Invincible Truth and a Faithful Minister

Look for Qualified Spiritual Leaders

As an emissary from the Apostle Paul to Crete, Titus had the difficult task of correcting some aggressive and boisterous, as well as self-confident and self-appointed, teachers in the churches. It seems that these teachers were devising their own brand of theology based on an allegorical interpretation of the law and paying little attention to the authoritative revelation give to the apostles. He also had to deal with a culture peculiarly given over to sensuality and, therefore, at cross purposes to the Christian view of holiness. The search for qualified church leaders would be crucial in building an outpost for heaven in a population captured by the world, the flesh and the devil.

I    Paul’s Greeting establishes the foundational issue of ministry

establishes the authority of his apostleship  1-4  This will be an aid to Titus.  Titus probably needs no instruction or even reminder of Paul’s credentials or of the effectual operations of the gospel to secure a people for God’s own possession, even in a place like Crete.  What he does need is a letter that arms him with apostolic blessing in the eyes of the church and gives evidence that he has indeed been instructed to set this church in order.  The detail of the apostolic responsibility gives a startlingly clear picture of divine purpose in the task of Titus.

He is an servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ –  The first is the more general category and the second clearly establishes the manner in which his servanthood is carried out.

This appointment is defined by the phrase, “faith of God’s elect,” i. e. the task of  bringing God’s elect to faith –  We must never underestimate the motivation that the doctrine of election served in the apostles’ ministries. In 2 Timothy 2:10 Paul had stated his willingness to endure all things for the “sake of the elect that they too may obtain salvation.”  Not only does election serve as motivation, but it serves to define God’s purpose for establishing apostles.  They specifically are one of the means by which God will call his elect.  Christ came to save those that the Father had given him (John 6:37-40, 65; 17:2) and the apostles are sent that those very ones might be gathered in by the preaching of the Gospel.  In addition, the “faith of God’s elect” means that truth that constitutes the gospel message established before the foundation of the world and believed by God’s elect from the time of the first believer (Hebrews 11:2) to the present.  We are not free to alter, enlarge, or diminish the revelation of the gospel but are to be faithful stewards.  Paul could tell the Ephesians that he had not failed to declare to them full “counsel,” or purpose, of God (Acts 20:27).

Further, the elect will have their lives defined by truth (“knowledge of the truth”)  This reinforces the prior concept of faith, that not only is it an attitude of trust, but it is trust engendered by cordial embracing of a particular message about God.  The truth is constituted of several discreet propositions concerning the way God saves his people. He will have us know that we cannot save ourselves from condemnation, but must flee to Christ, the incarnate Son of God taking our nature to work vicariously for our acceptance before the righteous creator and judge of all. Christ accomplishes this on the basis of his substitutionary death and righteous life.  We must know that, when left to our own desires and plans, we have no heart for righteousness but indulge ourselves in unholiness and will not believe. Only when given a new heart in a new birth will the faith of God’s elect reside within the soul (1 John 5:1-5).  When we are saved we will know that it is of God. These truths among others constitute the elects’ “knowledge of the truth.”

This truth is given for the purpose of godliness – If one has believed according to the “faith of God’s elect” godliness will not be foreign to his affections.   He will not be repelled by it but drawn to it.  His desire will be to know and glorify God.  This distinctive element of faith supports Paul’s instructions further in the epistle [1:15, 16; 2:11-14; 3:8ff] Godliness is not manufactured by human energy, though its power engages and employs human energy as its outlet, but is the irrepressible working of the Holy Spirit in the regenerate soul, it is the continued and invincible operation of divine grace to transform believers in Christ to reflect more and more the heavenly glory (2 Corinthians 3:17, 18).

Godliness sustains the hope of eternal life –  Eternal life consists of living before the face of God in a state of endless joy, the fountain of which is the sustained and continually augmenting display of the beauty of God’s personal holiness.  This is the hope of eternal life.  “He that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he himself is pure” 1 John 3:3. None but the godly embraces such a hope and finds it pleasing.

God Himself, who never lies, has promised eternal life – All the preceding come in accordance with a promise made by God.  If God had not determined that this purpose for his elect would certainly come to pass, he could not have promised with the certainty of truth sustaining the promise.  God does not lie because (1) he cannot lie and (2) his decrees control all events and his words always comply with his decrees.  Literally the “unlying God.”  It means more than just that he does not but that his nature is such that he can just as easily be called unlying as he can be called omnipotent.  He is called ‘unlying’ with the same confidence that he is called “love” or “holy.”

He promised it before chronological time began [to whom did he promise it?]  This promise occurred within himself as a part of the eternal communications of love between the persons of the Trinity.  The promise given to Abraham had already been made to the seed of Abraham, that is, Christ (Galatians 3:14) and comes to the elect in accordance with this principle of omnipotent grace [Galatians 4:21-31].

The entire scheme is manifest through preaching – All of this, promised in eternity, came into history in the time peculiarly designed for it by God’s wisdom [The words indicate a critical time having its own criterion of importance]. Paul used different words in Galatians 4:4 “the fullness of time.” Bypassing the incarnation and atonement, Paul moves directly to the issue of how this eternal purpose and immutably truthful promise comes before sinners that live in time and space.  His answer is that it comes through the preaching of the apostles, peculiarly through the message with which Paul had been entrusted.  He was convinced that God would himself undertake the protection of this entrustment [2 Tim 1:12]

Paul was entrusted with this preaching by command – Paul has not taken this as matter of personal prerogative but has been commanded by God, or commandeered by God, as a vessel through whom the message would be given.  “Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel, for I have a stewardship entrusted to me.” 1 Cor. 9:16

Addresses Titus with encouraging frankness

Reminds Titus that his faith is the same as Paul’s –  Both have been begotten by the same faith and though Paul was clearly instrumental in Titus’s conversion, they are both begotten by the truth that comes from God.  “For you have been born again, not of seed that is perishable, but imperishable, [that is by the immediate operations of the Holy Spirit] through [with the preparatory work of] the living and enduring word of God.” [1 Peter 1:23]

Reminds him that their support is from grace and their freedom is in the confidence of reconciliation. – “Grace and Peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”

II   Titus’s Task in Establishing Gospel Order  5-9

Paul Had purpose in placing Titus there in Crete  “For this cause”

Paul had deep affection for Titus  cf. 2 Cor 2:12, 13; 7:5, 6  Clearly, if he left a field of usefulness in Troas because Titus was not there, he had a tremendous affection for him born from his conviction that Titus would be one of those who would give continuity to the message.  The open door was not as compelling in his discernment of God’s will as the necessity of establishing contact with Titus.

Paul had confidence in the sincerity and discernment of Titus – 2 Cor 7:7, 13-15; 8:16-18; 12:17, 18  He saw how Titus had been encouraged by the Corinthian response to Paul’s injunctions.  He was convinced that Titus genuinely loved godly obedience and had seen the power of truthful and loving rebuke in the restoration of God’s people to repentance..

Paul considered Titus as his fellow in the work among the Gentiles 2 Cor 8:23; Gal. 2:1-3 – Titus himself was a Greek, and uncircumcised but personally inundated with the truth of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah.

The churches recognized Titus as gifted, capable, and earnest 2 Cor. 8:19  He held a place of honor among the churches and was selected by those that had contributed to the offering for Jerusalem to take it to them

Now Paul clothes Titus with his own authority, as described above, that the church in Crete might know that Titus acts according to apostolic instruction – “ as I directed you”

Several Issues of Church order needed finishing – set in order what remains  5

Probably issues of order in worship and ordinances as at Corinth with which Titus was vitally familiar;  Also daily living according to orderliness and godliness chapters 2, 3  God does not leave the matters of his worship to the whims of men, but prescribes how we are to come to him.  Most prominently we come to God only by Christ.  Beyond that we are conformed to his image by personal and corporate worship in accordance with his requirements.  These requirements are not burdensome, but simple and lovingly designed to rid us of destructive inventions of our own and keep us focused on the truth as it is in Jesus.  We must not be so presumptuous as to think that Christian doctrine does not include particular instructions in Christian worship.  As Paul had given detailed instructions to the Corinthian church on how to proceed in an orderly manner so that the word of understandable revelation would be foremost in proclamation, prayer, and singing, so that focus on the word must be put in place at Crete.

Appoint elders –  Paul probably means lead in the appointing of elders; initiate the process and see that it is done according to requirements.  The qualifications are given not so much for the sake of Titus, who probably knew this well, but for the sake of the church so they would understand their own obligation and consent to Titus’s discipline of the process Cf. Paul and Barnabas in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch Acts 14:21-23

Most urgent need—qualified elders, interchangeable with bishop [the word used in 1 Tim 3 is bishop or overseer, referring to the same office], seeing that it is used immediately in verse 7;  bishop refers to a function while elder refers to the respect and solemnity due the position

Marital fidelity  -“One woman man”  If one cannot bear up under the covenant that undergirds marriage, how can he care adequately for the bride of Christ? This is an important qualification given the place of marriage as fundamental to both society and church. God established human society with the marriage of Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:27,28; 2:22-25) and one of the evidences of the fragmentation of society was the corruption of God’s intent in marriage (Genesis 4:19-24). The book of Hosea, chapters 1-3, shows the divine intensity about faithfulness in marriage and that redemption is set in opposition to such unfaithfulness. The relation of Christ and the church shows how important marriage is as an analogy to Christ’s absolute faithfulness (Ephesians 5:25ff; Revelation 19:6-10).

Issues concerning children  -Since the church in the household of God, the manner in which a person takes the responsibility for his children says much about how he would function as a shepherd of the church of God.  The discipline that he is willing to administer in order to restrain sinfulness and the instruction that he gives that their lives might conform to truth must be observable if one is to be selected as an elder.

Faithful – some say believers, but that would impose on divine sovereignty – probably means instructed in the faith, “nurtured in the sound teaching of godliness” [Calvin, although Calvin says “that the children should be believers”] and attendant to the things of the faith while in the home. We cannot make children to be believers. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” But we can rear children so that they demonstrate respectfulness, are present during worship, maintain a demeanor of attention, and are held accountable to learn the things of the faith. We cannot give faith, but we can teach the truth, love the truth, live the truth, and show that gospel truth transforms.

Not self-indulgent or given to sensuality; not open to the charge of profligacy. When sinful indulgence is not checked at home, it becomes a burden to the church and society.  Selfishness and rudeness, disorderliness in God’s house should not be tolerated in any children of believers and most certainly not in the one who is to instruct the entire church in matters of self-mortification, reverence, and self-effacement.

Not given to public disorder, resistant to lawful authority – Children may at time engage in quiet and secret rebellions; when discovered these must be corrected quickly; public unruliness and unlawfulness is by no means tolerable in those still under the authority of parents in the home.

Free from sins of indiscretion as would be censurable even by the public “above reproach” He is an overseer of the household of God, a steward and must not be reproachful before the eyes of the world 7

He must possess self-control in matters of interpersonal relationships so that a personal offense does not lead him to manifest anger.  More is at stake in his actions than personal defense.

Nor must he be self-indulgent in the matter of money or food and drink.

Must possess a healthy, dynamic, and manifest Christian spirituality 8

His willingness to entertain and provide for fellowship or shelter for the brethren.  Compare the instruction in 3 John 5-8 with the reprimand of Diotrephes 9, 10.

His love of the good, the intrinsically wholesome, must be obvious. It seems that many people make the truly good and humble and self-effacing the butt of sly humorous pokes and prefer the slightly naughty. The elder must be clear in his love for the good and must “approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:10, 11).

His personal advancement in true godliness must be evident as a support for his task of instruction and exhortation.  How can he rebuke if he needs rebuke?

He must be knowledgeable and skilled in truth  to gather sheep and drive away wolves 9

Personally he must maintain the word as instructed through apostolic channels – “The trustworthy word as taught.” The New Testament was in the process of being developed even as Paul wrote. He knew what was at stake in the faithfulness of ministers to the word that he preached. A commendation he gave Timothy, in contrast to false teachers, was “You however,, have followed my teaching, . . . my faith.” (2 Timothy3:10)

He must not only hold it personally, but so embrace it and have it so vitally implanted that he instructs others in the same truth. The man that knows the truth but has no aptitude for disseminating it must not be an elder. The man that fears putting on display the full counsel of God, inhibits his own usefulness and stultifies the growth of the people of God.

In addition, (“rebuke those who contradict it”) he must be able to discern the nature of the error of others and correct their misrepresentations and misperceptions. This calls both for knowledge and courage.

III  The Uncongenial Context for his Task  10-16

Characteristics of those who need reproof by the truth 10-12

They use teaching as a means of satisfying their appetites –  They feign a knowledge of heavenly things for the sake of purely worldly ends.

Empty talkers, not full of true doctrine but trifling speculations

They lead astray not only certain individuals but entire families

They must be silenced, not allowed to teach; if they refuse to hush, dismiss them 1:10, 11 3:10, 11  Churches must be careful of selecting pastors that are submissive to biblical truth and also teachers in other spheres.  Those who pursue their own pet ideas unsupported by biblical authority must not be allowed to teach God’s people.

Unyielding teaching needed  13, 14

A sharp rebuke will reclaim them for the truth if they are believers

As elsewhere in the first-century a Judaizing tendency was present here and ceremonial law as well as pharasaic traditions were set forth as foundational to Christianity.  Titus well knew this not to be in accord with truth for he had been party to vigorous discussion of this issue earlier, and perhaps one against whom judaizers had objected. But the apostles were pleased both with the gospel that Paul had preached among the Gentiles as well as with his practice of not requiring circumcision for them.  Titus was a case in point and stood as a personal rebuke to the Judaizing party. [Galatians 2:1-5]

“To the pure all things are pure;” — Even though some may be deceived by these teachers, instruction in truth will reclaim them, for their minds and hearts have been washed in Spirit-empowered truth for this very purpose. See Colossians 3:9, 10 Progress in teaching truth may at times be slow, but it will progress and will yield greater and greater evidence for the reality of conversion.  The restoration of God’s image will proceed from glory to glory [2 Corinthians 3:18] and will consist of righteousness and holiness inculcated by truth [Ephesians 4:21-24]

Some may yet prove unteachable  15, 16

“But to the defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure”  The holy teachings of the Gospel are treated by them as swine would treat pearls.  They have no capacity to see its glory. They diminish the importance of the law of God, they look at substitutionary atonement as crude and vulgar, they shudder at the doctrines of divine sovereignty as a deformity of fairness and as more diabolical than expressive of the throne rights of God.

The reason for their swift dismissal of the truth is that the minds and consciences are defiled.  “If our gospel is veiled,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “It is veiled to those who are perishing, in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”  The Judaizers in particular, but all unbelievers in general, fail to see that in Christ are hid all the riches of wisdom and power, and righteousness, and in him and his work alone is the glory of God fully manifest.

While they profess to have knowledge of God and a zeal for God, just as Paul wrote in Romans 10:1-3, their teaching and actions deny him.  They do not know God through Christ nor is their conduct aligned with the principle of glorifying God through sharing in the sufferings of Christ and living consistently with the logic of the incarnation.

IV. Concluding Thought – If the apostolic purpose of working for the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth is to be continued, then elders that believe and preach this truth must be set aside for labor in the churches. Their lives should be a demonstration of the power of sovereign grace to convict of sin, subdue pride, produce humility, bring the preciousness of Christ to the mind and the heart, and give a passion for the truth. They must  protect the church from all false teaching, and be faithful to teach all the truth of the saving gospel of God’s grace.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts