Titus 1:5-9 (part two)

We continue in our series in Titus. Yesterday, we opened up a can of worms by looking at the characteristics of elders in Titus 1:5-9. We looked at a few of the worms, but there are still plenty more left today.  But first, read the text again to remind yourself of what we’re discussing:

Titus 1:5-9 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, 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.

So we’ve dealt with male elders, the process of appointment, and the importance of their being blameless and faithful to their spouses. So far, so good. We then get to our next worm: a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. What’s this about? If you have a “wild and disobedient” two-year-old, do you need to take some time out as a leader if your time outs at home aren’t working? By what age do they have to be believers? And is there ever an age at which their unbelief is no longer reckoned against your parenting? The more you hack into this worm, the more worms appear.

First off, we need to see that the literal translation is “children having faith/faithfulness.” This could be faith/trust/loyalty to God (which is how the NIV takes it) or simply to their parents. In Paul’s day, obedience to parents (even into early adulthood) was enforceable by law, and Roman fathers could even order their children be executed. Having a rebellious child was a sign that a father couldn’t control his household, even when it was stacked in the father’s favour. The bar is set a lot higher today, with children encouraged to think and behave independently from their parents, and without the threat of corporal or capital punishment! If it does refer to the children being believers, this also has a quite different cultural backdrop, in which the religion of the male head of the household was also expected to be the religion of the whole household. (Note the whole household baptisms mentioned in the New Testament.) So either way, is it still appropriate to use first century result-based criteria of responsible parental leadership in a quite different twenty-first century context? In my opinion, I’d say the principle is still valid: if a person shows an inability to lead their children, we should think carefully about giving them significant leadership in the church. But that ability should probably not be judged purely on the outcome, but a closer look at how they parent, since schools and peers, (not to mention the internet) have a far greater influence on a child’s development than was the case in the first century, where child rearing was done mostly within the (wider) family unit.

In verse 6 we saw that the elder must be “blameless” – in verse 7 this is explained by a series of negative behaviours they are to avoid: not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. This is inappropriate behaviour for someone who manages God’s household, probably alluding to Jesus’ parable about the wicked household slave who mistreats his fellow slaves (see Quinn, The Letter to Titus, p.89) representing bad leadership in the kingdom of God:

Luke 12:45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk.

Paul is warning that elders need to be those who serve the interests of others, not themselves. It’s interesting that the requirements are a little more strict in 1 Timothy 3:

1 Timothy 3:2-3, 6-7 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money… He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgement as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

Most think that the slightly lower bar for elders in Crete (i.e. don’t appoint any angry, dishonest drunkards) is because the church was in its more formative stages with mostly new converts – to apply the 1 Timothy 3 criteria may exclude everyone! This suggests the criteria aren’t to be applied legalistically, but are situation-specific examples of the “character first” principle we spoke of yesterday.


To think about

If you’re a leader (whether it be a church “elder” by name or function, or in any other capacity within the church community), take time to examine your motivations and conduct: are you acting for the interests of others, or your own?

How can you support those in leadership to reflect all the more the character traits we’ve been describing? Take time to pray for your church’s leaders now.

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