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Althouse: Doctrine without deeds will not cut it
Bible Speaks
Rev. L. Althouse

February 26, 2006
Background Scripture: Titus 2. Devotional Reading: Ephesians 4:11-16. Psalms 119:9-16.

If Titus were the only epistle in the New Testament, the shape of Christian discipleship would be quite different. Titus is valuable, but only if it is read in context with the other New Testament epistles, because it presents only one-half of how we should live - a valuable half, but we must remember that there is more.

One of the themes of Titus is: “…teach what befits sound doctrine.” (2:1) I have frequently had this verse quoted to me as the authority for making doctrine the key to being a Christian. But, read all the verses following this statement and you will find that the writer is focusing on the behavior Christians are to exhibit: temperance, seriousness, sensibleness, love, steadfastness, reverence, chastity, kindness, self-control and so forth.

Doctrines spawn deeds
This doesn’t mean that he is downgrading doctrine, but that doctrine without deeds will not cut it. In Titus 1 he has been talking about the qualifications of elders and bishops. Avoid the “empty talkers.” (1:10)

For some people, talking about Christianity is a substitute for living as a Christian. They “talk the talk,” but don’t “walk the walk.” “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their deeds…” (1:16)

Then it is that he says: “But as for you, teach what befits sound doctrine.”

The writer spells out what this means for people of different genders and age groups. While what he prescribes for each group is probably specially relevant, it should not be supposed that his teachings do not apply to all groups: young, old, men and women.

He counsels the older men to be steadfast, but this quality is also to be desired in young men, young women and older women.

There is nothing intrinsically Christian about the qualities called for in 2:2-6. The emperors upheld them as ideals in both Greek and Roman societies. This is social respectability. The writer reveals his motive: “…so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us.” (2:8)

He does not want the gospel message dishonored by scandalous behavior. Christians should live “so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God.” (2:16) The purpose is to make the Christianity attractive to all: “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions and to live sober, upright and godly lives in this world…” (2:11), a theme running through Timothy 1 and 2 and Titus. Respectable crosses? Nevertheless, I do not believe that the writer of this letter would have us stop with respectability. Now, I have no problem with respectability as such. One of President Theodore Roosevelt’s sons said that his father “was all for peace, providing it didn’t get in the way of the fighting.” I feel the same way about respectability: I’m all for it, so long as it doesn’t get in the way of following Jesus Christ. And, sometimes, being a disciple of Jesus means the loss of respectability in our society. Sometimes it means enmity from our society’s standards; but if we lose the approval of our society, let it be because we follow Christ, not because we live in a dishonorable manner.

This is the other “half” of which I spoke earlier, the understanding that being a disciple of Jesus may bring us opposition, prejudice, even imprisonment and death. Jesus died and some of the apostles died on crosses. Paul wrote some of his letters from prison. Loving our enemies and ministering to the needy may tarnish or ruin our respectability.

Yes, “Show yourself in all respects a model of good deeds” (2:7), even if it means losing your respectability.

This farm news was published in the February 22, 2006 issue of Farm World.