Titus stands as a splendid example of a young convert to Christianity who learned quickly to “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour” (Titus 2:10) by living a pure life in an impure world. Every temptation faced by young men in our own increasingly godless society was faced by Titus as he walked the streets of Corinth and traveled throughout the island of Crete.
The background of Titus is somewhat obscure. His name is Latin, but of uncertain meaning. He was apparently an uncircumcised Gentile convert (Galatians 2:3). Paul and Barnabus took him with them to the Council of Jerusalem, a meeting of church leaders to discuss whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be admitted to the church as followers of Christ. Paul brought Titus to the Council as an example of what the Gospel had accomplished in the life of an uncircumcised Gentile believer.
Yet, it is very interesting that Titus is not mentioned in Luke’s account of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. We know for certain that he was there from the testimony of Paul in Galatians 2:1, where he said, “and [I] took Titus with me also.” The church leaders, including Peter and James the brother of Jesus, decided that the burden of circumcision ought not to be laid upon Gentile believers.
Although there was a faction in the church that insisted that “except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Act 15:1), Paul steadfastly pointed to Titus as an example to the contrary. “But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised” (Galatians 2:3). The changed lives of men such as Titus attested to the genuine work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Gentiles converted in the city of Antioch and elsewhere. It was one thing to hear the verbal testimony of Peter who had preached to the Gentiles and seen them converted. It was quite another to see personally the changed life of a Gentile convert standing before them.
Titus likely was converted in the city of Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). He was probably converted directly under Paul’s influence because the apostle referred to Titus as “mine own son after the common faith” (Titus 1:4). Titus traveled with Paul to Jerusalem as an example of what God could do in the life of a Gentile believer who came out of the debauched world to follow Christ.
Eight years after the Council of Jerusalem, we meet Titus again by name when Paul is on his third missionary journey, writing from Ephesus to the believers in Corinth. He wrote in II Corinthians 8:23: “Whether any do enquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellowhelper concerning you.” This statement implies that Titus had visited the city of Corinth with Paul and was known to the Christians in that wicked city. Surely, Titus, who had left that same depraved culture of immorality, could be a useful instrument in rescuing other Gentiles from the darkness of sin.
From the frequent references to Titus in II Corinthians (he is mentioned by name nine times), it seems that Titus served as Paul’s personal emissary back and forth across the Aegean Sea from Corinth to Ephesus during Paul’s three-year stay in Asia Minor. The church at Corinth was troubled with many problems and questions about topics such as the Lord’s table, meat offered to idols, divorce, church discipline, the role of women in the church, and what to do with a case of incest. The fact that Paul trusted Titus with these important matters implies that the apostle had a great deal of confidence in Titus’s maturity and his moral integrity, calling him “my partner.”
After this flurry of activity, we lose sight of Titus again for several years. During this time, Paul finished his third journey, traveled to Rome, was held in Caesarea, tried before Festus, Felix, and Agrippa, and then was transported to Rome as a prisoner. Meanwhile, regarding Titus, we have no information. Then, during an unrecorded period of travel between Paul’s first and second imprisonment, Paul’s pastoral epistle to Titus reveals that the apostle traveled with Titus on the island of Crete. After the Gospel was proclaimed there and souls saved, Paul left Titus behind to “set in order the things that are wanting” (Titus 1:5).
These immature Christians of Crete, recently converted from paganism, needed a stabilizing influence from a mature Christian. Titus was that man. Paul gave Titus three chapters of warm, fatherly advice. He encouraged “mine own son after the common faith” to remember what Titus himself had once learned when he was a newly converted Gentile: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:11–12).
Crete was a difficult mission field. The Cretians were openly and admittedly called “liars, evil beasts, slow bellies” (Titus 1:12). Titus had to contend against pagan immorality on the one hand and “Jewish fables” (Titus 1:14) on the other. He was encouraged to teach the new believers to “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things” (Titus 2:10). Paul also exhorted Titus to “affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8).
What the believers on Crete especially needed was an example of moral integrity in a land of immorality and licentiousness. Thus, Paul instructed Titus to encourage older men to be “sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience” (Titus 2:2). Titus was to encourage the older women to be “in behaviour as becometh holiness” (Titus 2:3). The older women likewise would encourage the younger women to be “discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:5). Young men similarly were to be exhorted “to be sober minded” (Titus 2:6).
Among all these fellow believers—men and women, young and old—Titus himself was to become “a pattern of good works” (Titus 2:7) in order that the enemies of the Gospel would “be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you” (Titus 2:8). It should be no surprise to us that believers today have enemies who are looking for anything and everything to criticize. The enemies of the Gospel did the same in the first century. The best way to combat slanderous accusations is to live as Titus did and become, by the grace of God, “a pattern of good works.”
In our final glimpse of Titus, he was being sent by Paul to do missionary work in the land of Dalmatia (II Timothy 4:10), a region in the Balkans that roughly corresponds to modern Yugoslavia. Titus was pressing on with the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Early church history suggests that he eventually returned to Crete and died there, faithful into his old age as a stabilizing influence among the Christians of Crete.
May God give each one of us the grace to serve Jesus Christ as Titus did in his generation. Like him, we live in an increasingly godless society. We are surrounded by promotions of confusion and immorality of every kind. But God still gives us the grace to deny ungodliness and worldly lust, and to “live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.”