The Responsibility of Christian Elders

A Letter to Correct the Defective

Paul explains his purpose in writing to Titus in his assignment on the isle of Crete: “This is the reason I left you in Crete so that you should correct the defective things.” [Titus 1:5 Nazarene Commentary] Or as some other versions put it: KJV: set in order the things that are wanting; RHM: the things remaining undone; BER: straighten out unfinished business; CON: correct what is deficient; TCNT: put in order what has been left unsettled; BECK: make the improvements still need. It is seems clear that the churches on Crete needed a steady hand to bring them to maturity. Titus seems to have the authority to make these corrections. The first of which, as Paul goes on to write, was leadership.

The reason and need for proper leadership in the Church was made clear in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians: “[Christ] gave some gifts in the form of apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers. All these are for the purpose of readjusting the Saints, for the work of service to others, for the building up of Christ’s Body -- until that time we all achieve a perfect unity in the faith and in a heightened relationship with God’s Son -- to a mature person measured after Christ’s own full stature. And this so that we are no longer little children tossed by waves and carried this way and that way by every wind of teaching by tricky persons who use the crafty presentation of lies.” [Ephesians 4:11-14; see notes in Nazarene Commentary]

Elders for the Church’s Health

Paul gives apostolic orders to Titus regarding the qualifications of elders in the various churches on Crete. [Titus 1:6] Paul lists 17 requirements before a man may have appointed hands laid upon him to make him an elder. Consider what kind of man this is judging by the following.

1] Unaccusable. Or, KJV: blameless; ALF: under no imputation; NASB: above reproach; TCNT: irreproachable character; PME: unquestionable integrity; NOR: a reputation beyond reproach; TAY: well thought of for their good lives. In all of these qualifications compare those in 1 Timothy 3:1ff. The man who would be an elder can have no legitimate charge against his character. He is not expected to be perfect but his life must be an example for the whole church. [1 Corinthians 1:8; 1 Timothy 3:10]

2] A husband of one wife. Judging from the widow who is “the wife of one husband” at 1 Timothy 5:9, the man who would be elder could not be a divorced man who has married again.

3] A man with believing children not under any accusation of debauchery or unsubmissive. In 1 Timothy 3 Paul explains the reasons for this: if a man cannot preside over his own household, how can he preside over the church. It is worthy of note that no where does it state his wife should have a certain character, though some see this in 1 Timothy 3:11 where the Greek may permit “wives.”

4] Not arrogant. Or, KJV: not self-willed; WMS: stubborn; MOF: presumptuous; NEB: overbearing; KNX: obstinate; BECK: shouldn’t do as he pleases: BAS: ready to give way to others. Obviously he does not yield to all for Paul goes on to instruct Titus to reprove and resist the disobedient. The elder must find a balance between loving humility and courageous zeal. The early apostates were characterized by a lack of respect for proper authority. [2 Peter 2:10]

5] Not quick-tempered. Or, NEB: short-tempered; KNX: quarrelsome; BAS: not quickly moved to wrath. The elders must be patient and tolerant to other opinions and not given to flashes of anger or mean-tempered. Under every circumstance he must be well balanced emotionally even when dealing with sinners. He may rebuke as did his Lord but his moderate disposition should shine with the Nazarene’s love and the Father’s mercy. [Romans 12:19; James 1:19]

6] Not given to a lot of wine. Or, WMS: not addicted to strong drink; LAM: not excessive. Views vary depending on the culture. Our Lord was a “drinker” and was thus accused wrongly of abuse, while John, who was an abstainer, was accused of demonism. A balance view can easily be understood by researching wine or strong drink in the Bible. The Mediterranean peoples tend to drink weak wine with most meals and happily so during special occasions such as weddings. Compare our Lord’s first miracle at Cana. [John 2:1ff] On the subject of wine see Proverbs 20:1; 23:20, 30-35; 31:4-7.

7] Not violent. Or, KJV: no striker; CON: given to brawls; WMS: pugnacious; LAM: too need to strike with his hand; NOR: to come to blows; RHM: ready to wound. The elder is a man under control of himself -- within the congregation and within his family. He never resorts to physical threats which would give the impression he would be willing to come to blows over a matter.

8] Not fond of dishonest gain. Or, KJV: not given to filthy lucre; ABUV: greedy of base gain; TCNT: questionable money-making; NEB: not a money-grubber; MOF: addicted to pilfering. There were those in the early Church who took advantage of their position materially, Judas being the first. In English the word “extortion” may involve those who take material advantage of their position. [1 Timothy 3:8; 1 Peter 5:2.] Read 1 Corinthians 9:4-14 where Paul refers to the Nazarene: “Those preaching the good news may live by the good news,” allowing for basic needs to be covered by the congregations. This was to be done without laying a burden, however. Read 2 Thessalonians chapter 3. In at least one situation Paul supported himself, either not to be a burden, or, because those wishing to give did so with an agenda. [Galatians 6:6]

9] Hospitable. Or, ASV: given to hospitality; BAS: opening his house freely to guests. The Greek means “fond of strangers” shown by invitations to the home for rest and food. The Middle East was famous for its hospitality and among these the Christians out-shone them all. Thus, as an example in the congregation the elder must be head and shoulders above all when it comes to hospitality. His home must be open to all. He cannot be a recluse or isolated, giving a cold shoulder to others whom may benefit from his charity and hospitality. [Deuteronomy 15:9; Romans 12:13; 2 Corinthians 9:7; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9] In the Hebrew Bible compare cases of hospitality in Abraham, Lot, and Abigail.

10] A lover of goodness. Or, KJV: a lover of good men; NEB: right-minded. Goodness is moral excellence characterized in coming to the aid of others, or, beneficence. The name Agatha comes from the Greek word often translated “good.” [Galatians 5:22; 6:10; Romans 12:9; Ephesians 5:9; 1 Peter 3:13; 3 John 11]

11] Sound of mind. Or, KJV: sober; ASV: sober-minded; WMS: sensible. The Greek is SOPHRONA [Strong’s 4998] and literally means safe-mind, or, self-controlled, moderate as to opinion or passion. It is a word Paul uses also at Titus 2:2, 5, 6. [1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Peter 4:7] Healthy thinking that is balanced and controlled is the meaning. The elder cannot be given to extremes or faddish. He may have his opinions on such matters as health or recreation but he cannot use his standard as a judge of others.

12] Just. Or, WMS: upright; MOF: a just man; BECK: use good judgment; NW: righteous. If the Greek is viewed as “righteous” then it means the elder is an example of observing the Nazarene commandments. [See the publication Nazarene Commandments; see notes on 1 John 3:23; John 14:15; 15:14] If the bias be “just” then his decisions would be in harmony with what is fair and right. There are those occasions where such elders must “judge those matters inside the congregation.” [1 Corinthians 5:12, 13; 6:3-6] In this matter of judgment he must be impartial and not influenced by money or prestige. [Leviticus 19:15]

13] Holy. Or, WMS: of pure life; MOF: a religious man; BECK: live right and holy; NW: loyal. Holiness under the law involved body, mind, and worship. [Numbers 15:40; Leviticus 19:2] The English word ”holy” carries perhaps too strong a meaning for it infers almost a spiritual perfection. The Greek is HOSION [Strong’s 3741], a divine character -- sacred, saintly. Clearly the elder must be known as a “holy” man. Since all Christians should be characterized as “holy” the elder must be more so. [1 Peter 1:15, 16; 2:5, 9; 3:5]

14] Self-controlled. Or, KJV: temperate; CON: continent; MOF: abstemious; BECK: he should control himself. [2 Timothy 3:3; 1 Corinthians 7:9; 9:25; Galatians 5:23; 2 Peter 1:6] This elder has learned to control himself so that he does not act or speak hastily. He also has control of his own body and habits.

15] Holding to that teaching in harmony with [the] faithful Word. Or, KJV: holding fast the faith word as he hath been taught; MOF: holds by the sure truths of doctrine. The elder must be very familiar with the teachings of the Nazarene, able to quote and cite sizable portions. He knows where to turn in the Bible for truths on doctrine and conduct. He does not rely on his own opinion or worldly thought. He must have read the Bible several times and the Christian Bible many times. This “teaching” or doctrine, is that found in the Gospels and the writings of those inspired disciples of the Nazarene. He is not a man without an opinion, or a man who believes there is a wide range of interpretation to the “faithful word.” [1 Timothy 4:16; 6:3; James 3:1]

16] Strong enough to exhort by that healthy teaching. Or, KJV: that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort; RHM: encourage with his healthful instruction; NEB: move his hearers with wholesome teaching. When the elder teaches he must be able to accomplish two things: first, discussed here, exhortation or encouragement. Teaching is an art learned by use of the Word. [2 Timothy 1:13] The elder cannot be a weak man afraid to speak God’s truth.

17] Reprove those who are opposing. Or, KJV: to convince the gainsayers; WMS: convict those who oppose him; RSV: confute those who contradict; GDSP: show the error; BAS: overcome the arguments of the doubters. The elder is well studied in God’s Word so that he can quote chapter and verse. He also is unafraid to confront those who oppose the “faithful word.” Not only must the elder be encouraging but also he must be strong enough -- and capable enough -- to deal with the opposition. Paul was such a man. He was fearless in the face of those who contradicted the Gospel and healthful teaching. No Christian should object to “reproof” or rebuke. [Revelation 3:19; Ephesians 5:11; 1 Timothy 5:20; 2 Timothy 4:2]

On Guard Against False Teachers

Paul continues to stress in the rest of his letter to Titus how elders protect the flock from false teachers. He writes, “For, indeed, there are many opposers, idle talkers and deceivers, particularly those of the circumcision. It is necessary to stop the mouths of those who overturn entire households, teaching what they ought not for the sake of dishonest gain. ... For this reason reprove them with severity, that they may be healthy in the Faith.” [Titus 1:10-13 Nazarene Commentary 2000©]

Already, this early in the Church, there was an apostasy at work. [2 Thessalonians 2:1-3; Acts 20:29, 30] These “opposers” fell into two major groups: a) the Judaizers who wished Christianity to be an extension of Judaism and the Law of Moses (today reflected in similar groups); and, b) the Greek influence of the Gnostics and Stoics who would bring in philosophical doctrines influenced by the much esteemed Plato and Aristotle (today reflected in Trinitarianism). Early Christianity was not a free group of independent thinkers with a variety of views on everything. Such “winds” were spoken of negatively. [Romans 1618; Ephesians 4:13-14; 1 Timothy 1:6, 7; 2 Timothy 2:18]

As in the first century the same exist by the tens of thousands among modern Christianity. These include the so-called “modernists” who have rejected Jesus as Messiah and Son of God and deny the Bible is God’s inspired Word. [2 Timothy 3:15-17] They also include those so-called “conservatives” who twist the Word to create time chronologies and preach “the time is at hand.” [Luke 21:8; Deuteronomy 18:20-22]

The early Church was not a place where just anyone’s views could be expressed. The elder must be able to resist or restrain those teachers who have departed from Christ and Paul. [2 Timothy 3:6] Mouths may be stopped by not permitting such to speak or by over-powering arguments. The fight for pure doctrine was an ongoing battle. [2 Corinthians 10:4-7]

There are two ways to identify such false teachers: material profit, or, selfish ambition. [1 Timothy 6:5; 1 Peter 5:2] Either these men want profit or they want undeserved honor. They usually teach what others want to hear in order to tickle their ears. It seems clear that Titus was not to permit the congregations to freely flow “with every wind of teaching.” [Ephesians 4:14] Some persons will only remain healthy in faith with stiff reproof. Such reproof is also a protection for the congregations themselves. [Titus 2:2]

Titus was counseled, as should modern elders, concerning how and what to speak.

Paul writes: “However, you [Titus], speak those things which are appropriate and suitable with healthy teaching. ... Continue to speak and encourage all these things. Also reprove with every command. Permit no one to disregard you.” [Titus 2:1, 15 Nazarene Commentary;1 Timothy 4:16; 2 Timothy 1:13] The early Church was not a lose conglomeration of independent churches with divergent opinions. [1 Corinthians 1:9-11; Ephesians 4:13, 14]

Titus provides an example for modern elders. It is curious to examine contemporary teachers whether they teach these things. This is no shrinking violet. Even Jesus was recognized because he “taught with authority.” [Matthew 7:29.] He is not without solid opinions and convictions regarding the “doctrine.” How does one allow no one to disregard them? If Titus is treated lightly as to his authority he must demonstrate that he, in fact, has such apostolic authority. [1 Timothy 4:12] If necessary he will rebuke in public.

The elder may have strong views and opinions on Scriptural matters confirmed in the Bible. Neither Titus, nor a modern elder, can tolerate views contrary to Scripture within the fellowship. Consider how Paul writes Titus: “That statement is trustworthy. Concerning these [teachings] I counsel you [Titus] to make strong affirmations about them so that [the congregations] of those who believe God continue minding good works. These [teachings] are good and profitable to humanity. Shun a heretical person after two warnings. Realize that such a person has been perverted, and, in sinning, is self-condemned.” [Titus 3:8, 10, 11 Nazarene Commentary 2000©] Or as Philips Modern English version paraphrases this: “Speak with absolute certainty.” What Paul has written are no mere suggestions, they are apostolic commands. Titus is not to be hesitant or wishy-washy. He gives his reasons in the next phrases. What Paul writes to Titus is not limited to just the isle of Crete. They are applicable and beneficial to Christians of all ages. [2 Timothy 3:15-17]

The Greek for “heretical” is HAIRETICON [Strong’s 141] and the earliest meaning was a person with an opinion or choice, and thus a person who is divisive in his opinion, or schismatic. This does not mean a Christian cannot have an opinion or choice for Paul has just told Titus to make “firm assertions” about certain teachings. These “heresies” contradict “healthy teaching” which came from Jesus the Nazarene. [1 Corinthians 11:19; Galatians 1:7-9; Galatians 5:20] The sectarian person deserves two apostolic warnings from qualified elders. [Romans 16:17 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; 2 John 10]

There is much the modern elder can learn from Paul’s letter to Titus. Any church with such elders can feel well fed spiritually as well as protected from Satanic influences. As Paul counsels, “Keep holding such men dear.” [Philippians 2:29]

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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