Elders, What Must Be Done and Why - Titus 1

Elders in the church have become a hot topic in the last few years. Many more congregational and pastor led churches are moving towards an elder led structure. There is wide and varied reasoning for doing so, but many churches are listening afresh to what the scriptures have to say about elders. One of the best texts on elders comes in Titus 1:1-16. Titus is thought to be the second to the last letter written by Paul from an unknown location probably in the early to mid 60’s AD. Titus 1:5 gives Paul’s purpose in writing the letter. Paul has left Timothy in Crete to, “set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city.” In this article I would like to explore what Paul has to say to Titus concerning elders and draw some modern-day application.

When we look at Titus 1:1-16 as a whole, it seems to naturally break into two main sections; Paul’s introduction in Titus 1:1-4 and Paul’s instructions concerning elders in Titus 1:5-16. Paul’s instruction concerning elders will fulfill the second part of his purpose for writing the letter, appointing elders in every city, while chapters 2 and 3 will fulfill the first part of his purpose, setting what remains in order. The second section of chapter 1, instructions concerning elders, can further be broken down by thinking about it as Paul’s instructions for what must be done concerning elders in Titus 1:5-9 and why it must be done in Titus 1:10-16. An outline of Titus 1 might look something like this:

A. Appoint Elders Titus 1
   I. 1:1-4 Introduction
               a. 1:1-3 Paul
               b. 1:1-4 Titus           
   II. 1:5-16 Godly Elders vs Bad Leaders
a. 1:5-9 What must be done - Appoint Godly Elders
                b. 1:10-16 Why it must be done - Bad leaders that Need Rebuking

My study of Titus has been particularly beneficial for me as our church began the process of changing to an elder led church just a few years ago. In fact, we are currently in the process of adding another elder to our elder body.

I think it is important that we don’t overlook Paul’s greeting to Titus in Titus 1:1-4, the introduction of the letter. Paul tells us a lot about his understanding of God and His work that should encourage us to trust the Lord in our lives. Paul’s identity as an apostle of Christ is rooted in the promises of God that have been revealed long ago and ultimately in God’s will that has come to him as a commandment. He has been entrusted with the Gospel message of truth, to make it known to the elect; that many would live in the hope of eternal life as he does. This Gospel message was made known by God at the right time, and Paul is its herald. Paul by his careful statements in his introduction has given us great fuel to trust in the plan of God. That God cares for and wants the truth of His Gospel to be known by His people. We can trust the Lord as we strive with Him that He will make His truth known to us and our knowing the truth is by His will. If we know Him, then we likewise are entrusted with the message of the Gospel; we need to preach it to others. But even this will happen in the proper time as God makes Himself known to others through us. We can trust our God to bear fruit in our lives and others. Paul in Titus 1:4 to gives a prime example of his ministry in Titus. Paul calls Titus his true child in the faith. Spiritually speaking Paul has begotten Titus through his ministry. They have a common faith in the gospel and in the hope of eternal life. The way Paul speaks of Titus also reminds us of Paul’s household view of the church. Paul is the spiritual father, Titus the son. Paul is giving Titus instructions as a father would a son in love with great concern about the success of there common work. We should be reminded in discipleship we should have a similar attitude. We will always be the spiritual child to someone and the father to another.

Paul gets right down to business in Titus 1:5-9 telling Titus what must be done. Elders must be appointed in every city. Then Paul gives four qualifications for the overseers of the church in Titus 1:6. These qualifications say that an elder is to be an example in every area of life. He must be above reproach, a literal ‘one woman man’, having faithful children, and not accused of wasteful living. All these qualifications prove that a man has been faithful with his household and so is qualified to look after the household of God. He has good standing with the community, loves his wife, has taught his children the mystery of faith, and strives for life well lived and used. Paul continues in Titus 1:7 giving a negative list of qualities an elder should not posses following by a positive list in Titus 1:8-1:9a of qualities they should posses. These verses are the further explanation of what it means to be above reproach or blameless. Curiously the word Paul uses in Titus 1:7 to describe the elder as ‘God’s steward,’ could be translated to mean ‘God’s household manager.’ The root of the Greek word in this instance is the same word for household. It is very important as many churches move toward elder led leadership to understand Paul’s household view of God’s church. Elders are to run the local household of God and be good and Godly leaders of their own households. This is particularly important in a day when the home is eroding quicker than the arctic ice cap. Finally, Titus 1:9 comes at the end of Paul’s positive list of qualifications but gives an important look at what an elders' primary task is to be. An elder is to love the word, to be faithful to it and its message. The elder must be entrusted with and invested in the message of the Gospel as found in the word of God. It is the word that the elder must be able to teach through exhortation and refutation. As God’s household manager he must protect the message that has been entrusted to the people he is shepherding by teaching sound doctrine and refuting those that would distort the message. Paul understands elders to be both an example of Christian living and a protector of the message of the Gospel.

After telling Titus what must be done in the appointment of elders he moves on to give the reasoning why the churches need elders in Titus 1:10-16. Now often times we blow off Paul’s reasoning here because we don’t think we deal with Jews trying to get us to follow the Old Testament law. But to blow off this section of scripture would be to miss what God has revealed through Paul concerning why churches need elders. Paul begins in Titus 1:10-11 with his ‘for (gar)’, saying “there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially of the circumcision (circumcision meaning the Jews).” These evil leaders are upsetting the household of God and its families and must be stopped. This is why Titus must place elders in every city, to refute the contradictory teaching of these evil leaders. Does this description sound familiar? Do we have rebellious, empty talking, deceivers in the church today? You bet. Paul is telling us the best way to combat this destructive force in our churches is through a team of faithful, dedicated, word-filled men, that have widely respected Godly lives and can protect the flock through proper teaching in sound doctrine and refutation of erroneous teaching by others. While the modern day Judaisers in our churches may not look like the torah totting ones of the first century, we still have many evil leaders in our churches that try to enslave believers into legalistic ways of living their Christian lives. These leaders rob believers of the joy that comes in knowing the grace of God. Paul goes on in Titus 1:12 to give us an example of the way these evil shepherds think about the Cretans. They are telling the Cretan believers they need to follow the law because they are “liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.” Paul acknowledges this accusation is true of the Cretans in Titus 1:13, but does not say the Cretans need to subscribe to the law to be right before God. Instead he wants them to stay true to the Gospel he has preached and this means Titus needs to rebuke the Cretans for their behavior and then instruct them to not fall prey to the traps of the evil Jewish leaders. If they will listen to Titus they will become sound in the faith. Again the elders are being set in place to help shepherd the Cretans in Godly living. Paul gives a great statement in Titus 1:15 that helps us put his message to Titus in perspective. He says, “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” This is not a verse to give believers the right to licentious living, but rather puts the message of the Gospel in perspective with those that try to create their own gospel of rules and regulations to appear righteous before God. To those that know God all things are pure because they have the knowledge of truth that rightly orders everything through the work of Christ. Every aspect of life has found its right place through the redemptive work of Christ. Eating is sanctified, work is sanctified, sex is sanctified, drinking is sanctified, every aspect of life is sanctified because Christ paid the price for our sin. In contrast those that don’t know God, and particularly here it is the Jews that have rejected Christ for the law of Moses, everything is still bound up. Life is a matter of trying to please God through following His law and being spiritually blind enough to think you can actually do it. Paul points out the hypocritical nature of there pursuit in Titus 1:16 saying, “they profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him.” This is a sad commentary on these evil leaders, but unfortunately this could be said of many of us.

The church needs elders. As Paul has told Titus what must be done, we should do likewise. We need Godly, faithful, word-loving, proven men to shepherd our churches and protect the elect that are gathered within from those that seek to destroy the household of God. These elders must be able to exhort the congregation as Titus did to the Cretans for their ungodly living and then refute the evil teachers as Titus did the Judaisers that were teaching false doctrine. We need Godly elders that will protect the message of the Gospel that has been entrusted to the church. Will you strive to live in a way that could qualify you to be an elder? Every Christian should, or will you be one of the lying, rebellious, empty talkers tearing down the household of God through your words? Paul has shown us what must by done concerning elders and why, will you heed his advice?
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