Epistles: Titus 2 – Making Grace Look Good


In the second chapter of Titus, Paul tells us that people often judge the gospel by the way we live. Do we make the gospel look good, or do we give people a reason to complain? The gospel teaches grace, and grace teaches us something about the way we live.

Self-control: a good example

Paul tells Titus, “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.” He then describes teachings that are reliable: “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance” (Titus 2:1-2). Titus is working with believers who need some guidance about their behavior.

Paul begins with three virtues praised by Greek philosophers—not going to extremes, acting respectably and having self-control. He then gives three virtues important in Christianity: having right beliefs, showing love, and maintaining these qualities even when it is difficult.

For women, Paul gives slightly different advice: “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good” (v. 3). These vices are not typically associated with women today, and Paul could easily point these teachings at men—they are appropriate for all Christians.

Paul expects older women to be able to teach: “They can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands” (vv. 4-5). Paul does not tell Titus to teach the young women directly, but he asks the older women to lead them.

Paul lists a number of roles that women had in first-century society and then explains why Christian women should perform them: “so that no one will malign the word of God.” Christianity has several beliefs and practices that unbelievers do not like, and Christians cannot do everything that unbelievers want. But in many customs, Christians can conform, and this is what Paul wants.

If people are going to criticize, let it be for essential matters, not for unnecessary differences. If we break social customs, people will be more skeptical about everything we say, so we want to keep our differences to a minimum. Paul is concerned about how our behavior might affect the gospel.

“Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good” (vv. 6-7). Titus will teach not just by words, but also in what he does. Even his style of teaching is important: “In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned.” Why? Because our reputation as bearers of the gospel is important: “So that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” People will disagree with our beliefs, but we do not want to give any extra offense.

Paul then comments on one more social group: “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (vv. 9-10).

Paul is advising believers to perform their social roles well—he is not necessarily saying that those social roles are good. But we can with some modification apply what Paul says to employment situations today. Believers should perform their jobs well, being cooperative, trustworthy, and respectful to everyone.

Why? To make the gospel attractive, so that people will be more likely to listen to what we say about Jesus. The way we live, the way we work, the way we treat our families and neighbors, all make a difference in how receptive people will be to the message we share.

Grace-based behavior

Paul then gives a theological reason for teaching people to be well-behaved: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (v. 11). Or the Greek could also be translated, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” (NRSV). Not everyone has seen it yet, but salvation is available to everyone on the basis of grace.

And what does this grace do? “It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (v. 12). Grace—if we understand it correctly— teaches us to reject sin and to do good. As children of God, we want to be like the Son of God, but we cannot do this on our own strength. It is only by God’s grace that we are enabled to do what he wants.

This is a good way to live “in this present age,” but the rewards are not necessarily seen in this age. Therefore, “we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (v. 13). Here, Jesus is clearly called God, and Paul says that we await his return.

What did Jesus do? He “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (v. 14). He redeemed us from sin. But Christ has a purpose for us beyond that: He wants to purify us, to eliminate the sin, and to create in us a desire for good behavior.

So Paul summarizes his point: “These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you” (v. 15). Jesus wants people who are eager to do good, so Titus, as a messenger of Christ, should encourage good behavior and speak out against bad behavior. He should not do anything that would cause people to despise him, because they would then despise the Savior he represented.

As Titus reads this letter to his congregation, Paul is also speaking to them: “Titus is going to have to correct you on some of your behavior. But he is simply doing what I would have done, and doing what grace tells you, if you are willing to hear what it says.” In the same way today, we should not despise those who exhort us to resist sin and do good.

Things to think about

  • What virtues are most needed in our culture? (v. 2)
  • What behaviors today, although not sins, might cause people to despise the gospel? (v. 5)
  • Paul said that slaves should submit (v. 9). Was it therefore wrong for Christians to try to abolish slavery in the 19th century?
  • Grace means that we are not penalized for sin; how then does it teach us to avoid sin? (v. 12)

Author: Michael Morrison

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