As a young pastor, Titus needed more than a brief greeting and a pat on the back. He needed a plan. He also needed a strong word of encouragement from his coach, friend, and father in the faith to steel him for a daunting task. That came in the form of the apostle Paul.
Paul knew that establishing and pastoring multiple churches on the island of Crete would be difficult, especially because false teachers posed a threat. Paul reassured Titus that he (Paul, as a seasoned mentor) understood the difficulty of the task that Titus faced. Paul encouraged Titus to stand strong and speak boldly. Paul also gave Titus a practical plan for strengthening and bringing order to the churches.
While the purpose of Paul’s Letter to Titus was to instruct Titus and the Christians in Crete in some practical matters that had to be corrected, Paul began the letter by establishing his authority to give such instructions on the basis of his own commitment to the truth revealed in Jesus Christ. Part of his authority was the fact that he called himself “a bondservant of God.” A bondservant was the least valuable of slaves in biblical times. Paul expressed his utter devotion to the Lord in verse 1.
While Paul presented his credentials, he made a profound doctrinal statement of his understanding of the truth. His authority was grounded in “the faith of God’s elect.” His apostleship and his authority were consistent with the faith which the people of God received. This truth was “according to godliness.” Doctrine becomes deadly when it is divorced from godly living. Truth must produce goodness, or else it is not truth. Paul emphasized the truthfulness of God, who cannot lie, in contrast to the Cretans, who were liars. The Christian faith rests on the trustworthy character of God-strong ground indeed.
Godliness consists of expressions in everyday living of the character of God. If God is love, godliness consists of loving in word and deed. If God is mercy, godliness consists of being merciful. If God is patient and kind, godliness is expressed through patience and kindness. Our expressions and behaviours will never achieve godly perfection. We are called on to reflect God’s nature through our obedience and devotion to Jesus.
Paul also referred to “the hope of eternal life.” It was promised by God before time began. It is now manifested through preaching, and Paul’s preaching of this was commanded by God. Eternal life is a hope because it is not a complete reality in our experience. In one sense we have eternal life in Christ now because we have accepted Him as our Saviour, but in another sense it is yet to come because we only get eternal life when we die, and then only if we have accepted Christ as our Saviour.
Paul’s doctrine of truth can only be achieved if we as Christians have dedicated, faithful leaders. One problem in the fledging church in Crete was the need for sound leadership, perhaps in response to false teaching. Paul placed Titus in Crete to lead the people toward a life that would be a faithful expression of Paul’s doctrinal standards. Sound doctrine comes from studying, teaching, and applying God’s Word. Faithful ministers have a twofold task: to encourage sound doctrine in their preaching and to refute and convict those who contradict the gospel. When it is done right, preaching opens the eyes of all who hear and leads them to believe the truth. Truth in turn brings the hope of eternal life in their souls.
A pastor’s first step to setting things in order is to appoint elders. The quality of leadership determines the quality of the life of the congregation, and leadership is a responsibility that is shared by the pastor and the people. Leadership development begins by having a set of standards that are agreed upon and articulated to the people, especially the people who have been chosen to lead the people. In listing the qualifications of elders, Paul elevates character and lifestyle above duties, talents, or skills. Their lives must be above reproach, able to withstand slanderous criticism that would compromise the gospel.
The phrase “husband of one wife” does not necessarily exclude a single man from leadership, but if he is married, he must be faithful to his wife. The phrase “faithful children” means exercising godly conduct. Faithfulness and leadership at home prepares a man for faithful leadership within the church.
One of the problems that pastors, church leaders and Christians have to face is that of false teachers. The problem has existed since the church was established. When false teachers get a foothold in a church, their influence can be most damaging. In that way, they are similar to the devil. Satan starts by introducing a little lie and casting doubt. False teachers do the same thing.
The characteristics of false teachers stand in stark contrast to the characteristics of faithful elders. These false teachers are rebellious, deceptive, and motivated by personal gain rather than by concern for the gospel. For example, some false teachers on the island of Crete taught that the Gentiles had to be circumcised and observe Jewish laws as part of their faith. This teaching caused confusion and dissention in many churches during Paul’s time. It was ultimately addressed at the Jerusalem Council, which is referred to in Acts 15.
How can we detect false teachers? The best way is to use a method that is similar to how doctors diagnose illness. Doctors diagnose illness by the symptoms a patient has. They have several diagnostic tools that can be used including observation, X-rays, and other tests. In the same way Paul has given us some diagnostic tools to recognize false teaching. He tells us to observe their character, their tactics, and their motivation. False teachers are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers. They upset whole families and play to the culture. Finally, they are motivated by shameful gain such as money.
Paul urged Titus to silence and rebuke false teachers and bring them into the truth rather than simply removing them. At some point, removal may be necessary but correction is the first strategy. The goal is to produce a soundness and wholeness of faith. It’s easy to lose sight of this goal when confronting false teachers.
Pastors, church leaders and Christians must ensure that their faith is shown by their behaviour. As the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.” Part of our faith includes holding fast to the Word of God. If our faith is not validated through our behaviour, then we must ask ourselves if we even have a genuine relationship with Christ. The apostle Paul didn’t like what he saw on the island of Crete. They proclaimed Christ with their mouths, but their behaviour looked no different than the behaviour of those who did not claim Christ. We must heed the words of 1 Peter 1:7-8 and pray that our faith will be “proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1727-1729)
- Demarest, G.W., & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol 32: 1,2 Thessalonians/ 1,2 Timothy/ Titus (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1984; pp. 308-318)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Os Hillman, “Faith Proved Genuine.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- T.M. Moore, “Confronting False Teaching.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Matthew Harmon, “3 Ways to Handle False Teaching and False Teachers.” Retrieved from BibleStudyTools@crosswalkmail.com
- Tony Evans, “Do You Believe God’s Word?” Retrieved from www.christianity.com/devotionals/alternative-view-tony-evans/alternative-view-may-19.html#