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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Titus 3



Verses 1-15

Chapter 3


3:1-2 Remind them to be duly subject to those who are in power and authority, to obey each several command, to be ready for every work so long as it is good, to slander no one, not to be aggressive, to be kindly, to show all gentleness to all men.

Here is laid down the public duty of the Christian; and it is advice which was particularly relevant to the people of Crete. The Cretans were notoriously turbulent and quarrelsome and impatient of all authority. Polybius, the Greek historian, said of them that they were constantly involved in "insurrections, murders and internecine wars." This passage lays down six qualifications for the good citizen.

The good citizen is law-abiding. He recognizes that, unless the laws are kept, life becomes chaos. He gives a proper respect to those who are set in authority and carries out whatever command is given to him. Christianity does not insist that a man should cease to be an individual, but it does insist that he remember that he is also a member of a group. "Man," said Aristotle, "is a political animal." That means that a man best expresses his personality not in isolated individualism but within the framework of the group.

The good citizen is active in service. He is ready for every work, so long as it is good. The characteristic modern disease is boredom; and boredom is the direct result of selfishness. So long as a man lives on the principle of, "Why should I do it? Let someone else do it," he is bound to be bored. The interest of life lies in service.

The good citizen is careful in speech. He must slander no one. No man should say about other people what he would not like them to say about him. The good citizen will be as careful of the words he speaks as of the deeds he does.

The good citizen is tolerant. He is not aggressive. The Greek word is amachos (Greek #269), which means not a fighter. This does not mean that the good citizen will not stand for the principles which he believes to be right, but that he will never be so opinionated as to believe that no other way than his own is right. He will allow to others the same right to have their convictions as he claims for himself to have his own.

The good citizen is kind. The word is epieikes (Greek #1933), which describes the man who does not stand upon the letter of the law. Aristotle said of this word that it denotes "indulgent consideration of human infirmities" and the ability "to consider not only the letter of the law, but also the mind and intention of the legislator." The man who is epieikes (Greek #1933) is ever ready to avoid the injustice which often lies in being strictly just.

The good citizen is gentle. The word is praus (Greek #4239), which describes the man whose temper is always under complete control. He knows when to be angry and when not to be angry. He patiently bears wrongs done to himself but is ever chivalrously ready to spring to the help of others who are wronged.

Qualities like these are possible only for the man in whose heart Christ reigns supreme. The welfare of any community depends on the acceptance by the Christians within it of the duty of demonstrating to the world the nobility of Christian citizenship.


3:3-7 For we too were once senseless, disobedient, misguided, slaves to all kinds of desires and pleasures, living in maliciousness and envy, detestable ourselves, and hating each other. But when the goodness and the love to men of God our Saviour appeared, it was not by works wrought in righteousness, which we ourselves had done, but by his own mercy that he saved us. That saving act was made effective to us through that washing, through which there comes to us the rebirth and the renewal which are the work of the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out upon us, through Jesus Christ our Saviour. And the aim of all this was that we might be put into a right relationship with God through his grace, and so enter into possession of eternal life, for which we have been taught to hope.

The dynamic of the Christian life is twofold.

It comes first from the realization that converts to Christianity were once no better than their heathen neighbours. Christian goodness does not make a man proud; it makes him supremely grateful. When he looks at others, living the pagan life, he does not regard them with contempt; he says, as Whitefield said when he saw the criminal on the way to the gallows: "There but for the grace of God go I."

It comes from the realization of what God has done for men in Jesus Christ. Perhaps no passage in the New Testament more summarily, and yet more fully, sets out the work of Christ for men than this. There are seven outstanding facts about that work here.

(i) Jesus put us into a new relationship with God. Till he came, God was the King before whom men stood in awe, the Judge before whom men cringed in terror, the Potentate whom they could regard only with fear. Jesus came to tell men of the Father whose heart was open and whose hands were stretched out in love. He came to tell them not of the justice which would pursue them for ever but of the love which would never let them go.

(ii) The love and grace of God are gifts which no man could ever earn; they can only be accepted in perfect trust and in awakened love. God offers his love to men simply out of the great goodness of his heart and the Christian thinks never of what he has earned but only of what God has given. The keynote of the Christian life must always be wondering and humble gratitude, never proud self-satisfaction. The whole process is due to two great qualities of God.

It is due to his goodness. The word is chrestotes (Greek #5544) and means benignity. It means that spirit which is so kind that it is always eager to give whatever gift may be necessary. Chrestotes is an all-embracing kindliness, which issues not only in warm feeling but also in generous action at all times.

It is due to God's love to men. The word is philanthropia (Greek #5363), and it is defined as love of man as man. The Greeks thought much of this beautiful word. They used it for the good man's kindliness to his equals, for a good king's graciousness to his subjects, for a generous man's active pity for those in any kind of distress, and specially for the compassion which made a man ransom a fellow-man when he had fallen into captivity.

At the back of all this is no merit of man but only the benign kindliness and the universal love which are in the heart of God.

(iii) This love and grace of God are mediated to men through the Church. They come through the sacrament of baptism. That is not to say that they can come in no other way, for God is not confined within his sacraments; but the door to them is ever open through the Church. When we think of baptism in the earliest days of the Church, we must remember that it was the baptism of grown men and women coming directly out of paganism. It was the deliberate leaving of one way of life to enter upon another. When Paul writes to the people of Corinth, he says: "You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified" (1 Corinthians 6:11). In the letter to the Ephesians he says that Jesus Christ took the Church that "he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word" (Ephesians 5:26). In baptism there came to men the cleansing, re-creating power of God.

In this connection Paul uses two words.

He speaks of rebirth (paliggenesia, Greek #3824). Here is a word which had many associations. When a proselyte was received into the Jewish faith, after he had been baptized he was treated as if he were a little child. It was as if he had been reborn and life had begun all over again. The Pythagoreans used the word frequently. They believed in reincarnation and that men returned to life in many forms until they were fit to be released from it. Each return was a rebirth. The Stoics used the word. They believed that every three thousand years the world went up in a great conflagration, and that then there was a rebirth of a new world. When people entered the Mystery Religions they were said to be "reborn for eternity." The point is that when a man accepts Christ as Saviour and Lord, life begins all over again. There is a newness about life which can be likened only to a new birth.

He speaks of a renewing. It is as if life were worn out and when a man discovers Christ there is an act of renewal, which is not over and done with in one moment of time but repeats itself every day.

CAUSE AND EFFECT (Titus 3:3-7 continued)

(iv) The grace and love of God are mediated to men within the Church, but behind it all is the power of the Holy Spirit. All the work of the Church, all the words of the Church, all the sacraments of the Church are inoperative unless the power of the Holy Spirit is there. However highly a Church be organized, however splendid its ceremonies may be, however beautiful its buildings, all is ineffective without that power. The lesson is clear. Revival in the Church comes not from increased efficiency in organization but from waiting upon God. Not that efficiency is not necessary, but no amount of efficiency can breathe life into a body from which the Spirit has departed.

(v) The effect of all this is threefold. It brings forgiveness for past sins. In his mercy God does not hold our sins against us. Once a man was mourning gloomily to Augustine about his sins. "Man," said Augustine, "look away from your sins and look to God." It is not that a man must not be all his life repentant for his sins; but the very memory of his sins should move him to wonder at the forgiving mercy of God.

(vi) The effect is also present life. Christianity does not confine its offer to blessings which shall be. It offers a man here and now life of a quality which he has never known before. When Christ enters into a man's life, for the first time he really begins to live.

(vii) Lastly, there is the hope of even greater things. The Christian is a man for whom the best is always still to be; he knows that, however wonderful is life on earth with Christ, the life to come will be greater yet. The Christian is the man who knows the wonder of past sin forgiven, the thrill of present life with Christ, and the hope of the greater life which is yet to be.


3:8-11 This is a saying which we are bound to believe--and I want you to keep on affirming these things--that those who have put their faith in God must think and plan bow to practise fine deeds. These are fine things and useful to men. But have nothing to do with foolish speculations and genealogies and contentious and legalistic battles, for they are no good to anyone and serve no useful purpose. Avoid a contentious and opinionative man, after giving him a first and a second warning, for you must be well aware that such a man is perverted and stands a self-condemned sinner.

This passage stresses the need for Christian action and the danger of a certain kind of discussion.

The word we have translated to practise fine deeds is proistasthai (Greek #4291), which literally means to stand in front of and was the word used for a shopkeeper standing in front of his shop crying his wares. The phrase may mean either of two things. It might be a command to Christians to engage only in respectable and useful trades. There were certain professions which the early Church insisted that a man should quit before he was allowed even to ask for membership. More probably the phrase has the wider meaning that a Christian must practise good deeds which are helpful to men.

The second part of the passage warns against useless discussions. The Greek philosophers spent their time on their fine-spun problems. The Jewish Rabbis spent their time building up imaginary genealogies for the characters of the Old Testament. The Jewish scribes spent endless hours discussing what could and could not be done on the Sabbath, and what was and was not unclean. It has been said that there is a danger that a man may think himself religious because he discusses religious questions. It is much easier to discuss theological questions than to be kind and considerate and helpful at home, or efficient and diligent and honest at work. There is no virtue in sitting discussing deep theological questions when the simple tasks of the Christian life are waiting to be done. Such discussion can be nothing other than an evasion of Christian duties.

Paul was certain that the real task of the Christian lay in Christian action. That is not to say that there is no place for Christian discussion; but the discussion which does not end in action is very largely wasted time.

It is Paul's advice that the contentious and opinionative man should be avoided. The King James Version calls him the heretic. The Greek is hairetikos (Greek #141). The verb hairein means "to choose"; and hairesis (Greek #139) means "a party, or a school or a sect." Originally the word carries no bad meaning. This creeps in when a man erects his private opinion against all the teaching, the agreement and the tradition of the Church. A heretic is simply a man who has decided that he is right and everybody else is wrong. Paul's warning is against the man who has made his own ideas the test of all truth. A man should always be very careful of any opinion which separates him from the fellowship of his fellow believers. True faith does not divide men; it unites them.

FINAL GREETINGS (Titus 3:12-15)

3:12-15 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there.

Do your best to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way. See to it that nothing is lacking to them.

And let our people too learn to practise fine deeds, that they may be able to supply all necessary needs, and that they may not live useless lives.

All who are with me send you their greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith.

Grace be with you all. Amen.

As usual Paul ends his letter with personal messages and greetings. Of Artemas we know nothing at all. Tychicus was one of Paul's most trusted messengers. He was the bearer of the letters to the Colossian and the Ephesian Churches (Colossians 4:7; Ephesians 6:21). Nicopolis was in Epirus and was the best centre for work in the Roman province of Dalmatia. It is interesting to remember that it was there that Epictetus, the great Stoic philosopher, later had his school.

Apollos was the well-known teacher (Acts 18:24). Of Zenas we know nothing at all. He is here called a nomikos (Greek #3544). That could mean one of two things. Nomikos (Greek #3544) is the regular word for a scribe and Zenas may have been a converted Jewish Rabbi. It is also the normal Greek for a lawyer; and, if that is its meaning, Zenas has the distinction of being the only lawyer mentioned in the New Testament.

Paul's last piece of advice is that the Christian people should practise good deeds, so that they themselves should be independent and also able to help others who are in need. The Christian workman works not only to have enough for himself but also to have something to give away.

Next come the final greetings; and then, as in every letter, Paul's last word is grace.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)



D. Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles (TC E)

W. Lock, The Pastoral Epistles (ICC G)

E. F. Scott, The Pastoral Epistles (MC E)

E. K. Simpson, The Pastoral Epistles


CGT: Cambridge Greek Testament

ICC: International Critical Commentary

MC: Moffatt Commentary

TC: Tyndale Commentary

E: English Text

G: Greek Text

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Titus 3:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.

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Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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