Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church in Byron Center, Michigan.
“Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; but hath in due times manifested His word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Savior.”
Paul’s salutation to Titus is a beautiful description of how Paul viewed his calling. He saw himself as a slave of God. He saw that his service to God was to be performed by proclaiming Jesus Christ. The goal of His service to God was that his preaching Jesus Christ would move the elect to exercise faith. And the elect would exercise their faith by acknowledging the truth, by living godly, and by having a hope of eternal life.
This is the duty of every minister whom God calls into the office. He must obey the command to preach Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, as the only way for sinners to find salvation. And he must understand that only elect sinners will respond with faith.
It is this that the members of the church are to expect from their pastor: obedience to the Master’s command to preach Jesus Christ. And it is this that the elders of the church are to make sure the minister does.
What are you anticipating when you attend a worship service on the Lord’s Day? What do you want to hear? What are you praying that you will hear?
Paul identifies himself in this passage. First, he sees himself as a servant (literally, a “slave”). Paul and others do this often:Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; James 1:1; II Peter 1:1. A servant, or slave, is owned by a master whom they are obliged to obey. Paul’s Master bought him with the blood of His own Son, and thus owns him. Paul, the servant, must not do what he himself wants to do, but only what his Master commands. And Paul is conscious of his complete dependence on his Master. He must look to his Master for the energy to perform faithfully his calling as a servant. And he is to depend on his Master for any “success” in his work.
Second, Paul identifies himself as an “apostle of Jesus Christ” (1). An apostle is a “sent out one.” An apostle was chosen and sent by Jesus Christ, receiving his commission directly from Him. This identification adds weight to Paul’s letter to Titus. This is not just a friendly, confidential chat with some friendly advice. But Paul, having received his authority from Christ Jesus Himself, writes in such a way that Titus must see Christ speaking through Paul. Paul has Christ’s delegated authority.
Third, Paul identifies himself as one unto whom is committed the preaching of God’s Word (3). Paul has been given a commission. A commission means that someone has been entrusted to do a thing. In this case, God Himself is the One who is giving the commission. The nature of God’s commission to Paul is in the order of a divine command. Paul was given a great responsibility with this divine commission. But this commission was given by the God who is also Paul’s Savior. In fact, in the original language the word order emphasizes this fact, for the commission is “according to the command of the Savior our God.” Gratitude to the Savior for saving him and for giving him the duty to proclaim the Savior motivates Paul to take on this lofty and gracious commission.
What is it that God committed to Paul? Two things. First, God commits to Paul’s care His Word. This was the Word of God contained in the Old Testament Scriptures, and it was the Word that God was then currently manifesting (revealing or making known), most of which is now contained in the New Testament Scriptures. This latter is God’s clearer revelation of the truth concerning His work of salvation in Jesus Christ with the hope of eternal life. Second, God committed to Paul the responsibility to preach, to herald, God’s Word. God’s new revelations of Himself are to be made known by means of the authoritative proclamation of preaching. Paul is a preacher of God’s Word.
Paul is writing to Titus, whom he calls “mine own son after the common faith.” Paul sees Titus as a spiritual child, one very dear to him. Paul saw himself having the right to call someone his spiritual child when God used him as the means to give spiritual life to another. This is the way Paul spoke to the Corinthians (I Cor. 4:15) and to the Galatians (Gal. 4:19).
Paul is a servant, an apostle, and a preacher for a specific purpose. This purpose is not one of his choosing. The God who commissioned him also identified for him the purpose of his threefold calling.
Paul is to exercise his calling “according to the faith of God’s elect,” i.e., in the interest of, with respect to, or with a view to the faith of God’s elect. He was to labor in order to be God’s instrument to bring God’s elect to conscious faith.
It is most interesting that Paul writes of “God’s elect.” The elect are that certain and definite number of the human race whom God, in His eternal decree of predestination, graciously chose unto Himself, giving them to Jesus Christ, so they would be forever united to Him. It is only the elect who are given the gift of faith. Paul does not know who the elect are, and is not able tell whether someone to whom he is preaching is an elect or not. But this is not his concern. He just knows that only the elect are given the gift of faith that responds to the preaching of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, for faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:13-17). But Paul does imply that he must preach so that the elect identify and know themselves as such—as God’s elect. He must preach God’s Word promiscuously, everywhere God sends him, but he is nevertheless aware of the fact that his divinely-given commission has to do with the elect of God. He was laboring in order to promote the elects’ belief in and reliance on God.
Paul labored so that the elect would acknowledge the truth. Paul proclaimed the truth, and nothing but known truth—the truth of God’s Word that was committed to him. As Paul preached, the faith of the elect responded to the truth preached. This means that the elect gained a precise and accurate knowledge (because it was God’s revealed Word), and this led to their gladly recognizing the redemptive truth in Christ. This shows that faith is knowledge of objective truth, and not an opinion or feeling. It was the knowledge of this truth that freed Paul’s hearers and frees us from errors and falsehood (Paul was concerned about the influence of the Judaizers, 1:14).
Further, when God’s elect come to conscious faith in the knowledge of the truth, they are led to “godliness.” That which commends truth is its fruit: godliness. Godliness is the conscious, reverent bowing in worship of and obedience to God in everyday life. Godliness is living as before God’s face—an awareness that the Almighty God is here! Always! Over and over Paul instructs Titus to instruct those who confess Jesus Christ that a certain lifestyle properly flows from their belief in the truth concerning Jesus (cf. 2:1, 5, 7, 8, 10, 14).
And, finally, the conscious faith of God’s elect raises within them a “hope of eternal life.” The faith of God’s elect does not end in this world. It includes an earnest yearning, a confident expectation, and a patient waiting for life everlasting. Eternal life is salvation in Jesus in its fullest development.
When and how did God promise eternal life to the elect? “Before the world began.” Just as God’s grace is given to God’s elect in Christ before the world began (II Tim. 1:9), so eternal life is promised us. So vibrant is this hope of eternal life that the elect are already called “heirs” (II Tim. 3:7). God’s decree is so certain that the grace and eternal life that we will receive can be spoken of as having been already given. The elect are given to Christ, so that they might inherit eternal life (John 17:6, 9, 24). Thus it can be said that the salvation of believers is to be traced to its preaching origin in God’s eternal plan (cf. Rom. 8:29, 30; I Cor. 2:7; II Thess. 2:13). God’s decree and promise of eternal life is certain because God “cannot lie.” He is truth. He “will not lie nor repent, for he is not a man” (I Sam. 15:29). He is “faithful: he cannot deny himself” (II Tim. 2:13).
So Paul’s purpose for being an apostle and preaching the truth of God’s Word was that the authoritative proclamation of the gospel will be the means to bring the elect to faith. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). In this awareness Paul must preach!
Titus was given a similar commission to preach. Paul, his spiritual father, wants him to be aware of the fact that he is the recipient of God’s blessing: grace, mercy, and peace! These words are not just a wish, but an efficacious declaration of blessing that originated in the Father and was merited by Christ Jesus our Savior.
Grace is God’s unmerited favor always working in the heart of His children. Grace is God’s love for the guilty that powerfully pardons them. This salutation of grace assures Titus (and us) of God’s pardon operating as a constant spiritual power in our lives. Mercy is God’s earnest desire to bless, first Himself, and then His miserable, but loved, children.
Mercy is God’s love toward the wretched and pitiful, which powerfully commiserates and blesses. God’s elect are identified in Romans 9:23 as the vessels of mercy. This salutation of mercy assures Titus (and us) of God’s loving-kindness in our present difficulties and in every situation of life.
Where grace and mercy are given, peace must follow. Peace is the consciousness that God’s children have of being reconciled with God through Jesus Christ. Being justified by faith we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). This salutation of peace assures Titus (and us) that what was broken and severed by sin is made whole and is bound up by grace and mercy. The result is a sense of wholeness and quiet assurance.
So Titus (and every ordained minister of the gospel) is to preach. Do so as a servant of God, commissioned by Him to preach His Word. Do so, aware of the promise of the God who cannot lie, that He is blessing you with His grace, mercy, and peace. Do so, praying that He will bless the proclamation of His truth with the fruit that God’s elect come to conscious faith, godly living, and a lively hope of eternal life.