This sermon was originally preached in 2016.
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness
Titus 1:1 ESV
Titus is a short letter written by the apostle Paul to his disciple Titus, who was church planting on the island of Crete. Titus was a young gentile of Greek descent that was likely converted under the ministry of Paul. This letter was probably written between Paul’s two Roman imprisonments and before 2 Timothy, which was his final letter.
Crete, the largest of the Greek islands, apparently already contained a few churches in its cities, so Paul left Titus there for the purpose of putting them into order and establishing elders. Paul, therefore, wrote to encourage and guide Titus toward fulfilling his goal and purpose. The result is that Paul’s epistle to Titus is a condensed but extremely rich guide for how a church ought to look and act. Interestingly, rather than giving a deep look at church methods, the apostle spends the bulk of his time writing about the importance of each church member’s need for sound doctrine and good works.
We begin the study by viewing Paul’s introduction of himself and his purpose for writing. By calling himself a servant and apostle, we know that he considered himself a slave to God and the mission that God sent him to fulfill. Further, Paul states that God sent him to strengthen the faith and knowledge of Christians in order to lead them toward godliness. Like Paul, we are each slaves of God, sent into the world for a purpose, and called to grow in godly faith and knowledge.
THE APOSTLE PAUL
The apostle Paul is explicitly stated to be the letter’s author. Paul originally went by the name Saul while he was young Jewish Pharisee. He is first mentioned in Acts 8:1 as having approved the execution of Stephen, and verse three describes him as “ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” Thus, Paul was, at first, as anti-Christian as one could be. Yet in Acts 9, while he was traveling to Damascus to arrest Christians there, Jesus appeared to Paul. Thus, Paul went from a vehement opponent of Christianity to its greatest missionary and theologian.
A Servant of God
In providing a title for himself, Paul first chooses to use a servant of God. Most often, the apostle is seen calling himself a slave of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1), yet since Paul firmly believed in the deity of Christ, he could just as easily call himself a servant of God.
Still we must ask ourselves why Paul chooses to refer to himself as a servant of God. First, it is important to note that the word “servant” does not quite encapsulate the meaning of the Greek word doulos; rather, a safer translation is “slave.” A servant often suggests that one is working for hire or perhaps to pay off a debt, but a slave is entirely owned by another person. As odd as it may sound, Paul intended the latter. Serving Christ was, for the apostle, not trying to repay a debt or to earn blessings; instead, Paul considered himself to have been bought by Christ: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). He knew that before being justified in Christ he was a slave “to various passions and pleasures (Titus 3:3)”—also called sin. There is a story about a young slave girl in the early chapters of United States history. At an auction, she found herself purchased by yet another man, but this time, the man told her that he purchased her so that he could set her free. In her joy, the young girl exclaimed that she would serve the man for the rest of her life in gratitude. This is similar to our circumstance with Christ. After being freed from sin, we serve Him now out of gratitude, giving all of our lives over to Him who bought with His own life.
Though the prospect of being called a slave of God is humbling, it is also exalting. Throughout the ancient world, wealthy individuals would often do practically no work themselves, but rather they chose to place certain responsibilities into the stewardship of their slaves. This meant that a slave might find himself running his master’s entire slate of real-estate, which could quickly give such a slave more authority and power than most freemen. Our state is likewise with Christ. As the King of everything, being slaves and representatives of Him is position of humility as well as authority. We are much better off as Christ’s then we are trying to live for ourselves.
An Apostle of Jesus Christ
There is a degree of confusion and controversy regarding the title of apostle. Some suggest that the term should only be applied to those whom Jesus revealed and taught in during His life on earth. Others say that because the word means “sent one”, it applies to all Christians as missionaries for Christ. I think both views have merit. If we consider the title in the sense of the New Testament Apostles, then it does not have a modern equivalent today. In particular, God granted to some of the them the grace to author Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Such firm revelation of God simply will not occur today, unless Jesus returns. Yet if we think of the term as the word’s original meaning, then we are all apostles. The first verses of Matthew outline the principle that all followers (or disciples) of Christ will become apostles (or sent ones) for Christ. Just as the original disciples received that local commission in Matthew 10, all disciples of Christ received the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. Paul was a slave sent on a mission, and so are we.
THE FAITH OF GOD’S ELECT
Paul now begins to explain his overall purpose for being a sent-slave of God, which is a two-fold desire to grow others in faith and knowledge of the truth. First, Paul seeks to strengthen the faith of God’s elect. For the Christian, faith is a necessary component. Hebrews 11:1 cites the definition of faith as being “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith, therefore, is a belief, confidence, and reliance upon God and the hope that only He can provide. Faith makes firm our trust in the invisible LORD of heaven and earth. Thus, because we can only believe in God through faith, Paul claims that it is essential for salvation. “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). We are saved by the grace of God, but faith is the channel by which grace flows. Paul thus hopes that all of his actions, words, and writings would strengthen others faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Second, Paul aims to aid God’s elect grow in their knowledge of the truth. The apostle employs this phrase several times in 1 & 2 Timothy. “Who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). “Correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:25). “Always learning and never able to arrive at the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). It is clear then that Paul has the gospel message in mind when speaking of the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jesus told His disciples that He is the truth (John 14:6), so Paul knows that there is no truth outside of Christ.
It can be easy to imagine when discussing faith and knowledge holier-than-thous and theology-eggheads; however, this phrase makes clear the balance of Paul’s theology and the aim of this letter. Faith and knowledge must proceed into godliness. Faith is essential for securing a right doctrine in our hearts, anchoring us to the knowledge of the truth, yet without the fruit of godliness, they prove to be frauds. Godly living is the fruit of proper knowledge and faith, and without fruit, the tree “is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 3:10). Therefore, let us aim to live godly lives of faith and knowledge of the truth.