Paul writes both as a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, so that in the epistle considerate care is mingled with firm authority. His basis of writing is, first, the faith of God's elect; that is, the whole range of the Christian revelation, that which is the common property of those elect of God, and which attaches them both to God and to one another. The individual (Titus) cannot be separated from this. And secondly, "the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness." The truth is certainly of vital importance, the basis of all that is good and profitable. Yet if truth is rightly held, it will unfailingly issue in godliness, and as we have before seen, it is this precious balance of truth and godliness that this book presses upon us: one must not be separated from the other. If one claims any knowledge of the truth, let him evidence it in a godly walk and character.
This also however involves a prospect of greatest magnitude, that of eternal life, life in its fullest, perfected form, which cannot be touched by those things that corrupt this present life. This does not in any way deny that the believer now possesses eternal life as a vital, living reality in his soul but in the future he will enter into those outward circumstances also that are vibrant with the same life; there will be nothing around him then that is subject to death and decay. There is no shadow of doubt about this, for God, who cannot lie, promised it before the ages of time. This expression has been thought to refer to a promise before man existed, of which there appears to be no other record. However, since the ages of time properly began after man had sinned, and God began His work of dealing with him in various ways through the ages, is it not possible that the promise refers to that promise of life implied in the Seed of the woman bruising the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15). This was certainly the introduction of Him who is Himself "that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested to us."
The manifestation of that eternal life is now only seen in the Word of God, and this manifestation "in due time" is of course the full truth of Christianity, preached publicly, and specially entrusted to Paul. "The commandment of our Savior God" had decided this, and not any special ability or energy on Paul's part. Note in Titus that God is seen in this character of Savior, just as Christ is, for of course both are One. He is Savior in every respect, whether from our sins, whether from present dangers and temptations, or whether in the future deliverance of His saints from this present evil world.
Titus is called Paul's "own child after the common faith," having been converted through Paul, and is wished grace, the favor of God that lifts one above all circumstances; mercy, God's compassion in the midst of circumstances; and peace, the tranquility of soul with which to pass through circumstances.
Verse 5 shows that Titus had been left in Crete by Paul, with the purpose in mind of establishing in an orderly way the assemblies there. There was evident need of this in the infant state of things existing, especially so since the New Testament was not in their hands. Paul had given commission to Titus to appoint elders in each city. Apostles were entitled to do this, and it may be that Timothy also was given this responsibility (1 Timothy 3:1-7), though this is not directly stated. There is in Scripture however no provision made for the continuance of such appointments, and we are shut up to considering this only as a means of establishing the church in its prime state. Of course, even though now there is no authority for appointing elders, yet men who have such qualifications as seen here and in 1 Timothy should be recognized by the saints for their wisdom and experience, so that order may easily be maintained without official appointment.
Verses 5 and 7 apply differing terms to the same person - elder and bishop (or overseer), the first speaking of him personally, the second of his work. As an elder he is one who has had experience, an important qualification, as 1 Timothy 3:6 insists, "not a novice," one new in the ranks of Christianity. His work of overseeing is that of caring for the spiritual order and welfare of the assembly.
For this he must be "blameless," having a character that cannot be called in question. In family life he must be basically reliable. Many had at that time, before conversion, married two or more wives. This disqualified them for such work, for it ignored God's basic order in creation, and if one is to help in maintaining order, he must be a proper example of order in his own life and in family life: his children were to evidence subjection to order.
For an overseer is the steward of God, entrusted with giving a true representation of God's order. And the negatives of verse 7 are important, just as are the positives of verse 8. Selfwill is the strong intention of having one's own way, a most destructive element in the assembly of God. Nor must an elder be one who is soon angry, apt to lose his temper: for this is sin. He is not to indulge in wine, nor to be a striker, that is, striking back against what he considers injustice. Nor is he to have such a character as seeks earthly gain by questionable means. Note in all of these things the necessity of his controlling himself, his desires, his temper, his appetite, his resentment against wrongs, his selfishness. In other words, if he is to keep the assembly in control for God, he must certainly know how to control himself.
The seven positives of verse 8 are precious. An hospitable entertainment of others is essential in caring for their welfare. A lover of goodness will so occupy himself with good that he will have little time for evil, even in fighting against it. To be sober is to use wise discretion in discernment and action. And "just" is added to this, a righteous, fair character in dealing with others. "Holy" is the character of separation to God, hating evil and loving good. "Temperate" is necessary too, the avoiding of extremes by a well-balanced moderation. And to crown all of this, an elder must be firm in holding to the pure Word of God, according to the doctrine, not according to his experience. For though experience is important, it must always give place to sound doctrine. It is only this that can be trusted in any way to meet the real need of souls, either to encourage those who need this, or to refute the gainsayers, those who tend to dispute against what is sound and dependable. Every elder should have some measure of ability in these things, by a good working knowledge of the Scriptures, and wisdom to use his knowledge rightly.
Even in that day there were many mere "talkers," not subject themselves, and empty in regard to what they had to say, yet deceiving others. This was specially true of those of the circumcision, those zealous for the mere formal religion of Judaism. Their number is multiplied today, though not by any means confined to those professing Judaism. Yet it is of the same mold, that which would reduce Christianity to an earthly level, with legal regulations and forms. These of course were not in the assembly, but ever active in attacking the truth held by the assembly, and seeking to deceive souls. Elders therefore were to be always on guard.
The means of stopping the mouths of such men was of course by the sound doctrine of the Word of God. This would preserve any honest souls from their deceptions. For whole houses were too frequently subverted by this undermining subterfuge, as is true today. Their motive is here exposed too, that of seeking money for themselves, a much too prominent feature of a great deal that passes for Christianity.
Paul quotes a Cretan prophet as indicating what was true characteristically of the people of Crete, a condition so prevalent that it could have too much influence even over those who were saved. "Liars, evil wild beasts, lazy gluttons" may dominate much of society, but the Christian is not to be like them, and sharp rebuke was necessary in order to awaken souls out of such things, and establish them soundly in the faith.
Jewish fables were to be thoroughly avoided. Those who had been given the pure truth of the Old Testament were not satisfied with truth, but added fables and commandments of men that actually turned souls from the truth. Of course, these things were so framed as to present a plausible, specious appeal, but merely appealing to the flesh. Strip them of their religious veneer, and their fleshly vanity is exposed.
But there is a reality worth clinging to. To the pure all things are pure: everything in creation has a proper place and function. To be pure is to be unmixed as regards motives and character, and therefore to regard things in their proper perspective, in uncorrupted simplicity. But those who have no faith are defiled or adulterated by sin's corruption, and consider nothing to be pure. Even their minds and consciences are defiled. Witness the present-day callous disregard for the sanctity of the marriage bond, the revolting abuse known as homosexuality, the prevalence of lies and hypocrisy; and all this mixed with a measure of religiousness! Their minds no doubt are active, but adroit enough to so rationalize as to twist truth totally out of its perspective; and knowledge becomes a deadly weapon rather than a help to a noble end. And conscience, though it cannot help but speak, becomes so defiled as to be ignored. How much better is "a pure conscience," one not adulterated by the strong desires of the flesh.
The claim of such people that they know God is plainly refuted by the evil of their works. For it is manifest that God's works are completely contrary to theirs, His being unadulterated, true, and fruitful; but they in their works abominable, sunk to a depth comparable to lowest idol worship (for it is idols of which God speaks as "abominations"); and disobedient, having no concern whatever for subjection to their Creator; and as regards every good work, reprobate, or worthless. When one trifles with the things of God, being not honestly in heart turned to the Lord Himself, how low he may sink without realizing the horror of such a condition!