In 48 A.D., at the end of Paul’s first missionary journey, some Jerusalem Christians went to Antioch and taught that you couldn’t be a Christian unless you first, or also, became a Jew. The Antioch congregation, predominately gentile, was visibly upset. The teaching appeared to have the sanction of the church in Jerusalem. A delegation was sent to Jerusalem to see if, in fact, this doctrine was what was being taught there. Titus was one of those delegates.
In Jerusalem, though some Christians did hold this erroneous teaching, the Church as a whole sent word that it was certainly not the position of the church there – nor its leadership. Paul mentions this event in Galatians and writes in a complimentary way of Titus’ strength of character.
Despite this trouble and their ethnic differences, the gentile Christians in Antioch had a warm affection for their Jewish brethren in Jerusalem. During a time of famine, even though the Antioch church was also affected, they took up a collection for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. As time went on, other gentile Christians, realizing their deep indebtedness to the mission efforts of the Jerusalem church, also began to contribute to help the Church there. Titus, from Antioch, was one of those involved in organizing this relief effort and he was particularly involved in securing contributions from the church in Corinth.
Later, after Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, Titus accompanied him on a mission to the island of Crete. If ever there was a place that needed the gospel, it was Crete. The men were known world-wide as thugs and layabouts. The children were known as “ill-bred,” and greed and alcoholism were openly acceptable. One ancient writer described them this way: “It would be impossible to find, except in some rare instances, personal conduct more treacherous or public policy more unjust than in Crete.”
Churches were established on the island, and Paul, moving on to Greece, left Titus to develop leaders among the new Christians. Titus, however, became embroiled in a number of petty controversies which distracted him from his mission. Paul’s letter to Titus served as a stinging reminder of his true task and gave him direction for accomplishing it. Often overlooked by Bible students are Paul’s opening words: “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” The very obvious implication is that Titus was failing in his mission.
The work of the Church is not complicated. It is: “live as Jesus lived, bring others to Jesus, and encourage others to follow your example.” Leaders in this enterprise must be aware of how necessary and far-reaching are their examples, and train up others to take their place. We all live with the reality that one day, our work here, like Titus’ work on Crete, will come to an end. The only thing that will matter is how well we have adhered to this very simple mission. The book of Titus today is a call to us all to remember the work God has given us to do, and not get side-tracked.