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Titus 1:1-9 - Instructions Concerning Elders Print E-mail
Titus
Sunday, 28 August 2011

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Each local Church is meant to be a display of Godís glory. They are made up of various individuals, from various backgrounds, who have confessed their sins and placed their faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ at the cross. These people are not perfect, they do not have it all together, but they are becoming more and more like their Savior. They gather to learn from His Word, to sing His praises, and to encourage one another in their walk of faith. In everything they do, they are to model and display the glory of their God. This includes everything from how we handle our money to the curriculum we teach in our Sunday School classes to how we govern ourselves.1 We are to do all for Godís glory, as the front of your bulletin states: ďOur goal is to be conformed to the image of the Son by the power of the Spirit for the glory of the Father.Ē We exist as a Church to display Godís glory.

Unfortunately, that is not as simple as it might first sound.  In fact, difficulties are all around us.  The Enemy is working hard to divide us and tempt us.  The world delights in seeing us fail.  Our own sin wars against us and adds to the problem.  But, thank goodness, we are not left to ourselves.  God, the One who has sent His Son to redeems us and given us His Spirit to empower us, is fighting for us.  After all, His glory is connected to our lives and He will not give that glory to another.  Specifically, He gives us instructions in the New Testament about how we are to live as Churches so as to bring Him glory.  Such instruction is found in Paulís letter to Titus.

Most hold that Paul wrote this letter sometime after the narrative of Acts.  He was continuing his work of taking the gospel to the Gentiles and planting Churches wherever he went.  Apparently, at some point he made it to the island of Crete, which is in the Mediterranean Sea.  Yet, before everything was put in order in the Churches on the island, Paul moved on and left Titus behind to complete the work he started (see v. 5).  These Churches faced difficulties, the culture on Crete was known to be pagan and corrupt, and so Paul writes to give Titus instructions about what should be done in the Churches so that they could indeed display Godís glory faithfully.

Paul begins by describing his own ministry and addressing Titus.  Look at verses 1-4.  Paul was a servant and an apostle for the sake of the faith of Godís elect and their knowledge of the truth.  Paul served to encourage the faith of Godís chosen people.  He wanted to increase their knowledge and further their godliness.  God had promised eternal life to His people and had kept that promise by sending them a Savior, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for their sins and was raised from the dead on the third day.  The description of God as One who never lies, was meant to contrast the paganism of the people of Crete, who were known as liars.  Paulís part in Godís plan to save His people was to preach and teach so that peopleís faith and knowledge would increase.  This would protect them from error so that they could faithfully glorify God.  Paul wrote to Titus, his fellow-worker, who even though he was a Gentile, shared a common faith with Paul, namely that Christ Jesus is indeed our Savior.

Paul then immediately moves to the body of the letter and to his instructions for Titus concerning what must be put in order.  He begins with instructions concerning the appointing of elders in the Churches.  What lessons can we learn from these instructions?

First, elders are important for the local Church (v. 5).

In order to see this, look again at what Paul says in verse 5.  Paul left Titus in Crete to, generally speaking, put what remained into order.  In particular, this meant the appointing of elders in every town.  We might be tempted to think that Church government is simply not that important.  I would daresay that many of us have wondered about that during our two year study of our Constitution.  I mean, why do that?  Why spend so much time talking about elders and deacons and Church government?  Well, at least in part, we spend time on it because Paul left Titus in Crete for that very purpose.  Should we preach the gospel to the lost?  Absolutely.  Should we be reaching out to the lost in our community to serve them and point them to Christ?  Without a doubt.  But it is not wrong for us to take some time to be sure that things are in order concerning the way we govern ourselves.  Paul recognized the constant threat of heresy and false teaching.  One of the means that he gives for dealing with that threat is the appointment of faithful elders, who will teach and oversee the flock.  This was an important part of the ministry of the Church and it should be important to us as well.  Pastoral/Elder ministry is vital for the health of the local Church.  The young Churches on Crete needed them and so do we.

Yet, what specifics can we learn from Paulís command to Titus to appoint elders in every town?  Let me address briefly a couple of issues.  First, did Paul mean multiple elders for every Church or just one elder for every Church?  Well, an argument can be made from the text for either, but in light of other passages in the New Testament (particularly Acts 14:23, 20:17) it seems clear that the ideal was a plurality of elders in each Church.  This is either stated or implied in most of the passages dealing with elders and is never contradicted.  Second, and more difficult, how was an elder appointed?  Some take this passage and argue that the congregations were not involved in the process of selecting elders since Paul gives the command to Titus.  Yet, such an approach is hard to reconcile with other passages (like Acts 6, which some argue gives a pattern to follow when appointing leaders, and Gal. 1).  Rather, I think a better approach is to recognize the authoritative role that the current leaders play (as with Titus), while also recognizing the congregations involvement and responsibility.  What this looks like specifically has, and will continue, to be debated (even in this Church), but hopefully we can agree that the current leadership has a distinct role to play along with the congregation in choosing elders.

Second, elders should be appointed based upon their character and teaching (v. 6-9).

So then, how are elders to be chosen?  What are the criteria for these leaders?  Paulís instructions to Titus could be summarized with two broad categories: their character and their teaching.

First, Paul addresses their character.  Look at verse 6.  The overarching characteristic of an elder is that they are to be above reproach, or blameless.  Paul follows this general idea with two considerations concerning the manís family.  He must be a faithful husband and a faithful father.  When we looked at the parallel passage in 1 Timothy 3, I argued that the phrase husband of one wife carries the idea of being Ďa one woman kind of man.í  I believe the phrase means the same here. 2  But what about the description his children are believers?  Since Paul follows that description with and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination, it seems best to understand this as a reference to Ďfaithful childrení (who are submissive to their parents and not characterized by open sin) rather than Ďbelieving children.í  Likewise, it only refers to the children that remain under the manís authority. 

Paul goes on in verses 7-8 to describe other characteristics that the man must display.  Look at those verses with me.  After the general statement again, Paul lists five things that an elder should not be characterized by.  He must not be arrogant, or full of pride.  He must not be quick tempered, or easily angered.  He must not be a drunkard, regularly getting drunk.  He must not be violent, losing his temper with others.  And finally he must not be greedy for gain, taking advantage of people and only serving for money.  Then, in verse 8, Paul lists six characteristics that an elder must model.  He must be hospitable, always welcoming others in his home.  He must be a lover of good, supporting whatever is good.  He must be self-controlled, or disciplined in his actions.  He must be upright, or righteous.  He must be holy, characterized by obedience.  Finally, again he must be disciplined.  All of these refer to the manís character.

Of course, we might pause and wonder at this point: Who could ever serve as an elder?  As I have worked through the text this week I must confess to asking that same question.  The list seems almost impossible.  I mean who can do all of this?  Yet, when we think about it, the list contains characteristics that should be true of all Christians.  Granted, none of us are perfect, and Paul is not saying that an elder must be perfect in all of these areas.  Rather, he is simply saying that an elder should be characterized by such qualities.  It is not that an elder must never be arrogant or angry.  Rather, he should not be characterized by such.  Likewise, he will not always be self-controlled or holy, but he will not be characterized by the opposite.  One of the difficulties in finding elders among us is that we know each other so well.  And when you walk through life with another believer, their weaknesses become obvious.  Eventually, every man among us seems disqualified.  But although we never want to lower the bar, we do not want to raise it higher than Paul intended either, which can be difficult.  We need men whose lives are characterized by these attributes.  They will have failed at times, but they are still men who can serve us well as elders.  They will be men of character.

Second, Paul addresses their teaching.  Look at verse 9.  As we said earlier, false teaching was apparently prevalent on the island of Crete.  Paul will deal with this in detail in verses 10-16, which we will look at next week, but suffice it to say this morning that one way to deal with false teaching is by appointing faithful teachers who hold firmly to the gospel.  They will believe and teach that God created us, we rebelled against Him, He sent us Jesus, who died on the cross and was raised again, so that we could turn from our sins, believe in Him and be saved.  They may differ on some of the finer points, but they will be unified on the gospel.  And they will encourage others with the gospel and rebuke any who oppose it.  They may not be the next Billy Graham or John MacArthur or whoever it is you like to hear preach.  They may not have a seminary degree (who on Crete had any formal education?).  But they will be men who know the gospel, believe the gospel, encourage others with the gospel, and defend the gospel when necessary.  They will be faithful in their teaching of the gospel.

So then, if we are going to avoid the temptations around us and hold fast to the true gospel, if we are going to call others to salvation and grow in our own sanctification, if we are going to be a faithful display of the glory of God, then we must pray for and recognize the men that God is raising up among us to serve as elders.  They are gifts to us from God.  May we receive them as such and bring God glory through their ministry among us.  Amen.

1 See Mark E. Dever, A Display of Godís Glory (Washington: Center for Church Reform, 2001).
2 For an extended discussion of the various views and my understanding, see my article here.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Friday, 09 September 2011 )

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