An Essential for Every Pastor: Being a Man of the Word (Titus 1:9)

Titus 1:6–9 is a key passage for determining who may or may not be a pastor in a church. Titus 1:6 describes how a pastor leads his family, and Titus 1:7–8 describes his character. Titus 1:7 lists five character traits that a pastor should not have, and Titus 1:8 lists six that he should. In the Greek, Titus 1:9 continues the sentence from Titus 1:7–8 and assumes the imperative verb “must” (dei) to give us a seventh positive requirement for the pastor: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

We could generally sum of Titus 1:9 with this—a pastor must be a man of the word. More specifically, we could explain this verse with four statements.

A pastor has been taught the trustworthy word.

New Testament Greek sometimes uses whole prepositional phrases to describe a noun. Literally put, a pastor must be “holding fast to the according-to-the-teaching trustworthy word.” So, when Titus 1:9 requires that a pastor hold fast to the word, it’s a word that is described in two ways. It is according to the teaching, and it is trustworthy. And if it is according to the teaching, the pastor himself has been taught this word so as to be able to hold fast to it and teach it himself. Churches and their pastors should teach men who are able to teach. Bible colleges, seminaries, and institutes can aid this teaching, but however it is done, a pastor is someone who has been taught the trustworthy word.

The phrase “the trustworthy word” uses the same Greek words (pistos, logos) that Paul uses in the Pastoral Epistles when he says “This saying is trustworthy” (1 Timothy 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:11; Titus 3:8). These “sayings” always refer to a summary statement about the gospel or to a statement about the one who proclaims it. These passages show us that the “trustworthy word” is the gospel that leads sinners to salvation in Christ and to subsequent life of godliness.

Similarly, Paul commends Timothy as a “good servant of Christ Jesus” for teaching the brothers in that which he had been trained, “the words of the faith,” a phrase which uses these words again (1 Timothy 4:6). Timothy was an example of someone who preached the trustworthy word because he was trained to do so. Like Timothy, pastors must know this trustworthy word inside and out and all of its related doctrines as best they can. A pastor is someone who has been taught the trustworthy word.

A pastor holds firm to the trustworthy word.

“Hold firm” is technically a participle, an “-ing” kind of word in the English. Mentioned earlier, the main verb of Titus 1:7–9 is “must,” so the pastor “must” be “holding firm.” This same verb (antechō) is used to describe one being “devoted” to a master (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13) and how we should “help” the weak (1 Thessalonians 5:14). It literally means to “hold against” one’s self whatever the object may be. As Titus 1:9 demands, a pastor must firmly hold the trustworthy word to himself. By doing so, he will save himself and his hearers (cf. 1 Timothy 4:15–16).

A pastor instructs in sound doctrine.

To fully understand this point and the next, we should note that a pastor will not be “able” (dunatos) to instruct in sound doctrine or rebuke those who contradict unless he first holds firm the trustworthy word. The two small words “so that” indicate that one action leads to two others—the pastor holds firm the trustworthy word “so that he may be able” to “give instruction” and “rebuke.” A pastor cannot instruct something that eludes his grasp, let alone know how to rebuke someone who is contradicting.

The translation “give instruction” is an interesting choice for the ESV since it is the only one of 109 instances of parakaleō to be translated this way. To be fair, parakaleō has a range of translations, shaped by context, varying quite a bit—comfort, urge, beg, invite, ask, appeal, exhort, entreat, plead, and encourage. So, when the action of parakaleō involves “sound doctrine,” it would mean at the least to “give instruction,” but these other choices are not far behind. “Sound doctrine” comes from the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 6:3), “follows… the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13), and thus “accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3). It opposes sin (1 Timothy 1:10; cf. 1:9–10), rebukes sinners (Titus 1:13), and cannot be endured by those who are ruled by their passions (2 Timothy 4:3). Thus, sound doctrine must be instructed and exhorted, and those who hear it should be urged, invited, and asked to submit thereto.

A pastor rebukes those who contradict sound doctrine.

A pastor who is taught, holds firm, and instructs the word of God will be opposed by unbelievers. In Titus’s context, some of these unbelievers professed to know God, upset families in the churches, used the church for personal gain, and needed to be silenced through rebuke (Titus 1:10–16; cf. 1:9, 13). Titus was to do so “with all authority” (Titus 2:15) and avoid those who persisted in strife (Titus 3:10–11; cf. Romans 16:17–18; 2 John 10–11). Titus was to name the sinner and the sin, just as John the Baptist did with Herod for his unlawful marriage “and for all the evil things that Herod had done” (Luke 3:19).

Summary

Titus 1:9 is just one verse, but it teaches much about how a pastor is to be a man of the word. A pastor must have been taught the word, hold firm thereto, and instruct others in sound doctrine. When opposed, the pastor must rebuke those who contradict. May God help all of us as pastors and Christian leaders to live according to Titus 1:9.