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, in hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the ages began. – Vs 1 (NET)
Three things jump out of this first verse to me. They set the stage for what is to come in his letter to Titus.
He sees himself as a slave or bondservant of God. For Paul, this was obviously a privilege as he refers to himself repeatedly in this way throughout his letters. He starts off virtually every one of his letters with this description of himself. For Paul, it was a position of honor, not humiliation. And while it is difficult for us as modern Americans to understand this concept, it was not foreign to the average Jew. In fact, it was part of their heritage. According to the NET Bible study notes.:
Undoubtedly the background for the concept of being the Lord’s slave or servant is to be found in the Old Testament scriptures. For a Jew this concept did not connote drudgery, but honor and privilege. It was used of national Israel at times (Isa 43:10), but was especially associated with famous OT personalities, including such great men as Moses (Josh 14:7), David (Ps 89:3; cf. 2 Sam 7:5, 8) and Elijah (2 Kgs 10:10); all these men were 'servants (or slaves) of the Lord.
Paul considered himself in good company when he referred to himself as God's slave or servant. He was serving the God of the universe. What greater privilege and position could one man hold? Do we see ourselves in that same light or have we reversed the roles, viewing God as our personal slave or servant? The truth is, I often see God as my personal valet, asking Him to do for me what I want to have done. I want Him to bless my decisions, fix my problems, clean up my messes, answer my requests, do my bidding, meet my needs, make my happy. Those are not the roles of the all-powerful God, but of a common, everyday servant. I have somehow gotten our roles reversed. Paul didn't suffer from that delusion.
Secondly, Paul refers to himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He was a "sent one," a messenger of Jesus Christ, with the responsibility of taking the good news of salvation through Christ to the Gentiles. He served God and represented Christ. Paul understood his role and responsibility and took it very seriously. He did not deviate from it or allow himself to be distracted from it. Yet how easily I can be detoured from my role as a messenger for Jesus Christ. I have the same message to share and the same role to play, yet I can easily forget the fact that I too have been sent into the world as Christ's ambassador. Instead of representing Him, I can fall into the delusion that I represent myself. God serves me and I represent myself. Two very common mistakes for as Christians today.
Grow in faith - Paul mentions his responsibilities as a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. First, he says that he is responsible to "further the faith of God's chosen ones" (NET Bible). He understood that he had a responsibility to encourage believers to grow in their faith. Not only was he to share the good news of faith in Christ, he was to see that those who received Christ, grew in Him. Their faith was to increase and grow stronger. And we see this happening from the day the church began. "So the churches were being strengthened in the faith and were increasing in number every day" (Acts 16:5). Paul praised the Thessalonian believers for their increasing faith: "We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith flourishes more and more and the love of each one of you all for one another is ever greater. He told the Corinthians believers: "we hope that as your faith continues to grow, our work may be greatly expanded among you according to our limits (2 Corinthians 10:15). Seeing believers grow in their faith was a responsibility Paul took seriously.
Increase in the knowledge of the truth - Paul also knew he was responsible for helping believers grow in their knowledge of the truth. He was not content to simply share the gospel, but knew that believers would need to have a fuller understanding of God's truth to survive and thrive in a hostile environment where falsehood and the lies of the enemy would surround them. Later in chapter two of Titus, Paul says that God"desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." And God wants men to grow in their knowledge of the truth. That is the role of sanctification in the life of the believer. Paul was not content for any follower of Christ to remain as he was when saved, but expected them to grow. Peter felt the same way. "Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (1 Peter 2:2). In his letter to the Hebrews Paul says, "Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity" (Hebrews 6:1). Increasing in knowledge of the truth, pressing on to spiritual maturity, growing in respect to salvation. This was Paul's charge and he took it seriously. Do we?
Focused on eternity - Paul's perspective was eternal, not temporal. He kept his eye on the goal: eternity and eternal life. He knew this life did not hold all there was to have. There was more and it was yet to come. Anything he did in this life was focused on the life to come. It was all motivated by a future hope. All that he did was "in hope of eternal life" (Vs 1). We increase in faith and grow in our knowledge of the truth – in hope of eternal life. That is our motivation. If we lose sight of eternity, we lose any reason for growing in our faith or increasing our knowledge of the truth. We begin to live in the here and now. We obsess about the present. The world becomes our focus instead of the world to come. Paul knew perspective was everything in the life of the believer. Without it, we flounder and fail. But how easy it is for us to take our eyes off the goal. So Paul reminds us that he had a responsibility to keep those under his care growing in faith, increasing in their knowledge of the truth and focused on the future. We have the same responsibilities to one another today.
Father, let me have the heart and mind of Paul. Give me the mind of a servant, and the understanding that my role is to help those around me increase in their faith daily, grow in their knowledge of the truth, and place their hope in the reality of eternity. Don't let me get distracted. Keep me focused on the goal and dedicated to the task at hand. Amen