Paul’s Epistle to Titus
Tom Wilson, Levin, New Zealand
The Epistle to Titus has much to teach us about both writer and recipient. It is also relevant to our situations today. Although mainly practical and pastoral, each chapter of the letter contains a notable doctrinal segment.
Titus was a man of many parts but his main delegation from Paul appears to have been to identify and deal with difficult circumstances among the churches. The apostle seemed to set great store by his judgements as, for example, concerning the Corinthian situation, 2 Cor. 7. 5-16. It is likely that he was an early convert. When Paul and Barnabas went to discuss the question of circumcision among Gentile believers with the apostles in Jerusalem, Titus was mature enough to accompany them, Acts 15. 1-33; Gal. 2. 1, 2. No doubt he was also chosen because he himself was a Gentile uncircumcised, Gal. 2. 3-5. The apostles and elders could only be impressed by the calibre of this man who had never been required to observe the Jewish ceremonial law.
When the apostle Paul's influence was under attack at Corinth, Titus was sent to deal with that problem; one which perhaps Apollos felt inadequate to deal with, 2 Cor. 7. 10-13; cf. 1 Cor. 16. 12.
Now, ten years later, Titus is in Crete sorting out problems there. Chapter 1 v. 5 implies that Paul had earlier been with Titus on the island and had left the younger man to deal with the difficult situation encountered there. The epistle can therefore be regarded as a written confirmation of what they had already discussed.
Outline of the Book
The Epistle may be simply divided as follows:
Introduction 1 1-4
Elders 1 5-9
False Teachers 1 10-16
Sound Doctrine 2 1-15
Good Works 3 1-11
Conclusion Each chapter contains a brief doctrinal statement:
The Truth of God 1 1-3
The Grace of God 2 11-14
The Kindness and Love of God 3 4-7
Analysis. Introduction and First Doctrinal Statement: The Truth of God, 1. 1-4.
As was usual when the epistle to Titus was written, the introduction includes the names of both writer and recipient as well as a greeting. What is less customary in so short a letter is the length of the salutation, which in fact includes the first doctrinal statement referred to above. As a servant of God and apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul had received the truth so that he could strengthen and further the faith of God's elect. He was to give a "full, or thorough knowledge", (Vine), so that they might become mature in their understanding of God's truth. That truth, he says, is for ("in hope of) and from ("before") eternity-a message of eternal hope to all who receive it. The thought here is that the "promise" was conceived by God before the world, or life as we know it, existed. It was given "before eternal times", (Newberry).
The responsibility for preaching this word had come to him by God's command. It was a message of salvation from "God our Saviour", and as such it was completely trustworthy because God cannot lie. Though it may appear to be unusual that the apostle deems it necessary to make this declaration concerning the truth of God so early in the letter, in fact before the greeting, it would certainly be a source of encouragement to Titus in his dealings with so vacillating, disorderly and immoral a people as the Cretans, who were no doubt not readily responsive to the Word of God.
Titus would pass on this message about God's exalted word, manifested through preaching, to the believers to encourage a sense of responsibility among them. It was, after all, the same word that they preached to their fellow countrymen. May it be both an encouragement and a challenge to us because we too are commissioned to preach this same word in our own day and generation.
Finally, in verse 4 there is the characteristic Pauline greeting: "Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour."
Elders, 1. 5-9. Titus was to "straighten out" what was lacking among the assemblies of believers. This did not mean that he had to add what the Apostle had already done, but rather restore what had fallen into disorder, (Vine). There could also be thought that in some respects these companies had not developed as they should have done. If so, no doubt this was an indication of their lack of assiduousness and spiritual sensitivity.
Organization was lacking. Things were to be put in order and elders appointed. False teachers would have to be exposed and the scriptural position redefined.
Appointment. The elders were to be appointed in every city. Note the plural in v. 5. There was no suggestion of one man being put in control. It is likely that Titus's role would be that of an adviser. The believers in the local churches would be expected to recognize those who were qualified for eldership and already informally involved in oversight.
Their qualifications would already be apparent. In a sense God had already appointed them; it was now the place of the churches to give their recognition.
Qualifications. The qualities here are, of course, similar to those given in 1 Timothy 3. 1-7. Fundamentally, elders were to be blameless in life and reputation. It was also important in those days to emphasize that elders were, if married, to have only one wife and that their children of responsible age should be believers. It is implicit here that elders were sufficiently mature to have children in the faith; younger men would still have to be proved. Wild and disobedient children would undermine their fathers' position and work. In any case, those who could not control their families could hardly be expected to manage believers in assembly fellowship. There is clearly a correspondence between what we allow at home and how we conduct ourselves among the Lord's people.
Personal qualifications are outlined in w. 7, 8. Notice the words "overseer", AV. "bishop", ("episkopos"); and "elder" ("presbuteros") are both used, showing that they refer to the same men, the former emphasizing their work and the latter their maturity.
Among the qualifications five are negative and six are positive. They were not to be self-willed, quick-tempered, given to drinking wine (and presumably any other intoxicant), violent, or earning money by disreputable means. They were to be hospitable, loving what was good ("men" not in the Gk), discreet (Newberry), just, holy and self-controlled.
It is interesting to note that the last three qualities in v. 8 look in turn at their attitude towards others, just; their condition before God, holy; and their inner life, temperate.
Teaching. Verse 9 concerns doctrinal fitness. The overseer must hold to the teaching once and for all delivered to the saints. This was, and still is, a matter of integrity. One of the most disturbing aspects of our day is that truths long held by believers, and clearly taught in Scripture, are being made light of, even ignored. A true elder is one who by wholesome teaching is able to exhort, instruct or teach on the one hand, and expose what is false on the other. It is vital that the Word continually be presented correctly and consecutively. It is equally important that those advocating change contrary to Scripture, whether wilfully or through ignorance, be resisted and refuted.
Elders, then, are men of impeccable reputation, manifestly but unobtrusively holy, and with considered ability in the Scriptures. This was true in Crete in the time of Titus and Paul, and it is still true, or ought to be true, wherever saints gather in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. To assume the responsibility of oversight is a serious step, yet not easily to be put aside by those called and qualified in the terms laid down in these verses.
It is safe to assume that the Cretan churches were greatly blessed and strengthened as elders were appointed and recognized among them. Paul and Titus well knew that without such men the assembly situation in Crete would not improve.
So it is today; without godly elders, the sheep will be scattered and become prey to false teachers or, as our Lord put it, "false prophets ... in sheep's clothing, but inwardly . . . ravening (ravenous) wolves", Matt. 7. 15.
(to be continued)