The hope of eternal life (Titus 1:1-4)

Comments on Paul’s salutation to Titus in 1:1-4. Feedback and suggestions welcome.

In his letters, Paul’s salutations to his readers often show some of the emphases to follow. His letter to his co-worker Titus is no exception. The salutation of 1:1-4, one of Paul’s longest, is packed with robust terms of his teaching.

1:1 From Paul, a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God’s chosen ones and the knowledge of the truth that is in keeping with godliness, 1:2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the ages began. 1:3 But now in his own time he has made his message evident through the preaching I was entrusted with according to the command of God our Savior. 1:4 To Titus, my genuine son in a common faith. Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior! (NET)

1:1. A slave of God. A slave was bound, for good or ill, to his master. He had no will of his own. He lived to serve his owner. Slaves of that time usually had specific tasks. Their responsibilities were spelled out. So Paul declares his specific responsibility as an apostle of Jesus Christ.

Apostle means one sent on a mission. All three of the accounts of Paul’s conversion in the book of Acts (chapters 9, 22 and 26) mention his calling to preach the gospel to the nations.

In this greeting, Paul also declares what he received as his apostolic task, in two parts: to further the faith of God’s chosen ones and the knowledge of the truth that is in keeping with godliness. Since this letter was written to help Titus strengthen the churches, his description of his task focuses here on God’s chosen ones. Those who obey the gospel are his elected or chosen ones (2 Thessalonians 2:14). God chooses based on man’s response to the gospel. Thus, the phrase God’s chosen ones or God’s elect is synonymous with the church, since it refers to the same people. Paul seeks to further their faith. Literally, he is an apostle for the faith of those chosen of God (NASB). The phrase for the faith is understood to mean, as the NET Bible indicates, that Paul sought to strengthen or stimulate their faith.

He also hoped to amplify their knowledge of the truth. Thus, he connects intimately the building of faith and knowledge of the truth. Faith is not a feeling, but an understanding of what God has done in Christ and how he works through his Spirit among mankind.

This divine truth is in keeping with godliness, or in the NIrV, that leads to godly living. Knowledge of truth is not mere mental knowledge, nor the accumulation of information. This knowledge must lead one to live in godliness, that is, in reference to God. Godliness or piety is the fulfilling of one’s responsibility toward God. It is doing what one should do for God. This word may be an important key to let the reader know that Paul will be speaking much in the letter about the necessity of good works (1:7; 2:7,14; 3:1, 8, 14). Just as Paul, as an apostle, has the God-given responsibility to cultivate the Christians’ faith and knowledge, so they themselves have the task of turning this knowledge into a spiritual and moral life that pleases God.

This is an important issue for Titus’s work, because Paul agrees with a Cretan poet’s assessment of his own people as lazy gluttons (1:12-13). They have the truth, but if it doesn’t spur them to godly action, the truth will be useless.

1:2. The faith and understanding that Paul sought to develop in God’s people rest on the hope of eternal life (v. 3; Paul uses the phrase again in 3:7). The entire Christian religion is built upon the prospect of a blessed life after death, at God’s side. Hope is not vague, ambiguous or chancy. Hope is the clear spiritual vision of what one believes will happen after death and after the final day of judgment. Hope knows there is something more ahead for the follower of Christ, a reward for his labors, a rest from his sufferings, the fullness of God’s presence. Life is eternal because it is lived with the eternal God at its center. Thus, eternal life is not merely quantity, but quality.

The hope of receiving eternal life is sure because God promised it. Since he does not lie (unlike the Cretans! 1:12), his promised can be trusted. God has always kept his promises and will keep this one as well. He promised eternal life before the ages began, or “before time began” (NKJV, PEB). If he promised it so long ago, this means his purpose has not changed. This is not a recent idea with him. During all of human history, he has worked toward this goal.

1:3. One can see that God is progressing toward this goal because in his own time, or “at the proper time” (ESV), God caused it to be made known to mankind (see Galatians 4:4). In God’s program he makes things happen at the times of his choosing, when conditions are ready. What was made known or brought to light was the word. (Compare 2:11-14 and 3:4-7.) Eternal life is revealed through God’s word. The word here refers to the message about Christ, how our Lord became a human being, lived as a man, but without sin, taught the way of the Father, suffered for our sins and was raised on the third day.

This message is one which is preached or shared. Paul was one of God’s messengers. He was entrusted with the task of speaking about the good news of Christ, because Christ himself appeared to him and called him. He preached because he was chosen and commanded by God. God made him his slave. He did so because he is also our Savior.

In his letter to Titus, Paul uses the word Savior six times, in three pairs. In each pair he calls God Savior and he calls Christ Savior (1:1, 4; 2:10,13; 3:4, 6). In every case, he calls them our Savior, using the first person plural of the possessive adjective. By this, he calls attention to the truth that God is “the Savior of all people, especially of believers” (1 Timothy 4:10). He offers salvation to all and saves those who believe and obey. Thus, though he is an apostle, Paul has no spiritual advantage over anyone else.

1:4. Paul calls Titus his true son. He also called Timothy his son in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2). Besides being a term to show his love and concern, the description may also indicate that he was responsible for Titus’s conversion to Christ.

Though he is a son in terms of their relationship, they both share a common faith, and it is this faith which Paul, as a good father will do, passed on to his son. The word faith here probably refers in an objective way to the Christian religion, rather that the subjective sense of one’s exercise of trust and confidence in God (as in v. 1). The common faith reminds one of Jude’s expression about “our common salvation” (Jude 3). The faith is what they, and we, share, and it is this which binds us together.

Paul often joins Greek and Jewish greetings in his letters, as he does here, with a twist. The Greek word for “greetings” (charein) is similar to the word for grace (charis), so Paul substitutes it to make it uniquely a Christian greeting and, more than that, a prayer for abundant grace in Titus’s life and ministry. To that he adds the customary Jewish greeting, peace. These come both from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. The description of God as Father is a precious one that describes his love and tenderness toward us. Together with his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, he is the Father “who loved us and and by grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope,” as well as he who can “encourage [our] hearts and strengthen [us] in every good thing [we] do or say” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

The second element of the first pair appears in Christ Jesus our Savior. While Christians may be said to save others by the preaching of the gospel (see 1 Corinthians 9:22; James 5:20), only God and Christ are ever called Savior, for the great act of redemption belongs to them.

By this extensive greeting, Paul sets the tone for the content of his letter to Titus, as he encourages him in his task, sets before him what must be done among the Cretan churches and establishes the place Titus must assume among them as a servant of God and as an example of good works in every way.

J. Randal Matheny

Be pithy.

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