vv.1-4 In the salutation or greeting of this epistle, Paul expands upon his apostleship in a remarkable way. We must remember that Paul was in the twilight years of his service, and now looking back, he reflects on the true place that God had given his ministry. Perhaps in his younger days this aspect of things was not in Paul’s view, because it is normal for those in the freshness of youth to focus on the work at hand, rather than the big picture. But in Paul’s later epistles (Titus, 2 Timothy), he reflects on his ministry through the lens of eternity!
The Writer and His Apostleship (vv.1-3)
Godliness or Piety.
Godliness, sometimes translated piety, comes from the Greek word meaning "well devout", and it refers to a manner of living that is totally pleasing to God. It relates to holiness, and certainly includes it, but is broader. Godliness or "devoutness" involves our motives, our attitude, and our conduct in the sight of God. Christ is the perfect example for us in this (1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 5:7).
Our Savior God. Notice that God is mentioned as “God our Savior”, not as “God our Father” as in other epistles. In fact, we find the same title found throughout this epistle (Tit. 1:3; 2:10, 13; 3:4), and also throughout 1 Timothy. When God is presented in this way, He assumes a character in relation to all mankind; as a God of mercy and grace, reaching out as a deliverer for all mankind. And as such, our behavior as associated with Him is important as a testimony to all mankind; “God our Saviour”.1
The Recipient and His Relationship to Paul (v.4)
The Need for Order and Good Behavior (1:5-16)
Good Behavior, and Oversight. In v.5 the body of the epistle begins. We will notice throughout the epistle that good works or good behavior is emphasized. There is always a danger of separating theory from practice, and while good works are neither the means of salvation nor the means of preservation, they are a necessary component of Christian living, and vital to the testimony of the Church as the house of God. The church ought to be the opposite of what we have in v.16; “They profess to know God, but in works deny him”. That the saints might continue to in good behavior, God has established oversight in His house. Titus was given a delegation of authority to establish a foundation of oversight in Crete by appointing overseers. These overseers or “elders” would be responsible for the care of the souls and the conduct of the assembly, “as they that must give account” (Heb. 13:17). Even for those who are not elders, these qualities should be seen in every believer.
Titus’ Mission in Crete: to Establish Order (vv.5-9)
The world for overseers is 'episkopos', which means 'those looking on'. It is translated 'bishops', and 'overseers', referring to the office itself. The word for elders is 'presbuterous', and means seniors or older ones, and refers specifically to the persons who occupy the office. Note that the word 'elder' can mean 'older ones' in a general sense, depending on the context, as in 1 Peter 5:5; "Likewise ye younger, be subject to the elder". But in other places 'elders' are those who occupy the office of an overseer, as in Acts 20, where Paul spoke to "the elders of the church", saying, "...all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God" (Acts 20:17, 28). Those who fill this office have the care of the local assembly, to feed and shepherd them. We find that the office of an overseer was local; "elders in each assembly" (Acts 14:23), contrary to the Church's practice of setting up "bishops" who preside over vast regions. More details on elders will follow. Elders are always mentioned as a plurality, never a single man over an entire congregation.Here we have “elders in each city”, indicating that there were multiple elders in each assembly, and there were multiple assemblies in the large island of Crete. Read more… Order is a blessed thing in the assembly, because it provides a healthy environment in which relationships and gift can flourish!
- His marriage. The overseer is to be “husband of one wife”. We can see that this would exclude women from the office of an elder. Great confusion and disorder descend on the house of God when women take the place of leadership. Also we see that an overseer was to be a married man. Notice that Paul was not married, and he never calls himself an elder. Peter on the other hand was married and calls himself an elder (1 Pet. 5:1). Although polygamy was still prevalent at the time Paul wrote to Titus, it was not to be true of an overseer. A man with more than one wife is in a position where his marriages run contrary to the mind of God in creation (Matt. 19:18; Gen. 2:24). Further, a polygamist would have difficulty understanding the mind of the Lord in certain matters, because his own affections are divided between multiple women. Finally, there is bound to be trouble and disorder in the home of a man with more than one wife, as the sad history of Jacob and David would show us. One such man could be in fellowship, but not in oversight.
- His children. An overseer must have “believing children”, and those children must be living orderly lives. The Lord entrusts a man with a family first, as a proving ground, although the responsibility of caring for the assembly is far greater. God will not entrust the care of His assembly to those who have not taken care of their own children. The greatest responsibility of a parent is to see that their children are taught the gospel from a young age. It would seem from Acts 2:11 that some from Crete heard the gospel many years earlier, which meant that there could have been some who had believing children. Note also that this passage helps us to understand that an overseer should be one of sufficient age to have children and for that track-record to be established. It is important for the father’s authority to be maintained in the home such that order is maintained; having his “children not accused of excess or unruly”. If a man’s children are uncontrolled or given to excess, it is usually because their father cannot control himself.
- First, the overseer is to be “not headstrong”. This means that one in the role of an elder should not insist on having this his way in self-will. He should have a gentle spirit, not forceful, but graciously deferring to the thinking of others whenever possible, and yet at the same time remaining firm in submission to the Word and will of God.2 An example of the opposite would be Diotrophes (3 John 9-10).
- Second, the overseer is to be “not passionate”. This means he should not be given to emotional swings or outbursts. Such a characteristic would make the overseer unable to have sound judgment in matters and could lead to increased tension in the assembly.
- Third, the overseer is to be “not disorderly through wine”. In 1 Tim. 3 one who was “given to excesses from wine” was prohibited from oversight. An “excess” is too much of something, even if it is not harmful or even good in small amounts. Alcohol is acceptable and even beneficial, when used in moderation. Excessive use of alcohol can lead to two kinds of disorder: it can lead to drunkenness, which is a positive sin (1 Cor. 5:11), or it can lead to addiction, which is also wrong (1 Cor. 6:12). A man who uses alcohol to the point where he falls under its influence cannot be an overseer.
- Fourth, the overseer is to be “not a striker”. This means they are not to lose their temper and lash out in anger, whether physically striking someone,3 or hurling verbal abuses. An overseer must be able to tolerate criticism, be patient with others, submit to insults, and even suffer mockery in some cases without striking back.
- Fifth, the overseer is to be “not seeking gain by base means”. He should not be looking to get rich through dishonest ways. Such a tendency could be a very real snare to those in a place of responsibility in the assembly. It is imperative that the overseer have moral integrity.
- First, the overseer is to be “hospitable”, which means he should serve the practical needs of the saints (this often includes welcoming them into his home) to willingly serve and refresh them and make them comfortable in whatever way he can. Notice that this is laid at the feet of the overseer, not his wife, although having a hospitable wife is certainly advantageous. Many examples could be used, but Abraham and Aquila are two superb examples. Much of the work of an overseer will be done in his own home, perhaps in the living area, or around the dining table. Hospitality is one of the primary ways we can show love to the saints.
- Second, the overseer is to be “a lover of goodness”, which means he will be occupied with what is pleasing to the Lord. Good is contrasted with evil.
- Third, the overseer is to be “discreet”, which means having carefulness or discernment about one’s behavior and appearance. A discrete person acts appropriately, is trustworthy with confidential information, and isn’t loud or obnoxious.
- Fourth, the overseer is to be “just”, or morally consistent in his relationships with God and others. One example would be righteous business operations. Another example would be fair or impartial judgment in issues that arise in the assembly. A failure in this area would disqualify one for oversight.
- Fifth, the overseer is to be “pious”, or as it is elsewhere translated “holy”. Holiness is the hatred of evil and the love of what is good. It includes holiness, not only in conduct but also in heart. A lack of holiness would render a man unfit for oversight.
- Sixth, the overseer is to be “temperate”, or controlled. Self-control should characterize every area of a believer’s life, as it is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). We must maintain control of our speech, our appetite, our desires, and even our natural interests, in the fear of God.
- Last, the overseer is to be strong in the Word of God and sound doctrine. He should be found “clinging to the faithful word according to the doctrine taught”. An elder is not necessarily one with the gift of teaching, but he certainly should have the quality of being familiar with the scriptures, and “clinging” to the Word in dependence and pursuit of God’s mind. Also, his thoughts should be formed by an understanding of the apostles’ doctrine. Being strong in the Word of God and doctrine, such a person will be equipped for two things: “that he may be able both to encourage with sound teaching and refute gainsayers”. For many in the assembly, the overseer will use his familiarity with scripture and sound doctrine to encourage the saints. But for those who were looking to contradict sound doctrine, the overseer would be able to systematically refute them from the Word of God. It is possible to do this without fleshly arguments. When done properly, what arose as an attack against the assembly actually lead to the fortification of the assembly!
The Moral Backdrop of Crete (vv.10-16)
- God assumes here, in a peculiar way, the character of a Saviour-God with regard to the world: a principle of great importance in all that concerns our conversation in the world and our intercourse with men. We represent in our religious character a God of love. This was not the case in Judaism. He was indeed the same God; but there He took the character of a Lawgiver. All were indeed to come to His temple according to the declaration of the prophets, and His temple was open to them; but He did not characterise Himself as a Saviour-God for all. In Titus we find the same expression. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
- It is the grossest mistake that self-will implies courage, though it may lead to rashness or even recklessness. Nothing gives so much quiet firmness as the consciousness of doing the will of God. – Kelly, W. Notes on the Epistle to Titus.
- St. Nicolas punched somebody in the face at the first council of Nicea.
- Translated by J. Rendel Harris, the poem reads:
They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,
Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.
But you are not dead: you live and abide forever,
For in you we live and move and have our being.
- For instance, in Corinth where there was much natural energy, sexual sin was prominent and addressed repeatedly in the epistles to them. Meanwhile, in connection with Crete where lying and laziness were prominent, sexual sin isn’t specifically mentioned once in Titus, though generally covered in Titus 3:3.