I have eagerly been anticipating the study of a new book. While it is sometimes necessary to take a break from straight-line and sequential exposition, the only way to frame a faithful ministry is to feed the sheep each week beginning in chapter one verse one and to explain the text that follows all the way to the conclusion. That statement is not hyperbole. There is literally no other way to conduct a faithful ministry. I have missed this ministry, and now we return to begin a study of Paul’s letter to Titus.
This letter would have been written about the same time as 1 Timothy. Paul has been released from his Roman house arrest after being acquitted by Caesar. Paul’s intention was to take the gospel west as far as Spain (Romans 15:24, 28), but before he did so, he strove to build up and exhort the established churches in Asia and Europe. We know about his visit to Ephesus where he left Timothy to minister. Before setting his sights west, Paul travels to the island of Crete with Titus. It is possible that there was already a Christian presence on Crete due to the fact that there were Cretans present in Jerusalem who heard Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:11). If so, Paul and Titus would be mainly concerned in establishing and putting in order these groups of believers rather than evangelism and church planting. This seems to fit the pattern of Paul after his release. Before he entertains ideas of another journey to spread the gospel in Spain, he first desires that the established churches have a firm footing. For this reason, he leaves Titus on Crete.
Does Titus make any significant contribution to the biblical canon? Many people notice that there is a great amount of similarity between Paul’s letter to Titus and his first letter to Timothy. Both letters are concerned for the leadership of the local church and their qualifications. Both letters give direction in how to deal with opponents to the gospel. And both Titus and Timothy are seen in similar light as they stand out from the local leadership to function as Paul’s representatives. In fact, in noticing these similarities, many people think no more of Titus so as to consider it a light version of 1 Timothy. But for all these similarities there are several differences as well.
A careful reading will reveal that Titus must be taken on its own. While Paul commands several similar qualifications for elders to Titus, there is no mention of deacons. Likewise, the elders in question are to be established rather than rebuked, as they were in 1 Timothy. This suggests that Titus is dealing with a much younger group of churches. As for the opponents, Titus is not given nearly the instruction that Timothy was. In fact, while the opponents facing Timothy where at one time counted among the elders of the Ephesian church, Titus’ opponents seem to come from outside the congregation. Then there’s the general theme of this epistle. While both 1 Timothy and Titus are foundational books when understanding a biblical ecclesiology, 1 Timothy focus primarily upon the leadership while Titus opens the discussion up to the church’s whole congregation. What we have here is a basic catechesis of Christian living or conduct for new or young believers.
One cannot help but notice Paul’s recurring theme of good deeds throughout this letter. Titus’ opponents are worthless for any good deeds 1:16). Titus himself must be an example of good deeds (2:7). Christ redeemed Titus and the Cretan Christians to be zealous for good deeds (2:14). Titus must remind the Cretans to be ready for every good deed (3:1). It is a trustworthy statement that all who believe in God will be careful to engage in good deeds (3:8). Even the conclusion to this letter acknowledges that all Christians everywhere must learn to engage in good deeds (3:14). This is a book about Christian conduct. This book reveals where faith meets holiness and thus produces good deeds.
Author (vv. 1-3)
“Paul, a bond-servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, but at the proper time manifested, even His word, in the proclamation with which I was entrusted according to the commandment of God our Savior;”
Only in his letter to the Romans do we see such an introduction from Paul. His authority is put in plain yet bold words here, but this is hardly for Titus’ benefit. Titus will serve on Crete as Paul’s representative and so this introduction makes clear who it is that Titus is representing.
Paul the Slave and Apostle (vv. 1-2) – Paul first introduces himself as a slave/servant of God. Anyone familiar with the Old Testament would understand the significance of this phrase. This description was not handed out liberally but reserved for men like Job (Job 1:8; 2:3), Abraham (Gen. 26:24), Moses (Deut. 34:5), Joshua (Josh. 24:29), Caleb (Num. 14:24), David (2 Sam. 7:5; Ps. 18), and Messiah (Is. 52:13-53:12). Paul places himself in the same category as these individuals, not as a way of boasting, but to establish his function in God’s grand plan of redemption.
He also refers to himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ. An apostle is one who is sent out to proclaim or enact the will of the one who sent him. Paul, the servant of God, is one whom Jesus personally commissioned and sent out in order to proclaim Him. Jesus Christ is both the One who sent Paul and is also the content of Paul’s message. All that follows explains the purpose of Paul’s office as both servant and apostle.
The tiny preposition for (κατὰ) here reveals purpose. Paul’s purpose upon this earth is in service to God’s elect, those whom God has chosen and selected to be His own from before the foundations of the earth. Paul preaches for their faith or so that they might believe. Paul preaches for the knowledge of the truth or so that they might know the truth. This truth leads to true godliness. Paul preaches for the hope of eternal life or so that God’s elect might have hope of eternal life. Hope (ἐλπίς) carries a much stronger idea that our modern English conveys. This word indicates a confident assurance or expectation of things to come. This is not just wishful thinking. Eternal life is something that can be counted on. It is assured because the God who is not able to lie promised it from before the foundations of the earth. The same word used to describe this life (αἰώνιος - eternal) also describes the time where God promised this life (χρόνων αἰωνίων – times eternal/before time).
This explains, in part, who Paul is. Paul is a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ sent out so that the saints might hear and believe the gospel and thus obtain eternal life.
Paul the Preacher (v. 3) – The contrast (but) looks at eternal times (χρόνων αἰωνίων) versus current times (καιροῖς ἰδίοις). The NASB renders this phrase as the proper time but it may be more accurately rendered this particular season. God promised this eternal life in eternity past but only now fully revealed this promise in this particular season, a season which you and I still live. What exactly was revealed or made manifest in this season? The Word of God through the preaching of the gospel, the good news of Jesus’ coming, death, resurrection, ascension, and return. This gospel was entrusted to Paul. All that Paul says comes directly from God as His commandment and thus with His authority. This is the man who left Titus in Crete. This is who gives Titus his marching orders. Perhaps the Christians of Crete should sit up and take notice.
Audience (v. 4)
“to Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”
As in 1 Timothy, Titus is a personal letter written to an individual and yet the letter concludes (3:15) with a plural grace be with you all or with y’all for the southern reader. While this is indeed a personal letter, it seems that the Cretans will hear these words read out loud so that they too may hear what Paul commands Titus to do.
Who is Titus? We know that Titus has been with Paul for some time as he accompanied Paul to Jerusalem for the apostolic council held there (Gal 2:1-3). It is also in this text we come to understand that Titus was a Gentile, one of the few Gentiles mentioned in Scripture within Paul’s inner circle. We also know that Titus served Paul with some distinction and carried at least one letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 7:13-14) and was sent back to Corinth to complete the work already began there (2 Cor. 8:6-23). Titus therefore comes to us as one who can be trusted and as one who Paul routinely uses to build up existing, yet immature churches. His past experience in Corinth will serve him well in Crete.
Paul refers to him as a true child in a common faith. Some of the opposition in Crete is coming from the Judaizers (1:13-14). Yet the gospel that Paul preaches and the faith which Titus teaches is a common one between Paul the Hebrew of Hebrews and Titus the Gentile. The Cretans must realize that the gospel which binds Paul and Titus is the same gospel which binds them.
Much can be said about this blessing which concludes Paul’s introduction – grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our savior – but I only want to make two remarks.
The Blessing – The blessing itself is both temporal and eschatological. The mention of grace is indicative of God’s grace in salvation. We are saved because God is gracious and chose to save us. But this grace continues on into eternity where we will enjoy Him forever. Peace also carries implications from the present to the future, but the weight is more on the side of the future. Even now, as redeemed individuals, we enjoy peace with God. This is more than a cease-fire or a cessation of hostility, peace describes an atmosphere of tranquility and harmony. But this peace will not reach its climax until all of Christ’s enemies have been made a footstool for His feet (Ps. 110) and He reigns from sea to sea in righteousness and holiness (Ps. 72). Both parts of this blessing have temporal and eschatological significance yet together they beautifully balance each other.
The Blesser – You may have notice that while Paul referred to God the Father as our savior in v. 3, here God the Son is given that title. This is not the only time Paul does so in this letter. Three times Paul refers to Jesus Christ as our savior (1:4; 2:13; 3:6) but each of these instances is preceded by a reference to God the Father as the source of our salvation (1:3; 2:11; 3:4). Worship, praise, thanksgiving, and obedience is not trichotomized among the persons of the Godhead. Our triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – selects, saves, and seals believers from wrath, to righteousness, for the glory of God.
Titus was given to us for a similar reason as 1 Timothy, but with slightly different emphasis. Both give instruction on how the church of Jesus Christ must be structured and how she must function. But while 1 Timothy focuses upon the leadership, Titus speaks to the laity. 1 Timothy has many implications for the people in the pew, but those implications become direct applications in Titus. This is a simple introduction for the weeks to come. I can speak only for myself, but I am greatly looking forward to this coming study. Soli Deo Gloria!