This folly has been derived from the following message:
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
It hurts to see our society become increasingly anti-God. At one time, it was easier for Christians to blend in with American culture. Children would pray in schools, courtrooms had copies of the Ten Commandments on their walls, and the Bible was the only book anyone swore by when taking on the responsibility of a public office. Yet, here we are today.
The United States never has been (and never will be) a Christian nation. While true, the affects of a nation that increasingly rejects God to do whatever is right in their own eyes is certainly apparent. Almost 20 years ago, John Macarthur made this observation…
The many biblical tenets and standards that once were part of the fabric of our country, and that provided the undeniable cultural benefits of morality, are now gone. Whatever its form or practical benefits may have been, cultural Christianity is dead. Self-expression, moral freedom, materialism, and hedonism are the prevailing gods. Those gods, as clearly pagan as any in the ancient Greek or Roman pantheons, have inevitably spawned the epidemic breakdown of families, illegitimate births, sexual evils of every sort, unequaled growth of drug addiction and crime, and the wanton destruction of unborn babies.
As we enter into another decade, our society’s standards continue to decline. If anything, new gods have been added to our American pantheon. Gods like wokism, one-sided tolerance, and the weaponizing of social media have arrested the final vestiges of the Bible’s influence on our country.
When I was a child, we stood next to our desks, put our hands over our hearts, and said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning at school. Today, kindergarteners are being taught that boys are not boys and girls are not girls. In Orwellian fashion, history is being rewritten and erased. People of my generation (and the generation that follows me) are tearing down statues all over the country because they find aspects of our national history hateful and offensive. The deterioration and decline of our country has happened so rapidly and so broadly, today’s America is not the same country many of us were born into.
So, what do we do? As Christ-followers who are being conformed more and more into the likeness of Christ (not our culture) how are we to conduct our lives in an increasingly godless society? Fortunately, the New Testament has much to say about our social responsibilities.
We are not called to raise the moral standards of our culture or impose biblical principles upon those who by nature hate God. We tried that and look at where it has gotten us. No, we are called to shine like stars in the dark (Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:15). We are called to live as pilgrims, aliens, strangers, and exiles in a land we don’t belong in, surrounded by people we don’t belong to. We have the privilege of showing this fallen world what Christ looks like until He returns.
Titus 3 tell us about the Christian citizen. The first two verses provide a list of seven distinguishing characteristics for Christian conduct. Verse 1 contains three behavioral traits for our attitude towards government. Verse 2 gives us four more traits to apply towards everyone else in society.
Titus has received his ministry assignment on the small island of Crete. This island held well over one hundred cities and several churches in need of help. His job was to proclaim truth and find qualified men for the work of the ministry (Titus 1:5). This was a tall order considering the island’s culture was far from tranquil. Titus 1:12 says, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’”
Titus is far from the ancient world’s Bible belt with a hard road ahead of him. Paul knows he is going to need help, so he writes him a letter. In chapter 1, he tells Titus what to look for when appointing elders. He then transitions to Christian living and areas of teaching to zero in on with chapter 2. Finally, in chapter 3, he highlights the Christian’s responsibility towards society (our local mission field). The flow of thought moves from the leadership of the church, to body life and relationships within the church, to the believer’s witness among those outside of the church.
Paul begins this section with the command to “remind them.” This verb is in the present tense and imperative mood. Titus is to keep on reminding them. The instruction of these verses is worth repeating. They contain seven reminders for the Christian citizen. These reminders should characterize the behavior of every Christian surrounded by a wicked society.
First of all, don’t forget to be…
Verse 1: Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities. “Submissive” is a military term for subordination. It means, “to arrange one’s life under the authority or guidance of another.” This divine command to see God’s people submit to earthly authorities is not buried in the pages of scripture. God is sovereign over the affairs of men and desires for us to arrange our lives under the authority or guidance of our leaders.
Paul adds two dative nouns “to rulers and authorities” because he does not want us to distinguish between different levels of authority. Similarly, Peter mentions both higher and lower magistrates to avoid confusion (1 Peter 2:13-14). Both authors know that the natural tendency is to look for a loop hole. We might think that perhaps we can submit to one of our authorities, but not another. None of the biblical writers give us such a luxury. We are to wholeheartedly submit as a way of life because we are Christians and that is exactly what Christ did when He walked the earth.
Likewise, don’t forget to be…
Verse 1: Remind them . . . to be obedient. The Christian life is marked by obedience. We obey our teachers, judges, elders, policemen, business owners, government officials, and every other authority we find ourselves under. When we obey our authorities, we are obeying Scripture, and therefore, obeying the Lord.
The only exception to this rule is when our authorities command us to sin against God. When they require us to do something that God forbids or forbid us from doing something that God requires, we are obligated to rebel (Exodus 1:16-17; Daniel 3:18; 6:10; Acts 4:19-20; 5:29). Otherwise, we are obligated to obey (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).
Also, don’t forget to be…
Verse 1: Remind them . . . to be ready for every good work. This is a command of intentionality. It requires a sincere and deliberate love that seeks the betterment of others. This love stands in direct contrast to the attitude of the false teachers on Crete (Titus 1:16). Titus’ contemporaries had a profession of faith. They professed to know God, but their lives failed to match their profession. By contrast, we should plan ahead and prepare ourselves for the good works God has personally prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
Paul encourages Titus to remind the churches to be submissive, obedient, and intentional. These are three attitudes every Christian should have towards their rulers and authorities. The remaining four reminders of the second verse are broadly directed in their application. The first command of verse 2 is a negative assertion towards “no one.” The final command is a positive assertion toward “all people.”
Additionally, don’t forget to be…
Verse 2: Remind them . . . to speak evil of no one. This command presents no exceptions. The word for “speak evil” is Blasphemeō (βλασφημέω) and provides the origin of our English word “blaspheme.” It means “to speak in a disrespectful way that demeans, denigrates, maligns.” When we slander others, we fail to act like Christ (1 Peter 2:21-23). A righteous motivation for defamation does not exist.
Similarly, don’t forget to be…
Verse 2: Remind them . . . to avoid quarreling. The Christian citizen should not be known for their love of fighting. Paul told the Romans, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). Likewise, Christian leaders should avoid arguments and needless offenses (Titus 3:9; 1 Timothy 3:3; 2 Timothy 2:23-24).
Furthermore, don’t forget to be…
Verse 2: Remind them . . . to be gentle. Gentleness (ἐπιεικής) means “not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom.” It is associated with humility and carries the sense of yielding or choosing not to stand up for one’s rights. As with every Christian virtue, Jesus embodies this attitude perfectly (Matthew 11:29; 2 Corinthians 10:1). Gentleness is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:23) and encouraged frequently throughout the New Testament (1 Corinthians 4:21; Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:12; 1 Timothy 6:11; James 3:13; 1 Peter 3:4, 15).
Finally, don’t forget to be…
Verse 2: Remind them . . . to show perfect courtesy toward all people. When Paul says “all people” he is not speaking hyperbolically. He means everyone, both believers and unbelievers alike. This word “courtesy” (πραότης) is often translated “meekness.” It is the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance. The Christian citizen is not self-absorbed but shows the highest level of consideration towards others.
Submission and obedience are expectations for the believer. They are the rule, but what about the exception? We are not obligated to assume a submissive posture if the authorities require us to do something that God forbids or forbid us from doing something that God requires. In other words, if the government orders us to sin, we are duty-bound to disobey. However, that is not to say that Christians are perpetually stuck between two responses (blind obedience and willful rebellion). We have options.
Here are three biblical responses. When we see abuses of power, it is okay to…
1. Speak Against Sin
There are times when silence is unacceptable and we must open our mouths. According to 1 Peter 2:13-17, we should honor our leaders (even the bad ones). So when we speak, we must be careful not to slander or bad-mouth those above us.
At the same time, we need to respectfully call them out for their sins and legal abuses. Daniel models this practice often throughout his book. In Matthew 23, Jesus was very truthful with the religious leaders and spoke against their sin. John the Baptist informed Herod (a corrupt government official) that it was not lawful for him to have his brother’s wife (Mark 6:18). In response, Herod had John executed, but there was nothing wrong or inappropriate with John’s objection.
In our country, we don’t even get fined (let alone beheaded) for simply speaking out against our leaders’ abuses. Freedom of speech can be a wonderful thing. So long as we don’t break the law, we have no need to remain silent. We can and should speak against sin because that is what Christians do. We share truth respectfully, graciously, and honestly.
When we see an abuse of power, it is also okay to…
2. Seek an Exception
Daniel did this as a teenager who had been taken from his home and castrated as one of the king’s eunuchs. The king of Babylon assigned a portion of his food and wine for his eunuchs during their years of preparation (Daniel 1:5). Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the king’s food and wine, but sought to correct the issue by seeking an exception (Daniel 1:8). As a result, he gained favor with the chief the of eunuchs (Daniel 1:9).
Additionally, when we see abuses of power, it is okay to…
3. Solicit for Justice
As believers, we should exhaust every legal means afforded to us to alter the political landscape. Biblically, we should object when our country’s laws are not being followed and appeal to the law for correction.
This is what Jesus did in John 18 as He stood before Annas, the Sanhedrin and former high priest. The Jewish leaders attempted to coerce Him into illegally incriminating Himself. When He refused, they hit Him. Jesus called them out for breaking Jewish law by hitting an un-condemned man.
Throughout Acts, Paul objected and appealed to the law at various times. Paul and Silas were once publicly beaten and incarcerated at Philippi without a trial. The next morning, the authorities did everything they could to accommodate Paul once he informed them that they were Roman citizens (Acts 16:35-40). Paul legally appealed to the law and received a public apology that would ensure the safety of other believers once he left.
On another occasion, the Jews caused quite a stir when Paul returned to the temple. They demanded that he be killed (Acts 22:22). The tribune brought him back to the barracks for examination by flogging. Acts 22:25 says “But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” Once again, Paul appealed to the law.
Paul also employed the judicial system to seek justice. In Acts 25, the governor, Festus, agreed to hand him over to the Jewish authorities because he wanted to do them a favor. Paul reminded him that such activity was illegal and proceeded to appeal to Caesar. If the apostle would not receive justice from the governor, he would seek a fair trial from the courts.
In our country, we have even more options than those of the Roman Empire. We can peacefully protest, influence legislature, and vote our leaders in and out of office. These are all perfectly acceptable, legal, and biblical means afforded to us in our response to bad government. As Christians, we can speak against sin, seek an exception, and solicit for justice so long as we do so legally and respectfully.
Now, what about the exception of government ordered sin? Where do we find the principal of Christian civil disobedience in Scripture? Good places to start include: Exodus 1, Daniel 3, Daniel 6, Acts 4, and Acts 5.
At the time of Moses’ birth, a law came down that Hebrew midwives were to kill the boys and spare the girls. Exodus 1:17 says, “But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” They were commanded to do something that God had forbidden (take the life of an innocent person) so they obeyed God rather than Pharaoh.
In Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar made a golden image for everyone to worship. Three men refused. The king called them in and threatened to throw them into a hot furnace. Even so, they stood their ground in rebellion against the king (Daniel 3:16-18) because they were commanded to do something that God had forbidden (worship other gods).
In Daniel 6, the officials convinced king Darius to sign an edict that everyone must pray to the king and through the king for 30 days. Anyone who defied the edict by praying to God directly would be thrown into a den of lions. Once Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he opened his windows and continued praying directly to his God (Daniel 6:6-10). Why? Because he wanted everyone to know that when he prayed, he prayed to Yahweh.
In Acts 4, the Sanhedrin brought Peter and John before them and commanded them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Peter and John refused (Acts 4:18-20).
In the next chapter, they are called back in again. This time, the high priest is livid. He says, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (Acts 6:28). To which, Peter replies, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 6:29). Jesus told His apostles to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:7-8). In this case, they were obligated to rebel against the high priest.
When we are commanded to sin, we must rebel out of obedience to the Lord. However, such resistance is the exception, not the rule. We have several biblical responses afforded to us. We can speak against sin, seek an exception, and solicit for justice. The one thing we cannot do is disobey unless we are commanded to sin. As Paul encouraged Titus, “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient.”
As we willfully and obediently submit to our authorities, we should strategize our good intentions into action. Good works should be pre-mediated and planned ahead of time. The Christian citizen is always ready and prepared for accomplishing good works in the name of Christ. We expect opportunities, look for them, and joyfully thank the Lord for giving them to us.
We must also keep a close watch on our tongues. When the Bible says, “to speak evil of no one” it means “no one” (including politicians). Disrespect and slander have no place in the Christian life. Such behavior makes us look bad and brings reproach upon the name of Christ. Building others up and countering negative chatter with encouragement is the better way.
Additionally, Christians should avoid quarrels and fights. This is difficult, when surrounded by so many things that incite anger. After a long day, we turn on the news and within five minutes our blood is boiling. We pull our phones out of our pockets, tap on our favorite social media app, and within seconds, we go from loving everyone to despising someone because of something we read. It’s amazing how quickly we lose our temper when unbelievers act like unbelievers. Let’s not become like those belligerent Christians who are always looking for a good fight.
Rather, let’s be known for our gentleness. Gentleness is a rare word in today’s vernacular. In a way, it has always been uncommon. The Greeks did not include it in their list of virtues. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The world has run away with this word gentle, and now calls many a person a gentleman who has no right to the name. I wish that every gentleman were indeed a gentle man.” Gentleness is a rare trait because it requires a continual death to self, a purposeful consideration of others, and a humility that puts others first.
The Christian citizen is not selfish. We put others first. Both Paul and Peter wrote to suffering Christians about Nero. Yet, not a single negative word about the emperor can be found throughout the pages of Scripture. This is the man who set Rome on fire and blamed the Christians for it. He found sick pleasure in torturing and killing Christians. And yet, not once, do we find a single negative word written about the man. Instead, we are told to honor him (Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:17). How is that possible? Such a command seems completely unreasonable. However, it’s not that unreasonable if we make it our goal to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
Philip Towner writes…
In the civic arena Christians are to be as responsible as the best citizens. Where believers, more generally, come into contact with other people, they are to embody the highest ideals of human virtue as they imitate the pattern of behavior embodied by Christ himself.
Our attitude and our actions have a profound impact on the world around us. We must never forget to be submissive, obedient, intentional, encouraging, peaceful, gentle, and courteous. These seven attitudes will become second nature to us if we make it our goal to live them every day. The good Christian citizen will take these reminders to heart.
Stan Mikita, a professional hockey star, was once known for getting into lots of fights during his games. (After all, fighting is one of the biggest draws of the sport.) He stopped fighting, however, when his 8-year-old daughter asked him a very grown-up question. She asked, “How can you score goals when you’re always in the penalty box, daddy?”
Many of us simply cannot share the gospel because we keep boxing ourselves in with a bad attitude and combative behavior. God keeps putting us on the shelf because the good Christian citizen is a man or woman of peace.
During the American Revolution, a Baptist pastor named Peter Miller was good friends with George Washington. He lived in Ephrata Pennsylvania and was well respected within the community. His worst critic was a man named Michael Wittman. Michael was an evil-minded man who made it his goal to oppose and humiliate the pastor. It has been said that wherever you go, the pastor is the most loved and the most hated man in town. That was certainly true for Peter Miller.
One day, Michael was arrested for treason and sentenced with the death penalty. Peter decided to travel seventy miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for the life of the traitor. When he got there George Washington said, “No, Peter. I cannot grant you the life of your friend.”
“My friend!” exclaimed the old preacher. “He’s the bitterest enemy I have.”
Washington was stunned. He cried, “What?! You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in different light. I’ll grant your pardon.” And he did.
Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home to Ephrata Pennsylvania―no longer as an enemy, but as a friend.
This world is full of lost sinners who are bitter, angry, rebellious, and ready to blow. They might not realize it now, but they need the Christian citizen.
Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon Commentary: Titus, ed. Elliot Ritzema, Spurgeon Commentary Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).
D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005).
Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011).
J. Harold Greenlee, An Exegetical Summary of Titus and Philemon, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008).
John F. MacArthur Jr., Titus, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996).
Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006).
Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992).
William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).