A Commentary by John Stott
Titus 3:1-8. 3). Doctrine and duty in the world.
Having given Titus directions about doctrine and duty in the church (chapter 1), and in the home (chapter 2), Paul now develops the same theme in regard to the world (chapter 3). He thus moves purposefully from the inner circles of home and church to the outer circle of secular society.
The pattern in this chapter is the same as that of chapter 2. The apostle begins with ethical instruction, in this case the need for submission to the authorities and for considerateness to everybody (1-2). He then immediately grounds Christian duty in Christine doctrine, giving us a magnificently full account of salvation (3-8). He reserves some final, more personal messages for his conclusion (9-15).
1). Christians in public life (3:1-2).
*Remind the people* (literally ‘them’), he begins, for the teaching he is about to give is not new. The churches have heard it before. But there are many warnings in Scripture of the dangers of forgetfulness, and many promises to those who remember. A bad memory was one of the main reasons of Israel’s downfall. ‘They soon forgot’, we read, and ‘they did not remember’ (Ps.106:13, 7). Jesus had to make the same complaint to the apostles: ‘Don’t you remember…?’ (Mt.16:9). It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the leading apostles Paul, Peter and John in their New Testament letters all stress the importance of their reminding ministry (E.g. Phil.3:1; 2 Pet.1:12-13; 3:11-12; 1 Jn.2:21, 24). So all conscientious Christian teachers, once they have been delivered from the unhealthy lust for originality, take pains to make old truths new and stale truths fresh.
What Titus is to remind the people about concerns their social relationships in the world, first to the authorities in particular (1) and then to everybody in general (2).
a). Christian relationships with rulers (3:1).
*Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient* (1a). ‘Paul is possibly glancing at the notoriously turbulent character of the Cretans, of which Polybius tells us’; they were constantly involved in ‘insurrections, murders and internecine wars’. Crete had been subjugated by Rome in 67 BC, and since then had been continuously restive under Roman colonial yoke. Paul has hinted at their ‘insubordinate’ spirit in 1:10 and 16. Now through Titus he tells them to be submissive to their rulers.
Paul has already written to Timothy about the need to pray for those in authority (1 Tim.2:1ff.); now he writes to Titus about our Christian duty to obey them. Not that Christian citizens can ever give the state an unconditional allegiance. That would be to worship the state, as in the emperor worship of the first century, which Christians recognized as idolatry. How could they call Caesar ‘Lord’ when they had confessed Jesus as Lord? Nevertheless, Christian duty in principle is to submit to the state, because, as Paul has explained in Romans 13, the state’s authority has been delegated to it by God. This means that our first loyalty is to him, whose authority it is, and if our duty to him comes into collision with our duty to the state, our duty to God takes precedence. As Peter said, ‘We must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29).
It is not enough, however, for Christians to be law-abiding (so far as our conscience permits us); we are to be public-spirited as well, *to be ready (eager, not reluctant) to do whatever is good* (1b), whenever we have the opportunity. According to both Paul and Peter, the state has the double duty to punish evil and to promote good (Rom.13:4; 1 Pet.2:14). So God’s people should be ready to cooperate with it in both these areas. The emphasis on ‘whatever is good’ not only clarifies our responsibility but limits it. We cannot cooperate with the state if it reverses its God-given duty, promoting evil instead of punishing it, and opposing good instead of rewarding and furthering it.
Tomorrow: Titus 3:2. b). Christian relationships with everybody
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Titus. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.