There are four letters addressed to individuals which the Holy Spirit indicted through the apostle Paul. Three are called pastoral, because directed to young preachers, exhorting them to diligence in their calling. The fourth, to Philemon, is decidedly personal.
While the two letters to Timothy and that to Titus are in some respects alike, there is this marked difference: to Timothy the apostle stresses the importance of sound doctrine, whereas to Titus he dwells on sound behavior. In other words, the subject of this epistle is, “The truth which is according to godliness.”
Never was there a time when the necessity of practical piety was so marked as in the days in which our lot is cast. Loose doctrine makes for loose living. On the other hand, it is quite possible to contend earnestly for fundamental principles when the life is anything but consistent with the profession.
Titus was a Greek, as Paul tells us, who accompanied him to Jerusalem to discuss the Gentiles’ relation to the law of Moses. A trustworthy man apparently, for to him was committed the responsibility of a collection among the Gentile assemblies for the relief of the famine-stricken Jewish brethren in Palestine. Paul speaks approvingly of Titus’ general behavior, and yet significantly adds, “With Titus I sent a brother.” He would allow nothing to cast disparagement upon a servant of God in money matters. In this we see an important lesson for ourselves.
When Paul wrote this epistle Titus was in the island of Crete and was what we might call an apostolic legate to whom was committed the work of organizing the churches of Crete. The letter was evidently written between Paul’s two imprisonments, for we have no record of his having been in Crete prior to the first imprisonment, nor of his later wintering at Nicopolis. But evidently after he was freed from the charges brought against him by the Jerusalem Jews, he went about, as tradition declares, continuing his ministry until arrested a second time. It was during this interval that he went with Titus to Crete, later leaving the younger man to complete the work while he moved on to other parts.
The three chapters of the epistle are its natural divisions. Chapter 1 dwells upon the need of godliness in the church; chapter 2, godliness in the home; and chapter 3, godliness in the world.
Godliness in the Church
Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; but hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour; to Titus, mine own son after the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour. For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, the Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth. Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate, (vv. 1-16)
Let us look particularly at the first chapter. Verses 1-4 give the salutation. J Paul speaks of himself as a bondman of God, and a sent-one of Jesus Christ in accordance with the faith of God’s elect. Faith here refers not to trust nor confidence in God on the part of the elect but to that body of doctrine which the elect are called to defend. He adds, “And the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness.” Godliness is literally “godlikeness,” or “piety.” The truth apprehended in the soul produces piety in the life. This is insisted on in this letter.
The statement of verse 2 deserves special consideration: “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” It should read, “the age-times,” or “the times of the ages,” in place of “world.” There are two Greek words, not merely one, that are here together translated “world.”
The “times of the ages” are the dispensations, the redemptive ages which began after the fall of man. The promise of life here referred to, as also in 2 Timothy 1:1, was the declaration Jehovah made when He cursed the serpent: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). This is the promise of life. It was not a promise given before the creation of the material universe, but before the ages of time had started to run their course. Sin had come in, but man was not to be left under the sentence of death. A divine Deliverer was to come from God, the Virgin’s Son, who would bring in life. In due time God fulfilled this promise, and it is now proclaimed by His Word throughout the world.
From verses 5-9 we have instruction given to Titus in regard to the ordination of elders. He was to set in order the things that were wanting, organizing the churches in a godly way and ordaining elders in every city by apostolic direction. These elders must be blameless, husbands of but one wife, having their households in godly subjection. That elder and bishop refer to the same person seems evident: “For,” he continues, as though speaking of exactly the same class, “a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God,” a man who holds himself in control, not willful, nor of bad temper, self-indulgent, quarrelsome, nor yet covetous, but hospitable, warm of heart toward his brethren, delighting in those who are good, sober, just, holy. He must not play fast and loose with Holy Scripture, but hold fast the Word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine to exhort and convince the gainsayers. Thus in five short verses the apostle portrays for us the ideal elder or bishop. Elder suggests a man of maturity, while bishop emphasizes his office, the word meaning an “overseer.”
The need of godly order in the church was evident. In Crete, as elsewhere, there were many unruly, vain talkers and deceivers, particularly those who had come out of Judaism. Never having been fully delivered from the law, they prated of their greater privileges, and sought to bring the Gentile believers into bondage. “Whose mouths must be stopped, [for they] subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.” That is, they were seeking to form a party around themselves, having in view their own aggrandizement and enrichment.
These Cretan Jews were like their Gentile fellow countrymen of whom Epimenides had written, “The Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.” The last expression might read, “greedy gluttons.” What people are by nature comes out even after Christ has wrought in their souls, and therefore calls for greater watchfulness. The old nature is not changed by conversion, though a new nature is given. But the motions of the flesh must be put to death if there would be a life of victory and piety. So Paul commands Titus to rebuke them sharply in order that they may be sound in the faith. They must be warned against Jewish fables and commandments of men (taking the place of revealed truth), which would only lead to apostasy.
The fifteenth verse has frequently been utterly misused: “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.” This does not mean that things which to others are unholy become in themselves pure when done by those of superior mind. It means that the pure delight in purity, even as the unholy delight in that which is impure. With mind and conscience defiled such may make a great religious profession declaring that they know God, but their evil works prove that they are utter strangers to Him. It is against the behavior of such that Titus is called upon to warn the people of God.
Godliness in the Home
But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: that the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded. In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you. Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; not purloining, but showing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee. (vv. 1-15)
Passing from the question of the church, the epistle takes up godliness in the home. Titus is exhorted to speak the things that are in accord with the sound doctrine, or really “the healthful teaching,” and in so doing he should counsel the various members of the Christian society. There is a message for aged men and women, young men and women, and also servants.
It is not, however, as in Ephesians and Colossians, a direct exhortation addressed to each of these classes. On the contrary, Titus is instructed as to his own line of procedure to help these various persons to walk consistently with their profession.
The aged men were to be so taught that they would be characterized by sobriety, gravity, self-control, soundness in the faith, love, and patience. The aged women were to walk in accordance with their holy profession, being especially warned against a wrong use of the tongue—“not false accusers.” The word is the same as employed for the Devil himself. He is preeminently the slanderer. What a sad thing when Christians so forget their high and holy calling as to be slanderers one of another, thus giving place to the Devil! The aged women are not to become self-indulgent, but to teach, by example as well as precept, those who are younger.
Observe that Titus is not told to instruct the young women personally in regard to their behavior. That might not always be discreet and might compromise him as a servant of Christ. He is to address himself to the aged women and they are to “train” the younger. The word translated teach in verse 4 is really “train.” The young women are to be trained in sobriety. They are to be taught to love their husbands and their children, and be discreet, chaste, keepers at home. It is really “workers at home”; idleness is not conducive to holiness. They are to be good, or kind, subject to their own husbands, that the Word of God be not blasphemed.
To the young men Titus may address himself directly. He is to exhort them to be sober-minded, but at the same time careful to set an example in all things.
Men will forgive a preacher if he is not eloquent or highly cultured. They will forgive him if he lacks in personal attractiveness or even in wisdom, but they will never forgive him if he is insincere. He who handles holy things must himself live in the power of them. His speech, too, is to be as sound as his life and teaching, in order that those opposed to him may be put to shame when, like the enemies of Daniel, they can find no evil thing to say against him.
In the Revised Version we have “us” instead of “you” at the close of the eighth verse, which might imply that the behavior of Christians would close the mouths of those who desire to find fault with the servants of Christ, through whom they had been led to make a Christian profession.
In verses 9-10 we have the behavior of Christian servants. They are to be obedient to their own masters, to seek to please them well, not answering again, not purloining nor pilfering what is not rightfully their own, but on the other hand showing all good fidelity that thus they may reflect credit on the truth they profess. Integrity and trustworthiness in the little details of their service will glorify the One whose bondmen they really are.
It is to this that we have all been called, as is shown in verses 11-15, “The grace of God, [salvation bringing for all men], hath appeared.” A divine message sent from heaven to earth, showing not only that Christ saves us, but teaching us that denying, or refusing, ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and piously in this present world, “looking for that blessed hope, and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.” This last expression should be translated in this way, according to the judgment of many sober authorities. He is our great God, and it is He who became in grace our Savior.
It is the return of the Lord that is thus put before us to influence our daily lives. It is one thing to hold the doctrine of the Lord’s return, but quite another to be held by that blessed hope.
These things Titus is to speak, exhort, and rebuke with all authority.
Godliness In The World
Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men. For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men. But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself. When I shall send Artemas unto thee, or Tychicus, be diligent to come unto me to Nicopolis: for I have determined there to winter. Bring Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their journey diligently, that nothing be wanting unto them. And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful. All that are with me salute thee. Greet them that love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. Amen. (vv. 1-15)
In the third chapter we have the Christian’s relationship to the world outside. He must not plead heavenly citizenship in order to free himself from his responsibilities as an earthly citizen. The same apostle who wrote to the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven,” declared himself a Roman citizen on more than one occasion, and claimed rights thereby.
And so Titus was to teach these restless Cretans to be subject to proper authority, always ready to participate in anything for the good of the community; speaking evil of none, but manifesting the meekness and gentleness of Christ unto all.
This of course does not mean that the Christian is to immerse himself in politics. He will only be defiled if he attempts it, and he will fail in the very thing he is trying to do. Lot could not purify conditions in Sodom by running for office, and many a Christian has found that it was in vain for him to attempt to stem the tide of iniquity by becoming a politician. But the Christian is to set an example of piety in his civic responsibilities. He is to be obedient to law and to pay honestly his taxes, or tribute as the case may be, and to pray for all who are in positions of authority. Then, too, he is to remember the admonition, “[As much as in you is], do good unto all men.” Therefore he should be interested in anything which is for the blessing of mankind. This, however, does not leave him at liberty to take part in plans and schemes that are manifestly contrary to the Word of God, even though they may be loudly vaunted as for the upbuilding of humanity. But by generosity, by uprightness of life, and by compassionate interest in his fellows, he is to commend the doctrine of Christ.
It is by such behavior that Christians prove to the world that they are indeed a new creation in Christ Jesus. There was a time when we were like others, “foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving [various unholy desires] and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.” We were not all guilty to the same extent, but we were all in non-subjection to God, self-willed, and living in disobedience to His Word.
But He in grace undertook our salvation. Not that we became at last so distressed about our sinfulness that we longed after Him, but He in infinite kindness reached down to where we were. “The love of God our Saviour toward man,” is literally, “the philanthropy of God.”
God is a lover of men, and because He so loved He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. And so we have been saved not through merit of our own—“not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”
The washing is the application of the Word of God to heart and conscience, thus producing through the Spirit’s power, the new nature. Having been thus washed from our old behavior, we are daily being renewed by the Holy Spirit, which God shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.
And God’s purpose in thus working on our behalf and in us was that we, being justified by His grace, should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Every believer has eternal life now as a present possession. Nevertheless, we are exhorted to lay hold on eternal life as a matter of practical experience, and by and by at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall enter into life eternal in all its fullness.
I have eternal life now in a dying body. In that day body, soul, and spirit will be fully conformed to the image of God’s blessed Son. That will be life indeed.
It is a question whether the opening of verse 8 refers to what has already been put before us in verses 4-7 or whether it introduces the words that follow.
If we take it in the latter way, then it balances with 1 Timothy 1:15, where we read, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Here we are told, “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.” All such things as these are good and profitable to men.
But occupation with idle theories is of no value toward a holy life, and so we read: “But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.” It is easy to give one’s self to the defense of certain views which may not in themselves be of a sanctifying character, but the servant of Christ is exhorted to avoid everything of a merely contentious nature, and first of all to have in mind the edification of the people of God.
Verses 10-11 have to do with one who refuses these admonitions. “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.”
The heretic is really a factious person, more concerned about gathering adherents to himself and maintaining some sectarian view of truth, than falling into line with the entire body of revelation, seeking the blessing of all the people of God. His particular hobby may or may not be true, but he uses it to form a school of opinion.
Such a man is to be shunned after he has been twice admonished to refrain from his behavior. It is the same word as in 1 Timothy 4:7; 5:11; and 2 Timothy 2:23, and in those passages translated “refuse” and “avoid.”
There is no hint here of excommunicating the man. False doctrine opposed to fundamental truth is not in question, but the factious man is to be refused; in other words, people are not to listen to him. The result will be, if he persist in his course, that he will eventually go out himself.
The closing verses are all of a personal nature. Paul is about to send either Artemas or Tychicus to Crete to relieve Titus, who is then to come to him at Nicopolis, for there the apostle had made up his mind to winter.
Zenas, the lawyer—possibly a converted Jewish lawyer, that is, a teacher of the law of Moses, or (what seems more likely from his Gentile name) a legal advocate who has become a servant of Christ—and Apollos were evidently also visiting Crete. Titus was exhorted to help them forward in their journey, seeing that they were cared for in temporal things, in order that they might not be left in need.
The saints themselves are exhorted to labor in useful occupations in order to provide for their necessities. This seems to be the true meaning of the admonition. The Christian should shun merely gainful professions or means of livelihood if they are not really “honest trades” for the good of mankind.
Paul and his companions salute Titus, sending their greetings to all who love them in the faith.
The epistle closes with the customary Pauline benediction, “Grace be with you all. Amen.”