My recent trip through the short book of Titus highlighted four simple, interwoven principles for those who would be teachers and disciple-makers in Christ’s church.
Titus was a leader under Paul’s apostleship in the first century church. He was also a dear, trusted brother to Paul and became a key fellow-laborer in spreading the gospel of Christ among the Gentiles. He played an especially important role as messenger to the church at Corinth when Paul was unable to visit himself.
Because of importance of sound leadership in the church, Paul instructs Titus in how to be the right kind of leader himself, and how to identify and develop other strong leaders as he travels the land.
Here are Paul’s criteria:
- Believe with your whole heart the message of the gospel.
- Teach the word in such a way that no one can accuse you of promoting false doctrines or anything contrary to the gospel.
- Live in such a godly way that your teaching cannot be challenged.
- Correct those who are wrong or incomplete in their understanding of Scripture.
The first criterion is simply, “They must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message they were taught.” Leaders must first believe with their whole hearts all that Christ and his apostles taught.
The writer of Hebrews informs us that it is impossible to please God without faith. We must believe that he is real and make him our most diligent pursuit in life. If this is true for believers in general, how much more for those who teach and shepherd others.
He goes on to the second, “Then they will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching.” Wholesome teaching—what a lovely phrase to ponder in this age of so much unwholesome, awful teaching coming from every direction. What they believed they were to teach, with full integrity and accountability to God.
Third, they were to live as they taught, to practice what they preached. Paul admonishes,
“Promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching… And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching. Teach the truth so that your teaching can’t be criticized. Then those who oppose us will be ashamed and have nothing bad to say…”.
What is this lifestyle? Paul uses words like “integrity,” “example,” and “good works.” It is the same lifestyle promoted in the wisdom books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Job, or in the Prophets. As Micah so succinctly puts it, “Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” (6:8)
Believe wholeheartedly…teach wholesomely…live in accordance with what you believe and teach. What a concept!
Last but not least—and this can be the tricky bit—correct people when they show themselves to have embraced wrong doctrines or ungodly practices, or even when they have incomplete information.
Paul instructs Titus to oppose people “where they are wrong.” An example of this in their time was teaching about Jewish law, especially related to circumcision. True apostles and teachers of the gospel message had to very often correct the notion that Gentiles had to be circumcised to become part of the Christian community. Whether knowingly or not, those who promoted this teaching were bringing harm to people; they were barring entrance in conflict with the message of grace by faith expounded by Jesus and Paul.
Paul didn’t tell Titus to come against people in some sort of wholesale, critical way if they met all of the other criteria as teachers. He was just to listen carefully and correct those things that might be inaccurate or incomplete. There is a beautiful example of this type of correction in Acts 18:24-26
“A Jew named Apollos, an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy. However, he knew only about John’s baptism. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately.”
Let’s look at this a minute. What was missing in Apollos’ understanding? “He knew only about John’s baptism.” He knew to tell people to repent, because the Messiah and the kingdom of God were drawing near.
But there was another baptism—the baptism of the Holy Spirit that Jesus would bring! A baptism of fire that John foretold and had finally come in fullness at Pentecost.
Because Aquila and Priscilla–faithful companions of Paul–believed the message, taught accurately, and lived with integrity, they were in a perfect position to speak to the already eloquent and wise Apollos and make him an even better messenger of gospel truth!
Paul tells Titus pointedly, “Don’t let anyone disregard what you say.” He trusted that Titus had met the criteria of leadership. He was believing, teaching, and living so as to “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way.” This qualified him to recruit others like himself.
The teachings of God’s word are “good and beneficial for everyone.” Those who would be teachers are those who hold this as a cornerstone of their faith, who teach accordingly, who live in a way that brings no shame to the name of Christ, and who are able to bring correction to others as needed.
This is the kind of teacher and leader I desire to be. How about you?