So last week we talked about the massive cultural changes that were sweeping across the Roman empire 2000 years ago, during the time when Paul wrote this letter to Titus. We focused especially on how Roman law had emancipated Roman women, especially upper-class women, in some significant ways. We also noticed how these changes in the law resulted in some unintended consequences: quite a number of Roman women had realized they could use their new-found freedom to abandon their households and seek out lives of independence and self-indulgence.
This is why, soon after Roman women became more emancipated, divorce rates began rising.
Well, in response, many younger men in the empire — especially from the upper-classes — decided it was just too risky to get married. They figured: what’s the point? What if I marry this young woman that my father has arranged for me, and then she takes secret steps to make sure we do not have children because she is trying to keep herself slim for when she divorces me after a couple of years to go away and arrange the marriage she really wants? Or, perhaps even worse, what if she does have two or three children with me…and then leaves to marry the guy she really wanted, while I’m left behind to raise the kids?
In essence, after Roman law emancipated Roman women, there was no longer any incentive for young men to marry.
See, men in Roman society were already allowed to sleep around as much as they wanted — to keep them from exploding, as we discussed last week. There were only a couple of rules: no married women (that is adultery) and no relatives (that is incest). Every other kind of woman out there was basically fair game. So Roman men did not need to get married to have sex.
For men in that world, the only real incentive for marriage was the chance to produce children and raise them in a stable household — while he continued to sexually indulge himself outside the marriage, of course. But now that women are more financially independent and statistically more likely to divorce…that stability is gone, and with it any incentive to marry.
This is why birth-rates began to drop.
Or, really, we should say: the legitimate birth-rate dropped. There were still plenty of babies being born, just not to wives. They were being born to slave-girls and prostitutes, to women who were not emancipated, to women who could not claim inheritance rights from the men who made them pregnant.
Basically, the marriage rate dropped, but the sex rate did not.
Well, after a while the Roman government noticed this rising trend of perpetually divorced women and perpetually unmarried men, and they tightened up the laws. On one side the penalties for adultery and divorce got much heavier, as we discussed last week — those penalties were designed to get women back under control. But on the other side the penalties for not getting married and not having legitimate kids also got much heavier — and those penalties were designed to get men back under control.
Basically, it amounted to this: if a man was unmarried, he could not advance socially. If he got married then he could be called Encik, and he could claim certain government benefits. If he had one child, then he was Tuan. Two children: Datuk. Three children: now he is eligible for Tan Sri. And if a man wants to become “Tun” and get into parliament or be a magistrate or something, he definitely needs to prove that he has done his duty for the state by having lots of kids.
But to the government’s surprise, many men refused to play along. In the words of one writer: they wanted to copulate, not populate. So men began to figure out a few creative work-arounds, like: signing a marriage contract with a girl’s family when she would not be ready for marriage for another decade; that way they get all the financial and social benefits of being “married”, with none of the risk. Or marrying a young woman from a much lower social class, who is not so financially ready to run off.
Now, for every work-around, there was a counter-law from the government, a legal arms-race of sorts. But there was one work-around that the government never figured out how to solve, and that was homosexual activity. For Roman men who wanted to avoid reproducing but also wanted to avoid exploding, homosexual activity with boys was a perfectly acceptable and risk-free activity. It was part of the culture, and had been for many generations, and there was no way for the government to legally redirect that energy back toward women.
There were restrictions on homosexual activity, however: it was illegal for a Roman man to submit to another man. This was called “effeminacy” and there were very heavy penalties attached: if a young Roman citizen allowed himself to be seduced by an older man, his life was ruined, all chance of marriage, career, promotion, and inheritance gone.
And the reason I am bringing up this subject of homosexual activity here is because it is relevant, not just to our passage today, but to our larger social conversations. As Christians, we need to be equipped to respond to the stories we are being told about the nature of human sexuality.
One of those stories goes like this: homosexual activity is a natural and perfectly valid form of human expression, and Christianity is morally wrong to oppose it. Homosexuality leads to sexual liberation; Christianity leads to sexual oppression. And many people who say these things point back to ancient Greece and Rome as “sex-positive” cultures where homosexuality was normalized, where men loved men and everyone got along just fine.
I am sorry. That sounds nice. But it is simply not true. Ancient Greco-Roman homosexuality did not consist of men “loving” other men as equals. It consisted of older men molesting younger men. Homosexual culture in the ancient world was a rape culture. In Greco-Roman societies, homosexual acts were all acts of domination by the powerful upon the powerless — and we know this because this is literally what Roman men boast about in their letters and poems: they do not speak affectionately of male lovers as equals, they despise them as morally damaged conquests. In fact, the Greeks and Romans even worshiped a pagan god of homosexual rape, which means they believed this kind of violent degradation was divinely inspired. This is why Christians opposed homosexual activity so strongly: they were committed to rescuing people from rape.
So the truth is actually the reverse of what is being taught in many places today: historically, homosexuality leads to sexual oppression; Christianity leads to sexual liberation.
There was, however, at least one exception to this ancient Roman rape culture. But even this exception helps prove the rule. And this exception existed on the island of Crete, where junior schoolboys were groomed, ritually kidnapped, and sexually abused by their seniors for two months before being returned to society.
Now, the Romans — just like us — were shocked by this very “peculiar custom”. But the Romans were shocked for a very different reason than we are. To us, this sounds like socially sanctioned sexual abuse of schoolboys, and we are horrified. To the Romans this did sound like sexual abuse, but they did not mind that part; no, they were shocked by the fact that, afterward, the victim was honoured instead of the abuser! If a boy was kidnapped, he was promoted to prefect in his school, and as an adult he would wear special clothing for the rest of his life that announced to everyone how he had been “chosen for abduction” when he was a schoolboy. In fact, if a boy was attractive or from a noble family and no one bothered to abduct him, this was actually considered a black mark on his character!
This attitude completely horrified the Romans: why would Cretans honor the molested boys instead of despising them like they ought to?
And so it is with a sense of relief that the ancient Roman writer finishes his account of this custom by saying, “Luckily, the Cretans don’t do this very much anymore, but things carry on now mostly by means of the decrees of the Romans.” In other words: the victim is no longer celebrated for his submission, he is now despised while the abuser is celebrated for his brutality. It’s the Roman Way, after all! Roman rape culture.
The reason we have done this deep dive into the historical background is so we can understand what sort of situation Titus was facing there on the island of Crete. All across the Roman empire, young men were trying to avoid marriage and family so they could enjoy a more stable and self-indulgent life. A large part of that self-indulgence involved the sexual abuse of lower class women who had no right to resist, and the sexual abuse of boys who were socially destroyed for life. In these ways the young men of Crete would have been exactly like the rest of the young men in the Roman empire — but with the added reality that their own, native Cretan culture had long since perfected the art of grooming boys to believe that being abused by older men is actually an honour. They probably did not practice those ritual abductions anymore, but still those ideas and values would have remained in the Cretan cultural consciousness, affecting their attitudes toward sexuality in ways that were slightly different from the rest of the Roman empire.
To put this in our modern terms, we could say that Titus has been called to plant a church among some of the most “sex positive” young men in the world at that time.
How is he supposed to disciple people from such a background?
Well, from the very beginning of his letter, Paul has been outlining a distinct Church Establishment Program.
First, he said, start with the Gospel of Unity as your foundation, the gospel centered around Jesus Christ, his New Testament apostles, and the Old Testament prophets.
Second, set up pillars on that foundation: elders who are sound in the faith, men who are able to encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
Third, those pillars — those elders — need to be teaching the older men how to be sound in the faith. Those older men will be the bottom-most living stones in the church walls, set firmly upon the gospel foundation so they can properly support the rest of the community.
Fourth, the elders also need to be teaching the older women how to be sound in the faith, so that the older women can help teach the younger women to be sound in the faith.
And as we have worked our way through Paul’s Church Establishment Program, it has become clear that this program is centered around the family unit. Paul has been telling Titus that the key to healthy Christian churches is healthy Christian households that contain older men, older women, younger women and children all working together to demonstrate to the watching world how the Gospel of Jesus Christ has transformed their relationships with one another. Without gospel-rooted older men and women, without gospel-rooted younger women and children — without families that are sound in the faith — Christianity will fail, and the rest of the world will call Jesus a liar who could not keep his promises.
But now: what about these free radicals, this culture of younger men who have very little incentive to participate in the Roman household: are they an essential part of the Christian family, or should Titus just let them go?
Well, Paul says,  similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled.
Okay. That was short and to the point: Titus and the elders are called to encourage the young men to develop the same central character quality as every other member of the family: self-control.
Paul has no patience for the classical science of the time, which teaches that men will explode if they try to control themselves. He also has no patience for the new science of the time, which teaches that women will explode if they try to control themselves. As we have been learning over the last couple of weeks, Paul is all about equality between the sexes. But for him equality does not mean that everyone gets the chance to be equally self-indulgent, it means that everyone has a responsibility to be equally self-controlled. Older men, older women, younger women, and now younger men are all called to develop the same basic qualities of character.
Okay. But — as we also discovered last week — men and women are different. Well…some of us knew that before last week. But anyway, the point is: even though both men and women are called to reflect the same foundational character qualities as Jesus Christ, men and women are different kinds of living stones. Which means they have been designed by God to fit into the walls of his Church in different ways:
Older men have been particularly called to practice self-control so that they will be sound in faith, in love and in endurance, to model and maintain a Christ-centered culture in Christian families and communities.
Older women have been particularly called to practice self-control so that they can teach what is good, especially to the younger women. That way the daily details of the Christ-centered culture will be passed on to every young Christian family.
Younger women have been particularly called to practice self-control so that they can love their husbands and children. That way every young Christian family will have a chance to survive infancy and grow up into the Christ-centered culture of the wider church community.
But what about young men: what practical role is their self-control supposed to lead to?
This is what Paul talks about next:
 In everything — in every aspect of life — set them an example by doing what is good.
Titus and the elders need to start by modelling and maintaining a Christ-centered culture in their own lives, families, and communities. If these young men ask, “What is my role in the church supposed to be?” then Titus and the elders should first be able to answer with, “Watch and learn from how we live.”
But the discipleship program does not stop there, it also involves a particular course of study:
In your teaching, Paul says, show integrity, seriousness  and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned.
And this is interesting. Because Paul is not telling Titus to teach the young men sound doctrine, he is not telling Titus to teach the young men good theology. He is telling Titus to teach the young men how to teach sound doctrine.
Allow me to unpack that a bit: Titus and the elders are supposed to teach the young men in the church good gospel theology. Of course. But how they teach theology is just as important as the theology itself, because how they teach will be a model for the next generation.
Okay. But why is Paul emphasizing the how of teaching here, instead of what theology to teach?
Well, for one thing, Paul has already talked about what theology to teach, he did that at the very beginning when he outlined the gospel foundation for the Church. But, for another thing, Paul is a very experienced pastor. He knows that young believers — and perhaps young men in particular — love to pick up new knowledge, and then turn around and use that new knowledge to bully others. This is how he described it in another letter: “Sure, we know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. These guys who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.” In other words: it is fairly easy to learn theology, but knowing theology does not actually make you a good Christian, you’ve got to absorb it, and live it. And that includes how you pass it on.
This is why it is essential for young men to learn not just what theology to teach, but also how to teach it.
Okay. But why is Paul emphasizing teaching here, instead of some other role in the community?
Well, because — as we learned last week — young men were required by Roman law to teach. Households were supposed to be models of Roman society, and it was the man’s responsibility to make sure this happened. So these young men are all destined to become teachers anyway, whether they get married or not: one day they will inherit their fathers’ estates, and they will be responsible to make sure those estates run on Roman lines.
But Paul wants households in the Church to be models of Christian society, not Roman society. Since Roman society depends on fear of the Roman law, Roman men rely on fearsome Roman teaching methods, centered around power, ambition, competition, manipulation. Christian society, however, depends not upon the fear of God’s law but on the love of God’s law. Which means young Christian men need to learn a whole different style of teaching, a kind that shows integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned.
And as we look at these qualities, we find that they again cover the same ground that Paul covered with older men, older women and younger women:
Integrity is all about being worthy of respect like older men, reverent like older women, being pure in actions and motivation like younger women.
Seriousness is all about being temperate like older men, avoiding self-indulgence like older women, being busy at home like younger women.
Soundness of speech is all about avoiding impulsive, hot-tempered language like older men, avoiding slander like older women, being kind like younger women.
Even the reason Paul gives for developing these qualities is almost the same. Last week he told the women: “The reason you need to develop these Christian qualities is so that no one will malign the word of God.” Here he says:
“The reason you need to teach in these ways is so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”
Remember, the churches in Crete are being torn apart by false teachers from the ”Circumcision Group“ in Jerusalem. These false teachers have been saying that Titus is not qualified to be a pastor or an elder because he is not a circumcised Jew; therefore the churches should not listen to his teaching or Paul’s.
So Paul is saying, “Look, Titus, you are not going to convince those guys that our doctrine is correct. The best thing you can do is live such a godly life, and teach in such a godly way, that when those who oppose you try to tell the congregations not to listen, all your supporters have to do is point to the very obvious results of your teaching: godly, wise elders; godly, wise older men and women; godly, wise younger women and men; godly, wise, intact families.”
Two weeks ago we learned that healthy Christian households are the key to healthy Christian churches. Last week we learned that healthy Christian households are also the key to Christian evangelism. Now we have learned that healthy Christian households are also the key to refuting false teachers: someone might be able to deny that our doctrine is good, but they should not be able to deny that our fruit is good.
And now, putting all of Paul’s instructions for young men together, it becomes clear that Paul thinks young men are just as equal and just as essential to the Christian family as older men, older women, and younger women. Titus should not just let them go as a lost cause, he needs to call them to a higher ideal than the one offered by Roman and Cretan culture.
Titus is living in a world dominated by very “sex-positive” young men who are avoiding marriage for as long as possible so they can indulge themselves without any risk of having to take responsibility for any community. So Paul is saying, “Look, Titus, you and the elders have got to let the young men know that their lifestyle is actually ‘sex-negative’. Roman culture has taught them it is good for a man to sexually dominate women and schoolboys. Cretan culture has taught them that it is actually good for schoolboys to be abused! But the Word and the Spirit of God teaches us that these are dehumanizing lies.”
So, okay, Titus might think, but how do I help them escape from these lies?
Well, first, Paul says, call them them to be self-controlled just like everyone else in the church. The first thing we need here is the equality of self-restraint. These young men need to stop thinking of themselves more highly than they ought, as if their personal fulfillment is more important than everyone else’s!
Second, the young men need to learn to be actively doing what is good. It is not enough for them to just stop serving themselves; they also need to start serving others.
And, third, for young men in particular, a big part of learning to serve others means learning a new Christ-centered mode of teaching that is suitable for building up a new Christ-centered kind of community.
Which tells us that Paul does fully expect these young men to someday take up teaching roles in the Christian community; he expects them to one day become older men — and hopefully even elders. But obviously younger men cannot start at that level. What they need is a more limited — but still real — set of responsibilities, a situation with real risks and real benefits where they can develop their skills at building new, Christ-centered kinds of communities.
And in the world of that time, the only real “practice community” available to these young men was marriage. In short: Paul expects these young men to stop goofing around and get married. He expects them to get over their fears, calculate the risks, and then take the plunge.
And, of course, based on what he just said to the younger women in church, Paul would suggest that one of the best ways a young man can minimize the risks of marriage is to make sure he marries a good, Christian young woman who is sound in the faith. A godly, Christian young woman will be much less likely to take her dowry and run when times get hard.
But still: the risk is never zero. Entering into a covenant with another, potentially unreliable human being does take courage. It takes faith. And that is what Paul is calling these young men to be: sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Just like the older men in the church, who are learning how to entrust the future of their grown children to God, the young men are being called to entrust the formation of their families to God.
Paul is encouraging the young men in the church to be truly counter-cultural. He is calling them to commit to a discipleship program that begins with learning to shepherd a wife and children, and eventually results — God-willing — in the honour of being called to help shepherd the community of Christ.
Now, is Paul saying that every young man ought to get married, especially if he wants to serve the broader Christian community when he is older? No.
In another place Paul admits that there are circumstances in which it might be wiser not to marry, not to start a family. And he indicates that those who choose not to marry ought to do so only in order to devote themselves more fully to the work of God. So it is possible for an unmarried person to serve the Christian community.
But even in that passage, Paul says that those who choose not to marry should do so only if they have completely mastered the art of self-control. In other words, young men who choose not to marry so they can practice even more self-control are doing a good thing. But young men who choose not to marry so they can practice even more self-indulgence…are sinning.
Paul is not really interested in whether a young man is married or not, he is interested in why that young man is married or not. He is interested in whether a young man has committed himself to developing the skills necessary to serve his larger community. Starting a family is not the only way to develop those skills, but it really is the most reliable way. That’s why, in all of Paul’s instructions for choosing elders, he says: look at how a man shepherds his family. So if a young man chooses to remain unmarried, he needs to have a really good reason why, and he needs to be pursuing some other discipleship track that will test him in the same ways that living with a wife and children would test him.
So: now what? Here we are, almost 2000 years later, and we have to ask: is this passage still relevant to us?
The answer is yes. In fact, it is even more relevant to us now than it would have been just two or three generations ago. Divorce rates are shooting up. Birth-rates are collapsing. Marriage rates are dropping, but sex rates are not. Last week we talked about how women — both Roman and modern — have been tricked into believing that letting men use them sexually is actually a mark of empowerment. This week we have seen how men — both Cretan and modern — have been tricked into believing that letting men use them sexually is a mark of honour and enlightenment. And, of course, men everywhere at every time have always believed that sleeping around with a wide variety of women and men is a proper expression of male dominance, the only difference is that now we are allowed to act openly on our impulses and be praised by society for our self-indulgence.
So: yeah, this is relevant to our situation. Our modern, globalizing, urban society is quite possibly the most “sex-positive” culture that has existed since the Roman empire.
What are we supposed to do about this? How are we supposed to respond?
Quite simply: we respond with self-control. All of us. Whether you are an older man, an older woman, a younger woman or a younger man, Paul’s instructions throughout this chapter have been clear: learn to be self-controlled. And he is not done yet, by the way! We are going to hear even more about this next week and the week after.
But for now, for this week, we are focused on young men.
So, if you are here today and you are a young man — that is: if your life is lived, for the most part, independently — then this is how we are going to approach your practical applications for today: first, we are going to talk about the true nature of male sexuality. Then we will move on to talk about marriage.
Okay. On this question of sexuality, let’s start with this: our modern world — just like the ancient Roman world — basically wants you to believe that you will explode if you don’t have sex. This is not true. Sexual self-control will not kill you. It might feel like it is killing you! but as God’s Word says in another place: no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Also, our modern, global, urban culture — just like the ancient Cretan culture — wants you to believe that homosexual activity is harmless for you and for society; and not just harmless: actually good for those who practice it. The ancient Cretans normalized this by ritualizing it and turning it into an honour; our modern world has normalized it by sciencing it, telling us that homosexuality is not simply an activity but an orientation that someone is born with. Friends, this modern perspective is not true.
How do we know? Three reasons:
First, ours is the only society that has even tried to make this true. Every other human culture in history has understood that freedom of sexual expression is a choice and a privilege. And what are the chances that 99.9% of mankind is wrong, while we — the last modern 0.1% — are right to believe that freedom of sexual expression is not a choice or a privilege but a predestined orientation? That is a very arrogant position to take, not to mention racist, ethnocentrist, colonialist and other words like that.
Second, ours is the only culture that has tried to view homosexual interactions as relationships between equals. Every other human culture in history has understood that homosexual activity is transactional, that the men involved are never equal. And what are the chances that we — the last modern 0.1% of mankind — have managed to bring equality to a situation that 99.9% of the world has not? Isn’t it more likely that our modern expressions of homosexuality are actually just as transactional and enslaving as those of every previous culture in history, that we are just better at making homosexual activity look like justice and equality?
Third, most importantly: God’s Word tells us that we are human beings made in God’s image. We are not like the lower animals for whom sexual activity and dominance operate by instinct. Our impulses to have sex and to dominate are instinctive, yes. But how we express these things is a learned activity, and learned activities are products of human culture.
And here is the thing: human culture is immensely powerful, so powerful that it can actually lock our minds into believing things that are not biologically true.
For instance: our modern mechanical culture teaches that sexual orientation is fixed at birth, and as a result millions of young men in our world today have been locked into believing they have no choice but to practice homosexual activity. This cultural programming is so strong that they cannot even conceive of a world where human beings have sexual choice — which is the literal definition of slavery, isn’t it?
On the other hand, every other culture has believed that sexual orientation is not fixed, and as a result billions upon billions of young men for many thousands of years have moved happily beween heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bestiality without giving it a second thought — which is the literal definition of freedom, isn’t it? Yes: freedom for the men. Not so much for the women, boys, and animals that are their victims.
So listen, brothers, if you are here today and you are a younger man who is struggling to practice self-control, these are your applications:
First, reject the world’s lies. You are not going to explode. You are not locked in to only one expression of sexuality. You are a man, made in God’s image, which means you have the power to make different choices.
Second, use that power to choose the truth found in Jesus Christ. If you are not yet a Christian, pray now and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! I want to see.”
Third, once you have chosen the truth of Christ, go on to submit to the immense power of Christ’s transforming culture. We have all been profoundly shaped and corrupted by the world around us. We all need to be profoundly reshaped and redeemed by a new Christian culture, and that culture is found only in Christian community. So: join our community. Together, through the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, we will teach one another to break the chains our satanic modern cultures have bound us with. Together we will find true freedom in Christ. Together we will arrive.
Okay. Now, on this question of marriage:
If you are here today and you are a young man who is sexually mature, emotionally mature and financially mature, but you are not married, this is your application: ask yourself why not. And ask older, wiser men and women in our community to help you evaluate why not. There are many good reasons to delay marriage, not to mention circumstances beyond our control. But at the very core, the question Paul wants you to consider is this: am I being motivated by self-protection or by faith? Am I being motivated by self-indulgence or by service?
If it turns out that many of your life decisions are being motivated by self-protection and self-indulgence, then…that is not good, for you or for us. If that is you, then, please, go back to the top and start again: remember that you are a man made in God’s image, with the power to choose. Then choose Jesus, again, and choose — again — to submit to the immensely transforming power of Christ’s Spirit, Word, and community. Rinse, and repeat. And God has promised that gradually self-protection and self-indulgence will lose their hold on your life.
But if it turns out that you are already sensing a desire to express a greater faith and a deeper service to Christ, then…please, consider marriage to a Christian woman in our community. There are other ways to grow in faith and service, but to this day there is still no better training ground than a wife and children.
And if you are here today and you have recently taken up the covenant challenge of being a husband and father…thank you.
But, in closing here, this is what it all comes down to: whether you are married or not, we need you younger men to commit to growing, to learning how to show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, because we need you to take responsibility for the next generation, just as the older generation is trying to take responsibility for you now. Whether you are married or not, we need you to become older men. Yes, I know it seems like these old guys are going to overshadow you forever — but they really aren’t, and you need to be in training now to take up the weight when they leave.
And we need you to become older men because, really, we need you to become elders one day. So please, make it your ambition to grow, to one day qualify to become a pillar in the Church of Jesus Christ. As Paul has said in another place: “Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.” Be such good men that those who oppose us may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.