THE LETTER TO TITUS
Good Order in the Church
(This may be an actual letter from Paul, as it appears, or a redaction of
Paul's writings arranged as if Paul had written to Crete -- much as modern
preachers and authors will use Biblical material to create a letter to
modern churches. There is literary evidence for both views.)
The first verses of the letter bring greetings from
Paul to Titus and set the tone of the whole work.
The unusual feature of this salutation is
the long theological statement (verses 2-3)
inserted between the identification of Paul as the sender
and the naming of Titus as the addressee.
In these verses, we are given an outline of the themes which will be
visited in the rest of the letter:
Oddly, though, there is nothing here to prepare us for
this letter's emphasis on living a life beyond criticism.
- servanthood (see 1:5, 3:1, 3:8, 3:14)
- teaching truth (1:9, 2:15)
- God's promise (2:11ff, 3:7)
- common faith (1:15, 3:10).
1:5-16 Good order in the church
Titus had been given the task of bringing some order to the
church in Crete. This implies that a basic level of evangelization
had been completed and that groups of Christians were scattered across
the region. (We have no record of this mission work. Paul's only
recorded visit to Crete, in Acts 27, occurred while under arrest and
on his way to Rome and martyrdom. This is one argument for the
The central task is identified to be the appointment of leaders
for the church. The leader should have good character and be a
disciplined person as well as being well grounded in Christian
teaching. These attributes are needed to provide strong moral
Strong leadership is essential because the church is
being confused and divided by erroneous teaching. These errors seem to
come from people who have not given up material desires or comfortable
traditions for Christ's truth.
The question about Cretans seems rather harsh, especially from a
non-native. Perhaps the situation was so terrible that such a tone
was appropriate, or perhaps the saying had become proverbial and carried
connotations we no longer recognize. (The "prophet" has been identified
as Epimenides of Knosses, a poet of the 6th century BCE.)
Purity is a matter of the inner person, not specific
actions. This has always been Paul's message. But if what a person
does shows disobedience to God, that person is disqualified from service.
Ch. 2-3 Good teaching
Good order for the church implies correct teaching. (See 2:9.)
Given the situation in Crete, it seems that an emphasis on actions is necessary.
It is rare for Paul to give such prominence to works and behavior,
although he often mentions these topics.
The following advice may have been prompted by legitimate criticism
of some Christians by other Cretans.
All of the people should lead lives which are beyond any
criticism. A number of specific admonitions are suggested for
different groups, but the recurring theme is to use good sense so that
others will view Christians as good people.
The underlying reason for such an attitude is not a desire
for wordly approval, but just te opposite: Since God has given us a
new and better hope, we have no need for lording it over others or
trying to create some kind of personal justice for ourselves. Christians
are able to forego short-term gains in the certainty of long-term rewards.
Titus should teach this point of view forcefully and confidently.
A sermon outline
These verses outline the message in a form
that could be used as the basis for a sermon:
Be good citizens and neigbors.
After all, we were mistaken ourselves and have
no right to be judgemental.
God's love appeared and washed us clean; it was not anything we did.
It may be that part of this (especially verses 4-7)
is an extract or paraphrase of a hymn or liturgy.
Paul is fond of taking such summaries of faith
and including them in his letters,
and the separate affirmation of it in verse 8
suggests an origin outside of the composition of this letter.
Advice for the preacher
The teaching outlined is something to be believed. Giving
emphasis to these matters will give rise to efforts which are good and
fitting, which help people. On the other hand, getting involved in
worthless arguments does no good to anyone. Titus is advised to offer
an opening to those who cause division, but by no means to let them
draw him into their fights.
3:12-15 Parting Words
The letter ends with some instructions about the travels of
the itinerant missionaries. Interestingly, it seems that Titus was being
recalled for consultation and, perhaps, a new assignment; this may tell
us about the custom of the early church -- especially if we take this
letter as a later redaction of Paul's words. (Note that Paul could not
have been under arrest at this time.)
These missionary travels provide a good opportunity
to put this letter's advice into action.
The writer and those with him send a benediction
to be shared with the faithful.