The Sin of Self

Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. – Titus 2:6-8 ESV

Paul has demanded that elder candidates be self-controlledsōphrōn (1:8).

He has told Titus to teach older men in the church to exercise self-controlledsōphrōn (2:2).

Titus was to instruct the older women to model for the younger women what it means to live self-controlled lives – sōphronizō (2:5).

Now, for the fourth time, Paul urges Titus to “urge the younger men to be self-controlled” – sōphroneō (2:6). Obviously, this was a crucial issue for Paul. His repetitive use of this word in a variety of its forms and tenses lets us know that Paul put a high priority on the issue of self-control. And, as was pointed out earlier, this is not actually about Christians attempting to master or control themselves, but about their willing submission to the Spirit’s direction over their lives and their total dependence upon His power to live in a way that honors and pleases God.

When a believer lives under the controlling influence of the Spirit of God, he or she receives the capacity to curb their normal sinful passions. Paul points that out in Galatians 5:16:

…let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. (NLT)

And he follows it up with the important reminder that “the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires” (Galatians 5:17 NLT). This is not just about controlling our sexual urges or immoral desires. The idea of self-control carries with it a sense of sober-mindedness or the ability to manage our thought processes. A sober-minded individual, who is living under the Spirit’s control, will experience a marked decrease in self-centered thought patterns. He won’t be self-possessed or think too highly of himself. Paul pointed this out to the believers in Rome.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment (sōphroneō), each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. – Romans 12:3 ESV

Paul was not the only apostle who put a high priority on self-control. Peter shared his concern and wrote, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded (sōphroneō) …” (1 Peter 4:7 ESV). 

So, Paul’s seeming obsession with self-control is well-founded. It is to be a non-negotiable characteristic of the Christian life and an indispensable mark of godly leadership. People without this vital Christ-like character quality tend to live out of control, exhibiting selfish and self-centered traits that reveal that they are actually living under the influence of their sinful flesh and not the Spirit of God.

Failure to control the self is at the heart of all sin. Sin is nothing more than an attempt to satisfy self at the expense of others. You argue because you want to prove yourself right. You covet because you desire for your self what belongs to someone else.  You commit sexual sin to satisfy self.

After providing his long and infamous list of the deeds of the flesh to the Galatian believers, Paul wrote:

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. – Galatians 5:25-26 ESV

Notice his emphasis on conceit or love of self. When the self rules, it’s like a wild, uncontrollable animal that has escaped its cage and is allowed to wreak havoc on all those around it. Self out of control is not only self-destructive, it is a menace to the body of Christ. It has no place within the context of the church.

And Paul urges Titus that young men are to be self-controlled “in all respects.” The awkward break between verses 6 and 7 should not be there. They convey one thought, and it is that young men are to practice self-control in every area of their lives. And Titus was to be a role model. Which is why Paul tells him, “you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind” (Titus 2:7 NLT). This is the same counsel Paul gave Timothy, his other young protégé.

Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them. Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. – 1 Timothy 4:11-12 NLT

Paul went on to challenge Titus, “Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching” (Titus 2:7 NLT). In other words, Titus was live out what he taught. The sad reality is that many Christian teachers tend to convey the idea, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Their words and their actions don’t line up. The beliefs they express and the behavior they exhibit don’t seem to match. There is a visible disconnect. But that should not be the case.

Titus’ life was to be a model of integrity and sincerity. He was to live up to the very things he taught. His life was to be a model of submission to the will of God as expressed in the Word of God. And Paul knew the best lesson for the younger men in the church was going to be the life of his young friend, Titus. And Paul warned him to “Teach the truth so that your teaching can’t be criticized” (Titus 2:8 NLT). Titus was to stick to the facts of the gospel, not adding to or adulterating it with his own opinions. He was not to play fast and loose with the truth of God’s Word as revealed through the teachings of Jesus Christ or His apostles.

Again, the key issue is that of self-control. If Titus was not careful, he could easily find self in control. When attached by unbelievers or false teachers, Titus could go into self-defense mode. When criticized by his older brothers and sisters in the church, Titus could struggle with self-doubt. When seeking out and appointing elders for the churches on Crete, Titus might be tempted to think too highly of self. In Paul’s absence, Titus had the privilege and responsibility of acting as the sole apostolic authority on the tiny island, a role which could have easily fed his sense of self-importance.  So, Paul reminds his young friend to stick to teaching the truth. He encourages him to live a life that models self-control. Why? So that “those who oppose us will be ashamed and have nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:8 NLT).

Love of self is antithetical to the Christ-like life. We are called to live selfless lives, focused on the cause of Christ and the needs of others. It is never to be about us. We are never to allow ourselves to become the center of attention or the focus of our thoughts. We are called to die to self. We are commanded to crucify self. We are encouraged to control self, and we have been given the indwelling power of the Spirit of God to make it possible. And we should be able to say, along with Paul, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT).

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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