The church in Crete was full of new converts living in a culture that was known for its crude conduct. Paul, the aged missionary, demonstrated finesse in adapting the Good News to the spiritual condition and circumstances of these believers in Crete as the church was beginning to grow. This letter to Titus was probably written from Nicopolis is western Greece. It was delivered by Zenas and Apollos who were on a missionary journey that took them through Crete. Titus was a gentile Christian, probably converted through Paul’s ministry and he was presently overseeing the churches on Crete. Titus had travelled with Paul and became a trusted associate. After Paul’s release from his first Roman imprisonment he and Titus had ministered briefly on Crete. When Paul departed he left Titus to continue the ministry, organize the churches, and appoint elders. This letter was intended to encourage Titus and give him further instruction for completing his tasks. Paul evidently regarded the Cretans as a difficult group to work with. In New Testament times life on Crete had sunk to a deplorable moral level. Those who had become Christians were immature in their faith and needed basic instruction concerning immorality for Christians conduct. And, there were false teachers who were stirring up trouble as well. Paul gave Titus a list of qualifications for effective church leaders. He also gave instructions for living a godly life, including his guidelines for successful relationships with family, friends, and community. Note that specific groups had special responsibilities but that every individual was accountable to live a life characterized by self control, integrity, and grace. Crete was the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It was a Roman province primarily populated by farmers and fruit growers. Here are some themes to watch for. First, church leaders. Since Cretan culture was known for its moral decadence Paul instructed Titus that leaders in the church must be above reproach as examples to others of the Christian life. When Christians are guilty of immoral behavior, they discredit the truth of the very gospel they proclaim. Second, self control and integrity make the gospel attractive. Paul instructed Titus on directing a various other groups besides leaders: older men, older women who also taught younger women, younger men. All were called to exhibit self control. Slaves were to be respectful and honest. The gospel has a civilizing effect on all aspects of a Christian’s life, including relationships within the home. Third, false teachers. As you can tell by our readings, false teachers seemed to follow the gospel proclamation around, trying to counteract the message that Paul was proclaiming. It seemed to be a constant battle. Like Timothy, Titus also had to contend with false teachers. Paul spoke harshly about these teachers. But Paul also highly valued unity within the community and he condemned anyone who threatened that.
Paul’s opening salutation to Titus served to establish Paul’s authority for his representative. He called himself a slave for Christ. He was called to strengthen the faith of those God has chosen so that they will know how to live godly lives. The confidence that people have in eternal life allows them to live in the present. This is because they know the future. Paul is adamant that God does not lie. This no doubt contrasts with teaching from the false teachers and popular Cretan conceptions. This statement also underlines God’s plan of salvation as unchanging, also a point that corrects what the false teachers were saying. God can be trusted to fulfill His promises. All of this happens by the command of God, when it is the right time. And Paul reminds Titus that both Jesus and God the Father are called our Savior.
The rest of chapter one deals with what strong, faithful leadership looks like. It was needed in the churches on Crete to address the dangers of false teachings. This was a tall order but Titus was also given the responsibility to shape as Christian community that bears witness to Christ by embodying God’s grace in its conduct. Titus was directed to appoint leaders in order to complete Paul’s work there. That work was establishing the church. Deacons are not mentioned here because these were new churches and probably still small. These leadership qualities might be an accommodation to the newness of the converts and the roughness of their character. It is assumed that the elders will be male. Crete was an important location for travel and trade by sea so it had a wide mix of influences, including a Jewish population. Some from Crete had been in Jerusalem at Pentecost but this letter really seems to deal with an infant church. There may have been more than one house church in a given town and possibly more than one elder in a house church. It is clear that there were churches in at least two towns and the leadership was specific to each house church. Again we see that elders are allowed to have only one wife and they were not to be wild or rebellious. This most likely points to the Cretan culture and moral degradation. The church leader, also translated as overseer or bishop, is a manager of God’s house. Given the qualifications it is also clear that these church leaders could not be a part of the Cretan masses. They were to live above reproach and that would not be possible if they ran with the masses. The elders had a leading role of teaching within the church community. This may have been necessary because of the volume of the false teachings that were out and about. Elders were to have a strong belief in the Good News so they could teach.
We also see that one of the challenges were rebellious people who engaged in useless talk. They enjoyed deceiving others, and insisted on circumcision for salvation. This suggests Jewish Christians or Judaizers who were instigating trouble. It had gotten so bad that their false teaching was turning entire families away from the Good News of Jesus Christ. And they were being paid to be false teachers. Paul commanded Titus, “they must be silenced.” It was so bad that one of Crete’s own prophets referred to the people of Crete as liars, cruel animals, and lazy gluttons. Calling them liars pointed directly to the Cretan claim of having Zeus’s tomb on the island. According to their mythology the god Zeus was once a mere human who lived and died on Crete but he had achieved godhood through his patronage, (gifts and benefits) to humans. However, the One true God does not lie and He stands in opposition to such lies and myths. Many believe the moral degradation on Crete came from their beliefs about Zeus and their religious lies gave way to moral corruption. Paul called the Cretans to reach ethical ideals that are extolled in human society but were absent on Crete. Even their own prophet spoke of this. Cretans were known to do anything for a little bit of cash. They saw no shame in greed. Paul applied this to the false teachers who lived this and encouraged the Cretans to do the same. Being strong in the faith here is defined as rejecting false teachings and the Jewish myths were not just mere unbelief but apostasy. These people were to be avoided. Paul always linked sound teaching and godliness and on the flip side, Paul also linked false teaching and ungodliness.
Chapter two is all about wholesome relationships and teaching. It was urgent because of the damage the false teachers were causing. They had wreaked havoc on entire families so Paul addressed different groups worthy in the household of faith, showing his concern for the public testimony of the church. Then Paul elaborated on the coming of Christ. That was followed by Paul giving Titus a direct charge. The purpose of the commands was to make the teaching about God attractive. Older men refers to those who are at least 50, and the same is true for the older women. The character of those who are mature should serve as a spiritual example to all. But, maturity is not determined simply by age or even how much a person knows. It is determined by how skilled a person is in applying the truth to life and in distinguishing good from evil. Older women are not to engage in evil practices like slander, gossip, or drunkenness. Instead they are to teach good morals to younger women. Paul places great importance on the roles of women in the home. They are not under the authority of men in general but only under the authority of their husbands. Paul wanted older women to teach younger women so that their actions would glorify God, build His kingdom, and strengthen the family. Failure to follow Paul’s instructions would result in the word of God being maligned in the pagan community. Young men are called to pursue the character qualities that older men should already possess. Paul also reminded Titus that people will learn from us just by observing the way we live our daily lives as much as they will by listening to what we say. Also, good works from a Christian slave would make the doctrine of God very attractive to a non Christian master. The commands of verses 1-10 are grounded in the past and future coming of Christ. God’s grace is a model for the church’s own conduct, even as salvation by grace makes a good life possible and creates people devoted to good works.
The grace of God has been revealed to all people and Paul intends that it will fully accomplish its ends among the Cretans and that in doing so it will enlist them into God’s saving work of evangelism. Paul acknowledges that we live in a world that is evil but we are called to live in wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God. These virtues counter the vices Paul listed in 1:12 and are transformed into thoroughly Christian qualities. Paul exhorted the Cretans to bring these virtues to life. This would be an example to their fellow Cretans of a virtuous life that comes only because of God’s grace. Looking forward implies hope but there is also future accountability. Both of these things push godly conduct now. There will be a time of epiphany when Christ returns. This is one of the few places in the New Testament where Jesus Christ is called God outright. And this claim is totally consistent with the roles and attributes of Christ and the worship He receives. At the time of this letter Christians were insisting more and more that Christ alone, rather than rulers and emperors, should be called divine.
Paul reminded Titus that salvation produces people who have the desire and the capacity to perform the good deeds listed in 2:2-10. Verse 14 details what Jesus did for us. He gave His life for us. By doing that He freed us from bondage to sin. His blood has washed us clean. And He has claimed us as His very own people. Being His own people goes back to the formation of the nation of Israel. All those who follow Christ are now God’s people and the Holy Spirit leads these people to keep God’s covenant. Titus is charged with teaching these things and encouraging the believers to do them. Titus has the authority to correct the believers. And he shouldn’t let anyone ignore what he is saying.
Paul continues his emphasis on wholesome teaching to oppose the false teachers. Now he turns to the relationship of the Christian community to society as a whole. God’s instructions for His people are based on His dealings with them. Titus is instructed to avoid fruitless debates and to insist on beneficial teaching. Paul is instructing believers to make a clear distinction between themselves and the unruly and crude masses. Also, the troublemakers may have developed unruly behaviors that stemmed from their false teachings. However, Paul is also reminded that there was a time when believers were disobedient and slaves to many earthly things. Their lives were full of envy and hate. But in grace Jesus Christ came to them. It had nothing to do with what the people did. This was all on God showing his mercy. He washed away sins, gave rebirth, and new life through the Holy Spirit. Verses 4-7 may have been a summary from a standard teaching or a creedal statement. Paul called believers to behave towards others as God had acted towards us…in kindness and love. It is God’s salvation that makes this possible. Paul contrasted human actions versus God’s actions. We don’t come out to well on our own but in Christ we receive way more than we deserve or could even imagine. Washing away sins signifies a complete departure from the life of sin we knew before we knew Jesus Christ. God did what He did out of grace to give us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.
What Paul is saying is trustworthy and true and he insists that Titus teach this. It will result in people’s salvation but also it will change how people act and the good works they will do. Paul gave Titus yet another warning about foolish discussions, quarrels, or fights about obedience to Jewish laws. Titus is to warn them twice and then have nothing to do with people who quarrel and spread false teachings. And some of those who are, are believers. Paul is sending help to Titus; Tychicus or Artemas. But he sent Tychicus to Ephesus so Timothy could visit him in Rome. Zenas and Apollos were also involved in spreading the Good News and they might have been the ones to deliver this letter to Titus. Zenas was probably an expert in Roman law or a lawyer. Paul’s final exhortation is connected to the responsibility to take care of Zenas and Apollos. Believers are called to involve themselves in the life giving ministry of the Good News rather than the unproductive speculation of the false teachers. This letter was addressed to Titus but it was intended for the whole church on Crete to hear and take to heart.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W