We continue in our series in Titus. Over the past two days we’ve been sorting out the worms that jumped out of the can when we read about the characteristics of elders in Titus 1:5-9. The final part of that passage is important, but probably a bit less controversial.
Titus 1:8-9 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
We see here that elders are also to be hospitable. This doesn’t mean they have to have people around for meals all the time, although that is a good way to care for people. The Greek word is philo-xenon, literally meaning “lover of outsiders.” (Compare with xeno-phobia, a fear of outsiders.) They needed to welcome strangers: this could be in order to reach them with the Gospel; or it may refer to welcoming travelling fellow believers who (in the absence of Western Union and Motel 7s) needed money and accommodation on their way to spreading the Gospel across the empire. These days, it may look a bit different, but elders need to appropriately model what it means to care for outsiders and generously support those whose task it is to spread the Gospel to new places.
They also need to be the opposite of the bad stewards we saw yesterday. In place of the negative characteristics of verse 7 (not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain) they should be lovers of what is good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. In essence, the orientation should be toward the good and away from the bad. Straightforward to understand, although perhaps not as straightforward to put into practice!
Finally, elders need to be competent at teaching the fundamentals of Christian belief, and arguing against those who would oppose it:
Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
In the absence of paid clergy, elders were the regular teachers of the church. (In that regard, whether your church calls them elders or not, anyone with a regular teaching ministry in your church functions as an elder.) They need to be equipped to explain it clearly, and to defend it.
This is probably why much of Paul’s letter is written using memorable teaching techniques (like sayings and logical deductions), giving Titus a model of how to teach, and how to respond to false teachers:’
This is one of the reasons this material has been put in a rhetorically apt format, for use in oral teaching and proclamation. The rhetorical strategy of Luke and Paul here is to train Titus to use enthymemes and comparisons and paradigms – the elementary rhetorical tools for persuasion – and so equip and train the elders to do likewise. It was these rhetorical tools that could readily be used in an evangelistic situation where the rhetorical ethos would be of an elementary sort and not highly developed. (Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, vol. 1, p. 117).
Remember that this letter wasn’t just written to Titus, personally. It was a mandate letter intended to be “overheard” by the whole Christian community in Crete. So its modelling function went beyond just Titus, showing the yet-to-be-appointed elders how it’s done.
To think about
Does your church have elders are “hospitable” in the way we’ve defined it here? Do you yourself (leader or not) show appropriate welcoming of strangers?
In a church with paid clergy, do all elders need the ability to teach and defend the faith? To what extent?
Have you been challenged to grow in your ability to teach and defend the faith? If so, what steps will you take to do so? (Here I probably should put a link to my employer, Morling College, with a great range of full-time and part-time courses, available on campus or online, but with the acknowledgement there are many ways to be further equipped to teach and defend the faith, and a tertiary qualification is but one!)