Set Right What Was Left Undone (Titus 1:5-9)

In the opening verses of Titus, the reader learns that the apostle Paul has left Crete and given leadership responsibility to his son in their common faith, Titus. The reader then discovers that Titus was left in Crete to “set right what was left undone” and “to appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5).

Paul understood the importance of training leaders that could replicate leadership. He led Titus and Timothy in his writing of the pastoral epistles just as he intended Titus and Timothy to train the leadership of their respective ministries – as leaders that would train leaders to train leaders.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2).

These instructions given by Paul to Timothy should be taken quite seriously. What Paul does, and what was done by Timothy and Titus, and what we do is in the context of eternity. Paul is providing Titus with instructions on how to properly train the leaders who will impact the future of Christianity in Crete.

What Does The Bible Say About Church Leaders?

In Titus, Paul defines the qualifications for leadership:

“The reason I left you in Crete was to set right what was left undone and, as I directed you, to appoint elders in every town: one who is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of wildness or rebellion. For an overseer, as God’s administrator, must be blameless, not arrogant, not hot-tempered, not addicted to wine, not a bully, not greedy for money, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled, holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it.” – Titus 1:5-9

Each negative quality refers to something that puts the focus on self: arrogant, hot-tempered, addicted to wine, a bully, and greedy for money. Each positive quality refers to a way that a leader can care for others and kingdom work: love what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled, holding to the faithful message as taught, in order to encourage with sound teaching and refuting those who contradict it. The priority on leadership is clear. Follow Jesus as a servant leader.

Leadership in the local church, as established and defined by God, was important enough for God to have listed qualifications for leadership in four different places in the New Testament (Acts 20:28-38; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; and 1 Peter 5:1-4). If we are to strive to be a disciple and grow more like Jesus, then these lists should provide an example for each one of us to strive to become.

Personal Character and Theological Competency

Two major takeaways from the prior passages of Scripture on leadership in the church: (1) the importance of personal character, and (2) theological competency. Nothing hurts a leader’s influence more than neglecting the importance of striving to grow in personal character and theological competency. You cannot lead well using one without the other.

Some leaders may instruct to “do as I say, not as I do.” They place emphasis on assuming to have theological competency, yet reject the transformation of head knowledge that would impact their personal character.

Richard Baxter addresses this danger in Reformed Pastor writing, “Take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine…lest you unsay with your lives what you say with your tongues; and be the greatest hinderers of the success of your own labors.”[1]

The contrary danger can be just as dangerous. Someone may place such an emphasis on personal character that they ignore theological competency. The goodness done through their lives may be noticed by others, but only to the extent of their moral character. If theological competency is rejected, then moral praise cuts off the opportunity for the proper glory to be given to God.

An undue credit is given to Francis of Assisi claiming one should “preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Not only is there no documentation of him ever using this phrase, it actually contradicts the writings of Paul in Romans 10:14 where he writes, “But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher?”

Paul follows these questions in Romans 10 with asking, “And how can they preach unless they are sent?…So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ” (Romans 10:15, 17).

Paul’s words are clear. In Titus, 2 Timothy, and Romans, we see that each and every Christian has been called to live with a personal character and study to have a theological competency that will provide a living testimony of the goodness of our God. We have been called to play a part in the Lord’s grand plan in helping to set right what was left undone.


[1] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1979) 63, 67-68.


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