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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verse 5
Verse 5

Here is the end expressed,

I. More generally: For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldst set in order the things that are wanting. This was the business of evangelists (in which office Titus was), to water where the apostles had planted (1 Cor. 3:6), furthering and finishing what they had begun; so much epidiorthoun imports, to order after another. Titus was to go on in settling what the apostle himself had not time for, in his short stay there. Observe, 1. The apostle’s great diligence in the gospel; when he had set things on foot in one place, he hastened away to another. He was debtor to the Greeks and to the barbarians, and laboured to spread the gospel as far as he could among them all. And, 2. His faithfulness and prudence. He neglected not the places that he went from; but left some to cultivate the young plantation, and carry on what was begun. 3. His humility; he disdained not to be helped in his work, and that by such as were not of so high a rank in the ministry, nor of so great gifts and furniture, as himself; so that the gospel might be furthered and the good of souls promoted, he willingly used the hands of others in it: a fit example for exciting zeal and industry, and engaging to faithfulness and care of the flock, and present or absent, living and dying, for ministers, as much as in them lies, to provide for the spiritual edification and comfort of their people. We may here also observe, 4. That Titus, though inferior to an apostle, was yet above the ordinary fixed pastors or bishops, who were to tend particular churches as their peculiar stated charge; but Titus was in a higher sphere, to ordain such ordinary pastors where wanting, and settle things in their first state and form, and then to pass to other places for like service as there might be need. Titus was not only a minister of the catholic church (as all others also are), but a catholic minister. Others had power habitual, and in actu primo, to minister any where, upon call and opportunity; but evangelists, such as Titus was, had power in actu secundo et exercito, and could exercise their ministry wherever they came, and claim maintenance of the churches. They were every where actually in their diocese or province, and had a right to direct and preside among the ordinary pastors and ministers. Where an apostle could act as an apostle an evangelist could act as an evangelist; for they worked the work of the Lord as they did (1 Cor. 16:10), in a like unfixed and itinerant manner. Here at Crete Titus was but occasionally, and for a short time; Paul willed him to despatch the business he was left for, and come to him at Nicopolis, where he purposed to winter; after this he was sent to Corinth, was with the apostle at Rome, and was sent thence into Dalmatia, which is the last we read of him in scripture, so that from scripture no fixed episcopacy in him does appear; he left Crete, and we find not that he returned thither any more. But what power had either Paul or Titus here? Was not what they did an encroachment on the rights of civil rulers? In no sort; they came not to meddle with the civil rights of any. Luke 12:14; Who made me a judge or a divider over you? Their work was spiritual, to be carried on by conviction and persuasion, no way interfering with, or prejudicing, or weakening, the power of magistrates, but rather securing and strengthening it; the things wanting were not such as civil magistrates are the fountains or authors of, but divine and spiritual ordinances, and appointments for spiritual ends, derived from Christ the king and head of the church: for settling these was Titus left. And observe, No easy thing is it to raise churches, and bring them to perfection. Paul had himself been here labouring, and yet were there things wanting; materials are out of square, need much hewing and fitting, to bring them into right form, and, when they are set therein, to hold and keep them so. The best are apt to decay and to go out of order. Ministers are to help against this, to get what is amiss rectified, and what is wanting supplied. This in general was Titus’s work in Crete: and,

II. In special: To ordain elders in every city, that is, ministers, who were mostly out of the elder and most understanding and experienced Christians; or, if younger in years, yet such as were grave and solid in their deportment and manners. These were to be set where there was any fit number of Christians, as in larger towns and cities was usually the case; though villages, too, might have them where there were Christians enough for it. These presbyters or elders were to have the ordinary and stated care and charge of the churches; to feed and govern them, and perform all pastoral work and duty in and towards them. The word is used sometimes more largely for any who bear ecclesiastical function in the church, and so the apostles were presbyters or elders (1 Pet. 5:1); but here it is meant of ordinary fixed pastors, who laboured in the word and doctrine, and were over the churches in the Lord; such as are described here throughout the chapter. This word presbyter some use in the same sense as sacerdos, and translate it priest, a term not given to gospel ministers, unless in a figurative or allusive way, as all God’s people are said to be made kings and priests unto God (hiereis, not presbyterous), to offer up spiritual sacrifices of prayers, praises, and alms. But properly we have no priest under the gospel, except Christ alone, the high priest of our profession (Heb. 3:1), who offered up himself a sacrifice to God for us, and ever lives, in virtue thereof, to make intercession in our behalf. Presbyters here therefore are not proper priests, to offer sacrifices, either typical or real; but only gospel ministers, to dispense Christ’s ordinances, and to feed the church of God, over which the Holy Ghost has made them overseers. Observe, 1. A church without a fixed and standing ministry in it is imperfect and wanting. 2. Where a fit number of believers is, presbyters or elders must be set; their continuance in churches is as necessary as their first appointment, for perfecting the saints, and edifying the body of Christ, till all come to a perfect man in Christ, till the whole number of God’s chosen be called and united to Christ in one body, and brought to their full stature and strength, and that measure of grace that is proper and designed for them, Eph. 4:12, 13. This is work that must and will be doing to the world’s end, to which therefore the necessary and appointed means for it must last. What praise is due to God for such an institution! What thankfulness from those that enjoy the benefits of it! What pity and prayer for such as want it! Pray the Lord of the harvest that he will send forth labourers into his harvest. Faith comes by hearing, and is preserved, maintained, and made fruitful, through it also. Ignorance and corruption, decays of good and increase of all evil, come by want of a teaching and quickening ministry. On such accounts therefore was Titus left in Crete, to set in order the things that were wanting, and to ordain elders in every city; but this he was to do, not ad libitum, or according to his own will or fancy, but according to apostolic direction.

III. The rule of his proceeding: As I had appointed thee, probably when he was going from him, and in the presence and hearing of others, to which he may now refer, not so much for Titus’s own sake as for the people’s, that they might the more readily yield obedience to Titus, knowing and observing that in what he did he was warranted and supported by apostolic injunction and authority. As under the law all things were to be made according to the pattern shown to Moses in the mount; so under the gospel all must be ordered and managed according to the direction of Christ, and of his chief ministers, who were infallibly guided by him. Human traditions and inventions may not be brought into the church of God. Prudent disposals for carrying on the ends of Christ’s appointments, according to the general rules of the word, there may, yea, must be; but none may alter any thing in the substance of the faith or worship, or order and discipline, of the churches. If an evangelist might not do any thing but by appointment, much less may others. The church is the house of God, and to him it belongs to appoint the officers and orders of it, as he pleases: the as here refers to the qualifications and character of the elders that he was to ordain: “Ordain elders in every city, as I appointed thee, such as I then described and shall now again more particularly point out to thee,” which he does from the Titus 1:6-9 inclusive.