Summary: We fight so much for individual rights that we forget that our behavior is being watched by others - and can make a difference whether they come to Christ or not. So being free in Christ means freedom to say "no" to things we can do.
The key to understanding Titus chapter 2 is found in verses 11 & 12. Rather than a series of rather random and possibly restrictive or even discriminatory rules - Titus 2 teaches us how to live our lives in relation to the gospel - what it has meant to us and how it shapes our lives as we relate to others.
In our society today we are so consumed with individual rights that we lose perspective on what is really important - reaching the lost for Jesus and growing young believers into mature warriors. We think that because we have a right to do something then anything that seems to "take away" that right is downright un-American and perhaps ungodly.
I liken it to driving along the freeway. As a person coming up on an onramp you actually have no "right" to enter the road unless someone moves out of the way. If I’m going along at 65 miles an hour and I see you coming up - I could justify myself saying "I have every right to drive here and I’m not going to move because I don’t want to speed up or slow down or go into another lane." Then that person simply can’t get on the freeway - instead they go off and crash into the bushes. You were within your "rights" but would it really have been that difficult to make a few modifications in your driving to allow someone else to have a clear shot at getting where they needed to go?
We think freedom in Christ is the freedom to do anything. But it is also the freedom NOT to do things that we have a "right" to do. That’s what the Corinthian believers faced when they had to choose whether to go to idol feasts. They knew all foods were clean and that there is only one God - but for them to go would have stumbled young believers and turned off the unsaved from Christ altogether - "Oh, I guess there really is no difference between Jesus and all our pagan gods."
In Crete you had a culture of independence, immorality, and laziness that worked against forming Christian character through the power of the Spirit. In chapter 1 Paul tells Titus to straighten up some things - including appointing good models of leadership and rebuking those that taught that Christians must become Jews before coming to Jesus Christ.
Now he turns his attention to everyday living - some guidelines for these people to consider if they want to live lives that mirror Jesus Christ in a debauched culture.
We aren’t as different from the Cretans as we’d like to think. Our independence is legend, as is the immorality that surrounds us, and our unwillingness to be inconvenienced. So here’s the key verse:
Verse 11-12 says: 11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age"
This is the overarching value that should lead our lives - unmerited favor that changes our behavior in order to reach others. Jesus said "you are the salt of the earth - but if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?" (Matthew 5:13). If you are indistinguishable from the unsalty culture around you, you won’t be any good at giving people a taste of what life can really be like in Christ - so remember as we make our way through the chapter.
1 You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.
"Sound doctrine" means "uncorrupted instruction or information." Paul contrasts this verse with the last verse of chapter 1. Rather than a deceptive message - Titus must be sure to have the truth.
To have "sound doctrine" you must study the Word. Paul told Timothy to be a journeyman in the Word - "cutting straight" to the truth. In his second letter to Timothy he said "Keep as the pattern of sound teaching." That means an outline - Paul was given the gospel by Jesus Christ and he passed that outline on to Timothy, and to us. It doesn’t mean he filled in every single detail - but values and principals to lead a godly life. Without that outline you can go off into all kinds of silly and destructive doctrine - but inside the outlines we need to be free to do what is best in each situation - that’s why for the Cretans the detailed instructions are different than for the Corinthians - and for us, but the outline is the same.
Now Paul gives practical instructions for five groups of people - older men and women, and younger men and women, and slaves. Throughout this section the common theme is "self control." The Cretan culture was known for the opposite - give in to every possible desire. Paul tells them to be different from their culture - through the power of the gospel that washed their sins and gave them the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.