The author of this Epistle, also known as letter, is Paul. He begins by describing himself as a bondservant of Christ. This is one of Paul’s favorite ways to describe himself in his letters. If you’ve been around Christian churches for a long time hopefully you’ve heard of the term bondservant. A bondservant is similar to the concept of a slave. There is a bit of a difference though, since for a bondservant was to be more than just a slave. To become a bondservant one had to have been serving their master for a while. In fact, the concept comes from the Hebrew law where the slaves would serve their masters for up to 7 years until the year of Jubilee. In the year of Jubilee all the slaves would be set free and all the debts would be forgiven. So a slave could potential serve their master for 6 years and then be set free in the 7th year. However, for the slaves that didn’t want to leave their master, they were allowed to stay and serve beyond the 7th year, but they couldn’t change their mind after that. Their decision was for rest of their life. So, if you were going to make the decision to stay with a master you’d want to make sure that you’d be better off with them for life than you could possibly be on your own. As a sign of the decision to become a bondservant there were a couple of marks that would be made, the most common was to have one’s ear punctured for an earring. Obviously becoming a bondservant wasn’t for everyone, only those who were really dedicated to their master. Paul refers to himself as a bondservant of God, and then as an apostle of Jesus Christ.
The next part of the introduction does vary a little bit depending on the translation you use. However, there is a key principle here which is that the purpose for which Paul is doing everything is to further the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge that leads to godliness. There are two things to note with this, first, there is knowledge that does not lead to godliness, which would not be a saving faith. Second and more importantly, the purpose of Paul is to establish godliness in those who he comes in contact with. The whole purpose of this letter is going to be in part to bring about the godliness of Titus and the churches where this letter is read.
This godliness is manifest in the hope of eternal life, which God has promised before the foundations of the world. What does this mean for us in the church though? It means that everything we learn will play itself out in our hope for eternal life, and it also alludes to God’s eternal nature. The words ‘before time’ point out that God did things before the earth was created or in fact time itself existed. It makes me think of modern physics, which sometimes postulates that all time is happening simultaneously. This would be a better way to help Christians comprehend the idea of eternity as well.
The promise of eternal life that God has made has been made manifest in the scriptures, through the preaching of the Apostles, and obviously Jesus, such that we may become more like God.
Once we get past the introduction we see Paul immediately remind Titus of why he is on Crete. If Titus were to have fulfilled the obligations that were initially given to him, Paul wouldn’t have been writing this to Titus. This purpose was to appoint elders as Paul had previously directed Titus. Then we get the qualifications of an elder. First is a list of what the elder is not to be and then that gets contrasted with how the elder should behave and characteristics the elder should have. While it will be useful to go into this, I intend to do a more specific study on this section later as an overview of the qualifications for leadership in a church. One key to bring up is the purpose of the elder is so they “can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (v. 9) Once again, this ties back to the doctrine that is able to encourage godliness and should be at the heart of what all Christians learn.
The last section in Titus 1 references those the elder is going to be correcting, specifically those who spout false doctrines. These people are described as rebellious. Rebellion has been the sin of man and the downfall of Satan from the start. In Crete rebellion was taking the form of teaching for dishonest gain. We can also surmise the Cretans were listening to Jewish myths and human commands of those who are teaching for dishonest gain. I’m reminded of those who would claim the name of Jesus and teach the prosperity gospel, which comes down to: If you have money you’re good with God. If you don’t have money you are doing something wrong. This is in complete contradiction to Jesus who said it is hard for the rich to enter into heaven.
The last part of this chapter that should stand out is how Paul corrects some of the false doctrines being taught, by contrasting the pure and the corrupted. Those who are corrupted are those who don’t believe; a reference to those who don’t believe Jesus is Messiah. For those who don’t believe, there is nothing good in them or for them. It is interesting to note that for those who don’t believe, everything they do is corrupted, and nothing good can come from what they do. While these people claim to be Christians, their actions say otherwise.
For us that brings to question: are you a Christian whose actions say you know God, or are you like these false prophets, the elders are supposed to speak against?