At a Glance
Author: The apostle Paul
Audience: Titus, Paul’s “true son”
Date: AD 57, possibly 62–63
Type of Literature: A letter
Major Themes: Salvation, church leadership, and right living
Letter Opening — 1:1–4
Instructions to Titus — 1:5–16
Instructions for Godly Living — 2:1–3:11
Letter Closing — 3:12–15
Who was this friend of Paul named Titus? He was a Greek convert from Antioch and an apostolic church planter, much like Timothy, his peer. Paul describes him as a “true son” (1:4). He was likely a convert of Paul’s ministry during his visit to Cyprus. Legend has it that Titus was a poet and a student of Greek philosophy when he had a prophetic dream that led him to study the Word of God and to become a Christ-follower. As God’s faithful servant he traveled with Paul on his third missionary journey (2 Cor. 2:12–13; 7:5–15; 8:6–24). Paul commends him for his love, for his steadfast faith, and for bringing comfort to God’s people.
After leaving Timothy in Ephesus, Paul accompanied Titus to Crete and left him there to establish the young church and set things in order. Believers who had been in the upper room had returned to Crete (Acts 2:11) and were in need of guidance and leadership from Titus.
Some say Paul wrote his letter to Titus as early as AD 57 from Nicopolis, prior to writing 2 Timothy. Others assume that he wrote this letter around the same time as he wrote his first letter to another young pastor, Timothy, around 62–63.
Titus is one of three letters commonly known as the Pastoral Epistles, which also include 1 and 2 Timothy. Paul wrote them as an older pastor to his younger colleagues, Timothy and Titus, to encourage their ministries among God’s people and to give further instructions to the churches he had planted.
The theme of Titus is that right living will always accompany right doctrine. Good words will flow from a solid understanding of God’s Word. In today’s culture, it is easy to say that we follow Christ, but our faith in him will be demonstrated by godly living. An understanding of truth will bring a demonstration of purity through our lives. God’s saving grace is the same grace that empowers us to live for him.
The book of Titus reminds us that right beliefs should impact every area of our lives: family, relationships, work, and community.
Like his letters to Timothy, Paul wrote this letter to Titus in order to give him instructions for building churches and raising up leaders. It was to be considered as a church-planting manual, helping this young apostle to encourage godly living and to establish godly churches.
It appears that Paul’s first letter to Timothy and this one to Titus were both written around the same time, given the close parallels in the themes addressed. From church administration to confronting false teaching to maintaining the purity of personal conduct, Paul offered sage advice and pastoral wisdom to these young ministers. In the case of Titus, Paul wrote to address basic catechesis relevant to new believers, as well as the kinds of problems expected of a young church in a pagan culture. He also wrote his former companion to ask him to remain in Crete and care for the young church in Paul’s absence, as well as to encourage the two companions accompanying the letter.
Author and Audience
As with the two letters to Timothy, Paul’s letter to Titus is a deeply personal one, for it was written from mentor to mentee—from an older, wiser, seasoned pastor to a younger, inexperienced minister. It’s a letter between former colleagues on the frontline of missions, as Paul sought to give roots to the work they had started together by nurturing the community of believers through Titus’s leadership.
Like Timothy, Paul had left Titus among his own ethnic people to continue the work they had started as a team; in this case, on the Greek island of Crete. As a convert of Paul, his “true son in the faith” (1:4), Titus became a trusted colleague in his gospel work. In fact, many believe the two made a missionary journey to Crete to evangelize the Greek island, occurring after the events of Acts 28 and before writing 2 Timothy, when Paul was imprisoned. As a young pastor stewarding a young church plant, Titus must have viewed Paul’s letter as a welcomed breeze inflating the sails of his ministry!
Faith and Salvation in Jesus Christ. You would expect a letter from one ministry colleague to another to center on the good news of salvation in Christ. And Titus is indeed infused with it! After laboring alongside each other to proclaim the gospel, Paul recognized that their work was unfinished. He wanted Titus “to further the faith of God’s chosen ones and lead them to the full knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness” (1:1) by discipling the young church in their shared salvation.
Part of how Paul emphasized this faith and salvation was by calling on Titus to appoint godly leaders to serve as examples to teach the faith, lead people to salvation, refute false teachings that destroy faith and distract from this salvation, and imitate the practical results of this faith: godly living resulting from salvation.
He also offered a basic catechism, or summary of primary Christian beliefs. He reminded them of the grace manifested in Jesus and the salvation he brought for all. He also reminded them of their previous fallen nature, how they “were easily led astray as slaves to worldly passions and pleasures” and “wasted [their] lives in doing evil” (3:3). And he shared with them a royal “hymn of salvation by grace,” which declared the wonders of God’s compassion, his overflowing love, and our new birth through our salvation by faith.
Appointing Church Leadership. The work of salvation among God’s people and sharing the gospel within culture requires leaders who are of sound character and judgment. As he did with Timothy, Paul instructed Titus to appoint church leaders (elders or overseers) who were blameless, faithful in marriage and had well-behaved children, gentle and patient, and never drunk, violent, or greedy. They were to set an example for the rest of the community of believers in how they should live the truth of the gospel through godly living. They were also to firmly grasp the gospel message taught to them, in order to teach other believers the essential truths of the faith and how to respond to false teaching. This rubric for spirit-anointed leaders still serves as a trusted guide for church leadership.
Right Living for the Sake of the Gospel. Right living (orthopraxy) and right believing (orthodoxy) go hand in hand in Paul’s letter to Titus. For when we believe in the gospel, and experience the joys of salvation, how else could we live other than in light of this mercy?
One thing Paul emphasizes, however, is that the gospel’s grace actually trains us to live rightly. “This same grace,” says Paul, “teaches us how to live each day as we turn our backs on ungodliness and indulgent lifestyles, and it equips us to live self-controlled, upright, godly lives in this present age” (2:12). Paul also emphasizes the need for godly men and women within the church to come alongside others to teach them to live rightly. May our right believing never excuse wrong living. And may our right living be evidence of our right believing.