Shepherds Wanted

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— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. – Titus 1:5-9 ESV

One of the first things Titus was to concentrate on was the appointment of elders for the local churches in Crete. As Paul’s letter will shortly disclose, there was a problem with disorder and doctrinal disruption among the believers on the island. Paul will describe these individuals as “rebellious people who engage in useless talk and deceive others” (Titus 1:10 NLT).  He will accuse them of “turning whole families away from the truth by their false teaching” (Titus 1:11 NLT). And to make matters worse, they were doing so for financial gain. That’s why Paul reminds Titus that he has been left in Crete to “complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you” (Titus 1:5 NLT).

Paul gave Titus a two-part commission. His first priority was to put in order or to complete what was lacking or left undone. There were some issues within the church there that needed to be taken care of, and Paul spends a good portion of his letter explaining exactly what the issues were. But the second part of Titus’ commission was the appointment of elders. Paul knew that Titus was going to need help. A big reason for the lack of order was the void of qualified leaders. If any organization finds itself lacking reputable and responsible leadership, someone will rise up to fill the void. There will always be those who step into the leadership vacuum and attempt to use their power and influence to take charge. And evidently, that was exactly what was happening on Crete.

So, Paul told Titus to take care of the problem by appointing men to help him lead the local body of believers. The responsibilities were too great for one man to handle on his own. But Paul insisted that Titus was not to settle for second best. Those whom Titus appointed to lead the church were going to have to meet certain qualifications in order to even be considered.

But it’s important to note that Paul’s description of the qualifications has everything to do with character and has little to say about biblical knowledge, academic aptitude, business savvy, or even leadership skills. Instead, Paul mentions qualities and characteristics that would have been visible to all those who knew these men. Titus was to look for the outward evidence of an inward transformation that had taken place in the lives of these men due to their relationship with Christ and their knowledge of the Word of God.

Each of them was to have “a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught,” so that he might “be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong.” (Titus 1:9 NLT). In other words, they had to have a knowledge of the truth of the gospel and the realities regarding God and His redemptive plan for man. That was the only way they would be able to refute falsehood and defend the good news from attack. Worldly leadership qualities would not be enough because they would be engaged in spiritual warfare.

Paul appears to be contrasting the character of these future church leaders and those who were doing harm to the church. Those leading who would lead the body of Christ had to be men who were above reproach or blameless. This doesn’t suggest that they were somehow perfect or sinless. The Greek word Paul used is anegklētos and it conveys the idea that these men were to have no glaring character flaws. They were not to be guilty of living their lives in a way that would cause people to point their fingers in accusation, resulting in harm to the reputation of the church.

They were to be loving husbands with reputations for faithfulness. They were to be fathers who had proven themselves to be capable leaders at home, having children who had come to faith in Christ, and who modeled lives of moral integrity and obedience. This would seem to suggest that Paul was recommending that Titus look for older men with children who had been in Christ long enough to have demonstrated their godly character.

Paul went on to say that an elder candidate “must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money” (Titus 1:7 NLT). Instead, he was to “enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life” (Titus 1:8 NLT).

It’s interesting to note that Paul had to be so specific in his list of qualifying character traits, and h went out of his way to list disqualifying characteristics as well. Arrogance, anger, greed, violence, and alcohol abuse would all be huge detriments to godly leadership. They were outward signs of someone who was under the control of the flesh and not the Spirit. In fact, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul provides an even more detailed list of those characteristics that mark someone who is living according to their sinful nature.

…sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,  envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these… – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

A man who is controlled by his own flesh is going to make a lousy leader. He will be disruptive and, potentially, destructive. And it’s obvious that the church on Crete already had enough negative influences impacting it. Titus was going to need godly men whose lives reflected their reliance upon the Spirit’s control.

Titus was going to need help in dealing with the disorder and negative moral influences within the churches on Crete. He couldn’t handle it on his own. So, Paul emphasized the need for him to find the right kind of men to lovingly lead the flock of God, providing much-needed discipline, and modeling the character of Christ to all those around them.

One of the main qualifications these men were to have was a love for the gospel. Paul tells Titus that each of them “must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught” (Titus 1:9 NLT). They were to remain committed to the gospel message by which they had come to faith in Christ.

One of the problems going on in Crete was the influence of those teaching what Paul refers to as a false gospel. There were those who were preaching something other than salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. They were adding to the gospel. Paul will remind Titus that people were “listening to Jewish myths and the commands of people who have turned away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 NLT). So, the men Titus chose to help him lead the church were going to have to be men who were committed to the truth of the gospel message. They were not to accept or even tolerate alternative versions of the truth. As shepherds of God’s flock, they were to refute all false gospels and destructive heresies.

These men were not to function as a board of directors. They were not to see themselves as figureheads or some kind of ad hoc advisory board for Titus. No, they were called to be overseers, shepherds, and pastors of the flock of Jesus Christ. They were to be godly in character and bold in their witness.

It’s easy to see that Paul had a strong view of eldership. He knew these men were indispensable to the spiritual well-being of the church. This is why he told the elders in Ephesus: “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders” (Acts 20:28 NLT).

We live in the midst of an ungodly world and there is an ongoing need for godly men who will step forward and provide leadership and protection for the flock of God. The church needs men of character who are led by the Spirit of God and committed to the Word of God. Disorder and disruption are all around us. That’s why qualified men are in great need, even today.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Doing Right The Right Way.

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men. – 2 Corinthians 8:16-24 ESV

Paul was unashamedly and boldly asking the Corinthians to participate in a fund-raising effort that would be used to alleviate the suffering of the Hebrew Christians living in Judea. Ongoing persecution and the lingering effects of a recent famine had left them in dire circumstances, and Paul was doing all that he could to raise support from all the churches in Macedonia, Achaia, Asia Minor and Galatia. And the church in Corinth was to be no exception. He wants them to know the joy of participating in the gracious support of their fellow believers, even those whom they had never met. Paul was not commanding the Corinthians to give, because he did not want them to do so out of compulsion or with any sense of regret. But he was unapologetically claiming that their giving would be in keeping with the example of Christ Himself.  Paul reminds them, “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9b NLT).

Paul knows that he is doing the right thing. But he has a strong desire to do it in the right way. He is fully aware that everything he does is analyzed and critiqued by his enemies. And while he wasn’t one prone to wasting time worrying about what men thought about him, he did worry about the potential damage his actions might do to the name and cause of Christ. That’s why he was taking special care to handle the collection of the funds in way that was above board and free from accusation by his enemies. He was sending Titus to collect whatever gift the Corinthians were able to provide. They knew Titus and had built a solid relationship with him. But Paul was also sending another individual, “the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 8:18 ESV). We do not know who this brother was, but evidently the Corinthians knew exactly who Paul was talking about. He was well-known and well-respected. He had a reputation for trustworthiness, and Paul indicates that he had “been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us” (2 Corinthians 8:19 ESV).

Paul wasn’t taking any changes. He knew that his efforts to raise funds for the Hebrew Christians provided a perfect opportunity for his enemies to accuse him of everything from extortion and greed to larceny and abuse of power. In the end, what Paul was most concerned about was the name of Christ. He did not want to do anything that might damage the reputation of His Savior or detract from the cause of the gospel. So he took extra precautions to ensure that his efforts were blameless and free from any hint of impropriety.

We are traveling together to guard against any criticism for the way we are handling this generous gift. We are careful to be honorable before the Lord, but we also want everyone else to see that we are honorable. – 2 Corinthians 8:20-21 NLT

It was Jesus who said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV). Peter echoed these words when he wrote, “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world” (1 Peter 2:12 NLT). As believers, we are to do what is right. But it is just as important that we do right in the right way. We must always consider the outcome of our actions. It is essential that we keep in mind that our conduct is always being analyzed by the lost around us. We are ambassadors for Christ and all that we do in this life is done on His behalf. We speak and act on His part. And even our right actions, if not done in the right way, can produce the wrong results and bring harm to the name of Christ. We cannot live with the attitude, “Who cares what they think?” Our conduct has consequences. Our actions speak volumes. Our every word and deed are potential testimonies that will reflect either positively or negatively on the cause of Christ. What we do matters, but how we do it does as well.

Paul was unashamed to ask the Corinthians for money, but he was unwilling to do it in a way that might damage his reputation, hinder his ministry, or bring shame to the name of Christ. “We don’t want anyone suspecting us of taking one penny of this money for ourselves. We’re being as careful in our reputation with the public as in our reputation with God” (2 Corinthians 8:20-21 MSG). That is how we are to live. That is the attitude we must maintain. Our mission matters. So does our methodology. We must always strive to do the right thing, the godly thing, in the right way – blamelessly and above reproach.