Healthy Teaching Produces Healthy Christians, Part 1: Older Men – Titus 2:1-2
While there are many similarities between Paul’s first letter to Timothy in Ephesus and this letter to Titus in Crete, there are several differences that we need to note. We should expect a large amount of overlap when Paul gives orders concerning the need, quality, and purpose of elders within the church, but those similarities are not an indication that this letter to Titus is simply a redacted repetition of what Paul has already told Timothy. On the one hand, these are two different letters sent to two different men in two different locations undergoing two different situations. We must give them the individual attention they deserve. On the other hand, Titus is a product of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration for the benefit of the saints in all ages meaning that it makes a unique contribution to the canon of Scripture. In other words, without Titus our Bible would not be complete. What makes Titus unique appears here in chapter 2.
As we read and study, never forget the purpose statement that Paul so clearly articulated in 1:5, “that you [Titus] would set in order what remains.” Titus’ mission is not so much church restoration, as was Timothy’s, but church establishment. Before these Cretan churches can begin to function autonomously as they ought, certain things need to be set in place. The first and most important item being the appointment of godly and qualified elders (1:5-8) to feed the sheep and fend off the wolves (1:9) because the wolves are many and the sheep are being lulled away (1:10-16). The first verse of chapter two marks a transition point into the second item that must be established.
“But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine”
Titus is contrasted to the false teachers who profess to know God but in reality, deny Him through their deeds (1:16). Unlike them, Titus must speak the things that are fitting for sound doctrine. This comparison is very important. The problem with the false teachers is not only that they are heretics who pay attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men (1:14) but that they are absolute hypocrites who profess holiness yet live as heathens. Titus, on the other hand, is not to speak unless those things which he is speaking are fitting with sound doctrine.
The term translated fitting here (πρέπω) means to agree with or fitting or suitable. It indicates a high degree of agreement between two actions. Jesus demanded that John baptize Him because it would be fitting to fulfill all righteousness (Matt. 3:15). This action was appropriate and in full agreement with the standard of righteousness. To look at the other side of the coin, Paul wrote to the Ephesians that it is not fitting for immorality or any impurity or greed to even be mentioned among them (Eph. 5:3). It would be most inappropriate and completely out of line for reprobate characteristics to be applied to the redeemed. In this present verse, Titus is commanded to speak only that which complies with, accompanies, and is consistent with sound doctrine.
The term sound (ὑγιανίνω/ὑγιής – to be physically sound (healthy/wholesome) or to be technically sound (correct/free from error)) is a common word that pops up throughout the pastoral epistles. Of the 12 times it appears in the NT, 8 of them are found in Paul’s letters to Titus (1:9, 13; 2:1, 2) and Timothy (1 Tim. 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3). But the highest concentration in any one book is right here in Titus. This brings us to the second item on Paul’s agenda for Titus. In addition to elders, Titus must promote healthy Christian living; namely, living that is consistent with Scripture. The church must guard against false teaching by appointing elders so that the church can grow in holiness and good works.
This verse connects all that precedes it with all that follows. Titus’ mission is to exhort the sheep to good works, but those works must be consistent with sound teaching. The specifics of what those good works are can be found in the verses that follow.
Most of chapter 2 breaks the Christian community down into groups in order to provide specific and personal exhortations. These groups are based on age and gender (vv. 2-8) as well as social status and vocation (vv. 9-10). This specific exhortation is necessary before Paul addresses the body as a whole beginning in chapter 3. It’s one thing to demand holiness in all of the people under your care. It’s another to point at select groups of individuals and show them what holiness looks like. That’s exactly what Paul is doing with the Cretans here through Titus.
Looking over the list of individuals in chapter two, it is interesting where Paul begins his personal exhortations, with the older men. Just as he tackled the issues which remained to be put in place in a logical order of most importance, so he addresses the congregation in order of the most influential. Regarding the older men, Paul desires them to model two aspects of godliness which are informed by and consistent with healthy teaching.
Models of Behavior (v. 2a)
“Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible”
There is a reason that Paul begins with the Older men. In most cultures, the older men are looked up to for their experience and wisdom. These are the guys that have “been there and done that.” Just as a wise commander would sprinkle his veteran troops among the raw recruits in order to give them examples to follow and confidence for stability, so has God seasoned His church with older men. Paul states that these older men should be characterized by four faithful traits. The first three reflect their behavior and temperament while the fourth reflects their faithfulness to the cause of Christ.
Older Men to be Calm – The term here translated as temperate (νηφάλιος) is translated as sober in other English versions. The basic meaning does indicate one who is free of the influence of alcohol and thus sober, but the term carries implications that extend well past this. To be sober or temperate is to have the ability to think clearly or to be level-headed. A temperate man does not fly off the handle on a whim nor is he easily excited. In the context of the church, a temperate man is not easily influenced by false teaching. Paul uses this same term when writing to Timothy about the qualification for elders (1 Tim. 3:2) as well as deaconesses (3:11). Others will look up to these men as examples. Their behavior must be controlled, and their actions executed with calm level-headedness.
Older Men to be Cool – Let us not think of dignified (σεμνός) in an arrogant or prideful way. The picture here is not of one who carries his head held high with his nose in the air but one who conducts himself with honor and dignity. Again, we notice that Paul has used this term before when describing both deacons and deaconesses to Timothy (1 Tim. 3:8, 11). The antithesis of σεμνός would be silliness or childishness. Older men should not behave as if they were still young bucks without the sense of their fathers. To put it in the terms of frustrated mother, they should “act their age.” Like it or not, they are in the position of influence and example. They must, therefore, provide an example worthy of imitation.
Older Men to be Collected – Here is a term that we have already seen in Titus as it describes elders (1:8) and will see several more times as we go through these various groups. The Greek σὠφρων describes one who is wise, prudent, thoughtful or sensible. In fact, Paul has already used this term when describing elders to Titus (1:8) and the meaning has not changed. This term describes one who takes things into careful consideration before they act. They do not act on impulse, but carefully weigh the situation and then act in a thorough and appropriate manner. They are not flighty, erratic, or unreliable but sensible. Be sure to take note of this term because we will continue to come back to it in future studies.
In a broad sense, Paul is telling Titus that he is to exhort the older men in the churches that they must live in a manner worthy of emulation. They are the examples within the Christian community. But if we’re completely honest these qualities, while laudable and necessary, are not solely indicative of Christianity. Even the pagans appreciate mature men who are calm, cool, and collected. That’s what makes the fourth characteristic so valuable.
Models of Faith (v. 2b)
“sound in faith, in love, in perseverance”
There’s that term again; sound (ὑγιαίνω). In reference to their faith, love, and perseverance these older men must be sound, healthy, correct, and free from error. These older men are not only moral examples but are also spiritual examples.
Healthy Faith – There are two different ways of understanding this characteristic of being sound in faith. The first takes the noun πίστις (faith/trust/belief) to indicate what is trusted or believed. The idea would be that these men must be correct and sound in the Scriptures and fully understand what they believe. While that statement is completely true, I would suggest a slightly different understanding of this phrase.
Rather than view what is believed, this phrase “sound in faith” could also communicate the personal aspect of trusting or believing. In this sense Paul would be demanding that the older men must be sound or healthy in regard to their personal trust and faith in God through Christ. This is a slight, but important distinction within the context of these verses.
Titus is commanded to speak the things that are fitting for/consistent with/aiding/adorning sound doctrine. Paul has already changed from demanding that sound doctrine itself is being taught (1:5-16) to demanding that life which is consistent with this sound doctrine is being lived. The demand here on these older men is that their lives demonstrate a faith which is real and alive and sound. Their trust in God through Christ is visible and palpable.
Healthy Love – With this understanding of faith, the characteristic of sound love becomes easier to understand. Love is the physical manifestation of obedience and devotion to Christ. This is the number one indicator of a disciple of Jesus Christ (John 13:34-35) as well as the second greatest commandment (Matt. 2:39). Love (ἀγάπη) is selfless as Christ is selfless. Love desires the best for others as Christ desires what is best for His own. Love is not a warm and mushy emotion but is a real and observable pattern. Older men must be sound in their love of the brethren.
Few things have been more misrepresented or maligned in evangelicalism than true Christian love. Love is usually presented as the meeting of a person’s needs according to them. But true Christ-like love meets the needs of others according to Christ as presented in the Scriptures. The number one need of every individual on planet earth is to hear and believe the gospel and then repent from their sin and rebellion. For those who have already repented and believed, their needs consist of faithful obedience. True love is shown to them when they are encouraged to continue in obedience, chastised when they disobey, and exhorted to understand what obedience looks like. If you aren’t doing that, you are not loving anybody.
At no point in time does love take someone’s feelings into consideration. Feelings is a nice way of describing one’s ego. Hurt feelings are nothing less than a bruised ego. To love your neighbor does not mean that you try to hurt their feelings, but neither does it mean you should attempt to spare them. Their feelings are not a part of the equation at all. The objective is to deliver the message and therefore clarity and precision are sought above all else. Withholding truth in order to spare someone’s ego is not love. To barrage someone with truth that is unclear is a step in the right direction but still falls short of love. A thirsty man needs water, but a canteen in the hand is much more effective than a bucket poured over his head. To deliver what people need (i.e., the gospel), the message must be accurate, and the method of delivery must be clear. That’s sound love.
Healthy Perseverance – I am thankful that the NASB translates the Greek ὑπομονή here as perseverance rather than patience or steadfastness. This is the same term used by James when he says to consider it joy when we encounter various trials because we know that the testing of our faith produces endurance (ὑπομονήν) and this endurance (ὑπομονὴ) is to have its perfect effect so that we might be perfect and complete (1:3-4). Later he says that the man who perseveres (ὑπομένει) is blessed (1:12). Perseverance or endurance is the idea of bearing up under pressure, but with an active sense of anticipated relief. Passively trudging along the trench line is not perseverance. Actively manning your station while rounds are incoming because you know that victory is certain is perseverance. The older men must be sound, healthy, and stalwart as they demonstrate true Christian perseverance as we await the coming of our Lord.
An avid reader of Scripture would recognize this for what it really is. Paul has on multiple occasions abbreviated the gospel message to three terms; faith, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13; 1 Th. 1:3; 5:8; Col. 1:4-5). This faith in God, love of brother, and hope of the King’s return presents the gospel in a three-dimensional framework of past, present, and future realities. For all practical purposes, perseverance is hope put into action. These older men must lead a life that not only professes God, but also affirms Him through good works.
There are a few things that we should notice. First, almost all of the character traits mentioned here of older men are indicative of elders and deacons. This does not indicate that all older men should be recognized as formal leaders, but the implications are such that elders should be sought from among these older men. To word it a little differently; a healthy church is one where the older and mature men are those who are morally qualified to lead by example. The church should first look among these men to fill the office of elder. If none can be found, it is due to an absence of either sound doctrine, sound living, or both.
Second, older men are mentioned first for a reason. Paul is addressing faithfulness from the top down rather than from the bottom up. First, faithful elders need to be appointed (1:5-16) over the congregation. Then the congregation needs to pursue faithfulness and holiness. But Paul does not speak in general terms over the whole assembly. Rather, he zeros in on the congregation and selects specific groups in order to give specific exhortation. As he does so, he begins with those who hold a natural position of influence and would provide a natural example. These men should be the spiritual backbone of the church.
Third, faithfulness is not measured in days, weeks, months, or even years. Faithfulness is measured in decades. We must train those who are in their 40’s and 50’s so that when they are in their 60’s and 70’s they exemplify these marks. Likewise, we must train our young children so that when they’re in their 20’s and 30’s they exemplify the young men and women in vv. 4-6. A faithful church is one that makes disciples, one that preaches, teaches, and obeys the Word. A healthy church is one where disciples are made from the cradle to the grave.
Sound teaching is non-negotiable for a sound church. But a sound pulpit is not automatically indicative of sound pews. There must be sound and healthy living that accompanies the sound and healthy teaching. Otherwise, the church is dead. A shell of a building that is full of hearers but void of doers. May we be living doers of His Word. Soli Deo Gloria!