It would appear that this letter was written to Titus after Paul had made a recent visit to Crete (possibly with Titus), and had left him there in order that he might set in order certain things, v. 5. This is the only place where Paul describes himself as a bondslave of God, v. 1. Though he was born free, yet he gladly accepts this bondservice. He equates it with “an apostle of Jesus Christ”, thereby implying the equality of Christ with God. This apostleship stood “according to”, “with regard to”, “in order to bring about" the faith of God’s elect, called in verse 4 a “common faith”. Perhaps “faith" in verse 1 is subjective, referring to the fact that God’s elect believe, while “faith" in verse 4 may be objective, referring to that common body of truth which both Christian Jew and Christian Gentile acknowledge.
As Paul frequently does, he spans the whole range of what we call “time”. He casts his mind back to eternity in the past and reflects on the promise which God, who never lies, made, and then he throws his mind into the eternal future and speaks of “eternal life" as being the subject of that promise; he calls it a “hope”. This has been manifested in its own seasons in the preaching with which Paul had been specially entrusted (he uses the emphatic pronoun “I”, v. 3 R.v.) according to the commandment of God our Saviour. (For the phrase “our Saviour" used of God and of the Lord Jesus see 1. 3; 2. 10; 3. 4; 1. 4; 2.13; 3. 6). The one preposition “from" governing both “God the Father’ and “Christ our Saviour”, v. 4, declares them to be equal with each other.
We may state the matter thus:
In the past: God is eternally incapable of falsehood: He made a promise before time began; in sovereignty He elected those who were the objects of His purpose.
As to the future: He gives the hope of eternal life.
In the present: God made manifest His promise in the word of the gospel, through the preaching of His authorized bondservant, who had been commissioned and sent by Jesus Christ, so that these “elect" might be discovered, might believe, might acknowledge the truth, and adjust their lives according to godliness. One of such was Titus, a genuine child who, though a Gentile, was embraced within the compass of the message, for it was “common” to Jew and Gentile; see Acts 11. 8-18.
Paul is thus seen here as a bondservant, an apostle, a trustee, and a father. He felt on leaving Crete (whensoever he visited that island is not clear) that there was much needing to be put in order, and he therefore wrote to Titus enjoining him in this regard and giving him guidance in the matter. We must not read verse 5 as if Paul authorized “elders" to have authority in sundry churches in one particular “city" or “town”. In those early days, all the believers in one town would comprise the church in that town. It is, unhappily, not the case now-a-days, seeing that church testimony has been so sadly fragmented. But, as we have seen earlier in considering Paul’s letters to Timothy, he envisaged a multiplicity of elders in one church. He sets out the requisite qualifications for overseers.
The family of an overseer should be such that the children in it are reliable, dependable, honest, (cf. the same word translated “faithful word" in y. 9). The word does not appear to mean that they must be believers of the gospel, though it is to be hoped they would become such. But having regard to the acknowledged anomaly that in Old Testament times some good men had bad sons, and some bad men had good sons, and bearing in mind Isaiah 1.2 and the parable of the Prodigal Son, it seems that the sense of verse 6 here is that the overseer’s children must be faithful. Biblical “faithfulness" is the fruit of being just. Hence many take the meaning to be that the elder should have children who are believers. It is plain from verses 5 and 7 that “elders" and “overseers" are identical. (See our remarks on 1 Tim. 3 as to the word “bishop".)
An overseer is God’s steward, and as such he is to take care of the church of God. Paul was God’s steward of His mysteries, 1 Cor. 4. 1, and all believers are “stewards of the manifold grace of God”, 1 Pet. 4.10. In all such cases it is required that a steward be found faithful. Negative and positive characteristics are enumerated as qualifying for overseership. He must firmly hold the faithful word as he has been taught for the dual purpose, first that he may be able to exhort in the healthful teaching, and secondly be able to convict the gainsayers. Any discrepancy between conduct and teaching will inevitably weaken the healthy influence of any who are placed as over-seers in the church.
We have already learned that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Therefore the overseer is reminded that he must be free of greed, because it is that very thing that results in the evils mentioned in verses n and 12, where we read of profitless talking, deceptive teachings, activities which subvert whole houses, and right at the bottom of it all is a greed of “filthy lucre”. The Jews, not content to dog the steps of Paul and to hinder his work, did not in his absence give up their nefarious activities. Acquainted as they were with a monotheistic religion, they could easily prey upon the early Christians who, of course, also believed in only one God. But their activities were characteristic of the race of the Cretans, one of whose prophets had described them as persistent liars, dangerous wild beasts, lazy gluttons (the quotation is from Epimenides – see also another quotation from the same context found in Acts 17.28a). Paul affirms this description to be true -he may well have had personal experience of it. Judaism and Christianity cannot mix, and these false teachers must not only have their mouths stopped, but they must also be sharply rebuked for their own benefit, so that they may be sound in the faith.
Reading between the lines, one can detect the kind of teachings which he has in mind: Jewish myths, commandments of men who turn away from the truth and add to the sacred Old Testament Scriptures such things as put men in needless bondage. They were teaching the gnostic errors alluded to in Colossians 2. 22. They failed to understand that it is not what enters a man that defiles him, but what comes out from him. To these who are unbelieving and defiled nothing is pure; their mind and their conscience are defiled. There is a disconformity between their profession and their conduct, v. 16, and it is no wonder that Paul uses such strong words as these in this verse.