There are certain words in the English language that so represent their beautiful meanings to the extent that the word itself becomes a thing of beauty, so synonymous with it’s meaning that the two can’t be divorced. Adorn is one of those words for me, it conjures up images of beauty and elegance.
I used to spend time as a vector illustrator and I particularly remember an illustration of the model, Iman, wearing a necklace from De Beers. Iman is a natural beauty, but the necklace brought out something more and somehow increased and highlighted that. That’s the thing with adorning something, we don’t replace the beauty that is naturally there but rather enhance it.
It’s a very intentional word that evokes a very particular beauty; it’s interesting that Paul chooses to use it, when writing his epistle to Titus, to describe the effect that Christian living has on the doctrine of God. Let’s take a look at the passage in question.
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 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. 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.
– Titus 2:1-10 (ESV)
I love the fact that a Christian lifestyle can adorn the doctrine of God. We can often think of doctrine as something stern, rigid, unbending, and neglect the fact that it has a beauty that is enhanced by the outworking of its fruit in our lives. I think to understand what is being said here it’s helpful to look at the words meaning, as well as the scriptural context.
The English word ‘adorn‘ comes from the latin ‘adornare‘ which means to deck or add lustre to something; it is varyingly defined as lending beauty to, adding beauty to, or enhancing the appearance of. This isn’t just an instance of bible translators trying to use beautiful language; Paul himself used the Greek kosmōsin, meaning to make compellingly attractive, very appealing. Paul is saying that the kind of lifestyle he is advocating adds beauty to the doctrine of God and increases it’s attractiveness to others.
I don’t know about you but I find it hard to understand that anything I can do can lend beauty to something as awesome as God’s doctrine. How can something as fragile, frail and failing as a human add lustre and shine to something eternal? But yet that is exactly what Paul is describing here. I think one of the keys to this passage is found in the definition of the Greek that says ‘to make compellingly attractive’.
As Christians our doctrine can at times be hard to understand, even for those of us who love Christ and have dedicated our lives to following Him it can be confusing to unravel doctrine. For a person outside of that environment? The people at the office, the pupils at school, or the other students at the university? Seeing and understanding the beauty of doctrine would be even more of a challenge. What they can see and understand, however, is it’s effect on our life. We are in this world, but not of it.
When we live our lives in a way that transcends what is expected then people take notice. By living our lives to a higher calling we should be adding a beauty that compels those in our world to see the attractiveness of God’s doctrine. We should be walking billboards for the gospel.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
– Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)
God has made us with an inherent beauty, He has placed us at this moment in time and has made us fittingly beautiful for it. This beauty doesn’t consist of the perfect symmetrical face, bright eyes, and whatever else society presently deems to be beautiful, but is a beauty that comes from our perfect fit with His desires for our life.
I’ve heard too many people speak in a manner that suggests God wants us to wander around looking like supermodels or Spartan warriors while totally missing the fact that our beauty should be coming from our perfect and appropriate fit within God’s plan and purpose for us. It comes from us living our lives the way He designed us too. The key to being beautiful isn’t lashings of Chanel make-up, it’s a good lifestyle in line with sound doctrine.
I am fascinated by the fact that the way we live can give beauty to this amazing and immortal truth that we believe in. What is it that makes Christians attractive and compels people in their worlds to be drawn into the beauty that is God? Love, purity, not gossiping, good works, integrity, dignity. When we work on those things increasing in our lives we adorn the doctrine. We live out the eternal beauty of the gospel through our lives.
The guy who crafted the necklace that adorned Iman’s neck may not have been, in himself, a thing of beauty yet what he did could enhance the beauty of someone recognised as a great beauty. We may not feel like we are anything particularly special and yet actually? What we do can add a compelling beauty to God’s doctrine.