Let us look particularly at the first chapter. Verses 1-4 give the salutation. Paul speaks of himself as a bondman of God, and a sent-one of Jesus Christ, in accordance with the faith of God's elect. "Faith" here refers not to trust nor confidence in God on the part of the elect, but to that body of doctrine which the elect are called to defend. He adds, "And the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness." Godliness is literally god-likeness, or piety. The truth apprehended in the soul produces piety in the life. This is insisted on in this letter.
The statement of verse 2 deserves special consideration: "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began." It should read, "the age-times," or "the times of the ages," in place of "world." There are two Greek words, not merely one, that are here together translated "world."
The "times of the ages" are the dispensations, the redemptive ages which began after the fall of man. The promise of life here referred to, as also in 2 Timothy 1:1, was the declaration Jehovah made when He cursed the serpent: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel." This is the promise of life. It was not a promise given before the creation of the material universe, but before the ages of time had started to run their course. Sin had come in, but man was not to be left under the sentence of death. A divine Deliverer was to come from God, the Virgin's Son, who would bring in life. In due time God fulfilled this promise, and it is now proclaimed by His Word throughout the world.
From verses 5-9 we have instruction given to Titus in regard to the ordination of elders. He was to set in order the things that were wanting, organizing the churches in a godly way and ordaining elders in every city by apostolic direction. These elders must be blameless, husbands of but one wife, having their households in godly subjection. That "elder" and "bishop" refer to the same person seems evident: "For," he continues, as though speaking of exactly the same class, "a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God," a man who holds himself in control, not wilful, nor of bad temper, self-indulgent, quarrelsome, nor yet covetous, but hospitable, warm of heart toward his brethren, delighting in those who are good, sober, just, holy. He must not play fast and loose with Holy Scripture, but hold fast the Word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine to exhort and convince the gainsayers. Thus in five short verses the apostle portrays for us the ideal elder or bishop. "Elder" suggests a man of maturity, while "bishop" emphasizes his office, the word meaning an overseer.
The need of godly order in the Church was evident. In Crete, as elsewhere, there were many unruly, vain talkers and deceivers, particularly those who had come out of Judaism. Never having been fully delivered from the law, they prated of their greater privileges, and sought to bring the Gentile believers into bondage. "Whose mouths must be stopped, for they subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake." That is, they were seeking to form a party around themselves, having in view their own aggrandizement and enrichment.
These Cretan Jews were like their Gentile fellow-countrymen of whom Epimenides had written, "The Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies." The last expression might read, "greedy gluttons." What people are by nature comes out even after Christ has wrought in their souls, and therefore calls for greater watchfulness. The old nature is not changed by conversion, though a new nature is given. But the motions of the flesh must be put to death if there would be a life of victory and piety. So Paul commands Titus to rebuke them sharply in order that they may be sound in the faith. They must be warned against Jewish fables and commandments of men (taking the place of revealed truth), that would only lead to apostasy.
The fifteenth verse has frequently been utterly misused: "Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled." This does not mean that things which to others are unholy become in themselves pure when done by those of superior mind. It means that the pure delight in purity, even as the unholy delight in that which is impure. With mind and conscience defiled such may make a great religious profession declaring that they know God, but their evil works prove that they are utter strangers to Him. It is against the behavior of such that Titus is called upon to warn the people of God.