Typically, Paul begins his letters with simply the author and rank: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” This was the usual way a letter would be written in the first century. However, in his letter to Titus, Paul gives an extended discourse that lasts through verse 3.
“Paul, a slave of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness, in the hope of eternal life that God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, and has in His own time revealed His message in the proclamation that I was entrusted with by the command of God our Savior” (Titus 1:1-3).
Paul asserts the authority of his apostolic message with this introduction. Paul is an apostle who was entrusted with a message of the promise of eternal life to the elect of God. Paul’s message of the knowledge of the truth is being given to the elect in the hope of attaining eternal life.
Titus is the recipient of this letter (vs. 4). Recall that Paul also called Timothy his true child in the faith. Verse 4 concludes with the common salutation that we have read in most of Paul’s letters: “Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.” The minor difference is that Paul calls Christ Jesus our Savior rather than our Lord.
The next section that ought to appear in a common first century letter is the thanksgiving section. However, the thanksgiving section is lacking in this letter. This omission suggests Paul urgency to begin to speak about the purpose of his writing. It is not to suggest that Paul is not thankful to God for Titus. Rather, Paul feels compelled to move into the urgent purpose of the letter. The purpose of the letter is found in verse 5: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you.” Paul and Titus were together in Crete and were working to set things in order in the congregations around the island of Crete. Paul left Crete, leaving Titus behind, instructing Titus to finish the remaining work of putting things in order and to appoint elders in every city. This is a similar charge that Paul gave to Timothy, who also was an evangelist. Timothy was to appoint elders in Ephesus and set things in order, instructing the congregation in godly conduct. These charges to set things in order and appoint elders must be the duties of the evangelist, seeing that Paul gave these same instructions to both Timothy and Titus.
Chapter 1: Appointing Elders and Setting Things in Order
Verses 5-9 show the importance of appointing elders in every city where there is a congregation. Notice that we read about a plurality of elders being appointed in each city. I think it is just as important to realize that there are qualifications for elders in this text. What I mean is that many times we simply read 1 Timothy 3 and forget to read Titus 1 about the qualifications for elders. Even worse, many times we read 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 and write down all of the qualifications found in them and declare that these are the qualifications. However, we forget that Timothy did not have the letter to Titus concerning the qualifications and Titus did not have the letter to Timothy (otherwise Paul would not have needed to write to each man about what the qualifications were). It is a tremendous mistake to suggest that 1 Timothy has a qualification that Titus does not have or that Titus has a qualification that 1 Timothy does not have. If this is true, then Paul gave different qualifications to Titus than he gave to Timothy. This is an unacceptable conclusion. Therefore, we must realize that, though worded differently, Paul gave the same qualifications to Titus and Timothy. Yet, too often we have declared that Titus has a different qualification than what Timothy gave, namely, “having faithful children” (Titus 1:6). Paul’s letter to Timothy says nothing about having believing children. So, we have a problem. Either Paul did give different qualifications or we have misunderstood Paul’s qualification about faithful children. I think we must accept that we have traditionally misunderstood the qualification and it is imperative that we rethink what Paul told Titus.
In verses 10-16 Paul describes the problems in Crete. We often like to think that our situation is uniquely difficult. Yet, the scriptures reveal that great immorality existed in the first century also. Read Titus 1:10-16 and notice all of the sins that Paul describes concerning the people of Crete: rebellious, deceivers, liars, and lazy gluttons. These are not God-fearing people in Crete. Nor are these virtuous, moral people, either. This is somewhat shocking considering that many of these people declared themselves to be part of Judaism. Notice in verse 10, “especially those of the circumcision.” Also notice verse 14 where Paul tells Titus to teach the people not to pay attention to Jewish myths. Verse 10 suggests that most rebellious and the worst deceivers are from Judaism.
Verse 16 is very condemning, “They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works.” These people made the claim to knowing God, but they were liars, rebels, and lazy gluttons. Would Paul have the same thing to say about us? By looking at our lives would Paul say that we profess to know God, but actually deny God by our works? God considers us detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good works if this statement is true of God. God finds us absolutely disgusting and detestable if we run around claiming to be Christians but our works do not reflect the life of Christ.
Chapter 2: Titus, Teach Sound Doctrine…
In the second chapter Paul instructs Titus to teach sound doctrine to the people on Crete. Paul begins with the older men, that they “be self-controlled, worthy of respect, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and endurance.” The older men are to be the model examples to the other believers. Their actions should be sensible, controlled, and reflect soundness in faith, love, and patience such that they are worthy of respect.
Similarly, in verses 3-5 Paul instructs the older women to be “reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” Notice that these instructions to the older women have a similar purpose as to the older men: to teach the younger and to be an example to believers. We see this in verse 5: “…so that God’s message will not be slandered.”
The young men are also given the same purpose of being an example in verses 6-8. “Set an example of good works yourself, with integrity and dignity in your teaching” (2:7). Further, the young men are to be sound in their message so that the opponent will have nothing to say against them.
Finally, servants are also to be examples to all people in their actions. “…demonstrating utter faithfulness, so that they may adorn the teaching of God our Savior in everything” (2:10). Ultimately, Paul is teaching that in every relationship and at every age, we are all to be examples to other believers, to unbelievers, and even to opponents of the gospel.
The conclusion to these instructions is found in verses 11-15. The grace of God has appeared with salvation to all people. We, therefore, are called to be a special people, eager to do good works. We are not to be involved in the worldly lusts and godlessness that exists in this world.
Chapter 3: General Admonitions and Teachings
The theme of this letter is about performing good works because the grace of God has appeared and we are to model the life of Jesus. Christians must be reminded to be submissive to authorities and be ready for every good work. According to verse 3, we always need to remember where we came from in regards to our sinfulness. We cannot forget the depths of sins that we were involved in until the grace of God affected our lives. Verse 8 makes the point for emphasis: we are to devote ourselves to good works. To be people with good works means that we must avoid foolish arguments and quarrellings. Verse 10 contains another strong admonition: “Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning…” As a congregation we must be vigilant against those who try to cause division within the church. Paul clearly says that such people must be rejected and we must remove ourselves from them if they will not change.
In verses 12-13 we read Paul’s concluding remarks to Titus. Paul asks Titus to make every effort to come to Paul once Artemas or Tychicus comes to him. Paul also instructs Titus to help Zenas and Apollos. Verse 14 continues the overriding theme of the letter: “And our people must also learn to devote themselves to good works for cases of urgent need, so that they will not be unfruitful.” Paul continues to teach that we must be devote to good works and be ready for cases of urgent need.
Verse 15 concludes the letter with greetings from all who are with Paul. Paul also greets all who are with Titus. May the people of God always be thinking about being full of good works in every circumstance and relationship we are in.