Meditations in Titus: 20: Viewing the World
Titus 3:1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good,
More than once in Titus we have observed Paul’s concern for God’s people to be a good witness to the surrounding world. We wonder why those who set the Bible in chapter and verses put these next two verses in chapter 3 because in many ways they flow on from what he has been saying.
Certainly there has been no prior reference to the rulers and authorities but the tone and direction is a continuation. So let’s consider the first half of the verse first of all: “remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities.” Being a believer isn’t just to be a good citizen of the kingdom of God, it is also to be a good citizen of the country in which you live. Paul doesn’t give Titus a reason for this injunction as he assumes as a leader he will understand the issues. To the church at general in Rom he said, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” (Rom 13:1) There he explains to the believers that it is an authority issue and authority goes right back to God.
This wasn’t just something that Paul thought, the apostle Peter taught the same thing: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” (1 Peter 2:13-15) However he spells out what Paul has been instructing Titus to pass on to the church, that the way we behave in public will reveal the sort of believers we are. The best citizens should be Christians. I wonder, however, how often that can be said?
Note also his words, “to be obedient.” The obedience he refers to must be the laws of the country which mostly we should obey. However if there is a direct conflict with obeying God and a man-made law, then obeying the Lord must come first, e.g. “Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard,” (Acts 4:18-20) and “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:28,29)
Yet, we would suggest, when there is such conflict, great wisdom is needed to not accentuate the conflict and no doubt believers have sometimes done that. The example of the wisdom and grace of Daniel and his friends in the court of Babylon (Dan 1) is worth studying.
Likewise, we would suggest, the believers should be working to be such outstanding members of their community that any conflict is likely to be overlooked by the authorities. It is said that quite often in the early centuries of the Gospel, when particular Caesars sent out a decree to persecute the Christians, the local governors sometimes gave the Christian community warning of what was coming and told them to leave town until the dust settled, because they knew that the Christians were the backbone of the local community.
We need to reiterate the point we made to start with, that Paul wants Titus to make the local believers realise what an impact on the local society they can have by the way that they work out their faith. Earlier on he had spoken about the poor quality of life on Crete. Yes, speak out against it, and yes declare the Gospel but ALSO live out your lives in such a way that the world will see and wonder. Remember Jesus’ teaching, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16)
There have been times in the life of the Church when there were those who felt the only way to really know God was to escape living in the everyday world of people and so we can think of the ‘desert fathers’ of Egypt or monks or nuns of closed orders, yet the Lord taught us to be light to the world and you cannot be that hidden away. Yes, circumstances may sometimes be difficult and when outright persecution occurs it is very difficult, nevertheless our calling is still to seek to be light to those around us. Even the apostle Paul had cause to apologize for overstating the issue to one in authority. We may speak out, we may protest but we may not use violence, I would suggest, which goes against all of Jesus’ teaching. As we said above, a study of Daniel and his friends may help in difficult situations.
It might also be worth commenting, that when the church is moving in power and signs, wonders and healings become part of the life of the church again on a regular basis, instead of just rarely, then that also may challenge the hearts of unbelievers. Although there were times of persecution recorded in Acts we also find that early on, the church were, “enjoying the favor of all the people,” (Acts 2:47). After the incident of Ananias and Sapphira we find, “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.” (Acts 5:13) The witness of the church in respect of the world can influence the way people think about the church and about the Lord. That is what is behind so much pf what Paul has been saying to Titus.