Titus 1:1-14.
 Minister with a Righteous Lifestyle 

        American Journal of Biblical Theology     Copyright © 2004, J.W. Carter
 
www.biblicaltheology.com          Scripture quotes from KJV


When we consider the life of the apostle, Paul, we often think of him as the itinerant preacher who traveled the Eastern Mediterranean region planting churches like Johnny Appleseed planted trees across the central United States in the late 18th century.  Any study of his life reveals his missionary pattern:  he would go to a new community, preach the gospel in the Jewish synagogue, be rejected by the synagogue, preach to the Gentiles, and start a church.  Once the group is established, he would move on.   Often, the rejection Paul would experience would be violent and dangerous.  Paul spent many of his last years in various prisons.  His appeals to Caesar landed him in Roman prisons on two occasions, and it is traditionally accepted that he was finally executed in Rome at the end of the second imprisonment there.

One part of Paul's life that we often miss is his continual training of other men and women in Christian leadership.  He also had a pattern established in his discipling methodology.  When a person who is young in the faith shows maturity and promise, Paul takes them "under wing" and disciples them, very much in the same fashion as was done in the training of Pharisees.   Paul enjoyed the very close friendships that he developed with those who he discipled, and found himself enjoying their company as well as the assistance they were to him in the ministry.  However, Paul also planted those discipled leaders in ministry positions all around the region.  One such person is Titus, who has been sent by Paul to the churches in Crete in an effort to reign in their wandering ways.

Another pattern in the development of the early church was the influence of worldly leaders in the churches once Paul and his entourage would leave them to plant another church.  The churches were small house-groups, led by people who had heard the gospel.  However, over time, that leadership often changed hands, and was taken over by people who were unsaved and did not know the gospel.  They would take the individual groups into various theological directions, usually of their own background and choosing.  This pattern is evident throughout the development of the early church.  Consequently, any modern congregation that wishes to be like the "first-century church" should do some historical research before making such a claim.  Every group was different, dealt with a myriad of problems, and was struggling to maintain the integrity of the gospel against a world view that was quite contrary to grace.  It was in this setting that Titus found himself.  

Paul sent Titus to Crete, a large island in the Eastern Mediterranean sea, one of the first areas that Paul visited when he started his missionary efforts.  These churches were, largely, started by Paul and left in the hands of Cretians.  By the time that Titus comes to Crete, the church is in confusion.  Its groups are fragmented into various clusters of theology, led away from the gospel by false teachers.  As Titus attempts to restore the truth to the churches in the region, he needs some credibility with the people, and some sound advice from Paul that is directed both to him and to the congregations.  This letter from Paul to Titus serves this purpose.

This letter is the third of the "Pastoral Epistles", 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus.  Because of its brevity, it is often not given the attention that is given to the letters to Timothy.  We see a lot of similarity in content and purpose in these letters because the challenges presented to a first-century pastor were consistent.  Also, because of its brevity, this letter is a little more hard-hitting than the other pastoral letters.  Its theology is quick and strong, and its advice is uncompromised.  The church has wandered away from the truth, and is being led by individuals who do not understand or desire to lead in a model of servant-leadership, preferring a gospel of works under their own authority rather than a gospel of grace under the power of the Holy Spirit.  This problem did not end in the first century.  It is still one of the most predominant problems in the church today.  Because of this, Paul's letter to Titus is quite relevant.

Titus 4:1-2.

Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; 2In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; 

For a short letter, this salutation is one of the longer in Paul's writings.  If we understand who Titus is, and the relationship that Paul and Titus had, this salutation seems gaudily superfluous.  Titus knows Paul like a brother.  He knows better than anyone around him of Paul's sincerity as a servant of God, and his ministry of apostleship.  Why would Paul write such a developed salutation?  Though this letter was written to Titus, it is fully Paul's intent that the letter be read, or distributed, to the churches in Crete.  Recall that there was not a single congregation to whom the letter would be recited.  The letter would, upon receipt by Timothy, be copied by hand and distributed to the individual congregations.  It is in this way that the canon of New Testament scripture was initially developed.  The collection of respected writings ultimately became the canon of the New Testament, accepted by the body of the church about 300 years later.  We must approach this letter to Titus with this context in mind.  The words that Titus is reading is also being read by those to whom Paul has sent Titus to serve.  

So, Paul is not announcing to Titus his servanthood and apostleship.  He is reminding the Cretians of who he is:  that same apostle of grace who ministered to them so many years before, the one who brought "truth which is after godliness."  One of the primary issues facing the Cretian churches is that of the practice of ungodly living by those who claim Christian faith, again a relevant subject.  Consequently, Paul starts immediately with a reference to godliness.  Paul then provides an encouraging expression of the fruit of godly living:  the hope of eternal life, a hope that is assured by God's promises.  Another teaching that had come into the Cretian church argued that one could lose their salvation by failure to follow prescribed works, usually works that were defined by the leadership.  Again, this is still a problem today, so Paul's references to this issue are relevant.

Titus 1:3.

But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour; 

Again, Titus was well aware of Paul's calling as a preacher of the gospel, a call that was clear, and a call that came directly from God.  These words lend credibility to his call as a preacher for the benefit of others who read this letter.  Some of these are those who have chosen positions of leadership in the church by means other than God's direct call.  Many of the church groups have become led by individuals who lead from a personal desire to control others or to elevate themselves, and not from a call from God to service.  Paul clearly separates himself from those individuals and sets the pattern for the appropriate motivation for preaching.  This same testimony should be shared by all who have positions of leadership in the Christian body. Unlike a social club, the church is led by those who have been called by God to serve.  As Jesus lived and taught, leadership is not characterized by an expression of personal power or gain, but rather by the act of a humble servant who relies on the power of the Holy Spirit for guidance and direction.  This verse is a reminder to all who claim to serve the Lord by "leading" other Christians to revisit that claim and seek assurance that the true motivation for teaching, preaching, and leading Christians comes only, and specifically, from a personal call from the Lord.  If one's motivation is to bring glory and power to one's self, or to impress one's own agenda on others, their call is suspect, and self-inspection and repentance may be in order.

Titus 1:4.

To Titus, mine own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Paul addresses Titus as "my own son," an endearing metaphor that he used to refer to one who was a convert under his own preaching, and grew in faith under his tutelage in discipleship.  We know from the few references in Paul's letters to Corinth and Timothy that Titus had been with Paul for many years before Paul sent him to Crete.  Their relationship was close, based both on their mutual care for one another, and for their unity of understanding the gospel truth.  

Titus 1:5.

For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:

Titus' purpose for coming to Crete is clear and straightforward:  He is to serve as a problem solver, correcting the problems that are evident in the churches of Crete.  Titus cannot perform this task on his own simply because he cannot be everywhere at once.  The congregations are in such disarray, that a simple visit might to a single group might provide a little correction, without a change in leadership, they would return to their current ways as soon as Titus leaves.  The direction of any organization is controlled by its leadership, an axiom that tends to draw those who wish to control that direction into leadership.  The first task that Paul addresses is the need to appoint leaders in the same way that he was appointed by Paul.  For many groups, leadership selection is done by a vote of the group, reducing the concept of ordination to a popularity contest among those who want the position of leadership and are willing to run for the office to attain it.  Such a model does little to promote to leadership those who are called by God and truly gifted in servant leadership.  The result i is a popular leader who sets the agenda and controls the direction of the church, giving lip-service to the power of the Holy Spirit, allowing the leadership to guide the direction of the church and its doctrine rather than the Lord Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ordination of leadership becomes a serious business when the choice of leadership is so important to the direction of the church.  Those who are chosen for leadership must be mature Christians, fully aware of their call by God, and solid in their doctrine.  Consequently, Paul lists the characteristics of a mature Christian.  Though used in the context of leadership ordination, this list of characteristics describes any mature Christian, (in this case, male), and should be a model for all Christians to follow.

Titus 1:6.

If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. 

Blameless.  Paul notes that one of the first characteristics of a mature Christian is the demonstration of a life of integrity.  This individual is known as having grown in the faith to the point that they have repented of those attitudes and actions that are ungodly and sinful.  Certainly, every Christian commits transgressions for which God's grace has provided forgiveness, but the lifestyle of a mature Christian is not characterized by those transgressions.  

The husband of one wife.  Sexual immorality was not only common in Cretian culture, but was both accepted by it and promoted by its pagan practices.  Such immorality included homosexuality and polygamy.  A mature Christian is simply not going to be engaged in homosexual practices.  Such practice is both described in scripture as an unnatural abomination to God, and any acceptance of this practice as "godly behavior" can only be rationalized outside of the clear teachings of the faith, and opposes any true leadership of the Holy Spirit who will not disagree with scriptural truth.  This has become a sensitive subject in the last few years in most western cultures of the world.  This was also a very controversial subject in the first century when the practice was raised to the level of religious rite, with pedophilia considered the zenith of pagan expression.  A mature Christian simply will not be engaged in such practices.

Likewise, polygamy and prostitution were rampant in the culture.  Those who lived ungodly, hedonistic, lifestyles practiced many forms of sex outside of marriage.  Polygamy, the practice of having more than one wife was common, with those wives serving as little more than sex slaves.  The concept of a harem is not surprising, even to modern sensibilities.  A mature Christian understands that God's purpose and plan for sexual relationships is clearly limited between a husband and wife, and such an individual would not engage in the practice of harboring a harem.

Faithful children.  A mature Christian is not only respected for his integrity and values by his community, but is also respected by those who are closest to him:  his family.  Such an individual is not going to be abusive of his/her children, and is going to teach Christian values to their children from the very beginning of their learning lives.  Certainly, children are not necessarily spiritually, emotionally, or physically mature, and will engage in the mischief and rebellion that is a normal part of the self determinism of maturity.  However, though they may get into trouble for their occasionally wanderings beyond the boundaries set by their godly parents, their lives will not be characterized by it.  They will not be known as living riotous or uncontrolled lives.  Christian parents have a responsibility to teach their children the truth.  Some have argued that they will not teach their children, allowing them to "choose for themselves,"  when they are old enough to do so.  Any excuse to fail to train one's children in the faith is to demonstrate only hatred toward that child by withholding from them the most important gift they can ever know:  God's gift of grace.     Even the most "righteous" Christian who demonstrates the other characteristics of a mature Christian is exposed as an immature Christian when they have ignored the spiritual needs of their children.

Titus 1:7.

For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; 

Paul's use of the word 'bishop" may bring to mind images of ecclesiastical bishops of some modern orthodox churches.  These individuals are administrators of the church, overseeing the authority of the church.  Paul's understanding of a bishop is quite different.  There was no orthodox church at the time, and the traditions and form of modern bishops had not developed.  To Paul, a bishop is a steward of the Lord.  He is a servant, not an ecclesiastical administrator.  Unlike Paul, who sees himself as an apostle who takes the ministry from place to place, the bishop exercises the same set of gifts in a single place.  

Not selfwilled.  A mature Christian's self-will has been brought into submission to the Holy Spirit.  When faced with decisions, the mature Christian is first going to seek God's will in all things (Matt. 6:33).  Such seeking is not simply for show, or to validated one's own desires, but is a sincere choice to follow God that comes from loving God.  Such an individual can make "spiritual decisions," choices that support what one feels is God's will even when it is clearly contrary to their own, to their peers, or even to the will of the church.

Not soon angry.  This word is related to the previous.  One who is not self-willed is Spirit-willed, and as such shows God's control in their lives through a measure of self-control.  A mature responds to stimulus rather than reacts to it.  That is, the action taken by a mature Christian in response to a stimulus follows consideration of God's purpose and will.  Such consideration does not take hours of prayer and fasting.  A mature Christian has already formed a model of behavior that responds to stimulus in a way that is different from one who is outside of the faith.  I have heard Christians say that it is easy for them to "jump into the flesh" when presented with certain situations.  That statement alone is a confession of sin, and is an area where change is needed.

Not given to wine.  The consumption of wine, juices that contain fermented sugars, alcohol, was common in first-century culture, far more common than it is in most cultures today.  Wine was one of the few drinks that were safe to drink and could be stored for any length of time.  Consequently, its consumption was practiced by all areas of the culture, both outside of the church, and within.  Paul makes no prohibition against the drinking of wine.  However, though wine may have the benefit of being safe to drink and preservable, it also has the capacity to cause great damage when drunk in excess.  Consequently, the scriptures also contain references to the abstinence from intoxication.  Christians are not forbidden to drink wine, but a mature Christian will not drink too much of it.  He/she will maintain that same self-control that is evident in their lives when it comes to wine.  A mature Christian does not want to lose control to the intoxicating effects of alcohol, and would simply choose to limit alcohol consumption to levels that provide abstinence from any form of intoxication.  Many Christians, in order to avoid any such issue, abstain entirely from the consumption of any alcoholic beverages.  

No striker.  A mature Christian's lifestyle is characterized by the presence of agape love.  Such an individual is not easily angered, and not easily pressed to the point of violence.  A "striker" as Paul illustrates is one who is ready to strike back at others.  Such may be a physical action, a verbal statement, or an act of retribution that is intended on exacting pain from the one upon which the act is inflicted.  As a child, I was quite a little runt, and the object of every bully's entertainment.  As I grew I learned that I could defend myself against these folks simply because they were cowards, illustrated by their choice of target.  I grew to become very quick to attack an assailant with every resource I could muster, often overwhelming the bully, and gaining for myself a bit of a reputation.  Unfortunately, that behavior became part of my personality, a part that was difficult to shed.  It is difficult to let someone take a shot at me without striking back, but God is graceful, and fortunately, I was able to shed the impulse to do so many years ago, but the base desire to strike has never left.  

Filty lucre.  A mature Christian is not going to be engaged in any business or actions that would bring about dishonest gain, or gain at the expense or pain of others.  The word translated, "given to" used here is the same as that in the previous reference to alcohol, where one becomes intoxicated by it.  

All of these characteristics of the mature Christian have a single theme:  a will that has been brought into submission to the Holy Spirit, a will that seeks to be in agreement with God's will.  One can look at another Christian and see from their attitude and actions if this, indeed, is characteristic of their nature.   One does not have to look far to see past a facade of integrity that exposes a true nature of sin.  Paul advises Titus to use such credentials to recognize one who is mature in the faith, and because of the nature of the letter, he is also telling the Cretians to do the same.

Titus 1:8.

But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; 

Following this list of what a mature Christian is not, Paul lists some of the characteristics of one who demonstrates maturity.

Lover of hospitality.   This statement is literally, "lover of strangers."  Many people can get away with the impression that they are quite hospitable towards one another as long as that hospitality is shared among those who are already close to themselves:  family, friends, associates, etc.  This is not the hospitability that Paul speaks of.    A mature Christian is characterized by a love for all people that reaches out to strangers as a simple and spontaneous act of that love.  He/she will be that one in a group of Christians who leaves the comfort zone of their fellowship to step aside and minister to a stranger in need, only because they see the need and an opportunity to help.  The one who ignores the stranger in need or shows them less love than others, is not mature in the faith.

Lover of good men.   Literally, "lover of what is good," a mature Christian loves what is godly.  He/she is not only comfortable around that which is truly godly, but is inspired and encouraged by it.  At a crossroads between the godly and ungodly choice, the mature Christian "naturally" chooses the godly one, despite their own natural desires.  One who's heart is in darkness despises the light, and will express that attitude by shunning that which is godly, or even by criticizing it as a rationality for its rejection.  Such an individual can easily rationalize the choice of the less godly path.

Sober.  A mature Christian is one who is self-controlled in their mind, able to keep in check their emotions so that he/she can respond in rational wisdom.  This is a commonly repeated qualification in the pastoral epistles, pointing to a real need in the Cretian church.

Just.  This word does not refer to godly dispensation of justice to others, but rather to the conformation to right standards for one's self.  When one gets to know a mature Christian, one can see the "rules" that the individual lives by, and those rules are right and godly.  Though the individual may break those rules, the breaking of them is out of character for them.

Holy.  This does not refer to a religious sobriety or ritual humility, but rather simply describes one who has clearly separated him/herself from the world culture in order to most fully serve God's purpose in their lives.  Something is holy when it is separated out for God's use. A person is made holy in the same manner.  Church culture over the years has misunderstood the concept of holiness, replacing this separation from the world with simply a facade of separation that comes from ascetic ritual, the acting out of a traditional practice that has the appearance of religious piety.   

Temperate.  This word can also be translated, "disciplined," as it refers to the character of one who can keep under control his/her worldly, natural, appetite for sin's gratifications.  Evan a mature Christian who demonstrates such control will admit that the temptations are still there.  Satan never sleeps, and mankind was created as a natural man as well as created in God's image.  Temperance is the bringing of one's worldly passions under control and a mature Christian is characterized by such a nature.

Titus 1:9.

Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. 

The theological doctrine of a mature Christian is not compromised by the impurities of the world's choices and ideas.  He/she holds firm to the truths of God's word in its full measure of fulfillment by Jesus Christ.  This does not argue that a mature Christian is a theologian, but does state that the doctrine known by the individual is uncompromised.  Their position on doctrine will not change from day to day unless corrected of error.  With a demand for uncompromised, sound, doctrine, the mature Christian is in a position to teach others, encouraging them in the faith, and provide a defense against those who would distort the gospel and reject the Holy Spirit's leading.  Such an individual does not need to fear the curse of James 3:1 that promises greater judgment for those who choose to preach and teach God's Word, because their approach to it is sincere, informed, and fully led by the Holy Spirit.

Titus 1:10-11.

For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: 11Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. 

Paul now focuses in on one of the grave problems in the churches of Crete.  Their people are being led away from the gospel by false and powerless teaching.  Crete is only a short boat ride from Israel, and Paul identifies that Jews have been specifically damaging to the church by bringing in Jewish teachings, requirements of obedience to the Jewish law.  The word, "deceivers" declares that these individuals are not sincere Christians who are simply teaching erroneous doctrine, but these are ones who are purposely leading the people away from the true gospel that they themselves do not submit to.  These people must be identified, and their testimony must be nullified.  The result of their teaching has moved "whole houses."  Recall that these are house churches, so this reference is to a whole church congregation.  Finally, Paul reveals the true purpose for their behavior: dishonest gain.  One does not have to look far into the entertainment media to see "evangelists" who have followed this pattern of false teaching for personal gain.  However, "filthy lucre" is not limited to possessions.  It can also refer to personal power over others, and a small fish can feel really big by controlling the other fish in a small pool.  

Titus 1:12-14.

One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. 13This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; 14Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.

We may be reminded that this letter is written both to Titus and to the churches in Crete.  The prophetic quote is of Epimenides, a poet who is respected in Crete.  He is described as one of their own group who recognizes and publishes the fact that their doctrines are false.  Since the false teachers do not know the truth, their testimony and doctrine is always false, always a lie, no matter how nice and rational it sounds.  As "evil beasts" they are evil theological brutes who violently destroy the gospel message and mislead the people into following their own dictates.  "Slow bellies" refers to the gluttonous level of their own personal greed.  Again, this is not a quote of Paul, but Paul's quote of the Cretian prophet.   However, Paul declares that the statement by Ephimenides, made hundreds of years before the first century still rings true. 

How are the Cretians to respond to these false teachers?  Paul calls on them to sharply rebuke them for their teaching.  Christians, as lovers of peace, are usually slow to rebuke, and quick to forgive the unrepentant.  Unfortunately, true love is not expressed by allowing one in falsehood to remain there, for to do so is to express hatred for them much as the parent expresses hatred for their children by refusing to train them.  To rebuke is to provide correction, to put one back on the path of truth, much like a captain who steers a ship back onto its intended course.  In this way, the manner of rebuke is done in a way to restore the false teacher to the truth.

Specifically, the people have become misled by "Jewish fables and commandments of men."  We see the same pattern taking place in the modern church of today, a church that is very quick to embrace the false teachings of this hedonistic and evil world.  The doctrines of the faith are compromised so that they do not offend the unrepentant.  Pagan worldly philosophies are mixed with the doctrines of the faith in order to be palatable to a church that does not want to hear the full gospel, the complete truth, but prefers to live their worldly lives, unchallenged by their own compromises.

This entire passage speaks of how the integrity of the gospel is embraced in the nature of one who is truly mature in the Christian faith.  Timothy is to seek out those individuals who demonstrate such faith and train them up to lead others in the church.  The ministry of the false teachers may not be stopped by this approach, but the testimony of many of them will be challenged and exposed by the presence of the truth.  The congregations that are built under the servant leadership of mature Christians will ultimately become the church of Jesus Christ.  Likewise, the church today can embrace uncompromised integrity of the gospel in doctrine and in life.  To do so would do no less than revive the sleeping giant of the church from its slumber and crush the whispers of the evil one who so lulls it to sleep.