Titus 1: Hard Thoughts About Eldership

Titus 1:1-16 

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness–  2 a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time,  3 and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior,  4 To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.  5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.  6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.  7 Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless– not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.  8 Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.  9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.  10 For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group.  11 They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach– and that for the sake of dishonest gain.  12 Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”  13 This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith  14 and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth.  15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.  16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. 

Who do you think you are? 

The Apostle Paul relates to God as His slave (doulos = slave, servant).  Paul sees his submission to the will of Savior God as servanthood. His self-titled status is followed with the statement of who and what he is… an apostle in Christ Jesus.  Paul’s purpose is to further the faith of the Savior’s chosen.  

Keep in mind that Paul’s proclamation is of one who has yielded his soul to another’s will, namely God.  The status of “Slave of God” is then Paul’s attitude of action toward others and also the example of appropriate Christian leadership.  Notice there is no mention of making a name for himself.  He only points to self in terms of slave status and doing what Jesus has commanded.  He’s been sent by Jesus (which is what “apostle” means). 

Standards and Qualifications for Eldership Matter 

I find all but one qualification for eldership straight forward.  One is not clear: “the husband of one wife.”  I want to share how I have thought this through as it may help you in considering what it means. 

Does it mean married only once? 

Does it mean not presently married to more than one woman? 

Does it mean never married to more than one woman at a time? 

Opinion One:  

Several thoughts were shared in another blog post.  As we think about verse 6, why the particular phrasing “husband of one wife?”  Let’s take notice that Biblically speaking divorce is more shameful than polygamy, however, neither “divorce” nor “polygamy” is the Biblical standard.  God’s ordained example in Genesis of Adam and Eve give us God’s standard and intent for marriage.  Divorce is viewed as worse than polygamy.  That strikes most of us a bit odd in our modern culture.   

Think about it:  People back then might often come to the Lord with more than one wife as part of their family.  They are a polygamist, but found the Lord as Savior.  What are they to do?  It is not very Christian to just pick your first wife and put the other(s) out to fend for themselves.   If we look to how the Early Church Fathers dealt with such issues, we will find they struggle with it.  Laws changed because there is no real good solution.  We must stick with God’s established intent of one mate as the aim.  Much heartache can be avoided when we follow His order.  The Apostle Paul sets such a standard in his day for elders for the church in future generations.  

There is room to show grace and correct wrong thinking.  There is room to show grace and correct relationships that don’t reflect God intent. We all come to the Lord with baggage and commitments we must keep after being forgiven.  Some of those commitments (or baggage) may exclude us from roles in the church body and well as draw us into roles that we may have earlier neglected.  We are to turn from the wrong lifestyle, but not responsibility for loving those with whom we are in a relationship.   

Elders must fit the dictates of Scripture because whatever the case may be… those obligations we accumulate though our life choices can never be a reason to change God’s standard. Elders must fit the dictates of Scripture. This verse says “the husband of one wife” and has a standard meaning.  It is the same meaning as in 1 Timothy 5:9 where Paul states that a “true widow” is to be the wife of one husband.  The verse means “married once,” but with the inclusion of all the other concerns because of how the verse is stated. 

A weakness I see in the above opinion is for windows who remarry. I’m not too sure how remarriage fits with God’s intent and I don’t think it does.  It is of course not Biblically wrong to remarry.  It is just instead not the circumstance of the most evident example that the church can present.  The idea being presented here is the concept of Christ and His Bride (the Church) in an everlasting covenant.  I say let the husband of one woman mean “one” because these are qualifications about what we can and can’t do in a family as we reflect Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Opinion Two: 

The phase in verse 6 about “husband of one wife” means faithful to one woman or maybe better put… “a one woman man.”  This is a possible translation and covers the phase in terms of addressing character.  If the man’s character is all Paul is concerned with, then this idea works well.  

However, there are some weaknesses with this view such as divorce and remarriage after conversion to Christianity.  Such a man would not be beyond reproach.  The idea is that many people have good character, but character alone does not qualify for any and every role in the Church.  One needs to know how to cultivate relational skills that meet the demand.  One can have character without skill or knowledge and skills without character.  The elder needs both. 

Also, there can arise a weakness in the standard if “faithful to one woman” means “one woman at a time.”  This brings a concept to text rather than a concept exegeted from the text.  We all can agree that nobody is perfect so it can mean this explanation.  The fact that this is a possibility shows the need for an enduring relational pattern demonstrated within the Church from which others can learn.  

The pattern should reflect Christ and His Bride.  It should not only be present character that is important, but a proven-lasting-fruitful family with children that also follow the Lord.  The person with a proven-lasting-fruitful-faithful family reflects the know-how and skills of raising people in the Lord. The person with a proven-lasting-fruitful-faithful family reveals character in demand for the role of elder.  Such a standard may also fit the deacon, but an elder must have the track record that people can see with no objections.

Therefore, again, I say let the husband of one woman mean “one.”  Such an opinion covers all the possible opinions to “being beyond reproach.”  It is a very high standard, but if the goal is to best reflect Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… it is a needed standard in the human family and the Church family (which parallel each other).  It would make sense to aim for God’s design and recognize God is over what we are not.  Our weakness is overcome by a high standard for God’s people and the roles we carry in reflecting Him. 

BMD 

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