Thoughts on Titus 1: First Impressions

If at first you don’t shew yourself just what you are,
When you afterwards wish it, your fortune ’twill mar.

Don Juan Manuel, El Conde Lucanor

Although the Apostle Paul knew many of the audiences to whom he originally wrote, all who
pick up a Bible for the first time and happen to turn to Paul’s letters, meet him for the first time. I
wonder what impression Paul gives off to his modern-day readers. How does Paul introduce
himself at the beginning of his letters? From reading the first verse of his letter to Titus,
his first impression is clear:

Titus 1:1 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…

Paul was completely and utterly devoted to God and to His revelation. He considered himself a
bond-servant of God. By stating this, Paul meant to say that he is “under someone’s total
control,1” and that someone is God. When God told him to go, he went. When He told him to
come, he came. Paul was a man under the authority of God. He continued to write, calling
himself an, “apostle of Jesus Christ,” which means that he was sent by Jesus as His
representative. Of all the things, this was what Paul wanted to be known about himself first. He
was a man submitted to the will of God and sent by God on a mission.

Paul makes Who sent him as clear as why he is sent. Jesus sent Paul as His representative, “…for
the faith of those chosen of God…” There are two interpretations of the “for the faith” here.
The first is that Paul represented Christ for the purpose of building up “those chosen of God” in
their faith so that they might be bold in living out their lives for Christ. The second is that Paul
represented the Lord in making sure that “those chosen of God” live in accordance with the
teachings of the faith, the whole of God’s teachings which have been revealed (i.e. the Christian
faith). These teachings in large part had been given to the saints at Crete through the ministry of
Paul, for which the Holy Spirit set him apart.

Two things in Paul’s letter to Titus persuade me to prefer the second interpretation, that is, the
faith and not their faith. Firstly, later on in the letter, Paul commanded Titus “…to speak the
things which are fitting for sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1)” This sound doctrine would be the faith
that has been revealed. It is the same Christian faith which I obey. Secondly, from Titus 2:2 to
Titus 3:7, Paul instructed Titus on just what the things which are fitting for sound doctrine are.
Because of these two parts of Paul’s writing, I prefer the second interpretation. No matter which
interpretation you prefer, it is clear that Paul was completely devoted to the will of God. In
addition, he is sent by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, and his purpose is to spread
and safeguard the teachings that the Holy Spirit has given and commanded him.

Titus 1:1 is not the only place in the Bible that we see Paul’s devotion to Christ and His teaching.
Luke records Paul’s farewell sermon to the Ephesian elders at Miletus. In that wonderful
exhortation, Paul said: “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.
(Acts 20:27)” These are the words of a man whose devotion to Christ is not shaken by setbacks, discouragement, or even imprisonment. No matter Paul’s circumstances, his devotion to Christ
compelled him not to shrink from declaring the whole purpose of God to the Ephesians, the
Colossians, the Galatians, the Corinthians, the Philippians, the Thessalonians, the Romans, to
Timothy, to Titus, and to whomever else he witnessed of the wonders of Christ.

What about us Christians who read Paul’s letters on our iPhones and hear them preached on in a
variety of translations? Of course, in the strict sense, we are not apostles as he was. But are we
not sent by God into the everyday situations of life where we may witness to God’s goodness? In
the strict sense, we are not tasked with building up the church as he was. But are we not to
encourage one another to do good works and live lives of faith? We are not strictly appointed for
the defense of the gospel as Paul was. But are we not called to further the gospel of God by our
word and our conduct? Let Christians take the opportunity today to submit ourselves to the will
of God and hold fast the faith that has been revealed to us.

1 BDAG, s.v. “δοῦλος,” 259.

Matthew lives in Northern Virginia. He is a teacher by trade and loves to study the Scriptures and the history of the church. His wife Marina and he fellowship at Nokesville Bible Chapel.