The tiny letter of Paul to Titus is both rich and candid. It is replete with exhortations to adorn the gospel with good works, . . . or maybe to authenticate the gospel with good works. I found at least six instructions to live out lives of good works, along with that to live one’s life above reproach. But it is the context of the presence of the gospel in Crete that makes this letter so fascinating for us in our culture. He reminds Titus that even one of their own prophets defined all the Cretan as liars. Hey! That’s pretty-heavy stuff. How does one live the gospel with integrity in a culture of deception?

The answer to that question is that one has to be alert to the fact that in such a society the truth is very fluid. We live in just such a society. One becomes immunized to the deceptions that go on all around us, in politics, in the media, in advertising—you name it. All of those seeking to influence us engage in what might be called hyperbole, or equivocation, or double-speak in order to persuade us to accept their propositions, or to buy their products, or to obtain their votes, or to cloak unpleasant realities. Dissembling voices surround us.

I was blessed with two parents who instilled in my brothers and me the ethical mandate of this letter every day. When I would be a bit loose with the facts, one of my parents would say: “Careful with the truth, Bobby. Careful with the truth.” And there was the continual reminder (also included in Paul’s word to Titus) that we live our lives above reproach. I’m thankful for that. My very practical grandmother would regularly say that we should do or say anything that we didn’t want printed on the front page of the newspaper. I’m not certain that I have always live up to that standard, but I have it always in my mind.

Titus was a missionary on the island of Crete, and it was renowned for its shady communications. What was the resolution to that? How was the gospel of Jesus Christ to be authenticated? The answer was that it was by good works, by lives of unimpeachable character: “ . . . hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” He denounces those who deny God by their detestable works.

In a very real sense, the Cretans were no different from those in any culture. Jesus told his followers that men would come to know him by their love and good works. The dominant order of any society has the proclivity to shade the truth to make itself acceptable. We see this in this country’s politics, we see it in the advertising industry, we see it in the Wall Street power structures, we see it in so much of the denial of the presence of ethnic prejudice. Deception (polite and slippery) becomes the air we breathe. (Alas! sometimes even inside the Christian community).

Paul tells Titus to remind the believers in Crete to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and show perfect courtesy toward all people. That’s a tough one to swallow when we are being ‘conned’ and lied-to by major public figures. But whatever the context, God’s new creation people are to be the radiant display of the image of God, and so to adorn the gospel visibly and practically, and not to be conformed to the dominant order around us.

You can tell that I am totally impressed with the contextual practicality of this letter for those of us living in the so-often confusing ethical climate of this country.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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