So Titus is trying desperately to put the churches on the island of Crete back together.
They started off well enough: Jewish-background Christians and Cretan-background Christians worshiping together, learning how to overcome their cultural differences, the Cretan-background Christians especially eager to learn how to live godly lives like their Jewish-background brothers and sisters.
But then many of their Jewish-background brothers and sisters stopped teaching them how to live godly lives. Instead, they turned aside to teaching the Cretans how to live Jewish lives: how to get circumcised, how to avoid “unclean” food and drink, how to avoid “unclean” people. They turned aside to following a group of Jewish teachers from Jerusalem who are part of the Circumcision Group, a group of false teachers who insist that every Christian must follow every detail of the old Jewish law written by Moses. Even worse, they insist that every Christian must follow every detail of every Jewish tradition that has grown up around the old Jewish law — hundreds and hundreds of microscopic rules that govern every little tedious aspect of life!
Which means that the Cretan-background Christians now have no time to learn how to break their old pagan habits. They have no time for true discipleship, they are too busy memorizing all these rules! There is a Sunday School class on “How To Wash Your Hands Properly”, “How To Pick Herbs From Your Garden Properly”, “How To Avoid Being Accidentally Defiled By A Woman Properly”, a whole catalogue of courses they have to take just to qualify for membership.
Which means, of course, that most of the Cretans’ children are counted out: they have to wait until they are adults before they will have a chance to prove they know how to follow the rules and become baptised members. Most women struggle to complete these courses, because — between menstruation, pregnancy and nursing — most women are too “unclean” to attend church most of the time, they miss too many classes. And what about those church members who are also slaves? They might as well give up now, because slaves just don’t have the kind of free time required for such intensive study! or the freedom to follow so many hyper-detailed rules even if they could learn them.
Which means that, through the teachings of the Circumcision Group, the Cretan churches are being broken up, segregated by ethnicity, age, sex, and social status. Whole households are being disrupted, torn apart by this divisive false teaching.
And that is why Titus wrote to Paul for help, and why Paul wrote this letter back.
And so far, Paul has basically told Titus to just start over. At this point he needs to just clear the rubble away from the building site and begin again:
First, Paul said, put the Gospel foundation stones back into place: focus your preaching on Jesus Christ, the Apostles and Prophets, and the need for Unity.
Second, set up pillars that are firmly fixed to this Gospel foundation: elders who will be able to encourage others based on this foundation, while also fighting back against those who want to twist the foundation again.
Third, as Titus picks through the piles of rubble left over from the collapsed churches, he needs to find good, strong living stones to build back into the walls. That means finding those remaining church members who are still sound in the faith, the ones who pay no attention to all those Jewish religious traditions, all those hundreds of man-made rules.
But last week, even as Paul encouraged Titus in his search for building stones, he also warned Titus to look beyond the surface. Many times the stones that look the most religious on the outside are actually hollow in the middle, eaten out by corrupted minds and consciences. As soon as Titus tries to shape those people into a church community they will just crumble into powder and weaken the section of wall they were set into. On the other hand, good, strong building stones often look a bit rough on the outside, but they are solid all the way through. Those are the kinds of stones Titus needs to use, because they can be shaped without crumbling. They are the kind of people who want to be shaped, who want to be discipled into productive members of Jesus’ Church.
And so now, today, Paul begins the section of his letter where he teaches Titus how to shape and place the six different kinds of living stones that are available there on the island of Crete: older men, older women, younger women, children, younger men, and slaves.
And as we are going to see over the next few weeks, each type of living stone has its own special properties: some are heavier, some are lighter, some are harder, some are softer. This means that Titus, as a wise builder, needs to learn how to shape each type of living stone according to its nature and purpose.
Basically, each type of person needs a slightly different type of discipleship.
And, as we are going to see over the next few weeks, this is Paul’s solution to the destruction caused by the Circumcision Group. Those false teachers have been busy disrupting whole households, tearing families apart; now Paul teaches Titus how to put these broken families back together. Those false teachers have been busy dividing the churches up by ethnicity, age, sex, and social status; now Paul teaches Titus how to bring these different groups back together and show how they are all essential to the life of the Christian community.
And this is where Paul starts:  Teach the older men…
Who are these “older men” Paul is referring to? Are they 50? 70? 90?
Well, they are not really an age group so much as a social group. “Older men”, in this case, means men who have been married for a while, who have at least half-grown children. In other words, husbands and fathers over well-established households.
Now, why does Paul begin with older men?
Basically, because the older men in the community are the heaviest building stones, we could say, the ones that should form the base of the walls. If they are not sound in the faith, if they are not well shaped and well placed, they will not be a good support for the stones above them. The walls of the Church will be sound or unsound based on the quality of these older men, these “patriarchs” of the community.
Okay. But as we look at the list of qualities Paul writes down next, it is fair for us to assume that Paul feels the need to write these down precisely because the older Cretan men in the congregations are the opposite of these qualities. They are very rough stones! So here is a question we could ask: why does Paul insist that Titus begin with them? Why not begin with some other category of person that might be easier to work with?
Like…women, for instance? Surely older women are more likely to be…smoother and easier to work with?
Well: no. As we will find out next week, older women can be just as rough as older men.
Okay. Fine. What about younger men, or younger women? As potential building stones they are probably going to be softer, easier to shape properly. And younger people are full of energy, right? What better way to give the walls of the church a big kick-start than to commission young people to carry all the weight!
Well…that would also be a mistake. Remember what Paul taught us last week: one of the worst things a church can do is ignore the discipleship process. And as we will find out over the next two weeks, there is a distinct discipleship track young people must follow if they are ever to grow up into true Christian older people — and that track does not involve placing them in positions they are not yet strong enough to handle.
Okay. But still:
Paul is well-known for shaking things up. He is no respecter of tradition, as we have already seen in this letter. Why didn’t he work harder to come up with a completely new system, a new structure that does not make these rough older men the bottom-most stones in the walls of Jesus’ Church?
Well, the reason Paul is not proposing a whole new structure for the churches is because, as a Jewish scholar, he is convinced by God’s Word that older men ought to be the foundational support stones in their families and in their communities: Adam was created first, and loaded down with the heaviest responsibilities; Eve was created next, and loaded down with a different kind of responsibilities.
Eve’s responsibilities are just as essential to the proper structure of society, but they are dependent upon Adam’s faithfulness to his responsibilities, just as the upper rows of stones in a wall depend upon the rows beneath. If the stones in the lower rows turn rotten and crumble away, then the whole wall collapses. But if the stones in the upper rows turn rotten and crumble away, then really there is no wall left! just a bunch of lower stones lying on the ground. Lower stones and upper stones are both necessary to form a wall, but — no matter what — the lower stones need to be put into place first.
But Paul is not just convinced by God’s Word, he is also convinced by the biological and sociological evidence.
Biologically, the male of our species initiates the family: the man plants the seeds. But here is the problem: he is not biologically required to cultivate them! He can just walk away if he wants to, leaving the female to do all the work of raising the offspring.
And this is why, sociologically, most human societies have solved this problem by setting up a ”patriarchal” system: most societies have bound men into the foundational row of stones, thus forcing them to stick around and take responsibility for the children they started!
Now the truth is, men — in their natural, sinful state — have resented being loaded down with responsibilities that they are not biologically required to carry. So men have always pushed back against the demands of “the patriarchy” by making demands of their own: we will consent to being the lower row of stones if we are also allowed a greater measure of control when it comes to food, drink, and sex.
And this is why, in most traditional “patriarchal” societies, men enjoy more freedoms than women. That is the deal they worked out: the men agree to stick around if the women agree that they can also eat around, drink around, and sleep around.
And even the few counter-examples produce the same results. For instance, in traditional matriarchal societies, where women control the family name and property, it is still women who raise the children, while men still get to sleep with multiple women. The only substantial difference — as far as men are concerned — is that, in a traditional matriarchal society, the women also get to sleep with multiple men. And, historically speaking, the men in a matriarchal society have responded with, “Okay, let’s make sure we understand this: you women are now responsible for maintaining our property, administering our resources, feeding and educating the children, and we still get to eat around, drink around, and sleep around? Where do we sign up!”
In short: women in a traditional patriarchal society agree to give up a certain level of responsibility and control in exchange for stability: they allow their men to indulge themselves in food, drink and sex. But women always struggle to be happy with this arrangement. By contrast, men in a traditional matriarchal society are very happy to give up a certain level of responsibility and control — as long as they still get food, drink and plenty of sex.
We could say it like this: in the end it does not matter whether a society is patriarchal or matriarchal, men are still going to find a way to indulge their physical appetites. The only difference is that patriarchal societies require men to take responsibility while they indulge themselves, while matriarchal societies let men abandon responsibility while still allowing them to indulge themselves.
Paul is convinced by God’s Word that men are better men when they actually take responsibility for what they have started. He is convinced by thousands of years of human history that societies are better societies when heavier stones are built into the bottom of the wall, supporting the lighter stones above: fathers and mothers working together to lift their children and the most vulnerable people in their community up to God.
However, Paul is also convinced by God’s Word that male responsibility and male self-indulgence should not automatically go together. He is also convinced by thousands of years of human history that the patriarchal “deal” between men and women is absolutely corrupt. Men must take responsibility, but this does not entitle them to self-indulgence!
So, on one hand, Paul believes that a patriarchal structure is God’s original design for human society. But on the other hand, Paul believes that we have never actually experienced a true, godly patriarchal society; every patriarchy from Adam onward has been corrupted by the sin of male self-indulgence.
This corrupt pattern must not continue within Jesus’ Church. That is why, after beginning with older men, Paul goes on to outline these four distinct qualities:
First, an older Christian man needs to be temperate.
In the original language, “temperate” literally means “careful drinkers of wine”: older men should not be drunkards. But more broadly, this word means careful in the use of food, sex, and every other pleasure in life. Basically, older men must not be self-indulgent.
And, yes, the fact that Paul had to write this down does mean that older Cretan men were typically drunkards and lazy gluttons and sexually self-indulgent. Remember, these guys have well-established households, their kids are old enough to work in the family business, which means these older men are finally able to relax a bit, sit back and enjoy the fruit of their labour. Which means more food, more drink, and more women, because according to Roman law an older man is allowed to sleep with any woman he wants to as long as she is not married to someone else.
Wives, however, are not supposed to sleep around: Roman society is still very patriarchal on this point.
Well, Paul believes it is unfair for men to get to indulge themselves while women cannot. But his solution is not for women to become equally self-indulgent! No, he is suggesting that true equality between the sexes happens when older men stop being self-indulgent.
And, by the way, this idea that older men should be temperate was very counter-cultural, because Roman society was also still very patriarchal on this point. Greeks and Romans and Cretans valued intemperance in men. Their attitude was: look, we have agreed to stick around and support the family, which means we also have the right to eat around, drink around, and sleep around. Stop messing with our cultural contract, Paul!
This is one reason why Christianity was so unpopular in the Roman empire.
Second, Paul says, an older Christian man needs to be worthy of respect.
In the original language, this word means serious, dignified. And this quality is related to the previous quality of temperance, because an intemperate older man is not dignified. Whether he is drunk all the time, or always stuffing his face, or constantly sexually harassing the servant girls, does not really matter: it is really hard to respect a father or a grandfather who is undignified and self-indulgent!
But here is the problem: Roman law requires family members to respect father, grandfather, and great-grandfather (if there is one). By Roman law, older men men in the empire exercise a great deal of power over their wives, their children, even over their grandchildren. They have the right to kill any newborn child they don’t want; they have the right to decide who their grown children will marry; they have the right to decide whether their wives or grown children have done anything to dishonour the family name, they have the right to divorce or disown for any reason.
So imagine just how frustrating it would be to have to submit to the whims and judgements of a patriarch who is not dignified: he controls you, but he does not bother to control himself! This is the kind of double standard that leads to profound bitterness, resentment, and division within families — but I think, here in Asia, we already know exactly what this is like.
Paul is condemning this kind of patriarchal double-standard. Older men in the church need to learn to be worthy of respect. Yes, according to Roman law, they can do almost anything they want to and still demand respect from their family members. But that is not how God’s law works.
Yes, God’s law does call us to respect Jesus as the head of his household, which is the Church. But Jesus is also perfectly worthy of that respect. He is not self-indulgent, short-sighted, controlled by his passions. In fact, quite the opposite: he gave up his heaven-born dignity in order to purchase his household from slavery, to give us life and a family name. And because Jesus sacrificed his dignity in this way, he was rewarded with the greatest dignity of all: he was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead. So it should be no struggle for us to respect Jesus as our Head of Household, because he has proven himself to be infinitely worthy of respect!
We could say it like this: unlike a man who demands respect even though he is unworthy, Jesus commands respect because he is worthy.
In the same way, Paul is saying: sure, under Roman law, you Cretan men do have the right to demand respect, using legal force if necessary. But you are not Cretan men anymore, you are Christian men now. And under Christian law, you need to learn to command respect by being dignified, by being worthy of respect.
And, again, this idea that older men ought not to demand respect is a very counter-cultural, anti-patriarchal idea. Greeks and Romans and Cretans would have seen this restriction on men’s rights as very destabilising for society.
And this is another reason why Christianity was so unpopular in the Roman empire.
Third, Paul says, an older Christian man needs to be self-controlled.
And this word is probably the easiest for us to understand: it means not impulsive. Not quick-tempered. Self-control is related to being temperate. Temperance is on the outside: food and drink and sex. Self-control is on the inside. If an older man is going to give up drunkenness, gluttony, and casual sex, that change in external behaviour really needs to begin with an internal change of heart — otherwise the change in behaviour will not last.
Self-control is also related to being worthy of respect: just as an older Christian man should not use law to bully his household into submission, so also he should not use law to bully himself into submission.
…let me put that another way: an older man who is truly self-controlled is not motivated by fear of the law. A person motivated by fear is actually controlled from the outside, not by the self. But a man motivated by his love of the law is truly self-controlled: he lives according to God’s law because he delights in it, not because he fears it. And he delights in God’s law because he delights in Jesus Christ. And he delights in Jesus Christ because he is completely convinced that Jesus’ redemption is truly complete: he knows he does not need to be fearful.
And again, this idea that older men should be self-controlled was counter-cultural, anti-patriarchal. Greeks and Romans and Cretans valued men who were ready to stand up and assert their rights, defend their honour. In fact, in Crete in particular liberty was considered the highest value. Their attitude was: if you are an older man, then you do not have to tolerate any restrictions to your liberty anymore. Now you get to restrict other people’s liberty instead! You don’t have to control yourself anymore, now everyone else has to!
Just one more reason why Christianity was so unpopular at the time.
Fourth, and last, an older Christian man needs to be sound.
This means he needs to be strong, healthy. As a potential living stone that will be shaped and set into the walls of Jesus’ Church, an older man needs to be solid all the way through, not hollowed out or cracked or ready to crumble.
Then Paul goes on to say that he needs to be sound in three particular areas: in faith, in love and in endurance.
An older man who is sound in faith has learned how to trust God with the future of his household. Fathers in the Roman empire were legally liable for the behaviour of their children and grandchildren: they could lose property and all kinds of status if their family members did not behave like good citizens. So there was a lot of pressure on men to be very stern, very strict, to use the law to force everyone into line — all actions motivated by fear. But Christian fathers are not supposed to be over-bearing like that. And the only thing that has the power to overcome that kind of fear is faith in God, faith that God is good and he is in charge.
And an older man who is sound in faith is now set free to be sound in love. Now, to us “love” is an emotion; but in God’s Word, love is actually a commitment to do what is good for someone else. For instance, when Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he does not mean we have to feel warm cuddly emotions for our enemies, he means we need to treat them with the same care we would treat ourselves. So an older man who is sound in love is a father-figure who is committed to doing what is good for his household and for the household of God. Faith in God has set him free to stop acting out of self-indulgent fear, which then sets him free to begin acting out of selfless love.
And an older man who is sound in love is now set free to be sound in endurance. That means being strong in patience and perseverance: sticking to his responsibilities. And let me tell you, any truly Christian man living in this corrupted Cretan culture is going to need endurance! Because any Christian man who has developed these qualities of temperance, dignity, self-control, and soundness is going to be despised by the rest of the men in his society. The Cretan definition of manhood involves forcing your will on others, and any man who chooses not to exercise his power like that…does not even qualify as a man in the eyes of Cretan culture.
So an older Christian man who is committed to living by these four qualities is going to need to be very sound in faith, love and endurance if he is going to stay the course.
Okay. To summarize: the Circumcision Group of Jerusalem teachers have been disrupting whole households, they have been tearing families and churches apart by focusing on man-made external religious rules, and by ignoring the need for true growth in godliness. The man-made religious rules are tearing communities apart because that is what they are literally designed to do: segregate people by ethnicity, age, sex, and social status. And ignoring the need for true growth in godliness is also tearing communities apart, because when you put a bunch of rough, sinful, broken people together in one place and then do not teach them how to live godly lives, obviously they just end up crushing one another!
So Paul is now teaching Titus how to put these broken churches back together. And the key to putting broken churches back together is this: start with the families. If you put the families back together, then the churches will also come back together. And the first step to putting the families back together is this: start with the older men.
Now, this does seem like it could be unfair: why can’t it be older women, or even younger men and women? Quite simply: because the male of our species quite literally and biologically initiates the family. And after that happens, really we only have two choices: do we want the males of our species to abandon their offspring, or take responsibility for them?
If we want men to abandon their responsibilities, then…we really have nothing left to talk about. But if we decide we want men to take responsibility, then we have another set of choices: do we want men to take responsibility motivated by fear and self-indulgence? or would we rather they take responsibility motivated by faith and love?
Which one would you rather be raised by: a father motivated by fear and self-indulgence? or a father motivated by faith and love?
So look: if you are here today, and you are longing for a Christian community that allows older men to walk away from their responsibilities to family and church, leaving everything for older women to handle…then this may not be the right church for you. There are plenty of other societies in our city where older men are essentially absent, where older women and younger people have taken responsibility for almost everything. If that is what you are looking for, please go: I’m sure you will have no trouble finding one.
And if you are here today and you are longing for a Christian community full of older men who are self-indulgent, overbearing, out of control, and yet respected for their legalistic religious practices…then, again, this may not be the right church for you. There are plenty of other societies in our city where older men rule with an iron fist, demanding respect from everyone even though they are not worthy of it. If that is what you are looking for, then go. Good luck. Have fun.
But if you are here today and you are longing for a Christian community that demands true faith, love, godliness and responsibility from older men…well: here we are. We believe older men are called by God to take responsibility for their households and for our local community here. But we do not believe older men are to be rewarded with self-indulgence. Rather, we believe they are called to exercise this responsibility in a spirit of temperance, dignity, self-control, and soundness.
Now, we cannot promise that we do this perfectly. Just like the older Christian men in Crete, the older men in our church are still being shaped, discipled to fit properly into the walls of Jesus’ Church. But we do promise that the elders in this church are committed to teaching the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.
So, if you are here today, and you are an older man — if you have been married for a while, if your children are moving from infancy into adulthood, or even if you are unmarried but you still have responsibilities over an established household: caring for older parents, or caring for younger brothers and sisters if your parents have passed away — then this is our application: we need to be open to this teaching. We need to be willing to be shaped by God’s Word in these ways. We need to be willing to submit to this biblical definition of manhood.
And this submission will require a spirit of stern self-controlled endurance on our part. Because we are all going to face temptation — from without and from within — not to submit to this definition of manhood. In our world, a true leader among men is expected to be assertive, aggressive, contentious, combative, decisive; a truly manly-man is not supposed to care about being liked as long as he is respected; and, of course, a true man knows how to eat around, drink around, and sleep around. There is a lot of pressure on us to conform to these godless definitions of manhood.
And to make all this more confusing, our modern conversations about gender have become centered around extremely superficial nonsense: what clothing should men wear or not wear, what jobs should men do or not do, what kind of physicality should men have or not have…questions that are impossible to answer because the answers change from culture to culture. But all this modern confusion is actually on purpose: just like the false teachers of the ancient Circumcision Group, many progressive and conservative groups today want us all to become obsessed with external definitions of gender, because by doing this they are able to break society up into controllable blocks, segregated by ethnicity, age, sex, social status.
For instance, more and more, progressives all over the world want us to submit to their external man-made standards for masculinity, which support their belief that gender definitions are completely fluid. They really don’t care if men are still self-indulgent, as long as they can be counted on the progressive side.
In an equal and opposite way, conservatives all over the world today want us to submit to their external man-made standards for masculinity, which support their belief that gender definitions are completely fixed. They really don’t care if men are still self-indulgent, as long as they can be counted on the conservative side.
But Paul is cutting right through all that crap to the heart of the matter. Yes, the conservatives are right: true masculinity is fixed, because it has been defined and even embodied by God himself. But the progressives are also right: men can use their will-power to change their definition of masculinity.
So the only question that remains for older men to answer is this: whose definition of masculinity are we going to adopt? The conservative patriarchal version, where men take responsibility and are rewarded with the right to self-indulgence? The progressive matriarchal version, where men abandon responsibility and are still rewarded with the right to self-indulgence? Or will we submit to God’s version, where men take responsibility to learn temperance, worthiness, self-control, faith, love, endurance, in hope that one day we might find ourselves rewarded with the greatest dignity of all: being appointed the sons of God in power by our resurrection from the dead.
And isn’t it wonderful, brothers, how simple Paul makes things for us here? There is no talk of clothing, or career, physical strength or speed, none of those external metrics by which the world measures manhood. God does not care if we wear trousers or a skirt, pants or a sarong. He does not care if we are warriors or poets. He does not care if we do all of the housework or none. All he wants to know is: are you willing to grow up into the character of my Son, Jesus Christ?
So this is our application for today, older men: we need to answer our Heavenly Father’s question, our Heavenly Father’s challenge. We need to decide which way we are willing to go. And then we need to go that way.
Now, the elders in this church are confident that, if the Holy Spirit truly lives in and among us, we are going to choose and keep on choosing the right way.
We are also confident that it will not always go smoothly. The Word of God is basically rewriting our fundamental operating system while the operating system is still running. There will be glitches. The system will crash occasionally. Often we will not feel like we have endurance enough to handle such a radical rewrite.
So let’s close with this comfort, brothers: even when we fail, even when we turn back to self-indulgence, even when we sin against those for whom we ought to be laying down our lives, even then we are allowed to return to our Saviour and continue the shaping process. How do we know this? Because God’s Word tells us it is true.
So please, let us rise now for our benediction, this closing promise and blessing from the hand of our Father: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.