Near the end of the New Testament is found a trilogy of letters that have come to be known as the “Pastoral Epistles.” These three letters were written to leaders within the early church to assist them in helping to oversee God’s church in an appropriate manner.
Numbered among the Pastoral Epistles are two letters written to a young leader named Timothy (letters that we know today as the New Testament books of 1 and 2 Timothy) and one letter that was written to a second leader named Titus. It is this book -the Biblical book that bears Titus’ name today- that will be the focus of our study.
The Apostle Paul identifies himself as the author of this letter in the very first verse and its thought that Paul wrote this short epistle sometime between the years A.D. 62-65. Although Titus is mentioned thirteen times within the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, very little is actually known about him. He first appears in the book of 2 Corinthians where Paul refers to him as “my brother” in 2 Corinthians 2:13. In fact, Titus’ name appears nine times in the Book of 2 Corinthians and it is believed that he may have delivered that very letter to its intended audience.
Titus apparently became a Christian through Paul’s ministry and they eventually became so close that Paul also referred to him as “my true son” in Titus 1:4 in much the same way as he referred to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:2. We can find a further connection between Titus and Timothy when we stop to consider that Titus had some responsibilities that were very similar to the ones that Paul assigned to Timothy as well.
For example, Timothy was given the responsibility to oversee the church in the town of Ephesus. Ephesus was perhaps best known as the home of the pagan Temple of Diana, a structure that was considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Ephesus was also recognized as a center for the occult, a place that featured the first century equivalent of fortune tellers, astrologers, tarot card readers, and the like.
With these things in mind, we can say that Ephesus represented a difficult and challenging place for Timothy to minister the Word of God. Titus was given a similar responsibility on the island of Crete, a place that represented an equally challenging and difficult place to minister but for vastly different reasons. We’ll take a closer look at this assignment that Titus was given next.
The island of Crete is located within the Mediterranean Sea near the southern tip of Greece. It is an island that spans 150 miles (241 km) in length and 35 miles (56 km) in width with a number of large mountainous areas- and it was there that the Apostle Paul assigned a man named Titus with the responsibility of overseeing the establishment of individual churches.
As the first-century citizens of Crete began responding to the Word of God, small groups of Christians had started to meet within local homes, a development that marked the beginning of the church in that place. Unfortunately, Crete was a very difficult place to establish and oversee a church.
For instance, the people of Crete had a well known reputation in the ancient world for dishonesty and untrustworthiness. As one commentator observes, “To ‘act the Cretan’ meant to lie, deceive or ambush…” (1) This was the situation that Titus faced as he undertook this assignment.
Paul’s letter to Titus was designed to assist him in a number of ways. First, this letter would serve as an encouragement to help him to continue with the difficult work of leading the church in a place like Crete. Next, this letter helped to serve as a kind of manual to assist Titus in selecting and appointing church leaders. Finally, this letter was designed to provide Titus with some insight regarding the problems that he might experience and how to avoid those problems or deal with them as they came up.
One characteristic of this letter is that Paul gets right to the point regarding the various subjects he addresses. Paul wrote this letter about the same time as he wrote his first letter to Timothy and we’ll find that he covers many of the same subjects as well.
For instance, Paul will talk about the character of church leaders, about the importance of knowing what the Bible says and means, about how to relate to others in business relationships or in dealing with the government, and the need to avoid foolish arguments that accomplish nothing of actual value.
For those who wish to establish a theme for this epistle, Titus 2:7 is a good place to start: “In everything set them an example by doing what is good” (NIV). We should also remember that this pastoral epistle isn’t just for ministers or other church leaders. The book of Titus is filled with insights, suggestions, applications, and information that can help anyone -whether he or she is a leader or not- become a more God-honoring person.
(1) Dick Woodward, Mini Bible College New Testament Handbook pg. 425
“Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior;” (Titus 1:1-3).
While it may seem unusual to those of us living in the 21st century, it was the general custom of a first century writer to place his or her name at the beginning of a letter rather than the end as we often do today. In keeping with this tradition, the Apostle Paul also identified himself as the author of this letter at the beginning of his message to Titus.
Paul used two important terms in identifying himself at the start of this epistle: bondservant and apostle. While most people are probably familiar with the idea of a “servant” and what that term generally represents, a “bondservant” differs from an ordinary servant in one important aspect.
You see, we might expect a servant to work to secure his or her freedom if given the opportunity. In fact, Paul himself suggested that very sort of thing in 1 Corinthians 7:21. However, the term bondservant refers to someone who willingly offers himself as a slave to another. So why would someone do such a thing? Well the Old Testament book of Exodus provides us with the answer…
“When you buy a Hebrew slave, he will serve six years. The seventh year he goes free, for nothing… But suppose the slave should say, ‘I love my master and my wife and children–I don’t want my freedom,’ then his master is to bring him before God and to a door or doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl, a sign that he is a slave for life” (Exodus 21:2, 5-6 MSG).
So much like the slave referenced in this passage, Paul identified himself as someone who willingly declined the option to secure his freedom in order to serve God and pursue His direction for life.
Paul further identified himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” As used in the original language, the word for apostle carries the idea of an ambassador, commissioned representative, or someone who communicates a message on behalf of another. So as a commissioned spokesperson for God who was personally selected by Jesus Himself (see Acts 9:1-15), Paul first made sure to establish his authority for the things that he is about to say next.
“This letter is from Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. I have been sent to proclaim faith to those God has chosen and to teach them to know the truth that shows them how to live godly lives.
This truth gives them confidence that they have eternal life, which God—who does not lie—promised them before the world began. And now at just the right time He has revealed this message, which we announce to everyone. It is by the command of God our Savior that I have been entrusted with this work for Him” (Titus 1:1-3 NLT).
After identifying himself as both a bondservant and apostle to begin his letter to Titus, Paul next identified his mission: “…to further the faith of God’s chosen ones and the knowledge of the truth that is in keeping with godliness” (NET). While it may be easy to assume that the meaning of words like “truth” and “godliness” are self-evident, it might be helpful to take a moment to define these terms.
You see, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate once asked a question that every person of every generation must eventually answer: “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Our response to this question is critically important for if we fail to define truth for ourselves now, someone else will surely attempt to do so for us later.
So what is “truth”? Well, simply put, “truth” is defined as “that which conforms to reality.” Truth is that which is in agreement with the facts. If someone is speaking the “truth,” then he or she is telling it like it is. The “truth” refers to that which is valid, authentic, genuine, and corresponds with what is actual and factual.
Paul then went on to link this concept with the idea of godliness (or God-honoring character) here in Titus chapter one. This is important for while there may be many things that are truthful, this doesn’t necessarily mean that such things are “in keeping with godliness.”
This implies that a person of Godly character is someone who should know how to handle the truth in a God-honoring manner. For example, this idea may be reflected in the way that we handle sensitive information or in our interaction with others. It may extend to our business practices, recreational pursuits, or moral choices as well.
A person who handles the “truth, which accords with godliness” (ESV) is someone who handles the truth in a manner that shows reverence and respect for God and those who are made in His image.
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior” (Titus 1:1-3 ESV)
In speaking of the “hope of eternal life” in these verses, the Apostle Paul uses a phrase that carries more significance than those few short words might ordinarily seem to indicate.
First, the word “hope” as used in these verses is not the kind of hope that we might associate with a dream, wish, or desire- it refers to a sense of anticipation, expectation, or confidence. (1) This subject of this confident expectation is mentioned next: “eternal life.” This does not simply refer to unending life; it means “unending life in all it’s fullness.” It refers to being everything that God created us to be. It also carries the idea of life without the inherent limitations or restrictions we often experience today.
For example, its probably fair to say that everyone has dreams of what he or she might like to be in life. Unfortunately, very few people ever realize such dreams for most of us face limitations that prevent us from achieving all that we might wish to accomplish. Those limitations may include physical hindrances, financial constraints, or other restrictions on things like time, talent, skill, or ability.
Another issue relates to the human propensity to sin. Given the current state of human nature, a human being with no inherent limitation on the ability to achieve his or her goals in life might be counted on to eventually use that ability in a manner that is self-destructive and/or destructive to others as well.
The good news for those who accept Christ is that the time will come when there will be no such limitations and we will be free to express ourselves without restriction to the glory of God. As Jesus Himself once promised in John 10:10, “…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (NIV).
This confident expectation is based on what may be the oldest promise ever made, a promise that originated “before time began” (HCSB). But since a promise is only as good as the person who makes the promise, Paul also made certain to remind us that God, the One who has given us this assurance, “does not lie” (NET).
(1) G1680 Elpis Strong’s Hebrew And Greek Dictionaries
“In His own time He has revealed His message in the proclamation that I was entrusted with by the command of God our Savior” (Titus 1:3 HCSB).
Before Paul goes on to establish the qualities of a good church leader in his epistle to Titus, he will first stop to identify the responsibility that God had given to him: “It is by the command of God our Savior that I have been entrusted with this work for Him” (NLT). As mentioned earlier, Paul was commissioned to this avocation by none other than Jesus Himself…
“As (Paul) journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do'” (Acts 9:3-6).
So it appears that Paul saw himself as a steward of this responsibility to fulfill God’s call on his life- and he refused to allow anything to deter Him from that work he had been called to do. In a similar manner, its also important for every Christian to have a clear understanding of God’s specific calling on his or her life. This idea was exemplified in the lives of both Jesus and His Apostles as well…
“…(Jesus) said to them, ‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth'” (Mark 1:38).
“Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word'” (Acts 6:2-4).
Others may sometimes possess strongly-held opinions as to how we should invest the time, talent, and opportunity that God has entrusted to us- and unless we have prayerfully sought to determine God’s call on our lives, we may find ourselves doing something other than what He has called us to do. As Jesus reminds us in John 9:4…
“We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the One who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work” (NLT).
“To Titus, a true son in our common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior. For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you” (Titus 1:4-5).
In Paul’s day, there were no church buildings as we might recognize them today. In the days of the first century, Christians would generally meet together as a group within one person’s home, a place that served as the host building for the “church” in that neighborhood. There might be any number of such home fellowships within a given city and these groups collectively established the church of each particular area.
The New Testament uses terms like bishop, elder, and overseer to refer to the leadership within these individual church fellowships. Today we might use the word “Pastor” in much the same way. These terms refer to a person who is responsible to look after and care for those entrusted to his spiritual care. (1) Another way to define this position of authority is to say that it refers to “a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly.” (2)
So a bishop, elder, pastor, or overseer is someone who holds the responsibility to lead God’s people in the particular area where God has placed him. It was Titus’ mission to appoint the right people to such positions of authority within these individual church fellowships on the island of Crete. Since it was impossible for one person to to be everywhere at once, Titus was assigned to select qualified leaders to help with the responsibilities of meeting each individual congregation’s needs.
Of course, the responsibility to lead and help others grow spiritually can be a fulfilling, satisfying, and rewarding task- but what kind of person would be right for such a position? After all, it would be unwise to hire an accountant to perform an electrician’s job or ask a neurosurgeon to perform auto repair work. In these fields as well as others, its important to get the right person for the job.
Like any important job, there are certain qualifications that help ensure that the right candidates are placed in such positions of authority- and Paul will begin to talk about how to identify the right people to undertake these important responsibilities in the next few verses of his letter to Titus.
(1) NT:1983 episkopeoo, episkopoo; Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved
(2) NT:1985 episkopos, episkopou, ho; Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.
“I left you on the island of Crete so you could complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you” (Titus 1:5 NLT).
In every field of responsibility, there are certain qualifications that help identify the right kind of person for the task at hand. In a similar manner, the Apostle Paul will go on to identify the standards and qualifications that should characterize a good church leader in his message to Titus. However, the right qualifications for a church leadership position are quite unlike those of most other job responsibilities in at least one important respect.
You see, its possible for someone to excel within his or her chosen profession yet still be a person of poor character. This is due to the fact that most job qualifications are primarily based on the knowledge or skill that one may possess. While a person of poor character is certain to face eventual problems with co-workers, supervisors, and others, it is still generally true that most job qualifications are not based on who you are but what you can do.
This illustrates the difference between a leadership position within the church and most other job responsibilities- a church leader must be a person of God-honoring character in order to qualify for such a position. This also explains why many of the standards that Paul will go on to mention are internal rather than external.
For example, it is generally understood that a good minister should be someone who possesses the ability to effectively communicate God’s Word and provide guidance from the Scriptures. Although the ability to teach and counsel are important (and necessary) skills for a church leader, these capabilities alone do not automatically qualify someone to assume the office of bishop, elder, pastor, or overseer.
To illustrate this idea, we can look to the first-century example of a man named Apollos, an eloquent speaker who was knowledgeable in the Scriptures according to Acts 18:24. Yet despite Apollos’ knowledge and superior communication skills, God did not select him to serve as the human author of most of the New Testament- that responsibility was given to the Apostle Paul, a man (by his own admission) whose appearance was weak and whose speech was contemptible (see 2 Corinthians 10:10).
This should not be understood to imply that Apollos was a person with character issues, but it does illustrate the fact that our skills and abilities alone do not represent an automatic qualification for a particular role or responsibility within the church.
“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you–” (Titus 1:5 ESV).
With the benefit of 2000 years of church history, its easy to forget the challenges facing Christians in the early first century church. With little or no access to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life or the epistles that would later go on to form a large portion of the New Testament, first-century believers were largely dependent on the guidance of the apostles (or their authorized representatives) in responding to the various issues of Christian life and practice.
The first century Christians on the island of Crete were no different from other believers in this regard. Therefore, Paul dispatched Titus to help provide guidance for these early Christians for use in establishing the form and structure of the church. Without the aid of such guidance, the first-century Christians on the island of Crete may have looked to other, less God-honoring leadership models as an example to follow in establishing the church in that region.
For instance, the people of Crete might have allowed a person with a charismatic personality (and little else) to assume the office of a bishop. Or they may have selected someone for a leadership position solely on the basis of friendship, wealth, or popularity. Paul’s letter to Titus would help these believers recognize the people that God had already prepared for such leadership roles by virtue of the qualifications that he will go on to establish.
Today, we have the advantage of Paul’s letter to Titus (as well as the Pastoral Epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy) to assist us in recognizing those individuals that God has called to a leadership position within the church. While no human being has the ability to unilaterally ordain someone to a leadership position within Jesus’ church, we do possess the ability recognize and appoint those whom He has raised up to fulfill such responsibilities.
One commentary explains this responsibility in the following manner…
“It is clear that in the early church, elders were appointed by the apostles and their representatives (Act_14:23; Tit_1:5). This does not mean, however, that the apostles and their delegates had the power to make a man an elder. In order to become a bishop, there must be both divine enablement and human willingness. Only the Holy Spirit can make a man a bishop or guardian (Act_20:28), but the man must aspire to the work (1Ti_3:1). (1)
(1) Titus 1:5-9 Believer’s Bible Commentary William MacDonald edited by Arthur Farstad, Thomas Nelson Publishers
After reminding Titus of his responsibility to “…appoint leaders for the churches in each town” (CEV) on the island of Crete, Paul then went on to talk about the qualifications to help identify the right kind of person to serve in such positions…
“if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination” (Titus 1:6).
Titus chapter one, verses six to nine (1:6-9) begins a short section that details seventeen qualities associated with good church leadership. For instance, verse six tells us that a good leader is “…one who is blameless” (HCSB). In other words, a good leader is someone with unimpeachable character, a person whose lifestyle doesn’t provide a “handle” that others may use to accuse or attack the church.
This should not be understood to imply that such a person must live a life of sinless perfection. If that were the case, then no one would qualify for this position other than Jesus Himself. However, it does mean that a good leader should not possess the kind of character or personality that might provide the basis for a legitimate accusation or justifiable allegation against the church.
Paul then continued by saying, “He must be the husband of one wife…” (ISV), a qualification that has been interpreted in a number of different ways. For instance, this may be understood to mean that a leader must be someone who is married. It could also mean that a qualified leader is someone who should not be divorced and remarried, or remarried after the death of a spouse. Finally, this standard might imply that such a leader should not be a polygamist or someone with a secondary wife (or “concubine”) as was the case with a number of the Old Testament patriarchs.
Whatever the precise meaning of this qualification, one thing is certain: a bishop, elder, pastor, or overseer should be someone who possesses the same qualities of loyalty, dedication, and faithfulness that serve to identify a good marital relationship. This concept naturally leads into the next qualification mentioned in verse six: “…faithful children who cannot be charged with dissipation or rebellion” (NET).
While it is impossible for a parent to compel a son or daughter into a relationship with Christ, it is generally true that good, God-honoring leadership starts at home. If someone exhibits poor spiritual leadership qualities at home, the chances are good that things will not be much different at church either.
In verse seven of Titus chapter one, the Apostle Paul continues with a list of qualities that help identify a good, God honoring church leader…
“For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,”
As mentioned in the previous verse, the word “blameless” serves to identify a person of irreproachable character, someone “…whose life cannot be spoken against” (TLB). This quality must represent a particularly important characteristic for good church leadership for Paul has now mentioned this attribute twice in two consecutive verses.
The Apostle then goes on to identify a good leader as someone who is not self-willed, arrogant (HCSB), or overbearing (NIV). While such characteristics do not befit anyone who claims to follow Jesus, these qualities often represent a particular concern for those who have been called to a leadership position within the church.
For example, there are some who seem to possess a natural gift for leadership. We commonly refer to such individuals as “Type -A” or “alpha” personalities today. These charismatic, “take-charge” individuals are often characterized by the kind of personality that exudes strength, confidence, and assertiveness. But while these characteristics are often associated with success within the corporate world, they are not always in keeping with the leadership model established by Jesus for His church.
You see, a good leader is someone who understands and accepts that the fact that he is incapable of leading Jesus’ church in his own strength and relies fully upon Christ for the ability to achieve the task at hand. Because of this, a bishop, elder, pastor, or overseer must always be careful to guard against the tendency to act in a presumptuous, arrogant, or overbearing manner.
A good spiritual leader is someone who is strong, confident, and assertive in refusing to compromise on clear Biblical principles while seeking to lead others with humility and respect. Instead of acting in a self-righteous, self-centered, or self-sufficient manner, a good leader takes the words of Galatians 6:1 seriously…
“Christian brothers, if a person is found doing some sin, you who are stronger Christians should lead that one back into the right way. Do not be proud as you do it. Watch yourself, because you may be tempted also” (NLV).
A good leader is someone who recognizes that God’s call to leadership represents both a trust and a stewardship- and that person is someone who is less likely to administer such a position in an arrogant or overbearing manner.
“Church officials are in charge of God’s work, and so they must also have a good reputation. They must not be bossy, quick-tempered, heavy drinkers, bullies, or dishonest in business” (Titus 1:7 CEV).
The Apostle Paul continues with the qualifications for good church leadership by identifying the negative qualities of being “hot-tempered” (HCSB), “prone to anger” (NET), or “quickly moved to wrath” (BBE). This identifies a good, qualified church leader as someone who can control his behavior in a manner that is good and appropriate for each situation.
As used in the original language, a “quick-tempered” person refers to someone who is irascible or quickly provoked to anger. (1) This tells us that a church leadership position is not the place for a an argumentative person or someone with a hair-trigger temper. This becomes especially important when we stop to remember that God’s church is comprised of many different personalities with differing levels of spiritual and/or emotional maturity.
For example, there are those who seek answers to challenging and difficult spiritual questions in order to facilitate their personal growth in Christ. Then there are others who prefer to ask such questions in pursuit of some other agenda. (2) A good leader is someone who can identify and properly address a genuine request for information while calmly responding to those who may only be seeking to provoke a fruitless and argumentative exchange.
Paul will later go on to talk about challenges of dealing with such personalities in his epistle to Titus but he also addressed this subject in his second letter to Timothy as well…
“Remind your people of these great facts, and command them in the name of the Lord not to argue over unimportant things. Such arguments are confusing and useless and even harmful… Steer clear of foolish discussions that lead people into the sin of anger with each other” (2 Timothy 2:14, 16 TLB).
So how should we handle such situations if and when they occur? Well, Paul went on to provide Timothy (as well as those of us reading the letter of 2 Timothy today) with some good advice for staying out of such foolish discussions…
“God’s people must not be quarrelsome; they must be gentle, patient teachers of those who are wrong. Be humble when you are trying to teach those who are mixed up concerning the truth. For if you talk meekly and courteously to them, they are more likely, with God’s help, to turn away from their wrong ideas and believe what is true” (2 Timothy 2:24-25 TLB).
(1) G3711 orgilos Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
“Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain” (Titus 1:7 NIV).
The pastoral Epistle of Titus is helpful for those who feel God’s call to leadership as well as those who are seeking to identify the qualities of a good spiritual leader. For example, Titus 1:7 tells us that such a leader is someone who is “not given to drunkenness” or “addicted to wine” as we’re told in another translation (HCSB).
While it might seem unnecessary to qualify a good church leader in such a manner, it helps to remember that every human culture (both ancient and modern) has been faced with the challenge of applying the New Testament Scriptures for almost two thousand years. This, of course, would include those cultures where beverages with alcoholic content were commonly served out of necessity or cultural norms.
For instance, the only water available in some areas of the ancient world was often impure and hazardous to drink. However, the alcohol content in a fermented beverage such as wine helped eliminate some of the microorganisms and/or other impurities associated with bad water thus making it a safer option to drink. Because of this, wine was a staple of everyday life within many societies of that time.
In those cultures where the consumption of alcohol was unavoidable for health or cultural reasons, the potential for drunkenness was often a very real possibility. Since drunkenness can often lead to violence, fighting (CJB) or brawling (RV), Titus 1:7 tells us that a good spiritual leader is one who exhibits the positive qualities of self-control and discernment within this area.
In a culture or society where alcohol abstinence is realistically achievable, it is often advisable for the members of the church leadership to abstain from alcohol as a general practice. While the Scriptures do not mandate complete alcohol abstinence (see John 2:1-11 and 1 Timothy 5:23 for some examples), a decision to voluntarily limit one’s personal freedom in this area will often serve to place a leader in the best position to minister to others.
In general, it is usually not profitable to give the impression that it is acceptable for someone in a leadership position to be a drinker, even on an occasional basis. As the Apostle Paul observed in Romans 14:21, “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble” (NLT).
“An elder has the job of taking care of God’s work. So people should not be able to say that he lives in a wrong way. He must not be someone who is proud and selfish or who gets angry quickly. He must not drink too much, and he must not be someone who likes to fight. He must not be a man who will do almost anything for money” (Titus 1:7 ERV).
The final characteristic associated with good spiritual leadership in Titus 1:7 tells us that such leaders should not be money-hungry (MSG), greedy for gain (NET), or dishonest with money (NLT).
The main issue behind this prohibition seems to be one of idolatry. You see, an “idol” can be defined as anything that someone loves, fears, or depends on more than God. It may also represent anything that takes the place of God in someone’s life. Since the accumulation of financial wealth is something that represents the most important thing in life for many, this particular form of idolatry represents a special concern for any good spiritual leader.
For instance, a person who falls into this category may deny the assertion that money is the most important thing in life but a look at his or her priorities may actually reveal something very different. The great circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum was once quoted as saying, “Money is a very excellent servant, but a terrible master.” In like manner, a person who exchanges a relationship with Jesus for the pursuit of money exchanges an excellent Master for a terrible one.
This kind of leader sets a poor congregational example by placing the pursuit of monetary gain above a relationship with Christ. This may be one reason why Hebrews 13:5 tells us, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have…” (NIV) while 1 John 5:21 reminds us to “…keep yourselves from idols…”
So this cautionary warning regarding monetary greed and church leadership should encourage spiritual leaders (and church members as well) to set the right financial priorities. Since people are often tempted to make wrong and inappropriate choices when the accumulation of financial wealth is the primary goal in life, the bottom line for a good church leader is found in Jesus’ words from Matthew 6:24…
“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (NIV).
“(A bishop must be)… hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled” (Titus 1:8).
After identifying a number of qualities that were inconsistent with good church leadership in Tutus 1:7, Paul followed with a list of positive character traits here within the following verse.
He began by saying that a church leader should be someone who is “given to hospitality” (ASV). This idea of “hospitality” implies that a good spiritual leader is someone who treats others (especially guests) with warmth, courtesy, dignity, and generosity.
The Apostle James presented this general idea in the form of a hypothetical question when he asked, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15 NIV).
Hospitality represented an especially important quality in light of the fact that there weren’t many good places to stay while traveling in the days of the first century. You see, the “inns” mentioned within the New Testament Scriptures were not like the places of lodging that we may be familiar with today.
An inn of the first century often featured bad food and dirty sleeping areas as well as gamblers, prostitutes, and thieves. Because of this, itinerant preachers or Christians who were made homeless through persecution were greatly reliant on the hospitality of other Christians while traveling.
Paul then went on to say that the right kind of church leader is someone who “loves what is good” (NIV) and is sober-minded or sensible (CEV). This implies that a good spiritual leader is someone who possesses the capacity to think clearly about serious issues and approach those issues in a manner that is not capricious, frivolous, or careless.
A good church leader is also someone who is just, or upright (ESV); a person who seeks to apply the Word of God in a fair and impartial manner. Holiness is another characteristic that should mark a God-honoring church leader. This word carries the idea of complete, 100% moral purity and identifies a bishop, elder, pastor, or overseer as someone who should be separate from anything that is morally wrong, dirty, or impure.
Finally, Paul mentions that a good church leader is a person who exhibits self-control, or someone who can restrain his behavior and regulate it in a manner that is appropriate for every situation.
So taken together, the negative characteristics of Titus 1:7 followed by the positive characteristics listed here within Titus 1:8 provide us with a good list of qualifications for those who sense a call to leadership within Jesus’ church.
“holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).
Another identifying mark of a good church leader involves the ability “to exhort and convict…” as mentioned here in Titus 1:9. These dual responsibilities can each be compared to the tools that reside within a toolbox and each is designed for a specific job.
For instance, a person who genuinely and sincerely desires to do God’s will is someone who might benefit from exhortation, or the ability to comfort, encourage, and/or strengthen another person, especially when it comes to idea of teaching or instruction. (1)
For the more recalcitrant or others who willfully continue to engage in practices that are wrong or inappropriate, “conviction” might be the right tool for the job. As you might expect, “conviction” carries a more negative connotation and in the words of one source, it involves a refutation that generally involves “…a suggestion of shame of the person convicted.” (2)
Despite these differences, the tools of exhortation and conviction both reside within the same toolbox. The Apostle Paul identifies this toolbox as sound doctrine, a term that is mentioned four times within the Pastoral Epistles of Titus and 1 and 2 Timothy. In this context, the word “sound” means, “to be uncorrupted” (3) while “doctrine” refers to “a body of beliefs about God, man, Christ, the church, and other related concepts considered authoritative and thus worthy of acceptance by all members of the community of faith.” (4)
With these things in mind, we can define “sound doctrine” as an assertion or belief that corresponds with what the Scriptures actually teach concerning God, humanity, Christ, and the church. In short, “sound doctrine” means telling it the way the Bible says it is while “false doctrine” means telling it the way it’s not.
So Paul instructed Titus to look for leaders who would strengthen and encourage the church through the accurate communication of spiritual truth while identifying and challenging those who sought to change or ruin the Word of God. As mentioned earlier, this exhortation is more than just helpful advice for use in identifying good church leaders- this is beneficial advice for everyone. As we’re told in 1 Peter 3:15…
“…dedicate your lives to Christ as Lord. Always be ready to defend your confidence in God when anyone asks you to explain it. However, make your defense with gentleness and respect” (GW).
(1) G3870 parakaleo, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
(2) G1651 elegcho, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
(3) G5198 hugiaino, Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries
(4) Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
The New Testament book of Acts provides us with an account that details the first major internal controversy experienced by the early church: “…certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'” (Acts 15:1).
This teaching represented a challenging and difficult assertion for it forced the first century church to wrestle with the following question: was Christianity merely a continuation and extension of Judaism or had Christ fulfilled and superseded the Old Testament ceremonial law? Such a question was likely to generate friction within the New Testament era church, a church that was comprised of those with Jewish and non-Jewish backgrounds.
At the center of this controversy was a group that is historically known to us today as the Judaizers. These men were early Jewish converts to Christianity who taught that non-Jewish people were required to adopt the Old Testament Law of Moses in order to receive salvation. Their argument might be summarized in this manner: “Yes, Jesus saves us but only after we’ve followed the Old Testament Law. Therefore, non-Jewish people must convert to Judaism before they become Christians.”
This teaching served to distinguish those who believed that salvation resulted from following the Old Testament law in cooperation with Jesus’ work on the cross from those who believed that salvation was found through faith in Christ alone. This may have been the kind of controversy that Paul had in mind when he spoke of “those of the circumcision… teaching things which they ought not…” (Titus 1:11).
This challenge represented a situation where Paul’s directive to choose leaders who could “exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9) could be put to good use. For instance, a qualified leader would be someone who could counter the false teachings associated with the Judaizers by communicating the substance of the Apostle Peter’s message from the book of Acts: “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they” (Acts 15:10-11).
However, Paul will go on to issue an even more forceful directive to Titus regarding such false teachers- and we’ll look at that directive next.
“For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:10-11).
After listing the positive characteristics that could be used to identify good spiritual leaders, Paul subsequently turned his attention to those distinguishing features that helped identify others who were rebellious (NET), or unruly (KJV). It is significant to note that Paul identifies “insubordination” (or a refusal to respect authority) as a foundational cause of such negative behaviors as…
- Idle talk
- False teaching
- The pursuit of dishonest gain
This counsel is reminiscent of a similar exhortation found within another of Paul’s New Testament letters…
“Now I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause dissensions and obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have learned. Avoid them, for such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites. They deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting with smooth talk and flattering words” (Romans 16:17-18 HCSB).
These types of external behaviors can sometimes be shown to reveal the existence of an insubordinate mindset. Paul was so concerned about the spiritual danger associated with such individuals that he advised Titus in no uncertain terms: “These people must be stopped…” (ERV).
Now before continuing, we should be clear that “insubordination” does not mean that we cannot be realistic about the strengths and weaknesses of others within the church, including those who serve in leadership positions. Nor does it mean that we are obligated to blindly and unquestionably follow others in positions of authority for 1 Thessalonians 5:21 instructs us to “Test everything. Hold on to the good.”
However, this does mean that every Christian carries a general obligation to act in a respectful and courteous manner when dealing with those in positions of spiritual leadership and seek to avoid causing gossip or dissension. For instance, the proper way to handle a disagreement within the church can be found within the pattern established by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17.
If there is a secondary issue that is serious enough to warrant the departure from a church fellowship, it is best to quietly leave in a manner that minimizes the potential for strife, division, or gossip.
As we’re told in the New Testament book of Hebrews…
“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17 NIV).
“For there are indeed many unruly men, vain talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouth you must stop, who subvert whole houses, teaching things not right for the sake of ill gain” (Titus 1:10-11 MKJV).
An obvious area of concern for Paul involved those who were misleading entire families by “…teaching what they have no business to teach for the sake of what they can get” (Phillips). You see, one option available to a religious charlatan of that era involved direct interaction with the members of a church fellowship within their individual homes.
If a convert was secured in this manner, a deceptive teacher subsequently gained access to that person as a “center of influence” within his or her home as well as a potential means of financial and material support. It also provided access to that convert’s circle of friends, thus increasing the potential to add additional followers and opening up new avenues of funding. In was in this manner that a false teacher could effectively “overthrow whole households” (HCSB).
Although the world has changed considerably since the time of Paul’s letter to Titus, the strategy employed by such false teachers has remained surprisingly consistent in our own day and age. The main difference between now and then is one of technology.
For instance, a false and deceptive religious teacher now has the ability to telecast his or her beliefs directly into countless numbers of homes in HD quality while the power of the internet provides access to a global audience. Podcasts, streaming media, and other forms of digital content provide the ability to deliver aberrant theology in a wide variety of formats while conventional radio broadcasting remains a tried and true form of effective communication for such teachings.
As it was in Paul’s day, false teachers still work their way into people’s homes and “…mislead whole families by teaching for dishonest gain what ought not to be taught” (NET). The only real difference is that today’s false teachers now have the advantage of 21st century technology to market and package such teachings in a much more effective manner.
It is essential to remember that a genuine, authentic spiritual leader will always seek to point people to Jesus by way of the Scriptures. If a message, broadcast, or sermon attempts to place the focus on someone or something else, then its important to be alert to the danger posed by such teaching in light of Paul’s cautionary warning here within the book of Titus.
“For there are many, especially from the Circumcision faction, who are rebellious, who delude people’s minds with their worthless and misleading talk. They must be silenced; because they are upsetting entire households by teaching what they have no business teaching, and doing it for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:10-11 CJB).
In contrast to a qualified spiritual leader who is “not greedy for money…” (Titus 1:7), Paul warns us of others who teach “…what they shouldn’t in order to get money dishonestly” (HCSB). In comparing these two verses, its important to recognize that money alone is not the issue- the primary issue is really one of motivation.
For instance, the Scriptures tell us…
“Pastors who do their work well should be paid well and should be highly appreciated, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. For the Scriptures say, ‘Never tie up the mouth of an ox when it is treading out the grain—let him eat as he goes along!’ And in another place, ‘Those who work deserve their pay!'” (1 Timothy 5:17-18 TLB).
With this in mind, we can say that Paul’s real concern involved the pursuit of financial gain in a dishonest or shameful manner. For instance, we might see an example of such behavior in the person who claims that an offering in support of his or her ministry somehow obliges God to release a greater financial gift in return. This represents a distortion of important Biblical truths and serves to mislead those who are hurting, desperate, or simply misinformed.
One should never approach God with a “stock market” mentality by seeking to invest in a particular ministry with the expectation of a greater return on that investment. While it is true that God blesses those who put Him first in the area of finances (see Malachi 3:8-12), our giving should be motivated by our love and appreciation for what God has done for us and a desire to share those blessings with others, not as a means of establishing an ever-growing stockpile of wealth.
A far better principle can be found in the words of 1 Corinthians 9:6-9…
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: ‘He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever'” (NIV).
“One of them, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:12-13).
In reading through Paul’s New Testament letters, it quickly becomes apparent that he was someone with a well-rounded educational background. While Paul was certainly well-versed in Hebrew culture and Old Testament literature, he was also familiar with the secular philosophers and poets of his day as well. Having quoted from a non-religious source on at least one other occasion within his New Testament writings (1) Paul now found the opportunity to include a similar reference here in his epistle to Titus.
Paul is thought to be quoting from the works of Epimenides in this passage, a poet and reputed prophet who lived in the fifth century B.C. Of course, Paul’s use of the term “prophet” in referring to the man behind this statement may seem troubling, especially given the fact that a true Biblical prophet was not likely to emerge from a group that consisted of “liars, evil beasts, (and) lazy gluttons.”
One answer might be found in the fact that Paul identified this source as “a prophet of their own” (emphasis added). This tells us that Paul was not seeking to identify Epimenides as a genuine Biblical prophet but as someone whose characterization of the Cretan mindset was just as valid in his day as it was when it was originally written. As one commentator observes, “Paul is clearly not citing his own view, because he would not consider a liar to be a true prophet.” (2)
In selecting these descriptive analogies, Paul offered a sharp contrast between the nature of God and the reputation of those who lived on the Island of Crete. For instance, the people of Crete were said to be habitual liars, but God is incapable of lying (Titus 1:2). The Cretans had a reputation as evil beasts, but God is the source of grace, mercy, and peace (Titus 1:4). While the people of Crete were reputed to be “lazy people who do nothing but eat” (ERV), God has provided us with the hope of eternal life (Titus 1:2).
Instead of working to instill these God-honoring characteristics among the people who lived on the Island of Crete, the false teachers of that area helped reinforce these negative perceptions that were already in place. Therefore, it is little wonder that Paul counseled Titus to “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.”
(1) See Acts 17:28
(2) Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament pg. 627
“One of their very own prophets said, Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. This testimony is true. So, rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:12-13 HCSB).
In an episode of the famous science fiction television series Star Trek, Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the starship Enterprise encountered a powerful, but damaged space probe. Having erroneously interpreted its original programming as an order to destroy every imperfect being, the probe traveled throughout space on a quest to eradicate every flawed life form it encountered.
Despite the best efforts of the Enterprise crew, every attempt to defend against this dangerous spacecraft met with failure; that is, until Kirk presented it with a self-generated logical inconsistency from which it could not escape. After the probe was shown to have been in error (and thus imperfect), it executed its prime directive and self-destructed, thus saving the universe in time for the next Star Trek episode.
In a somewhat reminiscent manner, Biblical critics sometimes point to an alleged logical inconsistency within the passage quoted here in Titus 1:12-13. The problem can be stated like this: “If a Cretan prophet said that all Cretans are liars, then that statement must be a lie since all Cretans are liars. But if this Cretan told the truth, then all Cretans cannot be liars.”
So how can we reconcile this seemingly irreconcilable dilemma? Well, we can address this problem by simply taking note of Paul’s observation in verse thirteen: “That surely is a true saying” (CEV). In other words, this particular Cretan had at least one thing right- all Cretans are liars!
Here’s how one theologian goes on to explain this idea…
“Paul seemed to be aware of this dilemma and quickly added, “This testimony is true” (v. 13). In other words, the Cretans generally lie, but at least on this one occasion a Cretan uttered the truth when he characterized the Cretans as liars. In this way the paradox is broken, and no falsehood is thereby included in Scripture.” (1)
We can also understand Paul’s counsel to “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” as a charge that was designed to be corrective, not punitive. For those who were willing to accept this rebuke and abandon such non-Biblical traditions, a doctrinally sound church that refused to give “…heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth” (Titus 1:14) was certain to result.
(1) Commentary on Titus 1:12 When Critics Ask A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, Victor Books
“To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled” (Titus 1:15)
There are some who are capable of turning a simple, offhand statement into a tirade of negativity, criticism, and fault-finding. There are others who can take a seemingly innocent comment and use it as an opportunity to enter into a flirtatious exchange with a member of the opposite sex. There are people who possess the ability to transform a relatively benign observation into a gross and disgusting word-picture. Then there are those who can take something clean and wholesome and turn it into something sexually suggestive.
On the other hand, there are people who possess the ability to peacefully diffuse an inflammatory situation caused by an inappropriate or ill-timed comment. There are others who can engage in a conversation with a number of double-entendres and steer that conversation towards something virtuous and wholesome. Then there are those individuals who work to find something good and positive within a conversation that’s littered with negativity, gossip, and/or criticism.
These examples help illustrate the general idea behind Titus 1:15: “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure…” In other words, our internal beliefs serve to influence our perception of daily life and help to shape our responses for better or worse.
Jesus provided us with some further insight into this idea with the following observation from the Gospel of Luke…
“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45 NIV).
When used in this context, the word “heart” refers to someone’s innermost being in a physical, emotional, or spiritual sense. This tells us that a person of God-honoring character will express that character through the way in which he or she interacts with others. The same is true for a person of ungodly character as well.
If we find that these internal beliefs and motivations are not everything they should be, the thing to do is to be honest and prayerfully seek God for His help in developing good, God-honoring character in every area of life. Then as God moves to address those internal shortcomings that may exist within our lives, our external actions will be sure to follow.
“They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work” (Titus 1:16).
There is a significant difference in simply believing that a “god” exists and believing in God. You see, it’s one thing to believe in the existence of a “higher power” or “greater intelligence” but it’s something very different to place our trust and belief in God as a Person who can be known through the pages of the Scriptures and worshiped.
In a similar manner, there are some who claim to follow the God of the Scriptures but demonstrate something very different through their external actions. In the words of Titus 1:16, “Such people claim to know God, but their actions prove that they really don’t” (CEV).
In light of this, it’s important to remember that people often judge Christ and the God of the Bible by those who claim to represent Him. In fact, Jesus saved some of His strongest criticisms for those who claimed to know God but effectively denied Him by their actions…
“…when you give to the poor, don’t announce it with trumpet fanfare. This is what hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets in order to be praised by people. I can guarantee this truth: That will be their only reward” (Matthew 6:2 GW).
“…You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’ For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition” (Mark 7:6-8 NLT).
“Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness'” (Luke 11:39 NIV).
A person who claims to be a Christian but habitually pursues a lifestyle that denies Him serves to misrepresent the one true God and helps provide others with an easy excuse to dismiss or reject Him. While it may have been possible to effectively mask such duplicity in the past, today’s age of social media helps make it relatively easy to determine who professes to know God but denies Him by their posts, “likes,” “tweets,” and “follows.”
This portion of Scripture reminds us that our professed beliefs need to be backed up by the things we say and do. Remember that actions speak louder than words and the choices we make generally serve to demonstrate those things we actually believe.
“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).
Before continuing into chapter two of Paul’s epistle to Titus, we should stop to consider the tragic and heartbreaking situation that occurs when a spiritually gifted person in a church leadership position is discovered to have been privately engaging in inappropriate behavior.
When such revelations come to light, it may be difficult to understand how God could have continued to effectively minister through someone who was actively engaged in activities that are inappropriate for a God-honoring man or woman. While the frailties and inconsistencies of human nature fall outside the parameters of this brief study, the Scriptures do provide us with an explanation that helps shed light on this question.
You see, the Apostle Paul makes the following observation in the New Testament book of Romans: “God’s gifts and calling can’t be taken back” (Romans 11:29 CEB). While the immediate context for that passage involves God’s faithfulness towards the nation of Israel, this verse also contains an application for those whom God has called to various leadership positions within the church.
For instance, lets consider the example of a person who is exercising a God-given gift for Pastoral leadership while privately engaging in an inappropriate relationship. If God were to immediately rescind that spiritual gift in the face of such activity, then it would no longer be a gift. At best, that God-given ability would represent nothing more than a probationary appointment, for a gift that can be revoked by the giver can no longer be defined as a gift.
This helps explain how a person with God’s gift for church leadership can effectively minister from the pulpit even while actively engaging in inappropriate behavior behind the scenes- at least for a while. Now to be clear, God may limit or suspend the ability to exercise such gifts in the face of continued or unrepentant behavior that dishonors Him. We should also be aware of the Biblical admonitions found in Numbers 32:23 and Galatians 6:7…
“…take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out.”
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”
God’s ability to speak through those whose private lives are inconsistent with their public persona is not limited but make no mistake- no one “gets away with it” forever. The consequences always come- it’s only a matter of time (see 1 Timothy 5:24). As Paul also reminds us in the book of Romans, “God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done'” (Romans 2:6 NIV).