If Paul’s letter to Titus, his close companion and friend, were an essay written for a professor instead of a letter to a friend, the two sentences that make up verses 5-9 of chapter 1 would act as the thesis statement. Let’s take a look:
5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you— 6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. 7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, 8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.
Verse 5 makes it easy on the readers, Titus and us, so we do not need to guess why Paul is writing. His purpose is to provide the inspired information needed to set the newly established local church on the right track for the long term. Doing so depends on the character of the elders and every other group of people in the church.
The origin of the New Testament church in Crete ties to an exciting event that another of Paul’s close companions, Luke, described in Acts 2:4—the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit, as Jesus predicted they would in Acts 1:8.
Acts 2:11 records that among the groups of Jews gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost were Cretans, who heard the Apostles speaking “the wonderful works of God” in their own language.
It stands to reason, then, that at least some of those Cretans believed and were baptized after hearing Peter’s famous sermon, then returned to Crete to share what they had seen and heard with the other Jews on Crete. But not all of them would have believed, and that would have led to much confusion and conflict, especially over the Gospel and the newly forming local church.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, he summarizes how life as a part of the church should look by saying that “all things” should be done “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). In other words, whatever is done should be done with integrity and without chaos, whether it be in worship (the church members’ relationship with God) or as a part of the church’s “business” (the church members’ relationships with each other and unbelievers).
In Paul’s thesis, in verses 6-8, he reveals such order only dwells in the company of those who are set apart from the world by being “blameless.” This is not to say that the Christians of Crete did not and would not sin, but that they stood blameless before God, declared blameless because of their faithfulness to and in God’s words. God describes Job the same way (Job 1:1), and we know Job “treasured the words of God’s mouth” (Job 23:12).
In the articles to follow in this series, we’ll explore in-depth each of the characteristics of people God sees as “blameless” so we can all examine ourselves as Christ through Paul commands us to do in 1 Corinthians 11:28 and 2 Corinthians 13:5.
We will see, too, that it is not only elders that Paul is describing, but every person in the church, young and old, men and women, who are to conduct themselves in a manner that is worthy of their calling to follow Christ (Ephesians 4:1, Colossians 1:10, et al.).
Finally, we will examine how Paul connects all blameless behavior to nothing else except the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is a good way to begin to take every thought captive in a 2 Corinthians 10:5 way, to be transformed into Christlikeness in a Romans 12:1-2 way, and to hold fast to God’s faithful words like Job, Paul, Titus, and the blameless Christians of Crete did, by grace alone.