“The Shepherd’s Command” – Titus 2:15

It was my intention to preach this verse in conjunction with the explanation Paul provided in vv. 11-14. There is an obvious connection with 2:1 with the imperative speak (λάλει) given to Titus, marking this as an appropriate conclusion. Yet Paul includes the commands to exhort (παρακάλει) and also to reprove (ἔλεγχε) to this repeated imperative to speak. Is this something more than a simple conclusion? The neuter pronoun ταῦτα (these [things]) obviously include all of the instruction that Titus must provide to the men, women, and slaves, both young and old in the Cretan churches. But does this verse speak only to those matters contained in 2:2-14 or is the context a little larger?


Questions like these stayed my hand and prompted me to consider this verse on its own. These things at the very least points back to everything that Paul has stated thus far and may in fact extend to everything yet to be said. Paul began his argument in 1:5, that the Cretan churches must be made complete so that there was nothing left lacking. Since then, he has moved from topic to topic in such a fluid motion that no natural break appears between thoughts. If we extend these things all the way back to 2:2, we must by necessity include all of chapter 1 as well. But why stop there?


A look ahead into chapter 3 reveals much of the same pattern. Paul plows into the conduct that the Cretan churches are to display within the context of their community without much pause just has he already addressed their needed leadership (1:5-16) and internal relationships (2:1-14).[1] In other words, these things refers to literally the entire epistle.


This short verse contains no less than four of the fourteen imperatives in the entire letter to Titus. With such a high concentration we naturally sit up and take notice. Paul surveys what he has already stated, anticipates what he is about to say, and lays these commands upon Titus but in the hearing of the Cretans. What we have here are three reminders regarding the shepherd’s duties. These reminders are given just as much for the Cretans’ understanding as they are for Titus’ faithfulness.


Reminder of the Shepherd’s Role (v. 15a)

These things speak and exhort and reprove


As we’ve already stated, the demonstrative “these things” points not only to 2:2-14 but to the entire letter. What is Titus to do with these things? Three imperatives immediately follow in rapid succession. Some translations make it seem as if Titus is only to speak these things while the commands to exhort and reprove modify the single command to speak. The NASB correctly renders these as three separate and yet compounding commands. One commentator notes that these commands seem to increase in intensity so as to form a climax.[2] This climax will become more evident as we examine the individual commands.


Shepherds must speak the Truth – The first imperative repeats the command of 2:1, that Titus must speak (λάλει) these things. There is so much that could be said regarding this simple command. First, we must not overlook the obvious idea that Titus is commanded to open his mouth and relay information. He cannot stand silent but must in fact announce to the Cretans the commands Paul has given him. He cannot sit in the corner while the Cretan churches neglect to appoint elders. He cannot remain silent while they continue to live as lying and lazy gluttons (1:12). He must open his mouth and proclaim truth.


Second, there is a limit placed on what it is he must speak. Titus is not to speak about things that are near and dear to him on a personal and subjective level. He is not commanded to speak about things which are interesting to the Cretan Christians. He is not ordered to speak about current affairs as such. He is given the imperative to speak these things. In short, these things (while grammatically pointing to the letter as a whole) effectually indicate the entire commandment (1:3) doctrine of God our Savior (2:10) which is sound/healthy (1:9, 13; 2:1, 2) and obedience to it as indicated by good deeds (2:6, 14). In other words, Titus is commanded to speak the totality of Scripture and the necessary obedience that naturally accompanies a life that is transformed. It is that obedience part which is picked up in the next imperative.


Shepherds must call the sheep to obey the Truth – The English term exhort translates the Greek παρακαλέω. We’ve seen this verb many times before as it is used over 100x throughout the NT. The common verb basically means to call alongside. There is always a sense of compliance even though the context may vary.


The English Bible sometimes translates this as comfort, encourage, urge, or exhort as it does here. The only thing that changes is the context and the tone, but not necessarily the meaning. The fainthearted need to be encouraged or comforted, but not in a sentimental, superficial, and subjective manner. They need to be gently reminded where the standard is, and they must be gently led to come alongside Christ. The verb is always used in this sense of compliance and obedience, even if outright rebellion is not in view.


The rise of climax is in view here because Paul makes it clear that Titus is not only to speak these things, as in to inform the Cretans of Christ’s standards for His church, but he must also exhort these things. Titus must call the Cretans to stand in conformity with Christ’s standards. Obedience is not an option and Titus must not make it seem as if it is. He must inform, teach, and instruct them (speak these things). But he must also demand that they obey what he has taught (exhort these things).


Shepherds must correct those who reject the Truth – Here is where the climax is reached. Paul has moved from simple instruction (speak) to demanded obedience (exhort) and concludes with anticipated conflict (reprove). The Greek term ἐλέγχω means to scrutinize or to point out. It can be translated as to expose or to convict, or even to convince. The idea is linked with correction but with the included concept of convincing someone of their error. It goes well beyond exposing someone’s foolishness to convincing them of the truth.


If I have learned anything while in the ministry, it is that fallen men are predisposed to reject the truth of God. Even those who have been redeemed often balk when confronted with the Scriptures. Titus must speak the truth. He must call the Cretans to obey the truth. And he must make every effort to convince those who balk that what he speaks is the truth.


The shepherd’s primary role is that of a preacher. The preacher is under orders to proclaim the full counsel of Almighty God. He is commanded to call the sheep to obey all the commands directed in this inspired revelation of the Ancient of Days. And he must convince any who doubt this sufficient Word of the great I AM by revealing their darkness through the Word’s light.


Reminder of the Shepherd’s Rank (v. 15b)

with all authority


A few things must be said about this statement before we get into the words themselves. There is nothing about the office of pastor/elder/overseer that comes with authority by itself. No man possesses authority of any kind because he is a pastor. Titus himself is not a great example of a Sr. pastor, because he is not functioning in that role (also because there is no such thing as a Sr. pastor). Titus is operating as Paul’s legate and representative. Titus is the mouthpiece of the apostle who is the sent out one of Jesus Christ (1:1). Titus comes to this commission with the full authority of the Lord and King of the universe.


While the pastor today does not possess any authority by virtue of his office, he proclaims this exact same authority when he announces the King’s message. When the preacher opens up the Word of God, proclaims it, expounds upon it, and demands obedience to it, he is in fact proclaiming the very Word of the Almighty and those words carry the same weight as if Yhwh manifested Himself in the presence of the assembly and uttered the Words for those present to hear. This requires us to think through a few things.


First, the preacher’s sermon is only as authoritative as it accurately communicates the actual text of Scripture. This is one of many reasons why a plurality of pastors/elders/overseers is necessary. Others in the assembly must know their Bibles well enough to understand when the preacher misspeaks or goes astray. The church is bound to obey every single word that comes out of the pulpit, only so far as what comes out of the pulpit comes out of the Scriptures.


Second, because of the reality that the preacher holds zero authority by virtue of his office and is accountable that his teaching is accurate, he must live in a constant paradox of fear and zeal, humility and duty. As the Scottish reformer, John Knox once said, “I have never feared the devil. But I tremble every time I enter the pulpit.” Any man who fails to tremble should be immediately dismissed from the pulpit.


Third, because the preacher proclaims the very Word of God, he must give no quarter. Every sermon must be delivered as if it were his last. Every sheep must hear the Master’s voice and be given no option but to repent and believe. If the preacher actually believes that he speaks the Word of God, then why would he present this revelation in a passive manner? The role of the preacher is not to make the message palatable but to ensure that it is rightly understood and demand that it is accepted and obeyed.


The shepherd has no rank on which to draw authority from. But he is the mouthpiece of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Therefore, he must hold nothing back.


Reminder of the Shepherd’s Redoubt (v. 15c)Let no one disregard you


A redoubt is a fallback position where defenders would make a final stand once the outer defenses were breached. The shepherd has no fallback position. His redoubt is the same position as the front lines. There is no retreat, there is no falling back, and there will be no surrender. But neither should he permit shirkers and slackers.


This term disregard (περιφρονέω) is similar to the term used in 1 Tim. 4:12 (καταφρονέω) but it is not the same. The root φρήν indicates the process of careful consideration (thinking, understanding). To Timothy, Paul added the preposition κατά or against to this idea (think against you – despise). But to Titus, Paul adds περί or around (let no one think around you). The idea here is not necessarily those who look down their noses or think little of Titus (as it was in Ephesus with Timothy) but that Titus not to permit anyone from circumventing Titus’ teaching. Give them no way out or around. Do not allow them to justify their worldliness and lack of obedience.


Titus is not given the option of just letting people walk out the door having the Word traveled through their ear holes without making contact with their hearts. He commanded (for this is the fourth imperative) not to allow anyone to talk their way out of complete submission to King Jesus.


Conclusion


There are a few things in closing that must be mentioned. All four of these imperatives are presented in the present tense. The implication is that Paul is not rebuking Titus, as if he had not already been doing these things, but that Paul is in fact encouraging Titus to continue speaking, exhorting, and reproving. At this point we are left to wonder, who is this exhortation really for? While this is a personal letter to Titus, it is obviously designed for Titus to share with the Cretan Christians. This exhortation is every bit as much for them as it is for Titus. The church must understand the role and responsibility of their shepherd.


The preacher is not supposed to be entertaining, whimsical, funny, or endearing. He is to speak truth, demand obedience to the truth, and correct those who disagree with the truth as he is backed by the One who is Truth. If the preaching is faithful and it causes unrest among the people, the problem is with the unrepentant people and not with the preaching. Let us pray for faithful shepherds and for repentant sheep. Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, vol. 46, 52 vols., World Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), p. 432. [2] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), p. 924.