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Titus 2:11-14 Biblical Commentary
This is one of four Pauline epistles written to individuals rather than to congregations (the other three being 1-2 Timothy and Philemon). 1-2 Timothy and Titus are usually grouped as Paul’s Pastoral Epistles, while Philemon is usually grouped with Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians as one of Paul’s Imprisonment Epistles.
Even though the Pastoral Epistles are addressed to individuals, they were intended to teach those individuals how to lead congregations. They address congregational issues of that day—and often of our day as well. For instance, all three Pastoral Epistles include injunctions against false teachers (1 Timothy 1:3-7; 6:3-5, 19-20; 2 Timothy 2:17-18; Titus 1:10-16)—a problem today as well as in the first century.
Each Pastoral Epistle claims to be written by Paul. That authorship has been challenged in recent years for various reasons. A study of authorship goes beyond the scope of this exegesis, so I will, for simplicity’s sake, assume Pauline authorship but acknowledge that there are opposing opinions.
We know little about Titus. He had been a companion of Paul, and was a Greek whom Paul did not require to be circumcised (Galatians 2:3). Paul regarded him as “my true child, according to a common faith” (Titus 1:4). Paul had left Titus in Crete to “set in order the things that were lacking, and to appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). Tradition holds that Titus became the first bishop of Crete. Crete is the largest of the Greek islands, and is approximately 100 miles (160 km) south of the Greek mainland.
In closing this letter, Paul asks Titus to “be diligent to come to me to Nicopolis, for I have determined to winter there” (Titus 3:12). Nicopolis is a city on the west coast of the Greek mainland.
In the verses that immediately precede our text, Paul addressed the problem of false teachers, “especially those of the circumcision” (1:10ff). He told Titus to teach sound doctrine (2:1), and included specific instructions for older men (2:2), older women (2:3-5), young men (2:6-8), and servants (2:9-10).
• These instructions promote a host of values, including temperance, sober-mindedness, faith, love, patience, reverence, kindness, integrity, seriousness, incorruptibility, and soundness of speech.
• They also promote a host of behaviors, including not slandering, not drinking too much wine, teaching what is good, chastity, wives subjecting themselves to their husbands, and not blaspheming.
TITUS 2:11-14. FOR THE GRACE OF GOD HAS APPEARED
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we would live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; 13 looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ; 14 who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works.
“For the grace (Greek: charis) of God has appeared“ (Greek: anthropos) (v. 11a). The word “For” connects this verse to the previous verses that promote certain values and behaviors (vv. 2-10; see the last two paragraphs of “The Context” above). The sense we get, then, is that, because we are the recipients of God’s grace and salvation (v. 11), we should reflect the values and engage in the behaviors that Paul promoted in verses 2-10.
Grace (charis) is a significant word in the New Testament, especially in Paul’s epistles. The use of charis in the New Testament has its roots in the Hebrew word hesed, used in the Old Testament to speak of God’s lovingkindness, mercy, and faithfulness.
Greeks often used the word charis to speak of patronage (the support of a patron, such as someone who provided financial or political support). To Greeks, the word charis connoted generosity—generosity that demanded loyalty on the part of the recipient.
It is easy, therefore, to understand why Paul would adapt charis to the Gospel. Christian charis is the gift of salvation by God to all who accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ. God, therefore, is the patron—the benefactor. Just as we could never fully repay a person who left us an inheritance of unimaginable wealth, so also we can never repay God for the gift of salvation. However, if a patron were to grant us unimaginable wealth, we could be faithful to the patron by using the money in a way that would be consistent with the patron’s wishes or values. So also, we can be faithful to the God who gives us salvation by living in accord with God’s will.
“bringing salvation” (Greek: soterios) (v. 11b). While salvation in the Bible is sometimes being saved from one’s enemies, in the New Testament it usually has an eschatological character—i.e., end of time events—God’s judgment—heaven and hell.
The idea of salvation is especially important in Paul’s letters. The “Good News of Christ…is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Paul says that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18), “but the righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) which means that we are subject to an eternal penalty for our sins. However, we have been “justified freely by (God’s) grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God set forth to be an atoning sacrifice, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:24-25a).
We call this idea substitutionary atonement—being brought back into God’s good graces by means of an atoning sacrifice. This has its roots in the Old Testament, where Jewish Law required Israelites to sacrifice animals to gain atonement—forgiveness for sins. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice, not just for an individual, but for the sins of all the world (Matthew 20:28; John 1:29, 36; Romans 5:9; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 2 Corinthians 5:14; Galatians 3:13; Ephesians 5:2).
“to all men“ (Greek: anthropos) (v. 11c). This would be better translated “to all people” or “to all humans.” The primary emphasis of the Greek word anthropos is to distinguish humans from God or animals rather than distinguishing male from female.
Is it the grace of God or salvation that appears to all people? It could be either, but the distinction isn’t critical. The grace of God ushers in the possibility of salvation, so the two are closely related.
Does “to all men” or “to all people” indicate universal salvation? That would not be in keeping with other scriptures that tell us that some will be saved while others will not (Matthew 7:21-23; 19:24-26; Mark 16:16; John 3:18, 36; Acts 4:12; 13:40-41; 2 Thessalonians 2:10; Revelation 21:8). The meaning here is that God’s grace makes salvation possible for all people—not just Jews. Christ has widened the door to heaven. Gentiles are welcome.
“instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts“ (v. 12a). It is the grace of God (v. 11) that instructs us.
The grace of God instructs us in ways that are intended to help us to deny temptations to engage in ungodly behavior and to succumb to worldly lusts. Receiving this help is an essential first step, because the world in which we live is the kosmos—a world opposed to God—a world that is very often demonic—a world that tempts us hundreds of times a day to think thoughts and to perform acts that would be self-destructive and would separate us from God.
God loves this kosmos and sent his Son to save it (John 3:16), but the kosmos won’t be fully redeemed until Christ comes again. We must acknowledge that “the light has come into the world, (but) men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil” (John 3:19). It sometimes seems as if we are swimming in a sewer, so it is important that we allow God’s grace (v. 11) to instruct us in ways that will help us to deny the ungodliness and worldly lusts (v. 12) that we find all around us.
Every temptation denied makes us stronger to face the next temptation. Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts today will make us stronger to deny them tomorrow.
“we would live soberly (Greek: sophronos), righteously (Greek: dikaios), and godly (Greek: eusebos) in this present world“ (v. 12b). The word sophronos means “with a sound mind” or “with a sober mind.” It bespeaks moderation—temperance.
The tempter would tell us that anyone who lives soberly is a joy-killer—a stick-in-the-mud—a person who lives a flat and monotonous life. However, we know sophronos people whom we admire and whose company we enjoy—people who study issues before making a judgment—people whose opinions often prove correct—people who live rock-steady lives in the midst of kosmos gales.
Sophronos people won’t always be the life of the party, but some will be. Contrary to popular opinion, many sophronos people are quite able to have a good time—to laugh—to sing rousing songs—to cheer for the home team—to dance—to enjoy a good movie. At a young adult gathering at Marble Collegiate Church a number of years ago, a young man who was visiting for the first time told me, “I never knew you could have this much fun without drinking.”
The advantages of sophronos behavior are many. The sophronos person won’t have to pay for his/her revelry with sickness by night and hangovers by day. The sophronos person won’t have to wonder whether he did something the previous night that might cost him his job today. The sophronos person’s family will call him/her blessed, because they will live better because of his/her sobriety.
Ask yourself this question—when the chips are down, what kind of person do you look to for help? Isn’t it most likely a sophronos person—someone you know to be reliable and trustworthy? When your world is falling apart, doesn’t “rock-steady” seem like the most wonderful thing you can imagine.
“righteously” (dikaios). The word dikaios means “righteous” or “just.” The person who is dikaios-RIGHTEOUS will try to live his/her life in accord with God’s will. The person who is dikaios-JUST will deal with other people fairly and honestly.
“and godly” (eusebos). The eusebos person is devout and godly, and will honor God by trying to live a reverent and holy life.
“looking for the blessed hope and (Greek: kai) appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ“ (v. 13). The grace of God (v. 11) instructs us (v. 12) that we should look “for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (v. 13). We are living in a fallen world—a kosmos world—but God has promised better things ahead for those who are faithful.
The Greek word kai is a conjunction meaning “and.” As it is used here (an epexegetical kai), the second part of the phrase (“appearing of the glory”) amplifies or explains the first part (“the blessed hope”). In other words, “the blessed hope” is the hope of the appearance in glory of our savior, Jesus Christ.
“our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ“ (v. 13b). This phrase could be translated “our great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ”—meaning both God and Jesus. However, most scholars favor the translation, “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,” which ascribes to Jesus the title God as well as Savior.
While it is unusual in the New Testament to find Jesus called God, the Prologue to the Gospel of John clearly equates Jesus with God:
“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God….
The Word became flesh, and lived among us.
We saw his glory,
such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14).
“who gave (Greek: didomi) himself for us“ (v. 14a). The “who” in this verse is the “God and Savior, Jesus Christ” of verse 13. The word didomi means “give,” and has the ring of voluntary giving—generous giving. It can even mean sacrificial giving.
The giving spoken of in this verse is Jesus Christ’s gift of himself on the cross so that we might be forgiven our sins. However, the gift started much earlier with the Incarnation—the birth of Jesus. Paul incorporates both gifts—Incarnation and Crucifixion in a hymn in his letter to the Philippians:
“Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, existing in the form of God,
didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,
being made in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
“that he might redeem (Greek: lutroo) us from all iniquity“ (Greek: anomia) (v. 14b). The word lutroo means “to redeem” in the sense of paying a ransom to buy someone’s freedom. The ransom is the money paid to purchase the person’s freedom. If a person were enslaved or imprisoned on account of debt, his family would try to get enough money together to ransom him—to set him free.
Christ gave himself to redeem us from iniquity—anomia—to pay the ransom to set us free from the consequences of our sin(Mark 10:45; Galatians 1:4; 2:20).
The Greek word nomos means “law,” and the “a” in front of that word means “not”—so anomia means unlawful or lawless. The person guilty of anomia (lawlessness) could be in violation of Jewish law. Alternatively, the word anomia could be used more generally to describe an unrighteous person or a rebel.
“and purify (Greek: katharizo) for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works“ (v. 14c). The word katharizo means “to cleanse.” Jewish law provided for the cleansing of those who were unclean for various reasons—physical, ritual, or moral.
This verse means that Jesus Christ is concerned with cleansing people from the uncleanness that resulted from their iniquity (v. 14b)—so that they would become fit for inclusion in his realm and “zealous for good works.”
This last phrase, “zealous for good works,” tells us something of the character of Christ’s people. We are to be fervent in our pursuit of good works. We are to love doing good works. It isn’t hard to develop that kind of affection for good works. Once we have done something that benefits the church or a neighbor in a significant way that will warm our hearts every time we think about it—inspiring us to look for other ways to do good things.
Other New Testament passages call for good works (Romans 2:6-7; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Colossians 1:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:17). Jesus tells us that our “good works…glorify (our) Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Elsewhere, Paul emphasizes that we cannot be saved by our works (Romans 3:27-28; 4:1-5; 11:6; Galatians 2:16; 3:2, 10). Salvation is available only through grace—as a gift from God. James, however, says that “faith, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17).
While it might seem that Paul and James are opposed, that isn’t the case. James doesn’t say that we can gain salvation by our good works. He says that genuine faith will always manifest itself by good works. Any faith that produces no good works is not real faith.
Paul would agree. While he emphasizes that we cannot win salvation by our good works, he also acknowledges “that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God?” (1 Corinthians 6:9). He also says, “Walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh.” He says that the works of the flesh are: “adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these”—and warns that “those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” He says that the fruits of the Spirit are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control”—and enjoins us to live, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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