God has always been a saving God. And He has always expected the people He has saved to live in accordance with that grand reality. In the Exodus, when He rescued Israel for His purposes to become His covenant people, the Mosaic Covenant became the rule of life for them—it was to teach them how to live now that they were God’s people. Similarly, in the New Testament era, as God is calling out from the nations a people to bear His name, He gives them words that govern, define, explain, and clarify the life they are to live now that they belong to Him. He tells them what He wishes them to know, believe, love, and do—and as His people, they are required to do so in submission to His Lordship.
The place in your New Testament where these ideas are most fully expressed are the Epistles. They take the foundation laid in the Gospels and Acts (the initial work of Christ) and explain, enlarge upon, unfold, and apply it. They give us authoritative divine instruction—a torah, if you will—for how to live, believe, think, and love as God’s people today.
Paul wrote his letter to Titus after leaving him on the island of Crete, to implement biblical church polity and purification in the disobedient, carnal, and culture-infected churches of that isle. He also writes to tell Titus how God’s people are to live in obedience to Him. Chapter 2 gives a detailed and convicting examination of how God expects different groups of people to live for His glory. This lesson began where the passage does—with older men, the pillars of the local church.
A. Titus’s Instructions from Paul (v. 1b)
“Speak” is not the word for preaching or public proclamation, though likely Paul includes that idea. It is the word that simply means to talk. The idea, then, is not so much to authoritatively declare these things from the pulpit, but to communicate them in personal, daily, involved discipleship and doing life together. It is a gentle, if insistent, showing to them the kind of life that is fitting for sound doctrine. And it includes difficult conversations and asking hard questions—not to expose or condemn, but to reveal faulty thinking and practice and then show the way of obedience.
“Doctrine” of course is teaching. And everyone has doctrine. Everyone teaches and lives out a framework and system of beliefs. The question is not whether we have doctrine but whether it is right and true!
Here, Paul emphasizes “sound” doctrine. This includes the accuracy of the teaching (false teaching is not healthy; even errant that is not heretical teaching will have some negative effect on people) but goes beyond it. “Sound” is the word from which we get “healthy” and “hygiene.” It means to be healthy with respect to the apostles’ doctrine, not your physical body. It means both “healthy doctrine” (doctrine that promotes and produces spiritual health and vitality) and “healthy in doctrine.” The latter demands not mere knowledge of truth, nor even the ability to argue for a correct doctrinal position (though these are obviously essential). It means to internalize the truth and act upon it in progressive, consistent obedience so that one becomes healthy in doctrine, just as exercising and eating properly makes one healthy in their body.
Titus, then, is to communicate to his people the things that complement, fit with, pair well with doctrine that is healthy so that these dear souls may be healthy in doctrine. Or, to use a systematic theology wording, he is to disciple them so that they grow in their sanctification. We turn now to the specific content of Titus’s words.
B. Titus’s Instructions for Older Men (v. 2)
One of the wonderful things about the Scripture is how it effortlessly overturns our wrong impressions and assumptions, often by simply assuming something at variance with our perspective. Here, Paul implicitly rejects our culture’s assumption that old age means uselessness and ineffectualness (unless one is using retirement to indulge in the flesh and not use it to serve the Lord in a new way). No indeed! He gives older men words from heaven that assures them as they walk faithfully and humbly with the Lord in the afternoon of life they can wield great impact and effectiveness for the permantn, tramsecnent things that really matter.
And younger men—who among other things ought to earnestly aspire to be godly old men someday—should fix their hearts on the proper and growing cultivation of these character traits now.
Temperate. To be sober and free from dominating external influences. This necessitates being at a level of maturity and insight where one is not overwhelmed by things but rather overcomes the things that will prevent him from being sound and clear-headed.
Dignified. Worthy of honor and respect. Sadly, I have seen older men behave in ways that do not befit their age and experience. (This includes foolish, rash thinking—something most unbecoming for a man with experience in life and the faith.) Older men are to conduct themselves with stability, gravity, and carefulness, exuding a righteousness and integrity that is worthy of esteem and emulation. He is not to be impulsive or foolish, but should have learned to overcome the fleeting and transient passions of life.
Sensible. Level-headed and self-controlled. Elsewhere this word is translated “moderated” or “regulated.” This kind of man knows how to tell wisdom from foolishness and impulse from careful reflection. He has the self-discipline to say no to fleshly desires as well as foolish, impetuous ones. He is not inane but is careful, thoughtful, reflective, and sober.
It is noteworthy that these first three are in general the precise opposite of the rash immaturity of a younger man. But just as the vices that tempt younger men—impetuousness, laziness, rashness, crudeness, lack of dignity (this of necessity includes crude language, coarse jokes about bodily functions, and an obsession with sex), thoughtlessness, reactionary-ness, and unteachable unentreatability—are in no way limited to them, so also these virtues can be theirs and increasing with time and experience. Praise God that any believer can know His fruitfulness!
The last three virtues are all modified by the adjective “sound” and are all preceded by a definite article.
The faith. This refers to the whole body of teaching and practice God has revealed and preserved for us. The goal is for a man to have the whole system of belief and practice preserved uncorrupt and at work in his life. (Among other things, an implication of this is wherever a man has a deficiency in his doctrine or behavior, to that degree he is not “sound” in the faith.) Older men out to be the pacesetters for the church in promoting doctrine and practice that produces and sustains full spiritual health and fruitfulness.
The love. This is godly, consecrated, Spirit-enabled love—first of God and His ways, and then of people (especially His people). It also includes a right love for that which fosters ordinate affection for Him and what He values, so the mature man will have a love for the noble, exalted things that cultivate ordinate affection. He will have a sacrificial love for his Lord that issues forth in communion and obedience. And he will diligently, loyally, persistently, and passionately love the people God has brought into his life, desiring to know, serve, and minister to them holistically.
The perseverance. Perseverance can also be translated “the patience” or “the endurance.” This is that longevity of spirit and staying power that only comes from the endurance of trial with joy (and thus generally is only cultivated in those who have lived long enough to see significant trial). The mature man has learned to not merely dig in his heels and grit his teeth, but has persisted in his love for Christ and his personal faith and obedience. And having endured, he knows something deeper of the grace, kindness, blessing, protection, and wisdom of God. And it shows up in his life.
Paul emphasizes these traits not simply because they are a good standard marker of one’s personal godliness, but because they are to be public exhibitions of what mature godliness looks like. In other words, they are precisely the things everyone in the church should be able to see as an example of what holiness refined over the long haul looks like. These men and their graces are to be studied openly to exhort God’s flock to greater, more refined, and more intentional pursuit of holiness.
C. Titus’s Intent for His Flock (v. 1a)
Phrases can carry a universe of meaning. “But as for you”—Paul has just highlighted some of the ungodly fruit of unbelief in chapter 1. In this phrase, he asserts what some of the old confessions call “a radical and essential difference between the righteous and the wicked.” And he does so particularly with Titus’s leadership in mind. After all, Titus cannot preach nor counsel with integrity or credibility is he is not an unusually mature, godly man (and of course Tutus was much younger than the older men he was exhorting). This phrase implies Tutus is in his character and his ministry to be very different from the godless culture around him and the compromised culture in the churches.
His intent is to train hearts first. For all these traits are heart attitudes before they ever bear fruit in action and word. Even knowledge of good theology is not, in itself, the goal—the goal is to know truth and be personally holy so as to have proper influence and impact on others for the kingdom.
Additionally, note that virtually all the virtues have relational implications. This reminds us that Jesus is properly Lord of our relationships, too, and that they are to be used for His purposes and belong to Him. If these are to be cultivated to demonstrate lived-out likeness to Jesus to others for their salvation and sanctification, then that implies this is an application of the Lordship of Christ over our personal relationships (even with Facebook friends!). And another application is to use your experience in life and the faith to help younger believers know how to live for Christ. You can do so if you have cultivated a right spirit towards the Lord—one that He can use to teach others of His ways.
In the end, our holiness is much bigger than us. It is a means our Lord will use to train others to look like Him and prepare them to populate His kingdom. What a wondrous honor for sinners to be so used by our wonderful Lord!