In my last post in this series on the letters to Timothy and Titus, the focus was on Paul’s description of the church as the household of God. Paul’s description keeps the relational dynamics of a household together with standing firm for the truth of the gospel. Paul is writing to Timothy to inform him how Christians should conduct themselves in God’s household. In this post, I will focus on behavior in the household of God.
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth. (1 Timothy 3:14,15 ESV)
Some commentators suggest that “these things” that Paul is referring to is looking back to chapters two and three. Yet, there is a lot about behavior in the whole letter so I do not see the need to limit the reference to what Paul has already written. Behavior is a common theme in all the letters to Timothy and Titus. Behavior is integral to the household of God being a pillar and buttress of the truth. Conduct upholds, supports, and authenticates sound doctrine. Sound doctrine and knowledge of the truth accord with godliness (1 Timothy 6:3; Titus 1:1). Godliness is essentially living in the conscious presence of God.
The goal of Christian teaching is “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5 ESV). Christian teaching is not just information. Believing the truth of the gospel will be expressed in a lifestyle of love. If the gospel does not change our lives then we haven’t truly understood and believed it. This lifestyle of love is the result of conversion expressed by Paul as a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith. Behavior is the tangible expression of what we really believe and think. Paul commands both Timothy and Titus to be examples in their conduct to other believers (1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7).
First Timothy has a lot of behavioral instruction for members of God’s household which we will just outline here. Chapter two gives instruction about prayer for both men and women. Chapter three gives instruction concerning leadership in the church (cf. Titus 1:5-9). Note that most of the characteristics for church leaders are behavioral in nature. Chapters five and six contain instructions of behavior toward older men, younger men, older women, younger women, widows, elders slaves, and rich people (cf. Titus 2:1-10).
The letters to Timothy and Titus are also concerned about how Christian behavior is viewed by non-Christians. Church leaders are to have a good reputation with outsiders (1 Timothy 3:7). Older women are to teach younger women appropriate behavior “that the Word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:4-5). Titus is to be a model of behavior so that “an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (Titus 2:8). The good conduct of slaves will “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10).
The phrase “good works” occurs 14 times in the letters to Timothy and Titus. Good works are a distinguishing mark of Christian conduct but not as a means of entrance into God’s household. Paul makes it clear that it is “not because of our works” (2 Timothy 1:9). Good works are produced by God’s grace at work within us:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14 ESV)
Members of God’s household are those redeemed and purified by Jesus Christ as people for his own possession. Paul makes the relationship between our justification and good works even more explicit:
But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Titus 3:4-8 ESV)
Good works and good behavior are characteristics of members of the household of God. They are not the qualifying entrance pass. The only entrance into the household of God is the grace and mercy he gave us in Jesus Christ. It is that grace and mercy that trains us in proper conduct in God’s household.
In our disciple-making and church planting, we should insist on good works and good behavior but not in order to enter God’s household. We enter God’s household by grace, redeemed by Jesus Christ and purified by him to be his people zealous for good works. Behavior in God’s household flows from belief in the gospel. Behavior in God’s household adorns the gospel and is a powerful testimony and apologetic for the gospel. As Jesus said:
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35 ESV)