How to Live a Holy Life: An Introduction to the Letter of Saint Paul to Titus
Paul’s letter to Titus lays out a code of holiness for both the clergy and laypeople in the young church on the island of Crete. Paul also gives instructions for dealing with false teachers. If you are striving to live a holy life, this letter has a message for you.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
Paul’s letter to Titus is one of the three pastoral epistles, along with 1 and 2 Timothy. Although it is addressed to Titus, this letter was likely read to the entire congregation. Titus was an uncircumcised Gentile convert from the Mediterranean island of Crete who accompanied Paul to the Council of Jerusalem to address the question of circumcision in AD 49 (Acts 15). He served with Paul in Crete and was later ordained its bishop. Paul, seeing himself as Titus’s spiritual father, writes this letter toward the end of his life, giving final instructions on church leadership, Christian life, and warnings against false teachers. There are many similarities between Paul’s letter to Titus and 1 Timothy.
At the time this letter was written, Christianity was expanding rapidly. Titus will need help to oversee the growing church. Paul wants priests and deacons appointed in every community on Crete. As bishop, Titus has the authority to ordain priests and deacons, but what kind of men should he appoint to church leadership? According to Paul, a candidate should be hospitable, a lover of goodness, a master of himself, upright, holy, disciplined, and firm in his knowledge of the faith. He should not be arrogant, quick-tempered, a drunkard, violent, or greedy for gain, as is the case with many false teachers (1:7–9).
False teachers have plagued Paul throughout his ministry, and his experiences in Crete are no exception. Quoting one of Crete’s own citizens speaking about these teachers, he writes that “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (1:12). Paul charges that these people profess to know God but deny him by their actions. The false teachers must be confronted and corrected. Paul advises Titus that if these arrogant and sinful people fail to repent after being corrected once or twice, they should be completely avoided so as not to divide the community and lead others into sin.
Next, Paul gives Titus instructions on the desired conduct of believers at all stages of life, making it clear that everyone—not just clergy—is to strive for holiness. Paul wants to make sure those outside the community perceive truth not just in the teachings of the Church, but in the actions of its members. Older men are instructed to be temperate, sensible, and steadfast. Older women are to be reverent, passing on what they have learned to the younger women. Younger men are to show self-control. All are to be models of good deeds, integrity, and sound speech, especially those in positions of leadership in the Church (2:3–8).
If members of the clergy are not teaching sound doctrine and not following their own teaching, they will drive current and potential members away. In chapter 3, Paul reminds all believers in Crete to be gentle, remembering that the grace to live a holy life comes from Christ, who gave himself up to redeem us while we were still in our sins. It is only through his grace that we are heirs to eternal life. This news is too good to keep to ourselves. Just as Paul mentors Titus, the members of the church in Crete are called to pass on what they have learned about the faith by their words and the way they live their lives.
- Greeting and Thanksgiving (1:1-4)
- Pastoring an Unruly Church (1:5-3:11)
- Holiness for Clergy (1:5-9)
- Warning about False Teachers (1:10-16)
- Holiness for Lay Members (2:1-3:8)
- Avoiding Troublemakers (3:9-11)
- Instructions and Greetings (3:12-15)
Take It to Heart:
Take a moment to ponder Paul’s code of holiness for women in Titus 2:3-5. How well do you embody these characteristics? As women, how can we encourage one another to live out our call to holiness?
For Further Reflection:
Read 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Hebrews 3:13
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