Titus was one of Paul’s co-workers in the gospel; and Paul had left him on the island of Crete. And we’re told in verse 5 of chapter 1 that the reason Paul left Titus on Crete was to straighten out what was left unfinished. So, at some point — and we don’t know when — Paul and Titus had travelled to Crete. And presumably at that time they had managed to establish some churches. But Paul had to move on and he left Titus behind. And now Paul is writing to Titus to point out to him some of the things that he needed to do. There were some necessary tasks which Titus needed to carry out. There were things to do and things to teach. And that’s what this letter is about.
We spent our time last week on the opening four verses and the remaining verses of chapter 1, which we’re studying today, can be divided into two parts. Verses 5 to 9 are about the need to appoint elders in every town. Presumably Paul means in every town where there was a church. And then verses 10 to 16 are about some people who were causing problems in the churches. And, of course, the presence of those trouble-makers was one of the reasons why Titus needed to appoint elders in the churches. He needed to appoint elders so that they elders could guard the churches from the trouble-makers. That’s one of the reasons we need elders. If the members are like sheep, the elders are to be like shepherds. And just as shepherds guard and guide the sheep, so the elders are to guard and guide believers in the church. And so, let’s turn first to what Paul says in verses 5 to 9 about the elders.
Verses 5 to 9
In verse 5 he tells Titus to appoint elders. If you’re using the NIV, you’ll see the little footnote beside the word ‘appoint’ which offers the word ‘ordain’ as an alternative translation. Now, the word Paul uses doesn’t quite mean ‘ordain’, but it means something like ‘put in charge’ and it refers to appointing someone to a special office. That’s what we do with new elders: we appoint them to the office of the eldership. And, of course, their appointment, or their ordination, comes at the end of a process which begins with the election of the new elders. And presumably something similar was to happen in Crete: their appointment to the eldership was preceded by some form of election.
And so, who should be elected and appointed an elder in the church of Jesus Christ? Paul goes on to list some of the qualifications for the eldership. And the first qualification — and this is really the primary qualification; and every other qualification explains and expands on this one — the first qualification which is repeated again in verse 7 is that the elders should be ‘blameless’. Now, this doesn’t mean we’re looking for someone who never sins or who never does anything wrong. That’s impossible, because we’re all sinners who sin continually throughout our lives. So, being blameless doesn’t mean being perfect. But being blameless means no one can point the finger at us and say: ‘I’ve heard about him. I’ve heard what he did. Isn’t he the person who did…?’ The blameless person is the person who can’t be faulted for the way he conducts his public life. There’s no scandal attached to his name; he doesn’t have a bad reputation.
And in particular, he can’t be faulted when it comes to his home life. Do you see that in verse 6? Though Paul is referring to the qualifications for the eldership, he begins, not with how this person conducts himself in the church, but with how he conducts his affairs at home. So, Paul says:
An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.
Paul is not insisting that an elder must be married. He’s not saying that. But if an elder is married, then he is to be faithful to his wife. And Paul is not insisting that an elder must have children. He’s not saying that. But he’s saying that if an elder has children, then his children ought to be what? The NIV translates what Paul says with the word ‘believe’ which implies they must be believers. However, the word Paul uses can also be translated ‘faithful’. In that case, they’re to be faithful children, which means they’re to be submissive and obedient children. And that perhaps makes better sense, because while parents are responsible for bringing up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord, parents are not responsible for whether or not their children believe; that’s down to the child. So, Paul is referring here, not to believing children, but to faithful children, submissive and obedient children. And as submissive and obedient children, they won’t be open to the charge of being wild or of being disobedient. Being wild refers to wild living: living a drunken and sexually promiscuous life. Being disobedient means being rebellious. The elder’s children ought not to be like that.
So, Paul asks us to look at the elder’s home. Is he faithful to his wife? And does he govern his children well so that they’re obedient and well-behaved? If he’s unfaithful to his wife, then he’s not blameless, because people will say of him: Look how he’s treated his wife! It’s awful the way he cheated on her. And if his children are wild, then he’s not blameless, because people will say of him: Look at his children. You’d think he’d do something about them! But people will look at the blameless man and see that he loves his wife. And people will look at the blameless man and see that he governs his family well.
And then in verse 7, Paul tells us that an overseer — and ‘overseer’ is just another term for an elder — an overseer is entrusted with God’s work. More literally, Paul is saying that the elder is God’s steward. Wealthy men in Bible times were householders; and the wealthy man was the head of his household. And the household was made up of the members of the householder’s family plus the servants. And every member of the household — the members of the family plus the servants — relied on the householder to keep them and to look after them. So, the food they ate was bought with the householder’s money; the clothes they wore were bought with the householder’s money; the house in which they lived was owned by the householder. Everyone in the household depended on the householder. However, the householder was a busy man and he probably had many business interests; and so he used to delegate the care of the household to his steward. The steward was appointed to look after the householder’s domestic affairs. And here’s Paul telling us that the Lord has delegated the care of his household — the church — to the elders. The elders work for him and are answerable to him. So, it’s an important work. It’s a responsible position. It’s not for everyone, but it’s only for some. What kind of person should they be? Well, in the rest of verse 7 Paul tells us what kind of person shouldn’t be an elder. And then, in verse 8 he tells us what an elder should be like.
So, what kind of person shouldn’t be an elder? An elder shouldn’t be overbearing; he shouldn’t be quick-tempered; he shouldn’t be given to drunkenness; he shouldn’t be violent; and he shouldn’t pursue dishonest gain.
In other words, they shouldn’t be arrogant, but kind and gracious. And how important that is when it comes to meetings of the Session, when we can’t have one elder trying to rule over the rest and insisting on his own way. And they shouldn’t lose their temper easily, but must be patient and self-controlled. And again, how important that is, because we don’t want elders whose temper explodes easily so that everyone feels they’re walking through a minefield whenever this elder is around. And they shouldn’t drink to excess, because that would be shameful. And they shouldn’t be violent, but gentle towards others; they must have the lamb-like gentleness of the Lord Jesus. And they shouldn’t become an elder only because of what they can get out of it, because the reason they’re undertaking this work is because they love the Lord and his church and want to serve their interests and not his own.
Elders shouldn’t be any of those things. And in verse 8 we have what they should be: an elder must be hospitable, ready to welcome people into the church and into their own home. He must love what is good, so that his mind is set on what’s good and honourable and pure. He must be self-controlled, guarding his thoughts and desires and words. He must be upright, with a reputation for doing what’s just and honest and fair. He must be holy, possessing an inward purity which manifests itself in what he does. And he must be disciplined so that he’s not a slacker, but someone who is hard-working and will carry out his duties diligently.
All-in-all, we might say the elder is to be an example to the rest of the congregation, because every believer should be like this; every believer should aim to be like this; and the elders should be the kind of people we can emulate and who set an example for the rest of us to follow.
However, there’s one further qualification in verse 9 which doesn’t exactly apply to every believer. Paul says the elder must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught. Now, we want every believer to do that; we want every believer to hold firmly to God’s word; we want every believer to believe and obey God’s word. But the elder ought to hold firmly to God’s word so that he can do two things which every other believer is not necessarily called to do.
Firstly, he needs to be able to encourage others by sound doctrine. The word translated ‘encourage’ is the same word Paul used to describe what Timothy should do by his preaching. And when we looked at that passage from 2 Timothy, I asked you to think of a shepherd, prodding the sheep with his staff to make sure they go down the right road. And I said that every preacher was to prod the people with his preaching so that the people go along the right path: ‘Don’t go that way. Go this way. This is the right way.’ And the elders are to prod the people, not by preaching, but by teaching them sound doctrine. Sound doctrine is healthy doctrine. It’s good for us. And the elders are to open their Bibles with the people and show them what is right and true and good for them. They’re able to say to the people: ‘This is what God wants his people to do. This is the right path. Not that way, but this way.’
And secondly, the elder needs to be able to refute those who oppose the truth. So, the elder needs to be able to spot error; and he needs to be able to show where someone has gone wrong in their thinking. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul said he had to oppose Peter to his face, because Peter was clearly in the wrong. And the elders are the ones who have been charged by God to watch over his people in order to protect them from false teaching and error. And when someone has been led astray in their thinking, the elder should be able to warn them.
And that takes us to the second part of today’s passage. Why did Titus need to appoint elders in every town? Because there were rebellious people in Crete, who were deceiving others by the things they were saying. And just as sheep need a shepherd to protect them from savage wolves, so the church members in Crete needed elders to protect them from these deceivers. That’s one of the reasons why churches need elders.
Verses 10 to 16
And so, Paul refers in verse 10 to ‘rebellious people’. Do people still talk about rebellious teenagers? Rebellious teenagers want to go their own way. They don’t want to follow their parents’ example. And so, Paul is referring to people in the church who want to go their own way. They don’t want to follow what Paul and Titus have been teaching. And he adds that they are ‘mere talkers’. The ESV describes them as ’empty talkers’. So, these are people who may have lots to say, but what they say isn’t worth listening to. It’s unprofitable. Worse, what they say is deceiving. It’s misleading. Anyone who listens to them will be misled. Paul says there are many who are like this, but then he mentions one particular group in particular. He mentions those from the circumcision group.
It’s possible he’s referring to the Jews, but it’s more likely he’s referring to the people he addressed in his letter to the Galatians. These were people who taught that in order to be justified — pardoned and accepted by God — you need to trust in Christ and — as well as believing in Christ — you had to be circumcised and you had to follow the Old Testament rules about what to eat and what not to eat. Faith in Christ was not enough. It was faith plus circumcision. Faith plus keeping the food rules. With lots of people, it’s always faith plus something else.
What else do we know about these people? Later in the chapter, in verse 14, Paul refers to Jewish myths and to the commands of those who reject the truth. Jewish myths were probably made-up stories about people from the Old Testament. And I’ve mentioned before how people today will write books in which they claim to have uncovered some secret truth that no one else has ever known. They have this secret knowledge which has laid hidden in the Old Testament, but which they have finally uncovered. But it’s all nonsense. And yet so many believers are taken in by it. And when Paul refers to ‘the commands of those who reject the truth’, he may be referring to the add-on rules and the man-made traditions which these trouble-makers said were necessary for salvation.
And then, in verse 15, Paul contrasts ‘the pure’ with those who are ‘corrupted’. To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. This recalls what Paul said in 1 Timothy 4. Do you remember? Paul said that everything God created is good and is to be received with thanksgiving. So, God’s good gifts surround us and we should be thankful for them. And faithful believers regard God’s good gifts as pure and good. But when Timothy was in Ephesus, there was a group who seemed to forbid the people from marriage and from eating certain foods. So, they were teaching a form of self-denial which God has not commanded. These people regarded God’s good gifts as impure and defiling. And perhaps the trouble-makers in Crete were teaching something similar and they were calling ‘bad’ what God had created for our good. So, they were saying faith in Christ is not enough. Instead you have to follow all our rules. And God will only justify you — pardon and accept you — if you keep all our rules.
But what did Paul teach? In the book of Galatians, where he addressed this error, he said that all who rely on observing the law are under a curse. He said that no one is justified before God by the law. Instead we are justified — pardoned and accepted — by faith. That is, we are justified through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. When someone asks, ‘What must I do to be saved from the wrath of God for my sins?’, the answer is always: ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.’ That was Paul’s message and it was the message all the Apostles taught. Now, once a person believes and is justified — pardoned and accepted by God — then that person will want to obey the Lord and do his will. But obeying the Lord and doing his will do not contribute anything to our salvation, because we’re saved only through faith alone in Christ alone.
So, what does Paul say to Titus about the trouble-makers in Crete who were saying that — as well as believing — you have to follow their rules? ‘They must be silenced’, says Paul. They must be silenced because they’re ruining whole households by teaching things which ought not to be taught. So, these trouble-makers had set themselves up as teachers. And they’re going from house to house to teach what ought not to be taught. And why are they doing this? What is motivating them? Paul tells us that they were doing this ‘for the sake of dishonest gain’. What sort of gain might they receive from teaching these things? We perhaps assume Paul is referring to money; and we’ve all heard about those preachers who are good at extracting money from their audience; and they’ve made themselves rich by pretending to be teachers of the truth. But the words translated ‘dishonest gain’ can also be translated ‘shameful gain’ and perhaps the trouble-makers got some other kind of advantage or benefit from doing what they were doing. Whatever is was, they were in it for what they could get out of it.
And Paul goes on to quote what one of their own prophets said about the people of Crete. The scholars think Paul is quoting an ancient writer named Epimenides who apparently said about his country men that they are always liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons. And the scholars tell us that he was not the only person who thought this about the people of Crete, because it seems the people of Crete had a reputation in the ancient world for being liars and for being lazy. And Paul says the reputation they had was accurate. Sometimes the environment we live in is not good for us and everyone starts to behave in a certain way. And it seems that people in Crete started to behave in a certain way.
And so, Paul tells Timothy to ‘rebuke them sharply’. Presumably Paul means Titus should rebuke the trouble-makers, who were lying in the sense that they were not teaching the truth about God and they were deceiving people and leading them astray. And so, rebuke them sharply, Titus. Rebuke them so that they will become sound in the faith. There’s that word ‘sound’ which we’ve come across before and which means ‘healthy’. Something healthy is good for us. And Paul wanted Titus to rebuke these people so that what they believed was healthy and good for them. What they currently believed was bad for them. It was like poison. It would only lead to spiritual death, because they were denying the Saviour and relying on their own good deeds for salvation. And so, they needed to believe the truth, which was life-giving and good for them.
And look at the final things Paul says about these trouble-makers. Their minds and consciences are corrupted or defiled. The conscience is so important, isn’t it? After we’ve done something wrong, a healthy conscience will inform us that what we did was wrong. And so, it will make us feel bad until we go and make amends. And when we have yet to act, and when we wonder what we should do, a healthy conscience will inform us what is the right thing to do. And so, we should always listen to our conscience. But when our conscience is corrupted, when it is defiled, it will only lead us astray, won’t it? And that’s what had happened to these trouble-makers in Crete. They claimed to know God, says Paul. So, they made an outward profession. But by their actions, they denied the Lord. In other words, their profession of faith was not credible. It was not believable. They claimed to be a believer, but they did not live like a believer. They may have followed their own rules, but, as far as God’s commands go, as far as doing the will of God, they were detestable, disobedient and unfit for anything good.
And so, rebuke them, Titus. Rebuke them so that they will become sound in the faith. If we ever have to rebuke someone in the church, it’s not to destroy them or to put them in their place. We rebuke so they will turn around and come back to a knowledge of the truth.
So, rebuke them, Titus. And appoint elders in every town: elders who will hold firmly to the trustworthy message and who can encourage others by teaching healthy doctrine and who can refute those who oppose it.
Christ the Lord is our Good Shepherd, who loved us and who gave up his life for us. And whoever believes in him is pardoned and accepted by God. And our Good Shepherd, who loved us and gave up his life for us, brings his believing people into the church, which is his sheep-fold. And Christ our Great Shepherd, has given us under-shepherds: elders to oversee us and to guard us from error and to teach us the truth and to show us the right way to go. And so, we should give thanks to God for them. And we should ask God to help them to discharge their duties faithfully so that none of us are deceived and led astray into error or sin, but will be kept safe as members of Christ’s church.