Meditations in Titus: 4 : Trusting Others
Titus 1:5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.
We noted in the first meditation that Paul must have gone to Crete at some time and this had been the occasion when he had shared the Gospel and many had believed and the church was formed. There are therefore lots of question marks over this but merely because it is not all clearly laid out in Scripture does not mean it did not happen. Some time Paul visited Crete and these things happened. What is also clear from our verse above is that Paul felt he must move on (where to we don’t know) but left with a sense that only preliminary work had been done in establishing the believers there and that more needed to be done to establish them as a church.
We often come across small groups of believers who seem to be operating outside of the church. Merely because they are Christians, according to the examples and teaching found in the New Testament, that does not mean they are operating as a New Testament local church. Yes, because they are believers they are part of the Church worldwide but they are not operating as a local church, for reasons that soon become clear in this letter.
In the Greeting Paul addresses, “Titus, my true son in our common faith,” and goes on to give him the greeting that he gave with every letter in some similar form: “Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.” (v.4) Within this he declares relationship with Titus, a particularly close one, and within that gives credibility and authority to Titus. He isn’t just a believer but one appointed by Paul to continue the work of an apostolic leader there on Crete, but in the greeting he reminds us that Titus still needs the grace and peace that we all need. These aren’t just words, they have meaning. We each NEED grace and peace from our Lord to live out our lives and fulfil our ministries. Titus has a job in front of him and he is going to need all of God’s grace to fulfil it. It is never easy being a leader in the church; we will always find ourselves facing difficulties and conflicts and we will need all of God’s wisdom and perseverance to win through. In the midst of those difficulties and conflicts we will also need the Lord’s peace keeping us and holding us firm.
Paul describes the task given to Titus as needing to “straighten out what was left unfinished.” It is thus clear that in Paul’s mind, leaving a bunch of believers just as that, a miscellaneous group, is inadequate and in the job of planting a church is an incomplete work. The idea of ‘straightening out’ what was unfinished is interesting in that it suggests that what is there is crooked or not ordered or in line, or not in the place God would want it to be. In the words that follow, and we’ll consider them in the next meditation, Paul moves on to speak about appointing elders and their qualifications. The absence of specific leaders (and we’ll see their role in the next meditation as we consider their qualifications) indicates an incomplete local church. We will go on to see the specific need for such leaders but for there to be an established local church there do need to be anointed leaders, those called by God and recognized by the local church. In their absence the church is incomplete and vulnerable.
Now one of the things that we may miss here, because we perhaps take it for granted, is that Paul is happy to move on and leave this ongoing work to Titus. Paul challenges the person who seeks to do everything and be everything to the local church. Paul trusts Titus and obviously considers him mature enough to do this work. We may also suggest he trusts the gifting of Titus which enables him to walk away and leave it all in the hands of his younger protégé. This may sound a simple thing but often, especially in the case of one-man ministries in the local church, we wrongly assume that one man is sufficient to oversee the local church. In the New Testament elders are always in the plural. I suspect we tolerate the one-man ministry because so many local churches are so small and they do not have the courage to shut up shop and join with a larger group of believers to form a much more obvious expression of the local church. It may be that we also don’t realise the importance of the role of the elder (which we’ll consider in the next meditation).
As far as Paul is concerned a church without elders is an incomplete or unfinished church, a crooked church that needs straightening out. So often we speak about wrong thinking that needs ‘straightening out’. Accepting a local church without God-called and people-recognised ‘elders’ is in New Testament terms an incomplete church and such wrong thinking needs straightening out!