Summary: Church leaders are to have unblemished 1) public reputations (Titus 1:6a) and must qualify in four specific areas: sexual morality (Titus 1:6b), family leadership (Titus1:6c), general character (Titus 1:7–8), and teaching skill (Titus 1:9).
For the greater part of this century, evangelical Christianity has been deeply committed to the battle for doctrinal purity. But in many circles in recent years it has not been as committed to moral purity, even among its leaders. Inevitably the church has experienced erosion of its integrity and spiritual power. The Lord requires leaders in His church who are pure, holy, and above reproach. Anything less is unacceptable to Him and should be unacceptable to His people. Moral compromise, like doctrinal compromise, spells disaster for the church. Important as they are, battles to defend the inerrancy and authority of Scripture lose much of their effectiveness if the defenders of those doctrines fail to also defend and uphold God’s equally crucial standards of personal righteousness. And compromisers of the integrity of leadership will much more easily compromise the truth. Unfaithful in the battle for sound living, they are much more likely to fail in the battle for sound doctrine as well.
Paul’s central theme in Titus 1:5–9 is that only a man whose character meets divine standards should be allowed to enter or remain in the ministry. In verse 5 he says: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you”. Paul states Titus’s mission with a purpose clause (“so that,” hina) containing two verb phrases, then proceeds to explain the “two reasons” for leaving Titus in Crete (Towner, P. H. (2006). The Letters to Timothy and Titus (p. 678). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.). The island of Crete (156 miles long and between 7 and 35 miles wide) forms the southern boundary of the Aegean Sea. The center of the island is formed by a mountain chain rising to the height of 8,193 feet (Mount Ida, birthplace of Zeus) which is fringed by lower valleys along the coast. Jews from Crete were present at Pentecost (Acts 2:11) and may have carried the gospel message back to the island. The culture of these island people was strongly influenced by Cretan myth and legend. Paul’s first visit to the island took place on his voyage to Rome (Acts 27:7–8). He had suggested to the captain of the ship that they spend the winter there. Since he probably had not had the opportunity to evangelize the island during his first visit, he took the opportunity to return to Crete sometime after being released from his first Roman imprisonment (Hughes, R. B., & Laney, J. C. (2001). Tyndale concise Bible commentary (p. 652). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.)
For Titus, Paul, he wanted the young pastor to put/set what remained into order. “What remained/was left unfinished” points to several serious defects that still needed Titus’s attention. The letter points to lack of organization (1:5), unchecked false teachers (1:10, 11; 3:10, 11), and the need for instruction in doctrine and conduct (2:1–10; 3:1, 2). Paul had observed and had begun to correct these matters; Titus must now complete the work. Paul was concerned that the work of grace previously begun in the church should not be left unfinished (Hiebert, D. E. (1981). Titus. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 429). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.). The verb epidiorthoō (put/set into order) is comprised of two prepositions, epi (“upon”) and dia (“through”), attached to orthoō (“to make straight”). It is from orthos that we derive orthodontist, a dental specialist who straightens and aligns crooked teeth. In ancient times, the term was used of setting broken bones and straightening bent limbs, a function of the medical specialty that today we call orthopedics. Titus was charged with the task of correcting and setting straight certain doctrines (see, e.g., 1:10–11, 13–14; 2:1) and practices (see, e.g., 1:12, 16; 3:9) in the churches in Crete that had become defective. The qualifying phrase what remained indicates that Paul himself, and perhaps others, had accomplished some of the correcting he now wanted Titus to complete. Judging from the admonitions that followed, the problems were both moral and theological and involved church leaders. There also were problems of attitude and personal responsibility in the churches. Titus’s job therefore was twofold: to complete the organization of the church in Crete and to preserve it from doctrinal contamination, the former being the first step toward the latter (Mounce, W. D. (2000). Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 46, p. 385). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)
The major factor in such correction was to appoint elders in every city as the apostle had directed—indicating that some of the churches there did not yet have their own qualified local leadership. The term Elders (presbuteros) had come to be used as an official title for leaders in the early church, as evidenced by the facts that the elders were to be appointed and that they were to have the noblest spiritual character and possess the ability to teach. From numerous passages in the New Testament it seems certain that elder, overseer (bishop), and pastor refer to the same office, the different terms indicating various features of ministry, not varying levels of authority, as some churches espouse. The qualifications for an episkopos (lit., an overseer, or, as sometimes translated, bishop) that Paul gives in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 are clearly parallel to those given here for elders. Both in this first chapter of Titus (vv. 5, 7) and in chapter 20 of Acts (vv. 17, 28), the titles of presbuteros and episkopos are used of the same men. In Acts 20:28, Paul uses the verb form of still another title (pastor) for the same group of men. “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock,” he says, “among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [episkopos], to shepherd [or ‘to pastor,’ poimainō] the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (v. 28). In Ephesians 4:11, Paul adjoins the divine callings of pastor (poimēn) and teacher (didaskalos) as a single role of ministry, which properly could be called pastor-teacher. Three principles seem to emerge here regarding the nature of leadership roles in the local church. Leadership should be: (1) local, (2) multiple, (3) qualified. The exercise of power and the style of government may differ as long as (1) the leaders are rooted within the church, and therefore accountable to it; (2) power and responsibility are shared by several rather than concentrated in one; and (3) the qualifications of leaders are recognized by those they are leading.( Barton, B. B., Veerman, D., & Wilson, N. S. (1993). 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus (p. 255). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.)