Holiness in the Church

Titus 1

Paul and Titus traveled to Crete probably after release from his first imprisonment, during a fourth missionary journey which occurred after the close of Luke’s account in Acts and between 62 and 64 A.D. After having spent some time on Crete, Paul continued on to Macedonia from where he wrote this letter to Titus (Tit. 3:12). Titus was a regular companion of Paul on his travels, accompanying him on his second and third journeys as well as part of this one. Paul’s extensive description of his apostolic ministry and authority in the first four verses is not for Titus’ benefit but rather to reinforce to the residents of Crete that Titus was serving as Paul’s trusted representative.

Paul’s primary concern was for the proper behavior of the saints in Crete, that is, their holiness or holy living; in this epistle he specifically addresses the issue of holiness in the church, in the family, and in the world or community. This is in keeping with the principle that God has ordained three institutions with particular responsibilities in the affairs of men – the family sphere, the religious sphere, and the civic sphere of life. It is essential that the Christian live in accordance with biblical principles in all three spheres.

A. Salutation v. 1-4

If the order in which Paul treats the subjects is significant, he implies by addressing the church first that how one lives in the home and the community is directly associated with what he believes, what principles act as the foundation of his faith. Paul makes a specific connection between faith and practice in his greeting to Titus in verse 1 when he refers to “the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness” (NKJV) or “the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness” (1:1, NIV, HCSB) — belief governs behavior and right belief is based on truth as revealed ultimately through the living Word, Jesus Christ, and recorded in the written Word.

Paul has a specific body of truth in mind here; we understand that from the characteristics Paul applies to it. It is truth which:

1. leads to godliness v. 1b
2. provides hope of eternal life v. 2a
3. has its source in God v. 2b
4. was made apparent by Christ v. 3a
5. revealed in the Gospel v. 3b

Paul in a previous letter instructed Timothy that the church was the “pillar and foundation of the truth. Through the ministry of the Word by faithful pastors, the truth of God is communicated to mankind. The church through her God-given ministry preserves and maintains the purity of the truth in the world, transmitting it from one generation to another. Here in Titus 1, Paul reminds Titus what has been entrusted to the church and why it is important that the church be in good health. If it was essential for the first-century church to have her feet firmly planted on the truth, to maintain and proclaim a pure Gospel truth, how much more vital is it now in a culture which expresses great disdain for absolute truth.

B. Instruction: Well-qualified elders must be appointed in every town. v. 5-9

1st admonition – ordain Elders in every city v.5

Although Paul had spent some time on Crete working to establish churches with the help of Titus, it was necessary for him to go on to Macedonia before the task was complete. Consequently Paul was convinced the church and those dependent on it remained at risk from those who would cause it harm by their false and deceptive teaching. There on the island were churches gathered together but not fully organized, having members but without the necessary officers who would oversee and guard the individual flocks.

A local church, gathered and fully organized according to the mind of Christ, consists of officers and members. By Christ’s appointment the officers to be chosen and set apart by the church as called and gathered, are bishops (otherwise called elders) and deacons. It is their special responsibility to arrange for the carrying out of what the Lord has ordained, and to use the powers entrusted to them for the execution of their duties; and such arrangements are to continue in the church until the world ends. LBCF, XXVI.8

Paul in verse 5 reminds Titus of the task for which he left him there on the island, to finish establishing the churches by appointing or, perhaps a better description would be overseeing the appointment, of elders in each church town by town. As the apostles found it necessary to install deacons nominated by the members of the Jerusalem church, Titus was to do likewise in Crete. In each of the approximately one hundred towns on the island where there was a gathered church, Titus would need to guide each congregation in their search among their members for those leaders whom Christ had given them.

To aid both Titus and the various congregations, Paul gave particular qualifications by which to judge if potential candidates for leadership were biblically qualified. Both Paul and Peter address the issue of who is fit according to God’s standard for service in the office of elder – in 1 Timothy 3, here in Titus 1, and also in 1 Peter 5:1-3. Of the nearly two dozen words and phrases used by Paul and Peter, the vast majority deal with issues of character, not technical training. Godly character is critical in an elder since he is to be an example to the rest of the flock; remember Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian church, “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.” Phil. 3:17 Similarly he told the saints in Corinth, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Cor. 11:1

2nd admonition – faults Elders must not have, virtues they ought to have v.6-8

The overriding quality an elder must have is that of an unblemished reputation, not perfect and without any flaws, but possessing a good character which deserves the respect, love and admiration of the church. Because he holds a position of authority and trust he must be of irreproachable moral character and proven integrity. The first characteristic Paul lists as necessary for a married elder is that of marital faithfulness and sexual purity; if God has blessed them with children, they should be well-mannered and respectful. The other qualities emphasized by Paul focus on the integrity, self-control and spiritual maturity which must be found in an elder.

The negative v. 7

not arrogant

not quick-tempered

not a drunkard

not violent

not greedy for money

The positive v. 8


a lover of or devoted to what is good

sober-minded or self-controlled, acting with discretion

upright or virtuous

holy or devout


These qualities should be found in significant measure (if not to perfection) in an elder. Further, if an elder is not arrogant, he will be continually striving to develop his character in a godly direction and improve in those areas which are lacking.

Since an elder is responsible for leading and serving the household of faith, he must first have demonstrated the ability to do so in his own household. The nature of a church is that it requires family skills foremost over business skills; single elders are not automatically disqualified but elders with families do have practical experience that will prove invaluable for the flock. An elder must be the sort of godly example that others can and should follow, especially important since example carries a far greater weight of influence than position or title.

3rd admonition – Elder must hold fast the apostolic doctrine v. 9a

An elder must be firmly committed to biblical doctrine and have the ability to communicate it clearly to others; that quality alone prevents someone new to the faith from serving as an elder. This does not necessarily require an elder to have a theological degree but it does require him to be a mature and diligent student of the Bible. An elder must have sufficient understanding and experience of God’s love that it flows from him to the flock, inciting in them a love for Christ. If a primary task of an elder is to point others to Christ and draw them closer to him, he must have an intimate knowledge of the Word of God which is not stagnant but continually growing.

4th admonition – apply knowledge of true doctrine: governing apt learners, refuting the obstinate v. 9b

As you might expect an elder is not to pursue knowledge of biblical doctrine simply for the sake of adding to his supply of Scripture Factoids. Christ expects him to use that understanding for the benefit and growth of the Church, encouraging and enabling believers to grow in godliness while correcting those speak against the truth. In the words of one commentator, “This faithful word is a lever in his hands for moving the hearts of men.” William Graham, Commentary on Titus

The elder’s first task is to guide believers into a greater understanding of the truth, to use biblical principles when providing counsel, to hold up the standard of God’s Word as the completely sufficient rule of faith and practice. His second task is to correct those who distort the truth of Scripture, confirming true believers in their understanding and persuading those who deny the truth to turn from their errors. “The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both.” John Calvin, Commentary on Titus

C. Reason: Crete is not lacking in disreputable people who must be sternly rebuked. v. 10-16

Sadly, but not surprisingly, there were those in Crete who professed with their mouths to be Christians but whose lives spoke a different profession. It would be relatively easy for those in the church to be fooled by smooth-talking “Christians”, especially if there was a lack of strong leadership in the churches. Claiming to speak for the church and proclaiming their version of the truth, they were really spreading distortions which resulted in whole families leaving the church and following the false teachers.

You don’t have to look far today to find self-appointed ambassadors who declare that their views are representative of the Christian community as a whole. In the name of love they promote an “anything goes” approach to marriage and family values, encouraging local legislators to redefine who’s who in the family. Just as it was necessary for Titus and his fellow pastors to stand against distortions of biblical truth, so it is necessary for pastors and elders to do the same in our present culture.

D. Encouragement: Christ is not destitute of resources out of which to supply his Church. Eph. 1:22-23; 4:7-12

There is great encouragement for the saints who are still pilgrims in the world; when Christ returned to glory and the seat of honor at his Father’s right hand, he remembered the Church. The one “who fills all things in every way”, who ascended to heaven “so that he might fill all things”, personally gave “some pastors and teachers for the training of the saints in the work of ministry”. Christ knows the needs of his people, of his Church and has committed to doing all that is necessary for its perseverance. He declared to his disciples that he would build his Church and the forces of even Hell itself would not be able to overpower it. Matt. 16:18 It is Christ who gathers his Church, who builds his Church, and who meets all her needs. He does all this from the place of honor and authority in heaven, lavishing blessings on his people from the vast and glorious riches of his grace. Eph. 1:7-8, 18-19

…one of the things, dear pastor reader, that you must take to heart is that God really did intend that the local church have local pastors. That is, pastors and not vigilante theological or political brawlers. Or, if I may say it without stepping on too many toes, a face on a jumbotron. Men who are, well, like the next part of this passage who are frankly charged with the well-being of Christ’s people for the sake of teaching them who Christ is, who He has made them, and what that means in their daily life.

Paul wanted Titus to establish elders. That was the plan. God says it’s a good idea, and you should agree with him. Frank Turk


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