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“5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, 6 namely, if any man be above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. 7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” (Titus 1:5-9)
Paul is very interested on helping the church get to where it needs to go. The church in her ideal state is so wonderful and glorious. It is like a family gathering shortly after a birth. Everyone is relaxed and enjoying the presence of the new little one. Harmony. Love. Peace. Joy.
But transitions are not always easy. This is not only true for babies being born into the world but also for new churches. You perhaps have faced many disappointing times from past church experiences. You only learned what not to do in a church. Perhaps it is more like a broken family. A person in this situation only knows what he does not want. And even worse, the evil one is fighting the church. He is deliberate in his attack as it says in Revelation 12. He has a long shopping list of attacks that he can use against God’s people.
The problem is that many of them work because we, the people of God, are not alert. But Paul knows, and writes in several places in the scriptures, of the glory of the church when she does live by her design. The Book of Joshua has taught given us a taste of this victorious life. Paul fortunately knows where he is going. He knows what he desires for the church. He is waiting for God’s people to respond in obedience and faith.
The infant churches in Crete were being attacked. Just look at Titus 1:10, “For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision”. We will at another time look more into these attacks. They are hinted at throughout the book. The fact is, that many of us shape our view of the church from what we have experienced. Think of a dull church–one that is just a social party. Or think of a tea party church where everyone likes to hear what others believe rather than living by biblical teaching. Or what about the mean church where they not only fight over doctrine but whatever they can.
Something must change for none of these pictures is a picture of the church of God for whom Christ died. And to be true to our lives and situations, we often do not get a good picture from our experiences. But this is what I love about the Apostle Paul. He did not at all hold back his devotion and giftedness because of its faults. Instead, as in this case, he dug his heals in, prayed and wrote a letter that impacted the scene of God’s people in Crete. His letter was full of practical advice for Titus to bring the church of God to where she should be. Which means, that even if you have been brought up in a less than ideal church, we have paragraphs upon paragraphs of advice and encouragement on what we should do or how we should approach various situations.
If we follow his advice, things will greatly improve. The Apostle, if you will, outlines a path for good churches to develop. Yes, he is writing to one church with its own problems, but one will be surprised to find that Satan uses his same tricks over and over. And where Paul might not mention anything of specific help to your church here, there are numerous other books of the Bible that will fill in the gaps.
In our case, as a newly forming church, the Book of Titus should help keep us from making poor decisions such as in choosing the wrong leaders or in positively helping us to grow by focusing on the importance of commitment.
Paul writes because there needs to be some deliberate shaping that needs to take place for us as God’s people to look more and more like the bride of Christ. There are two ways that Paul here in verses 1:5-9 mentions that we are going to get the church to where she should be. They are significant steps.
They are exactly the prescription that could be written for the church in our modern society today. Why? We first of all see a lack of commitment among God’s people. For one reason or another, people are shuffling away from their needed commitment to the community of God’s people. Much less formal situations are developing. They are not all bad, by any means. But without proper guidelines and protection, they face the exact problems that we now see in the Book of Titus as it describes the church scene in Crete.
We also see a lack of standards for God’s people. In particular, we see a lack of standards for the leaders of these churches. what we used to call sins, are not called sins anymore. They are just called “that is the way I am.” Standards have gone by the wayside. Here are two prescriptions of truth by which God’s people can be transformed. We need to catch afresh again the truths of God so that our faith is built up, and we the people of God live out the glory of the church in our day.
Let us now look more closely to what this first step in starting churches is from Titus 1:5.