Titus 1:5-16 – Qualifications for Elders

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Titus 1:5

  1. According to Acts 27:7, Paul was passing through Crete when he was taken as a prisoner to Rome. It does not appear that Paul was doing any missionary work in Crete at that time, so it is likely that Paul visited Crete at some other time not mentioned in Acts. In that case, this means that Paul made more missionary journeys than the three known from Acts.
  2. Paul was a missionary apostle who saw it as his task to “break new ground” (Rom 15:20). After preaching the gospel in Crete with Titus, Paul leaves Crete for an unknown reason, wanting Titus to stay behind and provide leadership and organize the church, and when he is finished, to meet up again with Paul in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). Paul therefore writes this letter to give instructions to Titus on how to do this. Although the letter is addressed to Titus, this knowledge of how to appoint leaders is general and for the whole church (Acts 14:23).
    1. Paul gave a similar commission to Timothy in Ephesus (1 and 2 Tim).
  3. In verse 5 Paul writes “elders” (presbyteros in Greek) and here in verse 7 Paul writes “church leaders” (episkopos in Greek). It certainly seems that he is using these different terms synonymously to describe one and the same church ministry.
    1. The Swedish word “priest” comes from the Greek word “presbyteros” which is translated as “elder” and the Swedish word “bishop” comes from the Greek word “episkopos” which is translated as “leader of the congregation”.
    1. In some churches, presbyteros and episkopos have been separated, and responsibility for the church is divided hierarchically between “priests” and “bishops”. In other churches, these two words are considered synonymous and simply describe a “church leader” in general. The purpose of not dividing these two words is largely to avoid the church ultimately being ruled by, for example, a pope or something similar, and instead to emphasize that all Christians are “priests” (Isa 61:6, 1 Pet 2:5).
  4. Titus was commissioned to “insert” the elders. Being a leader in a congregation is not a task one takes on alone but should be carefully chosen by the spiritual leadership. Of course, one may volunteer, but it is important that the leadership examine the character of the person who wants to be a leader in the church.
  5. The fact that there is such a list of qualifications for a church leader at all (a similar list is found in 1 Tim 3:2-7) means that God has opinions about what a leader in a church should be like. In other words, not just anyone can become a church leader, nor should one necessarily become a leader in a church just because one is a good leader in the secular world. It should be obvious to everyone that a good and successful business leader is not automatically a good church leader.
    1. Unfortunately, there is a tendency in many churches to elevate the typical traits of a successful business leader and consider this something desirable in a church leader as well.  I believe that this is a disservice to the church and that the letter to Titus should be read at least seven more times. It is not necessarily a bad thing to embrace the good of profane leadership, but if one begins to think along the lines of making a career, working more than double full time, neglecting one’s children, etc., then one should promptly repent.
  6. This list of qualifications is aimed primarily at Christian leaders, but of course any Christian can take it on board. After all, leaders often serve as role models for other Christians, and even those who are not leaders can practice these instructions.
  7. Paul almost always writes his letters in the context of an existing situation in a local church. Reading these letters is like just listening to one of the people in a phone conversation, sort of figuring out what the local situation looks like.
    1. For example, if Paul writes that a leader must not abuse wine, it is probably because there have been Christian leaders who have unfortunately abused wine.
    2. Common Christian sense must be used as a basis for considering what is right and wrong in a local situation. So you cannot allow someone to become a Christian leader just because he meets all these requirements but lives in manifest sin in some other area. For example, if someone does not abuse wine, but instead abuses beer, then one should use common Christian sense and realize that it is obviously equivalent.

Titus 1:6

  1. It is very important that a leader in a congregation is “above reproach” or “blameless” as the NIV writes. The reason for this is so that a congregational leader will be an example and a role model within the congregation and outside the congregation.
    1. If one lives a blatantly sinful life, the believers in the church will have difficulty trusting their leader and accepting the teaching.
    2. The church leader also has the task of reaching new people outside the church, but if they see that the church leader is a hypocrite who preaches one thing but practices another, then they will definitely not want to repent and become disciples of Jesus.
    3. Since there were many false prophets circulating in New Testament times, as there unfortunately still are today, it is also of the utmost importance that the church leader is “invincible” so that people can clearly distinguish between the church leader and any false teachers.
    4. Of course, being “blameless” does not mean that one must be 100% sinless, for then no man could be a church leader. Rather, it is about not overtly living a sinful life, dealing with the sins one knows about and living in holiness.
  2. It’s a bit unclear exactly what Paul means by “a woman’s husband”, but it’s clear that it definitely means not being a polygamist (which was not uncommon in biblical times) or promiscuous, which is definitely not appropriate for a church leader.
    1. The expression does not mean, of course, that one cannot be a church leader if one is unmarried, for then Paul would have excluded both himself and Jesus from church service! Presumably it does not mean that one cannot remarry if one’s spouse dies (1 Corinthians 7:39).
    2. The phrase can also be interpreted to mean that if you are divorced, you have failed to manage your marriage and should not manage a congregation. But since this is a matter of interpretation, I personally believe it is up to each individual congregation to judge whether the person in question can be a suitable leader with the responsibility of “stewarding” the congregation.
  3. In the similar letter to Timothy, Paul writes that “if a man does not know how to take care of his own family, how can he take care of the church of God?” (1 Tim 3:5). In other words, it is important for a church leader to be faithful in small ways and to care for his or her family at home as well. If one is careless with his family, what is to say that he is not also careless with the church?
    1. When a pastor looks too much up to successful business leaders and adopts a worldly leadership mindset, there is a risk that, for example, working from morning to night will be seen as a positive thing, neglecting time with one’s family. It is important not only to preach God’s word in church, but also to demonstrate the Christian faith through one’s life and pass on the message of Jesus to children in the safety of the home.
      1. However, it should not be forgotten that it is of course up to the children themselves to decide whether they want to believe in Jesus or not. The message of Jesus is and will always be a voluntary offer.

Titus 1:7

  1. It may seem obvious that a church leader should not possess these negative traits, but unfortunately it has been shown throughout the history of the church, and not least in our own time, that it is unfortunately not uncommon for pastors, evangelists and other church leaders to behave in just this way.

Titus 1:8

  1. These positive character traits show that church leaders need to behave in a good way towards their fellow human beings, God and themselves.
  2. If you are a leader in a congregation but feel that you are not quite living up to these qualifications, then you should see it as a challenge to try to improve yourself and work on becoming a better leader.

Titus 1:9

  1. Jesus gave the apostles the right to write down and lay the foundations of the Christian faith, and the result is what we today call the “New Testament” (Luke 10:16, John 17:20, Acts 2:42, 1 Corinthians 14:37, Galatians 1:11-12).
  2. The Christian “doctrine” is and will always remain the New Testament (Eph 2:20) and one cannot as a Christian preacher preach a gospel that is not consistent with the works of Jesus and the writings of the apostles. Of course, the New Testament must always be interpreted in a new context, but one cannot add to or subtract from it, but must stick to the foundation that is there.
  3. It is important for every individual Christian, but especially for those in leadership positions, to keep their eyes open and make sure that no one starts preaching something that is not in line with the New Testament.
    1. A classic question to ask anyone suspected of preaching unhealthy teaching is, “Where is it written?” If you can’t base your teaching on the Bible, you’d better keep your mouth shut.
  4. The word “sound” appears in the New Testament only in the similar letters to Timothy and Titus. The word roughly means to be “in good health”, “well” and to be “unspoiled”.
    1. Paul wants Titus’ teaching to be sound and unadulterated, leading to people’s well-being and good health.
  5. It is always an important balancing act between “refuting the adversaries” as Paul urges here in 2:9, and “avoiding foolish disputes” as Paul writes in 3:9.
    1. The first priority for a Christian preacher is to make sure that he himself teaches “sound doctrine”. But it is also part of the mission to counter the unhealthy teaching and show why it is unhealthy. Perhaps there is hope that the one who teaches wrongly may come to his senses. But if one feels that the unhealthy teacher is an obvious “false teacher” who has no intention of teaching according to the apostles’ teaching, then one should heed Paul’s advice in chapter 3: “You shall put away a false teacher, after you have warned him once and again”

Titus 1:12-14

  1. Apparently there was a lot of unhealthy teaching in Crete because Paul here gives instructions on how to deal with it.
  2. This is one of three quotes from extra-biblical writers found in the Bible, and comes from Epimenides, a philosopher from Crete.
    1. The fact that Epimenides was from Crete and at the same time wrote the proverb “All from Crete are liars” gave rise to the “Epimenidean paradox”:
      1. If it is true that everyone from Crete is a liar, then Epimenides from Crete is telling the truth and therefore not everyone from Crete is a liar, which makes Epimenides a liar. But if Epimenides is a liar, then Epimenides’ proverb is true, which means that Epimenides is telling the truth, but then not everyone from Crete is a liar, which means that the proverb is not true…
  3. It was well known in ancient times that the people of Crete had problems with character, so it is not really surprising that Paul writes this letter with instructions on how a Christian leader should be.
    1. Because of the Cretans’ propensity to lie, the Greeks coined the new word “chretenize”, which means “to lie”.
  4. Even though the Cretans obviously had major character problems, Paul did not consider them hopeless, but urged Titus to work with them and let God transform their character. No man is so bad that God cannot transform and make all things new.
    1. When we see people with big problems today, we need to see God’s possibilities instead of giving up hope. It is often those who are furthest from God, humanly speaking, who are the first to turn to Jesus for salvation. The people who are rich, comfortable and generally well off are usually the ones who have the hardest time repenting.

Titus 1:15

  1. There are, of course, things that are sinful and unclean even for the Christian, so what Paul is objecting to are those who teach that certain things are unclean even though God considers them to be pure. In Crete and many other places there were many Gnostic and Jewish heresies that taught, for example, that the whole body was unclean, etc.
    1. In Swedish Christianity there used to be a problem with the so-called “catalogue of sins”. It was proclaimed that one was not allowed to go to the cinema, play cards, play football, etc. Of course one cannot say as a Christian preacher that it is sinful to “play cards”, nowhere in the apostles’ teaching does one find this. The reason for these foolish statements was that there was so much drunkenness associated with playing cards, and then one should rather emphasize that as a Christian one should not get drunk on alcohol, a statement that is also in good agreement with the apostles’ writings (Eph 5:18).
  2. For more on this topic, read these Scriptures: 1 Timothy 4:4; Mark 7:15-23; Luke 11:41; Romans 14:14, 20; 1 Corinthians 10:23-33.
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