A Call to Older Men

1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. – Titus 2:1-2 ESV

Paul has spent a significant portion of his letter warning Titus about the dangers of those who were promoting their man-made doctrines among the churches on Crete. These individuals were blatantly adding to the simplicity of the gospel message and contradicting the teaching of Paul and the other apostles of Jesus Christ. And one of the reasons these false teachers were making an impact was because of the spiritual immaturity of the congregations. As Paul concluded a few verses earlier in his letter, the believers on Crete were not sound in the faith.

So, Paul turns his attention to Titus, tasking his with the job of teaching “what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1 ESV). Notice that Paul is not asking Titus to teach sound doctrine. He seems to know that Titus has been faithful to promote what is in keeping with the teachings of Jesus and His apostles. But what Paul wants Timothy to do is to teach what “accords with” sound teaching. The Greek word Paul used carries the idea of reflecting or demonstrating. In other words, Paul is asking Titus to teach the Cretan believers what Christ-like behavior looks like. He wants Titus to make it clear to these people what true doctrine looks like when it’s lived out on a daily basis. 

This is in direct response to the false teaching that had begun to infect and influence the church. They were promoting everything from license to legalism. Some were demanding that any and all behavior was acceptable because they believed the spiritual and the physical were two completely separate realms. These individuals taught that what we do in our flesh makes no difference. As you can only imagine, this false doctrine would lead to some abhorrent behavior that was in direct contradiction to the Word of God.

These people were often referred to as antinomians, which literally means “anti-law.” They took the teachings of Paul regarding our freedom from the Mosaic Law and turned them into permission to practice moral license. But Paul addressed this misconception in his first letter to the believers in Corinth.

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. – 1 Corinthians 6:12-13 NLT

But right alongside the antinomians came the legalists, the party of the circumcision, who were teaching that strict adherence to the Mosaic Law was mandatory for any and all professing believers, whether they were Jews or Gentiles. These people taught a strict code based on abstinence and adherence. Paul addressed this false teaching to the Colossian church.

“Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. – Colossians 2:21-23 NLT

So, with these two diametrically opposed brands of false teaching bombarding the local churches on Crete, Paul commanded Titus to provide the people with clear instructions on what proper Christian behavior should look like. And what should stand out to us is the simple, practical nature of Paul’s examples.

Paul begins with the mature males in the church, using the Greek word, presbytēs. It was a common word typically used to refer to someone who was more advanced in years. They were not necessarily elderly, but simply older. For Paul, these men were essential to the overall health of the church. And he states that they were to be “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 1:2 ESV). Each of these terms is packed with meaning, and they are not to be taken lightly.

The first descriptor Paul uses is nēphalios, which is translated as “sober-minded.” Some translations use the word “temperate” which is probably much closer to the original meaning. The original Greek word meant “abstaining from wine, either entirely or at least from its immoderate use.” And this meaning seems to fit the context. In the very next verse, Paul states that the older women were not to be “slaves to much wine.” It would seem that over-indulgence had become a problem in the churches on Crete. License had led some to drink wine to access. Any belief in moderation had been abandoned for the pursuit of personal pleasure. But in his letter to the believers in Galatia, Paul listed drunkenness among the works of the flesh and temperance among the fruit of the Spirit.

The second attribute or characteristic Paul requires of all older men in the body of Christ was semnos, which conveys the idea of being venerated for their character. They were to be looked up to for the way they lived their lives. These men were to be examples to the rest of the congregation, emulating the character of Christ and leading the younger men in the church to aspire to follow their example. It could have been that these older, more mature believers were setting the wrong example, having chosen to follow the teaching of the antinomians. Perhaps they were leading the way in licentious behavior and causing their younger brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble. But Paul demands that their behavior be Christ-like in every way.

Next, Paul emphasizes their need to be self-controlled. That particular translation of the Greek word sōphrōn is somewhat misleading. It seems to convey the idea that this character quality is completely up to the individual to pull off. But we know that Paul firmly believed in the role of the Holy Spirit in assisting us in our pursuit of Christ-like behavior. In fact, he told the believers in Galatia: “the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). Paul clearly taught that self-control was only possible when one was under the Spirit’s control. 

…let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. – Galatians 5:16 NLT

The Greek word has to do with curbing one’s desires and impulses. It is the mark of someone who is not controlled by his emotions, physical appetites, or sinful desires. And it listed in the qualities required of an elder found in chapter 1.

These are all characteristics that should accompany physical maturity. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He adds a few more qualities that should reflect spiritual maturity or godliness. He states that these older men should be “sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 2:2 ESV). The Greek word that is translated as “sound” has to do with wholeness or completeness. It was often used to refer to a person being sound of body or in good health. Paul is insisting that older Christian men should be whole or healthy when it comes to their faith in God and His gospel message, their love for God and His children, and their patient endurance as they wait for His Son’s return.

Paul held these older men to a higher standard and, more than likely, he included himself as one of them. He worked hard to ensure that his life was an example to the younger men in his life, including Titus and Timothy. Paul was able to say to the believers in Corinth, “you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT). He told the Philippian believers, “pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example” (Philippians 3:17 NLT). He went on to tell them, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things” (Philippians 4:9 ESV).

Paul was demanding of these men what he demanded of himself. But this was not some form of legalism or license. He was not promoting another form of rule-keeping or behavior modification. For Paul, this was all about living out his faith in everyday life. It was to permeate every area of his life. His belief was to result in changed behavior. And he knew that this was true of each and every person who professed to be a follower of Christ.

The reason older men are singled out first is that they were the pool from which the elders of the church were to come. The Greek word used for older men is presbytēs and the word for elder is presbyteros. Paul had charged Titus with the task of finding and appointing elders in all the churches on Crete. But where was he going to find such individuals if there were no older men who met the standards? The truth is, the church should never be in short supply of elders, because it is filled with older men whose lives reflect the characteristics of an elder. Godly leadership should be readily available and easily accessible because the older men of the church are sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.s

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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