Titus was one of Paul’s fellow-workers who, over the space of nearly twenty years, undertook some difficult and demanding tasks at Paul’s instigation. The apostle was involved with Titus from his earlier days in Antioch until his final days in Rome and described him as his own son, brother, partner and fellow-helper1. Such a person must have many lessons to teach us today!
Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch for quite a time after their first missionary journey, Acts 14. 26-28. During that time, false teachers came from Jerusalem insisting that the Gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved. Paul and Barnabas were the chief opponents of this erroneous teaching and the assembly at Antioch decided to send them to Jerusalem ‘unto the apostles and elders’, to sort out the problem at its source. Paul, through whom Titus was saved, Titus 1. 4, and the assembly at Antioch, were of one mind in choosing Titus, among others, to go up as well. He was one of the unnamed ‘certain other of them [the assembly]’ mentioned, Acts 15. 2. The Jewish believers encountered on the way up to Jerusalem were delighted to hear of ‘the conversion of the Gentiles’. Initially, the same reception seems to have been given at Jerusalem, ‘but there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, ‘That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses’. It seems that the requirement of circumcision was just part of their demands, for law-keeping altogether was demanded.2
After much discussion, both Peter, James and John supported Paul with the result that Titus was not compelled to be circumcised.3 Although slow to throw off the shackles of the law themselves, they recognize that they should not trouble the Gentiles with legal burdens. Concerning the false brethren who brought in the error, Paul wrote of them, ‘to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you [Gentiles]’. James asked the party from Antioch that Gentile believers should nevertheless be sensitive to their Jewish neighbours and that ‘they would that we should remember the poor’, Gal. 2. 10. Paul said of himself ‘the same which I also was forward to do’. However, Titus was equally attentive to the request as we will see later.
Titus learnt important lessons during those days: first, the truth of the gospel and its defence against Jewish opposition, and, second, the importance of remembering the poor, especially the Jewish believers in Judea and Jerusalem. Both these principles would occur again in his ministry.
About seven years later, Titus, along with an unnamed brother, 2 Cor. 12. 18, was entrusted with the delivery of Paul’s severe letter to the assembly at Corinth from Ephesus. After some time, when Titus had gauged the reaction to the letter, he was to meet Paul at Troas. However, when Paul arrived at Troas, Titus had not turned up and although Paul was active in the gospel there, we read, ‘I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia’, 2. 13. In Macedonia, he was eventually joined by Titus, who had travelled north from Corinth. Paul had always told Titus that the Corinthian believers were good-hearted, especially with respect to the poor, despite the present difficulties. He had gloried in them, but would his boasting of them be justified? Would they respond positively to his letter? Compounded with this inner turmoil, Paul experienced outward persecution in Macedonia, so that ‘our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears’, 7. 5. However, all was well, for eventually Titus turned up with good news and ‘God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not by his coming only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you, when he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me; so that I rejoiced the more’, vv. 6-7. He had good news respecting the Corinthians and to them he wrote, ‘we were comforted in your comfort: yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all’, v. 13.
The assembly had shown true repentance and had expressed a great desire to put things right. Paul’s joy mirrored that of Titus, whose ‘spirit was refreshed by you all’, v. 13, and ‘our boasting, which I made before Titus, is found a truth’, v. 14. ‘And his inward affection is more abundant toward you, whilst he remembereth the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him. I rejoice therefore that I have confidence in you in all things’, vv. 15-16.4
However, the second reason for Titus being in Corinth was to urge the Corinthian believers to finish their collection that they had instigated some time before, 1 Cor. 16. 1-3, for the poor saints at Jerusalem, a year before the saints in Macedonia had a chance to collect. Titus no doubt remembered James urging Paul not to forget the poor, Gal. 2. 10. Now, he was able to urge on the saints in this matter. Paul thought it a good idea for Titus to return to Corinth to finish the collection, but he did not have to force Titus to return, for he was of one mind with Paul in this matter, which Paul attributed to God, saying, ‘But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you. For indeed he accepted the exhortation; but being more forward, of his own accord he went unto you’, 2 Cor. 8. 16-17. In fact, three went down to Corinth, the other two, although not specifically named, were well commended by Paul and the assemblies of Macedonia, vv. 18, 19, 22. Paul’s own commendation of Titus was ‘he is my partner and fellowhelper concerning you’, v. 23. It was to these men that Paul hoped the assembly at Corinth would show ‘the proof of your love, and of our boasting on your behalf’, v. 24.
There were still some in the assembly at Corinth who harboured hostile and suspicious thoughts about Paul and it is to them that Paul said of Titus, whom he had sent to them, ‘Did Titus make a gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps?’, 12. 18. He was not trying to use Titus to take advantage of them, for Titus had behaved among them in exactly the same way that Paul had when he was with them.
As far as we know, Paul was released from his first Roman imprisonment and was able to recommence his work. At this time he was in Ephesus with Timothy, but he was then eager to move on to Macedonia and left Timothy to finish their work. He requested, among other things, that he correct doctrinal disorder, 1 Tim. 1. 3, for which the epistle was his written authority. Similarly, he was in Crete with Titus and wishing to move on (possibly to Ephesus where he would leave Timothy), Titus is left, ‘that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee’, Titus 1. 5. This was no easy thing to do, for one of their own prophets, Epimenides a Cretan poet, 600 BC, had said, ‘The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies’, v. 12, and that was exactly what Paul had found, so he added, ‘This witness is true’! Because of this, Titus was told in general to ‘rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith’, v. 13. However, the particular problem that needed Titus’s special attention was false teaching coming from Jewish quarters, since Crete had a large Jewish population, see Acts 2. 11. Following his earlier visit to Jerusalem with Paul and Barnabas, Titus would have had first-hand knowledge of how to answer false doctrine raised by Jewish teachers. The solution was either that he should tell the believers to take no notice – ‘Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth’, Tit. 1. 14; ‘But avoid [’shun’ JND] foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain’, 3. 9, or else teaching that they should be silenced –‘For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the cir-cumcision: whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake’, 1. 10-11.
Titus was to give special attention to his own behaviour, by speaking good things and showing a good personal example. This would silence his critics who, not liking the message, would seek fault in the messenger. So he was to ‘speak … the things which become sound doctrine’, 2. 1, ‘shewing … a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing un-corruptness, gravity, sincerity that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you’, 2. 7-8. Speaking and showing must go together; the lip and the life must coincide!
Paul’s charge to Titus was – ‘These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee’, v. 15. Although, like the whole epistle, this was a personal message, it was meant to be read to all, hence Paul ends the epistle, ‘Grace be with you all’, 3. 15. Thus, all were to hear it and from it understand that Titus was to derive his authority from apostolic support. Similarly, for us today, our authority is derived only from the scriptures.
Paul’s last instruction to Titus was that, upon being relieved by another worker whom Paul would send to replace him – either Artemas or Tychicus – Titus was to make his way to Nicopolis, on the western coast of (what is now) Greece. He was to bring Zenas and Apollos with him, who must also have been labouring in Crete or would be in the near future (did they bring the letter?), vv. 12-13. Paul had decided that this would be a good place to spend the on-coming winter, when moving around would be more difficult.5
In his missionary journeys, the furthest point west that Paul had reached was Illyricum (modern-day Croatia), Rom. 15. 19. Perhaps, after wintering at Nicopolis, he, with Titus, had travelled north along the Adriatic coast and had managed to return to Illyricum and its coastal region of Dalmatia. Whatever happened, Paul’s activities were soon curtailed when he was re-arrested and taken back to Rome. Titus accompanied Paul to Rome, but from Rome he had gone to Dalmatia, 2 Tim. 4. 10, following his own exercise in the Lord’s service and that is the last we hear of him. Paul mentions this along with news of a number of other movements. He wanted Timothy to do his best to come quickly because he had lost a number of his companions through their move-ments, v. 9; Crescens had gone to Galatia, and, sadly, Demas had forsaken him, ‘having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica’, v. 10. Like John Mark before him, Acts 13. 13; 15. 38, Demas was not prepared for the difficulties involved in Christian service. Love for this present age led him to desert Paul; he was not one of those whom Paul had just mentioned ‘that love his appearing’, 2 Tim. 4. 8. The ‘now’ held his affections, having lost the love for the ‘then’, the soon-coming of the Lord. Now Demas has gone home to Thessalonica, but Titus is still far from home serving the Lord faithfully in Dalmatia.
To describe Timothy as timid and Titus as tough would be an oversimplifica-tion. Titus was the kind of person who was robust enough to face many different kinds of difficulties and do well.