Paul writes to Titus who has been left on the island of Crete. Verse 4 expresses the close relationship between Paul and Titus. “To Titus, my true child in a common faith.” This points to Titus being a younger man such that their relationship could be characterized as a father to his child. But Paul had sent Titus into a spiritual mess with the instructions to get things fixed and cleaned up. Paul had given Titus two important charges to keep when he left him there on the island of Crete: 1) put things in order 2) appoint elders in every city.
What was the situation in Crete? Why did things have to be “put in order?” Reading Titus 1:10-16 reveals the situation that Titus was left with to address.
10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. (Titus 1:10-13; ESV)
Titus is immersed in a world of evil. It is pretty bad when one of their own inhabitants makes a commentary on that society that they are always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons. Then Paul comes along and says that the fellow who said that is right. “Titus, you have a mess on your hands.” These are the kinds of people you are dealing with as you set things in order in every city. Crete was proverbial in the ancient world for its moral decadence. The ancient historian Polybius wrote that it was “almost impossible to find…personal conduct more treacherous or public policy more unjust than in Crete.” Cicero also stated, “Moral principles are so divergent that the Cretans…consider highway robbery honorable.”
As I read this background for Crete, I thought about how difficult it would be for Titus to work on this island. Why not simply write off the island as too immoral and go on to other places? But then I wondered if Paul would be able to say same thing about our area. We live in a world where lying is completely acceptable. There is no integrity with anyone’s word. We certainly see people living like animals. In fact, we place the value of animals above humans. We make arguments that if the animals act in a particular way, we should act similarly. Finally, the charge of being lazy gluttons. We live in a society that is only moved to act if it benefits them financially. We are lazy unless given a good reason to act. Otherwise we want to do nothing. We are certainly an overindulgent society. We live for excess.
Paul is going to instruct Titus in this letter about what should be done while living in this society. I want us to see that this letter is very appropriate for us to pay attention to and apply because there are certainly similarities to the cultural conditions. How was Titus to turn this situation of evil around? How were the holy people of God to act when the society around them could be termed as “always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons?” The next few lessons will reveal what we are supposed to do. But the first chapter of Titus centers upon one important step.
Overseers were to be appointed. Overseers are also called elders (1:5), pastors (Ephesians 4:11), and shepherds (1 Peter 5:2; Acts 20:28). Paul gives the qualifications required for a person to be worthy to be counted an overseer of a local church. In the context we can see the value of overseers. These were people of high moral character and integrity to fight against the immorality of Crete.
- Above reproach. The overall characteristic is a person who is above reproach. We are looking for a person who does not have glaring sin that a charge could be laid against. We never want to suggest the idea of perfection. Every person has sin. But the life led reflects the glory of God and a life of practicing godliness.
- Husband of one wife. A man who is faithful to his wife. He is above reproach in terms of adultery. He is not sexually immoral. I do not believe this is saying that a person is only married once because that does reveal much about the character of the man. God has given people the right to remarry if a spouse cheats. Why would this disqualify the innocent person? However, faithfulness to your wife does reflect moral character that would be needed in Crete. Thus, he would show himself to be a “one woman man.”
- Having faithful children. Some translations read “children who believe.” Unfortunately, some newer translations are rendering this as “children are believers.” This is too interpretative and does not reflect the Greek. The text must be left vague so that we can determine for ourselves what these children are to be faithful to. There are two options: faithful to God and faithful to the father. The context reveals that Paul means that the children are faithful to father because of the following words: “not open to the charge of wildness or rebellion.” The second reason we should see this qualification as faithfulness to the father is because the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3 says nothing about children being faithful to God or being believers. Paul simply tells Timothy that the children are “under control.” If Paul gave one set of qualifications for children to be believers and gave another set of qualifications not mentioning this, then God is the author of confusion, giving different qualifications for elders. These texts must harmonize. Children who honor and respect the father reflects proper discipline, training, and leadership in the home.
- Not arrogant. A reflection of humility and does not think highly of himself.
- Not quick tempered. He reflect patience.
- Not controlled by alcohol. He has not given himself to the influences of alcohol.
- Not violent. Is not a striker and is not combative.
- Not greedy. He does not show a greedy heart and is not focused upon the wealth of the world.
- Loves strangers. This is the idea of hospitable. Cares about visitors that comes into our midst and cares about those that are not his friends.
- Loves good. His life reflects goodness and righteousness.
- Self-controlled. Remains even-keeled at all times. In control of mind and emotions. Sound in mind.
- Upright and Holy. Conforms his conduct to God’s standards.
- Disciplined. Strength and control over self
- Able to teach. He must know the word of God and be able to use it.
Verse 9 begins the transition to show us why overseers with this characteristics are so important. The society is filled with people who are rebellious, are empty talkers, and deceivers. Verse 10 has the connector: “For.” We need overseers because there are many who are rebellious. Notice verse 11: they are to silenced. Overseers are to be able to use the word of God to be able to deal with these rebellious people, overthrowing their empty arguments and useless talk.
Verse 13 continues to speak to the overseers about their function. The elders were to rebuke these people so that they may be sound in the faith. Now we fully understand what is happening. We are not only dealing with a society full of liars and rebels, but we are also seeing that Christians were acting this way. These Christians needed to be convicted over their error so that they would hold on to sound teaching. These Christians of Crete were devoting themselves to Jewish myths, following the lies of the circumcision party, and turning away from the truth. The elders were given a very important charge to save these people, by correcting them. Therefore, these characteristics of godliness were so important if they were going to snatch these souls from the fire.
Verses 15-16 describe what a mess things had become. Their minds and their consciences had been defiled. Carefully mull over verse 16: They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. There was a real problem. There were people claiming to know God, but their actions did not reveal that knew God. Instead, they were detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good work. Let’s get our eyes open. People are going to claim to be disciples of Jesus but their actions will not match their words.
Now, I think this is the point: Here are Christians living in Crete. They are bringing people to Jesus. They have a lot to overcome as they leave their habits of sin that they were used to. When we are reaching the lost we need to have a stable, godly leadership. We need to have men that can be looked upon as examples of godliness. We need to men who know the word of God and know how to use the word of God to be able to confront and expose those who claim to be disciples but are not acting like it. The conduct of the elders allows them to be above reproach as they deal with the lost, the weak, and the deceivers. Further, the elders were to work to keep from those who were false from causing others from falling away. We see this in verse 11. These people had to be silenced because whole families were being carried away by those teachings.
- The church needs appointed leaders beyond the evangelist.
- We need men to grow and be these things because we live in Crete.