Paul’s Letter to Titus for Today (1) 

Setting things straight (i)

Introduction :

  1. 1. Paul, a slave of God and a commissioned messenger Jesus Christ in line (KAT’) with the faith of God’s (dearly) chosen (children) and with a knowledge of (this) truth about the path of godly living …

This letter begins with Paul’s statement of credentials. Later on, perhaps deacdes of centuries later, Christians would declare their faith in the words of the Apostles’ or Nicene creeds. But here Paul boldly professes his faith. It is as if this is his letterhead right on top of the page. No one can mistake what this means. Here are three great truths by which Paul turns the attention away from himself, and focuses his adoration, and our attention, to where it should be.

     The elect of God live by faith, they walk in the truth, they seek godliness without which no-one shall see God. Faith and knowledge are bound together but note that the faith referred to here is the human response to the knowledge of what God has done to make our godliness possible. Faith is not God; faith is not at the centre because that would put us at the beginning and the end of our faith. No God is the centre of our faith, the One to whom our faith is directed, because he is the one who has made it possible, the one who has given it to us.

2 (a faith and knowledge) filled with hope about life from hereopn, which God, the ever faithful, promised (us) from before all time…

     This is stated to emphasise that this faith has the whole cosmos within its scope, it derives from the faithfulness of God who keeps His promises, and it is hopeful … it is open to the future, a future in which God will bring His purposes to fulfillment. Consider just how important it is that this is how Paul starts his letter. God has been working and will continue to work since it is He

3 who, at his appointed season, put set word before us, through such a proclamation that has now been entrusted to me by (none other than) the very command of God our Saviour …

     Paul is not just talking about the Christian faith in a vague and general way. He is specific – it has a personal dimension since God has ordained that this word of His love, this message of His rule, come to us in our creatureliness and so, even here, we hear His word to us, as Paul refers to what God has done to fulfill His age old and persistent purposes in his own life. It is also his own life he is talking about. And this life, the service of God for the sake of God’s elect, has a particular historical location. It might have the potential to be historically formative and world-changing. Paul has to leave that up to God. He is a man under orders. The word “preaching” means we are not merely to expect Paul’s own story since the message is not his own. It has not only been given to him, to give him a knowledge of his own deliverance, it has also been given to him by command by God to do a work that God wants done.

     You might say that this is heady stuff, and you would be right. Paul opens his letter formally but you couldn’t say this is cold and without life? Paul is aware of his readers – he writes to Titus and gives a Christian greeting

4 (This letter being) To Titus, my true son in the faith we share: grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour …

     It is clear that it is written in the knowledge that this letter will be read by more than just Titus. Hence the statement of credentials in verses 1-3. Paul does not just write in an ad hoc or random fashion but to a particular person, at a particular time and place, at a particular stage in his ministry, with particular and definite goal in mind. That then is how the letter begins.

The Principle Purpose for the Letter:

5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might (continue to) straighten out what still needs to be (attended to and) completed by the appointment of elders in every town, as I instructed you.

     In another version this reads “that you might mend what is defective”. Titus seems to have been something of a “fixer” as the other references in the New Testament indicate. Paul’s comments in 2 Corinthians are filled with his great pleasure for what Titus achieved. The church – such as it then was – needed straightening out on a number of occasions. Paul reminds his colleague of the ongoing strategy – the emphasis is upon the “you” – as I directed you – and so v.5 indicates that Paul insists that order in the life of the church on Crete is a matter of high priority, but it is Titus’ task, not Paul’s. But do you think that Titus might have forgotten this? It’s not likely is it?

     But, as with Paul’s other letters, especially those written ands addressed personally, like this one and the two written to Timothy, this is written so that Titus can be seen to be acting on Paul’s advice by the others who read and hear this letter. Note also that this letter and its message reaches out to us today.

     But Paul does not pass up the opportunity of conveying to Titus some of the wisdom given him by God. And that is why he wrote the letter. There is an important principle here; Paul recognises that Titus as the one “on the spot” – but as much as this implies that Titus is going to have to use his own judgement, this does not mean that Titus is a law unto himself. On the contrary, it is his responsibility to choose those who fulfil the criteria for service as Paul outlines it here. This is about the godliness of those with oversight of the Christian community. No doubt Paul had confronted similar problems elsewhere and he knew that Titus needed support in his work amongst the people of God.

     Presumably resistance to godly leadership is deeply entrenched. Christians have to take responsibility for the local forms in which their faith is expressed, but as followers of Christ they must rule their lives according the commands of the same Lord. Hence lawlessness is ruled out.

6 (And so, in this regard,) any elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not reputed to be wayward and out of control.

     The “eldership” is to be shaped by specific principles. It is a public office, implying high moral standards. It is not for those running away from their familial and husbandly responsibilities, or even for those who have the very difficult task of correcting what has hitherto been broken in these ascribed and personal responsibilities. It would seem that a father of children who are the targets of such disrepute is disqualified from public office. In other words, and to put it positively, Paul is saying that his Christian nurturing, as a father, should have been effective. It is no use getting into office if, once one sets to work as God’s personal assistant, one is distracted by the scandalous reputation of one’s children.

     This is not making a judgement upon persons but reckoning with the difficulties people actually have to face, difficulties that must impinge upon, and should therefore preclude them from, public office. Paul can spell that out in principle and it is up to Titus to choose those who fulfil these criteria. Titus presumably was a Greek convert but this did not stop Paul from formulating principles quite consistent with the overall teaching of the Old Testament. This does not mean that they have somehow left the Gospel and returned to a life of law- or works-righteousness. Paul had appointed Titus according to these principles and Titus is to appoint others in the same way. Paul’s Old Testamental perspective is a crucial part of a strategy to correct the defects in Christian discipleship on Crete.

7 Since the overseer entrusted with (oversight of) God’s work must be above reproach, neither full of himself, nor prone to fly into a rage, addicted to wine, spoiling for a fight, nor involved in dishonest gain (in dodgy deals).

What qualifications should such a bishop have? He must be blameless, above reproach! Paul gives us a list of what he shouldn’t be like. This is a strange turn of phrase but it is God’s “public” work; Paul is assuming a symbiosis between a leader’s familial and public responsibilities. This does not mean that they are one and the same. But it is the one life of obedience to God’s requirements that shape both and knit them together into one life. Those critics of Christianity who glibly accuse Paul of hating women because of some verses read out of context should note that Paul is here arguing that the Gospel simply does not tolerate the promotion of moral behaviour in public if that is to serve as a cover for violence in the home. The Christian has a seamless web of responsibility before God in the kitchen, the dining room, the bedroom – throughout in the household – and in the public square, the street, the market place. Paul then gives a list of what an elder should be like.

8 Rather he must be hospitable, one who (truly) loves what is good,clear-headed, just, devout and self-controlled.

     An elder’s life must be a seamless web of integrity. He must be able to function in public life and lead by example. This cannot be done if – as intimated in v.6 – his domestic life is in disarray, or his personal habits and dispositions are anarchic. Some might use this text to keep women out of office, but that is not what Paul is addressing, since Paul is addressing the kind of person who is to be appointed. That question had not arisen. Instead Paul is doing two other things here: he is stressing that it is important to get the right person for the job; it is most important that this kind of job is available to the right person. Paul is giving the criteria Titus must use as he sorts through the list of possible candidates.

9 He must hold firmly to the word as faithfully taught, so that he can encourage others by healthy teaching, in order to decisively convince those who have opposed it.

     He must know what he believes; but more than that he must be able to defend the truth on which the Church of Jesus Christ is based. The incumbent needs to adopt an offensive posture because the job is more than mere defence.

     These same principles remain in effect today. The important point to note is that this “considered advice” of Paul is not simply applicable to office-bearing in the organisation and administration of a Christian congregation. This is a set of principles to insist upon for all “elders” who are in a position to exercise influence and give leadership among believers in Jesus Christ. Paul is writing to Titus because certain things had been left incomplete; some things were seriously defective. These defects had not occurred overnight. Nor did they just happen without any cause. They arose for specific reasons and the implications were potentially disastrous not only for the church on Crete but for the entire life of the company of followers of Jesus there and everywhere. What was in need of “straightening out” was leadership of a way of life for the entire company of the people of God. As then we are as much in need of Christian congregational life led by wise and discerning “eldership” as we are in all the responsibilities in which we find ourselves accountable to the Lord of Heaven and Earth.

     Paul addresses Titus as one who should know what is going on. The refutation of erroneous teaching must be based upon a knowledge of what it all means; and as such the ones who are to develop the pure doctrine must be knowledgeable. It is not a matter of defining those in office as the ones who know. It is a matter of appointing those to whom God’s word has come and who are thus able to discern the spirit of the times according to the Gospel. They are the ones who need to be appointed to the office. It is the knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ leading to godliness, and that is the kernel of the job specifications Paul lists for Titus.

But what specifically was going on in the Church in Crete?


to be continued

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