Apparently Paul and Titus had been together in a ministry on the island of Crete (see Titus 1:5). I do not know how long they had been there. As we go through the epistle we will learn something about the people who lived on this island—Paul didn’t think too much of them, by the way. Paul evidently left to go to another place and then wrote this epistle to Titus, giving him instructions about what he was to do as a young preacher while remaining in Crete. The date he wrote it was around A.D. 64–67.
The fact that Paul’s and Titus’ ministry on Crete is not mentioned in Acts reveals that the Book of Acts does not contain all the record of the early church. Actually, it is a very small record, and only the ministries of two of the apostles are emphasized: Peter in the first part of the book and Paul in the second part. We do not have a complete record of even these two men’s ministries.
In the two epistles to the Thessalonians Paul’s great emphasis is on the coming of Christ—it is a bright and beautiful hope for him. Critics of Paul will point out that this was his position early in his ministry but that later on he did not emphasize it. However, Titus was written about the same time as 1 Timothy, right at the end of the ministry of the apostle Paul. In Titus 2:13 Paul writes: “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” My friend, Paul had not lost the blessed hope of the church. I think it was shining bright and will shine even brighter “… until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts” (2 Pet. 1:19).
Timothy and Titus were two young preachers whom Paul had the privilege of leading to the Lord. Paul calls both of them his sons, his genuine sons; that is, he led both of them to a saving knowledge of Christ.
Paul wrote letters to both of these brethren; we have two epistles to Timothy and one epistle to Titus. These letters are called Pastoral Epistles because in them Paul gives instruction to these young preachers concerning the local church. These letters also prove very profitable to us today. We have so much other instruction relative to the local church—I suppose we could fill a whole library with the books that have been written on how to run the local church. In Scripture we have only these three epistles, and they are very brief; yet they do give us the essential modus operandi for the church. What they do impress upon us is that if there is a lack or a need in a church, it isn’t a problem with the organization or with the system that is being used. Rather, if there is a need in a church, it is a spiritual need.
Frankly, we know very little about either of these young preachers, Timothy and Titus. Titus, however, seems to have been a stronger man, both physically and spiritually. Paul expressed less concern for Titus’ welfare than he did for Timothy’s. Titus was probably more mature, and he possessed a virile personality.
Timothy was a Jew who was circumcised by Paul, but Titus was a Gentile, and Paul refused to circumcise him. We read in Galatians that Paul took Titus with him to Jerusalem, and since he was a Gentile, Paul would not permit him to be circumcised (see Gal. 2:1–3). But when he took Timothy with him, Paul had him circumcised (see Acts 16:1–3). Paul circumcised one young preacher and refused to circumcise the other. If you must draw a rule from that, it can only be this: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature” (Gal. 6:15).
Paul said that he wanted to be all things to all men that he might win some to Christ—to the Jew he wanted to be a Jew, and to the Gentile he wanted to be as a Gentile. He had Timothy circumcised because they were going to go into the synagogues. But in that great council of the church in Jerusalem, the gospel was at stake, and Paul would not permit one bit of legalism to slip in (see Acts 15); therefore he refused to let Titus be circumcised.
It is a dangerous thing to put down a series of little rules that are nothing in the world but a ritual whereby you attempt to live the Christian life. My friend, unless you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ all else comes absolutely to nought.
In this epistle to Titus we have a fine picture of the New Testament church in its full–orbed realization in the community as an organization. I hear many folk today who say they are members of “a New Testament church.” I would like to ask them if they have had anybody drop dead in their church recently. I am sure that they would exclaim that they had not had that experience! Well, in the early church, the New Testament church, we read of Ananias and Sapphira who dropped dead in the church because they had lied to the Holy Spirit (see Acts 5). I think that if this principle were operating in our churches today, the average church would need to be turned into a hospital or even a mortuary!
The ideal church, according to this epistle, (1) has an orderly organization, (2) is sound in doctrine, and (3) is pure in life, ready to every good work. This is the picture of the New Testament church that this epistle to Titus presents to us. In Timothy the emphasis was upon the need for sound teaching in the church. In Titus the emphasis is put upon the importance of God’s order for the conduct of the churches. In fact, Titus 1:5 is the key to the entire epistle: “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.” Titus was to set things in order in the churches in Crete.
In chapter 1 Paul says that the church is to be an orderly organization (see Titus 1:5). In chapter 2 he emphasizes that the church is to teach and preach the Word of God: “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). He says that the church must be doctrinally sound in the faith. And then in chapter 3 we see that the church is to perform good works: “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work” (Titus 3:1). In other words, the church is saved by grace, is to live by grace, and is to demonstrate her faith to the world by her good works.
I would say that it would be very difficult today to find a church that is using all three of these prongs, that is stressing all three of these tremendous emphases. Some will emphasize one, while others emphasize another. Let’s look at each one a little more closely:
First of all, the church is to be an orderly church. Everything, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, should be done decently and in order (see 1 Cor. 14:40). Sometimes you don’t find much order in a church, and often the reason is that there are a few officers who are trying to run the whole thing. Such a church is in real trouble and is a heartbreak to its pastor. The church is to be an orderly church, not run by a couple of deacons.
Secondly, in many churches you will find that there is no emphasis at all upon sound doctrine. Because of this, I always stress to young pastors that they should not focus on building a church or building an empire of any kind. I tell them just to teach and give out the Word of God. Rather than build an organization—that is, a lot of buildings—they should build into the lives of men and women. Whatever organization they have built on a church may be wrecked by others later on after they have left. That will be a real heartbreak to a pastor unless he has before him the goal of building into the lives of men and women. That should be the emphasis in any church.
Finally, a church should be ready for every good work. Sometimes we fundamentalists put such a great emphasis on doctrine (although I don’t think we overemphasize it) that we do underemphasize good works. A church should be engaged in good works. Many Christian organizations are so concerned with getting in the finances to carry on their program that they become more interested in getting people to give than in helping those people. A lot of folk need help—not just spiritual help but also physical help. We need to do things for people, to help then with their physical needs.
I am happy that I can say there are many churches which are carrying on a work of helping people. I know of one church which has people who go out and visit shut–ins; they read to them, sew for them, and do many other helpful chores. That’s a lovely thing to do. Our government is able to provide some care for the poor and needy, and that is wonderful, but we can go and sit down and talk with lonely people like this, which is a much–needed ministry today.
This is only a brief resume of this epistle to Titus. Liberalism has attempted to emphasize the third chapter which deals with good works, forgetting the two chapters on order and doctrine which precede it. Until a church has all three of these aspects that Paul has outlined, it has no claim to be called “a New Testament church.”
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 50: 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus & Philemon. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)