably far too often, and far too many Christians take their cue from them, especially on social media. They gleefully share demeaning memes, sneer at anyone who disagrees with them, and engage in endless slanging matches with their opponents. Anyone with a good and honest heart will be repelled by such behavior. On the other hand, when we refuse to engage in such behavior, we will stand out, and God-seekers will be drawn to us.
- Soundness of Speech. This is the opposite of the unwholesome speech of Ephesians 4:29: speech that undermines, speech that tears down, speech that leaves its hearers worse off than they were. When we see a patron dress down a fast-food worker for getting their order wrong, that’s unwholesome speech on display. We, however, should use our words to make days brighter, lives better, and to lead others toward Christ. Just like we would only use sound timbers to build a house, we should only use sound words to build God’s temple.
Obviously, conduct like this guarantees nothing. If people could reject Jesus despite His sinless perfection, we cannot expect to overcome a hard heart no matter how we behave. However, when our behavior leaves others with nothing to object to, we make it as likely as possible that they will listen to us.