Considering it’s such a short letter (just 3 chapters), Titus has a long introduction (v1-4). It follows the usual pattern (Paul …, to …, grace and peace …) but expands wonderfully on the focus of Paul’s ministry as an apostle. His focus is to enable God’s chosen people to grow in faith and knowledge of the truth, resulting in godly lives, looking ahead to our hope of eternal life, which God promised before the beginning of time. Glorious!
Paul has left Titus in Crete to ‘put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town’ (v5). In general terms, an elder is someone of significant spiritual maturity. Paul explains what this looks like in 3 areas:
- in home and family relationships (v6). ‘Blameless’ suggests not perfection but rather having no obvious defect, setting a good example of faithfulness to his wife and having the respect of his children;
- in general character and conduct (v7-8). Church leaders must not be arrogant or explosive in temperament, but self-controlled, honest, approachable and hospitable. Godly leadership is less about having a dynamic personality, and far more to do with humility, sincerity and integrity;
- in doctrine and theology (v9). The gospel of Christ is a message that can be trusted, and elders must hold on to it firmly, so it doesn’t slip from their grasp. They need to do this for 2 reasons: to encourage others by sound doctrine, and also refute and rebuke those who oppose sound doctrine.
See that little word ‘for’ at beginning of v10? Elders are necessary because the church is constantly troubled by ‘rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception’, who ‘teach things they ought not to teach’, often ‘for the sake of dishonest gain’. There are many today spreading false teaching, preaching a pseudo-gospel; either adding things to the gospel, or taking away from it – twisting it and pulling it out of shape. You can find them on Youtube and Facebook etc. We’re not talking here about blatant, obvious heresies, but subtle shifts and distortions of the truth. It may be 95% orthodox, but there’s something extra there – a dose of prosperity gospel, or a pinch of therapy gospel; or maybe someone who claims to have rediscovered the ‘lost message’ of Jesus, or of Paul.
Titus is to speak against this kind of false teaching: v11 ‘they must be silenced’, v13 ‘rebuke them sharply.’ v15,16 ‘their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.’
Titus and the elders he appoints are to teach what is appropriate to sound, healthy doctrine; to teach what fits in with healthy gospel teaching. Don’t merely focus on your favourite bits of Scripture; don’t miss out the difficult or unpopular bits. Don’t add anything, don’t take anything away – stick with the trustworthy message of God’s grace in Christ.