Integrity in Your Teaching

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine … Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (Titus 2:1-8, ESV)

We live in an age where every idle word shared on social media or in an email can come back to haunt us. Many politicians and celebrity entertainers’ careers have been derailed because of something they wrote in a moment of passion, or that they shared with a friend in what they thought was a private conversation. When their comments became public they received swift condemnation for their words and attitudes behind them, marring their carefully cultivated public images. In some cases, statements of repentance and contrition were enough to salvage their status to some degree, but in other cases reputations were ruined, and they have faded from the public spotlight. Though he lived before the era of the Internet, Paul knows the potential negative impact of our words, and he cautions us to be careful both in what we do and what we say.

In this pastoral epistle, Paul exhorts and instructs Titus how to respond to false teachers who are upsetting members of the church. In the previous chapter Paul condemns their teachings, their actions, and their selfish motivations. Here, he turns his attention to Titus and his teaching ministry, offering some timeless guidance that applies to all of us who teach or lead Bible studies today, specifically focusing both on what Titus says and does. Each aspect is important for the reputation of the gospel.

Clearly, the content of what we teach matters. In contrast to the myths and false commands that others were teaching in opposition to the gospel message, Titus is to teach what fits well with sound doctrine. We have received an authoritative message in the Scriptures, and we are to share it with others. We aren’t at liberty to make up our own doctrine that might be popular or well received by those we teach. As Paul wrote in Titus 1:9 about elders in the church, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” With so much conflicting teaching so readily available on the Internet, those of us who lead Bible studies must be prepared to teach the trustworthy Word, and to rebuke those who contradict it.

But, beyond the content of our teaching, what we do and how we teach others matters greatly. One of the easiest ways to discredit someone’s teaching is to discredit the person. If you can destroy that person’s reputation, few will find what he or she says credible. Paul knows those who oppose the gospel are looking for opportunities to criticize those who teach it. If the critics can find any excuse to publicly denounce Titus for things he has done or said, they will use it to their advantage. Paul urges Titus to be a model of good works, not a hypocrite – teaching one thing, but living a different way. He also urges integrity in his teaching, showing consistency over time in what he teaches and how he lives out that message. Titus’ teaching also needs to be “serious” in the sense that he emphasizes the weightiness or gravity of his instruction, not being flippant or blasé. In addition, he must choose his words carefully so his opponents would not be able to latch onto something he says and use it to publicly criticize him. Paul knows from experience the importance of these issues, and he wants to help Titus avoid such challenges and enjoy a fruitful teaching ministry. We would do well to heed Paul’s advice today.

As I said at the start, because so many of us regularly use social media, we must be especially careful how we express and share our perspectives/opinions with others. Even if we post something to a specific person, or a closed group, nothing we say is ever really private. Our response to one person might be shared with others, some of whom may be quite happy to criticize, condemn, or given the opportunity, lift us up to public ridicule. We must employ careful reflection before we write. James points out that those who teach will be judged with greater strictness, and he speaks of the challenge of taming the tongue with the ensuing damage it can cause when we don’t control it (James 3:1-12). I don’t know about you, but as I consider Paul’s exhortation, I recognize that to do this well, I will need God’s help. It is so easy to make a snide remark, to write in exaggerated ways to make a point, or to write something that I later regret when I am feeling disappointed in someone. So, I pray for God to help me tame my tongue, so that what I say to others won’t become an excuse for some to dismiss me, and therefore discredit the truths I teach.

While we need to be careful in what we say to others, I am thankful that we can talk with God in more open, unguarded ways. I don’t need to fear if I say something to Him with a poor attitude, or selfishly, or pridefully, that God will dismiss or reject me. Instead, because of His steadfast love for me, He listens, sends the Holy Spirit to confront me, rebuke me where needed, and work in me to change my heart attitude. Unlike the Internet, He keeps no records of my indiscretions or sins. As the Psalmist wrote:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

(Psalm 103:11-12, ESV)

I am so thankful for His mercy and grace, His listening ear, and His patient work to transform me more into the image of Christ.

Father, I ask that you would help me to grow in integrity so that my actions and words reflect what I teach. I don’t want to discredit Your gospel message with anything I say or do, yet I know that if I am not careful, what I say to others may become an excuse to dismiss your teaching. Help me guard my tongue, and work in me to transform my heart so that my conversations reflect Your grace and love for me, and for others. Amen.

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