The church at Crete needed to be established. It was early on in church history and Titus was the Apostle Paul’s apostolic representative there. We learn from Paul’s letter to Titus that he needed to “set in order what remains” (Titus 1:5). How would Titus do that? Two major pieces to that effort would be needed. First, elders would need to be appointed in the church (Titus 1:5-8) and they would need to be elders who could refute those who contradict the faith (Titus 1:9), which seamlessly leads to the second piece of the effort to set things right the church. There were “many rebellious men” that were exerting influence in the church that were “upsetting whole families” and the Apostle Paul was clear that these men needed to be silenced (Titus 1:11). Those false teachers were marked by a conduct that was “detestable and disobedient” (Titus 1:16).
In that context Paul moves on to the third major piece of setting things right in Crete and it had to do with the conduct of the believers in the church. In contrast to the false teachers Paul exhorts Titus to “speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Doctrine matters because it refers to the received teachings of the faith. But notice that it is “sound doctrine,” that is healthy doctrine. False teachers have doctrines too, but they are not healthy or sound. And yet Paul by the inspiration of the Spirit is clear that sound doctrine is not enough. That sound doctrine must be wed to things which are “fitting.” In other words, it is not sufficient to be someone who has right doctrine, we must have right doctrine with right practice and conduct in our lives. Over the long run if we do not have right doctrine and right practice then we will lose the right doctrine as well. The rest of this chapter deals with the conduct of various categories of people within that local expression of the body of Christ: older men (2:2), older women (2:3), younger women (2:4), younger men (2:6) and also bondslaves (2:9). Paul gives specific characteristics or behaviors that are fitting for sound doctrine for each of these categories. We are not going to look at the specific conduct that is taught here, but we are going to consider the important outcome of such fitting conduct as well as the underlying reason we can carry out such fitting conduct.
So why does this fitting gospel conduct matter? At the end of three of the four categories of people within the church there is a “so that” statement that gives us three reasons that fitting gospel conduct matters. First, “so that the word of God will not be dishonored” (Titus 1:5). Psalm 19:9 says “the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever, the judgments of the LORD are true they are righteous all together.” The fact is God’s Word is “pure; as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times” (Psalm 12:6). And to claim to follow the truths of that pure Word and to live in contradiction to them is to dishonor that Word. Second, “so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:8). As Titus was sound in speech he would not give the enemies of Christ the opportunity to detract from what God was doing. Third, “so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (Titus 2:10). The conduct of employees (today’s parallel with bondslaves) toward their employers matters because it can either adorn or clothe the doctrine of God or it can detract from the Lord Jesus Christ. For those of us who name the name of Christ, our conduct matters and there is no way of getting around this. This is an important emphasis of Scripture that cannot be ignored, but it can very harmfully be emphasized to the exclusion of the next point which has to do with how we can in fact live lives that are fitting for sound doctrine.
So how do we live lives that have fitting gospel conduct? If we get this wrong then an emphasis on the importance of right conduct will become the sum total of our Christianity. And if that happens then we no longer have Christianity. In order to see how this text guards us from this mistake we can read directly from Titus 2:1 to 2:11-12a: “But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine”…”For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us.” In other words, wed sound doctrine with fitting conduct, but remember it is fitting gospel conduct. It is conduct that is rooted in the fact that the “grace of God has appeared.” Fitting conduct is rooted not in self-improvement effort, but in the incarnation of grace in the Person of Jesus Christ. And if we are those who know Christ then we have been saved and that grace of Christ is “instructing us” in three areas: (1) To deny certain things; (2) To live in certain ways; and (3) To look for the Person of grace, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2:11-13). He is the One that gave Himself up for us and who enables us by His ongoing instructing grace to live lives that are fitting for the sound doctrine of the Scriptures.
Do we recognize the importance of sound doctrine being coupled with sound practice? Do we recognize that our conduct impacts perceived beauty of the truth that we hold to as Christians? According to this chapter we certainly need to, but lest the concern of having a good testimony in this world erodes into a Christless pursuit of moralism, we must never forget that fitting conduct is fitting gospel conduct. The grace of God in Christ alone enables us to live out lives that proclaim rather than detract from the glory of our Savior in this world.