Don’t Speak of Love; Show Me

John Helmke

Forty-two years since ordination, eighteen spent discussing financial services in the homes of our Lutheran people, has convinced me that more evangelism is done by the laity than most pastors ever dreamed of. Our laity, however, is not blessed with the privilege of the pulpit. As a result, most of their faithful witness passes unknown. Still in their communities many are known as “good people.” Their counsel is sought and recognized as wise. Evangelism for them has much in common with the instructions on evangelism the Apostle Paul wrote to his student pastor Titus.

Titus was a Gentile convert and younger confidant of the Apostle Paul. Though Paul had seen to it that Timothy was circumcised (Acts 16:3), Titus was not (Galatians 2:3). Titus’s mission was to organize a newly founded mission on Crete, the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.

Cretans were known to be talkative untrustworthy liars. Paul’s missionary work was frequently undermined by talkative Jewish converts spreading rumors that Paul was too liberal. Paul writes to tell Titus to do good; in the words of the fictional Lisa Dolittle, “Don’t Speak of Love, Show Me.”

Titus’s task on Crete was to appoint elders in every town (1:5) and to oversee their work as bishop (1:7). Paul begins the body of his letter listing the leadership qualities to be desired in elders and their overseer. These qualifications focus on their being, not on their function. Those declared good in the sight of God respond by doing good naturally for others.

To highlight the importance of doing good Paul focuses on the talkative nature of the Cretans, describing them as “rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers” (1:10). He lends credibility to his judgment by quoting Epimenides, a sixth century B.C. native of Knossos, Crete: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (1:12).

Paul’s guidelines to Titus for training old and young, male and female in doing good focuses upon the vital importance of supportive relationships in the body. Intemperate old men often have little patience for the challenges of maintaining such relationships, “Teach the older men to be temperate” (2:2). Older women, often blessed with a natural interest in human relationships, may abuse those relationships, speaking irreverently about others: “Teach the older women to be reverent … not to be slanderers.” Young men are to be self-controlled, setting an example by doing good (2:7). Even slaves are to work at building good relations with their masters, showing they can be trusted. By doing so they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive (2:10).

All Christians are to be subject to rulers and authorities, ready to do whatever is good (3:1). When they do speak, they are to slander no one but to show humility toward all, for at one time we too disregarded the importance of supportive human relationships in making the teaching about God the Savior attractive (3:3). We can only make that teaching unattractive by our bad behavior. That teaching is attractive not because we make it so but because of what God has done to save us through baptism and the renewal of the Holy Spirit. Lest we miss the point, Paul concludes, “I want to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good” (3: 8).

Finally Paul warns Titus to avoid foolish controversies, which he describes as being “unprofitable and useless” (3:9), just more idle talk echoing that of their untrustworthy Cretan neighbors. Should anyone still question the importance of doing good in the context of supportive human relationships, Paul uses some of his strongest words, writing, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (3:10-11). Paul then closes by mentioning four of his beloved co-workers by name.

“Talk is cheap” we say. “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet,” Shakespeare wrote. We show love by doing good, not to be loved but because we are loved. As effective witnesses for Christ we take care that our words are winsome as well as right. “The highest treason is to say the right thing for the wrong reason” (T.S.Eliot).

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