As we move along in our study of Paul’s letter to Titus, we find that Titus 1:9 really needs to be treated in its own blog post. Please don’t misunderstand me as saying that it stands in isolation from its context. Rather, there’s simply too much in it to discuss it in the same essay with verses 5-8, and verse 10 begins a new paragraph.
As always, let’s look at verse 9 in context, just to remind ourselves of Paul’s flow of thought.
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. ~~Titus 1:5-9 (ESV)
Paul has been instructing Titus on the qualifications of an elder, and has just outlined the type of character a man must have in order to assume this office. Now he changes gears, ever so slightly, to a prospective elder’s ability to handle God’s Word.
An elder, Paul insists, must hold firm to God’s Word, not compromising it to accommodate the ideas of others. He needs an undivided loyalty to Christ and His teaching (see Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13). Even though Paul here is talking about much more than the tension between God and money, the principle of single hearted devotion still applies. Barnes elaborates on this concept by commenting:
This means that he is to hold this fast, in opposition to one who would wrest it away, and in opposition to all false teachers, and to all systems of false philosophy. He must be a man who is firm in his belief of the doctrines of the Christian faith, and a man who can be relied on to maintain and defend those doctrines in all circumstances.
So an elder must hold firm to Scripture. This exhortation brings us to the nature of Scripture, which makes it worthy of holding firmly. Paul calls God’s Word trustworthy. Elders, and Christians in general, can absolutely rely on it!
I want you to notice the phrase, “the trustworthy word as taught.” Vincent’s Word Studies tells us that this phrase, “as taught” literally means “according to the teaching” and therefore communicates the idea of agreement with the teaching of the apostles. Embellishments to it, such as those Paul alludes to in verse 14, dilute it, turning people away from its pure principles.
An elder must hold firm to God’s Word for the purpose of teaching his people sound doctrine. He doesn’t teach vague ideas or worldly wisdom, but the clear teachings of Scripture. He avoids seeker-sensitive models that incorporate popular ideas of the world into the Gospel.
He also must hold firm to God’s Word in order to rebuke those who contradict it. In context, Paul apparently means false teachers. We’ll see the application of this clause next Monday as we look at the group of false teachers who disrupted the church in Crete.
Elders aren’t the only Christians who need to hold firm to God’s Word, however. You and I also bear a responsibility to cling tenaciously to the sound doctrine of the Bible, teaching it to our children and to other women. For that reason Titus 1:9 applies to each of us. We can join our elders in holding firmly to the trustworthy Word of God, confident that it will never fail.