Make “Bonnie” the Doctrine


Titus 2:1-10

We read this same text last week with a view to the ethics that it taught. We pointed out that three times in these verses the particular way of life that Paul is teaching is commended to Christians for the impact it will have on others, especially unbelievers. In v. 5 we read that if Christian women live this way “no one will malign the word of God.” In v. 8 we read that if young women and ministers live a faithful Christian life those who oppose us “will have nothing bad to say about us.” And, finally, in v. 10 we read that if Christian slaves live this distinctively Christian life they “will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” There are other reasons, of course, for living a faithful Christian life, and in particular for living according to these particular instructions regarding men and women, mothers and fathers, and slaves, and the Bible draws our attention to them elsewhere. But here, special emphasis falls on the witness such behavior bears to the world.

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In the different English versions we find a variety of translations of v. 10. As early as John Wyclif in 1380 we have “that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior,” a translation followed in turn by the KJV, the RSV, and the ESV. Archbishop Cranmer had “that they may do worship to the doctrine of God our Savior,” a translation followed in the early editions of the famous Geneva Bible. The ever fresh and suggestive translation of J.B. Phillips reads: “they are to show themselves utterly trustworthy, a living testimonial to the teaching of God our Savior.” The NEB reads “for in all such ways they will add luster to the doctrine of God our Savior.” In the NT scholar F.F. Bruce’s “expanded paraphrase” of the letters of the Apostle Paul, we read, “They should be marked consistently by good faith, and thus be ornaments to the doctrine of God our Saviour.” The Braid Scots version has a more homely rendering: that they might “mak bonnie the doctrine,” a translation that is simply another form of that we are given in the NIV.

The verb is κοσμέω, “to adorn or decorate.” [BAG]. It is the word from which “cosmetics” come and still has that idea in NT usage. We read of the church being a bride “adorned for her husband” in Rev. 21. The idea is that of making beautiful or attractive. It is used elsewhere of setting a jewel. In an engagement ring, for example, the setting is designed to show off the diamond in the most favorable light. A poor setting prevents an expensive and beautiful stone from being seen for what it is.

You get the point. The behavior of Christians – that is, if they live as Christians should – should be a recommendation of the Gospel to the unsaved. It should commend the truth about Jesus to others. It should make unbelievers sit up and take notice. The lives of Christians should be the setting for the diamond of the gospel. And those lives should certainly confirm rather than call into question what Christians are saying. It should be easier to believe what they say about Christ and salvation because their lives beautifully recommend their words.

You will remember that Jesus said a similar thing in his Sermon on the Mount.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” [Matt. 5:14-16]

Our behavior, in other words, should reflect well on God.

It is a point that was made long before. In Deuteronomy 4:7-8, Moses asks Israel rhetorically:

“What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?”

If Israel were only to live by faith by the laws God had given her, she would demonstrate to the world what a favored people she was and what a great God she had. She would, in other words, make the teaching about Yahweh attractive to others. Jesus said a similar thing in his great prayer in John 17. It would be the unity of his people that would prove to the watching world that Jesus Christ really was the Son of God and really had come down from heaven to be the Savior of the world. Peter says a similar thing to Christian wives married to unbelieving husbands. By a gentle submission to their husbands their husbands may be won to Christ without words, by the behavior of their wives.

However, it was not always so, as we know. Alas, Israel very often groveled with the pagans and the consequence was far from a recommendation of Yahweh to others or of his covenant as the truth by which all men should live. And it was the same in the New Testament. There were churches that made the doctrine bonnie to others and there were churches – with their strife or their worldliness or their dullness – that made the Gospel unappealing to others. Tertullian could say that the pagans observing Christian behavior would exclaim, “My how those Christians love one another.” And there is enough evidence to demonstrate beyond doubt that Christians often made the teaching about God their Savior very attractive by their love for one another. But the non-Christian historian, Marcellinus, writing in the later 4th century – while acknowledging the Christians’ virtues – documents with punishing impartiality their dissensions, their back-biting, and even their hatred of one another.

You remember Eric Liddell, the Scot runner, Olympic champion and hero of the movie Chariots of Fire. If you remember the rest of his life story, he was interned in 1943 with many other Westerners in a Japanese run prison camp in China after Japan had gone to war against the United States and Great Britain. He spent two years in that crowded internment camp and died there of a brain tumor shortly before the end of the war. In 1966, Langdon Gilkey – in 1966 a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School but who, when the war broke out in 1942 was a young professor in a Christian college in China – published a book about his experiences in that same internment camp, Shantung Compound: The Story of Men and Women under Pressure. The book makes some dismal reading. There were primarily two groups of people crowded into that camp, supplied with inadequate food, and forced to idle away days, weeks, months, and years: folk from the foreign business community in China and missionaries. These two groups had very different outlooks about everything and, in Gilkey’s account those differences provoked unending dissension and pettiness. Secretaries from British firms kept the missionary women awake at night talking and laughing and the missionary women woke up the secretaries early in the morning with their devotions. His account details what Gilkey himself regards as the missionaries’ repressive morality giving offense to the business community people. Gilkey’s acerbic account of the Christian missionaries has to be taken with a grain of salt, as he had little sympathy with the missionaries’ spiritual outlook. But it is interesting that, even he admits that the Christians did stand out in some very attractive ways.

“There was a quality seemingly unique to the missionary group, namely, naturally and without pretence to respond to a need which everyone else recognized only to turn aside. Much of this went unnoticed, but our camp could scarcely have survived as well as it did without it. If there were any evidences of the grace of God observable on the surface of our camp existence, they were to be found here.” [Cited in S. Magnusson, The Flying Scotsman: A Biography, 161]

But one missionary stands out in Gilkey’s memoir: Eric Liddell. According to Gilkey, Liddell was always helping, always giving of himself to make life easier for others, especially the children, who had nothing to do and who desperately needed adults to give them direction and a purpose in life. And it was Liddell, more than anyone else, who met their need. Here is Gilkey.

“It is rare indeed that a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but [Eric Liddell] came as close to it as anyone I have ever known. Often in an evening of that last year, I (headed for some pleasant rendezvous with my girlfriend) would pass the games room and peer in to see what the missionaries had going for the teenagers. As often as not, Eric would be bent over a chessboard or a model boat, or directing some sort of square dance – absorbed, weary, and interested, pouring all of himself into this effort to capture the minds and imaginations of those penned-up youths…. In camp he was in his middle forties, lithe and springy of step and, above all, overflowing with good humour and love of life. He was aided by others, to be sure. But it was Eric’s enthusiasm and charm that carried the day with the whole effort.” [159]

Of the cold February after Eric died, Gilkey writes, “The entire camp, especially its youth, was stunned for days, so great was the vacuum that Eric’s death had left.” You might find that account, that scene even more encouraging if I read to you an account of Eric Liddell after his death confided privately to the journal of one of Liddell’s camp mates.

“February 24. Eric’s funeral today. He was not particularly clever, and not conspicuously able. But he was good. He was naturally reserved and tended to live in a world of his own, but he gave of himself unstintedly. He always shrank from revealing his deepest needs and distresses, so that while he bore the burdens of many, very few could help to bear his. He wasn’t a great leader, or an inspired thinker, but he knew what he ought to do, and he did it. He was a true disciple of the Master…” [177]

In other words, such a man, ordinary in so many ways, made the doctrine bonnie to many people.

When my father was called up unexpectedly to service in the Korean War he found himself, some months later, by the providence of God, the chaplain of a paratroop regiment. He arrived at his new post just as his new unit was preparing a combat jump behind enemy lines. He had never jumped out of an airplane before, much less as a soldier in combat, and the only instruction he got was from his brand new chaplain’s assistant, Cliff Brewton. In the book Dad wrote about his experiences he describes this young man whom he met for the first time shortly after arriving at the bivouac of the 187th Regimental Combat Team. Cliff a regular paratrooper who had found Christ during his training at Ft. Bragg a year before, was the only volunteer for the job of chaplain’s assistance and, in the week’s afterward, Dad was unable to find another serious Christian fellow among those 5,000 men.

“It would be quite impossible to tell you what the life of Cliff Brewton meant to me and to many of the men in that regimental combat team during the next few weeks and months. There was never any question in my mind about his continuing as my assistant. What a splendid, attractive, consistent Christian testimony he lived. I could in no way describe the effect it had on other men. I was continually hearing some GI make a statement like this: ‘Whatever Cliff Brewton has, it’s the real thing! He practices what he preaches.’ ‘The thing about Cliff,’ a young soldier said to me one day, ‘is that he not only talks about Jesus Christ, but he lives Jesus Christ every day.’

An unbelieving, profane Red Cross worker who was assigned to our unit was visiting with me one day, and he began to talk on the subject of our enlisted men assistants. ‘Say, Chaplain,’ he said, ‘whatever it is that you’re dishing out over there at your chapel services, if it is what makes Cliff Brewton the kind of fellow he is, I need to come over and get a good…dose of it myself. That kid gets under my skin. He has the most attractive personality I believe I have ever seen in a soldier.’”

What a testimony for a young man who had been a Christian only a year.” [39]

Cliff was not, as they used to say, a man of parts. He did not have great gifts. But he made the teaching about Christ attractive.

Many wise men have drawn attention to the obvious fact that men want to be happy. Happiness and the desire for happiness is the principal motivation of human behavior.

“Were I to ask you why you have believed in Christ,” Augustine asked, “why you have become Christians, every man will truly answer, ‘For the sake of happiness.’”

Pascal goes even further.

“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

Well, then, what finally proves to an unbelieving man that happiness is to be found in Christ and believing in Christ? Well, surely ultimately it is the Holy Spirit illuminating that person’s mind and turning his or her will. But, what instruments does the Holy Spirit use? Well, no doubt he uses the argument of the Gospel itself: man’s need and Christ’s provision. But just as clearly, in many cases, it is the witness of a Christian’s life, his conduct, her behavior. A Christian’s life is to be a pointer to happiness, a roadmap if you will. They are happy people – in the deeper, richer sense of the word; they have found the secret to goodness and contentment and joy – and so it makes sense to discover what that secret is.

Sometimes the impression is left to no effect. Anthusa was the widowed mother of John Chrysostom, early Christianity’s greatest preacher. She was, by all accounts a remarkable and attractive personality. Libanius, John Chrysostom’s famous teacher of oratory, said of her, “Great heavens, what remarkable women are to be found among the Christians!” But it is not said that Libanius, moved by her example of good living and self-sacrifice, became a Christian himself. But in many other occasions, the impression is powerful to draw a person to Christ.

Augustine, in a passage in his Confessions is found speaking to God about Ambrose and the impression Ambrose made upon him when Augustine was still an unbeliever.

“I began to like him, at first indeed not as a teacher of the truth, for I had absolutely no confidence in your church, but as a human being who was kind to me.” [V, 13]

As we noted last week, the ethical instruction directed to women in these 10 verses concerns especially their life in the home. She is, this Christian woman, in all likely a mother and the primary sphere of her life is the home. A great many Christians have had cause to say that it was as much the life and example of their mother as it was her teaching that formed the Christian faith in their hearts.

As an older man Charles Spurgeon, no less, wrote:

“They will ask (when I have gone) what was the secret of my ministry. [Spurgeon’s 19th ministry was the most wide-spread and influential in the history of the church up to his time, with his sermons being avidly read by thousands upon thousands of people all around the world.] I will tell you. It has been two-fold: the truth of the message and my mother’s life. She adorned the doctrines. She made it comfortable to live with. And her son found it so.” [The Gospel according to Mother]

And so it has been in many homes. Among the three pillars of Christian nurture in a godly home: instruction, discipline, and example, I wonder if it is not the example of godly parents that God uses most and that wields the greatest power over the heart of a child. Parents make the doctrine bonnie for their children by living it out before them day after day in love, in faithfulness, in humility, and in devotion to God and Christ.

But what is true at home may very well be more often true away from it than we are aware. C.S. Lewis, who had been drawn to the Christian faith in part by the example of Christians that he knew, wrote in a letter to a friend [Letters, 2 Feb. 1955]:

“What we practice, not (save at rare intervals) what we preach, is usually our great contribution to the conversion of others.”

Well, I’m not sure that is always true, by any means, but I have heard enough Christians tell their conversion stories to know that it is very often the case. It is very often the impression made on an unbeliever by a Christian’s life that opens up his heart and mind to the good news of Christ’s love and salvation.

Now all of this sets before us a direct, clear challenge. Are we living so intentionally? Are you and I living so as to make bonnie the doctrine of Christ and salvation by faith in him? Are our lives adornments, recommendations, and ornaments of and testimonials to the gospel of Christ?

Christians are very likely to think, “No; my life is not,” even when it is. I don’t know how many times this has happened to me and to others I know. Someone has commented about a positive impression that I made on him or some other Christian made on him and I immediately think: “I did?” “He did?” Because thinking back I cannot imagine how I made such an impression on him. Sometimes I’m more likely to think that I didn’t do a very good job at all leaving a good impression for Christ’s sake. I know you have the same experience and the same feeling. Christians are so conscious of their failures that they can’t see the difference that Christ makes in their lives that is plain for any unbeliever to see.

But, there is more, much more that all of us can and should do to adorn the gospel positively; and, negatively, to give the enemies of the gospel nothing bad to say about us. You may have noticed that this year’s Oscar for the best original song written for a movie went to the song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” which appeared in the film Hustle and Flow. When the hip-hop group that sang the song came to the podium to collect their award for their song about being a pimp, one of the singers, blurts out “Thank you, Jesus!” There is a lot of that going around, as we know. A complete breakdown between life and message, between the life so-called Christians live and the message Jesus himself calls upon us to believe. Jesus does not belong in the same sentence with a song about being a pimp. And it is not to be suggested that he honored such a song. There is no adornment of his message there. Christ is dishonored not honored; his message made ridiculous, even pathetic, not held up to admiration.

But it is not to be so with us. We are not to be living in violation of God’s laws, as if they meant nothing to us and as if we thought Christ’s way was dull, boring, or irrelevant. We are not to be narrow, shallow, loveless, brittle, easily angered, selfish people. We are to be faithful to our relationships, selfless in the service of others, kind-hearted, cheerful, generous to a fault, reverent and devout yet hard to offend. Being with us ought to be a pleasure not a pain for people, whether or not they are Christians. We should be obviously interested in others and less taken up with ourselves. There ought to be something of God’s love, Christ’s sacrifice, and heaven itself in our speech and our carriage and our behavior. It ought to be evident that we have higher purposes to live for than the world can supply and sources of peace, joy, and love the world knows nothing of.

We ought to intend that our behavior be this way precisely for the sake of the effect it may have on others. It is our witness for Christ and the gospel as surely as is an explanation of the cross and the resurrection of Christ that we may have opportunity to give to people from time to time.

When you get up in the morning and begin your day, and when you encounter other human beings, remember that you carry about with you the reputation of Jesus Christ. They will think of him, to some degree, as they think of you. And that should be motivation enough for us to live a distinctively Christian life everyday!