DUNCAN/What elders are for
Please turn to Titus 1:5-9. In his greeting in verses 1-4, Paul revealed that a particular challenge for these congregations was that they were in the midst of a very immoral culture on the island of Crete. The Cretans were apparently not held in particularly high esteem for their moral standards. Consequently, Paul is concerned that the immoral culture of the Cretans may be having a negative impact upon the Christians in these congregations. Therefore, Paul was concerned to promote godliness in these churches. He wanted these Christians in these various churches on this little island of Crete to adorn the gospel of God their Savior with the way that they lived. And the very first thing he says to Titus after saying “hello” in verses 1-4 is “appoint elders.” Paul’s frontline strategy for promoting godliness in these local congregations filled with young Christian believers is to appoint elders. Why is this so important for Paul? What are elders for? Paul says elders are for discipleship. He also tells us that elders are for direction, and they are for doctrine. Thus, Paul intends to see these local congregations grow in grace through discipleship, through the good example of those elders who were giving them direction, and through sound doctrine that those elders were fostering in the local congregation.
I. Elders Are for Discipleship.
In verse 5, Paul says, “For this reason I left you in Crete that you would set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.” In other words, Paul is saying to Titus, “Now go back to each of those cities in Crete where we went and preached and gathered a congregation, and make sure that elders are appointed or ordained in each of those churches in each of those cities because elders are necessary for the display of God’s glory in the church.” Paul sees elders as necessary for the spiritual wellbeing of the church. Paul had evangelized and people had embraced Christ. Members of these local congregations had responded to the gospel, but no discipleship structure was in place.
Christian discipleship happens in the local church, and it involves the careful ministry not simply of one elder or pastor but elders. Notice that Paul says, “Appoint elders in every city.” In every city where there was a gathering of Christians who had responded to Paul’s preaching, they were to have a plurality of godly leaders living and ministering in their midst promoting the discipleship of Christians. And Paul is just emphasizing again the wisdom of God’s way of discipleship in that He has appointed shepherds over His flock.
In Ephesians 4, Paul tells us that one of the ways that Jesus manifests His rule over the church is that He gives His church officers who shepherd the congregation. It’s one of the ways that He manifests His rule and His care for the church. So Paul says, “Titus, we want to promote godliness in these churches. We want to grow people in grace. We want to see people mature in their faith. Here’s the first thing you need to do. You need to appoint elders because elders are for discipleship.”
II. Elders Are for Direction.
In verses 6-8, Paul makes it clear that elders serve as godly examples providing direction to individuals in the local congregation. Specifically, in verse 6, Paul says that they are to be examples in the home. Paul is saying if these elders are going to do a good job of fostering godliness in the church, the best way to see that they will be able to foster godliness in the church is to look at how they foster godliness in the home. And so, he goes right to the marital relationship and to the parenting responsibility of these elders. He says that these men are to be characterized by marital and sexual fidelity, and they are to be good parents whose children are obedient and faithful. And so God says here in His Word that those elders who are to promote godliness in the congregation should be promoting godliness in their own homes.
In verses 7 and 8, Paul also speaks about the example of their character. Specifically, five vices that are not to be gripping the life of the elder are mentioned in verse 7, and then there is a list of six virtues that are to be present in the life of the elder listed in verse 8. Also notice that in both verses 6 and 7 Paul has mentioned on two occasions that an elder is to be “above reproach” as God’s steward. What does it mean to be “above reproach”? It certainly does not mean to be sinlessly perfected or there would be no elders. Instead, to be “above reproach” means to be not open to a justified attack or criticism in terms of the Christian life, and particularly in these areas that Paul lists in verse 7. A godly elder is a man who has not been gripped and controlled by these various sins of self. And he is “above reproach” in his display of these positive virtues listed in verse 8. Specifically, he is hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout and self-controlled. God is giving this local congregation and every local congregation real-life examples of His truth lived out in the elders’ lives in order to encourage and move us as a congregation to grow in grace.
III. Elders Are for Doctrine.
In verse 9, Paul says that elders are for conveying the truth, and they are for confronting those who contradict sound doctrine. He tells us that an elder is zealous for the truth. An elder does not simply assent to the truth, his heart is wrapped up in the truth. He holds fast to the faithful Word of biblical teaching, and he teaches in accordance with that Word. He is able to exhort in sound doctrine. He has an ability to incline faithful Christians to belief and obedience, and he is able to refute those who contradict the gospel. In other words, he is able to defend the faith. So Paul is saying, “Titus, by placing godly shepherds like this in the congregation, it is my desire to see the whole congregation cultivated in Christian growth, in a love for one another, in expression of Christian morality, Christ-likeness, and in a love for the truth of God’s Word.” Paul’s letter also reminds us that we should regularly be praying for our elders to be what God has called them to be and to realize how vital they are to the health of our spiritual experience in the local congregation. May God continue to raise up men in Christian congregations with these spiritual qualifications. May God continue to help those who already are elders to live this particular truth and calling, and may He grow us all in grace.