Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. (Titus 3:1-2)
Let’s look at Paul’s series of admonitions in Titus 3:1-2 in light of the present pandemic. Paul has just encouraged Titus to keep preaching the gospel of grace, a grace that “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives” (2:12). Because God has saved us by grace, and has given us the “blessed hope” of future glory to sustain us even through dark times, our lives should differ markedly from those around us.
When national or global crises hit, Christians don’t always distinguish themselves. On the one hand, all people, because of God’s common grace toward humanity, rise to the occasion, meeting the needs of the most vulnerable; on the other hand, the stress of the situation can choke the spiritual life from believers, so that we’re as petty and self-absorbed as anyone.
Paul is having none of that. While the circumstances are different (there’s no crisis in Crete), he encourages the young pastor to remind his congregation, who should be “eager to do what is good” (2:14), of a few key behaviors their lives should display.
- We should be subject to rulers and authorities, and obedient. Submission to authority is not our strength as a nation of rugged individualists. (Click here for more on that.) Nevertheless, submitting ourselves to our leaders, including elected officials, is a sign of our submission to God. Just because we live in a democracy doesn’t mean we get to flout God’s commands. Early on in this pandemic, the situation was fairly black and white: most everyone understood we needed to shelter in place in order to stop the spread of the virus. As the pandemic drags on, however, we’re going to enter a grey season. Different states are going to adopt different approaches. The tension between physical and economic health will stretch to the breaking point. And so our submission to government, especially when we don’t agree, will become more challenging. Ask God for grace to sustain your obedience here.
- We should be ready to do whatever is good. I find this is the easiest command when times are tough. Christians, like most everyone, step up in times of crisis. We give more sacrificially, volunteer our time more willingly, and serve more creatively. My encouragement to us here is to get ready for the long haul. It’s possible we’ll have unemployment over 10% through 2021 (though we pray this isn’t the case). The high-risk population may have to remain in isolation for an incredibly challenging length of time. In other words, we will need to keep serving selflessly for months upon months. May God give us grace not to grow weary in doing good.
- We should not slander, but be peaceable and considerate, and always gentle toward everyone. We live in polarized times, so the phrase “peaceable and considerate” takes on a spiritual urgency like never before. Step back and evaluate your speech (whether public or private). In all honesty, can you say you have slandered no one, not even the president, members of Congress, justices, governors—especially those on the other “side”? Is your speech, including social media posts, marked by gentleness toward everyone? The commands are all-encompassing: Slander no one. Be gentle toward everyone. God allows no exceptions here, and neither should we. While crises often bring out the best of us in terms of our service, they often bring out the worst of us in terms of speech. Because so much of our ministry has to be virtual, I’m on social media far more than I’d like these days. I am grateful for the opportunities to reach skeptics and seekers even when we can’t gather, but I am routinely dejected by the type of discourse I encounter: finger-pointing, sneering condescension, and outright rudeness. Far too much of it comes from the Christians. Pray for God’s grace to produce the spirit of kindness, gentleness, and self-control in us.