Titus - Book for Today
Ever envied Titus?
Perhaps not. He did after all have rather large shoes to fill when Paul left him in Crete and it was no easy task he had been assigned. There were big things that needed to be done, difficult situations that needed to be addressed, important truths that needed to be taught. And Paul was no longer there to help him.
Titus did, however, have one very remarkable resource. Paul sent him a letter, outlining just exactly what he wanted him to do on Crete. And like every other apostolic letter Paul wrote, it was composed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Here were instructions, teaching, and counsels that were nothing less than God-breathed and therefore wise, true, and right. Imagine getting a letter like that! Titus might not have the apostle at his elbow, but he certainly had the next best thing – his written words. And though the words were few in number they were weighty with the authority of the Lord himself, and could be followed with the absolute confidence that they perfectly reflected his mind and will.
Ever envied Titus? Perhaps you are beginning to! The churches on Crete have no monopoly on things ‘unfinished’ which need to be ‘straighten[ed] out’ (Ch.1:5 NIV), and Titus no monopoly on the God-given task of tackling them. In every congregation there are things that need to be done, situations that need to be addressed, truths that need to be taught. We each face our own unfinished task and must continually be taking it up. Unlike Titus, however, we have no inspired letter, addressed to us personally, to help us! Wouldn’t it be great if it were different, if tomorrow’s post were to bring us a letter from a bona fide apostle of Jesus Christ, specifically for our congregation, or for our elders, giving God-breathed instructions on what exactly we should be doing and how? It is tempting to envy Titus and to wish that the church of the twenty first century was as well off for letters from heaven as the church of the first century was.
It is a temptation to be resisted, however, and for very good reason. The Lord has not left his church poorer off for inspired guidance than it was in the days of its infancy. Letters like Paul’s to Titus were meant, in the Lord’s plan, for a vastly wider audience than the original one, and for purposes far transcending the ones that prompted them in the first place. Titus is a book for all of human history till the second coming of Christ, and for every church on earth. It is for today and for your church and for mine.
For one thing, it addresses today’s issues. As we read through the letter and listen to Paul’s list of things that his colleague was to tackle, they have a familiar ring to them. They are the very same issues we are facing today. Granted, there are aspects of the letter that are highly specific to the Cretans themselves and which reflect their own first century situation. But the differences between then and now, them and us, are only surface differences. Underneath, we are in the very same position. We have the same basic needs, face the same serious threats, require the same sound teaching, and are obligated to do the same kinds of things, as in Titus’s day. Let’s take some examples.
The Cretan churches needed elders. It is the very first matter that Paul takes up: ‘The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you’ (Ch.1.5 NIV). It would seem that each centre of population had its church. These churches needed leaders. And right at the top of Titus’s ‘to do’ list was the appointment of such leaders. But not just any leaders. Only certain men were eligible to serve as elders, namely those who met the qualifications Paul immediately goes on to list (Ch.1:6-9).
The apostle had a particular reason for wanting elders in the Cretan churches and in the second half of Ch.1 we learn what it was. The churches were under threat. Their ranks had been infiltrated by false teachers who by their corrupt doctrines and equally corrupt lives were doing immense harm. How important that they be silenced! And Titus, in fellowship with the churches’ new leaders, was to be at the forefront of the campaign to make it happen.
But there were more things than threats to the churches’ safety to deal with. Important teaching needed to be given as well, and Paul devotes the whole of the second chapter to the details. His approach is clearly modelled on his own ministry. In his letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians he targets particular groups in the church and gives appropriate instruction to each – husbands and wives, fathers and children, slaves and masters. And now in his letter to Titus he instructs him to follow suit. Because of age, circumstances, responsibilities, and the particular temptations to which they were exposed, certain things needed to be taught to older men and younger men, older women and younger women, and to slaves. Titus was to ensure that this teaching was given.
Then the letter takes a broader sweep. The Cretan believers were having to live in the same world as everyone else. How were they to conduct themselves? What were their responsibilities to the governing authorities that were over them? What about their duties to the rest of their fellow men? Titus was to give them instruction on these points and in Ch.3.1&2 Paul outlines what that instruction was to be.
Now comes the question – are these just yesterday’s issues? Not in the least! The churches’ need for leaders, for example, is no less now than it was in first century Crete. So too the need to know what kind of men to appoint. Their work is the same as well. It was clearly envisaged that the Cretan elders would have a protective role. ‘An overseer’, says Paul, ‘must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it’ (Ch.9 NIV). Are there false teachers in your church that need to be opposed? Perhaps not. But they may find their way in one day and in the meantime they are certainly ‘out there’, harming many with their false teaching. You need protectors! Just as the Cretans did.
Then there are the different groups. It goes without saying that in all our churches today there are older and younger men, older and younger women. But the connection doesn’t end there. Read the second chapter carefully and you will see that first century male and female needs, temptations, and circumstances were no different from those of today. The corresponding responsibilities are no different either.
What about the slaves? Granted the employer-employee relationship is very different from the master-slave relationship. But that does not antiquate the apostles’ teaching. Titus was to teach the workers of his day how they were to conduct themselves as workers. And workers today face the same issues, experience the same temptations, and have the very same responsibility ‘to make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive’ (Ch.2:10 NIV).
And the world? Titus was to remind believers ‘to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no-one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men’ (Ch.3.1&2 NIV). The realities that gave rise to these instructions – a governed society, people with needs, sinful behaviour that hurts and harms us, the temptation to respond in kind – are basically no different today.
So the letter addresses today’s issues. For all its ‘first centuriness’ it speaks right into our twenty first century world. And in doing so it provides us with today’s answers.
What kind of elders should we appoint? The answer is in Ch.1.6-9. Why must false teachers not be tolerated? The answer is in Ch.1.10-16. How are they to be dealt with? Light is given in Ch.3.10&11. How are older men to behave? What duties do older women have? What is their responsibility to the younger women of the church? How are younger women themselves to behave? What about younger men? What about workers? And why are all these things so important? The answers are all in Ch.2. Furthermore, in Ch.3 there are explicit instructions, as we have seen, as to how believers are to conduct themselves in the world, and at the end of the same chapter, directives about caring for those who are giving themselves full-time to gospel ministry. Finally, here and there in the letter, are great doctrinal statements that are just as foundational to our faith as they were to the Cretans’.
Titus then – as the title of this article puts it – is a book for today. Given as it was to one man at one point in history, it was nevertheless intended for the whole church always. And the same is true of the rest of the New Testament documents. Together they constitute a perfectly and continuously sufficient resource for all the challenges of Christian living and testimony in every age.
Tempted to envy Titus? There is no need! We are just as well off as the early church. And if we will give ourselves to the study of this and all the other New Testament books, we shall find ourselves just as able to tackle our tasks to the glory of God as they were theirs.