Christmas Eve: Nativity of Our Lord

This passage stands out as a theological gem in the midst of the moral exhortations of Titus.1

Chora Church mosaic
"Chora Church mosaic," Byzantium. Creative Commons image by Derek Preston on Flickr.

December 24, 2016

Second Reading
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Commentary on Titus 2:11-14

This passage stands out as a theological gem in the midst of the moral exhortations of Titus.1

Along with 3:4-7, it provides theological momentum for the letter’s ethical instruction.

Between Two Epiphanies

Titus presents God’s unfolding plan of salvation in terms of two appearances of Jesus, two epiphanies or manifestations of God’s presence. “For the grace of God has appeared (epephan), bringing salvation to all” (2:11). Jesus’ first appearance manifested God’s grace, and his second coming will manifest God’s glory, for “we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation (epiphaneian) of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2:13).

In speaking of Jesus’ first appearance, Titus likely refers to the whole of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection, rather than his actual birth in Bethlehem. Yet the connection with Jesus’ birth will be inescapable in a Christmas Eve service, and is certainly worth exploring. Jesus manifests God’s grace to us in a most astounding way, precisely by the humility in which he first makes himself known to us — as a vulnerable infant born to peasant parents, lying in a manger far from the comforts of home.

Jesus’ birth is an appropriate preface to the life he lives — a life on the margins as a wandering preacher and healer, a friend of sinners, suspect in the eyes of the religious and political establishments. His birth is also appropriate to the kind of death he dies — outside the holy city, a humiliating, shameful death reserved for rebels and slaves. Jesus manifests God’s grace in the most unexpected ways, even in bearing shame and suffering on our behalf. For “he it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own” (2:14).

Jesus’ first epiphany — his life, death, and resurrection — inaugurated a new age, bringing the hope of salvation to all. This salvation will be fully realized when he comes again in glory as “our great God and Savior” (2:13). Until then, we live between two epiphanies, in hope and expectation.

In Training

The hope and expectation in which we live are not idle or passive. Jesus gave himself for us in order to redeem us from iniquity and make us his own people “who are zealous for good deeds” (11:14). The salvation he brings is not only about forgiveness, but also about transformation. As recipients of God’s grace, we are empowered to live in a new way. The grace of God is “training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly” (2:12). The Greek word for training (paideuousa), associated with the instruction and discipline of children, suggests that transformation does not happen overnight, but is a long, painstaking process as we grow into maturity.

Examples of the “impiety and worldly passions” we are to renounce are described in 3:3: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another.” Sounds like a pathetic way to live, does it not? Where do such “worldly passions” still enslave us today? In the contempt and divisiveness that dominate our political discourse? In the constant lure of consumption and acquisition? In the desire for power and control over others? In the fear that drives us to demonize those who differ from us?

In stark contrast to being driven by worldly passions, we are to live lives that are “self-controlled, upright, and godly” (2:12). What this kind of life might look like is described in 3:1-2. It is to “be subject 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 every courtesy to everyone.”

In the verses preceding 2:11-14, Titus has spelled out the kind of character and behavior expected of elders and bishops (1:5-9), older men (2:2), older women (2:3), young women (2:4-5), young men (2:6-8), and slaves (2:9-10). These exhortations reflect the values of Hellenistic moral philosophy. The instructions to young women, for instance, describe the behavior expected of the ideal Roman wife. The point of living this way is summed up in 2:5: “so that the word of God may not be discredited.”

The author is concerned that good order and good conduct in the household reflect well upon the Christian community and its message. This does not mean that 21st century Christians need to replicate the social structures of the first or second century. Yet we need always be concerned about how our words and actions reflect on the church and either help or hinder our God-given mission. Quarreling, divisiveness, and judgmental attitudes, for instance, have done much to damage our credibility and obscure the gospel.

Our relationships with one another, with the communities in which we live, and with the world should reflect the love of God in Jesus Christ, “who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds” (2:14). How welcome our witness might be when we live out our identity as people belonging to Christ — when, for instance, we are ready for every good work, speak evil of no one, avoid quarreling, and show gentleness and courtesy to everyone (3:1-2).

We are still “in training,” of course; our transformation is still a work in progress. It can only come from the one who enters into our humanity in humility and love. Truly the grace of God has appeared in him, bringing salvation to all. He has come to make us his people — a transformed people zealous for good deeds — not only in this season of holiday cheer, but year-round, day in and day out, year after year, “while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2:13).


1. This commentary was first published on this site on Dec. 24, 2011.