Paul uses two terms to introduce himself in verse 1. Servant of God occurs only here in the Pastorals (see "servant of Christ Jesus," Rom 1:1; Phil 1:1). It describes Paul as one who is under compulsion, committed to faithful service as a slave to a master. It also indicates his submission to the will of God. Apostle of Jesus Christ, as we have seen at 1 Timothy 1:1 (though there it is "Christ Jesus"; compare 2 Tim 1:1), signifies Paul's selection for service and his sending by Christ himself. This is a technical designation of one to whom Christ's authority has been delegated.
From the accounts in Acts and his own letters, it is very apparent that Paul lived to serve God. It is also apparent that he wanted to see this motivation duplicated in the lives of others. The greeting in Titus reflects both of these interests as Paul describes what makes life meaningful for him. Both the compact form of the description (in fact, the entire greeting, vv. 1-4, consists of a single sentence) and its central place in the message of the letter recommend a closer look.
1. The purpose of Paul's ministry (1:1). Three main phrases combine to describe what made Paul tick. The first two focus on purpose, and that purpose was the salvation and spiritual growth of others. He lived to bring God's elect to faith and maturity in Christ (compare 2 Tim 2:10). This language reflects the belief in God's election, his sovereign choice and preservation of a people for himself (compare 2:14). At the same time Paul clearly understood his ministry to consist of calling in, by proclaiming the gospel, those who would belong to God.
The second phrase continues without a break in the Greek sentence to define the first phrase in terms of knowledge of the truth. This is a description of salvation based on a rational decision about the gospel (the truth; compare 1 Tim 2:4; 4:3; 2 Tim 2:25; 3:7). But in Crete, as in Ephesus, the traditional meanings of "truth" and "gospel" were disputed by false teachers. For this reason Paul adds the important qualification that leads to godliness. The "truth" that his ministry was concerned with produces genuine Christians. Godliness throughout the Pastorals defines the Christian experience as a balanced and holistic life in which correct knowledge of God affects every part of life (see notes on 1 Tim 2:2).
Consequently, Paul conceived of his life's task not simply as planting seeds of faith but also as producing strong, mature and fruitful Christians. His purpose was accomplished only when people were well on their way to maturity in Christ.
2. The basis of Paul's ministry (1:2-3). The third phrase, set off somewhat from the first two by a change of preposition (the first two phrases share the same one), also describes Paul's apostleship. The NIV interpretation repeats the substance of the first two phrases, faith and knowledge, suggesting that Paul's meaning is that these "rest on" hope. But in the long sentence the three main phrases are parallel, each describing apostle. Thus it is Paul's ministry that is based on the hope of eternal life. Or to put it another way, the reason for Paul's apostolic calling is the hope of eternal life.
This word hope means different things to different people. Often the way we use it ("I hope tomorrow will be a nice day," "I hope I get the job") implies uncertainty. But Christian hope has an entirely different quality about it, for it is grounded on the promises of God. The remainder of verses 2-3 provide one of the finest illustrations of the certainty of Christian hope in eternal life.
Paul divides time into two parts to emphasize the certainty of our hope. First, before time God made the promise of eternal life (v. 2). That is, it was part of his eternal will that his people would enjoy eternal life. Furthermore, God's promises are not like human promises, because God cannot lie.
Paul's argument reaches full force, however, with the shift in time that occurs in verse 3. Here Paul says that God manifested his word at the proper time (NIV his appointed season), and he links this manifestation in some way to preaching. In what sense did/does God bring his word to light through preaching? Paul's thought here is important for an understanding of the role of proclamation in God's plan of redemption. God first demonstrated the certainty of his promise (that is, his word) in sending his Son who died and was resurrected. Paul does not mention this explicitly here (though compare 2 Tim 1:10), but the thought is implicit. This is virtually certain because the verb "manifest" (NIV brought . . . to light) and the "before time—now" (or, as here, "at the proper time") scheme in the New Testament usually depict together the divulgence of God's plan of salvation in Christ to the world or to the apostles (Rom 16:25-26; 1 Cor 2:6-7; Eph 3:4-7, 8-11; Col 1:26-27; 1 Tim 1:9-10; compare Gal 4:4; 1 Tim 3:16). Also, in the Pastorals the phrase "the proper time" refers to Christ's Incarnation or his Second Coming. Therefore, in saying, as the NIV interprets it, at his appointed season he brought his word [his promise] to light, Paul alludes to the historical appearance (ministry, death and resurrection) of Christ which forms the bedrock of Christian hope in eternal life.
But Paul's focus in this passage is on his (and our) place in God's plan to deliver eternal life. Now we see that God not only verified the truthfulness of his promise—the certainty of hope—in sending Christ but continues to do so through the preaching entrusted to Paul and the church. The thought here parallels 2 Timothy 1:9-10: there time is also divided into the "before" and the "now," and God fulfills his promise first in Christ's death and resurrection, second through the church's preaching of that event. Thus in God's plan the church has become not only the proof and recipient of hope's promise but also the channel through which the hope of eternal life is offered to the rest of the world.
Christian hope is built on the promise of God. That promise is good (1) because God does not lie and (2) because he sent his Son to keep his promise. The gospel ministry, which exists to communicate this hope, extends the redemptive work of Christ's cross and resurrection into the "present" of the church. For by this means and this means alone God has chosen to execute salvation (1 Cor 1:18-31). The rest of Paul's instructions to Titus draw their meaning from this point, because only a healthy church will be able to carry out this plan of God the Savior.
It is important to get hold of the significance of ministry in Paul's thinking. Every believer's life has been uniquely designed with ministry in mind (Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 12:7). Paul's calling—to make known the truth of God and the hope of eternal life—is one in which we are all meant to have a part.