Titus 3:3-4: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
In the third and final pastoral epistle, Paul writes a short letter to his good friend, Titus. Like Timothy, Titus has a long history with Paul, going back as far as the council on Gentiles in Jerusalem, and has worked with Paul as a close companion. He stuck with Paul, even in his more difficult times, and Paul has come to have a lot of trust in him. The letter was written sometime after Paul was released from his first stay in Roman prison and appears to be back in the region of Macedonia doing more mission work. He has sent Titus to the island of Crete, to work with a small church (or series of churches) who worship there on that island, but as soon as Artemas or Tychicus comes to relieve him, Paul wants him to come to where he is in Nicopolis to spend the winter there (3:12-13).
Titus has similar themes to First and Second Timothy, but you will notice there is an absence of encouragement to fight for the faith. As we talked about before, Timothy likely had a sensitive disposition that made confronting people very difficult. Paul doesn’t seem to have that same concern for Titus. As with Timothy, Paul admonishes Titus to set up elders in the churches in Crete, and to teach people according to their various distinctions how to live a life of godliness and holiness. Apparently, Crete had the reputation of being a rough place, so it was not an easy place to do gospel work, and the people needed encouragement in spreading their faith. But one will not find new themes here in Titus. Paul speaks in his same steady manner.
The letter can be split up in three different parts, following the chapter assignments that have been given to it. Chapter one primarily deals with the subject of appointing elders. The list of qualifications is very similar in Titus as it was for Timothy, which should not come as a surprise to us. Character is the number one issue when it comes to being an elder, followed closely by an adherence to sound doctrine and the ability to teach and protect the flock from false teachers. One might wish that this was an unnecessary task, but Paul tells Titus that there are “many rebellious people” who are full of all kinds of meaningless talk and various forms of deception. Why this is, I don’t know, but it seems to be one of Satan’s favorite means of attacking the church. If he can pull people away by false teaching, he wins a battle that no force outside of the church could accomplish. Because of the reputation of Cretans, this may be a bigger problem than in other places. Apparently, legalistic Judaism had also traveled to this island and was a problem for these churches as it was in so many other places in Asia and Europe. One never gets to rest in gospel work.
Chapter two focuses on the various kinds of people that Titus will address in Crete, and how the gospel applies to them. Older men are to be taught to be temperate, self-controlled, and worthy of respect. They are to be sound in faith and love. Likewise, older women are to be reverent, avoid slander, and also refrain from becoming addicted to wine. Perhaps there was something specific going on in Crete that would occasion such a statement. No doubt in most cases this would be relevant to both men and women. The older women are to help teach the younger women, just as the older men are to teach the younger men. The generations are to live and work together as they learn godliness from Titus and others.
The young men are to be characterized by self-control. Titus himself is to set an example for them by living with integrity and seriousness, especially in his teaching. Even slaves are addressed in this section, with Paul asking them to be at peace with their masters, as far as it depends on them, so that the way of the gospel might not gain a bad reputation.
Why are all of these things important? Because the grace of God has now appeared in these last days, that offers salvation to all kinds of people. It teaches people to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions, but to live self-controlled and upright lives in this present age.
Finally, in chapter 3, Paul finishes with various pieces of teaching. The people are to be subject to their rulers and be ready to do good in every situation. They are to avoid foolish controversies and arguments about the interpretations of the law. Divisive people are to be warned once, according to Paul, and if they will not listen, they are to be put out of the assembly. Paul reminds Titus that at one time all of them, including Paul himself, used to live foolish and disobedient lives. But when God’s kindness appeared, he saved them by the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they are now obligated to live different kinds of lives. Titus is to lead them in all these things, and to be an example of sound faith and godly character.
The three pastoral epistles do not receive as much attention as other letters from Paul, but there are important insights and careful instruction, especially for ministers and elders and those who have positions of leadership within the church. It is a serious thing we have been called to, and Paul wants Timothy and Titus to know how serious it is. But they are never to take themselves too seriously. They are sinful men like all the rest. All the more reason to be diligent about their life and doctrine. By doing so, they will not only save themselves, but also those who regularly listen to them.