Did you know that most of the books that comprise the New Testament are actually letters? These letters (also known as “epistles”) contain both general Christian teaching and specific instructions for the congregation to which they were addressed. As part of our Letters to the Church series, we’re taking a brief look at each epistle in the New Testament. This week, we look at another of Paul’s “pastoral letters,” this one written again to a man named Titus.
Paul’s Letter to Titus
Start reading it here: Titus 1
When was it written? In the mid-to-late 60s A.D.
To whom was it written? Titus, a Gentile convert to Christianity who was organizing the Christian community on Crete.
Why was it written? This letter bears strong thematic similarities to Paul’s letters to Timothy: it consists largely of instructions for organizing the leadership and structure of Christian churches. Paul wanted Titus to finish organizing the local churches and then join Paul as soon as replacements (also sent by Paul) arrived on Crete.
What does it say? Paul’s letter to Titus is filled with instructions regarding church leadership and organization that will be familiar to anyone who’s read Paul’s similar instructions to Timothy. However, the Christian community in Crete appears to have been especially immature and vulnerable to straying, which undoubtedly posed a special challenge to Titus’ leadership efforts. Paul mentions the corrupting influence of “Jewish myths,” which may suggest that Cretan Christians were mixing their faith with ideas from other religions and traditions. Paul also cautions Titus to show no patience for pointless debates and controversies, or for people who insist on spreading them.
Paul’s advice to Titus is to continue to teach “sound doctrine” and to make sure that the leaders of the Cretan church met the high moral standards that Paul expected of all Christian leaders. The concept of “self-control” as a key part of Christian moral character is reiterated in several different places. Paul clearly considered it a defining trait of mature Christianity.
- Titus 2:3-5: Titus is encouraged to empower the older women of the church to mentor the younger women.
- Titus 2:11-14: An encouraging reminder of the effect that God’s salvation has on His people and the way they live.
- Titus 3:9-10: Paul’s warning against useless debates and arguments in the church.
What can we learn from Titus? Like Paul’s letters to Timothy, we can learn much about the structure of a healthy church from Paul’s instructions to Titus. The importance of godly leadership in the church—both formal leadership by deacons and elders, and less formal mentoring by wise members of the congregation—are emphasized here, and churches today can apply the same standards of righteousness to our leaders that Paul expected of the Cretan church. Paul’s emphasis on self-control is profoundly relevant to the church today, surrounded as it is by a shallow culture where indulgence in all manner of sin is easy and encouraged.
Consider these questions as you read Titus today:
- Do the older or more spiritually mature members of your church mentor the young people of the community?
- Why do you think Paul places such a strong emphasis on self-control in this and other letters? What problems are avoided when you have self-control?
- Imagine that you’ve received this letter from Paul. What might you write back to him in response?