"The Things that are Wanting"
As one seriously and intelligently considers God as revealed in the scriptures, one sees detail, organization and completeness. Relative to the church that Jesus built, there is the matter of completeness, both in doctrine and in consequent practice. When there is incompleteness, effort is made to effect what is missing of the complete condition. Such is seen in Paulís statement to the young evangelist Titus:
"5: For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee" (Tit. 1).
First, we shall explore some of the key words found in Titus 1: 5. "Wanting" is from the Greek, leipouta. "Wanting" suggests that which is absent or not present, absent when they should be present. Commentator Albert Barnes thus comments on Titus 1: 5:
"That thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting. Marg., left undone. The Greek is, 'the things that are left;' that is, those which were left unfinished; referring, doubtless, to arrangements which had been commenced, but which for some cause had been left incomplete. Whether this had occurred because he had been driven away by persecution, or called away by important duties demanding his attention elsewhere, cannot now be determined.... There were things left unfinished which he was to complete. One of these things, and perhaps the principle, was, to appoint elders in the various cities where the gospel had been preached..." (Barnes on the New Testament, Vol. 8).
Consider a couple translations:
International Standard Version (©2008): "The
reason I left you in Crete was to complete what still needed to be done and to
appoint elders in every city, as I myself commanded you."
Aramaic Bible in Plain English (©2010) "For this reason I had left you in Crete, that you might set right those things that are lacking, and ordain Elders in each city just as I ordered you."
The definite, plural neuter article ta stands for that which is missing and rendering the situation in the church on the island of Crete incomplete. We are not specifically told what the lacking "things" are, but one appears to be the appointment of elders, as commentator Barnes observes. "Set in order" is from the Greek iva epidiorthose and is indicative of design and purpose as opposed to a big blur and detachment. Titus as well as all God pleasing preachers work toward the goal of perfection or completeness in organizing the local church. Hence, there is none of the too common, "I do not see any need and I do not have a goal toward perfection in my preaching, etc.." Many preachers are goalless and see no flaws to be addressed (see addendum 1).
Greek grammarian A. T. Robertson makes the following
comments on "wanting" and "set in order":
Not only is Paul assigning the job of working towards church perfection to Titus, but the assignment was to be thorough and clean. There is no limiting circumstance of which I know that would restrict such a goal to Titus or to preachers of the First Century. In the specific case of elders, the need for qualified leaders among churches of Christ continues and is no less important today. Current preachers are to take the same qualifications that Paul presented to Titus and Timothy and lead the church in the selection and appointment of men to serve in this important capacity (Tit. 1: 6-9; I Tim. 3: 1-7, see addendum 2).
Let us return to "the things that are wanting." As already conceded, we are not told what all these missing "things" were. For sure, Titus had his work cut out for him. I say this especially in view of the condition of the churches on Crete and the basic nature of the Cretans (cp. Tit. 1: 10-12). Not only do endemic and cultural matters often dictate the needs and defined emphasis in preaching, but there are also the needs produced by the trends and movements within current time periods. Perhaps due to greater means of proliferation, I am now seeing more general needs than ever. In fact, after almost fifty years of preaching, I am seeing about every issue and need of the past as well as some new ones facing Godís people. Consider just a few of the present needs and areas of incompleteness that appear to not be limited by location.
The lacking of sound elderships. Over my years of preaching, I have observed and even served with various elderships. I can most definitely say that a local church without a scriptural eldership is incomplete. In the absence of such men, chaos, lack of leadership, and democratic rule often prevail. In preaching for churches without elderships, I have been as late as three in the morning returning home from a business meeting of the men that was characterized by shouting, physical threatening, and childish exhibitions. Some churches having no elderships function by "mutual edification," a system where all the men are put on rotation, even the local preacher, in the matter of the presentation of "sermons" and leadership (addendum 3).
The effecting of biblical unity. Unity among Godís people is absolutely enjoined of God (Eph. 4: 3, I Cor. 1: 10). However, a false unity began to be seen, first, introduced under the denominational "Ecumenical Movement" and then, especially among Churches of Christ, the unity-in-diversity mind set trend. Biblical unity does not exclude the need for truth, but rather accents it. This is because biblical unity is simply when two or more believe and practice Godís truths (Eph. 4: 3ff.). Such an atmosphere calls for the presentation of the whole counsel of God and not just truths that are not upsetting to the majority (cp. Acts 20: 27). In reality, though, Bible unity is a "thing wanting" in many instances.
The spiritual work of the local church being taught and practiced. The work of the local church is seen in such teaching as found in I Timothy 3: 15. The chief work of the church (collectively and corporally viewed) is serving as the "pillar and ground of the truth." Truth, the whole truth must be regularly presented, both to the lost and the saved. By way of negation, the work is not secular as in offering day care that teaches reading, writing, and arithmetic, social as in games and frolic, or even humanitarian as in serving as a local Red Cross chapter for the needy of the world. The First Century church was in the business of the proclamation of the saving gospel of Christ (cp. Acts 13: 1ff.).
The existence of biblical love, both for God and one for another. Love as seen in the Bible is not the fluff and sweet sounding platitudes imagined. Love for God necessarily involves doing what God has said:
"3: For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous" (I John 5: 3).
John presented love as being more than just words:
"18: My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. 19: And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him" (I John 3).
Biblical love is always seen as active as opposed to passive. In fact, love activates faith and causes faith to be obedient, thus, becoming saving faith (Gal. 5: 6, Jas. 2: 24). Love demands the truth and hates error (cp. Ps. 119: 104, 105). Love will not tolerate sin (cp. Rom. 12: 9).
As you can observe from the teaching of Holy Writ and from an honest evaluation and application, there are many things "wanting" in churches today. Paul acknowledged this relative to some First Century churches and set about to do something about it. However, there seem to be so few today who are pointing out incompleteness and stressing what God wants his church and people to be.
Addendum 1: Paul after a similar fashion presented goals to Timothy in Timothyís work with the church at Ephesus (I Tim. 1: 3, 4, 2 Tim. 5: 1-5). Consider how that the work of an evangelist consisted of preaching the gospel and keeping the church doctrinally and morally pure. Today, many preachers are nothing short of providers of entertainment, fun, and frolic. They are more skilled as business and CEO directors than preachers of truth. Hence, the condition and direction of too many local churches today really has small resemblance to the First Century church that we read about in the New Testament.
Addendum 2: As to the church making the actual selection and appointment consider the case of "deacons" in Acts 6: 1-6. Observe that the qualifications are presented to the church (church in Jerusalem) and then the members make the selection and do the actual appointment. The old belief and practice of the preacher without the local church selecting and appointing men to the eldership is not scriptural and is the result of a flawed understanding of Titus 1: 5.
Addendum 3: There is a type of mutual edification taught in the scriptures (Eph. 4: 15, 16). However, the "mutual edification" mentioned in this article is entirely a different system. Even in the absence of qualified men to serve as pastors, there remains requisite qualifications for teachers (cp. Jas. 3: 1). I have never seen a local church yet, regardless of how large or small in number, where all the male members were qualified to be public teachers.