The apostle Paul summed up our three-directional duties of the Christian life in three words: self-controlled, upright, and godly. The context of his moral description of God’s saving grace, however, is a whole series of moral exhortations from Titus 2:1 through 3:2. The instructions are addressed to the practical spiritual needs of various groups—older men, older women, younger women, young men, slaves, Titus himself, and finally to all believers. From these specific instructions we can begin to “flesh out” what he means by self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.
This section of Scripture contains so many concise instructions that to elaborate on it would entail basically restating the passage. I urge you to prayerfully read it over yourself, asking God to help you evaluate your own life in light of Paul’s instructions in practical Christian living. Don’t just pay attention to the section that applies most to you (older men, older women, younger women, and so on). There are Christian virtues in each section that apply to all of us, regardless of age or gender.
I do call your attention to the three instances where Paul emphasized the importance of our Christian testimony before unbelievers. In Titus 2:5, he said, “so that no one will malign the word of God.” In verse 8 he wrote, “so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” And then in his instructions to slaves, Paul concluded with, “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (verse 10).
Paul was obviously concerned about the witness by life of the believers in Crete. In Romans he had said to the Jews, “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24), and he must have had a similar concern about the Cretan Christians. What would he say about us today? As the unbelieving world becomes increasingly hostile to true Christianity, it will be even more eager to find inconsistencies in our lives so it can ridicule God and His Word.
More than four hundred years ago the great reformer John Calvin voiced a similar concern when he wrote,
Everything bad they [the ungodly] can seize hold of in our life is twisted maliciously against Christ and His teaching. The result is that by our fault God’s sacred name is exposed to insult. The more closely we see ourselves being watched by our enemies, the more intent we should be to avoid their slanders, so that their ill-will strengthens us in the desire to do well.
Therefore, as believers, we should seek to be exemplary in every aspect of our lives, doing our best for the sake of Christ and His gospel. Our work, our play, our driving, our shopping should all be done with a view that not only will unbelievers have nothing bad to say, but on the contrary, they will be attracted to the gospel that they see at work in our lives.
Another very practical presentation of everyday Christian living is found in the putting-off—putting-on section of Ephesians. I have already called attention to the statement of this basic principle in Ephesians 4:22–24. However, immediately following this statement, Paul gives specific examples of how to apply the principle. We are to put off falsehood and speak truthfully (4:25). Those who have been stealing (for example, on expense accounts or tax returns) must steal no longer. Instead they, and all of us, should learn to share with those in need (verse 28).
Paul’s contrast of generosity with stealing is very instructive regarding the concept of putting on godly character as well as putting off sinful traits. If someone in our fellowship who had been stealing made a definitive break with that practice, we would rejoice over a major victory won. But Paul would not be satisfied until that person had also acquired a generous spirit of helping others in need. The person must put on generosity as well as put off dishonesty.
There are three attitudes we can have toward money and possessions:
- “What’s yours is mine; I will take it.”
- “What’s mine is mine; I will keep it.”
- “What’s mine is God’s; I will share it.”
The first attitude is that of the thief. The second is that of the typical person, including, sad to say, many Christians. The third attitude is the one each of us should seek to put on. It is not enough not to steal; we must also learn to share.
The principle of putting off—putting on is seen again in our speech (Ephesians 4:29). We are to put off unwholesome talk (not just vulgar or obscene speech, but also criticism, complaining, gossip, and the like) and put on what is constructive and builds up others. Negative emotions of bitterness, rage, and anger and sinful actions of brawling and slander are to be put off and replaced with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness (verses 31–32).
Immorality or impurity of any kind, not only in actions but also in words, thoughts, and desires, is not to be practiced—no, not even a hint of it. This leads naturally to exhortation against any form of obscenity or witty but coarse jokes. Instead, a believer’s speech should be marked by thanksgiving (5:3–4).
Why does Paul set thanksgiving over against witty but coarse joking? For one thing, in the original language there is a play on words—eucharistia over against eutrapolia. But more importantly, Paul was telling us that our speech should be dominated by thanksgiving to God instead of foul speech, or even complaining speech. As he said in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we are to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”