We are studying Paul’s letter to Titus to learn how to ‘live Christian’ in this present world. We invite you to read the introduction to this series for some historical background.
We looked at Paul’s greetings in the last part of our study. We now move to his purpose for writing to Titus.
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you— if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.
After Paul was released from a two-year home imprisonment in Rome, he and Titus traveled to Crete. They apparently spent enough time together on the large island to preach the Gospel in several cities and see many people become Christians. Paul left Titus on Crete and traveled to other locations to continue preaching. The word “left” is ἀπέλιπόν and means “to leave behind temporarily” (Wuest). Titus’ stay on Crete would be temporary since Paul told him later in the letter to join him at Nicopolis once Artemas or Tychicus arrived on Crete (Titus 3:12).
First Step in Living Christian
The first step in living Christian is to be involved in preaching the Gospel. It is not to join the world in promoting worldly causes. Paul addressed that issue a bit further in his letter to Titus, so we’ll wait until we get to those points in the text so everything is presented in context (observing text within context). The world certainly has a lot of causes to promote, but that’s not why Paul left Titus on Crete. In fact, quite the opposite. God does not want us to be like the world or become involved in supporting the philosophies and ambitions of the world. We have a much higher calling.
Second Step in Living Christian
The second step in living Christian is to set in order the things that are lacking. God does everything in an orderly fashion and expects us to do the same. We find that directive throughout Scripture. One that comes to mind is 1 Corinthians 14:40 – “Let all things be done decently and in order.” The church in Corinth had lots of problems. The solution? Do things decently and in order. That’s what Paul told Titus to do – “that you should set in order the things that are lacking.” Christians need to be orderly in how they live to both glorify God and impact the world for the sake of the Gospel.
Notice that there were things “lacking” in the churches on Crete. The Greek word is λείποντα and means “left behind, abandoned.” What could have possibly been “abandoned” in churches that were fairly young?
The work Paul and Titus started together wasn’t finished. Preaching the Gospel is just the beginning. “Making disciples” is a lengthy spiritual process and what was lacking in the churches on Crete were the people who would oversee the work of disciple-making. That’s why Paul told Titus “and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you.”
Paul had given Titus a specific directive before leaving Crete – “appoint elders in every city.” He reminded Titus in the letter. It may have been that Paul sensed Titus needed a reminder based on a report Titus may have sent him. It may have been that Paul thought about all of the things he had given Titus to do on Crete and thought it good to point him toward what was most important as the next steps. It may have been that Paul was simply putting into writing what he had told Titus while they were ministering together on Crete so Titus would have a list he could use and show Christians on Crete. Titus having a letter from the Apostle Paul might have been helpful when facing opposition to his (Titus’) authority to appoint elders and share how to live Christian in the present world. Apostolic authority was very important then and continues to be now.
Whatever the reason, we are blessed to have this apostolic guide for how to live Christian. We can also point to apostolic authority when we tell people how God wants them to live.
… and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you …
Paul may have also been telling Titus that enough time had elapsed since starting churches in each city that some of the new believers would be ready for leadership in their churches. It takes a period of time after a person is saved to see if they have the qualities necessary for leadership. Some people mature sooner than others, but enough time needs to pass in order to watch how people deal with a variety of challenges. Titus would have his own observations, but he probably talked with church members in every city to learn more about the people who would be candidates for appointment (καταστήσῃς – set down in place, put in charge) as elders. It’s helpful to church leadership when church members trust them. Trust is built over time and through a variety of life experiences.
The Greek word translated “elders” is πρεσβυτέρους. Presbuterous is the male term (accusative masculine plural). The feminine singular presbutera is not found in the New Testament. The word presbuterous was used for men who were “mature.” It meant someone who was experienced in living and had good judgment. Note also that Paul chose to use the plural form of the word – “elders in every city.” He never intended for churches to be under one-man rule. Orderliness in the church comes from multiple “elders” who have the wisdom and experience to guide God’s people through the challenges of living in the present world.
How would Titus know which men to choose for elder positions in each city? Paul gave him an extensive list, which had similarities to a list Paul gave to Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Here is Titus’ list –
- if a man is blameless
- the husband of one wife
- having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination
- For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God
- not self-willed
- not quick-tempered
- not given to wine
- not violent
- not greedy for money
- but hospitable
- a lover of what is good
- holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught
- that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict
Notice the emphasis on an elder being “blameless.” The Greek word is ἀνέγκλητος and it means “not convictable, unreproveable, irreproachable, not to be called to account.” This was and still is at the core of what makes good church leaders.
Paul then addressed three areas of a man’s life where they were to be “blameless” –
- marriage and family
- personality and character
- devotion to God’s Word and ability to use it when facing opposition
Marriage and Family
- the husband of one wife … literally “of one wife the husband” (μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἀνήρ) … Christians have long debated whether this means an elder has to be married (not single), can be married to only one woman at a time (not a bigamist or polygamist) or have been married to only one woman during their life (not divorced or widowed) … it seems that “blamelessness” is the key to understanding the meaning and impact on an elder’s qualifications … would anyone in the city be able to call into account (reprove) a Christian man because of his marriage relationship?
- having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination … literally “children having believing not under accusation of debauchery or insubordinate” (τέκνα ἔχων πιστά μὴ ἐν κατηγορίᾳ ἀσωτίας ἢ ἀνυπότακτα) … elders who have children need to be both good dads and good spiritual fathers … the word πιστά means “faithful, believing” … what would it say about the ability of a man to be a church elder if his own children were not believers and/or engaged in acts of dissipation (wastefulness, wantonness, debauchery) and insubordination (unruly, not subject to rule, not submissive, disobedient) …
Personality and Character
Paul used the word ἐπίσκοπον (bishop, overseer, superintendent, keeps an eye out for) to add to an understanding of what an elder does. An elder oversees the ministry of a local church. Paul also used the word ἀνέγκλητον (blameless) a second time, probably for emphasis and possibly for transition from marriage and family to personality and character traits. Notice that Paul presents five negative traits followed by six positive traits. That is helpful as a church considers whether someone should be appointed as an elder.
- as a steward of God … elders must be blameless as God’s steward (οἰκονόμον – household manager, guardian of a household) … the Church is the household of God (Ephesians 2:19) and must be protected … that protective oversight is one of the responsibilities of elders and is a strong reminder that elders are servants of God … churches belong to God, not elders … elders serve simply as stewards of God’s property … a good reminder for elders everywhere .. Paul’s list of negative traits begins next ..
- not self-willed … elders are not to be αὐθάδη (self-pleasing, self-indulgent) … elders need to be more interested in pleasing God than pleasing themselves … pleasing God includes doing what is in the best interest of God’s people … elders should be careful in how they use the oversight authority God gives them … they should not be overbearing (NIV) in the way they manage God’s household …
- not quick-tempered … elders are not to be ὀργίλον (prone to anger, quick-tempered, harbor resentment) … elders who can’t control their emotions should not be in a leadership position until they develop that character trait … how many churches have been damaged by angry, quick-tempered leaders …
- not given to wine … elders should not be πάροινον (drunken, quarrelsome over wine, one who sits long at his wine) … drinking wine until one becomes drunk is not a character trait for an elder of God’s household … it also goes to drinking of alcoholic beverages in a way that dulls the mind or subdues inhibitions … “Those who linger long at the wine” (Proverbs 23:29) …
- not violent … elders are not to be πλήκτην (a striker, brawler, contentious) … keep in mind that words can be used violently and cause as much, if not more, injury than fists …
- not greedy for money .. elders are not to be αἰσχροκερδῆ (greedy of base gain, sordid profit, disgraceful gain, dishonest gain) .. this is a huge problem in the Church around the world today and has been a disgrace for centuries .. getting rich from church leadership is a bad motive and terrible character trait for any man who wants to be an elder .. it must not be allowed .. the best way to keep that from happening is not to appoint someone like that to being an elder in the first place .. this is the last negative trait, but one of the most important .. greedy elders have ruined many churches throughout the history of the Church .. Paul’s list of positive traits begins next ..
- but hospitable … elders are to be φιλόξενον (loving strangers, friendly toward foreigners, guests) … elders should demonstrate an interest and concern in the welfare of all people … elders should be role models for church members in how to show love to strangers …
- a lover of what is good … elders are to be φιλάγαθον (loving, friend of what is good) … an elder should love what God loves … what is good is based on the character of God … elders should look to God to see what is good, not the world …
- sober-minded … elders should be σώφρονα (of sound mind, self-controlled, balanced) … this means they are to have control (mastery) of their mind, emotions and will … that will go a long way in disciple-making …
- just … elders should be δίκαιον (righteous, upright) … this means they are committed to doing right … that impacts both their personal and corporate (church leadership) life …
- holy … elders should be ὅσιον (godly, holy, pious, devoted to God, separated to God’s service) … personal holiness will guide elders in how they live and how they shepherd the flock of God …
- self-controlled … elders should be ἐγκρατῆ (disciplined, master of one’s self, self-controlled) … if an elder is disciplined and can control themselves, they are in a better position to help people become disciplined followers of Jesus Christ …
Appointing the right men to elder positions is second only to preaching the right Gospel. I say the right Gospel because there are many wrong gospels being preached today. Qualified elders will recognize false gospels and those who preach and teach it and know how to contradict them. That leads us to the third area where elders are to be blameless.
Devotion to God’s Word
- holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught
- that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict
“holding fast the faithful word” is ἀντεχόμενον τοῦ κατὰ τὴν διδαχὴν πιστοῦ λόγου … the word translated “holding fast” means “holding firmly, cleave to” … the words translated “the faithful word as he has been taught” are literally “according to the teaching faithful word” … this is the Gospel message Paul had delivered when he preached in Crete … Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles, appointed personally by the Lord Jesus Christ … Paul preached, taught and wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit … what he wrote was foundational to the Church and a message elders should “hold fast” … that means elders were not to veer from Paul’s teaching in any way … they shouldn’t add to it or take away from it … they should cling to it as a man would cling to a lifeline in a stormy sea …
One of the primary reasons an elder of a church should hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught is so he could, by sound doctrine, “exhort and convict those who contradict.” The literal reads “that able he may be both to encourage with teaching sound and those contradicting to convict.” Elders should be able to accomplish two things with God’s Word: encourage people with sound teaching and convict people who contradicted them.
That’s a pretty good breakdown of what really happens in churches. Elders minister to all the people who attend their church. Some people want to grow in discipleship, others want to throw stones at those who are doing the discipling. Elders have to know how to help both groups. They encourage the one and contradict the other. How do they do it? By holding fast the faithful Word and using sound doctrine to encourage those who want to grow and contradict those who oppose.
The word for “contradict” is ἀντιλέγοντας and means “to speak against, to say in opposition.” Opposition to God’s Word is one of the first things I faced in church leadership. I had studied Titus and 1 Timothy and knew what to do in the face of that opposition. I used sound doctrine to contradict those who opposed. However, it’s not enough for one of the elders to use sound doctrine to contradict the opposition. The elders need to be in agreement about using sound doctrine to face opposition in church situations. Not having that agreement among elders often leads to divisions and other problems in the church.
Living Christian begins inside: inside individual Christians and inside local churches. We cannot look to the world for guidance or answers to how we should live our lives. The world is part of the problem, not part of the solution. That’s why Paul told Titus to help build the inside of churches by establishing the right kind of church leadership. The strength, or weakness, of a church is found in its leadership.
Paul demonstrated the truth of this from the beginning of his missionary journeys. As Paul returned to Antioch toward the end of his first missionary outreach, Paul “appointed elders in every church” (Acts 14:23). As Paul ended his third missionary outreach and was headed for Jerusalem where he would be arrested, Paul sent for the elders of the Ephesian church to meet him at Miletus. What he told them is a demonstration of the importance of appointing the right elders in every church and how they would need to defend the people of God against opposition from inside and outside the church –
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.Acts 20:28-31
We will see what types of opposition church elders faced in Crete and how Paul wanted the elders to deal with opposition as our special series continues. Church leaders being able to successfully contradict opposition is the next step in living Christian in the present world.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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