Bible: What Does Titus 1-3 Teach Us About Leadership and Behavior in the Local Church?
The Apostle Paul
The Slave of the Lord
The Epistle of Paul to Titus
Using a greeting unique in his repertoire, Paul addresses Titus as “a true child in a common faith” (NASB) [v. 4a], combining a short list of his spiritual credentials with a rather lengthy explanation of his involvement in God’s program of election (vv. 1-3).
He labels himself “a bondservant of God,” suggesting that as a slave of the Lord, he regarded himself as having no rights in life other than those the Lord graciously granted him (v. 1a).
Paul also describes himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ”; that is, he is an ambassador whom God has sent to the Gentiles to explain Who Jesus is (v. 1b).
Confidently expecting (“hope”) to inherit God’s quality of life (“eternal life”) in fulfillment of an eternal promise from the One Who is incapable of lying, Paul diligently seeks to execute his apostolic mission.
That task first involves strengthening the elect’s understanding of the body of Christian truth (theological doctrine), and second, convincing them to conduct their lives according to the standard that demands godliness (based on Christian moral principles) [vv. 1c-2].
According to His own timetable, “God our Savior” committed His word of life to Paul and commanded him to preach it (v. 3).
The apostle passes along to Titus “grace, mercy, and peace” from the Father and “the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior” (v. 4b).
[Note that Paul purposely links the term “our Savior” to both “God” and to “the Lord Jesus Christ,” suggesting both his belief in the full deity of Christ and his view that both the Father and the Son cooperate in the salvation of the elect.]
Because Paul had to fulfill such a mission to the elect, he assigned Titus to the isle of Crete where he wanted this young pastor to appoint other elders to minister in various city churches (v. 5).
To help Titus choose qualified people to fill these offices, the apostle provides a list of character and personal traits that he should look for in potential candidates (vv. 6-9).
A side-by-side chart comparison of Titus’ list with the one Paul sent to Timothy reveals few differences (cf. 1 Timothy 3).
The “plus” or “plusses” indicates the same or similar traits; the double minuses show divergences.
Character Traits of Elders
1 Timothy 3
Blameless (Refers to an elder)+
Husband of one wife+
Husband of one wife+
Children who are true Christians and not incorrigible or insubordinate +
Blameless (?)—Why listed twice? Refers to a bishop (overseer). Elders and bishop are presumably the same office.
Of good behavior-+
Not given to wine+
Able to teach ++
Not given to wine+
Not greedy for money+
Not greedy for money +
A lover of what is good+-
Gentle, not quarrelsome --
Not covetous --
Submissive children who respect him+
Not a novice --
Holding fast the faithful word, able to teach; (exhort and convict)++ (v. 9)
Good testimony with world outside the church --
Paul: "Titus, Stop the Apostates!"
Paul warns Titus about several rebellious Hebrew-Christian teachers on Crete who are undermining entire families with their deceitful words—all for the sake of financial gain.
He encourages his son in the faith to stop their subversive activity-- activity that includes “prophetic” denigration of the populace (vv. 10-12).
The apostle writes that the testimony is true regarding what “a prophet of their own” had said; he is not agreeing with one of their prophet’s characterization of Cretans, for he tells Titus to “rebuke them [the teachers] sharply” (v. 13).
Paul wants these “empty talkers”—apparently professing believers—to discontinue paying attention to Jewish fables and apostate beliefs, so that they “may be sound in the faith” (v. 14).
[Ryrie believes these fables are derived from Gnostic speculation (New Testament Study Bible, 393).]
Their disobedient, morally impure lives defile their mind and conscience, demonstrate a denial of their profession of faith, and disqualify them from worthwhile service to God (vv. 15-16).
The Place Where the Church Meets for Worship
Responsibility of the Saved
How should regenerate people of all age groups behave?
The Fruits of Teaching Sound Doctrine
In contrast (“But”) to the detrimental “ministry” of the false teachers, Paul now discusses the various kinds of good moral character he expects Titus’ teaching of “sound doctrine” to various age groups (and even to a particular social class—“bondservants”) to produce among them (vv. 1-10).
Regarding the first age group—“mature” men—, Paul lists four qualities they should (or should not) manifest.
(1) not drink alcohol to excess (“temperate,” NASB);
(2) show self-respect;
(3) exercise good judgment; and
(4) possess a healthy faith in God, genuine love for others, and ample strength to endure hardship (v. 2).
To the “mature” women, he likewise enjoins that they exhibit four attributes:
(1) respectful behavior;
(2) a controlled tongue;
(3) sobriety; and
(4) the ability to instruct younger women to love and obey their husbands, to love their children, and to exemplify moral behavior as they work in their homes.
Paul expects these established patterns among the mature folks, so that the outside world would have no reason to show contempt for God’s word (vv. 3-5).
As for the second age-group—“young men”—, Paul instructs Titus to encourage them to show honorable behavior in three ways:
(1) exercise sound, moral judgment (v. 6);
(2) develop the habit of doing good deeds; and
(3) adhere faithfully and respectfully to Christian teachings, speaking in such a way that their adversaries are put to shame, being unable to blame the believers for any hypocrisy (vv. 7-8).
Finally, Paul commands Titus to exhort a dominant social class in the church in Crete (namely, bondservants) to show consistent Christian deportment in their relationships with their masters in three areas:
(1) obedience (v. 9a; cf. 2:5b);
(2) speech (v. 9); and
(3) honesty in financial matters.
Slaves should so conduct themselves that their behavior brings out the beauty of “the doctrine of God our Savior” (vv. 9b-10).
Christ's Vicarious Atonement
Grace of Salvation Brought to All Kinds of People
The apostle provides the rationale for living right: “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (v. 11).
He links Christ’s first epiphany with His second appearance at the Rapture (“the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”) [vv. 12-13].
The “grace” of Jesus’ first coming brought believers eternal salvation, taught them to repudiate behavior disrespectful of God, instructed them to reject inordinate desires that aim to possess and experience temporal, secular pleasures, and exemplify godly actions in this life.
Paul proposes that the Lord died vicariously for believers for two reasons:
(1) that He might redeem them— “release us from the bondage of sin” (Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 394)—and
(2) that He might cleanse them, so that they might serve Him and accomplish much good in the world (v. 14).
The apostle encourages Titus to expound upon all of these truths, and exercise the authority he has given him to rebuke those who oppose and hate Paul and his teachings (v. 15).
Facing the Consequences of Civil Disobedience
How to Behave Toward the Government and the Public
The apostle lists six positive traits that Titus should remind the churches under his care to exhibit.
In relation to the government, believers should
(1) submit themselves to human civil authorities, and render obedience to their laws;
(2) be prepared to do “every good work” (v. 1).
In relation to the public, they should
(3) speak evil of no one;
(4) quarrel with no one;
(5) show a gentle manner; and
(6) humble themselves before everyone (v. 2).
Believers should live this way because Christ saved them from certain behaviors they once manifested as unbelievers.
Paul enumerates six characteristics of the unregenerate—
(4) addicted to sinful desires and delights;
(5) active ill-will and envy; and
(6) hatred (v. 3)—
and then delineates both the means by which the Lord did not save Cretan believers (v. 5a) and the means by which “the kindness and the love of God our Savior” did save them when He appeared the first time (vv. 4, 5b-6).
Good Works and Regeneration
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The Sovereign Gift of Regeneration
The apostle points out that God does not regard the good deeds (“works of righteousness”) of human beings before deciding to save them (v. 5a).
Instead, the Lord sovereignly and mercifully rescues sinners (“according to His mercy He saved us”), cleansing them from their sin and imparting new life in Christ to them (“the washing of regeneration”), and then He continually “pours out” the Holy Spirit to renew their spirit throughout their life (vv. 5b-6).
[Oil symbolically represents the Spirit of God.]
In declaring sinners righteous (“justified”) by His grace, God purposed to make them heirs of His kingdom; this divine objective harmonizes with His having granted them access to His quality of life (“eternal life”) [v. 7].
Designating what he has just penned (vv. 1-7) as another “faithful saying” (v. 8a; cf. 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11-13), Paul commands Titus to assert it repeatedly (v. 8b).
Believers ought always to perform good deeds, since these works help people (v. 8c).
The apostle leaves Titus with a final personal exhortation: keep yourself away from the useless, “intellectual” exercises of false teachers who spend unprofitable time arguing about family trees and legal minutiae (v. 9).
[Note the contrast between the profitable nature of good works (v. 8) and the unprofitable ruminations of the intellectual elite (v. 9).]
To help Titus handle his relationships with men who seek to divide the church, Paul instructs him to reject these people after a second warning (v. 10).
Those who ignore his authority in this matter have turned aside to their own sinful reasoning and have condemned themselves (v. 11).
He concludes his epistle by asking Titus to visit him that winter at Nicopolis; presumably Artemas or Tychicus, whom Paul would send to him, would take over his duties (v. 12).
Paul also requests that Titus send Zenas and Apollos on their journey (v. 13).
The apostle exhorts his associate to encourage the Cretan Christians to “maintain good works”; by meeting needs in a timely manner, they will bear fruit (v. 14).
Finally, he sends greetings from those who are with him now, and asks Titus to greet others who love him (v. 15).
Study Questions for Titus
- What does Paul consider his spiritual credentials?
- What two duties does his mission involve?
- In his greeting, how does the apostle suggest his belief in the full deity of Christ?
- What did Paul assign Titus to do?
- How does the list of qualifications for elders in Titus differ from that in Timothy?
- What do the lives of the “empty talkers” show?
- What were these heretics teaching?
- Describe the “sound doctrine” Paul wishes Titus to teach the older men.
- List the character qualities the apostle wants to see among the older women.
- Delineate the behavior Paul desires to witness among the young.
- Show how the apostle wants bond-servants to live.
- How does Paul link Christ’s two comings?
- What six positive traits should believers exhibit in their relation to governing authorities?
- What are the six characteristics of the regenerate that Paul lists?
- Discuss the “faithful saying” in chapter three.
- What is Paul’s final exhortation to Titus?
- What does the apostle want the Cretans to maintain?
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