God’s Glorious Symphony

What maxim will be used to describe us? If you’re a Truth person—as doctrinally sound? Or a Beauty person—as humble, and loving? Or a Morality person—as lovers of good? In the world’s eyes, religion is all about teaching morality and cultivating virtue, but that sounds like kindergarten to a lot of people. Religion, they say, is like childhood: “When you grow up, you outgrow it and move on.”

If religions are fundamentally a set of rules of do’s and don’ts, then it is no wonder people want nothing to do with religion. As Christians, we are quick to point out that Christianity is totally different—instead of being saved by keeping religious rules, we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. But if that is what the Bible teaches (and it is), then why do we find ethical and lifestyle commands (not suggestions) interwoven with doctrinal teaching? Is Christian living optional, or required, for the Christian? If living the Christian life is required by God (and it is), what is its purpose? What function does the Christian ethic serve?  The Bible provides an answer in Titus 2:1-10 where the apostle Paul teaches that God calls pastors, elders, and other mature Christian leaders in the church to teach everyone in the household of faith (regardless of age, sex, or vocation) to live in such a way that beautifully harmonizes with biblically sound doctrine and glorifies Christ our Savior.

If Sound Doctrine is God’s Melody

True teachers adhere to God’s melodic theme (Tit 1:9; 2:1)

God’s word teaches lots of true things that theologians and Bible readers have discovered through prayerful study illuminated by the Holy Spirit. Doctrine may be legitimately arranged narratively, pastorally, canonically, historically, and systematically. Sound doctrine seeks to rightly order and emphasize the Bible’s teachings according to God’s organizing theme (the “melody” of the Bible). The melody is the gospel: the coming kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Everything else the Bible teaches must be thematically arranged to support and build up the gospel. That is the way Jesus taught his disciples to understand the Bible. When you pay attention to how the NT interprets the OT, Jesus and his gospel emerge as the melody of the whole Bible. The Holy Spirit enables us to hear God’s melody in the pages of Scripture.

False teachers deviate from God’s melodic theme (Tit 1:10-11)

There are innumerable ways false teachers corrupt sound doctrine. They may deviate toward antinomianism or legalism, naturalism or mysticism, secularism or paganism, skepticism or relativism, progressivism or traditionalism, consumerism or asceticism, enthusiasm or quietism, atheism or deism, rationalism or irrationalism, authoritarianism or anarchism, no gospel or gospel plus something. Whatever form the deviation takes, sound doctrine is corrupted into a message that is no gospel at all. Any melody other than the gospel is unhealthy and leads to sinful living. One reason God is zealous for sound doctrine is that it leads to healthy Christian living.

And if Christian Living is Our Harmony

Notice that every harmony not only accords with the melody, but they also have overlapping notes. In one sense each Christian has a different part because we all have unique life situations, but in a more important sense every Christian is singing the same song—various harmonies written and assigned by God. There is unity in diversity. Every diversity harmonizes with the unity.

For older men (v. 2)

Here is an ideal picture of a mature Christian man: sound in faith, love, and hope. These require very practical characteristics. The virtues listed resemble those required of elders and deacons (1 Tim 3:2, 8). Titus must teach the men of Crete, who have an earned reputation for wildness, to be self-controlled. The Christian virtue of self-control (classically known as temperance) has primacy. It is a virtue necessary for every kind of Christian. Why? Because without self-control the mind of Christ will desire to obey God’s law but the weakness of the flesh will overrule the Christian mind. Without self-control, the sinful nature will overcome a Christian’s desire to live a godly life, and all the other virtues will be out of reach. Self-control, which is an inner quality, will manifest outwardly in sober-mindedness and literal sobriety. Older men must also be dignified (grave, serious) in morals and manner, not indulging in youthful debauchery which is especially shameful for the aged. We have a label for the older man who acts like a college frat boy: you know him as the “dirty old man”. So older men are exhorted to dignity and maturity. They should express a certain gravitas appropriate to their seniority and should reflect a self-controlled mind.

For older women (v. 3)

Instructions for these women begin with the word “likewise” which probably means they must also have the same virtues urged for older men. But that is not all. Specific virtues for older ladies resemble those required of deacon’s wives (1 Tim 3:11). God urges older women (like the men) to be conformed to the gospel—to be reverent in behavior, not to slander, and not be devoted to much alcohol (for slander and drunkenness often go together). The Greek word translated “reverent in behavior” means to conduct yourself like a priest attending temple duties in the presence of God. So to act reverently means attending to everything with a holy awareness of your part as an older Christian woman. And older women must teach what is good. Yes, older women are called to be teachers in the church. The role of the older women is critically important for the long-term health and sustainability for congregations. Mature ladies, God assigns you all to be the family counselors (experienced mothers and grandmothers) that train, encourage, disciple, and nurture younger women to hold together the Christian family. This is necessary because just as families are the building blocks of God’s common-grace society, so also Christian families are the building blocks of God’s special-grace society—the Church. When an older woman is irreverent, when she slanders and tears down people inside and outside the church, when she demonstrate a lack of self-control with impulsive, selfish, addictive, and destructive behavior (such as abusing alcohol or other frivolous things), she abdicates her role as teacher. And the church will soon suffer as families fall apart because she isn’t there to help when marital and family problems first arise. So take heed. If you are an older women you do well to attend to your own life, but in doing so you have not fulfilled your whole duty. You must also teach the younger ladies. God called you because you are better equipped and situated than men, even the pastor, to this task.

For younger women (vv. 4-5)

Notice Paul is no fool, and he doesn’t want to put Titus in a less than ideal situation either. So Paul indirectly instructs the younger women by exhorting the older women to teach the younger ones how to live in light of the gospel. The instruction is for older women while younger women overhear it. So everything I’m about to say to younger women about harmonious Christian living is for every female here. Right now we’re learning God’s instructions from the Scriptures as the preacher declares and explains them. But after the sermon older women must help those younger put it all into practice, teaching and mentoring their part of the harmony that is customized to individual ladies and their circumstances. What does the Bible say young women must do? Love their own husbands and children. Here the word “love” is not referring so much to romance or emotion, and still less to eroticism, but to sacrifice and service (cf. 1 Cor 13). This is probably a summary of the more specific instruction that follows in verse 5. First, young women must be self-controlled, by which moral teachers always included sexual modesty (purity or chastity). This aspect of self-control (modesty, purity, chastity) is not merely physical, but also in the mind and heart. A Christian wife is true to her husband in head, heart, and hand as she is true to God.  Second, young women must be busy (“working”) at home. This does not preclude the possibility of working outside the home, but it does enjoin young women to take responsibility for domestic affairs. These would include the daily care of their homes and children. In other words, if a woman marries and thus takes upon herself the calling of being a wife and mother (if God gives her children), then she must love and not neglect her husband and children. She must be a home-lover. (As much as modern women object to this call to the domestic life, I’ve never met a woman who is content to let her husband take primary responsibility of domestic duties on a permanent basis. A loving woman’s touch makes house a home, food a meal, marriage a mysterious romance, and children a family). Third, being busy at home should not have any appearance of usurping family leadership from the husband. Each wife should be subject to her own husband. Note well this should not in any way foster oppression or harsh treatment of a wife by her husband. It has been said many times that a Christian wife should have no qualms submitting to her own husband when he is sacrificially loving her, protecting her, providing for her, praising her, and leading her to Christ. Husbands are called to sacrificially love their wives and give their lives for her as Christ gave his life for the church (Eph 5:25).

Young people, I know this sounds regressive and repressive. Maybe not to your ears, but certainly to many of your friends and neighbors outside the church. When you grow up and leave home, you’ll meet a lot of people in our culture who will tell you the Bible’s calling for young women is disgusting. That you should run from it to be free. First, let me remind you to think carefully about what you’ve observed in Christian families. When I left home to go to college I watched very carefully my Christian friends’ parents when they were around. I wanted to get a broader view of what a Christian family looks like. Ask yourself, do Christian wives and mothers as a whole appear unhappy, unfulfilled, and unloved? Are they trapped, suppressed, or held back from using their unique gifts and talents? And second, consider the alternatives the world offers. Interview your parents and some Christian wives and mothers who you respect, asking them what they lost compared to what they gained by living in harmony with God’s melody. To receive and heed wisdom from those who have gone before you. Young wives and mothers in the church should learn to live in a Christian manner by observing and learning from the older wives and mothers in the church who have already successfully navigated the earlier years of marriage and child raising. Look for the exemplary women, then listen and consider their advice.

For younger men, including Titus (vv. 6-8)

This probably includes an age range from mid-teens to about 40 years old. It appears Paul includes Titus in this section as he may have been relatively young compared to the older men in the church. God says young men must be sensible and self-controlled, and thus take life seriously. In what areas do young men in particular need self-control? Controlling your temper, your tongue, your ambition and appetites, especially bodily and sexual urges. Young men are sometimes tempted to be goofy and irreverent so much that this kind of behavior begins to characterize them. We live in a society where manhood, fatherhood, and being a husband is mocked. As a result, it’s no surprise when young men neglect their high calling. As a country we do a terrible job of raising boys to be men. The proof is the millions of man-boys killing time while they refuse to take responsibility for their lives and begin sacrificing for another. But in God’s eyes, a young man who devotes himself to a woman and their children is praiseworthy. Not everyone is called to marriage and child rearing (Jesus and Paul are prominent examples), but normally this is God’s will for most people. His will for the church, his redeemed society, is for stable families bound by the covenant of marriage to build and participate in inter-generational churches. When this is the norm young men will have many examples in the church to look to and learn from. Men, setting an example for each other is invaluable in fostering self-control. That is one important reason why Titus must control himself—to set an example for young men.

As a young church leader, men like Titus have additional instructions that all men should aspire to. Pastors and other leaders are called to be “player-coaches” rather than armchair theologians. They are to coach Christians how to play the game of life, and they are to play the game knowing others are looking up to them (cf. Phil 3:17; 1 Tim 4:12; Heb 13:7; 1 Pet 5:2-3). This especially applies to pastors and teachers. People will not take the pastor’s teaching seriously unless there is a seriousness in his manner and delivery. Richard Baxter advised pastors, “whatever you do, let the people see that you are in good earnest…You cannot break men’s hearts by jesting with them.” The men whom God has greatly used throughout history are those who were serious, sober, dignified, and full of the fear of the Lord.

For slaves/servants (vv. 9-10)

Slaves were an established and entrenched part of the Roman social and economic order. By one historian’s accounting there were more slaves in Rome than freemen! Although Greco-Roman slavery was not the same as race-based chattel slavery in early America, many slaves were mistreated and sometimes despised as subhuman. Common perceptions viewed slaves as lazy, apt to argue with their masters, and prone to steal when they could get away with it. But the gospel challenged and changed this view of slavery. In the first century, slaves were members of the family household and Christian slaves were members of the household of faith. So they deserved special instruction for harmonious Christian living. Note that in giving these instructions, Paul is not approving of slavery (1 Cor 7:21), rather he is regulating the institution of slavery in light of the gospel—regulations that eventually toppled slavery as an institution (cf. Eph 6:5-8; Col 3:22-25; 1 Tim 6:1-2).

What does it mean to be “well pleasing”? It is more than obeying, since it is possible to be obedient but not from the heart, to do what is required but no more. To be well pleasing is to do your work with excellence. To go the extra mile. To impress with the overall quality of your labor. Dedicated, voluntary service, even for slaves, is noble. What does it mean to not be “argumentative”? It is to refrain from talking back with disrespectful words and attitudes. Disrespect is the seed of rebellion in the heart. A slave might also gripe about his master to others. This also is being argumentative, perhaps not directly to the master, but arguments are often waged via proxy. Either way it is a poor witness for Christ. What does it mean to “steal” or “pilfer”? Slaves were in a position to easily take little items for themselves or to sell them, and then report them as lost or broken. In other words, petty larceny. This was probably the sin that Onesimus committed against his master Philemon (Philm 18).

How does this apply to employees? Consider the submission command. Employees would do well to follow their employer’s instructions, not working against the mission of the company. Consider the well-pleasing and do-not-argue commands. To work hard without talking back is a recipe for pleasing your boss. Arguing with your supervisor is asking to get fired, transferred, or marginalized at work. Consider the command not to pilfer. Businesses lose millions every year due to employee theft or wastefulness. Not just stealing office supplies, but also stealing time by not working (or not working hard) when on the clock. Imagine how prices could fall and employee compensation could rise if all forms of stealing ceased! Not only would the workplace transform for the better, but families, communities, and economies would flourish.

Then Doctrine and Life Together Make God’s Glorious Symphony

To shame the opponent and reviler (vv. 5b, 8b)

Obeying these instructions is for the purpose of ensuring God’s word (the Scriptures and the gospel they contain) cannot be plausibly reviled. Although people sometimes deny it, the world knows that virtuous living is honorable. So when unbelieving adversaries speak ill of God, the gospel, your elders, your church, or even you, they should feel ashamed in their heart and receive shame in polite company every time they malign the uprightness of Christians who harmonize sound doctrine and wholesome living.

To adorn the doctrine of God our Savior (v. 10b)

Living this way is not only God’s will but it is also the starting point of a winsome and authentic Christian testimony to your family, friends, neighbors, and even your enemies! Gospel living can provide a proof of the gospel, at least in the eyes of the watching world. Christians must be conscious of what our opponents think and say about the church. That means we must be in dialogue with the world, listening to their critiques, complaints, and accusations. Who knows, perhaps God is using the world to speak correction to the church (2 Sam 16:5-14)? An elder should live to have a good reputation with outsiders (1 Tim 3:7). Households should have a good reputation in the surrounding community, and churches should cultivate this good reputation, living harmoniously with God’s gospel melody.

As our society continues to reject the gospel and Christian ethics, unbelievers will become more and more pagan in their worldview, lifestyle, and treatment of others. The Christian structures and cultural practices of previous generations that were shaped by the gospel are fading away more rapidly than ever before. In our cultural moment, it is all the more important that Christians live in accordance with sound doctrine. Why? Because God’s glorious symphony will sound increasingly strange, peculiar, and counter-cultural. We will appear more backwards, quaint, and old-fashioned to the tolerant ones. And to the intolerant, we will be labeled regressive, bigoted, and a danger to society. Sometimes the faithful church and its members will be treated as such. But if that is the environment in which God assigns us to declare the gospel with our mouths, and to adorn the gospel with our lives, then we must gladly accept God’s calling. Our spiritual fathers and mothers were called to live godly lives, and yet from time to time received mockery, scorn, and marginalization. We are blessed to share in their sufferings. For in doing so we share in the sufferings of Christ Jesus our Lord. What a high calling! What a precious blessing! What a holy privilege! Let us receive God’s encouragement and hold up one another in the strength of the Lord that our lives might be attractive to all those who God calls to himself. And may God use our harmonious Christian living, in accordance with the melody of sound doctrine, to play his glorious symphony before the whole creation.


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