Paul's strategy for church planting included the eventual selection of leaders from among the converts to oversee the ministry and spiritual growth of the community (compare Acts 14:23). In this way the missionaries could move on freely to expand the work in new and unreached areas. As Paul's team of trained coworkers grew, he entrusted a good deal of the work to them. In the case of the Cretan churches, Titus functioned in this capacity.
Paul spells out his purpose in appointing Titus to the work in Crete in verse 5. It has two parts. The first phrase Paul uses to describe this purpose might address the need for correction (of things gone wrong) or completion (of things as yet undone). The former possibility makes sense in view of the false teaching that Titus is to combat (vv. 10-16). But the second part of the purpose, to appoint elders, and the phrase "what is lacking" in the first part suggest that Paul means completion of the tasks that remain to be completed. Actually, since correcting the false teachers is linked to careful choice of leadership (v. 9), it may be best to combine the two possibilities as the NIV has done: straighten out what was left unfinished.
In any case, the second part of the purpose is clearly first on Paul's list of specific things that Titus is to finish. Precisely what went into the process of appointing elders is not clear. Certainly from the qualifications that follow we can guess that some form of evaluation played a part. But the situation in Crete, where the churches were younger, was not the same as that which we find in Ephesus, where a body of elders already existed (see 1 Tim 4:14). And any evaluation may have been carried out by Titus himself (compare Acts 14:23). The appointment of the elders would have been signaled by the laying on of hands (compare Acts 14:23; 1 Tim 4:14; 5:22) in the presence of the congregation. It is also impossible to determine how many elders would have been selected in every town (meaning "in the house church of each town"); but the general rule would probably have been a plurality of leaders.
To guide Titus in choosing leaders, Paul included the same basic office code (with certain modifications) that appears in 1 Timothy 3. Before we consider differences we should consider similarities. Most important, the purpose of this code is identical to that of 1 Timothy 3 in that it is meant to test the candidate's "blamelessness." The broad standard appears twice at the head of the list (vv. 6, 7; compare 1 Tim 3:2). Then the remainder of the verses place "blamelessness" into a concrete framework, treating the domestic, personal and ecclesiastical aspects of the candidate's life. It is equally obvious that the codes share most of the specific requirements; where terms are not duplicated, concepts generally are. In the end it is clear that whatever the circumstances of a church, its leadership must be of the highest moral standard in all aspects of life; to expect less is to place the church's reputation and ministry in jeopardy.
The code begins abruptly (for there is no break in the Greek sentence at the end of v. 5) in verse 6 by laying down the general standard of "blamelessness" (compare 1 Tim 3:10). Again, the examination begins in the domestic sphere, with fidelity in marriage. The reappearance of this qualification at the head of this list (compare 1 Tim 3:2, 12) excludes the possibility of compromise here. It should perhaps be pointed out that while "one-woman man" has sexual fidelity primarily in view, Paul undoubtedly expected the marriages of church leaders to exhibit mutual love and respect (Eph 5:22-33). The leader of the church must be a model of faithfulness in marriage.
Keeping the domestic concerns together, the remainder of verse 6 refers to the children of the elder and their behavior. But there is an interpretive problem here that we must pause to consider. The problem lies in the meaning of the Greek word pista in the phrase "having believing [or faithful] children." One view understands Paul to be limiting membership in the office to those whose family members all believe; pista can certainly bear this meaning. Another view is that the term means, more generally, "faithful" or "trustworthy" (1:9; 3:8; 1 Tim 3:11; compare 1 Tim 1:15; 3:1), which quality is then delineated in the phrase that follows. While the first view is possible, it seems to place more stringent requirements on the elder than does 1 Timothy 3:4. Moreover, in view of this parallel, Paul probably means that the elder's children are to be faithful in obeying the head of the house. In fact, the rest of the verse contrasts "faithful" with the charge of being wild and disobedient, which suggests a more general kind of faithfulness. The code asks that candidates for the office of elder not be those whose children will attract accusations of dissipation and rebellion (compare v. 10). This is very much in accord with 1 Timothy 3:4.
As we consider application of this quality today, a practical question arises regarding the length of time elders are to be held accountable for the behavior of their children. As used here, the term children views sons and daughters in relation to their parents. Within the household their status would be that of dependents. The instruction, therefore, restricts the elder's accountability to children who are not yet adults. And of course, then and now and from one culture to the next, entrance into adulthood is measured by different combinations of age and events (marriage, leaving home, beginning a career), which prevent us from drawing rigid lines (such as up until age eighteen or twenty-one). Nevertheless, it is reasonable to think that the attitudes and behavior of children still within the household provide an indication of the faithfulness of an elder in parenting. But while this formative influence is meant to prepare children for godly adult lives, it does not constitute a guarantee such that elders ought to be made responsible for the directions that their grown children might choose to take.
Verse 7 inserts the formal introduction of the code (compare 1 Tim 3:2), which uses the term overseer. Apparently, the terms elder and overseer were interchangeable (at least at this stage of the church's development and in this locale). Alongside the official title Paul introduces a significant theme that the NIV interpretation (entrusted with God's work) of the literal "as God's steward" fails to convey. By describing the overseer as God's steward, Paul calls to mind the image of the church as God's house (compare 1 Tim 3:5, 15; 2 Tim 2:20-21). In the secular household the steward was charged with the responsibility of managing the master's affairs. The church leader is equally obligated to God to discharge the duties of oversight in the church. Also, to be a "steward" was to acknowledge the requirement of utter faithfulness (Lk 12:42; 1 Cor 4:2).
In God's house faithfulness is required in every part of life. Therefore the examination of the potential steward's "blamelessness" extends to the personal life. First, Paul prohibits four kinds of behavior. Tendencies toward overbearing behavior and anger are indications of unfitness for working as part of a team. Such people do not listen to the views of others but rather force their wills on them, causing disunity. Arguments and quarrels were in fact characteristic of the false teachers (3:9). The implied opposite qualities of gentleness and amicability (1 Tim 3:3) are required of the leader who must lead as Christ does (2 Cor 10:1).
Equally to be avoided are those who are controlled by strong drink or who react with violence to people and situations. Such people are not able to control their own behavior and certainly should not be entrusted with the oversight of others.
Finally, the overseer must not be allured by dishonest gain. Complete honesty in financial matters and an attitude of detachment toward wealth (compare 1 Tim 6:7-8, 17-19) that leads to generosity are the signs of a leader who will be able to model faithfulness in these things before the congregation.
Verse 8 continues, without a break in the sentence, to enumerate some positive and observable characteristics of blameless conduct. The leader must be hospitable. This widely praised virtue in that day was practically a social obligation for the householder. It also became a mark of Christian behavior (Rom 12:13; 1 Pet 4:9). What sometimes passes for hospitality today (the entertainment of friends and church members, often with the expectation of a return invitation) is a rather dim reflection of the New Testament concept. The practice of hospitality among Christians was often urgent, sacrificial and risky: urgent because Christians might be forced from homes or jobs with no one to turn to but fellow Christians; sacrificial because material goods were often in short supply; risky because to associate oneself with those who had been forced out meant to identify with their cause. Thus hospitality required sacrificial sharing and stretching. It was a very practical expression of love, not a source of entertainment. While the practice of hospitality had primarily the needs of believers in mind, there is no reason that it could not be a way of showing concern for unbelievers. The importance of this practice for the church, in either case, required that a leader must model it for all (1 Tim 3:2; 5:10).
The leader must "love" what is good. Paul's term for this occurs only here in the New Testament (compare Wisdom 7:22). It is the inclination or devotion to things that are or that promote good. This trait was prized in the secular world, and it is easy to see that it would serve the church leader well in the task of oversight.
Self-control is a fundamental mark of genuine faith, and Paul refers to it frequently in these letters (see above on 1 Tim 3:2). Like most of these observable qualities, self-control was prominent in the secular understanding of respectability. Paul, however, emphasizes that the possibility of such conduct depends on the work of Christ (2:12) and conversion.
The remaining three qualities, upright, holy and disciplined, complete this profile of the blameless life. Uprightness was one of the cardinal virtues in Greek thought. Here "uprightness" refers to behavior in relation to people that is holy in the presence of God (Lk 1:75; Eph 4:24; 1 Thess 2:10). Disciplined (or self-controlled) here means to be in full control of oneself (one's temper, moods, behavior and so on). This observable quality is truly a mark of the Spirit's work in an individual (Gal 5:23).
Paul's description of the blameless personal life is extensive. A person's life is capable of measurement because the characteristics of this life are observable. While Paul clearly teaches that genuine Christian conduct results from conversion (2:12), he does not shy away from presenting the church's leaders for the approval of outsiders, as his vocabulary and concepts for behavior show. Those who would lead the church and promote its cause must be respectable in the eyes of all people.
Verse 9 takes the qualifications for leadership into the area of ministry (compare 1 Tim 3:2). With the false teaching in mind, Paul instructs Titus to ensure that the leaders he chooses are committed to the approved doctrine of the church (compare 1 Tim 3:9). He calls it the trustworthy (or faithful) word. This message has been handed down by the apostles (literally, "it accords with `the teaching' "). In other words, leaders must affirm as the Christian doctrine that which has the traditional apostolic stamp of approval. Elders must not be chosen from among those who have been toying with new doctrines.
There are two purposes (so that) for this commitment. First, only adherence to the "sound doctrine" (see on 1 Tim 1:10) will enable the leader to fulfill the ministry of encouraging and exhorting (that is, producing "healthy") believers. Second, it is only by means of correct doctrine that the leader can successfully refute the opponents (1:13; 1 Tim 4:6; 6:2-3; 2 Tim 3:16).
What qualifies a person to be an elder? Not management skill alone, but also a lifestyle that is proved to be pure and respectable within the church and on the outside. In public and in private the overseer must meet the high standard of "blamelessness." But as with the similar code in 1 Timothy 3, the emphasis in this teaching is often missed. "Blamelessness" is more a measure of wholeness and balance than of perfection. The code examines all dimensions of life for evidence of the Spirit's influence in each part. This kind of balanced "reading" means development toward maturity is under way. And Paul felt that "whole" believers were best suited for church leadership. The code serves equally as a yardstick of maturity for all believers. Both those in leadership and those in support positions will profit from a periodic look at the reference marks it provides; it will point out areas of neglect and areas of success, but it will always point us to maturity in the whole of life.
Titus's task of appointing elders from among recent converts (notice that in this case Paul cannot rule out recent converts; compare 1 Tim 3:6) must not have been easy. Nevertheless, the importance of the church's unity and evangelistic mission required that care be taken to select only leaders whose genuine faith could be measured by commitment not simply to the true gospel but to the Spirit's influence in every part of life.