PAUL'S LETTER TO TITUS
Introduction, Elders, and Heresy
Titus along with 1 and 2 Timothy forms what is called The Pastorals, that is, letters written to Timothy and Titus, the pastors of the churches at Ephesus and Crete respectively. Although there is much personal information in the letters, especially in 2 Timothy, the letters primarily contain instructions from Paul as to how the 2 pastors are to conducts the affairs of their churches.
Titus most likely was written sometime during the interval between Paul's first Roman imprisonment (61 AD in Acts 28:16-31) and his second Roman imprisonment (64-66 AD mentioned in Clement of Rome). During that interval Paul most likely had been able to evangelize the westernmost part of the Roman empire, Spain. After his evangelistic efforts there, he had returned to the region of the Aegean Sea. From Nicopolis (northwest of modern Greece in Serbia) Paul had written to Titus whom Paul had left in Crete to deal with the issues confronting the newly-formed churches.
Apparently Titus was fit for this job. Earlier Paul had used Titus to help quell the firestorm which had erupted in the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 7:6). The churches in Crete were likewise facing a difficult situation with the emerging of a new heresy which we call Gnosticism. Because Paul does not deal with this issue at length (as he does for example in Colossians and as John does in 1 John), we will focus only on those points which Paul deals with. Apparently the elements of the heresy Paul confronts include (1) its appeal of being the latest rage (see 1:2), (2) its focus on Jewish legalism (1:14), and (3) its focus on myths (1:14).
Who was Titus? Apparently according to this book and 1/2 Corinthians Titus was quite important in the early church, especially to the churches encircling the Aegean Sea. In Galatians Paul claims that Titus and his status as a Greek were pivotal for the great church conference held in Jerusalem to resolve the issue of circumcision. According to Paul if Titus came back from that conference circumcised, then Paul (not to say Titus) had lost the argument. If he came back uncircumcised, then Paul (and Titus) had won the day (Gal. 2:1-10).
Yet Titus is not mentioned in the Book of Acts. He is not even mentioned in Acts 15 in which he played a pivotal role in the church conference mentioned above. Why is this? Most likely for the same reason that another major figure of the early church is not mentioned in the Book of Acts--Luke. A. T. Robertson (one of the top 5 Greek scholars of the 20th century) posited that Luke doesn't mention himself in the Book of Acts because he wrote it. He deletes his name out of a sincere sense of humility. Most likely, according to Robertson, Titus was the brother of Luke. For this reason, again out of a sense of sincere humility, Luke does not mention Titus.
Paul starts this epistle with the customary salutation found in most first-century letters: name of author, name of recipient(s), and greetings ("Joy"--"Grace" or "Peace"). Paul though, ever the theologian, tailors his greeting to suit the situation and audience he is addressing. The Letter to Titus is no different.
Of particular importance in the salutation first is the clause: "for the faith of those chosen of God and of the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness." Too often Christians opt for one of the 3 words highlighted here at the expense of the other 2. Paul though states that all 3 elements are important. Faith is critical. We must accept the gift of grace God has given us only in Jesus Christ. Daily we are to exercise faith by listening to the Lord and obeying Him. Yet faith must be based upon knowledge, not only the knowledge that Christ has died to save us from our sins but also the knowledge of who God is and how He works. This knowledge comes only from an intensive study of Scripture. Knowledge though is not the ultimate goal. Knowledge should lead to godliness, that is, a godly lifestyle, a lifestyle in which people see Jesus. If your Bible study does not lead you to be more like Christ, then your Bible study is not legitimate in a biblical sense.
The ultimate goal of these 3 elements (faith, knowledge, and godliness) is eternal life, not only a life that extends throughout eternity but also the quality of life that the eternal God Himself enjoys. It is not an eternal life which came to God's mind on the spur of a moment. It is not a new-fangled concept, the latest fad, like the heresy besetting the Cretan churches; rather it is a life which God promised "long ago," literally, "from seasons of the ages." (Normally this can refer to the counsels of God before creation existed; however, since the time here refers to God promising this life, it must refer to a time in the history of God's people when He promised them eternal life, such as, Gen. 3:15.)
THE NEED FOR ELDERS (1:5-9)
How is Titus to deal with this heresy confronting the Cretan churches? There is definitely a mess among the churches of Crete, and Paul wants Titus to straighten out that mess ("set in order the things that remain") by appointing elders in the various churches throughout the island. Although we are rightfully a congregational church, the leadership of the church has been entrusted primarily to the ministers of the church, not as dictators but as shepherds who go before the church. They lead not by coercion but by influence and example (1 Pet. 5:3).
These "elders" (pastors/ministers) are pivotal for the life of the church. I appreciated what Jon Randles said the other night: "A church can make a pastor great or destroy him." I've heard it said many times that FBC Dallas made Criswell a great pastor. There is a lot of truth in this; yet Criswell responded positively to that church and helped make that church one of the greatest churches in the mid 20th century. The truth is that churches will never rise above its leadership. I've heard of and seen churches which were really going forward spiritually and yet were thwarted by its ministerial leadership. A church can only go as far as its leadership will allow it to go. Paul is acknowledging this when he is primarily placing the burden for cleaning up the Cretan mess upon the shoulders of the elders. It's important to have good ministers.
Just who are these elders though? Some well-meaning Christians differentiate between 3 groups of leaders in the church: the elder (presbuteros), the pastor (poimen), and the bishop (episkopos). A careful reading of the different texts should that Paul is not referring to 3 groups within the church but one group, the group we call the pastor. For proof of this just look at Titus 1:5 and 1:7 where he first calls the church leaders "elders" and then "bishops" or "overseers." Luke actually combines all three in Acts 20: "elders" (20:17), "bishops" or "overseers" (20:28), and pastors (20:28). (Although he uses the verb form of these last 2 words, he is meaning the same thing; the reason a person "pastors" is that he is a "pastor" and the reason a person "bishops" is that he is a "bishop.")
Since the position of pastor/minister is pivotal for the church, it only makes sense that men of quality fill this position. As you look at the qualities required of the ministers, you will see that they don't differ from the qualities expected of Christians in general. The reason for this is simple: there are not 2 sets of standards, one for the ordinary Christian and one for ministers. There's only one standard. It's just that while all Christians are expected to live up to this standard, ministers (and deacons) most definitely must live up to this standard. If the leadership does not live up to this standard, then how will you ever be able to expect the church itself to live up to this standard?
The qualifications fall into 3 categories. The first category concerns personal relationships. The person who fills the position of pastor/minister should be excellent in relationships. This makes sense since the church itself is nothing more than a group of relationships. Now every minister is going to have his detractors. That's a given. Yet how do I know if a minister is good at relationships? By looking at his family. Paul seems to be saying that if a minister cannot make it in his own family, he is not going to make it in God's family. If I can't make it with a group which naturally loves me, accepts me, and wants to please me, how in the world am I ever going to make it in a family which does not always love me, accept me, and want to please me? Don't take into account just simply how much your children love you. Look at the lifestyle your children and your spouse are living. (I'm sure that there are exceptions to the rule; however, the father has such an influential role in the home that if his home is spiralling out of control, the likelihood is that the father/minister is not taking care of business at home.)
The second category concerns character qualifications: "not self-willed, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled . . ." One of the greatest compliments I've ever heard given a pastor is said of Brother Risinger: "He is a man of integrity." Ministers like every other Christian is going to mess us from time to time; however, the general tenor of his life should be one of integrity.
Just a side note here. The question of drinking will forever haunt the Baptist church. The NT does not forbid drinking; HOWEVER, it does not encourage it either as some people act. Remember that drinking was not a part of Timothy's life at all. In fact Paul had to command Timothy to drink some wine because Timothy was such a tea-totaller. The NT does allow drinking but only in moderation. (Other things might enter into consideration when dealing with this topic; however, this seems to be the biblical response to alcohol.)
The third category of qualifications concerns the sbility to handle the Bible: "holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict" (1:9). Too often ministers just want to "praise God" and visit the sick. They want to have fun times with lots of fellowship. They refuse to devote themselves to a serious study of God's Word so that they can deal with the onslaught of heretical teachings their flock faces. It is by no means an accident that the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses have thrived in areas dominated by Baptists. We teach and preach that people should love God and be good; however, we have not indoctrinated them with the major truths of the gospel.
We may not think this all that important; however, other churches indoctrinate their people. When I was staying with some Catholic friends in England during spring break 2001, my Catholic host was talking about Jesus being God. You don't hear that said very often in Baptist churches. We're talking about missions--which is good; we're talking about being good--which is good; yet we tend to fail to emphasize the major tenets of our faith and to provide evidence for them. To paraphrase Jesus, we should have done the former without neglecting the latter (Matt. 23:23). No one in the church should be more versed in doctrine than the ministers.
Characteristics of the Heretics
Paul had earlier hinted about one characteristic of the heretics and their heresy. Apparently these heretical teachers were claiming that their teachings were superior to Paul's because they were the latest rage, the newest fad in town. [Paul's response that the truth was ancient because it was based upon promises God had made ages long ago (1:2).] Now Paul adds that this heresy was composed of Jewish myths and commandments of men.
Most of us are familiar with the concept of "the commandments of men." Jesus had to fight such a concept during His own earthly ministry because the Pharisees had taken God's commandments and added over 400 more of their own commandments to them. The term though "Jewish myths" clue us into another element in this heresy. Gnosticism which most likely grew out of this heresy focused on myths--myths which explained why matter is evil and the spirit is good, myths which told about demonic fortresses which barred a person's way to heaven, myths which gave away secret pass words so that we can overcome demons on our way to heaven, etc. Although Christianity deals with many of the same issues (why is evil in the world and how can I know for sure that I am going to heaven), Christianity is based upon God's revelation to you and me. God did not leave it up to you and to me to figure out how to be right with Him; He came to earth in the person of Jesus and told us how. Christianity is based upon revelation, not upon wishful speculation.
Paul informs us that we should not be surprised at these Cretan heretics. They are just like their Cretan ancestors who built a tomb for the head of the Greek gods Zeus. Because it was absurd to build a tomb for Zeus who could never die, Epiminides wrote: "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." Paul's response? Like father, like son. These Cretan heretics were just like their Cretan fathers--absurd.
The Cretan heretics were not well-meaning scholars who had simply messed up. They were rebellious. They knew the truth of Christianity and rejected it. Paul's advice was that the church was not only to reject this teaching, it was also to silence these false teachers. The word "silence" here has behind it the idea of muzzling an animal. If that person was not willing to change, he would not be allowed to teach in the church.
Notice that these teachers were not engaged in legitimate dialogue and debate. Christians are not going to agree on everything. I appreciated Bernie Thompson telling me that I gave the teachers at the church freedom to teach what God has laid upon their hearts, even if those teachings did not agree with mine. For example, the timing of the rapture is not as critical as the fact that Jesus Christ is going to return. We can differ on the first and still get along; we're going to have a lot harder time getting along though if you deny the second. These heretical teachers are denying though the major tenets of our faith. They are to muzzled.