When I left the corporate world and went to seminary, I pictured spiritual leaders as clean cut guys in starched white shirts and blue suits. I understood that spiritual leadership wasn’t always easy. I knew that piety was essential. But I didn’t think much about the need for a spiritual leader to be a gladiator.
You might wonder how I missed what was so obvious in Scripture. Had I read about Moses? Or David? Or Jesus! Didn’t I know that Paul wrote to the Ephesians that we are in a spiritual war?
I would have said at the time I knew toughness was important. But I didn’t really know. The dusty world of the Biblical slingshots, Roman soldiers, and stonings seemed so far removed from our modern age.
Twenty six years later I’ve realized what I should have known all along: spiritual leaders are walking the way of the cross. The face of spiritual leadership looks a lot more like the image to the right of Wisconsin wrestler Isaac Jordan (from The Faces of College Wrestling) than that of a button-downed executive. To be a spiritual leader is to go to the front lines of a war. Figurative bruises and black eyes are sure to come. Bloody lips are part of the call.
And the more bruises I get as a leader, the more I can relate to the guts and grit of the biblical leader Titus. If I had deeply understood more about Titus when I began in spiritual leadership, I would not have been so surprised the first time I got flattened.
On the one hand, we know little about the first century church leader Titus. He is not mentioned in Acts. Some have speculated that Luke omitted Titus’s name because he and Luke were brothers: an intriguing theory, but only a guess.
Outside of Acts, Titus’s name appears 13 times in the New Testament (2 Cor 2:13, 7:6, 7:13, 7:14, 8:6, 8:16, 8:23, 12:18, Gal 2:1, 3, 2 Tim 4:10, Titus 1:4). From those passages, we can sketch a preliminary picture. Titus was Greek and one of Paul’s converts (Titus 1:4). He became one of Paul’s most trusted partners and maybe the toughest.
The case for Titus’s toughness is built by reflecting on four assignments entrusted to Titus by the Apostle Paul.
First, Titus represented uncircumcised Gentiles at the Council of Jerusalem.
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. . . But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Gal 2:1, 3
In 50 AD Paul received a special revelation from God that he should travel to Jerusalem for a meeting that was sure to be a showdown. The central question in view was the matter of circumcision. For more than 2,000 years the people of the living God were circumcised as a covenant sign of their relationship with God. Now, under the jurisdiction of the New Covenant, it was rightly argued that circumcision was not required (Gal 2:1-10). The matter was a tremendously contentious issue for the early church. For Titus to go — as something of the token uncircumcised Gentile — meant the authenticity of his faith would be scrutinized and questioned by articulate and combative Judaizers.
Second, Titus was Paul’s messenger and intermediary with Corinth.
But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 2 Cor 8:16
Given its location, the church at Corinth was of strategic importance. Yet, it was full of problems (see 1, 2 Corinthians). The relationship between Paul and the church at Corinth was strained to say the least. Indeed, Paul had so severely rebuked the Corinthians that he wasn’t sure if they were up to another round of correction directly administered by him (2 Cor 2:1). Instead, Paul gave Titus the job of delivering Paul’s severe or sorrowful letter.
Titus delivery of Paul’s severe letter to the Corinthians couldn’t have been a pretty scene. The Corinthians expected that Paul would be arriving in person. Doubtless, those who supported Paul were disappointed to hear he wouldn’t be coming. On the other hand, Paul’s opponents seized on his absence to accuse Paul of breaking his word.
To make matters even more difficult, Titus’ role as messenger included the task of taking up a collection for other young churches (2 Cor 8-9). It takes a tough leader to relay the message of a rebuke while also leading a giving campaign.
Lest you think I’m exaggerating the difficulty of Titus’ assignment, notice, Paul was by no means sure that things would go well. He was so distressed about how things went for Titus that when Titus did not return as expected, Paul left a ministry opportunity and went looking for him in Macedonia (2 Cor 2:12-13). After hearing good news from Titus when he found him, Paul asked Titus to deliver 2 Corinthians.
Biblical scholars believe that Titus probably represented Paul to the Corinthians on three different occasions. And given that 1,2 Corinthians are in the New Testament today, our sense is that Titus was effective in his role. Even so, he took some body blows.
Third, Titus traveled with Paul for extended periods of time.
As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. 2 Cor 8:23
To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. Titus 1:4
As seen above, Titus was with Paul at the Council of Jerusalem (50 AD). He was a key intermediary with the church at Corinth (51-56 AD). We also know that Titus accompanied Paul to Crete (62-64 AD). Putting all of this together, it is also reasonable to assume that Titus was at Paul’s side (or representing Paul) for a large part of Paul’s ministry. Partnering with Paul was one of the toughest ministry assignments ever. Beatings, shipwrecks, or death were never far away. Yet, Titus persevered.
Fourth, Titus stayed behind in Crete to deal with troublemakers and appoint leaders.
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—Titus 1:5
While the book of Acts does not document a missions visit by Paul to Crete, we know from Titus 1:5 that Paul and Titus visited Crete together. The traditional understanding is that Paul was released from his first imprisonment in Rome and he and Titus made a missions trip to Crete. The gospel took root in Crete. But, as we learn from the book of Titus, Crete was a notoriously difficult culture. If the gospel cause was to go further, someone needed to stay behind, appoint qualified leaders, and take on divisive leaders. Paul chose “Titus the tough” to silence the circumcision group in Crete and to deal with other difficulties.
Almost 2,000 years later we don’t know what Titus looked like when he traveled to Jerusalem, Corinth, and Crete. But of this we can be sure. He was a warrior. He has a black eye or two. And so do all leaders who make a difference. To be a spiritual leader is to be called into a battle.