How Do We Adorn the Doctrine of God?

Have you ever come across a passage of Scripture that you’ve read for years, even for decades, and then found yourself questioning what a word or phrase meant that you’ve just glossed over before?

I had that experience recently with the last part of Titus 2:10, which says, “in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”

I puzzled over that word “adorn.” My initial thoughts ran something like this: we think of adornments as something we add on, like jewelry or hair ornaments, to make us prettier or more attractive.

But the gospel of God is perfect as it is—we can’t add anything to it to make it better. So what does the Bible mean that we’re to adorn it?

Does “adorning the doctrine of God our Savior” mean making a beautifully stitched or lettered plaque with the gospel message on it? There’s nothing wrong with that, but Paul has a deeper meaning in mind.

I looked up the Greek word for adorn here. In the KJV, it’s translated as “adorn, trim, or garnish.” Other translations say “make attractive.” According to BibleStudyTools.com, the Greek word can mean:

  1. to put in order, arrange, make ready, prepare
  2. to ornament, adore
  3. metaph. to embellish with honour, gain honour

That didn’t help a whole lot. So I looked up the definition of the English word adorn, since translators felt that was a good rendering of the Greek word. According to Dictionary.com, the first definition is the one we usually think of first: “to decorate or add beauty to, as by ornaments.” The second definition shed a little more light: “to make more pleasing, attractive, impressive, etc.; enhance.”

I went back to Titus to look at the verse in context. Titus is a letter from the apostle Paul to one of his helpers, Titus, who was then pastoring in Crete. In chapter 1, Paul stresses the importance of ordaining elders who are men of godly character. He laments those who are “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers” (1:10). “They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. . . . Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (1:11, 13).

By contrast, Titus was to teach “what accords with sound doctrine” (2:1). Paul then goes into instructions for older men and women, younger women and men, so that their works and character lines up with sound doctrine.

Then Paul addresses bondservants. That term makes us bristle these days. I’ve written before about slavery in the Bible, so I won’t repeat all of that here. In an example of God’s timing, I was pondering this passage Wednesday night, and on Thursday morning while making breakfast I heard part of Stephen Davey’s message on Surprising Submission from 1 Peter 2. He explains that slavery in Biblical times was not like slavery as we think of it from the 1800s and before in this country. The Old Testament condemns the type of slavery we usually think of: Deuteronomy 24:7: “If a man is found stealing one of his brothers of the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” So does the New Testament: 1 Timothy 1:8-11 lists enslavers (in the ESV; “menstealers” in the KJV) among those not in accord with sound doctrine. In OT times, often slavery was a way of working off a debt, like an indentured servant. In Rome, Dr. Davey explained, most of the people who weren’t Roman citizens were considered servants. These would be the everyday “worker bees” who made society run smoothly. A relatively small number of Christians was not going to be able to overthrow the Roman economy. God’s instruction was to transform people from the inside out with the truth that everyone is created in the image of God, and in the kingdom of heaven, these distinctions didn’t make any difference.

So, Paul’s instruction to bondservants here doesn’t mean he was condoning the system. His instructions for everyone had to do with how to live within their circumstances in a way that honored and glorified God.

That said, in context this passage says:

Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:9-14).

Even though the word “adorn” is used towards servants, I think it applies to everyone in this passage (and within the church), because Paul’s theme to each group is the same: live lives that are in keeping with God’s truth.

So, then, how do we adorn the doctrine of God our Savior? The whole rest of the letter to Titus tells us how. Here are a few ways:

First of all, we have to believe God’s truth. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Then Philippians 2:12 says, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” That doesn’t mean work for your salvation: salvation is a free gift of God’s grace. Later in Titus Paul writes:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).

But we work out our salvation. One of our former pastors used to say it’s like working out a math problem to its logical conclusion. We take those high and lofty ideals and work them out into our everyday lives. God is a God of truth, so we live by truth and tell the truth. God is a God of love, so we show love to Him and others.

The word “self-controlled” comes up a lot in this book, and self-control is one facet of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-26. We don’t blast people with angry words when we feel like it. We don’t steal other people’s goods or steal from our employers by not giving them a good day’s work.

We obey the authorities God has placed over us. That’s not always fun, especially when their faults and foibles are obvious. But we work as unto God.

Paul mentions being “well-pleasing.” Does that mean we’re obsequious sycophants? No, but we make a deliberate effort to get along with others. 

Not argumentative,” Paul says. Later in Titus, Paul writes, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-11).  Elsewhere he writes, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15). Ouch. Probably half of social media involves grumbling and disputing. Yet even there we should “shine as lights in the world.”

After exploring the passage in context, I looked up other sources on this verse. Spurgeon has a good sermon on this passage here. I liked what Warren Wiersbe said in his Be Faithful commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus:

This will “embellish with honor” the Word of God (WUEST). When we serve faithfully, we “beautify the Bible” and make the Christian message attractive to unbelievers. When Paul addressed the slaves in Timothy’s church (1 Tim. 6: 1), he used a negative motive: “that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.” But the positive motive, to make God’s message attractive, and the negative motive, to keep God’s teaching from being slandered, ought to control our lives.”

I don’t think making the gospel attractive to unbelievers means telling them all their problems will be solved when they believe. That would be a lie. Every believer in the Bible had problems. But the gospel is attractive because in Christ we find forgiveness, peace, righteousness, help, guidance, and so much more.

When I started this study, I leaned toward a definition of adornment as making attractive or honoring. While I think those do apply, I can also see the “put in order, arrange, make ready” aspect of the Greek word for “adorn.” We’re to order and arrange our lives to reflect accurately our Savior and the gospel.

Normally my blog posts aren’t so Bible-study-ish. I’ve thought about trying to rework this into something that might look a little more inspirational to read. But I decided to leave it as is. I don’t find such study dry. Each step opened my understanding a bit more. Now I can not only approach this word with more depth next time I read this passage, but I have an overarching principle to keep in mind as I go about daily life: are my thoughts and actions adorning the gospel or marring it?

How about you? Has a word or phrase or concept in your Bible reading ever sent you off on a study? Had you encountered before what it means to adorn the gospel?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

29 thoughts on “How Do We Adorn the Doctrine of God?

  1. This is great, Barbara. I’m glad you stuck with this study instead of trying to make it more devotional-ish. I enjoyed reading the process you went through to get to this: “We’re to order and arrange our lives to reflect accurately our Savior and the gospel.” And I love the analogy your former pastor used to describe working out our salvation. Makes sense to me!

    • Thanks, Lois! I thought one advantage to leaving the post as is was that anyone not familiar with how to study a passage further might get some helpful ideas. I don’t do this every time I read, but it’s rewarding when I do. Our former pastor’s analogy has been a great help to me in understanding how we work out our salvation.

  2. Barbara, I am so glad you didn’t change a word of this study. “We’re to order and arrange our lives to reflect accurately our Savior and the gospel.” As we do so, Jesus will be seen as the beautiful and wondrous adornment in our lives.

  3. One of the first things I do when I come across an unusual use of terms is to check other translations. But in the NIV, “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” is missing many of the nuances you’ve listed in your search. The NLT is a little clearer, “Then they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way.”

    Your conclusion, “We’re to order and arrange our lives to reflect accurately our Savior and the gospel” aligns perfectly with Philippians 1:27 (our small group is studying the Epistles) “Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.” I like another aspect from the NT Wright translation, “Your public behavior must match up to the gospel of the King.”

    I love these digging types of posts, Barbara. They are intrinsically inspirational in the sense that you are looking well beyond the context of the verses before and after 10 and finding coherence with the rest of Scripture. Aren’t we all looking for coherence?

    • Looking at other translations is one of my first lines of study, too. I’m thankful BibleHub and BibleGateway make that so easy to do. And I like how you pointed out the nuances we find in this kind of study. We have an idea what a word or phrase means, but then we find out it is so much richer. I like like Wright’s translation of this phrase–thanks for sharing it.

  4. I think this is a phrase I’ve just passed over in my Bible reading, because it didn’t sound familiar to me. I think you’ve dug into it quite well; thank you for the motivation to “adorn” God’s doctrine more effectively.

    • Thanks, Susan. I’ve seen “adorn” in other settings, but puzzled over how we did that with the doctrine of God. I’ve passed over it scores of times, too, without thinking much more about it. I’m thankful I felt led to look into more this time–it was a rich study.

  5. Barbara, I love what you’ve shared. I love reading passages and having them jump out at me as if reading them for the first time. Digging deeper to understand allows me to draw closer to the Lord as I learn more about His Word.

    • Thanks, Lisa. It’s funny how different things will jump out at us at different times, but I’m sure that’s part of getting what the Holy Spirit wants to teach us in those moments.

  6. Barbara, I really appreciated this post. I had thought about that phrase a few years ago when I went through Nancy Leigh Wolgemuth’s book Adorned. But you made me think much more about it. Interestingly, I’m teaching a bible study on Saturday from Colossians 1.9-20 and several of your thoughts fit so well with what I’ve been studying. God is patiently teaching us His truths over and over. You definitely took me deeper today! Blessings to you as you faithfully share God’s truth here. I’m always blessed!

    • I have Nancy’s book on my shelf, but haven’t read it yet. I wish I had thought about it while doing this–I’m sure she probably went into what this word means. I look forward to reading it some time. I love how God presents some of the same truths in different passages, and sometimes even in different genres.

  7. I’d never really noticed that verse or thought about it before, so thanks for sharing your reflections and your study here. It’s interesting to ponder.

  8. I appreciate your insight on adorn, Barbara. And I enjoyed the step-by-step processing of information in your journey of discovery. Walking in adornment of God’s doctrine reminds me of cultivating faithfulness in Psalm 37.

  9. I had never noticed that verse before so I am thankful this morning to come upon it on your beautiful blog! You did such a incredible job of digging deep with your word study! Thank you so much! It ministered to me this morning … 🙏❤️

  10. This is such an excellent in-depth look at what that verse means and how we can live it out! I’ve very often come across a little nugget in the Bible and wondered “how have I not noticed that before?” and spent time pondering it. I love that God’s Word always has something new to teach us, no matter how many times we’ve read it.

  11. Pingback: March Reflections | Stray Thoughts

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