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–

We do not read of Paul visiting Crete in any of his journeys recorded in the book of Acts.  This may be because others had already been sent to preach the gospel there.  God’s policy for Paul seems to have been not to send him to places where other men had already preached the gospel.  We know from Acts 2:11 that Cretan Jews were among those who heard the word of God and believed in the Lord Jesus as their Messiah on the day of Pentecost.  Perhaps God had already sent these men to preach the gospel in Crete, and so for Paul to journey there was not necessary.

Yet it seems after his release from his two years of imprisonment in Rome recorded for us in Acts 28:30-31, Paul must have journeyed to Crete to minister to the believers there.  It seems that when he left Crete, he left Titus behind.  He states his reason for doing so here.  Titus would have already known the reason, yet Paul is repeating it here in writing so that it is permanently recorded.  Titus was to set in order or amend the things that are lacking.  What exactly these things were it is hard to say.  At any rate, we know that Titus was a trusted trouble-shooter of sorts, and so he had been given this task by Paul.  And a significant part of this task at least was to appoint elders in every city.

What were elders?  The Greek word is “presbuteros,” and is translated as “elder.”  The real idea behind the word is a representative.  This does not necessarily have to be an elder such as we think of when we speak of the elders or the elder board of a church.  Anyone who is set up as a representative of God and His people could be considered an elder.  For example, I have recently been helping lead a Bible study at a local prison as part of a ministry of my church.  Thus, to those prisoners in the Bible study, I am a representative of my church, even though I am not officially an “elder” on the elder board of the church.  My position as a representative of the church to those believers in prison is enough to qualify me as a “presbuteros” in the Greek sense of the word.

The same might be said of many other representatives.  For example, I receive some Bible literature from an organization in England.  However, when it comes time for me to renew my subscription, I do not send my money directly to England.  This would be a problem, as my checks would not be honored in that country.  What I do is I send my resubscription information and money to a representative of that organization in the United States.  That representative then takes care of the money I sent and getting my new subscription to the publishers in Europe.  Thus that person I send my money to is a representative of that organization in the United States.

In the same way, Titus was to set up representatives in all the cities.  These people would represent Paul as well as the Lord in their leadership of the people.  Yet it was necessary that such representatives be properly screened and chosen wisely.  Thus Paul gives instruction in the next verse as to what kind of person should hold such an important role.  These instructions, although originally meant for Titus, are very instructive to us today, and are a good model for us to use in choosing our own leaders in our churches and other organizations of believers.

6.  if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.

This first criterion for being an elder or representative, that a man be blameless, seems to be an impossible one to fill.  We reading Romans 3:10 that “There is none righteous, no, not one.”  How then could anyone be blameless?  The answer is found in the next two statements.  He is not talking about being blameless in anything and everything.  He is talking about being blameless in the two specific things he is about to mention.

The first of these things is that he be the husband of one wife.  Polygamy may have been allowed in some cultures at that time, yet it hardly seems to have been rampant.  The Greek phrase here would be more exactly translated as “a one-woman man.”  What exactly is a one-woman man?

Well, suppose a man has his oldest son by one woman over here, his oldest daughter by his ex-wife over there, and here in his home he is living with his second wife and has two children by her.  Is he a one-woman man?  Well, in order to see his oldest son and have any interactions with him, he has to go through one woman.  In order to see his oldest daughter and have interactions with her, he has to go through another woman.  And in order to stay with his two other children, he has to deal with his current wife and keep her happy.  Is he a one-woman man?  No, not at all!  He has to deal with three.  Now, I am not saying that he is having sex with all three.  Most likely he is not.  Nor is he married to all three.  He is only married to the third, being no longer married to the second and never having been married to the first.  Yet he is still not a one-woman man.  In order to have interaction with all his children, he cannot be.

God’s will for us today is that we be one-woman men (or one-man women.)  The way to do this is to refrain from sex before marriage, and after marriage to remain faithful to our partner and continue in our marriage for the rest of our mutual lives.  This is God’s ideal plan, and this is what we should strive for.  Moreover, this kind of man who has done this is the kind of man who should be set up as a representative or leader in our organizations of believers.

Now this does not mean that a man should throw off his previous responsibilities to try to become a one-woman man.  If it is too late to even think about that, as a man already is having to deal with multiple women, then he must continue to do so.  He is responsible for all his children no matter who their mother is, and thus he must fulfill his responsibilities to them come what may.  Yet for those who still have a choice, it is best for them to stay one-woman men.  For those who have already spoiled their chance at this, it is best for them to pick a woman and stay with her, and thus not compound the problem and take themselves even further from God’s will.

One who will be a representative needs to also have faithful children.  Society seems eager to tell us that parents do not bear the responsibility for the way their children behave.  “It takes a village” is the mentality.  Yet this is not how God views things.  A man is responsible for the behavior of his children.  This responsibility does not disappear when he breaks up with their mother.  It is the responsibility of men to see to it that their children are obedient and responsible people.  That is one reason why it is so important to be a one-woman man…so that you can be in a position to affect your children and bring them up this way.  Those chosen to be elders or representatives must have well-behaved children.  If not, then they could not be considered “blameless,” and should not be considered as a representative of God’s people.

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,

Now we come upon a new title, called here a “bishop.”  The Greek word is “episkopos.”  This word is made up of two Greek words, “skopos,” which means “one who looks,” and “epi,” which means “upon” or, in this case, “over,” (for that which is over something can also be upon it.)  Thus an episkopos is basically someone who looks over or oversees the things of God.  Thus this word is often translated as “overseer.”  Thus this verse starts giving the criteria of an overseer.  However, I do not believe that this is a separate thing from the previous verses we have read.  Those who were chosen to be “elders” or representatives were also chosen to be overseers.  These criteria are for the same people as in the previous verses.

The Lord then states that a bishop or overseer must be blameless.  Again, we will read from the rest of the verse in what ways he must be blameless.  But this verse also explains why he must be blameless in these ways: because he is the steward of God.  The word “steward” here is the Greek word “oikonomos.”  Those who are familiar with dispensational teaching will recognize in this a word very similar to “oikonomia” or “dispensation” which we find so prominently in Ephesians.  For those of you who haven’t read a message in which I set forth the elements of this word before, it is basically the combination of two Greek words, “oikos” which means “house,” and “nomos” which means “law.”  A steward is one who has to do with God’s house laws.  We might say he is a house-ruler of God.

Now we see what being blameless means in the case of an overseer and house-ruler.  He must not be self-willed.  We can imagine that a self-willed person would not make a very good ruler, as he would be unable to listen to and consider properly the opinions of others.  He must also not be quick-tempered.  A leader who easily loses his temper will soon alienate many of those he attempts to oversee!  He must not be given to wine.  The Greek word here is “paroinos.”  It comes from “para,” which means “beside,” and “oinos,” which means “wine.”  An overseer should not be the type to always be found alongside wine.  It is easy to imagine why one who was given to alcohol would not make a good steward of the things of God!

Next we read that an overseer must not be violent.  Again we do not have to think too hard to figure out why one of God’s leaders should not be a violent person.  He also must not be greedy for money.  A greedy leader is likely to take bribes or be willing to be “bought off” from doing what is right.  Therefore, a good leader will not have this failing.

8.  but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled,

Now we read what a good overseer should be like.  He should be hospitable.  An unfriendly or aloof leader will not tend to draw people into the group and make them feel welcome.  He must be a lover of what is good.  All too many in our wicked world despise what is good and take great pleasure in things that are not good.  But the overseer should not be like this!  He who watches over the things of God should be one who loves what is good.

The steward of God should be sober-minded.  One who is never serious but is always making light of everything will not have what it takes to handle difficult situations and figure out difficult matters.  Thus a leader should be serious-minded when it comes to such important things.  This does not mean he has to be grave, have no sense of humor, or never have fun.  Some people get the idea that this is how godly people should be, but this is altogether wrong.  Yet there is a time to be humorous and a time to be serious, and a good leader will know how to be serious about a serious matter.

An overseer should be just.  There are few things worse than a leader who plays favorites with his people and thus treats some unfairly!  He should also be holy.  This does not mean “perfect,” as it has come to mean in English.  The Greek word “hagios” means “set apart.”  A steward of the things of God should be different from the common man of the world, set apart to God and the things of God.  And he should be self-controlled.  If he cannot even control himself, how will he know how to oversee others?  God desires all of us to be self-controlled, and this is a “fruit of the Spirit,” something that He Himself provides for us.  Yet out of all people, we should only choose leaders who are good at controlling themselves.

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.

Remember that men in Paul’s day had been taught the word of God by divine inspiration.  People today in many churches and denominations have been taught wrong things from the start.  They need to be brought to a knowledge of the truth and to let go of the error they have received.  Yet in that day, what had been taught by God’s apostles was what was correct, and those who were not holding fast to it were those who were in error.

Of course an overseer needs to be one who holds fast to the truth.  We always desire leaders who teach the truth as we understand it.  God goes on to explain why this is important.  A leader needs to hold fast to the truth so he can use sound doctrine (or teaching) to exhort the believers and convict those who contradict.  There are many like this today.  They are always ready to question and contradict any truth that anyone will bring forward.  To them, any truth that they have not heard before or that is not taught by one of their favorite teachers is something that they simply cannot accept.  No matter how much Biblical evidence one might present, they seem to be dead-set on opposing anything they do not like, and refuse to change their minds simply because they have taken a stand and will not back down from it.  Such people need to be convicted that their contrary spirit is not good.  Yet it is necessary that one know sound doctrine to oppose them, lest they lead others astray by their contradictions.  Thus knowledge of the faithful word is crucial to a leader.

10.  For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision,

God tells us that there were many rebellious people at that time.  They said things that weren’t true and deceived many people by them.  There are still many like this today!  That is why it is crucial that we have good leaders who love the truth.

The biggest group of this sort of people in Paul’s day were those “of the circumcision.”  The Lord had revealed the end of circumcision of the flesh in Colossians 2:11, where He said, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.”  And in Philippians 3:2-3, He speaks most strongly against them, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!  For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.”  Here those who practiced circumcision are called “mutilators,” so contrary is what they do to the will of God.

Paul had long been facing off with those who preached that the gospel of grace is not enough.  In Acts 15:1-2, we read that “Certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’  Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.”  Here we see that this was a long-standing battle among the believers.  Moreover, it was a crucial one, for these people were actually teaching that one had to be circumcised to be saved!

11.  whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain.

The Lord says that their mouths must be stopped.  In modern English we would probably say, “These people need to shut up!”  And then Paul explains why.  They were subverting whole households with their false teachings, just as those from Judea had tried to subvert the church in Antioch in Acts 15.  People were listening to them and believing that salvation by grace is not enough!  And the worst thing of all was that those who were teaching these things were not doing it because they thought this was the truth and thus loved the truth and wanted to teach it.  No, they were doing this because they would get dishonest gain from it!  They would insist that one must be circumcised, and then proclaim themselves qualified to do it.  To be circumcised, however, it seems one had to pay them a fee.  Thus they were making circumcision their livelihood!

In our day we do not have this battle with the circumcisers.  Their movement has pretty much died out.  However, there are still plenty of people who insist that grace is not enough for salvation, but rather there are some works, some rituals, that one has to do as well.  One of the biggest of these is baptism, although there are many others, such as confirmation or communion or speaking in tongues.  And the sad fact is that these are often set forth for the same reason that circumcision was set forth.  What better way to keep people who are less-than-enthusiastic about God in the church than to tell them that their children need to be baptized and/or confirmed in order to be saved?  They will see to it that they remain a member in good standing just so that their children will be able to receive these rites.  And, of course, part of remaining a member in good standing is giving your donations to the church.  Thus, rituals are used as a means of keeping people in the pews and filling the church’s coffers!  This is just as wrong today as it was in times past.  Our leaders, and we ourselves, need to hold fast to sound teaching, insisting that salvation is by grace through faith alone, and that rituals have nothing to do with it!  For we are complete in Him.  (Colossians 2:10)

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

The Lord quotes this Cretan man to remind Titus of what Cretans are like.  Notice that Paul calls this man a prophet.  However, he is not called a prophet of the Lord, nor do we have any reason to associate him with the Lord.  Rather, he is called a prophet of their own, and thus is spoken of as a prophet of theirs, not a prophet of the Lord’s.  This prophet is usually thought to be the philosopher Epimenides, who lived in the sixth century BC.

This prophet of theirs proclaimed that Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.  This seems to be harsh judgment, particularly from a prophet who was a citizen of the city himself.  Moreover, we might wonder if in the six centuries since this prophet spoke if the people of Crete would have changed any.  After all, in the more than five centuries since our country was first settled by Europeans, the character of people here has changed drastically!  But the Holy Spirit testifies that, at least in this case, what Epimenides spoke was true, and was still true at the time He was writing this.  This is the way Cretans were.

In our highly mobile day, things like this are not as common as they were then.  I know that the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis near which I live are often spoken of as having different characteristics.  I personally have ventured my opinion from time to time about the driving habits of people from each city.  It seems to me that Minneapolis drivers are more rude and less likely to be courteous to other drivers, but that St. Paul drivers as a whole know less what they are doing and are more likely to be “bad drivers” than those from Minneapolis.  By stating this, I am giving my opinion about the character, at least as far as driving habits are concerned, of people in these cities.  This is similar to what the Holy Spirit is telling us here…He’s telling us what people in these cities tended to be like.

But we need to understand that this character would probably have been far more universal and pronounced than any city character we have today.  Back in that time, travel was difficult.  Thus, each city tended to stay very much to itself.  We could almost say that cities in that day were little city-states, existing almost like their own little countries surrounded by wilderness.  Often cities would have their own accent, and it could be so pronounced that it could almost be that someone from that city couldn’t understand someone from another city even though they were speaking the same language!  Moreover, Crete was an island, and so was only accessible by ship.  As such, this aspect of being cut off from the world and being its own little unit would have been even more pronounced there than in other cities on the mainland.

A result of this was that cities in that day often had very much their own culture.  They were so cut off from the world and so much their own little unit that people there would develop cultural norms that were peculiar to them in that city and nowhere else.  The Greeks even had a word for this phenomenon.  It was “politeuma,” and basically means the character of people from a certain city.  The Bible uses this word in Philippians 3:20, where He says, “For our conversation (politeuma) is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  He tells us here that our city-culture should be the city-culture of heaven!  We should show forth the characteristics of one who lives in heaven with our Lord Jesus Christ.  This is hard to do, but it is something we should each strive for.

The Cretans did not have this sort of city-culture, however.  Their city-culture was to be liars, evil beasts, and slow bellies.

13.  This testimony is true.  Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith,

Although this quote was originally made by a prophet of the Cretans’, not of the Lord’s, He here affirms that what this prophet said was true.  These would seem to be harsh words to us if they merely came from Paul, but we know that they did not.  This was God’s opinion on the matter, and we know that He is the perfect judge, and His opinion was correct!  For this reason, Paul tells Titus that he needs to rebuke these Cretans sharply so that they may be sound in the faith.  Their laziness and tendency to lie would make them the perfect candidates to accept the idea that they could do works of righteousness such as circumcision to make themselves good in God’s eyes.  The hard work of trying to become like Christ would be something they might try to avoid.  Thus they needed to be rebuked sharply so that they would remain sound in the faith.

I wonder what sort of “politeuma” the Lord might say that we have here in the United States in our time?  What would He say of us?  Perhaps that we are lustful, greedy, and selfish!  Our culture is not what it used to be…not what it should be.

I have quite a collection of books from the turn of the century.  One particular author I enjoy is named Zane Grey.  He was probably not a Christian, but he set forth his view (and what probably would have been the common view of the day) on what it means to be civilized.  To him, civilized people were not just those who had great technology, as we do today.  Rather, it was also people who acted in a civilized way.  He told one story about missionaries teaching American Indian girls about how to be civilized.  What do you think he said they taught them to let them know how to be civilized?  He said they taught them to stay pure until they were married, and then to be faithful to their husbands after marriage.  That was what they considered teaching them to be civilized!  I wonder how many of our girls today know what it means to be civilized?  In my opinion, it is not a civilized culture that believes that true civilization only depends on how wealthy you are, and not on how you behave.  Our culture in many ways has become a barbarian culture, regardless of all our wealth and technology.  We do not teach our children what it means to be civilized.  If God were to write a letter to one of our leaders today, he would probably have to say the same thing that He told Titus…that we need to be rebuked sharply!

14.  not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth.

These Cretans needed to be kept from listening to Jewish fables and commandments of men.  For centuries the Jewish rabbis had been making up laws and stories that had become a part of what many religious Jews considered important religious practice.  In God’s eyes, however, these things were nothing but fables and the commandments of men who turn from the truth.  As He said earlier that these men need to shut up, now he says that the Cretans need to not listen to their myths and false commandments.

Notice that these fables and commandments are said to be Jewish.  We should not think that just because God’s dispensation of grace had begun and that all nations now held an equal place in God’s sight that the Jews had disappeared.  They were still prominent in the circle of believers, and many believers were still Jews.  Moreover, God was still using perhaps the most important Jew, Paul himself, to write this letter.  Yet unfortunately much of the false teaching of the day came from the Jews who wanted to get people to keep their laws and listen to their fables.

We have many fables and misleading commandments of men in our time.  I remember once paging through a book at the local Christian bookstore that was the testimony of a man who claimed to have had a vision of God and have gone to heaven where God gave him a message for all Christian people.  He claimed that all believers should read his book, and that his message was of equal importance with the Bible!  Well, this was not true at all.  This man was just setting forth what we might call a Christian fable or myth.  And of course we are all familiar with the commandments of men that abound in our churches.  Yet these things are not good, but lead men to turn from the truth.  We should not listen to them or have anything to do with them!

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 is defiled.

This word “pure” is the Greek word for “clean.”  Remember that the Lord was dealing with those who taught that men still had to keep the law in order to be saved.  It seems that they didn’t just want people to be circumcised, but that they also wanted them to keep the ceremonial laws concerning clean and unclean meats.  Paul confirms here what he had said earlier in I Timothy, that to anyone who has faith in God nothing is unclean.  In I Timothy 4:4-5 he says, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”  So no meat was to be refused.  Even meat that others had dedicated to an idol would be acceptable, as long as one prayed and thanked God for it, for then He would consider it as sanctified to Him, not to the idol.  Thus to those who were saved and “clean” by faith all food was now ceremonially clean.  To those who were defiled by their unbelief, however, nothing at all is clean.  This seems extreme, for of course these men would have believed that the foods that were ceremonially clean under the law were still clean.  But Paul seems to be saying here that, since these men refused to accept by faith the word of God that said that all meats are now clean, that God wasn’t pleased by their actions no matter what they ate.  It was as if all their food was defiled in His sight, because their minds and consciences were defiled by unbelief!

I can’t help but think of things other than food as we study this verse about all things being pure to the pure and all things defiled to the defiled.  We can see so many examples of this on every side!  For one thing, I can see it in those who set forth the Word of God.  I have sometimes read the writings of men who do not believe and yet who study the Bible.  Often they see impure things in the word.  For example, I have read men who proclaim that David and Jonathan, whom the Bible says were close friends, were actually homosexuals!  These men, being impure themselves, cannot see two close male friends without assuming that they were gay.  Yet to one who is pure and understands the pure commandments of God, it is impossible that such a thing would be, since we know that such behavior is abominable to God.

We also see men whose consciences are defiled on every side today.  “Let your conscience be your guide” is a slogan we have probably all heard, yet this is not a good slogan.  For men today are taught a morality that does not line up with God’s Word.  I know men who would be greatly stricken in their consciences if they condemned anyone for ungodly sexual behavior.  To them, intolerance is a terribly bad thing, and they would be conscience-stricken if they thought they had been “intolerant” of someone’s behavior.  Yet the Bible clearly rebukes sexual sin, and it is those who act in this way, not those who condemn it, who should be conscience-stricken.  Yet the consciences of many in our day are defiled so that they view good as evil and evil as good.  We should see to it that our consciences are not based on the teachings of society, but rather on the Word of God.  Moreover, if our conscience tells us one thing and the Word of God tells us another, we should not “let our conscience be our guide,” but rather should bring our conscience into conformity with God’s Word!

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

These people who were teaching circumcision, clean and unclean foods, and Jewish fables were men who claimed to know God.  Indeed, many of them probably did believe in Jesus Christ and His work for them.  However, they were denying Him by their works.  This did not mean that they were not saved.  However, by teaching rituals and demanding that all believers keep them, they had become abominable and disobedient in God’s sight.  Moreover, their lack of faith in God’s truth had disqualified them from actually doing good works that would be acceptable in God’s sight!  Just as none of their food was clean in God’s sight because they did not believe the Word of God that proclaimed all foods clean, in the same way none of their good works were acceptable in God’s sight because of these false works and rituals that they were doing to try to please Him.  Even if they had done a very good thing that otherwise would have been commendable with God, because of their other behavior in teaching rituals He considered them as disqualified to even please Him by works that were good.  This is a solemn warning to us today!  Moving away from the truth of salvation by grace through faith alone is a grave error indeed.  Let none of us be guilty of acting in this way or accepting this sort of teaching.