A Commentary by John Stott
Titus: 1:1-4. Introduction
Paul has significant things to say in his introduction about himself as the writer of the letter, about Titus as its recipient, and about the God whose grace unites them.
1). Paul introduces himself.
He is both *a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ*. It is the combination of these two epithets which we should notice. For ‘servant’ is properly ‘slave’, and ‘slave of God’ designated some Old Testament notables like Moses, Joshua, the prophets and the suffering servant (E.g. Jos.1:2; 24:29; Je.7:25; Is.44:1). Yet, like Paul’s usual ‘servant of Christ’, it remains a title of great humility as one bought, owned and directed by God. ‘Apostle of Jesus Christ’, on the other hand, was a title of great authority, designating specially the Twelve and Paul, who had received a unique personal call, commission, authorization and equipment from Jesus Christ himself, to be his inspired messengers.
For what purpose had Paul become God’s slave and Christ’s apostle? This is what he now elaborates. His ministry is related to *God’s elect*, that is, the New Testament people of God who enjoy a direct continuity with Old Testament Israel (2:14, Cf. Rom.8:33; Col.3:22). But there is some uncertainty among commentators about the correct translation of the preposition *kata*, literally ‘according to the faith of God’s elect’(AV), What is the relationship between his apostleship and their faith? Is Paul the apostle ‘marked as such’ by their faith (REB), or was he appointed ‘to further’ it (RSV)? Does their faith characterize his apostleship, or does his apostleship promote their faith? It seems to me that in the context of defining his apostleship Paul is saying that its purpose is to serve their faith, possibly to bring it into being (‘to bring those whom God has chosen to faith and to the knowledge of the truth’, JB), but more probably to foster or nurture *the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness* (1).
Here then are two fundamental characteristics of the people of God: Faith and knowledge. Far from being incompatible, faith and knowledge, or faith and reason, belong together. It is those who know God’s name who put their trust in him (Ps.9:10). Their knowledge of God’s name or revealed character is the foundation of their faith in him. They trust him because they know that he is trustworthy.
Consider faith first, as Paul does. God’s people are believers, ‘the family of faith’ (Gal.6:10, NRSV). Yet there are degrees of faith. Jesus spoke of people having either a ‘little’ or a ‘great’ faith. And Paul thanked God that the Thessalonians’ faith was ‘growing more and more’ (2 Thess.1:3). Our knowledge is also to grow, for it is part of Paul’s apostleship to further or increase it. In particular, he has in mind our *knowledge of the truth*, which itself *leads to (kata again) godliness* or God-centredness (*eusebeia*). It is an essential feature of truth, and a good test of its authenticity, that since it comes from God it leads to God. Any doctrine which does not promote godliness is manifestly bogus.
The third characteristic of the people of God is *the hope of eternal life* (2a). Indeed, our Christian hope is such a firm foundation of our Christian life that our *faith and knowledge* (repeated in the NIV text, though not in the Greek) may be described as *resting on it* (the preposition *epi*). But how is it that our Christian hope, in contrast to all secular hopes, is so sure, so reliable? It is because its object is eternal life (here as in 3:7 meaning its future consummation in heaven), and because our eternal life has been given a threefold guarantee by God himself.
First, *God…promised it before the beginning of time*, because it is part of his eternal purpose for his people (See 2 Tim.1:9). Secondly, the God who made this promise *does not lie*. We human beings lie, and the Cretans were notorious liars (12), but God never lies. Indeed he cannot, because ‘he cannot disown himself’, that is, contradict his own character (2 Tim.2:13; cf. Nu.23:19; 1 Sam.15:29; Heb.6:18). Thirdly, this same trustworthy God who made the promise has *at his appointed season…brought his word* of promise *to light through the preaching (kerygma) entrusted* to Paul *by the command of God our Saviour* (3). Thus the promise, the character and the gospel of God combine to guarantee the certainty of eternal life. We may well marvel at Paul’s grasp of time and eternity. For God made his initial promise before time began; he has revealed it to the world ‘in his own good time’ (REB) through the gospel; and he will fulfil it when time comes to an end. In this way the world-wide preaching of the gospel throughout the historical process is the bridge which spans the two eternities of past promise and future fulfilment.
Consider now as we pause and reflect, Paul’s account of his apostleship. Its purpose is to further or foster in the people of God a new triad of Christian graces – not now the familiar faith, hope and love, but faith, hope and knowledge (*pistis, elpis* and *gnosis*). We too, although we are not apostles, yet if we are called to leadership in the church, should have the same vision and ambition, namely to cultivate in the people of God committed to our care *the faith* which lays hold of God and of his Christ, *the knowledge of the truth* which issues in *godliness*, and *the hope of eternal life* which, though still future, has been promised and guaranteed by God.
Tomorrow: 2). Paul addresses Titus.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Titus. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.