Good Works in the Book of Titus


For an anecdotal article regarding good works see.

Many years ago a couple visited the church I pastored. They indicated they were interested in becoming a part of the fellowship. One Sunday I announced that the following Sunday I would begin a series on good works from the book of Titus. As they left, they announced to me they would not be back. They were not going to sit under my teaching on good works. I never saw them again.

I hope that is not your response to this post.

Who was Titus and What was His commission?

Titus must have been quite an impressive figure in his day. A fellow worker with Paul. Expert in conflict management, he was sent by Paul to Corinth to quell the disturbances there when both Apollos and Timothy seemed to have failed. A trusted informer for Paul regarding their responses to Paul’s severe letters instructing the Corinthians to change their behavior. Then when there was a need to entrust someone with money, it was Titus who came to mind. It is no wonder that Paul left Titus at Crete to straighten out the mess in the fellowship there.

Have you ever heard of someone being called a Cretin? Merriam-Webster defines cretin as: a stupid, vulgar, or insensitive person: clod, lout.[i] The spelling varies between cretin and cretan. But the origin seems to be the same.

The Word Detective states:

Today “cretin” is usually used as a derogatory slang term for someone perceived as being stupid, foolish or incompetent, equivalent to “moron,” “idiot” or “nitwit” (“I had to get clearance from some cretin in Human Resources to take the day off.”). The origins of “cretin,” however, lie in a true human tragedy.[ii]

But Titus was not left in Crete because he was a cretin, nor a rough and tumble guy who could manhandle the situation. He was there because of his godliness. Because he was a F.A.T. man (see article). Paul could trust him to get the job done.

Titus was a good judge of people. Note that his assignment was not to do the job, but to appoint and equip others to do the job.[iii] This required selecting godly men with a good track record in their ability to work together. They had to be individuals who knew the Word of God and could apply the wisdom of God’s Word to the ministry of the gospel. Who would not be swayed by the machinations of the cretins in the church, some who were liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons,[iv] easily led into corrupt beliefs and practices.

There were strong personalities in the church, heretics[v] in the biblical sense of the word, i.e., those who could draw a following and cause division. Paul’s strong denunciation of these false brethren was historic to the extent that many in western culture still, without knowing its origin, speak of Cretans.

With this context in mind, note how Titus was to accomplish his assignment:

But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.[vi]

The Study of Terms in the Book of Titus

This is where a word study really helps. The term, sound, is from the Greek term, hugiaino, from which we get the term, health. The term, doctrine, is didaskalia, which refers to both the content and method of teaching.

Titus was the perfectly prepared instrument to accomplish the task. He was to use the Word of God, i.e., sound doctrine, to instruct in how the leaders were to correct the problems in that local fellowship. The actual work was not to be performed by someone brought in from the outside to do what the fellowship chose not to do. The work was up to the local church and their spiritual leaders.

Recently I did a search of the many churches God led me to go alongside to assist in transitioning. Sometimes it was to assist in calling a new pastor. Sometimes it was to correct individuals in the congregation who were disrupting the fellowship and/or giving the pastor a hard time. Sometimes it was confronting the leadership in what they were doing that was ungodly and, at times, illegal.

Every church, each a lampstand in their community,[vii] that refused counsel, left their profession of faith, or no longer exists. Some, their buildings stand empty. God removed them as lampstands. I will leave it to God’s judgment regarding the historical record of the church at Crete following Titus’ ministry there.

Chapter 1 ends with Paul’s indictment of individuals in the church at Crete.

They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.[viii]

The term, deed, found twice in this verse, is the term translated work in the KJV. It is simply any activity conducted by an individual or congregation. The question is not whether a church or individual will do something. It is what, why, and how they do it. Here the term refers to any good deed or work. This first reference to works in 1:16 describes all the activities that any individual or body of believers might do

The term for deed, repeated throughout Titus, is the same Greek term. The term, good, changes. This change is from the term, agathos, to kalos, and back again (see comparison). The English does not reflect this. By comparing each context, we find Paul uses this comparison to highlight the why, and how of the activities performed.

The root meaning of agathos is that which is beneficial. The root meaning of kalos is beautiful, pleasant, or virtuous.

I liken this difference this way. Grandma says to Johnny, “Here is a piece of cake. Eat it. It’s good (kalos). At another time she says to Johnny, here is a spoonful of cod liver oil. Take it. It’s good (agathos). If you have never tasted the original cod liver oil, don’t bother. As a child growing up in the mid twentieth century, when the old brown form was still considered beneficial for almost every ailment, I can almost taste it today. On the other hand, I love cake because it tastes good (kalos). The distinction here is somewhat exaggerated, but you get the picture.

Another way to view the distinction between the two is, agathos is intrinsic and Kalos is extrinsic. Agathos does not draw attention to itself as much as to what it accomplishes. Kalos on the other hand, is demonstrable. Others will notice.

A meaningful study of the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic is found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I reprinted the article, Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Value, for my library and for this post. (see article)

Concerning intrinsic, the article states:

The intrinsic value of something is said to be the value that that thing has “in itself,” or “for its own sake,” or “as such,” or “in its own right.”[ix]

Another quote helps clarify the difference between agathos and kalos:

    1. What Is Extrinsic Value?

At the beginning of this article, extrinsic value was said simply—too simply—to be value that is not intrinsic. Later, once intrinsic value had been characterized as nonderivative value of a certain, perhaps moral kind, extrinsic value was said more particularly to be derivative value of that same kind. That which is extrinsically good is good, not (insofar as its extrinsic value is concerned) for its own sake, but for the sake of something else to which it is related in some way. For example, the goodness of helping others in time of need is plausibly thought to be extrinsic (at least in part), being derivative (at least in part) from the goodness of something else, such as these people’s needs being satisfied, or their experiencing pleasure, to which helping them is related in some causal way.[x]

To understand the difference in the meaning of these two terms, we need to go, not to theories of motivation, or health, or philosophy in today’s understanding, but to the dialogue of Greek culture in Paul’s day. The distinction can be confusing. But whatever meaning the terms have outside the Scriptures, how they are used in the context of the New Testament, must hold sway.

Of the nine times the two terms occur throughout the epistle, four times it is agathos and five times kalos. (see comparison)

The Meaning and Application of Agathos

In verse 1:16, the Cretan behavior was not beneficial (agathos) for any endeavor.

In 2:5, wives are to be good (agathos), i.e., their behavior was to be that which was beneficial to the home.

In verse 2:10, everyone who held positions of responsibility, whether on the job or in the community, was to do their duty and, by this, show their good (agathos) faith by how they performed on the job.[xi]

In 3:1, the believers are subject to governmental authorities and, when opportunities arise, to be ready for ever good (agathos) deed.

Every believer has the responsibility to work with the right attitude and due diligence, serving others for their benefit. Paul is not referring to working for our salvation much less working for personal merit. We need to see ourselves as servants of others, doing what will benefit them. In this way, God will use our good behavior to change others, defuse conflicts, and strengthen the church.

Because my ministry was assisting small churches who often could not afford to pay me a full salary, I frequently worked in temporary employment to support my family. The opportunities for demonstrating the principles Paul instructs here regarding good works were numerous. Early on, I adopted the attitude, I’m here to make you look good. At times, I expressed this verbally to coworkers.

One time I was hired to work in the IT department of Kaiser Aluminum in the Spokane valley. I immediately sensed an aloofness on the part of everyone in the department. They did not think I could do the job. It turned out; I did not have the skills for what I was hired to do so they were right. However, the manager of the department, my immediate supervisor, sensing a willingness on my part to do what ever she asked me to do, gave me tasks I could perform so I could fulfill my contractual obligations.

Over time, the individuals in the department warmed up to me as I served each of them, seeking to do more than they expected of me. I soon learned that their aloofness was not so much due to my inability to do the job, but because a contract worker before me, a pastor, spent too much time preaching and not enough time doing the job. They expected me, a preacher, to do the same.

In the end, I was able to put together an entire library for their software, still on floppies at that time. I also rewrote instructions for their computer programs from an old mainframe commuter into MSWord in intelligible English so they could use the information on their new desktop computers.

What can you do to improve the environment for those you work for and with? Are you there only to get ahead and make yourself look good? Or are you there to make others look good? When we have the right attitude and do our work well, we demonstrate that God’s Word is true and effective. In this way we adorn the doctrine of God.[xii]

The emphasis throughout this section where agathos occurs is on individuals doing good (agathos) work. Any activity performed by a godly person, who has the right character and attitude, will be beneficial to those around them. This is what Paul means by “good (agathos) works.”

The Meaning and Application of Kalos

The Greek term, kalos, is intrinsic. Titus was to demonstrate by his behavior the changes needing to take placed in the ministry of the church at Crete. He was to:

... show yourself to be an example of good (kalos) deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, in order that the opponent may be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.[xiii]

One of the best ways to silence those who oppose the gospel, is to demonstrate by our (kalos) works. Notice the shift in the Greek term translated good.

In verses 2:11-14, Paul underscored the purpose of God’s provision of salvation:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good (kalos) deeds.[xiv]

Have you ever stopped to consider how your behavior and the way you do business affects the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Body, the church?

Paul summed up the importance of good (kalos) works:

This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good (kalos) and profitable for men.[xv]

Following a warm greeting to the brethren, He once again underscores the purpose of his letter to Titus:

And let our people also learn to engage in good (kalos) deeds to meet pressing needs, that they may not be unfruitful.[xvi]




[iii] Titus 1:5ff.

[iv] Titus 1:12.

[v] Titus 3:10.

[vi] Titus 2:1.

[vii] Cf. Rev 2-3.

[viii] Titus 1:16.



[xi] Note: In verse 2:9, Paul described individuals as “bondslaves (doulos)...subject to masters,” (NASB). We must not stumble of over this nomenclature. The “slave” (doulos) views the individual in relation to the one to whom he/she is accountable. The “servant” or “deacon” (diakinos) views the individual in relation to his/her task(see diagram).

[xii] Titus 2:10.

[xiii] Titus 2:7-8.

[xiv] Titus 2:11-14.

[xv] Titus 3:8.

[xvi] Titus 3:14.