“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…”
This letter was written by Paul from Macedonia. Earlier on, Paul and Titus had together travelled to Crete where they had been co-labourers for the gospel. Paul moved on, but he left Titus behind. In this verse we find out the reasons.
The first is that Paul wanted Titus to complete the work of establishing a church. In 1 Corinthians 14:40, Paul told the Corinthians that all things should be done decently and in good order. The church at Crete was still in need of proper structures. They were still in need of further teaching and nurturing.
The second thing was that Paul wanted Titus to appoint elders in each city. We can note that this suggests that there were several churches in Crete and not just one. Titus was left behind to nurture these churches to some greater degree of maturity. That process included the appointment of elders or, as the Greek has it, presbyters. These would be men who would assume the nurture of the churches once Titus had moved on.
This one little verse says two things to missionaries. First of all, there is an implication that Titus was not going to be in Crete indefinitely. He had an assigned task and once that task was complete he was going to move on. He had to work himself out of a job in that place. Second, a missionary’s work is not complete when he preaches the gospel and disciples individual believers. There is also the process of nurturing a church to some level of maturity where the believers can function on their own. Elders need to be trained; a semblance of order needs to be in place.
For more established churches, we can note that God values good order in the government of our churches. A church order, then, is not an optional item for the church. Neither are local regulations. We need these things as a context for the means of grace, including the preaching of the gospel. We can also note that elders are not optional. Reformed churches have elders and this is something we ought not to take for granted. The office of elder is a gift from God given to lead us to greater levels of maturity in Christ. Today, we can praise God that the Reformation recovered the office of elder. But we can also pray and ask him to lead us in ways that bring this office closer to its biblical description. We’ll see that description as we move on in Titus 1.