“I left you in Crete . . . that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5).
Titus summarized the things that we too should teach—and must learn.
Little is known of Titus. He is mentioned in Galatians 2:1–3 as a companion of Paul. Shortly before writing 2 Corinthians, Paul sent Titus on a mission to that church, which was quite successful (2 Cor. 2:12–13; 7:6–13). When Paul wrote this letter, Titus was working in Crete to “straighten out” the disorganized and somewhat corrupt churches there. A last mention of Titus is found in 2 Timothy 4:10, which shows him off on another mission as Paul faced execution in Rome.
Commentators agree that the few references to Titus which exist depict him as a forceful, resourceful, and yet tactful young Christian leader, who was successful in dealing with a variety of sensitive problems in the early church.
Paul greeted Titus (1:1–4) and reviewed his mission on Crete (vv. 5–16). Titus’ teaching was to focus on a lifestyle appropriate to sound doctrine (2:1–15). In view of Christ’s kindness (3:1–7), believers are to devote themselves to doing good (vv. 8–11). Paul closed with personal remarks (vv. 12–15).
Understanding the Text
“The preaching entrusted to me” Titus 1:1–3. Paul’s introductory remarks are exceptionally long, matched only in his much lengthier Letter to the Romans. Paul underlined his high calling, possibly as a reminder and as an encouragement to Titus. God had entrusted the apostle with a mission. He was to bring to God’s people life-giving truth that leads to godliness. The eternal commitment of God to provide eternal life has been fulfilled in Christ, and this Paul had been commissioned to proclaim.
Titus, Paul’s son in their “common faith,” was on a difficult mission. He may well have needed the reminder. However difficult our task, when we serve God and His elect we engage in the highest calling of all.
“Appoint elders in every town” Titus 1:5–9. One of Titus’ tasks was to strengthen the organization of Crete’s churches. This was done by appointing leadership teams in each congregation.
The word “appoint” or “ordain” does nothing to help us understand how leaders were selected in the apostolic church. Certainly Titus supervised the process, and established guidelines to be followed. As in his first Letter to Timothy, Paul emphasized character in specifying a leader’s qualifications.
We may use a variety of means to select our spiritual leaders. But we cannot afford to ignore the New Testament’s emphasis on character.
“Rebuke them sharply” Titus 1:10–14. I learned long ago that, when teaching a Sunday School or Bible class, it’s better to simply overlook dumb things people say. If you say, “You’re wrong,” and make a big issue of the error, what usually happens is that people remember the error rather than the correction! And after a few embarrassing lectures on their mistakes, folks in your class aren’t likely to risk speaking up and being wrong again. In such cases it’s better to find some small point to agree with—and then go on to state the truth that corrects the error in a simple, positive way.
But Paul doesn’t suggest my approach to Titus. Why? I suspect because the folks that Titus dealt with were like Joe, a Ph.D. I had in one of my Sunday School classes. Joe didn’t say dumb things. He said wrong things. On purpose, and just to stir up trouble. That’s what was happening in Crete. People were teaching error on purpose, and in the process “ruining whole households.” In this case, Paul said, don’t be so gentle. Confront such people openly, and rebuke them publicly.
The Cretans, like some modern Christians, just weren’t taking the faith seriously, and were playing games. Perhaps this is another reason for Paul’s lengthy greeting. We need to remember that the words in the vocabulary of our faith are God’s words, and the issues they deal with are matters of life and death.
“To the pure, all things are pure” Titus 1:15–16. Paul was undoubtedly thinking of the Jewish legalists who played a disruptive role in Crete’s congregations (cf. v. 10). Legalism located “purity” in such things as the foods one ate. Christianity locates purity in the heart. It is not what we eat, but what we think and feel and do that marks us as pure.
The contrary is also true. If a person is corrupt within, whatever regulations he observes are corrupt as well, tainted by their association with him (v. 15).
While this is the interpretation of the passage, there is an interesting application. The pure in heart tend to see things in a pure light. The pure see others as persons God loves—the impure see them as sex objects. The pure ascribe the best of intentions to others, and so are seldom hurt by remarks the impure see as slights or attacks. The pure rejoice over another’s success, the impure feel jealous.
The purity of your heart will shape the way you look at all things. A heart purified by God protects from much hurt and harm.
“Teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” Titus 2:1–15. Here as in Timothy “sound” doctrine is “healthy” doctrine. God’s truth has a vitality, that is not only healthy itself but that produces health and well-being in the believer.
In a way, Christian truth is a wonder drug. Kept in the laboratory, or the theologian’s dissertation, truth may be fascinating and worthy of study. But the real value of truth is when it is given to suffering human beings, and makes us well.
When Paul said, “Teach what is in accord with sound doctrine,” he put the emphasis on truth’s application to life. He did not say, “Teach sound doctrine,” as though truth were to be examined only in the classroom. He said, “Teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (italics added). Christian teaching is to emphasize the healthy lifestyle that is produced in believers by God’s health-giving Word (see DEVOTIONAL).
“We too were” Titus 3:1–3. The “before and after” snapshot is as applicable to Christian faith as to diet clinics. In fact, the approach is much more reliable in faith than diet ads. Christ in the life makes life different. And makes us different too.
“The kindness and love of God our Savior appeared” Titus 3:4–7. These verses are one of Scriptures’ most beautiful and clear expressions of the Gospel. Salvation: not because of who we were, but because of who God is. Not to keep us as we are, but to make us new.
“Devote themselves to doing what is good” Titus 3:8. Sarah and her friend Vanessa are currently devotees of the New Kids, a singing group that might well be forgotten by the time this is published. Yesterday afternoon Vanessa brought over a New Kids video tape—so my wife and I retreated to my office, closing the door against the ecstatic little-girl screams that found their way even through two sets of closed doors. I suppose it’s cute. I’m sure its typical. After all, little girls act like little girls.
We all realize that it’s appropriate for people to act in character. This was Paul’s point here. We Christians have experienced the kindness and love of God. He has saved us, and with salvation poured out on us the Spirit of rebirth and renewal. We are new persons now, and so it is appropriate that we act in character. It is important that we Christians be what we are.
And “in character” for a Christian is to “devote [ourselves] to doing what is good.” Let’s do it with the all the enthusiasm and energy of Sarah and Vanessa. If we do, the reverberations of our good works will penetrate the closed doors of many a heart, and open those doors for Jesus.
“Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good” Titus 3:12–15. Perhaps this sums up the message Paul wanted Titus and the Cretans to hear. Being and doing good is not optional for Christians. It’s a “must.” In the same way that birds must fly, and fish swim to live in harmony with their nature, so Christians must be devoted to doing good to live in harmony with the new nature God has given us.