Does "faithful children" mean faithful to God or faithful to the parent?


When Paul speaks of "faithful children" in Titus 1:6, did he mean faithful to God or faithful to the parent?


Terms in the Bible are sometimes difficult to translate because common words are borrowed and used in ways where the common word takes on deeper meaning than it originally had. For example, one of the early terms for a follower of Christ was "disciple." A disciple simply refers to someone who is a student. "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master" (Matthew 10:24-25). But because all Christians are students of Christ, the word "disciple" became equivalent to "Christian." "So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" (Acts 11:26). The result is that each reference to disciple must be examined to determine if we are speaking of students in general or those who have devoted themselves to learning from Christ.

Another example is found in the word "servant." It can refer to a person who works for another man (Matthew 8:6), a servant of Christ (Colossians 1:7), a servant of the church (Romans 16:1), a deacon (I Timothy 3:10), or a minister (Colossians 1:23). In every case, the same basic Greek word is being translated in a variety of ways, depending on how it is being used. Yet even when it takes on specialized meaning, the basic concept remains the same. A minister is a preacher who serves his Master, Christ, by teaching the word of God. A deacon serves the church by looking after its physical needs. A Christian has made himself a slave to Christ to serve His will.

What is Meant by Faithful

The Greek word pistos means "trustworthy, faithful, or reliable." In common usage, it could be used to describe a servant. A faithful servant is one in whom you have complete trust. He will do his assigned task, even if the master is not standing over him to monitor his every move. Joseph exemplifies the faithful servant. When he was serving Potiphar, the Bible tells us: "So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had in the house and in the field. Thus he left all that he had in Joseph's hand, and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate" (Genesis 39:5-6). Potiphar had complete trust in Joseph. His trust allowed him to focus on his work, leaving the job of running his household in Joseph's capable hands. It is this meaning that Jesus used to illustrate a point, "Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods" (Matthew 24:45-47). The point is not about master - servant relationships, but an illustration that we as Christians must be faithful servants.

Paul draws a similar parallel between a trustworthy servant and a child of God. "Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful" (I Corinthians 4:1-2). Paul continues his point by saying that faithfulness is not judged by human standards, but by the Lord Himself.

It is God who sets the standard for faithfulness."If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself" (II Timothy 2:13). God demonstrates His reliability in His care. He insures we are not tempted beyond our abilities (I Corinthians 10:13); He preserves us (I Thessalonians 5:23-24); He protects us (II Thessalonians 3:3); and He will forgive us when we repent of our sins (I John 1:9). We are able to have complete confidence in our God because He will reward his servants (I Corinthians 1:4-9). "And in this confidence I intended to come to you before, that you might have a second benefit -- to pass by way of you to Macedonia, to come again from Macedonia to you, and be helped by you on my way to Judea. Therefore, when I was planning this, did I do it lightly? Or the things I plan, do I plan according to the flesh, that with me there should be Yes, Yes, and No, No? But as God is faithful, our word to you was not Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us -- by me, Silvanus, and Timothy -- was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (II Corinthians 1:15-22). Man's plans must change at times, but not God's plans. God offered salvation as something that could be counted upon. It wasn't a "maybe," or "we'll see," but a firm "yes." All of God's promises are sure.

Because the Bible is God's word, like its author, it is found to be trustworthy. It is filled with statements that can be counted upon (e.g. I Timothy 1:15; 4:8-9; II Timothy 2:11-12). Hence, Paul described an elder as a man "holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict" (Titus 1:9). One particularly interesting faithful statement is found in Titus 3:8. "This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men." It is a trustworthy statement that those who trust in God should carefully maintain their service to God. Even though the word "servant" doesn't appear in this passage, it is obviously describing who is the faithful servant from God's viewpoint.

The result is that God's reliability inspires us to be trustworthy servants of the Almighty. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23). When Thomas was offered evidence of Christ's resurrection, he was told, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing" (John 20:27). Therefore, those in Christ are referred to as "the faithful" (Revelation 17:14). The name indicates a complete trust in their God. "Let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator" (I Peter 4:17-19).

Faithfulness is not limited to one portion of our lives. It must reach every aspect, physical and spiritual. "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own?" (Luke 16:10-12). In other words, faithfulness is a lifestyle. It is not something you turn on or off as the mood strikes you. All that we do must be done faithfully. "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name's sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth" (III John 4-8). This is why an elder or a deacon's wife must be "faithful in all things" (I Timothy 3:11).

Faithfulness is so important that the term becomes a synonym for a Christian. Letters in the New Testament were addressed to the faithful (Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:2). Paul referred to his becoming a Christian as a time when he was made trustworthy (I Corinthians 7:25). Notice the usage of pistos in the following passages:

"And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished" (Acts 10:45).

"Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?" (II Corinthians 6:15).

"foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth" (I Timothy 4:3).

"For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe" (I Timothy 4:10).

"Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers" (I Timothy 4:12).

"If any believing man or woman has widows" (I Timothy 5:16).

"And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved" (I Timothy 6:2).

"commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (II Timothy 2:2).

To be described as a faithful servant is a great complement to the Christian. The Lord found Paul to be faithful (I Timothy 1:12) and the following men are described as faithful:

Timothy (I Corinthians 4:17)
Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7)
Onesimus (Colossians 4:9)
Epaphras (Colossians 1:7)
Silvanus (I Peter 5:12)
Antipas (Revelation 2:13)

Hence, when Jesus said, "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10), he is urging Christians to remain trustworthy as servants of God for their entire life.

Faithful Children

In looking for men qualified for the eldership, Paul told Titus to find men "having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination" (Titus 1:6). The question is to whom are the children faithful or trustworthy, to their father or to the Father?

It is an important question. Should men be selected for the eldership only if their children are members of the church? Or, can men who run well-disciplined homes, but whose children do not become Christians, also be qualified?

As seen from the above discussion, the word pistos has deeply religious meaning to Christians. It would be hard to separate the religious meaning from the common usage. Even when used to describe faithful servants, the Lord used the concept to illustrate the behavior of Christians. However, it remains possible that Paul might possibly be using the more shallow definition of pistos in this one instance.

[Words translated from the Greek word pistos and its related forms were marked in blue in the above passages for easier identification.]

If Paul Meant "Christian" Why Didn't He Say So?

The question would be similar to asking why Paul used the word "saint" in Philippians 4:21. There are a variety of words used to describe a Christian: "believer," "saint," "child of God," etc. No one word is a complete description of what or who is a Christian, but each emphasizes a necessary characteristic. "Believer" places weight on the necessity of faith in Christ. "Saint" tells us the person has set himself apart from the world and has dedicated his life to Christ. "Disciple" emphasis the following of Christ and learning of His ways. Which word is selected depends on the aspect of the Christian's life that God saw necessary to emphasize.

If "faithful children" is referring to children who are Christians, then the use of the word rules out children who are "Christian" in name only. To be faithful, they must be trustworthy of carrying out God's will, even when they are not being monitored. Of necessity one who is faithful (as in "Christian") would be in submission to his earthly father, as such is required by God (Ephesians 6:1-3). The word "faithful" would also rule out a child who only obeys his father because he must. A child who submits solely because he feels forced into obedience will rebel as soon as he escapes the dominion of his father. A faithful child will remain trustworthy.

Comparing Titus to Timothy

Some have noted that the qualifications for elders given to Timothy and Titus are very similar. To Timothy, Paul stated that a qualified man is "one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)" (I Timothy 3:4-5). Since Timothy and Titus worked in different areas of the world (Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete), it is argued that Paul would have had to have given both men a complete list of qualifications in order for them to find qualified men. Therefore, the statements are seen to be roughly equivalent. Since Timothy's list does not indicate the need for an elder's children to be members of the church, it is assumed that the word "faithful" in Titus's list indicates trustworthiness to the father and not necessarily faithfulness to God.

There are three flaws with the argument. First, it is assumed that neither Timothy nor Titus would be familiar with the contents of each other's letters. Yet, we know that Paul's letters were written for the purpose of being shared (Colossians 4:16; I Thessalonians 5:27). We also know that Timothy had the gifts of the Holy Spirit (II Timothy 1:6), along with other brethren (I Corinthians 12). It would be a grave mistake to assume that Timothy or Titus only knew what was written in their respective letters. In fact, we know that both Timothy and Titus were traveling companions of Paul. Timothy's letter was sent as a reminder of the things Paul had discussed with him (I Timothy 1:3; II Timothy 1:13). Take note, as well, that Titus was left in Crete by Paul (Titus 1:5), implying that he had been traveling with Paul, but remained behind to complete certain tasks.

Second, elders where being selected prior to the writing of the letters of Timothy or Titus. The selection of elders was first mentioned in Acts 14:21-23 as Paul and Barnabas completed a return trip from their first journey. Yet, we find that Jerusalem had elders before Paul arrived there (Acts 15:2) and that Titus was first mentioned as traveling with Paul on this particular journey (Galatians 2:1-3). Timothy did not start traveling with Paul until Acts 16:1-3. All of this points out that the brethren knew how to select elders prior to the writing of the letters to Timothy and Titus. As with Peter's letters, Paul's letters were recording much of what the brethren already knew so that the instructions would not be forgotten (II Peter 1:12-15).

Third, the instructions to Titus and Timothy are similar, but they are not the same. For instance, Timothy's letter mentions the qualifications for an elder's or deacon's wife. Titus has none. Do we conclude that when Titus sought out men for the office of elder in Crete that he did not have to consider the character of the men's wives? For that matter, Titus's letter doesn't mention deacons. Do we conclude that the churches in Crete had no deacons? Though the list of qualifications for elders are similar between Titus and Timothy, they are not the same. Timothy alone mentions that a man must desire the office and that he must be temperate, gentle, and not quarrelsome. Titus alone mentions that a man must be sensible, just, holy, self-controlled, a lover of good, not quick-tempered, and not self-willed. Because of the differences, do we conclude that the elders ordained by Timothy were of a different character than those selected by Titus? No, this does not make sense.

Therefore, there is no requirement for the description in Timothy of the potential elder's children to be exactly equivalent to the description in Titus. It is not ruled out, but it is not necessary to understand them to be the same. The odd thing is that Timothy's description of the elder's children can be read with a religious connotation. Paul told Timothy that the elder's children must be in subjection with all reverence. Earlier, in I Timothy 2:11, women were told to learn quietly in all subjection. The same word for reverence is used in I Timothy 2:2 where Paul said, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence." In other words, the character of the elder's children are characteristics that should be found in Christians. The letter to Titus tells us that the elder should have "faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination." When Peter spoke of the change in a Christian's life, he said, "In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you" (I Peter 4:4). Paul contrasts the righteous man to the lawless and the insubordinate (or disobedient) in I Timothy 1:9. He was concerned about the disobedient infiltrating the ranks of Christians in Titus 1:10. Hence, the characteristics that Paul said an elder's children should not have are the same as those that a Christian should not have.

Even the description of ruling one's household is the same used of elders caring for the church. "And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake" (I Thessalonians 5:12-13). (The word "over" is the word "rule".) The reason that the household of a potential elder is to be examined is because the same qualities needed to raise children properly are needed to guide a congregation properly. If a man cannot encourage his own children to commit their lives to Christ, how will he function in trying to keep a congregation on the one true path?

The Nature of the Qualifications of an Elder

Another argument is that all the qualifications for an elder are making parallels between the physical and the spiritual. To read the characteristics of an elder's children in spiritual terms would change the nature of the comparisons.

I must admit that this particular argument baffles me. Every quality required in an elder is a quality that ought to be found in all Christians. Characteristics, such as blameless, temperate, sober-minded, and gentle, are understood in the context of Christianity. They are qualities of the inner man that may be demonstrated in the person's actions and teachings. A person, for instance, could be found blameless in the physical world (in other words, he never has been caught in a crime), but he might not be blameless as far as the church is concerned (he might be involved in the spreading of a false doctrine). This particular argument carries no weight.

The Implication on Membership

Yet another argument is that if an elder's children must be Christians, then it would imply that all the members of a congregation which he be leading would have to be Christians as well.

Again, I believe this is an empty argument for how can a person become a member of a congregation without becoming a Christian (I Corinthians 12:12-13)? Perhaps what is intended is to say that if all of an elder's children are to remain faithful, then it would imply that every member in a congregation with elders must remain faithful. Even in this case, there is little weight to the argument. We know that the danger of falling away exists (Hebrews 6:4-6). The reason for the eldership is to have men actively working to prevent this. "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17). However, the reality is that there will be failures. In examining the family of an elder, you are looking for the pattern in the man's leadership. "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much" (Luke 16:10). Keeping children, whom you have raised from infancy, in submission and faithfulness ought to be easier than dealing with children of God who bring the baggage of their lives with them.

Who is Responsible for Obedience to the Gospel?

Another argument made is that if an elder's children must be Christians, then the responsibility for obeying the gospel is removed from the child and placed upon the father, contrary to Ezekiel 18.

Each individual is responsible for the decisions that he makes. "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself" (Ezekiel 18:20). However, this doesn't mean that a person's choices are not influenced by those around him. Paul told the Corinthians, "You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart" (II Corinthians 3:2-3). In other words, the behavior of the Corinthians reflect the influence Paul had on their lives. Elsewhere Paul also said, "For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord" (I Corinthians 9:2). The Corinthians, by their independent and individual choices, were proof that Paul was an apostle.

You see, the one who teaches another bears accountability for the impact of his teaching. "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment" (James 3:1). The teacher must insure that the truth is taught. "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul" (Ezekiel 3:17-21). Teaching comes in more than just words. The example shown also teaches others.

When a child decides for or against becoming a Christian, the choice is the child's, but there is a possibility that the child's parents may be held accountable along with the child. The difficulty that we have is determining why the child chose as he did. Was it because of his parents or despite his parents? The reality is that the choices made by the children give us a good approximation of the quality of teaching the child received. Since we cannot read minds, we must use secondary evidence.

What is being objected to is that the ability for a man to serve as an elder is partly controlled by other individuals' independent decisions. It appears to be unfair that a man could be disqualified simply because a child decides to not become a Christian. But notice that the argument doesn't change if you say that "faithful" doesn't necessarily mean faithful to God. What if a child chooses to be rebellious, despite his father's teaching? Such can and has happened. Who is responsible for the choice to rebel? Obviously the child, but the father shares accountability because he was not able to persuade the child out of his rebelliousness. Yet, if a man's child chooses to rebel, doesn't that make the child's independent choice one that affects the father's life? Of course!

Or consider it this way: An elder's wife is to be "faithful in all things" (I Timothy 3:10). Should the husband be prevented from serving as an elder just because his wife chooses to leave the church? After all, using the argument presented, the wife's choice is independent of her husband. Why should the husband be held accountable for a choice made by his wife? Yet the reason remains the same -- the husband may not be directly responsible for his wife's salvation, but he does strongly influence her decisions. Ultimately, the wife's choice will be judged by God and she will not be able to blame anyone else for her decision. However, God will also judge those who had opportunity to influence her decision. A failure to teach properly may cause a person to lose his salvation (Ezekiel 33:1-20).

Therefore, whether we like it or not, the choices made by other people will impact whether a man may become an elder.

October 31, 2008