Commentary on Titus 1
For the last several weeks I have been conducting a study of Paul’s letter to Titus. It has been enlightening, and has shown me how full of wisdom the scriptures are, if only we will take the time to truly delve into them. Here are my thoughts on the first chapter of the epistle:
Paul begins the epistle with a greeting establishing himself as a servant of God, a member of the elect, and one who acknowledges godly truth. Here Paul is simultaneously introducing himself and establishing his credibility. Although Paul and Titus knew each other, epistles of this sort were often read aloud to the whole of the church, so Paul was providing his credentials not for Titus’ benefit, but to call the larger audience to lend him their ear.
In the second verse, Paul makes an interesting statement. He says that he is in hope of eternal life. Now, does Paul merely hope that he will go to heaven when he dies, or is there something more? In this verse, hope is not just having an inclination toward a specific outcome. When Paul refers to the hope of eternal life, he means that he lives in the expectation of eternal life. He believes it to be real and secure.
Paul then proceeds to make two statements to explain why he has this expectation. First, he says that it was promised by God, who cannot lie. The interjection begs us to ask why he referred to this particular aspect of God’s nature. Why does Paul make note of God’s truthfulness? In context, it appears that this is stated to provide assurance that the eternal life which he just mentioned is indeed guaranteed to all who serve the Lord, who are members of the elect, and who acknowledge godly truth. This then is as a confirmation of the security of salvation.
Following his interjection, Paul says that God made this promise before the world began, which reflects the creation account and affirms that God existed when the beginning took place. This statement further serves to illustrate the power of God, and provides further confirmation of the promise. So Paul is not merely inclined to go to heaven when he dies, but he believes that he is saved and that eternal life awaits him. God has made a promise, and he is all powerful, so it will come about. Because of this, he lives with the hope of eternal life.
Next, Paul states that God had manifested his word, he made it clear, through preaching. He then says that this word had been given to him according to God’s command. Here, too, he seems to be continuing to establish his credibility as he introduces himself and greets Titus in the letter.
Titus’ name is finally mentioned in verse four, where Paul calls him his own son after the common faith. This indicates that Paul has a unique relationship with Titus, and that he was perhaps the one who converted him to the faith. As Paul comes to the end of his greeting, he calls for God’s grace, mercy, and peace for Titus. This is not Paul ordering God to bless Titus, rather it seems that Paul is saying, “God has made these things available to those of the faith, and you are of the faith, so may you take these blessings.”
Finally, after greeting Titus, Paul reveals the purpose of his letter. He tells Titus that he left him in Crete to set things in order, and that he is to do this through the appointing of elders in the churches of Crete. It appears that Titus’ purpose for being sent to Crete had not been a mystery, and Paul had instructed him, telling him how he was to choose the elders. He was to find and appoint men who were blameless, who had only one wife, and whose children were righteous.
The purpose of this episcopal search was to set things in order which were wanting, and if part of setting these things in order was the appointing of leaders, then leadership must have been one of the things which was lacking. Although Titus had been sent to Crete, it is unclear what other Christian leadership was on the island. Establishing sound leadership on Crete, then, was critical to the health of the church there.
Paul says that these elders, episcops, God’s stewards or managers, were to be blameless because their position required it. They were not to be self willed, or, as the Greek word αὐθάδη indicates, they were not to be seekers of pleasure for themselves. The word derives from the word αὐτός, which is the word from which we get words such as automatic, autocratic, and autonomous, and ἡδονή, which is the word from which we derive words such as hedonism. Furthermore, they were to be not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, and not given to base gain. This makes sense because, as the scriptures elsewhere make clear, you cannot serve two masters. If you cannot serve two masters, then you definitely cannot be a steward for two masters, as the responsibility of stewardship is much greater than that of a servant.
Instead of seeking to please themselves and following their carnal desires this way and that, these men were to be men of self control, who wished only to walk in the ways of righteousness. They were to be lovers of hospitality, lovers of good men, sober, just, holy, and temperate, which is to be self controlled, to have mastery from within, literally.
Furthermore, an elder must hold fast and stand strong in the word, so that he will be able to convince those who stand contrary to the truth. This makes sense. If you are to lead a church rightly, then you cannot be one who is led this way and that by popular opinion or by novel doctrines, nor can you allow those who are in your stewardship to be led astray. Instead, you must know what is right, and you must be able to stand up for it and convince those who are contrary to the truth.
The key requirements for someone to become an elder, then, are these: The man must be blameless and married to one wife; their children must not be unruly; the man must not be given over to his passions, but possessing himself always; he must be a lover of that which is good and righteous; and he must be able to defend the faith, standing true to the word. These were, in other words, the prerequisites for eldership, as laid out by Paul.
Paul has implied that leadership is lacking, and now, in verse ten, he begins to expound. He tells us specifically why leadership is in such demand. In Crete there are many who are unruly, who are hypocrites, who do not do God’s word, there are many who are vain talkers, who voice groundless or unneeded opinions, and there are many who deceive the people, who lead them into their delusions. Furthermore, Paul tells us that these men were “of the circumcision,” they were Jews.
Verse ten goes on to tell us that they teach these things which they ought not in hope of profit, and that they must be silenced. These men were leading their brothers into untruth in pursuit of worldly gain. But what was this untruth? When Paul identifies them as being of the circumcision, he may tell us. As seen in Acts, there had been dispute about whether or not one must be circumcised to be in the faith. When Paul tells us that they were of the circumcision, he may very well be speaking as much about their ethnicity as their unorthodox doctrine.
Moreover, Cretans in general were well known for their vice. Paul references a gentile poet who says that Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons. In fact, the Cretans were well known for stealing, harbouring pirates, and desire for money. This makes it all the more obvious why Paul thought it so important to establish leadership on the island. The island was reputably immoral and corrupt. Additionally, this reference to a gentile poet is indicative of Paul’s education. His studies had apparently included poetry, and he knew it well enough to quote it.
In dealing with these deceivers, Paul says to rebuke them sharply. The word for rebuke means to convince with solid, compelling evidence. This rebuke is not a verbal slap on the hand. Instead, it is an intellectual argument. Paul says that those who teach false doctrine are to be shown the error of their doctrine. This makes it all the more important that the elders be well versed in the word, that they stand strong in the faith, so that they can convince the gainsayers.
Also, it should be noted that the object in refuting the false teachers is not to beat them down or drown them out. Verse thirteen makes it clear that they are to be convinced of the truth so that they can walk in it. They are to be rebuked so that they, the deceivers, can be sound in the faith. This refutation is as much about the spiritual well being of the false teachers as it is about those whom they are leading astray.
Moreover, they are to be convinced of the truth so that they will stop giving their attention to Jewish myths – again, confirmation that the false teachers were Jewish – and the commandments of men. Although circumcision has been the law of God, this verse indicates that it no longer is. It has now become nothing but a law of men.
However, Paul does not say that they ought not heed all Jewish tales and the practices of men. Rather, Paul says that they ought not heed Jewish tales and the practices of men which lead away from truth. These tales and practices are not bad in themselves. They are only bad when they lead away from truth.
Next, Paul makes a logical statement. He says that unto the pure all is pure. This makes sense because if something has any impurity in it, then it is not pure. To be pure, something must be completely pure. On the other hand, if something is impure, then all of it is impure. What this leaves us with is that you must either be fully pure or not pure at all. There is no middle ground.
With this argument, Paul concludes that the deceivers are fully impure. They may profess God, but because their actions deny him, there is impurity, they are not pure. Therefore, you may profess God and call yourself a Christian while remaining completely non-Christian. It is not enough to speak; you must also act. Otherwise, you are tainted.