Find church leaders for Crete
Hello, son1 From: Paul, a worker for God and an apostle of Jesus the Messiah. I was appointed to bring God’s chosen people into the faith. I’m to do that by letting them know the truth about God, so they’ll become devoted to him. 2 They’ll do this for the sake of eternal life, which God promised his people—and had planned for them all along. It’s a solid hope. God doesn’t lie. 3 God decided that now is the time to let everyone know about his plan. God himself, our Savior, entrusted me to spread the word. 4 To: Titus, my true son in the faith—a faith we share. May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior show you their kindness. And may they give you peace.
How to pick a church leader5 I left you in Crete to finish the job we started. You need to appoint church leaders in every town I told you to target. 6 A church leader has to live a life that’s squeaky clean and above suspicion. He needs to be a one-woman man. His kids should be believers. And he shouldn’t have the reputation of a party animal with a rebel streak. 7 Likewise, a top church leader, who works for God, needs to be squeaky clean and above suspicion. Here’s what he shouldn’t be: snooty, bad-tempered, a drunk, violent, and the greedy minister’s version of a dirty cop. 8 Now here’s what he should be: hospitable, a huge fan of goodness, even-tempered, fair, devoted to God, and disciplined. 9 He needs to believe what he was taught. He needs to trust that message well enough to pass it on to others as a reliable teaching, and then to defend it against attackers. 10 For there are plenty of rebels out there—empty-headed yap, yap, yappers and con artists. That’s especially true of those who insist on circumcision. 11 You have to shut them up. Their warped teachings are turning family members against each other—and they’re doing it for nothing more than what they can get out of it. 12 One of the locals, a prophet, said this about his own people: “Cretans are chronic liars, savage brutes, and lazy bums. They’re good for nothing but feeding themselves.” 13 He got that right. That’s the kind of people you’re dealing with. So be firm with them, to keep their faith strong. 14 We don’t want them fooled into believing those Jewish legends or rules taught by liars trashing the truth. 15 In a religious sense, everything is ritually clean to the person who is morally clean. But to the unbeliever who is spiritually polluted, nothing is clean. Their mind is poisoned and so is their conscience. 16 They say they know God, but it’s just their mouth talking. By the way they live their life, it’s clear they don’t know him. They are disgusting souls, disobedient and good for nothing.
Apostle means “official messenger,” such as a delegate or an ambassador sent to deliver a message. The title “apostle” came to mean disciples hand-picked by Jesus to tell his story and spread his teachings. The title usually referred to the 12 original disciples of Jesus and to Paul, who met Jesus in a miraculous encounter while Paul was traveling to Damascus to arrest Christians (Acts 9:5).
“Chosen people” is a common tag for the Jews. It shows up a lot in the Jewish Bible, which Christians usually call the Old Testament: “Do not touch my chosen people” (1 Chronicles 16:22 New Living Translation). Paul doesn’t use the phrase to refer to the Jewish race. He applies it to everyone who’s devoted to God, Jews and non-Jews.
“Kindness” is often translated “grace.”
“Church leaders” is often translated “elders” (New American Standard Bible). The original Greek word is presbyteros, from which we get “Presbyterian.” Luke once used the same Greek word to describe “old men” (Acts 2:17). But Paul seemed to use the term as a generic way of referring to church leaders. In this context, perhaps a modern-day parallel might be that of a part-time pastor of a church startup—some founding minister who works another job to pay the bills. Still, elders were heavy hitters in the church’s political structure, helping make important decisions alongside the top leaders: apostles. “Apostles and elders together with the whole church in Jerusalem chose delegates” (Acts 15:22).
The Greek word for the leader is episkopon, from which we get the word “episcopal,” which means a church led by bishops. Bible versions translate the word as “overseer” (New American Standard Bible), “church leader” (New Living Translation), and “supervisor” (Common English Bible).
Circumcision is a Jewish ritual performed on baby boys eight days old. For Jews, it was a bit like signing a contract by cutting on the dotted line. God told Abraham, “These are the terms for you and your family throughout the generations. Circumcise every male….This way, your bodies will carry your signature of the contract, which is everlasting” (Genesis 17:10, 13). For Jews, circumcision became a visual mark that identified them as God’s people. Paul taught that spiritual circumcision trumps physical circumcision, making it no longer necessary because it was part of what Bible scholars call the “Old Covenant” or agreement between God and his people. Paul and other early Christian writers essentially taught that Jesus launched the “New Covenant,” and rendered the former agreement “obsolete” (Ephesians 2:15; see also Colossians 2:13; Hebrews 8:13).
Many scholars say Paul was probably paraphrasing a well-respected Cretan prophet from about 500 years earlier, Epimenides. The prophet wrote that line in a poem. It was part of a complaint he leveled against the people of Crete, who claimed that the Greek god Zeus was dead. A paraphrased snippet from the poem: “They chiseled a tomb for you, high and holy one./ Those Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies./ But you aren’t dead. You live and remain forever. / In you we live and move and have our being.”
Some Bible experts speculate that the legends or myths Paul mentions may have been legendary tales about Jewish heroes and family members in Old Testament times. These tall tales may have been a bit like the American legend about three-year-old Davy Crockett killing a bear that was not named Teddy.
Paul rejected human rules about kosher food and religious holidays: “Let me tell you, these rules are worthless because they do nothing to help people overcome their sinful desires” (Colossians 2:16-23.)
Paul may have been warning Titus about the same false teachers he had warned the Christians of Colossae about: monk-like ascetics who told people to deprive themselves. “Don’t let anyone feed you their rules about what you should eat or drink, or what religious holidays you should observe, including new moon rituals or worship on the Sabbath. Important once, these were just shadows compared to the reality we now have in Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).
Paul’s opening to the letter, Titus 1:1-4, sounds like something you would say to someone who didn’t know you and who didn’t know what you were doing with your life. But Paul and Titus were associates who traveled together. Why do you think Paul opened the letter this way?
God handpicked Abraham as the father of his Chosen People, the Jews, some 2,000 years before Paul. In that stretch of time, the Jews produced some notable heroes of the faith, including Moses, King David, King Solomon, and the prophets Isaiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel. Yet Paul says it was only now, during Paul’s generation, that God chose to reveal his plan of eternal life. How is that not Paul doing some heavy-duty self-promotion?
Paul creates a thoughtful and sometimes entertaining list of traits he wants to see or not see in church leaders (1:5-9). Just for fun, how about trying to put them in order of importance—as you would rate them? Or just pick out some of the ones that you think pose the greatest problem in local churches today.
- Squeaky clean and above suspicion
- One-woman man
- His kids are believers
- Fan of goodness
- Devoted to God
- Believes what he has been taught about the faith
- Tells others about Jesus
- Stands up to people who attack the faith
- Party animal
There’s one point in this letter where Paul might sound like a bigot. It shows up when Paul warns Titus about the people of Crete.” Paul doesn’t seem to show much love to the people of Crete. He quotes one of their writers and says, “Cretans are chronic liars, savage brutes, and lazy bums. They’re good for nothing but feeding themselves” (1:12). Then Paul agrees with that writer, “He got that right. That’s the kind of people you’re dealing with” (1:13). Merriam-Webster says a bigot is someone “who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance. Do you think Paul went overboard here and needs to stand at the Pearly Gates in heaven and greet every person from Crete with an apology?
Paul said, “In a religious sense, everything is ritually clean to the person who is morally clean” (1:15). Really? What about prostitution, heroin, and rooting against the Kansas City Royals? Aren’t they bad? Well, at least two of them.
LIFE APPLICATION. What do you think churches today should do about Paul’s suggestion that when it comes to a candidate for church leadership, “His kids should be believers” (1:6)?