10/5/2017 10:06:08 AM
TITUS: PURPOSE AND SUMMARY
(A version of this essay is scheduled to be published in Voice: An Independent Church Journal, November/December 2017 (96:6).
“Titus” is one of four so-called pastoral epistles written to individual church leaders, but Paul writes knowing each one that the churches will read them also. It serves not only as a way to personally encourage and instruct Titus but also to publically authorize him to lead the way in formation and reformation according to the Apostle’s instruction. Paul composed this letter around AD 65 in between his two Roman imprisonments, around the same time he penned 1 Timothy. Paul had been ministering in the Aegean Sea region and left Titus on the island of Crete to finish forming and reforming the churches in the various cities. As with churches on the mainland, the churches on Crete were afflicted with unqualified men usurping positions of leadership and espousing false doctrines.
In another of Paul’s trademark openings of thanks (1:1-4), he stresses the importance of his mission to the Gentiles and affirms Titus role as the apostle’s special representative on the island. The body of the letter begins in 1:5 with the first of three movements. The first is a formal charge for Titus to appoint godly leaders (1:5-16), the second contains Paul’s instructions for conduct and relationships in the church (2:1-15), and the last relates to Christian relationships with those in the outside world (3:1-11).
In the first section (1:5-16), Paul publicly affirms Titus’ authority to establish order in the churches by appointing qualified leaders (1:5). He then lists out the qualifications for godly elders (1:6-9) and warns about the dangerous incursion of false teachers there (1:10-16). The problems they were creating were severe and demanded a sharp response. They were not promoting innocent mistakes but morally corrupt errors.
In the second section (2:1-16), Paul describes what gospel-formed conduct and relationships look like within the church. The gospel teaches people of every age and gender how to live godly lives, and older men and women in the Lord have a spiritual responsibility to guide younger people in working out godliness in every sphere of life (2:1-8). Slaves are in uniquely difficult relationships with their masters, but they have the potential to demonstrate the beauty of the gospel in the way they respond and interact (2:9-10). It is the grace of God which makes transforms all of the Christian’s relationships (2:11-14). It not only saves us (2:11) but it also informs the way we live (2:12), providing hope and power as we await Christ’s return (2:13-14). In light of these realities, Paul urges Titus to insist on gospel-formed conduct in his teaching (2:15).
The final section (3:1-1) begins by focusing on how godly people are to interact with ungodly authorities (3:1-2). That is not always an easy task, but the gospel informs the Christian’s understanding of human sinfulness and how Christ can completely change his life (3:3-8). Believers understand the power of depravity because they lived it before their conversion (3:3). But Christ’s salvation brings transforming grace (3:4-7) that produces faith and godly living (3:8). The last sort of outsiders Paul discusses are the schismatic false teachers in the churches. Those who persistently resist apostolic teaching must be excluded from the churches and not allowed to further their heresies (3:9-11).
The letter concludes with instructions about transitions and travel plans (3:12-14). Titus is to do as much as he can before leaving Crete to rejoin Paul before winter (3:12). Meanwhile, he instructs Titus to have the churches underwrite the ministry travel of Zenos and Apollos who may have delivered the epistle to him (3:13-14). Finally, Paul passes on greetings to Titus and the churches from the believers in Paul’s vicinity, maintain the bonds of love across the miles (3:15).