"Paul, bondman of God and apostle of Jesus Christ according to faith of God's elect, and full knowledge [or acknowledgment] of truth that is according to piety" (ver. 1).
Bondman "of God" is unusual. Thus in the Epistle to the Romans it is "bondman of Jesus Christ." So it is in the Epistle to the Philippians, where Timothy is associated with the apostle. Here alone it is "bondman of God and apostle of Jesus Christ." No Christian ought to doubt that there is special suitability between that relationship to God and the Epistle. "God," as such, is prominent in all the pastoral Epistles rather than "Father," where "bondman" could not be appropriate or rightly conceivable. Nevertheless it is only to Titus that the apostle presents himself as here he does. We may be thereby assured from this fact that it falls in with the character of the Epistle before us even more than with any other of the pastoral letters.
The sixth chapter to the Romans may help a little to explain why. The great truth in the latter portion of this chapter is that, though we are under grace, we are bondmen to Him whom we obey. Once alas! we were bondmen of sin; now having got our freedom from sin, we have become bondmen to righteousness (ver. 18) and to God (ver. 22), having our fruit unto holiness and the end life eternal. A similarly fundamental depth is found in the Epistle to Titus: only here Paul predicates the term of himself, not of believers in general. If he calls himself '. apostle of Jesus Christ," he takes care previously to say that he was "bondman of God." It was important for Titus to take heed to this. At the very outset it was a solemn reminder from the Holy Spirit. If the apostle did not often so speak, it was always true; and the expression of the truth here seems intended of God to be a fresh lesson to Titus, and the rather because in the circumstances before him it might easily be forgotten. Practice if right should be based on principle.
Titus was called to a serious but highly honourable charge. Had it been only to exercise oversight, he who aspires to that desires a good work. But Titus was called amongst other things to establish overseers: clearly a far more delicate and responsible service. Self-importance might here readily enter, as it has often done even with most excellent men. Hence the apostle, who had authorised and directed Titus in that high service, begins with that emphatic statement, "Paul bondman of God." All was worthless, if the will of God were not done. The Son of God shows the perfection of a life wholly devoted to that one object, and first set it before all as a moral jewel of the first water. In order to do His will in that perfection, He emptied Himself, taking a bondman's form, coming in the likeness of men; and then when found in figure as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, yea, death of the cross. In that perfection He stands alone; nevertheless He forms others according to His own blessed pattern, and none more evidently than the inspired man who now writes to Titus as "bondman of God."
Titus was not, and could not be, like Paul, "apostle of Jesus Christ;" but was it not open to him to be, no less than the apostle, "bondman of God "? His special position was according to the grace of the Lord Jesus, and he would fulfil its proper functions all the better if he valued, as the apostle did, the being "bondman of God." His own will was thus to be forfended; and the apostle implies this in an introduction so peculiar and impressive. For he expressly describes himself as God's bondman. We may be sure that the words were not lost on Titus, but that he laid each deeply to heart. Christians as such are said in Rom_6:22 to be freed from sin and enslaved, or made bondmen to God; so that the principle is clear and sure. Who needs to remember it more than an honoured minister of the Lord?
There is another peculiarity here which has greatly perplexed the learned. As is too usual in a difficulty, they have departed from the plain and obvious meaning of the text, not by a daring conjecture in the way of emendation as a substitute for it, but by a version, to say the least, of an arbitrary nature, which is quite uncalled for in the context. Two of the ablest recent commentators have joined in discarding "according to," and in adopting "for." But this is to lose the peculiar force of the scripture before us, and to construe kata; as equivalent to eij". To be apostle of Jesus Christ "for" the faith of God's elect is a commonplace. As in all such proposals, it is no doubt an easy way of understanding the clause; but the truth intended vanishes. "according to faith of God's elect" has the same ground as, and no less reason than, "according to piety" just afterwards, with which these commentators do not all tamper, though one at least deals in the same latitude here also. It is safest to translate correctly, even if one is obliged to feel or own we have no exposition to offer of which we are assured. The Revisers, therefore, as well as the Authorised translators, have acted more faithfully. Very possibly they might not have been able to explain the propriety of the phrase; but at any rate they have done no violence to the text in their respective versions. They have left the word of God for others to explain in due time, according to their measure of spiritual insight.
Is then the apostolic statement so hard to be understood? Not so, if we are simple. Aaron was anointed priest according to the law. There is now an entire change; a new system rests upon an altogether different basis. We have no longer the first man dealt with morally, or helped ceremonially There is the Second Man' the East Adam. Faith, therefore, is come and revealed. It is no longer a question of any being guarded under law: believing men, even of Israel, were no longer under the old child-guide. Paul, the Jew, and Titus, the Gentile, are alike sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus, as is carefully explained to the Galatians.
Hence Paul here describes himself as "apostle of Jesus Christ according to faith of God's elect." Men are disposed to regard Christianity as a continuance of Judaism and an improvement on it more or less. But the entire system of legal ordinances has come to its end; Christ had effaced it, and taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. The ancient people of God are for the time completely eclipsed, with all the peculiarities of their probationary status. Man is viewed universally as wholly sinful and lost. It is now a question of what God has wrought and given, as revealed in the person of Christ; and hence, therefore, of faith on the part of God's elect. The elect nation is not now the platform of His ways. "Go ye into the whole world and preach the gospel to all the creation." What is external in Christianity may be more or less apprehended by the world; but here the apostle points only to what is unseen and eternal, and God's elect alone enter in and enjoy. Thus we see that in this short Epistle there is more than one pithy, yet full, exhibition of the gospel in its deep moral power; wherein it is more distinguished than the two Epistles to Timothy. This is in keeping with the "faith of God's elect," and helps to illustrate why the writer describes himself as apostle of Jesus Christ according to that pattern.
At the same time it is instructive to note that in the two Epistles to Timothy the apostle describes himself in a way strikingly akin to what is found here. For in the First he says, "apostle of Jesus Christ according to commandment of God our Saviour and Christ Jesus our hope," and in the Second, "apostle of Jesus Christ through God's will according to promise of life that is in Christ Jesus." In every case the preposition bears its most ordinary sense, not "for" but "according to;" but each has its appropriate bearing. In the First it is according to our Saviour God's command, and hence is a testimony of glad tidings to all, and Christ Jesus, Man and Mediator, our hope. In the Second it is through God's will according to promise of life in Christ Jesus. Whatever be the ruin externally of Christendom; there is strengthening in the grace that is in Christ :Jesus, and the firm foundation of God stands.
Here he adds another particular. Paul was His apostle also according to full knowledge (or acknowledgment) of truth that is according to piety. This is the more remarkable, because we find him very soon afterwards speaking of his having left Titus in Crete to set right what was wanting, and establish elders in every city, as he had ordered him; but he in no way describes his own apostleship as being according to such a direction of authority. The delegation is not to be doubted in any way, and it is of high moment in its place; the apostleship is characterised after another pattern altogether. It was "according to faith of God's elect, and full knowledge of truth that is according to piety." Its stamp was not merely ecclesiastical but Christian, and its Christian description is the only thing on which the apostle here insists, even when he is about to notice the charge he had given Titus for ecclesiastical order.
If Christianity is bound up with the faith of God's elect, it is for that very reason also with "knowledge of truth that is according to piety." "The law was given by Moses; grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ." Shadows and outward observances are now treated as vain. The body is of Christ. The truth must be known by faith, truth that is according to piety: else the apostle would have disowned it as having no living link with Christ. With this the reader can compare 1Ti_3:16, where the truth of Christ's person is laid down as the secret or mystery of piety.
The apostle pursues what has been already begun in describing his mission. It was "upon hope of life eternal which God that cannot lie promised before the times of the ages (or everlasting),* but manifested in its own seasons His word in a preaching, with which I was entrusted, according to command of our Saviour God" (vers. 2, 3).
*This is a phrase peculiar in itself and difficult to transfuse well and truly into English. "Eternal" is clear, as said of God, life, punishment of sin. etc. But in combination with "times" it appears harsh, as in Rom_16:25, and still more where πρὸ precedes, as in 2Ti_1:9 and here. Mr. T. S. Green gives "in all time" and "before all time" respectively, which seems weak or worse for the first case. Mr. Darby for Rom. 16 prefers "in [the] times of the ages," and for 2 Tim. and Titus "before the ages of time." But why invert thus? Would it not be better to adhere to the same order in all three, "times of ages?" Perhaps indeed "times everlasting" might be admissible for although the A.V. uses "eternal" and "everlasting" interchangeably, the latter is not necessarily so absolute as the former. We might say "before times everlasting" but hardly "before times eternal," and for more reasons than one. It is unfounded to conceive a difference of sense between its use in 2 Tim. 1 and Titus 1; and the wish springs from misunderstanding of the truth.
Life eternal is really given to the believer now; and this is a revelation by no means uncommon in the writings of our apostle. Its present possession is emphatically prominent in the writings of John, whether the Gospel or his First Epistle. But Paul frequently treats it according to its future display, as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the well-known passage of his, Rom_6:22-23, we have it clearly: "Ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end life eternal. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is life eternal in Christ Jesus our Lord." He looks on to life in glory.
Here he describes his apostolic work in preaching as conditioned by the hope of life eternal. It is thus wholly different from the expectations of the pious Jew in Old Testament times, grounded as they were in the main on the promises of God to the fathers. If a prophet spoke of eternal life at all, it was bound up with the future kingdom of the Messiah. Under His sceptre the Israelite looked for every outward blessing, for all honour and power as well as goodness from God, for the display of beneficence and of blessing in every form; and all this will surely be accomplished on earth, without fail or stint, according to the word of the living God.
The apostle's work had a wholly different character; for it was based upon the total rejection and the heavenly exaltation of the Lord Jesus, whereby that hope of life eternal is realised now, and in a way altogether superior to the testimony of the prophets (Ps. 133, Dan. 12). So the Lord as the great Prophet on Olivet declared that the living righteous of the nations, who are severed from the wicked, enter into life eternal when He shall have come as the Son of man in His glory. Even the sheep realise their place but little: grace will abound exceedingly. But the apostle proceeds to show that the promise which the Christian actually enjoys goes not merely beyond the prophets, or the human race on earth, but back into eternity. This was necessarily a promise within the Godhead. The God that knew no falsehood promised it before the times of the ages. So we saw in 2Ti_1:9, that God saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace that was given us in Christ Jesus before the times of the ages. It was a promise within the Godhead when neither the world nor man yet existed, and therefore had a far higher character than promises made in time to the fathers.
These times, stamped with distinctive principles on God's part, are occupied with the history of man's trial and failure in every form. First we see him innocent and in paradise, with everything good around him, and put to the simplest test of obedience in a single, and in itself slight, exception. This was enough: man fell, not deceived like the woman, but ensnared through her in known deliberate transgression. Was man any better when an outcast left to himself, with the sentence of death before him? "And Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Therefore was man with the lower creation swept away from the earth. A spared remnant passed through the deluge in God's mercy, and the earth came under new conditions; for the sword of government was now instituted of God.
After a vain attempt (as we see in Gen. 11) by unity to make a name in the city and the tower of Babel, Jehovah scattered them after their families and tongues in their lands and their nations. Then, when idolatry had overspread the earth, by promise was man called and chosen and separated unto Him in the person of Abraham and his descendants. But even when they reaped the blessing by divine deliverance from oppressing Egypt, they did not appreciate the riches of divine favour. Therefore, when blessing was proposed at Sinai on the condition of their own obedience, the people unanimously answered, "All that Jehovah hath spoken we will do."
On such a ground sinful man never did and cannot stand. "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight." Law may give knowledge of sin, but is never power against it. "For the law worketh wrath" (Rom_4:15). "The strength of sin is the law," says our apostle (1Co_15:56). The law "was added because of transgressions" (Gal_3:19); for sins were there long before; but when the commandment came, its violation made them overt acts of transgression, and thus sin became exceeding sinful. Law could only provoke and condemn sin.
Hence justification is gratuitous by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Therefore, says he elsewhere (Gal_3:10), "As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse." It is a statement of uncommon force; not as many as have broken the law, but as many as stand on that ground or principle. "For it is written, Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them." The law could curse, not save, a sinner.
Now this is cited from Deut. 27, in which chapter the facts stated are as striking as the words of the apostle to the Galatians. For Moses charged the people to stand, six tribes on mount Gerizim to bless them, and six upon mount Ebal to curse. But in the sequel of the chapter we have the curses carefully recorded, which the Levites were to say to all the men of Israel, without one word of provision for their blessing! "As many as are of [or, from, by, on that ground] works of law are under curse." There is no blessing provided or possible on legal footing. Only those that are of faith are truly blessed, none others. "And the law is not of faith." It works wrath and a curse: not that the law is not righteous (for the commandment is holy, just, and good); but man is sinful. "The law entered by the bye that the offence might abound." It is a ministry of death and condemnation. Sin was long before the law, as we see in the race of fallen Adam. Sin is not "transgression of law," but lawlessness (1Jn_3:4). The law made its evil plain and inexcusable rebellion against God's known commandment.
So the prophets, who exposed the growing rebelliousness of Israel, and even of favoured Judah, kept thundering in their ears; whilst they ever reminded them of their only hope in the coming Messiah, "that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to those that believe." At length, when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, become of a woman, become under the law. But the Jews refused Him, yea abhorred Him; so that His staff, Beauty, was cut asunder that He might break His covenant which He had made with all the peoples. For how could there be the predicted gathering, or obedience, of the peoples unto Him, if His own received Him not? They did worse; they weighed for His price thirty pieces of silver, and the field of the potter became the field of blood, Aceldama. Then His other staff, even Bands, was cut asunder, that He might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.
The last link was broken in the cross of the Lord Jesus, even for the two houses of Israel. But sovereign grace through that very cross laid a foundation for an entirely new work, of which the Son of man, exalted at the right hand of God in heaven, is the author and crown. While Israel and the nations wholly disappear for all that was predicted of earthly blessing and glory, the Head of the new creation is revealed on high, and the Holy Ghost sent below. Thus a door of mercy lies open to every believer on terms of indiscriminate grace. This is Christianity for the faith of God's elect, according to which Paul was apostle. Could his office have a nobler character? Along with it goes that new building of God, the church, the body of Christ.
Thus we see that what the God incapable of falsehood promised before the times of the ages now shines upon the believer. What was first in purpose was last in accomplishment. Here, however, it is rather in purpose and upon hope, that "life eternal" comes before us. It is no less true that "this life is in His Son." There is no such life in any other. The first Adam was at best but a living soul; the last Adam a quickening Spirit. As Christ our life is risen from the dead, such is the character of the life we receive in Him. It is life after redemption was effected, that those who are quickened together with Him might have all their offences forgiven, dead with Christ and risen with Him, and even, as the Epistle to the Ephesians adds, seated together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Here, however, the apostle does not dwell so much on heavenly association as on the wondrous fact that the life of the Christian is life eternal, promised before the world began, outside of times or dispensations in God's dealings with man on the earth. It derives its character from Him Who is eternal, the Way and the Truth, the Head, centre, expression, and object of all the purposes of God. This we have now, as we shall have in glory with Himself; and therefore is it said to be grounded on or conditioned by "hope."
Nor is there anything vague or uncertain. It is not a law requiring what at best may, yea must, fail of fulfilment; for failure is invariable in man's hand. It is God's word manifested in a preaching which had His authority mace good by His "truth," the sure revelation of His mind. "We are of God (said another apostle): he that knoweth God heareth us." Not to hear is the spirit of error. During man's probation, law put him to the proof characteristically. Now God manifested His word in its own seasons. There was a divine work to speak, according to "full knowledge of truth that is according to piety." It is not for exercising the intellect. Piety is the model and aim.
Now, therefore, is the due time for bringing all out plainly. "In its own seasons He manifested His word in a preaching, wherewith I was entrusted according to commandment of God our Saviour." This is the "mystery of the gospel" (Eph_6:19), or at least it is a part, and an important part, of it. Ever since the apostle was sent forth on his mission, the greatest impulse was given, and that full development which we find written in his Epistles. It was embodied in Christ, Who died, rose, and was glorified in heaven; but the Holy Spirit was given in order that God's word as to this might be manifested; and manifested it was in Paul's preaching beyond all others, "according to command of God our Saviour." For never before did this title "Saviour God" receive such an illustration; never again can it be after such a sort, even when the glory shall be a defence, a cloud of smoke by day and a shining flame by night, upon every dwelling place, upon mount Zion, and upon her assemblies. And it is all the more glorious, because it is a secret known only to faith, and preached therefore, instead of being established in power and visible display. Therefore is it now a "commandment of God our Saviour." When glory dwells in the land of Israel, as it surely will under Messiah and the new covenant literally enjoyed by the earthly people, there will be no room for any such commandment. It will then be the day for the triumph of the most High God, possessor of heaven and earth, on the downfall of Satan's power. It will be a day, not so much for testimony by the word, and hence for faith, as the manifestation of divine power and glory in the subduing of all adversaries by the Son of man reigning over all peoples, nations, and languages Then too shall the world know that the Father sent His Son and loved those who now believe on Him during His rejection, when they behold them perfect in one and displayed in the same glory as was given to their Lord.
The address follows: - "To Titus, genuine child according to common faith: grace and peace from God [the] Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour" (ver. 4).
Thus we see the apostle gives Titus the same designation as Timothy in his first Epistle: only there it is simply "in faith"; here it is "according to common faith." They both believed the same truth of Christ, Paul the Jew and Titus the Gentile. It is not only that there is one body, the church, but a faith common to all Christians, common to the highest in spiritual place, power' and authority, with the least saint, were he a Scythian or a slave, that calls on the same Lord rich in grace toward all that call on His name.
But it will be observed, that Timothy is styled "beloved child" in 2 Tim. 1. Accordingly the apostle unbosoms himself to him as he does not to Titus. Nevertheless Titus thoroughly possessed his confidence, as he was entrusted with the important and delicate task of an apostolic envoy in Crete. It is the mistake of the old divines to confound this position with the gift of an evangelist, perhaps because Timothy was an evangelist. This Titus is never called. The truth is that the charge over doctrine, or the commission to appoint elders, is quite independent of an evangelist's gift. Titus had here a work within the church, not without; though no doubt an evangelist might also be appointed to such a charge by an apostle. But an ecclesiastic charge and the exercise of an evangelistic gift have a wholly distinct character, and in themselves no single link of connection. They might or might not be united in the same person.
According to the oldest MSS. and Versions, "mercy" is omitted in the verse; but Chrysostom is quite wrong, followed by Damasus, in asserting that "mercy" is only spoken of in 1Ti_1:2, for it is equally found in 2Ti_1:2. Here also Lachmann stands with the Received Text in giving it as found in the mass of the junior MSS. and the Versions, supported by the Alexandrian and a few other uncial copies.
It is difficult however to resist the overwhelming external evidence; and the inference would be, that the apostle's heart was drawn out to desire "mercy" especially for Timothy, whilst he contented himself with the wish for "grace and peace" in Titus' case, as he commonly did in writing to the saints generally. In the Epistle to Jude "mercy" is put in the foreground, with "peace and love" following, for those addressed on the broadest possible ground. This insertion is quite as exceptional for the saints in general, as the omission of it is to Titus. There saints are regarded as the objects of special tenderness, as they were exposed to the most imminent danger, from the growing rush of evil towards the last gulf of apostasy. But if "mercy" is not here expressly before us, "grace" really implies it; for it is the fountainhead from which mercy flows, and peace is the issue ever to be desired, no less than the ever-flowing fountain and channel - "from God the Father, and Christ Jesus our Saviour."
"For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest order further the things wanting, and appoint elders city by city, as I directed thee. If any one is blameless (or, unaccused), husband of one wife, having children faithful, not under charge of profligacy, or unruly" (vers. 5, 6).
There is no doubt that the apostle left Titus in Crete only for a time in the fulfilment of the charge given him. Not a hint appears of his permanent residence there, but plain proof that he was to leave Crete for other quarters and different work. It is remarkable that the form of the word "left" has been changed from rather earlier days; and that this change falls in with permanence. So it stands in the commonly received text; but the best authorities followed by the critics agree that the original form quite coincides with the temporary character of the mission of Titus. The apostle's stay in the island was brief. Titus was left there for a while. Neither is said to have planted the gospel in Crete. It seems highly probable from Act_2:11,* that the glad tidings had been conveyed there almost from the great day of Pentecost. It was a question therefore for Titus to follow up that setting of things in order which the apostle began.
*It is one of the little inaccuracies of the Auth. V. that we find here "Cretes." and in Tit_1:12 "Cretians" without any reason. The only correct form of course is "Cretans."
Even at Rome we learn from the first chapter of the Epistle that Paul longed to see those there, that he might communicate some spiritual gift to them, in order to their strengthening. Still more would this be called for in the far less frequented island where Titus was left. There would be things wanting which the short stay of the apostle could not suffice to complete. Further, there was the need of elders to be appointed, which was regularly, and sometimes long, subsequent to the gathering of the saints. It is implied that several cities, perhaps many, had assemblies in them, and that elders were later appointed in each. Bp. Ellicott is quite right in questioning the statement of Jer. Taylor, "one in one city, many in many" (Episc. § 15). It is a strange, as well as certainly a precarious, statement from an Episcopalian, though natural enough to one of dissenting ideas. There is nothing here to limit eldership to one person in each city; there may have been several. This would of course be modified by circumstances; but we know from elsewhere in the New Testament that plurality of elders in any given assembly was the rule, and so no doubt it was at Crete. Church order, though flexible, had a common principle and character. "For this cause," says the apostle to the Corinthians, "have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved child and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you to remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church" (1Co_4:17: compare 1Co_11:16; 1Co_14:33-37).
It should be observed, as a consideration of the greatest moment. that the apostle does not specify a particular gift as requisite for these local charges. Scripture takes marked care to guard from that dangerous confusion, which was soon to characterise Christendom, and to form the separation of clergy from laity, which is in fact a return to Judaism, and a denial in both principle and practice of the distinctive fulness of privilege for the church. It is not that a gift and a charge might not be combined in the same individual; but they are in themselves, and for most who have but one or the other, altogether different. The gift was one given by Christ to the church and from the greatest to the least, apart from all intervention of man. This can no more cease to be than Christ can abnegate His grace and living functions as the Head of the body. The charge of "elders" or "bishops" required not only fitness but also choice or appointment by competent authority defined by scripture.
Another weighty fact is that, so far from being interrupted by His ascension to heaven, Eph_4:8-10 is precisely demonstrative, that only from Him on high were they given, and given till we all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. As no right-minded Christian will aver that this is attained yet, so neither should he doubt the unfailing grace of Christ. Power in external testimony may not adorn the assembly, when unfaithful and no more a visibly united light as once here below. Yet the love of Christ cannot refuse all that is needed for the perfecting of the saints, unto ministerial work, unto building up of His body.
But elders or bishops were a local charge and depended for their nomination on-those who had discernment to choose and authorise (ultimately from Christ, to appoint them). Hence we never see them in scripture, among the Gentiles at least, save as chosen by apostles, or by apostolic men like Timothy or Titus expressly commissioned to that end. The democratic idea is a fiction; had it been of God, it would have saved much trouble, and simplified matters outwardly, to have left their election with the assembly. But it is never so heard of in God's word. All power and authority is in the hands of Christ, Who wielded it through those He chose. Hence He called personally the twelve on earth, as He called Paul from heaven; and they did directly, or indirectly through fitting agents as here before us, appoint elders, assembly by assembly, city by city. The assembly might look out deacons; but elders needed and had a different source, the authority of Christ through men whom He chose and fitted to select them. How solemn a consideration this is, alike for Nationalists and Non-conformists, here is not the place to discuss at large. If they are spiritual and of single eye, they can scarce fail to see how far present arrangements are alien from scripture; how fallen the church is, if it were only in the matter of gifts and charges. Alas! it is but a particular case of a ruin far more comprehensive and appalling.
Moral qualities and circumstances in accordance with them are here as elsewhere insisted on for elders. "If any one is blameless (or, unaccused)." How censure others, if open to it himself? "Husband of one wife." If married, he must have but one wife; for many heathen had several, that is, at one time; and Jews discarded a wife with facility when they liked another more. "Having children faithful, not under charge of excess (or, profligacy), or unruly." Next to personal probity stands family relationship; and as plurality of wives would bar (whatever the suitability in other respects), so too a disreputable offspring. How could he rule the house of God, who had already and manifestly failed in his own home?
The characteristics required for the office are now set out. "For the bishop (or, overseer) must be blameless (or, free from accusation), as God's steward; not self-willed, not passionate, not quarrelsome (lit. remaining over wine), not a striker, not a seeker of base lucre; but hospitable, a lover of good, sober-minded, just, holy, temperate, holding to the faithful word that is according to the teaching, that he may be able both to encourage in the healthful doctrine, and to convict the gainsayers" (ver. 7-9).
It is plain that there would be no force in the reason thus alleged, if "the bishop" and "the elder" were not identical. Titus was to appoint elders in every city as the apostle charged him: - "If any one is blameless, etc., for the bishop must be blameless," etc. Hence the Episcopalian is obliged to give up his idea that the bishop and elders in scripture represent two orders of officials, and driven to look for the prototype of the modern diocesan in such a one as Titus. But the Epistle itself, and other scriptures, refute the supposition of any such permanent functionary, though Titus of course did appoint elders in Crete.
The elder is expressive of the dignity of the person derived from the respect due to age; not that the elder must needs be an aged man, but one of experience. Thus the title was derived and applied even if there was no great age, where suitability for the position existed. The bishop, or overseer, expresses rather the nature of the office, which was to take account morally of the saints, and to maintain godly order. Oversight in short was the constant duty privately and publicly.
Hence it was a primary requisite that the overseer should himself be blameless, or free from charge against him, as God's steward. He had a governing post, and therein a moral responsibility to God. The apostle in 1Co_4:1 speaks of himself and of his fellow-labourers as "stewards of God's mysteries." Here we find no "mysteries" referred to. These were not the sacraments so called, but the new and hitherto secret truths of the New Testament revelation. Nowhere in scripture is baptism or the Lord's supper characterised as "a mystery," though the superstitious usage soon came in like a flood after the inspired apostles passed away. Popery, ever gross, avails itself of this abuse in Eph_5:32, where "the mystery" of the church's union with Christ is used for the godly walk of husband, and wives; as if it gave countenance to the notion that marriage is "a sacrament. "
Yet what is the result of this unnatural rendering? "This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church:" a transcript of Jerome's Vulgate, and a gross travesty of the divine mind in the inspired Greek. Even Cardinal Cajetan and Dr. Estius expose the error. It is false in both substance and form, but serves, as error well suits, to sanction a sacrament of purely human invention. In no sense is "mystery," still less "sacrament," said of marriage, but in respect of Christ and in respect of the church; which are so united that He is the Head, and she the body. This mystery is indeed great; and it is the sole one here spoken of. Mark the emphasis, But I speak, etc. in contrast exact, though anticipative, with human thoughts. Then in the following verse he turns to the natural relationship, instituted of God in Eden and sanctioned ever since, in total opposition to a "mystery."
Again see its inconsistency when we apply the test of scripture. Has Popery ever instituted "the sacrament of piety" (1Ti_3:16)? On the forehead of the great harlot that sits on the seven hills God has inscribed, Mystery, Babylon the Great, etc. This has equal claim, that is none, to be "a sacrament"; if one, how ominous, and awful!
Even the seven who in the early days of Acts. 6 were chosen for the external work of "serving tables," were appointed over this business by apostolic imposition of hands. Probably the like hands were similarly laid on the elders who were not chosen by the disciples. But it is expressly said of those elected to diaconal work. They in particular required and had its support for what else might have seemed only secular.
Now it is of some importance to observe that the elder, or overseer, might not be a teacher; still less did he stand in the higher place of apostle or prophet. Nevertheless he must be "apt to teach," as we shall see confirmed ere long in this very context, though not possessed of the teacher's distinct gift. But whatever his duty, he must act as God's steward, manifestly identified with the interests of His house. This would give seriousness of purpose, as it supposes moral courage with men and dependence on God and His word.
He must be "not self-willed," or headstrong. It is the grossest mistake that self-will implies courage, though it may lead to rashness or even recklessness. Nothing gives so much quiet firmness as the consciousness of doing the will of God. One can then be lowly and patient, but uncompromising. We are as children of God elect according to God the Father's fore-knowledge unto obedience as well as the blood-sprinkling of Jesus Christ. No principle takes precedence of that obedience for practice. It is the true exercise of the life of Christ given to us. Self-will haughtily disregards both God and man. How shameful in an overseer!
Again, he must be "not soon angry" or irascible. Scarce anything enfeebles authority more than proneness to the explosions of anger. The weight of a rebuke, however just it might be, is apt to be lost when a man is overcome with angry heat. Calmness gives weight and force to a needed rebuke.
The next negation is perhaps a figurative expression; literally it means not abiding long over wine or disorderly through it. Hence it comes generally to mean, "not a brawler." Undoubtedly the literal force of being addicted to wine or the like isexcluded peremptorily. The fact seems represented by μέθυσος the habit by πάροινος. Even were a Christian free from the suspicion of so evil a source, the easily heated, the noisy and quarrelsome, character is unfit to be, and unworthy of being, God's steward. The overseer must be no brawler.
If this unmeetness refers to some such source, the next goes farther down into the much lower level of physical outgoing: he is to be "no striker." Here there is a still less seemly violence, the one very naturally leading to the other. The overseer must be neither. If he is the wielder of authority locally, appointed by a still higher authority in the Lord's name, he above all must not degrade that Name by ways so opposed to His.
There is another characteristic which men in authority are not a little apt to fall into, but it is unworthy of an overseer: he must not seek gain by base means, he must be firm against greed of filthy lucre. He who is called to rule before God among the saints must himself watch at least as much against this debasing evil as against those of violence. With what face, if he were thus faulty, could he rebuke these sins, as is his duty?
How blessed the contrast with all these uncomely traits we see in Christ! And if every Christian is called to be Christ's epistle, how much more are the elders? How could one, known to tamper with any of these evil things, reprove the failure of others with any show of consistency?
The absence of evil qualities is not enough. The assembly of God is the only sphere on earth for the exercise and display of that which is divine. To steer clear, therefore, of the ordinary snares of men in office never could satisfy the mind of God. The overseer, without a thought of invitation or recompence in return, was called to be hospitable; and we know from other scriptures, that this was not to be exercised after the manner of men but according to faith. So in the Epistle to the Hebrews the saints in general were called not to be forgetful of hospitality, for by it some have entertained angels unawares. It is plain therefore, that it was not in the least on the ground of previous knowledge, or of social equality. Had there been suspicion of a stranger, assuredly it would have excluded all such entertainment as God's word reports of old, and recommends now. So in faith and love Abraham received into hospitality, not angels only, but Jehovah Himself in the guise of man. Hospitality like this was not to be laid on the shelf, or vainly admired as a patriarchal virtue. Beyond question the overseer was not to be behind the saints in general, but to be a lover of hospitality.
Nor this only; for we read next that the elder was to be "a lover of good," not merely of good men, but of goodness - an important guard in the exercise of much more than hospitality. Self-pleasing might readily enter otherwise; and the indulgence of self ever is the service of Satan. Christ alone shows us truly and fully what good is, making it not only attractive but of power for the spirit and the walk. The overseer therefore was to be a "lover of good."
Further, he was to be "discreet" or sober-minded. A man might easily carry the love of good into either a sentiment or an enthusiasm; but the Spirit of God gives sobriety. He is "a Spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind." Thus is everything kept in its true place, because through Him all is seen and weighed in the presence of God.
Hence the overseer was to be "just;" he must rightly estimate the relationship of others and his own: a most important element, not merely in a general way, but especially for one in his place. Nothing would more enfeeble his weight than a failure in righteousness. Yet to be "just" is not enough. It is of course imperative; but there must be more along with it.
The overseer, it is added in due course as a higher call, must be "pious," or "holy" in that sense, "ὅσιος." It is not separate from evil, but gracious and upright, and is so used particularly of Christ in the Old Testament, as well as in the New.* It is that character of piety which appreciates God's mercy, and is itself merciful. This was looked for in an elder, while he and all believers were ἅγιοι or saints.
* The reader can consult Psa_16:10, Psa_89:18-19, etc., and Act_2:27, Act_13:34-35, with application to others also.
Further, he was to be "temperate," an expression much narrowed and so far misapplied in our day. Self-control not in one respect but in all is its real meaning. It is the quality of having every way and expression of feeling, or inclination, checked in the Christian by his sense of God's presence, grace, and fear.
These are the moral qualities which the Spirit of God insists on for elders, positively as well as negatively. But there is an addition of great value in verse 9, "Holding to the faithful word according to the doctrine, that he may be able both to encourage (or exhort) in (or with) the healthful teaching, and to convict the gainsayers."
Here the necessary aptness to teach appears in the peculiar and twofold obligation for which it was required. It might not be formal ministry in the assembly. The work of the elder lay as much, or perhaps even more, with the wants and dangers of individual saints in daily life. Such a one must adhere firmly to the faithful word. Uncertainty in his own perception of it, uncertainty in his handling it for others, would proportionately undermine the task laid on him to execute. The elder was not however to act according to his own wisdom; nor did his authority spring from himself, any more than from those that composed the assembly. He was God's steward, and the Holy Spirit made him an overseer, not in a mere flock of his own ("my people," as men say, or "my church"), but in "the flock of God."
The faithful word, therefore, must be his standard for walk, as well as the source from which he drew whatever material he used; and this not to nourish questions or indulge imagination, "but according to truth and love." If invested with authority, so was he a man under authority. He was God's steward, that God's will might be done and the will of man repressed. God is not the author of confusion but of peace, Who will have all things done decently and in order. Thus the light of the faithful word must guide the elder and indeed the Christian. The doctrine he was himself taught can alone determine what that order is; and now it is permanently in scripture. To that faithful word of God, therefore, the overseer must cling, avoiding strange notions as poison. Nor was it for his own guidance only. The elders were to rule, and, as made such by the Holy Spirit, were solemnly responsible to "rule well." But if any were to be accounted worthy of double honour, it was especially true of those who laboured in the word and in teaching (1Ti_5:17), as some might if not all.
Now in the conflict of circumstances which would come necessarily before the overseer, there are two wants constantly claiming his care: as well the need to encourage some, as no less the need to reprove gainsayers. Hence says the apostle in this passage, "That he may be able both to exhort (or, comfort) with the healthful teaching, and to convict the gainsayers." For both, a single eye is needed; but the faithful word is the means or weapon of all moment, sharper than any two-edged sword, which can divide as well as wound. On the overseer would fall this duty from time to time, and the faithful word alone would enable him both to encourage with the healthful teaching, and to expose those who sought their own things, not the things of Jesus Christ.
In the later Epistles it is a sorrowful feature to observe how evil grows apace in the church of God. It had entered early, though apostolic vigilance and power held it in check; but it had never and nowhere entirely disappeared. Our Lord had prepared us for this, not as a question of fellowship for the church, but where the word of the gospel is sown in the world; for "the field," as He interprets it, is the world. In that field tares were sown early by the enemy, and Christ's servants were forbidden to root them out. This, from their prejudices as Jews, they would have been too ready to attempt. But the Lord lets them know that in the field wheat and tares, however sad their mixture, were to grow together until the harvest. It is for angelic hands to deal with the tares when judgment comes.
But meanwhile this is the day of grace, not of judgment. The servants of the Lord are to sow the good, not to essay the extermination of evil from the world. To root up the tares would be death at least. This, on the one hand, the false church avowedly executes in open disobedience of the Lord; on the other, discipline in the true church, even to putting away, is according to the Lord's will. Indeed the church ceases to be the church where that unalienable obligation is declined.
Thus the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 13) and the First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5) are in perfect harmony; but they refer to wholly distinct things. Wicked professors are to be put away from among the saints; they are not to be hurried out of the world. This the Lord reserves for the angels in the time of harvest, the end of the age. It is now sowing time, and the day of salvation. The judgment will fall by-and-by unsparingly; as grace should now reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. So it has reigned in the mighty work of redemption; so it ought to reign in the practical answer of the saints, individually or together.
It remains however that gainsaying abounds, the dark shadow which followed closely the glad tidings of God. "For there are many unruly ones, vain speakers and deceivers, specially those of [the] circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who are such as overthrow whole houses, teaching things which they ought not for filthy lucre's sake" (vers. 10, 11).
This we see even before the apostle's service closed. There were already "many" of these disorderly men. Whatever discipline might have done to clear the Lord's name, and safeguard the saints from corruption, this scandal abounded. It was a bitter sorrow for the heart of him who was soon to depart and be with Christ; and the more so, when he thought of the church, the beloved of Christ, so exposed to the attacks and wiles of the enemy. If grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, there were many now who bore His name whose speech was vanity, not to edification, whose aim was their belly, not to serve the Lord Jesus; nor did they merely foam out their own shame, but deceived people's minds. They led away the unguarded and self-confident, even where there might be life Godward. Still more did they hurry on to destruction the borderers whose ear is ever open to that which accredits man, in ignorance of the truth of God which lays him in the dust.
These unruly persons were "specially of the circumcision." From without originally, yet more than the heathen had they knowledge of scripture, of course only of the Old Testament.
They were therefore quick to take the place of being a guide to the blind, a light to them that are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of babes. They had in the law the form of knowledge and of the truth. But if the name of God had been blasphemed among the Gentiles because of mere Jews who assumed the place of spiritual understanding, how much more was it about to be by the self-honour of these "many" men who were not circumcised only but baptised also! The apostle declares to Titus that they must have their mouths stopped. This of course could not be brought to pass by mere outward authority, but by the power of the word wielded in the Spirit. Titus seems one eminently suited for this work of vindicating God and His truth; as God would use his example and that of all who in faith act upon the apostle's word. Easy tolerance of evil may imitate grace, but is its shame and utter destruction. Grace maintains and is inseparable from the truth; otherwise it is no more grace, but a sham of good yet real evil, which demoralises, corrupts, and destroys. It is not only that God is dishonoured, but whole houses are subverted. This expression is morally important, "whole houses." It might be through the head of the house, whose faith was undermined, and whose ways were made loose. What havoc to the family I and the more surely, if some or many of the household were unconverted. :But even where all were converted, what a danger for them all! So much easier is it in this world to spread evil than to maintain what is good and true and holy.
No doubt the ways of these troublers were unruly; but evil teaching is still more pernicious, as it habitually clothes itself in thoughts which flatter human nature. Christ is not in it, Who is the life and nourishment of all who are born again. But these men were teaching things which ought not to be taught; and their aim was filthy lucre, not the glory of the Lord, but that which, as means or end, becomes an idol that tolerates lust and iniquity.
Evils are not everywhere the same; certain times and places have a character peculiar to themselves The Cretans had an evil repute beyond most, and this not merely with strangers, who might regard them with scanty affection, but even among their own countrymen, usually apt to be somewhat prone to indulgence of faults. So "One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, 'Cretans [are] always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies' (i.e., gorged gluttons). This testimony is true: for which cause rebuke them sharply, that they may be healthful in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men turning away as they do from the truth" (vers. 12-14).
The apostle here quotes an ethic poet, Epimenides of Crete, in order the more to enforce the confessed dangers of those concerned. It is not to be supposed that he endorses him, this Gentile author, as a prophet of God. It was needful therefore to add, "This testimony is true." But it does show how grace condescends to use whatever is true, though the source might be impure. In the same spirit the apostle cited a celebrated comedian, the more impressively to convict the Corinthians: "Evil communications corrupt good manners." And if a heathen, not particularly circumspect over himself or in his plays, gave utterance to a sentiment so applicable to the danger at Corinth, it was the more severe a reproof from such a mouth to the careless saints there. Their levity deceived them; even Menander reproved them. So here one of themselves, a prophet of their own, as a heathen moralist, gave a true witness to the unreliable character, the mischievous activity, and the lazy self-indulgence of Cretans as such.
Natural character, which is all the unbeliever has, may be nothing for the life of faith. The Spirit of God works all that is good through Christ presented to the soul, as an object of faith, and spring of love, and giver of joy. But it is an important matter for the enemy, who skilfully acts upon the old man, if unjudged, to the Lord's dishonour. Where there is unwatchfulness, a fall ensues. Therefore the evil nature affords constant danger. When Christ is really leaned on and looked to, the Holy Spirit gives entire superiority over evil. Here it is a question of those who are walking after the flesh: hence the humbling testimony is applied in all its force. Titus did well to bear it in mind; nor could a Cretan well complain of the apostle's severity, where an eminent countryman of theirs had long since owned their racial character. "For which cause rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound (or, healthy) in the faith."
Pravity of conduct continually flows from something unsound creeping into the spirit. To be unsound in the faith is the high road to unholy ways. Here too we find the perverseness of Jewish fables. It had appeared even then, and undoubtedly long before. Religious imagination has wrought since to the incalculable evil of those that bear the name of the Lord. But there is more then "fable" to watch against, even "commandments of men turning away as they do from the truth." Never trust the practical exhortation or the moral ways of those who, having once professed the truth, turn aside from it. There is no greater evil ordinarily in Christendom. It has an apostate character. For God's word will never mingle with man's commandments: where it is essayed, in the long run the human element really prevails, and the divine becomes a powerless form.
We have to do with the truth, not with fable; and we are under grace, not under commandment of men alienated from the truth. Neither imagination nor human morality can mingle with Christian revelation. Scripture alone furnishes a bright sense of its living relationships and its glorious prospects, with which fable and the unspiritual mind can never compare. Nor can human commandments rise above their source; they are of the world, and therefore perishable. The word of the Lord abides for ever, and judges alike both fable and human commandment. "To the pure all things [are] pure; but to the defiled and unfaithful [is] nothing pure; but both their mind and their conscience have been defiled" (ver. 15).
Duty depends upon relationship, and relationship on the revelation of God in Christ our life. Otherwise we are only in our sins. Such once were we all: not all gross, nor all externally shameful, as were some. But now through grace we were washed, but we were sanctified, but we were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. Such then is the source of Christian purity; and it is so much the more truly ours, because it is of God; Who, as He has called, will also keep His own, through our Lord Jesus - loved in the world, and loved unto the end. To such all things are pure, because they themselves are pure. It is no question now of abstinence from this or that; of allowance of legal sanctity; of fleshly uncleanness. The will of God as expressed by His word directs the believer, as we see its perfection in the Lord Jesus.
This, and not the law, is the true rule of life forthe Christian. Without Christ there can be nothing but a rule of death. And to the defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure. What was forbidden provoked the flesh to desire it. Stolen waters were sweet; and so it is still where Christ is unknown. Nothing is pure to the defiled and unbelieving, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled: an awful sentence morally, but most true. It is not only that their lower nature is corrupt, but the highest part of them, even that which ought to delight in good, and presumes to discuss divine things and God Himself, is no less defiled. Religion in such a condition is at least as impure and loathsome as anything else.
It will be said, no doubt, that such persons know not God. This is undoubtedly true. They know neither the Father, nor Jesus Christ Whom He did send; yet they may, or even do, profess to own God, as men now in Christendom, save the openly hostile and unbelieving. "They profess to know God; but in works they deny [him], being abominable and disobedient, and for every good work reprobate" (ver. 16). This surely is not religious progress. The germ of it was even then in apostolic days. The fruit abounds everywhere in our day; and it will be found advancing more and more to greater ungodliness. For their word will spread as a gangrene. It suits the fallen nature of man. His pride is pampered by it, and his will delights in it. Departure from the will of God in a moral way prepared for the gradual rejection of all revelation; for men are ashamed to profess what they hate, as well as what evidently condemns them. God's word sanctifies. It judges the will of man, as well as all its outward workings and effects. It brings in God and His will, which grace makes the directory, the food, the joy of the new man. Instead of this Satan presents fable on the one hand and commandments of men on the other, both which shut out conscience as well as God Himself.
It is evident that these instructions of the apostle are in full accordance with the teaching of the Master in Matt. 15, especially vers. 10-20; Luk_6:40-45; Luk_11:34-44, and elsewhere. Christianity in the practical sense works outwardly from within: unless the soul be purified in obeying the truth, as with all that believe, there is neither the Father's name hallowed, nor sin truly judged, nor unfeigned love of the brethren. Neither can there be the worship of God in spirit and truth, any more than drawing near to the Father. All must be superficial and of the natural man. There can be nothing divine till one is born of the Spirit; whereas the gospel carries the soul, in the sense of God's favour in Christ, far beyond into peace, liberty, and power. For Christ is not only life but the deliverer in the fullest sense, as He isthe revealed object before the soul from first to last.
Thus He, the unchanging One, changes all things for us, and if any one is in Christ, it isa new creation: old things have passed away, behold, all things are become new; and all things are of the God Who reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. Such is the nature, such the character and ways, of God as He has now made Himself known to us in the gospel. How hateful to Him, and ungrateful for man, how base and rebellious in itself, to turn back from a revelation, sowondrous and blessed and complete, to the beggarly elements of Judaism! yea, lower still, to the filthy defiling puddle of human fable and commandments! It is man's religion using as much, or rather as little, of God's word as suits a deadly deceiver; who is behind it all, and avails himself of that little in order to claim divine authority and avoid the reproach of slighting the revelation of grace and truth in Christ the Lord, But the pure in heart, as they shall see God, are enabled to discern present dishonour done to His word, His Son, and the mighty work of redemption; before the light of which these religious efforts and vanities of men flee away as darkness in presence of the day.
We are not in the immediate context directed to the person of Him Who makes all this folly and evil manifest; nor have we dogmatic unfolding of the gospel; but grand moral principles of the utmost moment are laid down. There is room for all, but each in its season, as God is pleased to suit His word to every one who hears the Shepherd's