A Few Good Men

The gospel really does change everything—transforming rebellious Cretans into mature and godly Christian leaders. What about us?

Andrew Harder on February 16, 2020
A Few Good Men
February 16, 2020

A Few Good Men

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Passage: Titus 1:5-16
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I remember the first time I heard that there was a church in Nipawin in search of a pastor. I was cautiously excited. But I still had a lot of questions. It wasn’t until we had our first visit up here, almost three years ago, that we started to think, “Wow, we could really fall in love with that place.”

I wonder what a candidating experience on 1st century Crete would have been like. Would you have sat down with the search committee, and started to ask questions, and maybe said something like, “Tell me about the people around here”? And one of the people clears their throat awkwardly and says, “Well, um, you know, they are, uh, liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.”

Because that’s what verse 12 says about the people on Crete. And you probably wouldn’t have needed to even ask about the people around there. Because they had such a reputation. In the ancient world, the “kreitizo,” to speak or act like a Cretan, meant “to lie” or “to deceive.”

And that’s where Titus was left behind, to put things into order. Talk about your fixer upper.

But do you remember what we heard last week? Do you remember that the gospel changes everything? Do you believe that the gospel changes everything for Cretans, too?

Paul did. And it was this belief and hope that energized Titus’ difficult mission. That’s why, after talking about the huge and eternal and transforming work of God in the gospel, he can say to Titus, “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—” (Titus 1:5).

Some people would have heard this and laughed. “You want me to stay, by myself, on Crete? And you want me to appoint elders in every town? You want me to believe that the gospel has made a difference even here? That, in every town, people have come to faith in Jesus? And that the gospel has changed them enough that you’d consider them for eldership? Is this a joke?”

And the answer is no, this is not a joke. The gospel really does change everything. No ground is too hard for the seed of the gospel to penetrate. Even on Crete, people had come to faith in Jesus, and even on Crete, they were maturing in their faith and some were reaching the point where they could be appointed to leadership within the church.


Why Titus Was There

And so that’s why Titus was left behind. Like verse 5 tells us, he was there to put “what remained into order.” We’ve been reminded a few times in this series that the early church was not just one big free-for-all. As Paul looked out at these Cretan churches, he knew that they needed order.

And the number one way to put them into order was to “appoint elders in every town.” Notice that it doesn’t say “an elder in every town.”

Elders or overseers as they are called in verse 7 or shepherds or pastors as they are called elsewhere in the New Testament (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-2) always worked as a team. And establishing a team of mature leaders was Titus’ number one priority in his mission to Crete.

And we shall marvel that the gospel had changed things enough to make this mission even possible. That’s one of the big ideas coming out of verse 5.

There’s actually a few more big ideas bouncing around in verse 5 as well. We’re going to consider two of them. Two big truths about the church that verse 5 points us towards.


The Church Is Its People

So first, let’s think about the pattern here. The gospel had been preached to the Cretans, there were Christians in every town, and they would have already started to gather together in churches, because that’s just what God’s people do. And after they had already formed a church, elders were appointed. Some time had to pass in order for their Christian maturity to be proven. And when we read the book of Acts, we see that this is the pattern. Elders were really important, but the church existed before they had elders (Acts 14:21-23).

And this tells us something very important about the nature of the church. If you can have a church without leaders, this means that a church, most basically, is defined by its people. Maybe you think that’s obvious. But not everyone recognizes this. There are some church traditions which say that you don’t have a church unless you have an appointed leader. The leader or the denomination or maybe even the building is what makes the church a church.

But being Baptists, we point to the New Testament pattern, which shows up here in verse 5, and say: “leaders are important. But they don’t make the church. The people make the church.”

So let’s apply this implication to ourselves. What is Emmanuel Baptist Church? I  hope you know that it’s not just a franchise of a big denomination, or even just this nice building we meet in. Emmanuel Baptist Church is made up of people, and those people are Emmanuel Baptist Church.

And if you understand this point, if you understand that this is how Baptists think about the church, then you’ll understand why church membership is such a big deal to us. If the church is the people, then it’s really important for us to know who those people are who make up our church.

It wouldn’t be fair to just assume that if someone attends some services then they must be a committed, integral part of the body here. You can’t assume that. And so that’s why we need membership. It’s the way that people indicate they have joined this church and are a part of what actually makes this church a church. Because the church is its people.

Now I really hope you don’t misunderstand what I just said. I’m not saying that if you’re not a member, you’re not important to us, or that we don’t think of you as a part of the family here, especially if you’ve been around a while.

But I am saying that if you consider yourself a part of the family here, especially if you’ve been around a while, you should be a member. Because that’s what membership is. It’s the indication that you don’t just attend the services here but that you are actually a part of this church, a member of the people who make this church a church in the first place.

2) There’s a second truth about the church that we get out of verse 5, which actually ties in with this theme of membership a fair bit, and might explain some questions you have at the moment. Titus was told to “appoint elders in each town,” because there was only one church in every town. And that’s what we see all across the New Testament. One church per town.

This is one reason we see such an emphasis on unity in the New Testament letters. Because there was only one church per town, you didn’t have the option of leaving and going somewhere else. You had to stick it out and make it work. And you invested all of your strength and time and resources into this group of people whom you were committed and submitted to.

Things have changed, haven’t they? Just think of how many different churches there are in our little town of Nipawin.

Now having more than one church is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be. There’s lots of bad reasons for starting a new church, or going to a new church. But sometimes you have many churches simply because of such significant  disagreements in theology and practice, and it’s just impossible to make it work.

And God can use that. Like Paul and Barnabas separating (Acts 15:39), it’s a last resort that may end up actually multiplying the ministry of the gospel.

Here in Nipawin I’m working to build good relationships with several other gospel-preaching pastors in town. We can have unity in the gospel despite our acknowledged differences.

But we do have differences. And that’s why these different churches exist. They don’t exist so that we can pick and choose what suits our preferences. They don’t exist so we can do what my family did for many years when I was a child: we bounced around and played the field and consumed different programs from different churches and never committed or submitted to any body.

Here in North America, multiple churches can really feed our consumerism and individualism. Membership is uncomfortable to us. And that’s why we need it. Without it, we miss out on what every Christian in the Bible and so many Christians in the world today get to experience by default. We miss out on that amazing privilege of looking at a group of people and saying, “I’m in. I’m a part of you. You’re my people. We’ve got each others backs, and I’m not going to leave if things get tough. I’m committed to being the body of Christ with you.”

When you’ve got multiple churches in each town, we need membership in order to do that. Because again, it’s not fair to assume that someone is committed until they actually commit.

And yes, commitment is a little bit scary. But it is the gateway to much joy.

So, all of that from verse 5. Titus was in Crete to set the church in order, appointing elders in every town. And from that simple statement we learn so much about the power of the gospel and the nature of the local church.


Who Titus was Supposed to Look For

Now, knowing that Titus’ main mission in Crete was to appoint elders, verses 6 to 9 tell him who he was supposed to look for. This is what Titus needed to know, first and foremost. This was more important than job or process descriptions. What mattered most what who he was supposed to look for.

These verses might sound familiar, because so much of what we read here overlaps with the list of qualifications that Paul gave to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, which we just studied in November. And yet that’s so important, isn’t it? It shows that the standards don’t drop when we move from Ephesus to Crete. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or where your church is. This is what the gospel does.

So let’s review this description together. Verse 6 tells us that an elder needs to be above reproach. There’s nothing in their life or character that someone could make a legitimate accusation about. They have to be a husband of one wife, having a track record of faithfulness to their spouse.

The next phrase in verse 6 is an interesting one. It says “and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” (Titus 1:6).

There are some who read this word “believers” and take it to mean that an elder’s children must be Christians. And if his children don’t believe in Jesus, then he’s not fit to lead.

But if you have an ESV Bible, you can see there’s a footnote on that word “believers,” and at the bottom of the page it will say “or are faithful.” In the original language, the word here can be translated as either “believing” or “faithful.”

The King James and several other translations (NKJV, CSB) translate this phrase as “faithful children.” And I think they are right in doing so. That word “faithful” here points to obedience and submission. Like in the phrase, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). A faithful servant is one who submits to his master and does what he says.

And this lines up with the list of requirements in 1 Timothy, where is says that an elder “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (1 Timothy 3:4).

That’s the issue here. An elder can’t control whether his children come to faith in Jesus or not. That’s a matter of God’s sovereignty. But a godly father will keep his children submissive. He can ensure that they are faithful, submissive and obedient to his authority.

And this is backed up for us in the rest of verse 6, which says that his children can’t be “open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” (Titus 1:6). This is not talking about what they believe; it’s talking about how they act in relation to their father’s authority.

So I’m with the King James Version on this verse: an elder’s children need to be faithful to their father’s authority, trustworthy and reliable in their obedience to him. Dads in the room, this is your responsibility. And a good dad will work to win the heard of his children with fatherly tenderness. But he won’t forget that he has authority and he will use it to produce obedience.

Dads in the room, and this goes for you moms as well, do you let your kids say “no” to you? If you tell them to do something, do you put up with them complaining or whining about it or negotiating with you or saying “but…” or just flat-out saying no?

That’s not godly parenting. Godly parenting expects full obedience the first time it is asked for. Because that’s what God tells our children to do (Colossians 3:20), and we are God’s stewards, helping them learn how to obey God, and not us.

Moms and dads, God has given you authority over your children. Train them to respond to that authority. Train them to obey all the way the first time with a good attitude. Yes, that’s a lot of work, but who said anything about parenting being easy? If you wanted easy you wouldn’t have had kids.

Let’s keep moving through this list. Verse 7 repeats the command that an elder or overseer must be above reproach, and goes on to say that he must not be “arrogant.” This word also has the sense of self-willed or stubborn.

Elders work as a team, and a guy who thinks it’s “my way or the highway” simply can’t be a part of that team. “Quick tempered” points to someone who is prone to anger. Someone whom you’re afraid to challenge because they might blow up in your face. No Christian should be like that, and no elder can.

These next four requirements in verse 7 and are all repeated from the list in 1 Timothy: an elder can’t be “a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable.” Verse 8 goes on to say that he must be a lover of good. Not just someone who tolerates good, but someone who loves good.

“Self-controlled” in verse 8 is another repeat from 1 Timothy, but these last three descriptors in verse 8 are only found here in Titus. An elder must be “upright, holy, and disciplined.” Once again we see that what is required of an elder is simply what is expected of each of us. All of God’s people should be known as upright, holy, and disciplined. And elders must be the ones who set the example in these areas.

When we studied the requirements for elders in 1 Timothy 3, we saw that of all the items on the list, only one pointed to actual ability. Everything else had to do with character. But the one ability required was the ability to teach.

And that ability to teach is fleshed out for us here in Titus in verse 9: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). That’s what being “able to teach” looks like, and in just a moment we’re going to talk about why it’s so important.

But before we move on, let’s remind ourselves of what this list is. Verses 6-9 describes a man who has been transformed by the gospel. Apart from the ability to teach, this is what every Christian has been called to be. And we have no excuses to not be this. If God can do this to Cretans, He can do this for us. This is what we should all be growing to look like as we trust in God’s promises and train ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7).


Why This Was So Important
(vv. 10-16)

Now there’s one more big step in our passage today, verses 10-16. This last section opens with the word “for.” The elders needed to “be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 2:9) for this reason: “For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:10–11).

In other words, they need to be able to rebuke because there’s a lot of people who need rebuke. There’s a lot of people who are still acting like Cretans.

And just like in Ephesus, they were falling victim to false teaching. The false teaching in Crete sounds like it has a lot of similarity with the stuff in Ephesus. They were doing it for money, like verse 11 says. They were misunderstanding and misapplying the Jewish Scripture, like verse 10 and verses 14 point to.

Verse 15 and 16 suggest they were misusing the food laws in the Old Covenant, teaching that certain foods made you impure. And Paul turns that on its head by saying that they were the ones who were impure.

So again, we see a lot of similarity to what we found in Ephesus. But verse 12 also suggests that there was a particularly Cretan flavour to this false teaching. That’s a way of summing up this problem. These guys were still just acting like mere Cretans instead of Christians.

And so how were Titus and these teams of elders supposed to deal with these false teachers, these guys who had professed faith in Jesus and yet were still acting like Cretans?

They were to rebuke them, verse 9. Silence them, verse 11. Rebuke them sharply, says verse 13, which could be referring to either the false teachers or those who are beginning to believe their stuff. That doesn’t sound very nice or very Canadian, does it? But what’s the goal of this sharp rebuke? Look back at verse 13. “Rebuke them, that they may be sound in the faith.”

Paul had hope, even for these false teachers. He wanted to see them be sound in the faith. And the way to get them there was not to be nice. It was to be loving. Which meant sharp rebuke. And if these guys really were Christians, if they really did have the Holy Spirit, they would respond well to that. They’d humble themselves under the rebuke. They’d become sound in the faith.

Of course, that might not happen. They may actually prove themselves to be those who turn away from the truth, like verse 14 says. They may be among the defiled and unbelieving in verse 15, with minds and consciences are totally defiled. They might say they know God, but prove by their works that they actually don’t. They may be detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

And by the way, that would be all of us apart from the grace of God in our life. That’s where we all start off. But the gospel changes everything. And the gospel makes it possible for someone who is being seduced by this false teaching to come to their senses and become sound in the faith.

So how do you tell the difference between the two? How do you tell the difference between a confused Christian who is devoting themselves to the commands of people who turn away from the truth, and someone who actually has turned away from the truth?

And answer is that you rebuke them sharply (v. 13). And the person with the Holy Spirit in them will respond well to that and go on to be sound in the faith. And the person who doesn’t, won’t.

This passage is not saying that sharp rebuke is our first recourse for every problem in the church. But when this kind of stuff is going on, it’s what’s needed. And though it will feel painful, God’s people will respond well to it, embracing sound faith instead of defensiveness or anger or whatever other human-level response would come naturally to them. Because the gospel changes everything.

And so we come full-circle, back to where we started. Crete was a terrible place. And yet the gospel had made an impact there. People were saved by faith in Jesus in every town. And Paul expected that Titus would be able to find Cretans who had been so transformed by the power of God that they matched the description in verses 6-9, and would be a part of God’s continued work in the lives of other Cretan Christians who needed to grow in the same way.


What About Us?

So what about us? We don’t live in Crete, we live in Canada. Our besetting sins might be different from theirs. The kinds of false teaching that we are vulnerable to might be different from theirs. But sin is sin, and the gospel is the gospel. So as we end here, I want to give you an encouragement, a challenge, and an invitation.

The Encouragement

Do you ever look around Canada, or maybe even just your family, and loose hope at how bad things are? Have you ever lost hope that even God can do anything?

I hope this passage points you in the other direction. Yes, things are bad. Yes, apart from the gospel we are all verse 15 & 16. But our God saves. He sent His son to die for our sins and rise again to give us a living hope, and by this gospel, by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, Cretans can become Christians. Even Canadians can become Christians.

So take heart, and don’t keep the gospel a secret. It’s the most powerful message in the world.

The Challenge

That’s the encouragement. Next is the challenge. Just like these Cretans so easily still acted like Cretans, are there any ways that we still act like Canadians instead of Christians? Maybe our sins are different from what we see in this passage… but maybe not. Just think about that word “insubordinate” in verse 10. This word can also be translated “rebellious” or “independent.” It refers to someone who refuses to submit or come under authority.

Do you think this is a problem for us Canadians? Do you think this is even a problem for us Baptists? I wonder sometimes if we Bdsaptists think that congregational church government means that we don’t ever need to submit to anybody, and we use it as an excuse for insubordination.

And would be a big mistake. Every single one of us must submit to God and His word. In the church, we submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21). In a congregational church like ours, we submit ourselves to the will of the congregation when they vote on decisions, and we submit  ourselves to the leadership whom that congregation appoints (Hebrews 13:17).

And this goes for all of us. I submit to the leadership of this church, regularly. I’ve told you that the board and myself are already working at a team of elders, which means that I don’t run this ship singlehandedly. There’s been numbers of times where I’ve had a suggestion or an idea and it’s been voted down.

And when that happens, I submit. I don’t leave those meetings angry. Because I submit to the Lordship of Jesus, who bought me with His own blood, and I understand that Jesus exercises His Lordship through His church. So I submit to Jesus by submitting to the leaders of this church.

So it goes for all of us. Being a Baptist is no excuse for being insubordinate or independent.

Here’s an application question for you: when’s the last time that you have submitted to authority and have done so willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord? How will you respond the next time you need to do so?

Will you respond like a Canadian, or will you respond like a Christian? Maybe your issue isn’t insubordination. Whatever it is, whatever your besetting sin is, will you take some time today or this week to ask the Lord to show you what the gospel says about that sin? What the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has to do with it? And will you ask the Lord to soften your heart by the Holy Spirit, and change you by the gospel?

The Invitation

Finally, I have an invitation. We talked a lot about membership early on in the message, and if this is your church home and you haven’t made that official through membership, I want to invite you to do that. There’s still a little bit of time if you want to join those who will be joining membership next Sunday evening. You can grab an application in the foyer on your way out today, and get that back in to the office early this week.

And if Sunday is too soon, and you still have questions, then please get that process started. I or one of the other leaders here would love to talk to you about that.

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