Elders for the Church on Crete
“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” (v. 5).- Titus 1:5–6
Paul says in Titus 1:1 that he is “an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness.” In other words, Paul’s primary task was to preach the gospel in order that the elect might reveal themselves by trusting in it and be built up in the knowledge of God, which knowledge will produce holy living. Having planted a church, he then appointed overseers to continue teaching the apostolic and prophetic word (Acts 14:19–23) before moving on to a new mission field.
Although this was the apostle’s normal practice, it seems that he left Crete before he could ordain elders for the churches he planted there, as seen in today’s passage. Paul’s mission to Crete is never described in detail; his visit to the island recorded in Acts 27 occurs in a period that was too short to allow for extensive evangelization. So he probably visited Crete again after being released from the Roman imprisonment described in chapter 28. Clearly, Titus was with him on this second visit, otherwise Paul could not have left him behind there to perform the necessary task of appointing elders (Titus 1:5). As John Calvin says, “Churches cannot safely remain without the ministry of pastors, and that consequently, wherever there is a considerable body of people, a pastor should be appointed over it.”
Being a center for the sea trade in the Roman Empire, it was particularly important for the Cretan church to be well-organized, with structures in place to keep it from doctrinal and ethical contamination. People throughout the empire would first hear of Christianity from their own travels to Crete or from the many who sailed through its ports, and this initial impression would have a lasting effect upon world missions. This is one practical reason why Paul wants elders to be “above reproach” (Titus 1:6), although the need for personal holiness is ultimately based on God’s call for us to be holy as He is holy (Lev. 11:45).
Being above reproach is not perfection but honesty regarding personal sin and corresponding evidence of repentance. No one is perfect until they are glorified, but all of us must constantly strive to turn from sin (1 John 1:8–10).
Augustine notes that Paul does not say “‘If anyone is without sin.’ For if he were to say this, every person would be rejected, no one would be ordained” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT vol. 9, p. 286; hereafter ACCNT). The qualification for being a church leader, indeed, for being a Christian at all, is repentance — a continual admission of one’s sin, a turning to Christ for forgiveness, and an endeavor to set right what one has made wrong.
Passages for Further Study
1 Timothy 3:2