Imagine a black cat in a field covered with snow, a diamond against black cloth, or the light from your cell phone in a dark room. Now imagine that black cat in a dark alley, that diamond in a pile of broken glass, and your cell phone on a sunny day. All of those things can either be highly prominent or nearly invisible depending on their surroundings. The proper contrast gives visibility to the most common things. The same is true of the Christian life. In a dark and dirty culture, it is extremely important that Christians “shine as lights in the world” by displaying godliness (Philippians 2:15). This is true in our culture and it was true in ancient Crete where Titus was a pastor. Titus was left on the Mediterranean island of Crete to lead the church that had been birthed there through Paul’s ministry (1:5), just as Timothy had been left to continue the work at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). The Cretians had been described as “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). As a result of this stereotype, it was vitally important that the Cretian Christians live godly lives in order to effectively evangelize their neighbors. In Paul’s letter to Titus, he instructs the young pastor to teach the Cretians to live in contrast to their culture (3:1-9).
Paul identifies three specific attitudes necessary to a lifestyle of godliness (vs. 1-2). He begins with the proper Christian attitude toward authority. Christians are to be submissive and obedient to rulers. This doesn’t mean we always agree with them or condone sinful decisions, but that we trust God to judge those who lead and we trust His election of authority (Romans 13:1-7). Second, we are to be “ready for every good work.” This implies eagerness and action that is contrasted with the Cretian stereotype, “lazy gluttons” (1:12). Christians are to be productive and industrious, especially where ministry is involved. Finally, we maintain good personal relationships by avoiding malicious gossip and fighting and instead showing kindness and gentleness to everyone (vs. 2).
Paul then affirms that godliness is the result of God’s grace toward us (vs. 3-7). After instructing us to show kindness and gentleness to others, Paul reminds us that we once lived a lifestyle of sin and grieved God as others now grieve us. In spite of our sins, Christ “appeared” (vs. 4, Heb. 9:26) to extend mercy and forgiveness to us through his vicarious death on the cross. Our salvation is completely a work of grace through which we are washed, reborn, and made new by the Holy Spirit (vs. 5). On the basis of Christ’s death for us, we are justified, or declared righteous, and become heirs with Christ of all that is his (vs. 7). If God has shown us this measure of grace, we ought to extend that grace to others through a lifestyle of godliness.
Although godliness is commanded of Christians, we ought to joyfully pursue it because of its benefits. Rather than engage in unproductive religious activity such as debates and arguments (vs. 9), we should put into practice what we already know and live the truth we believe. Godliness strengthens our Christian testimony, enhances our relationships, and reflects God’s grace to others. Like exercise to the human body, godliness strengthens our spiritual life, and it also yields eternal reward in heaven (1 Timothy 4:7-8). The congregation at Crete needed to live in contrast to the culture with which they were identified. This is true of the church today. Our transformed lives are the greatest apologetic we possess. We need to couple our outspoken witness with an outstanding walk in order to win our world for Christ.
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, February 12, 2013.