We’ve been studying through Paul’s letter to Titus, looking at how we can have a healthy church. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who doesn’t want a healthy church—in fact, there was a survey conducted of the number one question the pastoral search committee asks its possible pastors. When they are interviewed, they are asked, “Can you grow our church?”¹
As Paul writes to Titus, his fellow worker, about church conduct and church order, we glean from this letter principles to have a healthy church—what the church should be doing and what it should look like. Specifically, we’ve been focusing on the first section, verses 1-4, looking at these verses under a microscopic lens, really. We have made it our aim to not miss a single detail of this paramount text of Scripture. We’ve been seeing from this passage principles for true ministry.
If we’re going to have a healthy church, this a crucial part of it—having a healthy ministry. We’ve been looking at several principles involved in having a successful, fruitful, effective, biblical ministry. Again, these principles are straight from Scripture, not a five-step program, or a book on Christian ministry—these principles are scriptural. They were the principles that God gave to Paul for his ministry, and they are the principles that God gives to us for ours. So far we have looked at two principles that God gives to us, and I want to take a moment to remind you of them:
1. Our Character. Out of verse 1, we read that Paul describes himself as an “servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” We saw here that if we’re going to be effective in the ministry of our own local church—it begins with this: we must be servants of God like Paul and Jesus—submitting our wills completely and entirely to God. If we want health in our church, we must be servants of God. If we want health in our homes, we must be servants of God. If we want a healthy, bold witness to our world, we must be servants of God.
2. Our Purpose. We saw from v. 1b that Paul’s purpose in ministry was for people’s faith, and then the building up of that faith: “[an apostle] for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness.” This too is our purpose, to aim at men’s salvation first, then at their sanctification. To get the fish in the boat and then allow Jesus to do the cleaning. We saw that without knowing our purpose, we won’t know what to aim for in our ministries. If ministry is attempted without a clear, defined purpose in mind, it won’t be effective—and most of all, it will not be biblical because in order for it to be biblical and effective, we must follow and fulfill the purposes that God has given us for ministry.
Tonight we will look at the third principle that God gives to us for ministry: our hope (v. 2). Hope is quite interesting—it does something for us that nothing else in this world can do: Hope alters our perspective on reality by informing us about reality. Hope changes the way we see things by informing us about the way things really are.
Hope is something like what General Smith had in mind while he was being tortured. Many of you know the story. He was a great, never-say-die general who was taken captive by enemies and thrown into a deep pit with his soldiers. This pit was wide, deep, long, and filled with a huge pile of horse manure. As he dove into the manure pile, he cried to his men, “Follow me men! There has got to be a horse in here somewhere to take us out!”
Hope functions to change our perspective on things. When the impossible seems to be the only option, our hope in God is that “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). In this passage, we will see how important it is to have this perspective. In fact, we will see that our hope is the basis for our ministry, as it was Paul’s. It is what motivates us, it is what gives us the right perspective, and it is what gives us confidence that God is able to do what He promised. And the great part about this is that God has given us hope as a principle for our ministries to our workplace, our families, our church, our community, and our world.
And we absolutely need it—ministry is impossible without it. What we do in ministry is unthinkable, really. I know that sounds pessimistic, but think about it. We are pleading and begging dead sinners to receive life in Christ (Eph. 2:1-3). We are trying to get a dead person to take medicine that will give him life. We are trying to get sinners to go against their nature and trust Christ—it’s not natural. Think about all the people you know who aren’t saved. It is discouraging when our message is constantly rejected. We wonder about them, we weep for them. It’s an impossible task, but the unshakable, unwavering confidence and joy that we have is in the grandest truth in all the universe that God saves. We do not save, God saves. “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Jonah 2:9), and we have confidence in this God who has the power to save according to His sovereign will. That’s the hope we have.
But let’s see deeper what this great hope is that God gives us for ministry. We’re going follow Paul’s order of describing it by seeing first the object of our hope, then the person of our hope (God), and finally the surety of our hope—God’s sovereign will. After this we will look at a few practical ways to put this principle into action.
The Text: Titus 1:1-4, ESV
“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, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith:
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”
I. The Object of Our Hope (v. 2a)
Notice first the object of our hope: eternal life. Paul says first, “In hope of eternal life.” I think that it is imperative first to notice where this verse is. It really does make a difference. Paul names this principle after he talks about his purposes as an apostle.² Those purposes being, “[to bring about] the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth.” This means that as he carries out his tasks of ministry that is, aiming first at men’s salvation, then their sanctification, all the while — having this hope, never losing it, but always having it on his mind.
It’s also another thing that belongs to God’s elect. Remember what two things belong to God’s elect that Paul described in v. 1? They are those who possess “the faith,” and “the knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness,” and also here, “the hope of eternal life.”
So we can infer from these two truths to say that Paul is really describing the hope that he shared with God’s elect, as he was one of them. While he carries out his ministry with its hardships, difficulties, and victories, he set his mind on this hope. This was a confident expectation of eternal life that he had for himself and for those he ministered to. In fact, this hope was the reason behind everything he did, it was the motivation he had for his mission. It was his confident, future expectation of endless life that the believer will have as a gift from God through Christ Jesus. It was the “gift of God [that is] eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). He describes this hope in other places in Titus as his eager expectation:
“Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
“So that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).
This hope functions in two ways for Paul: for himself, and those he ministers to. First I believe that this hope is what he looks forward to—that’s the way it’s expressed in the text. Second, I believe that his expected goal for those he ministered to was eternal life. He had hope for himself, and hope for those he ministered to.
1. Paul had this hope for himself. When ministry got tough, when people failed him, when people rejected him, he did not despair. Speaking of all the struggles of ministry, being “afflicted in every way,” “persecuted,” “struck down” (2 Cor. 4:8-9), he says in 2 Corinthians:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (4:17).
Philippians 3:20 expresses Paul’s confident expectation of heaven perhaps more than any other text: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” He endured more suffering than any of us ever will (lashes, beatings, stonings, etc.). But Paul could sacrifice anything anytime because of this—he knew what awaited him. He could endure any persecution or suffering for ministering to people—he knew what awaited him. What about you? Are your sacrifices joyful because of this expectation of eternal life, or are they drudgery because you have nothing to look forward to? When you are rejected and persecuted for your faith, do you still have this joy? Does this joy determine your response to persecution, or does your sin nature determine your response?
2. Paul had this hope for those he ministered to. We read in Acts 18, that Paul was struggling to share the gospel in Corinth. He was having some great success, but immediately met opposition by some Jews. “they opposed and reviled him” (v. 6), and he likely wondered if he should spend any more time sharing Christ with them. In fact, he said, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (v. 6c). But we read a few verses that God said, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (vv. 9-10). God promised Paul that there were still people who needed to be saved—people that God would save in His own time. God had people in that city who were His. Because of this we read that Paul didn’t leave, but stayed “a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (v. 11)
God’s sovereign election ensured Paul’s ministry—he continued to share the gospel because God promised him that He would bring about the salvation of souls in His own time. God had people everywhere in that city that He had chosen to save, and because He chose them, they would be saved. Paul was to simply continue his ministry and wait for God to do His work. So Paul also had this hope of eternal life for those he ministered to—he expected men to be receptive to the gospel because salvation belongs to the Lord, it is God’s work and He is sovereign over it, bringing it to fruition in His own time.
When I think of hope, I’m thinking of what the great Puritan Thomas Watson wrote about it. I believe he illustrates it well for us: “Hope is an active grace: it is called a lively hope. Hope is like the spring in the watch: it sets all the wheels of the soul in motion. Hope of a crop makes the farmer sow his seed; hope of a victory makes the soldier fight; and a true hope of glory makes a Christian vigorously pursue glory.”³
Praise the Lord! That’s what hope does for us: God promised eternal life for us, so no sacrifice we make for Him in ministry can be too great, and no persecution or rejection can be so great because we have eternity to look forward to. And another thing hope does for us is give us confidence for ministry to the unsaved, as it did Paul. We plant the seed of the gospel expecting salvation of souls, because God has sovereignly chosen to bring about the salvation of many souls. Our hope causes us to enter our areas of ministry to our families, our workplaces, schools, and communities because we expect people to be saved and respond to the gospel.
Do you have that expectation? Are your sacrifices measured by your confident expectation? That is, how often are your daily sacrifices for God determined by the truth that God will usher you into heaven one day? Do you expect people to be saved when you minister to them?
II. The Person of Our Hope (v. 2b)
We’ve seen the object of our hope, which is eternal life. Notice second that the person of our hope is a trustworthy, faithful God. Paul is moving on to talking about God’s person and actions concerning eternal life to prove that our hope of eternal life is unshakable. See v. 2b, “which God, who never lies.” He is attempting to prove the validity of our hope because it rests in God’s character. Paul is giving a strong, reinforcing argument to support the validity of our hope of eternal life because it is based on and sustained by a trustworthy, faithful God. He’s pointing to God for proof that our hope of eternal life is true and trustworthy.
Saying that God never lies echoes the Old Testament; this great truth that God never lies has its roots in the OT:
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Num. 23:19)
“And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” (1 Sam. 15:29)
But talking about God this way is also in stark contrast to the culture that Titus ministered in. They were known as a lying culture. Crete was a small island, about the size of Western Kentucky, and the name Crete comes from the phrase: “to play the Cretan,” which in other words meant, “to lie.” So this was a place named because of the prevalence of lying in their culture.4 But notice also in v. 12 of this chapter, Paul says, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Even their religious leaders were proud to admit that everyone on the island was a liar, and they were always that way. We live in a culture just like this don’t we?
Falsehood is all around us. A statistic I read said that 60% of people can’t go ten minutes without lying. 40% of people lie on their resumes, 69% of people lie to their spouses, and without surprise 90% of people lie when dating online.5 Lying is a weakness, and when we discover we’ve been lied to, we feel like we can’t trust that person anymore. We trusted their character enough to believe anything they said. But we don’t have to worry about that with God. When He promises eternal life, He is 100% truthful. He doesn’t lie to us about anything, and He never has to live with the guilt of lying—He never lies; not in the past, not now, and never in the future. He is completely trustworthy. The point that Paul is making here is that our hope is based on God’s trustworthy nature. Our hope is unshakable because it rests in an unchanging, trustworthy, faithful God. Let me tell you a few things this truth about God should do for us: This should encourage us—we’re telling people the truth when we share Christ. This should give us confidence in our hope—it’s a sure thing. This should give us strength and security and rest—our hope rests not on ourselves, not on our good works, not how good we can be, it doesn’t rest on anything but God’s unchanging, immutable, loving, trustworthy, faithful nature. Even when we fail to do our ministry: He cannot fail us: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).
God cannot lie because it is against His nature. It is something He cannot do. It doesn’t go against saying that “God can do anything,” or “God is all-powerful.” Some question if we truly believe that God can do anything, if we affirm that He cannot lie. Thomas Aquinas and Anslem, some ancient church theologians argued that God cannot sin or lie because it is a weakness, not a power. God cannot lie because lying isn’t a power—it’s a weakness.6 Paul’s point is that we can have this hope for ourselves and this hope for those we minister to because it is based on God’s trustworthy character. So when we minister this hope of eternal life to people, we can know that we are telling them the truth, we can know that when God promised to bless our gospel sharing efforts, He meant it. If God never lies He is deserving of our full trust—that is great encouragement for ministry. If you trust God during your ministry efforts, you won’t be discouraged when your efforts aren’t enough.
III. The Surety of Our Hope (v. 2c)
We’ve seen the object of our hope, eternal life, and the person of our hope: an unlying, trustworthy God. Notice third that the surety of our hope is God’s sovereign will. See in this verse finally that Paul describes God’s action concerning the hope of eternal life. What did God do about it? How is it possible? Because “God, who never lies, promised it before the ages began” (v. 2c).
We see here two things: God’s action concerning our eternal life, and the time when those actions took place. That is, eternal life doesn’t come to us abstract, it comes to us graciously through what God has done, and at a cost. We see here that God did something about eternal life, and we see the time when He did something about it. And like our last point, Paul is attempting to build confidence and surety about our hope of eternal life because of God’s trustworthy character first, and second (here) because of God’s action concerning it.
First we see that God promised it. Anytime one makes a promise, it is a personal declaration made to another person that certain conditions will be met. When I asked my fiancée to marry me, it was a promise I was making to her that we would get married. Our relationship is grounded in that promise—we look forward to enjoying union together; all because we promised each other that we would be life partners.
Promises are central to the way God relates to us as well. He has made us so many promises—in fact, the Scriptures function like a promise book God gave to us. But there’s a special promise He made to His people. The promise that He made was that He would save them and be in a relationship with them. It is a covenant God made “before the ages began,” before we were ever born—and not because of anything good in us or foreseen in us, but because of His mercy and free grace. He promised eternal life to His people long ago, in eternity past, “before the foundations of the earth” (Eph. 1:4). This is a hard truth to understand, and theology calls it election.
This is a hard truth to understand, but if we believe that God saves, we must believe it—for He saves according to His plan and will, not ours. This means that our work will always be fruitful—it doesn’t mean that everyone will be saved when they hear our message, but it does mean that we have confidence that God’s word will not return back to Him void (Isaiah 55:11).
Christian conversion takes place because of God’s promise and election. Recall your conversion. Did you plan for that to happen? Did you know and plan to walk up the aisle? Did you know the details of your conversion before it happened? No, because you didn’t plan it. But God did. That’s the beauty of election and God promising eternal life. He is the One who planned it, and He is the one who will finish it and usher us into eternity with Him.
We believe because we were chosen: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:4-5a). Here Paul says that we can confidently be sure that God has chosen us because the gospel has come to us and transformed our lives. And when it comes to our ministry, there are people all around us who might be days away from that moment; weeks away; years away; decades away; but God is using our ministering efforts right now to lead them to that moment, just like He did us. Just like His plan of salvation is His plan in His own time, He has also chosen to use us as His tools to reach people—no other way will they be saved without the preaching of our gospel.
Do you have confidence in God’s promise of eternal life like Paul did in Acts 18? Do you rest in God’s sovereign plan of salvation?
IV. How to Use this Principle in Ministry
We have seen what this principle is, but it is no good to us if we don’t know how to use it. So how can we have this hope of eternal life? How can we develop this kind of perspective for our ministries to our workplace, family, church, community, and world? I offer a few practical suggestions:
1. First, make sure you’re saved. I think this is self-explanatory. You have to have Christ as your Savior and Lord to look forward to eternal life and have this hope, and to share it with the unsaved.
2. Ponder often the truth of eternal life. Read about it in the Scriptures. As Paul says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). With this principle and great truth in mind, there is no sacrifice too great that we can make if we know that heaven is our home. There is also no persecution or rejection so great that can remove the place Jesus is preparing for us in eternity. Think about this hope at work, at the home, by your bedside. Let it permeate your being.
3. Examine your motive for Christian service. Do you minister to those around you because you are expecting them to be saved? I think we should expect more people to be saved. God is graciously at work in the lives of people everywhere, there are people on your path that God is just waiting for you to share the gospel with them. Our motive and reason for Christian service should be yes, God’s wonderful grace. But here, Paul says that his reason for ministry was this hope of eternal life—that’s one of the greatest expressions of God’s grace. So our motivation for Christian ministry should be joy and gladness in response to God graciously promising us an eternity with Him.
4. Expect people to be saved. Not everyone will believe our message, but God has promised to bless our gospel sharing efforts. If you never expect anyone to be saved, it will damage your gospel sharing efforts. Think of the farmer who doesn’t expect a crop to grow. Will he water the seed? Will he ensure it has the right amount of sunlight? No, and indeed he will not plant it at all. Neither will you share the gospel with someone you expect to reject it and discard it into the garbage. When you share the gospel, expect people to be saved.
1. I read this a few weeks ago, and now I cannot find the article. Even if it’s not the number one question asked, it is still one that all of us are seeking the answer to by the leaders of our churches.
3. Foster, Elon. 6000 Sermon Illustrations (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1972), 358.
4. Towner, Philip H. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 670.