Introduction to Titus
General background to the letter
This letter was written by the Apostle Paul to Titus, who had been an associate of Paul’s for over 15 years. Titus had a convincing conversion and was used as an example of an uncircumcised Gentile believer when Paul spoke to the apostles in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1-3). Paul considered Titus to be, in a spiritual sense, his “true son in our common faith” (Titus 1:4).
He accompanied Paul on a number of his journeys, and on occasion had acted as his representative (2 Corinthians 7:13-15, 8:16-17). Titus was successful in correcting the Church in Corinth, and Paul had found comfort from his presence (2 Corinthians 7:6-16). He had travelled widely in ancient Macedonia collecting funds that Paul was raising to help the Christian poor in Jerusalem, and had Paul’s whole hearted approval (2 Corinthians 8:16-23). Titus seems to have been a stronger character than Timothy, better able to cope with opposition, and willing to take on difficult tasks.
He accompanied Paul on a mission to Crete, and had been left there to strengthen the church when Paul moved on (Titus 1:5). Sometime later, Paul wrote this letter to Titus to give him guidance as to how to complete the work that he had been given to do. Later, Paul spoke of Titus going to Dalmatia (present day Yugoslavia) in 2 Timothy 4:10.
We are not told where Paul was when he wrote this letter, but he hoped to winter in Nicopolis in south western Macedonia and would have liked Titus to join him there (Titus 3:12).
Although formally addressed to Titus, this letter is more public in character and it seems likely that it was intended to be read more widely within the church (as is indicated by the plural greeting in Titus 3:15).
The church in Crete
The church in Crete was newly planted and Paul was concerned that the believers should understand how important it was to live life God’s way, rather than living the way that the rest of the world considered normal. To this end, he gave Titus instructions on appointing elders, together with details of their responsibilities as church leaders.
Although we do not know exactly what was happening within the church, the letter gives us some clues: the situation seems to have been discouraging. The church may have been disorganised, and its members were unwise in their behaviour. Chapter two suggests that the men were careless in the way that they lived, older women gossiped and younger women were idle and flirtatious (Titus 2:1-6). It is possible that “salvation by grace through faith” had given them the impression that the way they lived day by day no longer mattered to God.
This situation may have been encouraged by the natural tendencies of the Cretans towards ethical laxity (Titus 1:12-13). There was also the additional problem of people within the church who were careless in their speech and were deceiving others as to what was true (Titus 1:10). This was combined with disputes over Jewish stories and commandments which were being promoted by a group of Jewish Christians who wanted to see the church adopt Jewish practices and laws (Titus 1:10). These men are described as godless (Titus 1:16), rebellious (Titus 1:10), divisive (Titus 1:11), and were clearly a danger to this young church.
Major themes of Titus
Titus was left in Crete to “straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5) and this letter is Paul’s instructions on what he should do and teach in the Cretan churches. There is a significant emphasis on the responsibilities of the leadership of the church, and the need for clear teaching from them in every area of church life.
Titus 1:6-9 is a list of qualifications which needed to be fulfilled by those who were appointed to the position of elder/overseer in the church - the right family, right character and right doctrine. Although this is only a short passage it was a vitally important one because Titus would leave Crete in the near future (Titus 3:12) and the elders that he appointed would have the responsibility for both continuing the ministry and encouraging it to grow.
Paul explained that the church leaders must hold firmly to the truth that they had been taught so that they could refute false teaching, and silence false teachers (Titus 1:9-11). They must also be prepared to sharply rebuke those who had listened to wrong teaching, so that they would be sound in the faith (Titus 1:12-16).
The behaviour of church members was also a legitimate concern for church leaders. Paul encouraged Titus and the elders to teach Christians, in every area of the church, the kind of lifestyle that was in accordance with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1-10). They needed to explain the importance of rejecting “ungodliness and worldly passions” so that Christians could live “self controlled, upright and godly lives” (Titus 2:2, 3, 5, 6, 11-14). Church leaders were to teach that knowing the truth was only half the journey, for that truth must be lived out in the character and behaviour of church members.
In a connected theme, Paul emphasised the importance of doing good deeds, especially as a witness to our non-Christian neighbours. Church leaders were to remind the people “to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good” (Titus 3:1). They were to stress gospel truths “so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote ourselves to doing what is good” (Titus 3:8). In his concluding comments Paul said “our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good” (Titus 3:14). The close repetition of this phrase shows us how important this idea was to the Apostle.
We are encouraged, in this letter, to use our time wisely and not to waste it on unproductive matters. Paul says the false teachers are “mere talkers” (Titus 1:10), the Cretans are “lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12) and that no attention should be paid to Jewish myths (Titus 1:14). Titus was warned to avoid foolish controversies and arguments because they were unprofitable and useless (Titus 3:9). He was also to warn a divisive person twice, and then have nothing to do with them (Titus 3:10). It is a clear theme in Titus that we have a responsibility to use our time wisely, and not allow the church to get involved in unprofitable time consuming matters.
Why should I read this letter?
We need to read Titus because Paul details the responsibilities of church leaders to teach sound doctrine, defend the church against false teachers, encourage right lifestyle and remind us to submit, be obedient and do whatever is good. God’s church needs this direction from its leaders if it is to be the body of Christ on earth today, so this letter will help us to pray for spiritual leaders at home and on the mission field. If you are a church leader then the issues Paul covers remain potent concerns for the church today.
Personally, we all need to understand that sound doctrine (God’s truth) should be lived out in our lives every day. This does not happen naturally because we are sinners who are being made holy (Romans 3:23, Hebrews 10:14), and we need to be reminded to live in a right way before God.
All of us get distracted by things that are unproductive. We get involved in foolish arguments and disputes, and we take on unproductive projects that consume a lot of time with no useful result. We need to be reminded that our time is limited, and God will hold us responsible for how we have used it.
Finally, we need to be encouraged to be proactive in doing good and serving those around us. We are not to wait until someone asks us for help, but should always be ready, and when we act we should not be half hearted but must devote (or dedicate) ourselves to the task. It is God’s plan that His people are fruitful (John 15:8) and productive (Titus 3:14) in the world in which they live.
1:1-4 Introduction & Greeting
1:5 The purpose of the letter
1:6-9 The correct appointment of elders
1:10-16 The elders’ responsibility to deal with false teachers
2:1-15 The elders’ responsibility to teach lifestyle in accordance with sound doctrine
2:2 for older men
2:3 for older women
2:4-5 for younger women
2:6-8 for younger men
2:9-10 for slaves
2:11-15 guidelines for everyone on how to live a godly life
3:1-15 The elders’ responsibility to remind people to do good and live productive lives
All scripture quotations from NIV84