Summary: When Paul left Crete, there were certain things that still needed to be set in order; there were false teachers to be silenced, and there was the pressing need for recognized spiritual guides in the assemblies. He left Titus to handle these matters.
Chapter 1, Verses 5-9
Title: Elders in the Congregation
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— if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. 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, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, 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. (NKJV)
Sometimes there are problems because unqualified people get into places of leadership or because places of leadership have not been filled. The Greek word translated “set in order” is a medical term that means “to set a broken bone.” The church body suffers when we avoid facing and solving serious problems.
ELDERS IN THE CONGREGATION
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.
When Paul left Crete, there were certain things that still needed to be set in order; there were false teachers to be silenced, and there was the pressing need for recognized spiritual guides in the assemblies. He left Titus to handle these matters. It was always Paul’s custom to ordain elders as soon as a church was founded (Acts 14:23). It was Paul’s principle that his little churches should be encouraged to stand on their own feet as soon as possible.
Crete was evidently a pretty bad place, and the people were not very good people. Paul himself says that they were liars, and that is certainly the thing for which they were noted in that day. Although they were known as liars, and Paul will have other uncomplimentary things to say about them, many of them turned to the Lord.
We do not know how the Christian faith first came to Crete. Perhaps the best guess is that Cretans who were in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:11) returned with the good news, and that local churches were subsequently established.
Neither can we be sure as to when Paul was in Crete with Titus. We know that he touched in at Crete on his voyage to Rome as a prisoner (Acts 27:12), but the circumstances would hardly have permitted active ministry in the churches. Since Acts makes no other reference to Paul’s being in Crete, it is generally supposed that the visit took place after his first Roman imprisonment. Resorting to a little biblical detective work, we can reconstruct the following itinerary from various references in Paul’s writings.
First Paul sailed from Italy to Crete on his way to Asia (Western Turkey today). Leaving Titus in Crete, he traveled to Ephesus, the capital of Asia. At Ephesus he deputized Timothy to correct doctrinal errors that were creeping in there (1 Tim. 1:3, 4). Then he sailed across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia to fulfill his prior intention while in prison to visit Philippi as soon as he was free (Phil. 1:26). Finally, he traveled southwest across Greece to Nicopolis, where he planned to stay for the winter and where he expected Titus to join him (Tit. 3:12).
According to Homer, there were between ninety and one hundred cities in Crete as early as his time, and churches had apparently been formed in several of them. In each there was a need for responsible elders to be appointed.
I want to digress for a few minutes from our main subject, the qualifications for an elder, to clarify the responsibilities of an elder.Elders in the New Testament sense are mature Christian men of excellent character who provide spiritual leadership in a local assembly. The name elder, which refers to the spiritual maturity of the man, is translated from the Greek word presbuteros, (which turned into the English “presbyter”). The Greek word episkopos, translated “bishop,” “overseer” or “guardian,” is also used in reference to elders, describing their function as undershepherds of God’s flock. The names “elders” and “bishops” are generally understood to refer to the same persons for the following reasons. In Acts 20:17, Paul called for the elders from Ephesus; in verse 28 he addressed them as overseers. In 1 Peter 5:1, 2, Peter similarly uses the terms interchangeably. The qualifications for bishops in 1 Timothy 3 and those for elders in Titus 1 are substantially the same.
In modern usage, “bishop” has come to mean a minister of God who supervises a diocese or a group of churches in a district. But the word never means this in the New Testament. The scriptural pattern is to have several bishops in one church rather than one bishop over several churches.