This sermon was originally preached in 2016.
Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
Titus 2:7-10 ESV
Because Paul wrote this letter to Titus to guide him in putting order to churches in Crete, the letter lends itself well to being a summary for a church should function and serve. In the first chapter, Paul dove into the method and theology behind church leadership. He urged Titus to appoint multiple elders in each church, while paying careful attention to the personal qualifications of each elder. Chapter two then led into Paul’s desire for each church’s members, which he began with a thought on biblical discipleship.
Having addressed the need for discipling one another in how to follow Christ more closely, the apostle now moves into a closely related area: evangelism. There is a clear reason for why discipleship and evangelism are brought up back to back because they are two sides of the same coin. Both activities are about sharing and living the gospel. Evangelism has us sharing the gospel with non-Christians in the hope that they will also follow Christ. Discipleship has us sharing the gospel with Christians in the hope that they will follow Christ in an ever deeper relationship. Evangelism is discipleship for non-Christians, and discipleship is evangelism for Christians. The two cannot be separated from one another.
That being said, like discipleship, most Christians feel the need for evangelism but are unaware of how to do it. Too many of us assume that before sharing Christ with others we must have a mastery-level understanding the Bible, be a minister or aspiring minister, or be supernaturally gifted in it. Though we should all aim for a great understanding the Bible, every Christian is a minister, and God does supernaturally use all of us for evangelism, the actual action behind evangelism are not so strange or complicated as we make them. Instead, Paul emphasizes our need to proclaim Christ with our lives before we ever open our mouths.
The four verses of this study are easily divided into two sections of two verses each. Here we will first discuss a Christian’s general conduct and speech, and in the following two verses, Paul will present a biblical perspective on work in relation to declaring the gospel.
MODELING GOOD WORKS // VERSES 7-8
If there is any uncertainty for how a Christian ought to live, let us pause at Paul’s statement here: show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works. The apostle is being purposefully general as evidenced by the phrase “in all respects.” The biblical ideal is for Christians to be more than doers of good works; instead, we ought to be models of good works. The world should be able to look upon Christians for a pattern of living that they might want to imitate. In fact, a great thought for considering whether we should do something or not is to consider if we would want anyone else to imitate us. If we act in ways that we would rebuke someone else for behaving, perhaps we should remove the plank from our own eye first. We should all aim to say along with Paul, “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil. 3:17).
Since Paul appears to have addressed Titus directly in this verse, it appears to link very closely to a similar verse in 1 Timothy that is much more known: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). Both Titus and Timothy were young men, likely in their mid-to-late twenties, and Paul appears to be giving them similar messages: be an example for others to follow. Age alone is no indication of maturity and wisdom, so every believer must strive to be a model of good works for others.
After commanding the modeling of a good conduct, the apostle then turns his attention to our speech. The fact that “teaching” is used here might lead us to think that Paul is speaking only to teachers within the church, yet as we saw in verse three of this chapter, everyone is called to be a teacher in some area of life. Also, the word could just as easily be translated as “doctrine” as the NASB renders it. Thus, Paul is speaking to all Christians concerning our doctrine and how we should teach it to others.
First, we must teach with integrity. This means that our doctrine must be honest and morally upright, but the Greek places an emphasis upon being incorruptible. Just as false teachers were said to be teaching for shameful gain (1:11), we must hold to doctrine that is incapable of being soiled or twisted. Our only hope for teaching with such integrity is found in holding firm to the Scriptures.
Second, our teaching must be dignified. As mentioned, when discussing the characteristics of older men (2:2), dignified here means venerated or honorable. However, in terms of speech, we could also say that Paul means that we should teach and hold our doctrine with the gravity that is due it. The immense weight of knowing that the Bible is the literal word of God should cause each of us to refrain from ever treating it with nonchalance. There must be seriousness that comes with “rightfully handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Third, our teaching must be sound in speech. Sound here means strong or healthy. In fact, the word “hygiene” comes from this Greek word for “sound.” What does it mean then to have healthy speech? God-glorifying and healthy speech goes far beyond avoiding certain words; instead, Paul gives the ideal in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Notice that Paul commands that no corrupting talk leave our lips. Corrupting is the exact opposite of the incorruptible integrity that we just discussed. Christ-like speech is meant to be grace-giving, not meant for destroying. Biblical speech goes far beyond a few cuss words. We may not curse others, while still claiming to be like Christ because our words break others down instead of giving grace to them.
Of course, this does not imply that rebukes are sinful or that strong language is never necessary. A loving but painful rebuke is often just as needed for our health as a doctor resetting a broken bone. Will snapping the bone back into place be painful? Certainly! Yet it would be unthinkable for a doctor to leave our bone fractured because he or she wanted to keep us from pain. Similarly, at times, strong speech is necessary for sound speech; however, the emphasis is the heart of the speaker. Is the message meant to build up or break down? Is it meant to ultimately strengthen or destroy? These are the questions that we must ask about our speech every day.
The apostle ends verse eight by providing the reason for why we should guard our speech: so that people will not have anything evil to say about us. Our words are a reflection of our character. Jesus Himself said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). People will judge us based on what we do and say. As believers, we should long to reflect Christ in all that we do. We desire to be imitators of Christ (Eph. 5:1), so our hope is that others will see Christ being imitated in our actions and speech. As we will go more specifically into in the next two verses, our lives must be a platform for displaying and proclaiming the gospel. While it is true that no amount of living will ever accomplish the work of speaking the gospel, how we live will either lend credibility or ensure deniability of the gospel that we speak.
WORK & THE GOSPEL // VERSES 9-10
Paul now dives specifically into the context of bondservants serving their masters. Make no mistake, the apostle is speaking specifically to slaves here. The barbaric institution of slavery is a blight upon humanity. For the first century, it was also extremely common. Daniel Akin claims that “one out of three persons in Rome and one in five elsewhere was a slave” (267). Thus, Paul is speaking to around twenty percent of the population. This, of course, does not mean that the Bible endorses slavery; rather, it speaks into the brutality of it all, encouraging slaves to use their lives for the spreading of the gospel. And they would promote the gospel by the character of their lives.
Though slavery is (rightly) abolished in the western world, we can still find application in Paul’s words. I would encourage us to apply these verses toward how we work today. After all, slaves were primarily used for labor. So let us consider that if Paul wrote these words to people working without pay, how much more should we apply them to our jobs which do compensate us! If Paul considered the bonds of slavery to be the slave’s mission field, how much more should we view our jobs in light of the gospel!
Paul begins by telling the slaves to be submissive to their masters in everything. For any employee with a terrible boss, the response might be that their boss does not deserve submission. But notice that the master’s character or qualification is not mentioned. Colossians 3:23-24 gives our motivation for serving our superiors: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.” Essentially, this means that for Christians there is no concept of secular work. Because we work for Christ through our bosses and employers, our work is holy, set apart for His glory. Thus, we do not obey our supervisors exclusively because they are respectable but because we ultimately work for Christ.
Are there exceptions to this wide sweeping call to obedience? Yes, there are four: when it is unbiblical, illegal, unethical, or immoral. Outside of these, our goal is to submit to him and serve, all the while seeing the true Master, the Lord Jesus, who stands behind him.Akin, 270-271.
Next, Paul provides a list of four qualities that should mark our work. First, we are to be well-pleasing. We should seek to work hard and well for our employers. Second, we should avoid being argumentative. Obviously this does not mean that arguments are always to be avoided; rather, an argumentative demeanor points to a rebellious heart, which is the opposite of being submissive. Third, we must not pilfer. Pilfering refers a light version of stealing, taking things that would likely be overlooked and unnoticed. We must always remember that God sees our actions even when our superiors do not. Fourth and finally, we should show all good faith. This means that we should demonstrate the Christian faith in everything that we do. As representatives of Christ on earth, our lives should reflect that fact.
Paul then ends these verses by pointing toward our goal living out his commands: that we may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. This is a beautiful statement that must be taken to heart by all Christians! Our good works adorn our beliefs, making them pleasant and lovely to receive. In fact, the word for “adorn” in Greek is the origin of the English word “cosmetics.” Thus, like makeup and jewelry are meant to adorn a woman’s natural beauty, so our good works are meant to accentuate the inherent splendor of the gospel.
However, despite the emphasis upon right living, we must not fall into the belief that speaking the gospel is unimportant. Though I understand the heart behind it, the popular notion (commonly attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi) that we must preach the gospel at all time, using words only when necessary can be quite harmful. In reality, the gospel is a message of good news that must be proclaimed verbally. Just as Jesus is the embodied Word of God, so we must use words to communicate the great truths of God. Our lifestyle is meant to adorn our proclamation, not become our proclamation.