By Bobby Witherington
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you (Tit. 1:5).
Titus, the person to whom the epistle bearing his name was written, was in Crete (one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea) at the time when the apostle Paul wrote this letter. We cannot know for certain the exact date when the gospel was first preached in Crete. There were some “Cretans” present in Jerusalem when the gospel was first proclaimed on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:11), and it is possible that some of them were converted and later returned home and converted others who also resided on the island of Crete. Other than a brief stopover when Paul sailed as a prisoner from Caesarea to Rome (Acts 27:7-12), we have no record of Paul himself being at Crete prior to his first imprisonment in Rome. However, at some point in time Paul had been in Crete, for he “left” Titus “in Crete” (Tit. 1:5). In the judgment of this writer, it is very probable that Paul visited Crete after being released from prison in Rome, and that he then left Titus while he (Paul) traveled elsewhere in his efforts to further the cause of Christ.
In view of the close personal ties that existed between Paul and Titus (2 Cor. 2:13; 7:6; 8:23), one might wonder why Paul would leave him behind when he (Paul) left Crete. However, from our text (Tit. 1:5) we learn why Titus was left in Crete — it being to “set in order the things” that were “lacking.” Apparently certain important items were not “in order.”
The expression “set in order” is translated from the Greek epidiorthoo which, according to Robertson’s Word Pictures In The New Testament (4:598) was a compound word, meaning “to set straight (orthoo) thoroughly (dia) in addition (epi), a clean job of it.” Worded a bit differently, it meant to do a thorough and clean job of setting things straight. According to Weust (Word Studies In The Greek New Testament, Vol. 3), this expression was “used by medical writers of setting a broken limb or straightening crooked ones.” From each of these definitions it is apparent that the command to “set in order the things that are lack- ing” implies that some items were crooked, or in a state of disorder, and were in need of being straightened out. God obviously wants order in the church!
The opposite of “order” is disorder. The very charge to “set in order the things that are lacking” implies that a failure to so act will leave the church in a state of disorder. The implied “disorder” may (or may not) be evident to men, but rest assured it will be obvious to God! In the following paragraphs we suggest that in the eyes of God . . .
Disorder Prevails When
1. The local church is not properly organized. Contextually speaking, appointing “elders in every city” was one of the things involved in correcting that which was “lacking” with regards to the divine arrangement in Crete. Elsewhere (Acts 14:23) we learn that elders were “appointed . . . in every church,” and that elders’ oversight (as elders) begins and ends with the local church of which they are members (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). According to Philippians 1:1 the complete organization of a local church consists of “saints in Christ Jesus . . . , with the bishops (elders) and deacons.” Of course, the men serving as “bishops and dea- cons” (Phil. 1:1) must be scripturally qualified (Tit. 1:5-9; 1 Tim. 3:1-13), and functioning in their respective roles in keeping with the revealed will of God. Some churches exist for decades without ever appointing qualified men to serve as “bishops and deacons.” Other churches appoint men who are biblically unqualified. In many instances the bishops (or elders) of a local church neglect to honor their shepherding responsibilities to the local flock. And there are numerous examples of local church elders “assuming the oversight” of brotherhood, centralized works which involve the pooling of funds collected from hundreds of churches. In each of the aforementioned situations, before God, disorder prevails!
2. The worship is not “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). “In spirit” reflects the disposition, attitude, and thought processes of the worshipers. For example, if one eats the bread and drinks the fruit of the vine while physically par- taking of the Lord’s supper, but neglects at the same time to discern “the Lord’s body” or to reflect upon his “death” (1 Cor. 11:23-26), then he is not worshiping God “in spirit.” However, worshiping “in truth” is of equal importance, and God’s “word is truth” (John 17:17). Hence, if one, as an act of worship, introduces into the worship things which are foreign to the New Covenant (such as instrumental music, burning incense, holy water, the mass, etc.), then a state of disorder exists.
3. Carnality and division exists. When the apostle Paul wrote his first epistle to the church at Corinth he wrote to brethren who were “carnal” and characterized by “envy, strife, and division” (1 Cor. 3:3). Would any deny that a state of disorder prevailed at Corinth? And could any deny that disorder yet prevails in any local church which is currently plagued by such ungodly conditions?
4. The focus changes from “what pleases God” to “what pleases me.” God is the proper object of our worship (John 4:24). Whatever we do must be done with the intent of glorifying God (1 Cor. 10:31). However, in many places the simple, scriptural worship which God ordained is considered “too routine,” “too dull,” and “too boring.” So numerous changes are made — changes which ostensibly reflect a desire to “spice up” the worship, and make it more “meaningful” and “relevant” but which, in reality, reflect a determination to please self instead of God. Often the same desire to please self-results in intense pressure placed upon preachers to shorten their sermons, and then spice up what is left with jokes, relating personal experiences, and warm hearted pep talks designed more for the purpose of making people feel good about themselves than for convicting sinners with a realization of their own lostness before God. When this occurs, disorder prevails!
5. The social gospel replaces the saving gospel. The work of the church is three-fold: (1) Sounding out the word to lost souls (1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Thess. 1:7, 8), (2) edifying the saints (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Cor. 14:26), and (3) providing benevolence for indigent saints (Acts 6:1-6; 2 Cor. 8, 9; 1 Tim. 5:16). But many “churches of Christ” have assumed the role of a glorified Salvation Army. Others have gotten caught up in recreation, family life centers, secular education, and seminars on virtually every topic from how to grow healthy children to how to grow healthy vegetables. In such instances, before God, a state of disorder prevails.
6. Artificial lures are used to reach people. The gospel is the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). The word of God “is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21). Sin- stained souls are “purified” when they obey “the truth” (1 Pet. 1:22). However, many have lost confidence in the “power” of the gospel, and now depend on the power of youth outings, retreats, camps, recreation in general, rap sessions, candle light services and hand-holding events in which people are able to “open up,” “interact,” and relate to each other’s — events which may tingle the spine, but do not save the soul! Another example of disorder!
7. Brethren withhold the truth from lost souls for fear of giving offense. No one should delight in making others angry. Tact and wisdom in our choice of words are both wise and scriptural (Col. 4:6). However, God’s word “is truth” (John 17:17), and only the truth can make one “free” (John 8:32). And sometimes people look upon us as their “enemy” because we tell them “the truth” (Gal. 4:16). Being mindful of this, many brethren who are more concerned about their own standing before their friends than their friends’ standing before God, either withhold from them the truth, or else soft pedal it to such a degree that the lost are not made to recognize the sad fact that they are lost. And keep in mind this fact; no one is really interested in learning what to do in order to be saved until he first learns that he is lost!
Yes, in many places much is “lacking” which should be “set in order.” However, as we conclude this article we urge each reader to make a personal application of the principles herein set forth. Dear reader, are there some things in your life which are “lacking” and which should be “set in order”? Perhaps the things “lacking” have to do with your attitude, your dress, your speech, your manner of life in general, your domestic situation, or your standing before God. Each one of us will give account of himself before God (Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10). That being the case, then whatever is amiss in our lives must be corrected. Life is too short to be little, and eternity is too long for us to live disordered lives while we abide in the realm of time. Consider ye well!