Identifying Elders

Posted: February 2, 2009 in Titus

Titus 1:5-16, “Identifying Elders”

Last week, we only just barely begun Paul’s epistle to Titus – he started off with an incredibly deep greeting covering virtually every aspect of our salvation: how God loved us before time began – gave the promise & prophecy of salvation through Christ – manifested it during His incarnation – proclaimed it through it’s preaching – and grants grace, mercy, peace & the confident hope of eternal life to all who trust Jesus Christ as Savior & Lord. Glorious!

This week, Paul gets straight to business & to the core reason why he wrote the letter. The church in Crete had been established, but they were leaderless & so there was much work to be done. So what was Titus to look for in leaders? Knowing that God calls and equips men for the work of the ministry, how was Titus to identify these people? Especially in a land that was predominantly known for its UNgodliness. That’s what Paul instructs Titus in the rest of Ch 1. It’s not a matter of seeking skill; it’s a matter of searching character.

Titus 1:5-16 (NKJV)
5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—
— The reason for the letter. Order & elders:

A. “set in order”: Apparently, there were many things that were lacking – not just qualified church leadership. The primary thing seems to have been holiness in their living. Throughout the rest of the letter, Paul reminds Titus how the church was to deny ungodliness & worldly lusts (2:12) – to be subject to rulers & authorities (3:1) – to maintain good works (3:8) & more. To have a church that is living like the world is to have a church out of order – and part of Titus’ responsibility as an apostolic emissary was to correct this.

B. “Appoint elders”: Among these other issues was the obvious issue of leadership. We don’t know exactly how the churches in Crete were founded – but obviously, they were comprised mainly of new believers, and didn’t know what to look for in elders or local pastors. Titus had a similar job as Timothy in Ephesus to find/raise up qualified men & ordain them to leadership…which is the bulk of what we’re looking at today.

– Biblical elders…very similar to the teaching found in 1 Tim 3.
6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.
— Family life of elders…

A. “blameless”: Not perfect; blameless…important distinction! Someone who is blameless has a known character & accusations of sin don’t “stick” to them. They live above reproach.

B. “husband of one wife”: As with 1 Tim 3, the literal wording here is “one woman man” & the intent is debated thoroughly. Some think Paul is referring to a husband of one living woman (subsequent marriages after death being allowed) – others believe Paul’s intent is broader, that divorce & remarriage for elders/bishops is allowed for biblical reasons, and that he’s simply referring to someone who doesn’t chase women, or have multiple concubines (which were common in the culture).

C. “having faithful children”: This goes a step further than 1 Tim 3, where Paul concentrated on biblical discipline in the home. Here, the children’s character is an indication of the qualification of the elder himself. Why does it matter? An elder’s 1st ministry is like anyone else’s 1st ministry…it’s to his own family. If his children are completely out-of-control, then his 1st responsibility is to tend to the needs of his own family.

7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,

A. What a bishop/elder (somewhat interchangeable in Titus) is NOT. In being “blameless” (same word), the bishop is a “steward of God” (in that he cares for God’s possession – the Church) & thus there are several things he should not be.

B. “not self willed”: Could be translated “arrogant” – the thought is that the self-willed person would place themselves above all others, berating people until he could get his own way. Obviously doesn’t fit with the qualifications of an elder, as a mature Christian demonstrates love by not seeking his own (1 Cor 13:5)

C. “not quick-tempered”: Not that an elder never gets angry (there is a time & place for righteous anger!) – but an elder shouldn’t be prone to anger. His overall demeanor should reflect the love & kindness of Christ; not always looking like a volcano ready to blow.

D. “not given to wine”: The general idea is drunkenness, but the word itself is a compound of “beside + wine” – one who sits a long time with the wine bottle. Among the congregation, the use of alcohol is often debated. Among elders & overseers, the Scripture is very clear.

E. “not violent”: Could be translated “bully”…speaking of someone who’s prone to violence & physical abuse.

F. “not greedy for money”: The person who enters the pastorate for money is (1) deluded :), and (2) harmful to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s good & biblical to compensate elders/overseers for their work & time (a laborer is worthy of his wage – 1 Tim 5:8), but it’s not good for an elder to have an undue focus on money (whether through the church or other side pursuits). No one can serve 2 masters (Matt 6:24), and that’s just as true for bishops as anyone else.

8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled,
— What an elder IS…mostly self-explanatory.

A. “Hospitable”: Extremely important in the culture, both for Jews & Greeks. It’s only logical that an elder would be gracious to guests & strangers – after all, you can’t share the gospel with people when you’re always avoiding them.

B. “Lover of what’s good”: KJV has “good men”, but there’s no reason in Greek to restrict it to people. Whatever is good & God-honoring should be something that an overseer could rejoice in.

C. “Sober-minded”: moderate or temperate in actions.

D. “Just”: righteous in actions & deed.

E. “Holy”: This isn’t the normal Greek word which refers to being “set apart” – this refers more to someone’s personal piety. It’d be illogical to have a teacher about God who never worshipped God.

F. “Self-Controlled”: Someone who can restrain himself…this is part of the outworking of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).

9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.
— What an elder DOES…

A. Holds “fast to the word” according to what “he has been taught”: In 1 Tim 3:6, Paul warned Timothy not to appoint a “novice/neophyte” to the office of a bishop, in order to avoid the trap of pride. Right here is another reason. The bishop/elder needs to know the Scriptures well enough to hold fast to them & not be tossed to/fro with every wind of doctrine that blows through. The Godly elder stands firm on the word of God & does not budge, despite the pressure to do so.
__a. It seems that every few years, there’s another “new threat” to Christianity that makes the headlines. Lately, we’ve had the “DaVinci Code” followed by the “Gospel of Judas” followed by the potential “tomb of Jesus” (all of which either turned out to be fake or without foundation). What the church doesn’t need are pastors who are going to panic with each new headline that runs on CNN. We’re to simply hold fast to the Scripture – because it’s faithful – because it’s the word of God.

B. Uses sound doctrine in exhortation: As pastors/elders come alongside those in the local body, they are to use Scripture to console, comfort, and build up one another. The key is to use the truth of the Scripture (sound doctrine) – because that’s where the power of God lies. …

C. Uses sound doctrine in conviction (even when someone contradicts the teaching): Conviction isn’t making someone feel bad; conviction is a loving rebuke used in a way to bring about repentance. The Bible isn’t a something to be thumping people over the head with in order to make them feel as guilty as possible… Guilt without godly sorrow is useless (and usually manipulative). Godly sorrow leads to repentance – so it follows that the conviction needs to be brought about in a godly manner…that’s where sound doctrine comes in. When the word of God is clearly taught, the word of God is what brings conviction – that’s part of how God designed it to work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (16) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, (17) that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

– False teachers/elders…
10 For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain.

A. False teachers are “insubordinate”…how so? They reject the authority of the Scriptures. The context here isn’t speaking of someone who is merely mistaken on a non-essential doctrine – it’s of the person who deliberately contradicts (vs. 9) the truth. Described in three ways:
__a. “idle talkers”: having nothing of value to say; they just want to hear themselves speak.
__b. “deceivers”: what they do say is untrue & purposefully misleading.
__c. Legalistic: In Paul’s experience, he was dealing with Judaizers – “of the circumcision.” Granted, false teaching doesn’t always lead to legalism, but it often does. Usually the 1st thing deceivers try to add to the gospel of grace is a bunch of rules.

B. What ought to be done about false teachers? Stop their mouths…literally, “muzzle” them. Why? They “subvert whole households” through their false doctrine – they undermine the faith of weak believers & thus needed to be silenced & exposed.
__a. Some people have a tough time with this idea. ‘Why not just let them speak? Who are we to tell someone to be quiet?’ Even our culture has rules on what can & can’t be said – it’s illegal to yell out “Fire!” in a crowded theater because it would induce panic. If we publish lies about someone else in a newspaper, we can be sued for libel. Why would God’s protection of the Church be less than society? By preventing false teachers from teaching, God is protecting His church against panic – and He’s preventing lies from being spread about His Son.

C. Their motive? Greed. There’s a book to be sold & a dollar to be made. Yet another reason for qualified Godly elders not to be “greedy for money” – if they are, their doctrine can be bought out by the highest bidder.

12 One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”

A. Original source: Epimenides – Cretan poet from 6th century BC. Crete obviously had a bad reputation…even among Cretans! Scholars note that to even be called a Cretan in ancient Rome/Greece meant that you were being called a liar…the terms were synonymous. Basically, Paul’s saying that the false teachers in Crete were acting like Cretans – and that was the opposite of what the Church was to be known for.

B. BTW – when Paul called Epimenides a “prophet,” was he putting Epimenides on the level of a Godly prophet like Elijah? No. Epi was a “prophet of their own” – IOW, they saw him as a prophet & Paul was simply acknowledging that fact.

13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth.

A. What did some of the false teaching include? “Jewish fables & commandments of men…” Most likely, these were some of the same fables that Paul addressed with Timothy in 1 Tim 1:4 – extra-biblical stories and legends that only served to cause division. The extra commandments would have been a reference to the Judaizing teaching – probably on dietary laws considering vs. 15.

B. So how was Titus to go about stopping their mouths? Through a sharp or severe rebuke. Like a verbal slap in the face, Titus was to make it beyond doubt that what was being taught was absolutely untrue & that their motives for teaching it was absolutely ungodly. Most likely, this would include a public response to ensure that the false teaching couldn’t continue further.
__a. Sometimes the most loving response is a sharp rebuke, though we don’t often think about it in those terms. [Olivia running in parking lot] The mode of correction needs to fit the level of error. If someone just has a mistaken interpretation of doctrine, then surely Titus would address it gently (exhortation – vs. 9). But when someone is purposefully misleading the flock of God away from the Scriptures, the rebuke needs to be appropriately sharp.
__b. Was this some kind of power trip for Titus & the other leadership? No! The idea isn’t to ‘put someone down’ – it’s to bring correction so that they would know the truth. The goal of church discipline is always restoration… …

– Correcting their false teaching…
15 To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.

A. ‘ALL things? Even sin?’ No…keep the context in mind. Paul’s specifically referring to the Judaizer’s imposition of the Jewish law on the Gentile believers (diet, clothing, etc…) What someone ate or wore had no bearing on whether or not that person was truly pure. In the Old Covenant, these practices were pictures to point the Jews to the purity of their hearts. Reminiscent of what Jesus taught about the same issue: Matthew 15:17-20 (17) Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? (18) But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. (19) For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. (20) These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” []

B. So why are the pure, pure? Because of Christ Jesus! Those who trust Christ for the forgiveness of sin have been washed clean by His word & the Spirit – though once our sins made us red as scarlet, now we are as white as wool (Isa 1:18)…all because of the work of Christ. Likewise, those who are not in Christ are “defiled” because they are still in their sin. This isn’t a character judgment; it’s a statement of fact. Because they are outside the blood and righteousness of Christ, they are inherently tainted by sin as a result of the Fall.

16 They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.

A. One way to tell a false teacher from a true teacher? Look at the fruit of their teaching (Matt 7:20). It doesn’t really matter what their statement of faith says about Jesus if their works make it plain they deny Him. Legalistic teachers deny the grace of God, which goes straight to the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ & thus they are disqualified from ministry.

B. This isn’t just true of false teachers; it’s also true of false converts… [] To those who would claim the name of Christ for themselves, but live a life that is completely inconsistent with Who Jesus is & what He told us to do, the NT would tell you to examine yourself & see if you’re in the faith (2 Cor 13:5). The last thing you want to do is deny Jesus your whole life, face Him on Judgment Day & have Him deny you.

Basically, Paul’s been telling Titus: Son, you need some elders. Here are some good examples & here are some bad examples…go get the good ones! The problem with much of what passes for modern Christianity is that they’ve passed up on many good ones, because they want the flash of the bad ones… Instead of looking at the fruit of their teaching – instead of looking at Biblical qualifications, many people fall into the mindset of: “Look how dynamic he is – he’s anointed! He must have the Holy Spirit on him!”

God would protect us from these false teachers…which is why He’s laid out so clear in the Bible what qualifications He’s equipped in those that He’s called. What is it that we expect from those in church leadership? Perfection? Obviously not. Sincerity (lived out at home)… Godliness (demonstrated in character)… Truth (in doctrine & the faith)…

What is it we expect from ourselves? Hopefully not less. 🙂 The qualifications for an elder are simply marks of a mature Christian. These are all things we can strive for – no matter what our ministry or vocation within the body of Christ is.

What if you’re not a Christian at all? Then your starting point in vs. 15. Whether or not you realize (or agree with) it, without Christ we are all tainted by sin. God created you in order that you would give Him glory, but because of the sin you inherited, you (like everyone else) rebelled against God. We did not recognize Him as God – we worshipped items of our own choosing – we set ourselves as 1st in our own lives, without regard to God or others – we’ve lied, lusted, stolen, hated others, dishonored our parents in myriads of ways. If God were to give us what we absolutely deserved, it would be eternal damnation… But God is not only just; He’s loving & merciful. He sent His only Son to die in your (and my) place on the cross taking the punishment that we deserved upon Himself & in Jesus’ resurrection, offers us forgiveness & new life… Don’t wait to respond to that offer – repent from your sin & trust Christ today…


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