The island of Crete is roughly the same size and shape of Delaware, 150 miles long and about 30 miles wide at its widest point. Scattered throughout the island are a number of cities, and by the time that Paul wrote this letter to Titus, there were apparently churches springing up in most of the cities. As Paul wrote to Titus he instructed him that these churches on the island of Crete should have consistent, godly leadership.
For his first job, Titus was told to “ordain elders in every city.” The word translated in English as “elder” comes from the Greek word presbuteros and prior to its use in the church, simply meant “old man.” But Paul wasn’t merely telling Titus to appoint old men over the churches, rather, the word presbuteros in the early church came to mean those who were “mature or seasoned in the faith.” Being an elder in the church had less to do with age, and more to do with a growth in Biblical understanding and a godly lifestyle. Now, many older men could be elders, but that would be based on their meeting a certain set of spiritual qualifications and not on the number of years they had been alive.
In the New Testament, the words “bishop” and “elder” are used to describe the same position of leadership in the church. This is different from a “deacon,” the one who serves the body of the church. As Paul describes the “elder” and his role here in his letter to Titus, there are several things worth noting. Churches must be ruled by elders, and those elders must fit a specific set of qualifications.
What we must understand in this listing of qualifications is that Paul is not saying, “make the elders act like this,” rather, he is saying “make those that act like this elders.” Whether or not someone was qualified to be an elder would be indicated by their life and their home. In verse 6, an elder must have a family that reflects Christian harmony and unity. He must be a one-woman man, and his children must be well-controlled. An elder must already be leading his family biblically, in order to be qualified. He must love his wife, and serve her sacrificially. He must sincerely and consistently strive to train his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Now, there is a danger of reading this passage of the qualifications of the elder and not understanding the principle being taught. The reason that those who lived this way were qualified to be elders, is because by leading their family well, then they would be able to lead the families around them by word and example. Good families were not reserved to elders alone. Rather, by laboring obediently to God, they have grown and matured their own families. Now, they could challenge those under their care to strive for the same things. If the elder had a horrible home life, he would either be a hypocrite when he taught others to do better than he had, or in shame he would neglect to teach on the home and family.
The elder must be the example, loving his family and serving them well if he ever imagined being able to serve the family of God well. So we see this principle, churches must be led by elders, and these elders must lead their families by Scripture. Now, Titus was given the task to find these men in the church using a few other qualifications and to appoint them to position of leadership in each of the churches.
Reflect: Why would it be so important for a man who would lead the local church to be able to lead his own home well?