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The Practice of the Truth of the Gospel: The Message of Titus (1)

M C Davis, Leeds

Concise Summary of the Letter’s Message

This is the practical outworking of the truth of the gospel of God’s grace in the daily lives of believers. There is particular emphasis on the fact that believers should be characterised by godliness and engage in good works as evidence of their faith.

Its Circumstances

Paul wrote this letter after he had been released from his first Roman imprisonment, probably in between AD 63-65, somewhere en route to Nicopolis.

Its Canonical Setting

Titus is Paul’s third pastoral letter to individual co-workers, and was most likely written about the same time as 1st Timothy, which has a similar character and message. The pastoral letters form a fourth section of Paul’s letters as a whole. By the time they were written many of the early Christian assemblies, influenced by worldly ways around them, had begun to depart seriously from the truth and practice of apostolic doctrine. Therefore, through them Paul sought to re-establish Scriptural order and godliness.

The Character of Titus, and Paul’s Commission to him

Titus himself was a Gentile, probably somewhat older than Timothy, perhaps about fifty years old, and certainly stronger than Timothy in both body and temperament. Titus is not mentioned in Acts, but other references to him in Paul’s letters indicate that he was converted through Paul and had become a longstanding and faithful co-worker with the apostle. He had proved his worth in some difficult situations, especially at Corinth, where he oversaw the assembly’s reaction to Paul’s first "painful" letter to them and was instrumental in successfully applying his corrective ministry. Now in this letter Paul is commissioning him to go to Crete to correct deficiencies in the order and witness of the newly-formed assemblies there. The Cretans were apparently a difficult people to deal with, rather lazy by nature and notoriously untruthful. So it was essential that the Cretan believers be encouraged to live orderly and godly lives consistent with the truth of the gospel which they professed to believe.

Characteristics of the Communicators of the Gospel (1.1-4)

In v.1 Paul writes both as a bondservant of God and as an apostle, a specially-commissioned ambassador, of Jesus Christ. In both these capacities he was entirely subject to the will of God, not his own ideas or agenda. Secondly, his task was to promote both faith in those whom God had chosen to be His own, and godliness of life, not just the development of gift or knowledge of the truth. He did this by preaching the gospel, by applying the Scriptures to the converts, and by his own personal example of godliness. And, in company with all true believers, he lived in the light of the full enjoyment of eternal life that will be ours when we are translated to glory with Christ at the Rapture of the Church. God promised to give us this eternal life, full fellowship with Himself, from eternity, and, because, unlike the Cretans, He cannot lie, it is a certain and joyful present hope. He made known this wonderful promised hope through the proclamation of the gospel of God’s grace, which Paul, amongst the other apostles, had been commissioned to preach. This gospel reveals God to be a Saviour God. Titus, to whom Paul was writing, had been one of Paul’s own converts to the faith which all believers share in Christ. Then, as in the other two Pastoral letters to Timothy, Paul, as a priestly believer, blesses Titus not only with grace and peace, the Greek and the Hebrew greetings, but also with mercy sandwiched between them. Individual saints have many reasons why they need God’s mercy, or pity, shown to them, for besetting sins and constant infirmities. For none of God’s present servants, however godly they may be, are perfectly free from sin and its effects in this life until the Lord comes for us. We should remember this fact when assessing the lives and ministries of prominent men of God today. All of them will manifest imperfections and inconsistencies at times. In this blessing, God the Father links Himself inseparably with the Lord Jesus Christ, His eternal Son and our Saviour, for the two Persons are one in the Godhead trinity.

The Charge to Establish an Orderly Local Church Life (1.5-16)

From v.5 we may gather that both Paul and Titus had preached the gospel in Crete and had begun to establish local assembly testimonies as a result. But Paul had then moved on to other fields of service and left Titus behind in Crete with the charge to further set in order the various deficiencies in the young assemblies’ testimonies there. In particular, this involved appointing several elders in the local assemblies in each city. Since an assembly rarely rises higher in spiritual tone than the quality of its leaders, who are called elders because of their comparative maturity in the faith, it was essential that Titus recognised suitable men to fulfil this responsibility. Paul, therefore, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, outlines the main characteristics required in assembly elders before they may serve as such.

To begin with, however, we must note that this verse supports the recognition of several elders in each assembly, not just one pastor, as is usually found in the local churches of Christendom. Members of New Testament local assemblies need to understand the reasons why the Lord of the churches has encouraged a plurality of such overseers, because we tend to take this fact for granted as being right and Scriptural without seriously considering precisely why this is so. Christians in other fellowships tend to support one-man ministry as being the preferable form of local church government, perhaps to avoid indecision and possible confusion in implementing policy. But the New Testament nowhere envisages such one-man ministry. Why not? Where is the wisdom of God here?

First of all, a plurality of elders should prevent dictatorship of the kind exemplified by Diotrephes in 3 John. Furthermore, a plurality of able and qualified leaders should encourage balance in their approach to all matters, evangelistic, pastoral, doctrinal, and disciplinary; for all their slightly differing gifts and strong points can be utilised equally well. Third, in times of persecution it is much harder to destroy a New Testament assembly with several leaders than to destroy a local fellowship which relies mainly on the gift and ministry of just one man. Yes, there is much wisdom in the Lord’s chosen pattern of local church government laid down in Scripture.

Turning, then, to the essential qualifications of potential assembly elders, we should note that their personal character and conduct must be habitually exemplary with no obviously weak traits. Their families should also be faithful, if not actually believers, and not a disgrace to their parents, since that reflects on their training. On the positive side, they should be given to hospitality and good works. Although elders cannot be sinless, they must be blameless, that is, not guilty of any serious misconduct. As to spiritual qualifications, they must be sound in doctrine themselves, and also able to convince others from the Scriptures concerning the truth they hold. They must have the ability and moral stamina to deal with difficult people who oppose the truth of the gospel or other aspects of sound apostolic doctrine. Paul goes on to say that this is particularly important in an elder, because there are many unprofitable talkers and outright deceivers in the sphere of Christian profession whose motive is often monetary gain. Paul advises Titus to rebuke the Cretans sharply, so that they become sound in faith and practice and take no notice of the false teachers’ pernicious agenda. Such teachers give evidence that they are not saved at all, and often their lives prove this by evil conduct. Their minds and consciences are completely defiled. Such men must be refuted and silenced, and, if a man cannot do this effectively, he is not suitable to be recognised as an elder; for, if he were to be given major responsibility, he might allow confusion and wrong doctrine or practice to enter and destroy the testimony of the assembly.

To be continued.

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