Walking Our Identity

Reflection: Titus

Titus was a Greek Christian who was Paul’s friend, travelling companion and assistant. Paul always works within a team. In fact, he had more than 60 individuals labouring with him in ministry. He was not a one-man mission. Paul’s pastoral epistles are a general response to believers to stand firm against opposition to the emerging church. In this particular letter to Titus, he instructs him on the organization and leadership of the Cretan church.

He directs his co-labourer to appoint church elders who are faithful to the Scriptural teachings, and are able not only to teach sound doctrine (rigorous apostolic teachings, healthy theology and ethics) but also to refute those who contradict them (1:5-9). Next, he lists the practical lifestyle behaviours of those who had been taught sound doctrine for the different categories of church members: older men and women, the younger generation, and slaves (2:2-10). Titus himself is not absolved from these seminal instructions as he is charged to promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching, and cautioned to guard his own way of life, always serving as an example of one who does good and who teaches with integrity, solemnity and gracious speech (2:1,7-8). To Paul, church order is critical for an effective testimony of the first generation Cretan assembly.

If we focus just on the different roles Paul addresses, we might miss his point altogether. Paul does not compare one group against another, and while his specific advice differs for each group, their focus is similar. Sprinkled throughout the Epistle is evidence of Cretan culture’s immoral anchors, and the implied disciplinary hurdles that Titus is confronting in the church. Paul’s paramount concern is with the existing undifferentiated pre-conversion Cretan conduct in church life, even though they profess the name of Jesus. Self-control seemed to be the crux of the Apostle’s teachings here.

Each of his exhortations are invariably concluded with the phrase “so that” as the emphasis moved from the believer to non-believers. The implication is significant as Paul explains that the testimonial power of an honorable character living faithfully and visibly in a hostile society will contribute towards a missiological thrust in the salvation of nonbelieving Cretans (2:11-14). Then he takes it one step further in Chapter 3, maintaining that the reputation of the church of Jesus Christ as a community becomes her witness, when she upholds her responsibilities in the larger society as political authority is accepted through the believers’ appropriate attitudes and actions. Here again the obvious vivid contrast to the contrary conduct of nonbelieving Cretans to established authority is not lost.

In the public arena, Christians are to be as responsible as the best citizens, and where believers come into contact with other people, they are to embody the highest ideals of human virtue as they imitate the pattern of behavior embodied by Christ himself (3:3-7). What needs to be evident is both inward and outward changes. Paul’s advice to Titus is immediately relevant to us today.