For some odd reason, men have developed a reputation for being unobservant. Now, while that’s a rash generalization to which every fiber of my testosterone-laced masculinity rebels, I have to remind myself of how many times I have opened the refrigerator door, taken a look around, and then called out to my wife, “Are we out of milk?”, only to have her (sometimes) patiently point out that it’s right in front of me. Men, it’s time to man up and admit it. Our observational skills could use some work in certain applications, as can our perseverance through the adversity of searching the fridge. Ladies, it’s okay to feel a little bit of affirmation in all this. Just don’t get smug.
In reality, though, there’s a sense in which every one of us fails at times to observe the obvious. This is particularly true when it comes to Scripture. How many times have we read the same passage only to have that “aha!”, lights-come-on moment during a sermon when something clicks and we finally see that thing that’s always been there but we’ve never seen it before. We’re not taking about mystical, hidden meanings. We’re talking about things that are plain in the text. We just simply miss them because we fail to observe the obvious.
One such case is Titus 1:2. Often times, the introductions to New Testament letters are skimmed over impatiently as we want to get into the “meat” of the text. But what we fail to recognize is that when Paul said that “all Scripture” is breathed-out by God, he meant all Scripture…down to every word and every letter. It all matters. It’s all from God. And thus, it’s all profitable. And this specific text is a perfect example of how much “meat” there really is in a simple introduction to a letter. Paul begins his letter to Titus in this way:
“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, in hope of eternal life which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 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.” (Titus 1:1-3)
Now, Paul’s main focus in this introductory section is to describe his ministry as an apostle and a preacher of the gospel. He is “a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ,” and his ministry is “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect.” Paul’s toil and labor in the gospel is aimed at strengthening the faith of believers as well as building “their knowledge of the truth.” This is why he labors. This is why he writes. This is why he devotes himself to a mission that seems so pointless from the perspective of our current secular culture. Paul loves the church, and he wants to see the church grow in faith and knowledge of the truth so that they live in a way “which accords with godliness.”
But it’s in verse 2 that Paul makes a rather eye-opening statement. This labor for the church, for their faith and their knowledge of the truth, is done “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.” Now, think about that statement for a moment.
There is a hope of eternal life, Paul says; a hope rooted in an unshakeable promise. It’s unshakeable because God made the promise, and God “cannot lie.” That’s important to think about. It’s not that he could lie if he wanted to, he just doesn’t. No. He cannot lie. Is there anything God can’t do? The answer is, “Yes. He cannot lie.” The writer to the Hebrews put it this way: “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Heb. 6:17–18). I trust you observed (wink wink) the link between God’s promise and the “hope set before us.” We’re beginning to see a pattern. The same link occurs in Titus 1:2 between the “hope of eternal life” which God “promised.” In other words, our hope—our “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul,” to put it in the words of Hebrews 6:19—is rooted in the reliability of God. It’s only because we have a God who promises and cannot lie that we can have real hope. That should get our attention in a world filled with sweet-sounding promises which can’t possibly be kept.
But there’s something else I want you to note. When did God make this promise in Titus 1:2? The answer may surprise you: “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.” Think about that for a moment. The sure anchor of our hope of eternal life lies in a promise that God made literally “before times eternal.” I don’t have to tell you…that’s a long time ago. So long, in fact, that it begs the obvious question: “Who was around ‘before times eternal’ for God to make a promise to?” The answer is so simple and obvious, it escapes us. God was the only one there “before times eternal,” so God had to be the one to whom he made the promise!
What we see in Titus 1:2 is a quick peak behind the curtain into what S. Lewis Johnson has called “the mysterious council chamber.” It’s a glimpse into eternity past, to when God alone existed; before he created the heavens and the earth and spoke light into existence (Gen. 1:1–3); before the “sons of God shouted for joy” as he laid the foundation of the earth (Job 38:4–7); before you and I were ever born or before the world fell into sin and despair. Before all that now exists came into being, there was the triune God. That’s when this promise was made.
What Paul is saying is that our hope for salvation and eternal life is rooted in a promise that the triune God made within themselves. As Paul words it in 2 Timothy 1:9, “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” In other words, the promise made “before time began” (the exact same phrase as in Titus 1:2) was a promise made by God the Father to Christ Jesus, and it concerned us. It had nothing to do with our works or our deeds. It couldn’t! We didn’t exist to merit anything. In fact, the instant we did exist, we merited only eternal condemnation (Job 15:14; Ps. 51:5; Rom 5:12, 19; Eph 2:3), which is why Paul emphasizes that it’s “not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace.”
Why would God make such a promise? Because of love—a love so deep and perfect and beautiful that we cannot fully grasp its magnitude or comprehend its expression. It is a love that Jesus describes in John 17:24 when he prayed to the Father, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” As John MacArthur has written,
“This is a staggering reality. In the mystery of the Trinity we see that there is an ineffable and eternal love between the Members of the Trinity…. That love must find an expression. True love always seeks ways to give. And in a demonstration of His perfect love for His Son, the Father made a pledge to the Son. And what was that pledge? He promised the Son a redeemed people—justified, sanctified, and glorified. He promised to bring the redeemed ones to glory, that they might dwell in the very place where Father and Son have dwelt since before time began—the very realm of God.”
Now do you see it? The obvious which probably alluded us every time we haphazardly skimmed through Titus 1:2 on our way to the “meat.” One short phrase, one quick statement explodes with eternal implications, and it should completely change the way we think about who we are in Christ. Does God love us? You better believe it. But not as an end in itself. We are wrapped up on a cosmic and eternal expression of perfect divine love—love gifts from the Father to the Son.
What does this mean for us? Well, first, it means that our salvation is not by accident. Redemption isn’t an alternate plan because God’s purposes were foiled by Adam and Eve and some wily serpent. It’s not “Plan B: New Creation” because “Plan A: Creation” broke down. God’s not learning, not growing, not getting better at running the universe. The fall of mankind and the curse of sin were part of the sovereign purpose of God from before there ever was a creation to begin with. God is firmly in control, and his decrees are as sure and solid as his promise.
It also means that we should have a different view of the church than we probably do right now. Jeff has talked about this in a previous post, but it bears repeating that the church doesn’t exist to serve you. That’s a consumeristic paradigm that drains the church and makes every individual the central point. What Titus 1:2 does is reset our place within the church and our view of the church in God’s purposes. The church isn’t here to serve us; we’re here to serve the church, and we do that because we understand that the church is a product of the love of God the Father for the Son. And that love spills over to us. Just consider all the passages that talk about God’s love for the redeemed:
- “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
- “God so loved that world that he sent his one and only Son that whoever believes in his should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
- “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4–5)
- “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2 Thess. 16–17)
- “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1)
- “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10)
It should be obvious that we’re not mere pawns in all of this. God loves us with a real, abiding, and affectionate love that culminated in him pouring out his divine anger for our sin onto his own Son.
But that’s not the full story. The full story is that we are a gift from a loving Father to a cherished and beloved Son. And since Christ loves the Father with the same perfect love with which the Father loves him, he laid his life down for us, and now securely holds us because we have been given to him in love by the Father:
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37–40)
In other words, Christ’s love for the Father is why he holds the church secure. Christ has made a promise, too—a promise to purchase this people with his own blood and secure their salvation for eternity. God has given the redeemed to him, and he holds them in his hand and will never let them go. Those who come to him in faith aren’t there by happenstance. They are sovereignly willed and sovereignly purposed to be part of this gift, which is why Jesus talks about the redeemed as those who are “drawn” by the Father to the Son (John 6:44).
This should give us hope—“hope of eternal life” (Tit. 1:2), a hope that is sure because it is wrapped up in the abiding love of the members of the triune God. It should bring us humility—humility because we who are unworthy sinners God foreknew and “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29), that we might be presented to Christ as a pure and spotless bride (Rev. 19:7–8). And it should bring us rest—rest because we know that Christ’s love for his Father and his submission to the Father’s will means that we are held eternally secure in that love. Finally, it should cause us to love—to love the church as fervently and selflessly as we can, knowing it is the great love gift purchased by Christ’s blood and given to Christ by the Father.
Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon entitled “The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant,” tried to capture the essence of this promise in eternity past, although he admitted that “I am fain to bring it down to the speech which suiteth to the ear of flesh, and to the heart of the mortal.” Nonetheless, of the Father’s promise he said,
“I, the Most High Jehovah, do hereby give unto my only begotten and well-beloved Son, a people, countless beyond the number of stars, who shall be by him washed from sin, by him preserved, and kept, and led, and by him, at last, presented before my throne, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. I covenant by oath, and swear by myself, because I can swear by no greater, that these whom I now give to Christ shall be for ever the objects of my eternal love. Them I will forgive through the merit of the blood. To these will I give a perfect righteousness; these will I adopt and make my sons and daughters, and these shall reign with me through Christ eternally.”
Then, of the Holy Spirit’s promise in this amazing and mysterious council chamber, Spurgeon says:
“I hereby covenant," saith he, "that all whom the Father giveth to the Son, I will in due time quicken. I will show them their need of redemption; I will cut off from them all groundless hope, and destroy their refuges of lies. I will bring them to the blood of sprinkling; I will give them faith whereby this blood shall be applied to them, I will work in them every grace; I will keep their faith alive; I will cleanse them and drive out all depravity from them, and they shall be presented at last spotless and faultless.”
And finally, Spurgeon writes of Christ’s part in this amazing promise before times eternal:
“My Father, on my part I covenant that in the fullness of time I will become man. I will take upon myself the form and nature of the fallen race. I will live in their wretched world, and for my people I will keep the law perfectly. I will work out a spotless righteousness, which shall be acceptable to the demands of thy just and holy law. In due time I will bear the sins of all my people. Thou shalt exact their debts on me; the chastisement of their peace I will endure, and by my stripes they shall be healed. My Father, I covenant and promise that I will be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. I will magnify thy law, and make it honourable. I will suffer all they ought to have suffered. I will endure the curse of thy law, and all the vials of thy wrath shall be emptied and spent upon my head. I will then rise again; I will ascend into heaven; I will intercede for them at thy right hand; and I will make myself responsible for every one of them, that not one of those whom thou hast given me shall ever be lost, but I will bring all my sheep of whom, by thy blood, thou hast constituted me the shepherd—I will bring every one safe to thee at last.”
Is this what was said in that mysterious council chamber? No one will ever know. But what we do know is this: The triune God made a promise before times eternal—a promise which constitutes our hope of eternal life. Let’s live in light of that glorious promise as those whose redemption is wrapped up in the perfect love of the triune God.